Bob and Amy Phillips and their four grown-up children run Lavender Cabs in the small Berkshire market town of Appleford. Everyone is involved. The business has grown – through three generations – into a thriving taxi and garage business. But when Bob is taken ill, he and Amy decide to retire to Devon, but to do this they would have to sell the business which would throw the entire family’s lives into turmoil…
It was Tuesday afternoon. The wind howled round the bungalow beneath a low, yellow sky, and Lavender Cabs were run off their feet. Everyone wanted taxis. No one could face that biting wind, not even to wait for a bus.
Amy paced up and down her parents’ living room, clenching and unclenching her hands. Not only was she dreading this confrontation with her sister and brother-in-law, but she was worried about Megan and Matt.
Megan had told her parents about Peter’s proposal – and they had said, Amy thought, all the right things in the circumstances. But then Megan had burst into tears, mumbled that she didn’t know what she wanted any more, and fled from the room, leaving her parents staring after her helplessly.
And Matt … Amy shook her head.
Matt and Sally had taken Kim and gone to London. For a break, Matt had said, white-faced, but while Sally had said nothing, her red-rimmed eyes spoke volumes.
Bob had protested that Lavender Cabs was really busy, it wasn’t the best time for anyone to take a break, but Matt had become so agitated that Amy had stepped in as mediator.
And now there was this.
‘If they don’t turn up soon, Mum, I’ll have to go. Bob’s out driving with Matt being away, and Megan’s manning the radio. We’re really pushed.’
Amy’s father grinned from the depths of his armchair beside the fire.
‘Don’t go complaining about too much work, lass. And Judith and Paul will be here soon – don’t fret. She was adamant on the phone. She said it had to be this afternoon. They’ve got something to tell us.’
Amy sighed. ‘Please let it be that Paul has got a fabulous job offer in the Outer Hebrides and that all four of them will be packing their bags!’
Stella Foster laughed. ‘Amy! This is your sister we’re talking about.’
‘I know.’ Amy sighed. ‘Sorry, Mum. I just don’t think I can cope with another whinge about me and Bob having done them out of their inheritance.’
‘That makes three of us.’ Jim tapped out his pipe on the mantelpiece. ‘I’m glad they’ve decided that they want to bring it all out into the open. Listen – is that their car?’
Stella bustled to the window. ‘Yes, and they’ve got Debbie and Dean with them – looking as sulky as ever.’
‘I don’t know why they don’t let those poor kids get on with their lives! Let Debbie go to art school and Dean study music, like they want to,’ Amy said. ‘They must be thoroughly cheesed off with being dragged into this.’
‘They’re not bad kids, considering, but I’m glad Paul wasn’t my father,’ Jim growled.
Amy hugged him. ‘So am I. I’ve the best dad in the world – and the best mum, of course.’
Jim beamed, and Stella was smiling as she hurried into the hall.
Paul bustled in, the collar on his sheepskin jacket turned up, and rubbed his hands. ‘Nice and warm in here, Dad. Hello, Amy.’
‘Hello.’ Amy forced a smile. ‘I think it’ll snow before the day’s out.’ Judith pressed her cheek against her sister’s.
‘I know you’re busy, Amy, so we won’t keep you.’
Amy noted that the whole family looked happier than she had seen them look for a long time.
‘The kettle’s on,’ Stella announced. ‘Sit yourselves down.’
Dean and Debbie, looking out of place and wary, perched on the edge of the sofa and everyone else found a chair.
‘We won’t waste anyone’s time,’ Paul said in his parade-ground voice. It had probably commanded great respect during his army career but now only served to set Amy’s teeth on edge.
‘We’ll put our cards on the table.’
‘Shares, actually,’ Judith giggled and everyone looked at her.
‘Yes, well.’ Paul took back the initiative. ‘As I understand it, shares in Lavender – both the taxi business and the garage – were divided with Bob and Amy holding forty-nine and Jim and Stella fifty-one. On Jim’s retirement, he held one share only and divided the others up between the Phillips children –’
‘Yes,’ Amy said. ‘We’ve been through all this a hundred times …’ She didn’t like the way Judith was smiling.
