“The sweet smell of success.” That’s what Abby privately called the distinctive and powerful pong, reminiscent of leather and rubbing alcohol, that surrounded her boss like a forcefield. It preceded him into meeting rooms, trailed behind him and lingered as he passed her desk. And in the sanctum sanctorum – his corner office at Bancroft, Whitman and Bigelow – it gathered and brooded. The smell was of Ole Jiminy’s pomade: a product that Ed had been using on his hair since he’d been a 15-year-old boy playing tennis with wooden racquets on Martha’s Vineyard.
Ed Bancroft was born in Connecticut midway through the last century. He was the sort of guy who wore seersucker in earnest; so purebred a WASP was he that the stripes might as well have been yellow and black. He’d inherited a small fortune and made it a large one, and had moved to England with his second wife Tabby, where 36 years on he continued to comport himself precisely as if he’d never left New England. That slick pompadour – thinner now, and platinum-coloured – was Ed’s comfort and his calling card. He could be seen through the glass window of his office, stroking and patting it as if it were a much-loved family pet.
There were two places in London that stocked Ole Jiminy – both of them within a mile’s radius of the offices in St James’s, and both of them at Ed’s personal insistence. It seemed that he was the only person in the UK whose head was anointed with the adored ointment. (Ole Jiminy himself was an obscure figure, who having been “Ole” in the 1930s could safely be presumed to have no further need for his own product.)
“I’ve run out of pomade,” Ed’s voice called from the inner office every few months. “Could you be a doll and run out and get me some?” That was always the signal for Abby to rise from her desk and trot to the shop. Not in five minutes; not in 10. Right then. A pomade crisis was the only thing Abby had ever seen cause Ed to lose his cool. On this occasion she jumped up, leaving a letter half-typed, and headed for the lift.
The starchy gents’ barber, marginally less of a walk, was her first port of call. But as Julio saw her coming, he gave a very Italian shrug, hoisting his hands: “Dispiace!” he mouthed at her. It was the same story in the boutique pharmacy. The manager took her aside. Glago Cosmeceuticals had bought the tiny Chicago company in order to acquire some of its other long-defunct trademarks they wanted to use for a 1950s nostalgia line; they weren’t interested in Ole Jiminy’s and had shut down production.
Back in the office, Ed looked stricken. Nervously, he removed his stiff thin comb from a pocket and started to pass it through his hair. Was there any in the warehouse? She’d already checked. Glago had dumped the lot. “eBay?” he asked shakily, pronouncing it “ebbay”. Only empty tins trading to memorabilia collectors.
Ed sat in his deep leather chair, worry crinkling his brow, and steepled his fingers. “Call an extraordinary general meeting,” he said.
“Mr Bancroft?” she said.
“Do it,” said Ed. “Please, Miss Small.”
It was not made entirely clear to the board why – his never having taken an interest in the personal-grooming sector before – Ed Bancroft was urging that the firm take a controlling interest in Glago Cosmeceuticals. But Ed was nothing if not persuasive – he hinted at some inside track – and they went for it. They bought the shares first slowly, and then in great fistfuls.
The Bancroft Effect, as an influential financial columnist had once called it, kicked in. What did these noted value investors know that others didn’t, the markets wondered? They wondered, and – not wanting to miss the bus, wherever it was going – they bought the shares. Glago’s price doubled. Ole Jiminy’s resumed production. Ed stockpiled. Then – with Glago topping out at three times the price at which BWB had started buying – BWB abruptly sold its holding at a considerable profit.
“Ah,” said Ed, running a comb through his refulgent quiff. “The sweet smell of success…”