Chapter 1 – the baby bites

Grinning from ear to ear, Septimus gave Cosmia – his eldest sister and now his new business partner – a formal handshake, then shouted to the secretary in the next office to call Malachi and fetch the champagne. The three Gargle siblings popped the cork and toasted their new venture, Upland Hygiene.

Septimus had found a nice little factory 15 miles north of Sudston, and was buying out the founder director. ‘The biotech expert told me that new patent they’ve got will pull in some nice revenue. If Upland’s already turning over £5 million on the surgical and clinical cleansing materials, I’d lay odds on us being able to double that in five years or less, with a decent sales manager ,’ said Septimus. ‘That Barry bloke they’ve got is worse than useless – he’ll have to go. And that appalling Whatsisface – the accountant bloke.’

Malachi frowned at him. ‘Barry Rowlock is a shareholder – he won’t be so easy to get rid of. Even if you fire him he can still make things awkward for you.’

Septimus waved away the warnings. ‘He’s only got 12%. We’ll force him to sell – and if he won’t we’ll form a new company, dump the assets into it and he’ll be left with 12% of nothing. We’ll sort it out one way or another.’

Cosmia leaned forward and poured herself another glass of champagne. ‘Come on, then, you tycoon – tell us how much we’ve all got. If I’m putting in a million, Malachi’s putting in £500,000 and you’ve committed one and a half – where’s the rest coming from, by the way? What’s the ownership split?

‘CWSA have all but said yes,’ said Septimus. Cosmia and Malachi looked puzzled. ‘They’re venture capitalists,’ explained Septimus. ‘CWSA stands for Cash With Strings Attached, if you ask me. They want 28% for their million quid, which is a bit bloody steep, but they know about biotech and Leo Disciple insists they’re my best bet.’

‘Who’s Leo Disciple?’ asked Malachi.

‘Leo was Hector’s partner in McHenry Disciple,’ said Cosmia. ‘When Hector died, Leo bought me out.’

‘He’s a shrewd accountant,’ added Septimus. ‘Leo’s given me some good advice over this buy-in, and he thinks the sun rises and sets with CWSA.’

‘So what’s the split?’ asked Cosmia.

‘CWSA 28%, you 25%, Malachi 12.5%, Barry Rowlock 12% – for the moment – and me 22.5%. I reckon we can buy CWSA out in three years,’ said Septimus. ‘Then it’s all ours.’

There was silence as the three of the downed mouthfuls of champagne, then Malachi cleared his throat. ‘What about Antiseptics? They’re not going to swallow this. We’re setting up in direct competition – Alaric and Amos are going to have a blue fit, and Mum’s not going to be exactly delirious.’

Septimus suddenly looked very serious. ‘Tough. I tell you, Malachi, I’m going to get that business off Alaric and Amos. I’ll teach them to shut me out.’

Cosmia and Malachi looked shocked.

‘Septimus, you can’t. They’re your brothers,’ said Cosmia. ‘I know you don’t see eye to eye with them…’

Septimus interrupted her: ‘They don’t see eye to eye, either – Alaric only comes up to Amos’ chin.’

His sister scowled. ‘Septimus, grow up. You’re a shareholder in Antiseptics – Mum won’t let you try and destroy the Gargle family business. For that matter, how are we going to square our support for you?

‘By the way,’ said Septimus, ignoring the question,’ have you heard what Alaric did yesterday? He asked Nellie for a list of Dad’s golf cronies, and she said she didn’t know anything about it. Hah! Good old Nellie. Alaric fired her on the spot, the prat. I’ve told her to take him to an industrial tribunal. Mind you, Alaric’s done us a big favour – Nellie starts work as my secretary on Monday.’

Malachi felt queasy as he thought about the legal ramifications of that bit of news. He knew Septimus had always adored his father’s secretary, but if Nellie Nichos had been discussing confidential stuff with him since old Everard’s death, let alone what she might give Septimus as his new PA, it could mean trouble.

‘Alaric’s got problems,’ said Septimus. ‘Dad never took him or Amos to any meetings or let them into any of his little trade secrets. They haven’t got a clue who his key customer contacts are, let alone how to look after them. Dad told Nellie everything. I reckon Nellie’s going to be our golden goose.’ He rubbed his hands gleefully and grinned at his siblings.

Cosmia wondered what she’d just taken on; this little brother of hers was threatening to turn the family business on its head after 200 years of Gargle business.

But she knew that her twin brothers had a good chance of wrecking the business themselves, with no help from Septimus. Alaric and Amos, now chief executive and production director of Antiseptics, were no entrepreneurs. Alaric was trained as an accountant, but had the interpersonal skills of a rhino; Amos knew his chemistry, but was solidly resistant to change and was scared stiff of ideas. And having their mother on the board as chairman promised to be a disaster. Dolores Gargle, in her 70s, was becoming increasingly irrational, especially after her usual liquid lunch; board meetings were getting to be white-knuckle rides.


When old Everard inherited the business from his father, Gargle’s was a factory producing expensive scented soap for the bathrooms of the wealthy; within five years Everard dumped the lavender soap and moved into industrial markets with specialist cleaning fluids. He doubled turnover and almost quadrupled profits, and kept up impressive growth almost every year until his death. Three months after his children inherited the business, the cracks were already showing.

Annunciata had moved into the personnel office, declared herself a board director and had already committed the company to vast expenditure on consultants to get the company registered as Investors in People. Cosmia suspected that Annunciata was having a fling with a man at the local Training and Enterprise Council. All this effort was certainly not for the benefit of the factory workers, who Annunciata referred to as ‘the proles’.

Cosmia was snapped out of her reverie by Septimus, who was crowing over his new role as business owner-manager.

‘Upland’s production and finances are not in bad shape; once I’ve chopped out the dead wood and got the sales and the marketing sorted, we can pick up that patent and see where we can take it. This green-lipped mussel derivative has produced fantastic results in stopping tissue rejection after surgery. Amazing – who’d have thought a mollusc could be so clever?’

Septimus put on his jacket, scooped up his files and his mobile phone, kissed Cosmia and punched Malachi playfully on the shoulder. ‘Must go, partners.’

‘Where are you in such a hurry to go, then?’ asked Malachi .

‘Remember Petunia Lugg? I’m taking her to a very expensive dinner.’

‘The one in the fifth form with…?’ said Malachi, sculpting a female form in the air.

Septimus just waggled his eyebrows and smirked.

Cosmia shuddered with premonition. Petunia Lugg had been nothing but trouble at school, and Cosmia had the strongest feeling that she was going to be trouble again…

Chapter 2 – mussels with muscles


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