‘– with Megan and Matt each receiving twenty shares and Mitchell having the remaining ten?’ Paul went on as though without interruption.
Jim nodded, and Stella leaned forward.
‘But Mitchell didn’t want to be a shareholder, so Jim and I hold eleven in all. Bob and Amy are majority shareholders, with Megan and Matt holding the balance. There isn’t any room for negotiation, Paul. We divided the business up as we saw fit.’
‘Yes, of course.’ Paul grinned. ‘That’s all water under the bridge. We’ve solved the problem our way.’
‘Thank goodness for that!’ Jim lit his pipe, resting his head back in his chair. ‘Go and make that tea, Stella, and maybe we can all start behaving like a proper family again.’
Amy, watching her brother-in-law closely, had a sense of foreboding.
‘How exactly have you solved the problem, Paul?’
‘It was very simple.’ Judith gave the tinkling laugh that had irritated Amy from childhood. ‘Maybe if you spent more time with your children, Amy, as we do with ours …’ She smiled at Dean and Debbie, who didn’t meet her eyes.
‘Get to the point, Judith.’ Stella glared at both her daughters. ‘You’re grown women with families – not little girls squabbling over hair ribbons!’
‘We now own twenty shares in Lavender!’ Judith’s words rang out triumphantly. ‘And we’re here to tell you how we intend to use them.’
Silence invaded the room. Only the fire was brave enough to make a sound until Jim’s pipe fell into the hearth with a clatter, breaking the spell.
‘Sally has been wanting to start her own business for some considerable time,’ Judith explained. ‘But because of this notion that the Phillips family can only be involved in Lavender, she’s been unable to do so. We – um – helped her out of that situation …’
‘No!’ Amy jumped to her feet. ‘Not Matt? You haven’t …?’
‘He didn’t take much persuasion,’ Judith said quietly. ‘He was desperate to keep Sally happy, to keep his marriage together. We gave him a fair price. Certainly enough for them to start this aromatherapy thing that Sally’s so keen on …’
Stella and Jim sat looking stunned. Amy could feel the tears burning her eyes. So that was why Matt and Sally had decided on their impromptu holiday! She felt sick. Why on earth hadn’t Matt told her? No, that was obvious. He’d known only too well how she and Bob would react.
‘But we would have to have been, told, surely?’ Amy protested. ‘The other shareholders would have to agree, wouldn’t they?’
‘Not unless it was going to alter the balance of power,’ Stella explained, her eyes cold as she surveyed her son-in-law. ‘I assume you took legal advice?’
‘Naturally. It was all done through our solicitor. Matt will carry on driving for Lavender, of course,’ Paul said. ‘He’ll also be employed on the garage side. He’ll simply take a salary – as Mitchell does. It seems as though your children, Amy, aren’t quite as keen on Lavender Cabs as you are,’ he added in a sneering tone.
‘We’d like Debbie and Dean to become involved in the business,’ Judith went on. ‘I’ll help out as and when, and we’d like to suggest that Paul becomes marketing manager …’
‘What?’ Jim roared, jerked out of his stunned silence. ‘Lavender doesn’t need a marketing manager!’
‘Oh, but it might,’ Paul said quietly, ‘if we’re going to interest the big boys. This is our opportunity to drag Lavender where it belongs – into the twenty-first century. Into the world of multi-retailing, fast food, promotions –’
‘Never! Not as long as I’ve got breath in my body!’ Amy looked wildly at her parents. ‘Mum – Dad – tell him!’
Stella’s eyes were filled with tears, and Jim’s face was grey. He took a deep breath and stared icily at Judith and Paul.
‘Lavender stays as it is – as it’s always been. You might be my family, but I will not let you destroy what I’ve built.’ He stopped, swallowing his anger, and looked at Amy. ‘Tell Matt I want to see him the minute he gets back.’