Knight & Deigh started life as a retelling of The Orphans, from the point of view of the second lead character, Hannice Knight. It, too, is partly set in the rural Tanzania I remember from the early 1980s, but some of the technologies used are much more recent. To that extent, it is anachronistic. Don’t forget, though; it is fictional, made up, lies. All of it.
Hannice Knight had run the African operation of his father’s global business for many years, when a freak accident at home left him unable to walk. Together with physiotherapist Sophie Deigh, he tries to bring into his life the excitement and adventure he missed in his formative years, due to the need to be tied to the business.
A number of adventures and activities follow including scuba-diving, sky-diving, power-boating and camping, and a half-brother he never knew about; but even these can’t lift Hannice’s spirits.
What, or who can? Will the developing closeness between Hannice and Sophie come to anything, and what of the rumoured advances in medical technology?
Beginning on 12 February 2017, I am publishing Knight & Deigh here as a serial; one scene each Sunday.
The full list of scenes so far published is here
Knight & Deigh. Chapter One, scene three: Tribunal.
Dick called me later in the day to tell me that, astonishingly, the judge had decided to let Max go, provided she obtained a full working visa within thirty days. Relieved at that; although it was what I hoped he could do; I carried on with my work at the office. An investment I had made a few months earlier was coming to fruition, and I was glued to the stock ticker on my PC. If I could sell at just the right moment, there was a handsome profit to be made.
My assistant, Lindy, a fourth generation British émigré, was plying me with coffee and fussing around in his usual way, excited to see if I was about to make another killing. I did. My timing was a little off; had I sold ten seconds earlier, my profit would have been 437% instead of the meagre 435% I actually realised. I was happy enough with that result.
When I got back home later, I found Max in the chair with a heavily bandaged ankle rested on a pouffe.
“What’s happened, old thing?” I asked.
“Twisted my ankle getting out of a taxi in Dar,” she said, “I don’t know if it’s a sprain or just a twist.”
“Rest it up for a while, and see if it gets any easier. If not, I’ll get my Daktari around first thing.”
“Hannice,” she said, looking up at me with a deeply furrowed brow, “there’s something I want to talk through with you.”
I sat in the chair opposite her, as she spoke about the situation in the orphanage, the fight against HIV/AIDS, Della Jont’s company, and her role in these things.
“What I don’t know,” she continued, “is whether I’m doing the right thing here.” She paused for a reaction from me. I didn’t react.
“Della sent me to Tanzania to look at her orphanage. She said she wasn’t happy it was being run properly; financially,” she explained, “That’s fine. That’s my job, it’s what I do. I’m a forensic accountant and, I like to think, a pretty good one. My job is to look for patterns that might point to fraud or just bad accounting. But now she’s got me acting as Chairman of her local company and pushing through its selling-off of a big investment. On top of that, I’m getting involved with these orphans and a global pharmaceutical outfit. Sure, there are financial dimensions, so I suppose that fits my job, but it has massive moral implications. I’m having to try to influence corporate and government attitudes to a situation that’s so complicated, I can’t even be sure which side I’m on.
“Paul Jaxson thinks it’s okay to pay for sick and dying orphans and use them as test subjects for his drugs, without getting proper consent from anyone, other than the orphanages who profit from the sale. I don’t happen to agree. But what if he’s right? What if using possibly questionable means to secure his end of producing a drug that will stop the spread of HIV, actually is better, more virtuous than ensuring these kids die with dignity?
“I need to know if my position is the ‘least worst’ one; if the lesser of two evils is a fight worth fighting; and if am I the best, or even a suitable person to be fighting it?”
“What do you think, Max?” I asked.
“I don’t know. That’s why I’m asking,” she said, resting her forehead in her cupped hand.
“I’m not asking you for answers, Max. I just want to know what you’re thinking, what your feelings and your logic are telling you.”
Max took a deep breath and looked back up at me. “I spent all my childhood, right through until university, living in my father’s shadow. I know it’s normal for parents to make decisions for their kids; you can’t expect youngsters to be consulted about major stuff like house moves and job changes. But when someone offers a child a choice of sweets, it would be usual for the child, not her father, to decide which one she would like. When, as a teenager, she goes into an accessory shop and her father decides, regardless of her wishes, which handbag she wants, it’s all a bit much. These are all small decisions. I know how I felt when I wasn’t allowed an opinion about inconsequential things. How much worse is it when these orphans are not involved in questions of their life and death? There has to be a better way, Hannice. There has to be.”
“I see your point, Max. Problem, as far as I can see, is not so much that the children aren’t making the decisions themselves; they can hardly, at single-figure ages, give informed consent about something that even grown-ups find difficult. What is wrong is who is making these decisions.” I paused, laying my thoughts out in a logical sequence.
“Seems to me, there are two parties involved. The first, Jaxson, has the laudable aim of producing a drug that will potentially be a life-saver for millions, and presumably swell his company’s coffers as a result. All businesses exist to make money, it’s only how they choose to do it that differentiates them. I do it by buying and selling; Jaxson does it by making pills. The kids are just a commodity. The money they pay to the orphanages is probably lost in their accounts as materials procurement costs.
“The second party to the decisions is the orphanages. They, naturally, are interested in the money they receive. Orphanages are fiendishly expensive places to run properly. Sure, they look after their charges well, and without this money, some of them could fold. But perhaps the interests of the individual orphans isn’t always their number one priority. If they are, and if they believe their own mantra, that the children are going to a place where they can get better treatment, then they’re being incredibly naïve. If the kids are going for treatment, why do they suppose they’re being paid a king’s ransom for each child? I think that certainly makes your position the ‘least worst’. And I think you know the answers to your other questions.”
“Thanks, Hannice,” she said. “Back to the board Monday morning, then.”