It is now four years after Everard’s death, and a year since his wife Dolores died. Septimus – now 27 and married with three children – has grown Upland Hygiene fast, taking turnover from £5 million to just under £9 million and increasing profitability by 16%. At Gargle Antiseptics, the new sales director Kevin Connery has radically improved turnover – up 20% to £38 million in the last year; but profits are still poor at 3%.
Dora Argent walked into the boss’s office in time to see Septimus slam the phone down. He glared at his financial director. ‘What?’ he snarled.
‘No need to snap at me,’ she said firmly. ‘The fact that your brother can wind you up so easily is no excuse to be rude.’ She dropped a pile of computer printouts on his desk and sat down.
Septimus raised an eyebrow. ‘How did you know that was Alaric?’
Dora gazed at him coolly. ‘I’ve worked with you for four years. Only Alaric can make you turn that colour. What was it this time?’
Septimus snorted. ‘He was crowing about Connery signing up the health authority. Another big order that we missed. But we’ll pick them up next year when Alaric fails to deliver for the umpteenth time.’ He pulled the computer pages towards him. ‘This the stock turn stuff?’
‘And the distribution figures you wanted. Plus some projections on setting up our own fleet instead of using Ratsbot. I reckon it could save us about 15% over three years.’
Septimus beamed at Dora as she got up to go. ‘We must talk about Fliegende and Parsifal. Can we meet at 6.30?’
Fliegende, Alaric’s Dutch distributor, was looking for a buyer, and Septimus was very keen. He also wanted to snap up a little company in Bristol making a superb eco-friendly hypo-allergenic cleaning solvent. But the deal all hinged on buying out his existing investors, CWSA. Their equity capital was too expensive, they had too much control, and Septimus definitely didn’t want them involved in these new acquisitions. Septimus had a way out, but it needed some sleight of hand. He picked up the phone and stabbed at the keypad.
Late that night, Septimus and Petunia were in bed, talking softly across the sleeping form of their three-year old son Lupin. The twins mostly slept through, but Lupin had given them sleepless nights since he was born. Septimus had never got used to doing without sleep and it was an effort to hang on to his temper. But it was never the staff who got the rough end of his tongue. Well, almost never.
‘I spoke to Wes Kennedy again today. He was right – the FDA are likely to ban green-lipped mussel derivatives because the hormone levels in farmed mussels are far higher than in wild ones. Wes reckons we’ve got about a month before the news gets 0ut.’
Petunia winced as her sleeping son kicked her in the stomach. ‘Are you sure you can trust this bloke?’ she whispered.
Septimus nodded. ‘He’s sound. He worked with me in Cape Town before he went back to the States to do research at MIT. The point is that if we don’t get FDA approval, we can’t sell in the US. Which means that four years’ biotech development earns us next to nothing.’
‘But it’s selling well in Europe,’ said Petunia.
‘It’s doing OK in Spain and Italy,’ said Septimus, ‘but we’ll never make real money in Europe. The States is where they specialise in that kind of surgery.’ He lay back and closed his eyes. ‘I’ll talk to CWSA in the morning.’
‘Cosmia, are you listening?’ Septimus kicked his sister’s chair, irritated at her lack of attention. She smiled at him dreamily, and Septimus wondered for a split second if she was on drugs. Either that or she was in love.
‘Sorry, little brother. Go on,’ said Cosmia.
‘How far did you get?’ Septimus asked sourly.
Cosmia recapped. ‘You had to get rid of the mussel stuff before its value dropped, and you had to buy CWSA out.’
‘Quite,’ said the entrepreneur. ‘I persuaded CWSA that given the growth of the other divisions we’d do better to make a short term gain on the biotech and concentrate on the bankable operations. They did a bit of research and discovered the long-term potential in the US – but they didn’t find out about the FDA ruling. So they almost snapped my hand off when I suggested we could do a deal between ourselves. A double deal, technically. They paid me – well, Upland – for the biotech division and Upland bought them out of the business. So we’re free of them, with a bit of cash in hand.’
Cosmia frowned. ‘But you cheated them. You knew it wouldn’t sell in the States.’
Septimus grinned. ‘Caveat emptor, dear sister. Caveat emptor.’
‘So … what then?’
‘So everyone’s happy. At least until they hear about the FDA ruling. But they’ll never be able to prove I knew about it.’ Septimus chuckled, pleased with himself.
‘And now you’ve got this new lot on board,’ said Cosmia. ‘What’s the difference between them and CWSA?’
‘Oh, several million quid, I should think.’
Septimus started to rattle off figures, but Cosmia put up a hand to stop him. ‘Not now, dear heart. I’m not in the mood.’
‘OK. If you want details, just let me know. To cut a long story short, I’ve bought Fliegende for £1.1 million and Parsifal for £400,000. I’ve got the bank to cough up a million quid on the strength of £350,000 from Equable Equity, another £50,000 from a private investor that Leo found for me, and the rest from under my mattress.’
‘Have you bought this Dutch firm just to spite Alaric?’ asked Cosmia sternly.
‘Course not,’ said Septimus, a bit too quickly. ‘It makes sound sense, as the bank and the equity boys will tell you. But the thought of Alaric’s face when he hears is, I must admit, adds a little spice to the deal.’
At home that night, Petunia handed Septimus a stiff whisky and poured herself a Tia Maria. ‘I’m not really supposed to tell you, but I’ve got a couple of surprises for you.’
Septimus rose smartly to the bait. ‘What? Tell me!’
Petunia took her time, kicking off her shoes and curling up on the sofa before answering.
‘Annunciata’s pregnant. And Cosmia’s getting engaged to Kevin.’
Septimus choked on his Scotch.
‘Connery? Wh…? Wha…? Pregnant? Who…?
Petunia giggled. ‘Ah, well. That’s a good question.’