Chapter 4 – snake in paradise

Six years later: Septimus is now 41. The planned AIM float six years earlier had been aborted after the fatal accident in the factory, but the company is now in the process of moving to a full quote on the main market. Having made another three acquisitions (one quite substantial), Upland Hygiene now has three distribution subsidiaries in Europe and Singapore, with manufacturing plants in Czech and USA (Boston). Turnover is now at £41m with pretax profits of just under £5m; the company structure now looks very different to when Septimus bought it almost 20 years ago. Septimus is now chairman – a new chief executive and finance director were recruited from small plcs three years ago when Dora Argent retired as FD (she remains a non-exec director). Septimus believes he has his life’s ambition within his grasp – gaining control of the family business. Once Upland has floated, he will have the cash to buy Gargle Antiseptics; he spends almost as much time trying to work out how to persuade the family either to vote him on to the board or sell their shares to him as he does planning for his own company’s flotation. Meanwhile, his family life is becoming increasingly difficult, with his teenaged children being rebellious and his wife (Upland’s marketing director) being away so much. [GA turnover now £51 million – PTP about £1.8m]  

 

Septimus gazed through the window at the Italian landscape 30,000 feet below him and put his watch on by an hour – they’d be landing in Milan soon. It had been an impulse to come out, but he hadn’t seen much of Petunia for weeks, and he could always spend some time with his Milanese customers while Petunia was at the trade fair.

He thought about the month ahead – less than five weeks to flotation. He was proud of his company’s growth over the last six years; having bought Upland 18 years ago for £4 million, he now had a highly profitable and acquisitive business. ‘A million pounds of turnover for every year of my life,’ he muttered to himself. Not bad going, he mused.

He’d been ready to float on AIM six years ago, but after the explosion the board decided to put flotation back till they were ready to go to the main market. Now, thought Septimus, they were almost there. He’d built an excellent management team, got the support of the bank and the equity boys and had found a top-notch stockbroker.

And once floated, there would be nothing to stop him acquiring Gargle Antiseptics. While the plane touched down and rumbled across the apron to the terminal building, Septimus had ten minutes of happy dreaming about the moment of victory as he swept into the boardroom and fired his detestable brothers.

*********

By the time the cab reached the Hotel Paradiso it was almost midnight; Septimus checked in and hopped into the lift. On the eighth floor he fished the champagne bottle out of the duty-free bag and made his way to Petunia’s room; knocking politely on the door, he called out in a rather ropey Italian accent: ‘Room serveeece, signora!’ Chuckling at the corny strategy, he was grinning broadly when the bedroom door was flung open.

‘We didn’t order Room S…..’ The voice tailed off. The man’s voice. A man in nothing but a towel slung round his snake hips. Kevin Connery in nothing but a towel. Kevin Connery in Petunia’s room. At midnight. In a towel.

Kevin swore, leapt back into the bedroom and tried to slam the door, but Septimus was too quick for him. Flinging the champagne at Kevin’s head and yelling obscenities, Septimus hurled himself after the champagne and there was a short but brutish scuffle on the floor to the accompaniment of screeching from Petunia.

After that it got very ugly. There was yelling and screaming, more masculine shoving, some stinging slaps and a large yellow vase reduced to fragments. After two minutes of this the hotel manager appeared and there was more shouting; another three minutes and the carabinieri descended and two sleek, moustachioed policemen dragged Septimus and Kevin to opposite ends of the bedroom, still yelling; Kevin’s towel had been parted from his hips and Petunia was waving the towel at him, trying feebly to cover his indiscretion.

Someone had the sense to shut the bedroom door, where half the corridor’s guests had gathered to watch the impromptu entertainment, but the sound of impassioned debate continued to emanate from behind closed doors for some time.

**********

The Milanese police station was not designed for comfort, but Septimus was oblivious to the decor as he waited for Malachi to answer the phone. At the sound of his brother’s voice, Septimus dispensed with the niceties and explained between horrified squawking from the Pennine end: ‘Mal, I need you out here. I’ve been arrested. Arrested, yes, that’s what I said. In Milan. At the police station, for god’s sake. Connery’s with the police surgeon. I broke his nose. Connery – yes, him, the poxy bastard …’ The air turned blue as Septimus put his brother in the picture.

Malachi turned up at midday and for a quiet-living property lawyer proved to be unexpectedly effective, getting his brother and in-laws out of Milan within two days, although he failed to stop the threat of prosecution for an Italian assortment of crimes and misdemeanours.

Next came the deeply unpleasant task of telling Cosmia that her husband was not in Goteburg selling soap to Swedes but had been playing Milanese games with Petunia. Malachi shook his head in disbelief at the tendencies of his siblings to get themselves into strife. Politics within the family were complicated enough without involving the in-laws. He remembered Cosmia’s premonition of trouble when Septimus announced his engagement to Petunia all those years ago. Oh, for a time machine.

***********

Back at home, Septimus watched Petunia shoving clothes into a case – she couldn’t very well chuck Septimus out when she’d been caught red-handed, and she couldn’t stay. Humiliated, angry and frightened, she hurled insults and recriminations at Septimus who by this time had run out of steam and was left feeling dazed and devastated.

‘You’ll have to resign from Upland, of course,’ he said.

Petunia straightened, a pair of knickers clutched in her hand as she glared at her husband and co-director. ‘I’ll do no such bloody thing,’ she spat. ‘And if you even think of firing me I’ll do you for wrongful dismissal and sexual discrimination. I’ve worked damned hard for that company and my personal life has nothing to do with work.’

‘For god’s sake…’ said Septimus, stung into anger again. ‘You’ve been having an affair with the sales director of our closest competitor – you wouldn’t have a leg to stand on.’

Petunia flushed in rage: ‘Don’t try and be funny – you’ll be laughing on the other side of your face when I’ve done with you, Septimus Gargle. I’m not resigning – and I’ll have you for every penny I can get in the divorce….’

***********

A week later the door to Septimus’ office flew open and in marched Upland’s broker, Hedley Lamarr, clearly incensed. ‘I want explanations. We’re less than three weeks from D-day and I’m hearing rumours I don’t like one tiny bit.’

Septimus gestured him to a chair, but the stockbroker moved not a muscle except to flare a nostril in impatience.

Upland’s chairman sighed deeply and recounted the painful story for the millionth time. ‘So Alaric has fired Kevin and is accusing Upland of industrial espionage. Petunia is threatening to take us to tribunal and has gone to some hot-shot lawyer to get me stuffed and mounted in the divorce. Kevin’s claiming half of Cosmia’s money in their divorce and everyone at Gargle Antiseptics is laughing themselves sick about it all.’

The broker made harrumphing sounds, whipped a bundle of newspapers, including an ominously pink one, from behind his back and tossed them on the desk. ‘Not just Gargle Antiseptics. The press have got hold of it. If you think you’re going to get a quote for your company on the London Stock Exchange now, think again. We certainly won’t be involved.’

‘Heddy …’ said Septimus, aghast.

‘Good day. And the name is Hedley.’

The broker stalked out of the office and moments later Septimus heard the outside door crash shut. He reached for a newspaper and opened it out. The black type shimmered on the salmon pink paper and he found he couldn’t focus on the print. A tabloid paper, folded to the relevant page, showed him his favourite photo of Petunia and a rather shaky and deeply unflattering picture of himself under some grotesque headline. Septimus shoved them to one side, seeing all his plans go up in smoke.

 Chapter 5 – Alaric’s nightmare

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