Gargle Antiseptics’ turnover is now £53 million – PTP about £1.9m). Upland Hygiene has grown to £44 million, with margins of more than 10%. Septimus has tried and failed to float the company twice; his marriage ended in divorce four years ago.
Alaric picked the next letter off the pile of post in front of him, and frowned as he recognised the name of the big City law firm on the letterhead. He caught sight of the words ‘Ulysses Bogle’ – a name that had plagued him for days – and snorted in disgust. ‘Hell’s teeth! Him again …’ he snarled, flinging the letter across the desk in a fit of temper.
This man, Ulysses Bogle, had been ringing Alaric every day for over a week, demanding a meeting with the Gargle Antiseptics board. He wouldn’t say what he wanted to discuss, in fact was damned mysterious altogether. And he sounded foreign – American, Alaric thought. He didn’t like Americans, despite having agreed to set up a joint venture to manufacture and market Gargle products in the USA; so far Alaric had managed to avoid going over there, leaving the preparation to his management team to sort out. He knew he’d have to get involved once the deal was close to completion, but he was damned if he had to get involved with the blasted colonials any sooner than he had to. Now this wretched Bogle blighter was making a nuisance of himself. Probably wanted to sell them something. But the fact of the lawyers’ letter revisited itself on Alaric’s vexed mind, and he had to retrieve it – with curses – from its resting place in the crack between his desk and the wall.
Red-faced from his exertions, Alaric turned an alarming shade of purple when he read the letter, which was couched in coolly warlike terms. Phrases like ‘despite our client’s determined efforts … initial informal approach ….. strength of our client’s claim on your company … leave us no option but to insist … application to the Court …’
Without bothering to open his office door, Alaric bellowed at his secretary: ‘Jane – get Amos and Hugh in here this minute! And find Malachi – I want him here.’
There was a muted scuffling and the sound of agitated voices down the corridor. It took about ninety seconds for Amos to arrive, and in his wake a harrassed-looking Jane said in a stage whisper: ‘Mr. Jampton said he’ll be with you in a couple of minutes,’ and whipped the door shut before Alaric could bellow at her again.
The twins waited in simmering silence for four minutes before the finance director strolled in looking cool and calm. Alaric, who was neither, waved the offending letter in his cohorts’ faces, crushing the expensive vellum in his white-knuckled fist and spluttering wrathful imprecations.
Next door Jane was straining to hear the debate; she had read the letter, of course, and knew that this Bogle character and his expensive lawyers meant trouble for her boss. She tried and failed to suppress a grin.
The whole family was assembled for the Extraordinary General Meeting; Alaric had tried to find a way to avoid Septimus coming to the EGM, but in vain – his treacherous little brother sat at the boardroom table looking smug and drawing stupid doodles on his notepad.
The seven siblings waited for almost half an hour before Jane announced their visitors. In swept a designer-dressed threesome – a tall blonde woman in a pin-striped suit (peculiar how a man’s suit could look so feminine, thought Alaric), a black man in a dark suit and gold-rimmed specs, and the pest Bogle, a short skinny tick with piggy eyes and a weedy moustache.
The blonde woman jumped in without preamble. ‘Good morning. My name is Wanda Niblick, this is my colleague Archie Leach and our client Mr. Ulysses Bogle. I’ll get to the point. Mr. Bogle has recently discovered title to shares in Gargle Antiseptics.’ The lawyer paused for several seconds while the family spluttered and squawked, then continued. ‘It would appear that Mr. Bogle’s shares in the company date back to the early days of the company; he is a direct descendant of Evermore Gargle, your company’s founder.’
The little tick with the moustache shifted nervously; the man in black sat motionless; and the Gargles sat as though poleaxed.
Wanda went on, remorseless: ‘Evermore Gargle had two sons; you are descended from his eldest son Elisha, while Mr. Bogle’s forebear is the younger son, Abel. On his death Evermore Gargle bequeathed only 80% of the family firm to Elisha …’ she paused for dramatic effect … ‘and 20% to Abel. This 20% shareholding has never been diluted, and Mr. Ulysses Bogle has incontrovertible proof that he is, therefore, the single largest shareholder in your company, with 20% of the equity. He is, consequently, claiming his full entitlement of the past six years’ dividends and his full voting rights in the business from today.’
Cutting short apoplectic expletives from the directors, Wanda gestured to her companions. ‘I think Mr. Bogle should tell you his story.’
All Gargle eyes swivelled towards the weedy moustache, but had to swivel back as the bespectacled black man cleared his throat and began to speak.
Through a swirling red haze of outrage, Alaric came to an appalling conclusion and leapt from his chair, slamming his fist on the table, and shouted: ‘Impossible! Bloody ridiculous!’ Bogle stopped speaking and looked at him. Alaric gestured wildly: “How can he be related to us? He’s … he’s… foreign!’
To Alaric’s intense fury, Bogle chuckled. ‘You mean I’m black,’ he said softly in his cultured Boston accent. ‘How observant,’ he said.
Septimus interrupted: ‘He’s actually the spitting image of Dad – look at that Gargle nose.’ Septimus got to his feet, roaring with laughter, and stretched across the table to shake the hand of the American. ‘Well, Cousin Ulysses, welcome to the family!’
Five weeks later Septimus and Ulysses were having dinner at La Recidiviste, Septimus’s favourite restaurant. ‘So as well as the claim on the equity we’ve served a writ for slander, a $1 million claim for damages over racial discrimination and a claim for about £1.5 million in back dividends. I reckon your brother has plenty to think about over Easter,’ said Ulysses.
Septimus, who regarded Ulysses as something of a gift from the gods, hadn’t enjoyed himself so much for years, watching his siblings running in ever decreasing circles as the Bogle war machine rumbled onwards through the litigation process. Ulysses, a corporate lawyer with Harvard and MIT laurels, two ex-wives, no children, a million-dollar house in Boston, holiday homes in Vermont and Martha’s Vineyard, two Lamborghinis and a TV star girlfriend, had no need of a job with Gargle Antiseptics (USA) Inc, but his rejected application was another forceful lever exerting pressure on Alaric – it was ecstasy watching him squirm.
‘Will you keep your shares, or do you just want to sell and forget about us?’ Septimus had his fingers crossed for Ulysses’ response.
‘Sell? You kidding?’ said the American. ‘The company’s worth diddly-squat at the moment, and why would I want to say goodbye to such a delightful and welcoming family?’
Septimus was almost blinded by the gleam from his cousin’s perfect orthodontics, and he grinned back. ‘We’re an accepting and forward-thinking bunch, aren’t we? So… how do you fancy helping me to get rid of the family business’s principal liabilities?’ His fingers were still crossed.
Ulysses smirked. ‘You mean Alaric and Amos? Could be fun. Tell me what you had in mind…’