Ariion Kathleen Brindley


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Oxana's Pit

A Novel by
Charley Brindley



Chapter 1


Vincent Tramain reached to touch the polished brass of his new company nameplate and saw a blurred reflection in the shiny metal --- someone was behind him. He turned and stepped back against the door in surprise. Three identical young women stood side by side before him. A moment ago the hallway had been empty.

         Heart racing, he gave them a nervous smile and subtly tried the door handle behind his back, hoping he hadn't locked it. He wasn't afraid of them, it was just an involuntary reaction. Glancing down the hall to his left, he saw one of the elevator doors closing. So, he thought, that's where they came from.

         He regained his composure and looked from one to the next, trying to find features in their faces to separate them. And supposing that exceptional people find it a bit tedious for others to display their surprise at seeing them, he was determined to pretend he saw nothing peculiar in their appearance.

         "Excuse me, ladies." Stepping to one side, he made his way around the triplets. But then one of them spoke.

         "We're here about the management positions," the woman in the middle announced. Her penetrating eyes gave his impeccable dark pinstripe suit a quick once-over.

         "Are they still open?" said the one on the right, picking up where the first one left off. She sounded just as impetuous as the first, but her tone of voice was not so pushy, or commanding as the one in the middle. Was she trying to temper her sister's forwardness? Perhaps with a touch of prudence?

         Vincent looked at the third one, thinking she would continue the dialogue. She didn't speak and the three faces adopted an identical expectant look as they waited for his answer.

         "Yes," he said after a moment. "The positions are open, but Mrs. Applesauce...I mean Mrs. Applegate, has already left for the day. She's conducting the interviews." He mangled the woman's name on purpose to crack their icy veneer. They didn't seem to be amused. When he saw no smile from any of them, he looked down at the floor, embarrassed by his intentional slip-up. "Perhaps if you could come back in the morning..." he moved away and started down the hall. "I really must be going."

         "No," said the middle one. "That's not possible."

         "By this time tomorrow we must be employed," the one on the right added with a softer tone.

         Vincent turned, but didn't bother looking at the third one this time. She hadn't said anything yet. "Why?" he asked the middle one. Brash was the only word that came to mind. And she seemed to be in charge. He cast a quick look at her feet and then let his eyes roam up the length of her body, pausing for a moment here and there. Nice legs, he thought. Too bad they're attached to such a bully. His mind wandered to an imagined glimpse of six identical bare breasts, C-cup he estimated. Maybe C and a half if unrestrained and...

         "Because," explained the third one, speaking for the first time as she glanced at her sister, "if we're not gainfully employed by five tomorrow afternoon, we'll lose our apartment."

         Ah, a chink in the armor of their inscrutability, Vincent thought. He watched them for a moment. What did he have here? Three young ladies who were clearly ambitious and ardent in their determination, but only one trying to be amenable. And she was not rude or blunt; tactful was a better description of the third one. Yes, Miss Tactful. Did she know how much she had revealed? Perhaps Miss Brash in the middle was aware that he had figured out they were broke and behind on their rent. And probably late on their car payment, phone bill and credit cards as well.

         "Are you the manager?" Naturally, it was Miss Brash. Her eyes locked on his and never wavered.

         "You might say that. My name is Vincent Tramain." He was never sure whether to shake hands with women or not, although he would like to. None of the three offered their hands so he didn't either.

         "Does Mrs. Applegate report to you?" asked Miss Prudent from the right.

         He wondered how they did that --- continued each other's thoughts. Was it one mind multiplied in three bodies?

         "Yes, she does."

         "Then you can interview us." It was a demand, not a request, coming from Miss Brash.

         "That's not possible." Vincent glanced at his watch --- it was almost six. Miss Brash was beginning to get on his nerves. Normally he indulged rude people, at least until he could politely get away from them. He had put in a long day and was expected at dinner in thirty minutes.

         "It won't take long." It was Miss Tactful, the quiet one, and with a smile, too.

         Vincent set his briefcase on the floor. He never tired of seeing the marvelous change a smile brings to the female countenance. Eyes narrow and soften, muscles in the cheeks alter the shape of the face from long and somber to elliptical and pliable. A smiling face opens a window onto the personality that seems supple, perhaps even malleable. Looking over at Miss Brash, he guessed it would pain her if she tried to smile. He returned to more pleasurable scenery and noticed Miss Tactful's eyes following his every move. Watching with apparent interest each gesture and motion as if trying to glean some tiny bit of intelligence from everything he did. What a threesome, he thought, so identical and yet so remarkably different.

         "Suppose, for the sake of argument," Vincent said, "that I already have two applicants in mind who are fully qualified for the management positions and I only need one more person. Which of you would be applying for the ONE remaining position?" He didn't have anyone else lined up for the jobs, but he thought he knew the answer to his question.

         "Not possible," said Miss Brash.

         "We went through every employment ad in the newspaper," said Miss Prudent, her eyes leaving his as soon as he looked at her.

         "And," explained Miss Tactful, as she adjusted the purse strap on her shoulder, "we called all the agencies, looking for a company with openings for three managers. We want to get jobs at one company so we can stay together." She glanced at the newly engraved nameplate on the door. "Andalusia Publishing, and two other companies were the only ones in the entire city who were looking for three managers who could work together."

         "Who were the other two companies?" he asked, looking at their hands; none of them wore wedding bands. He didn't really care if they were married or not, he was just curious to know whether they conducted their lives alike. Miss Brash did have one plain ring on her right index finger. It was set with an irregular honey-colored stone, tiny but deep enough to catch the light. Why did she allow herself this one expression of individuality when she apparently worked hard to communicate an aura of haughty identicalness? The other two sisters wore no rings. He glanced at their earlobes --- no piercing in any of them. Tattoos? he wondered. Vincent made a bet with himself that Miss Brash had a black widow spider tattooed on her butt. A wager, he thought, that would probably never be settled.

         Miss Brash glanced at Vincent's little grin as she intercepted his question. "We decided to give you the first rights to us," she said.

         Vincent kept his smile, he knew she didn't mean that the way it sounded. Looking from one to the other, he considered his predicament. He was in desperate need of a management staff and Mrs. Applegate had not yet found any candidates to her liking. He wanted to hire his managers before bringing in other employees. Then the department supervisors could help with filling the remaining openings; the clerks, computer operators and receptionist. Perhaps he should consider the triplets for some of the management positions, and they were very attractive --- that was a plus as far as he was concerned. Surely Miss Brash could be tamed. His intuition was not always on the mark, but this time...yes, he made up his mind.

         "Do you ladies have plans for the evening?" He was looking at Miss Prudent. "I would be pleased to have you for dinner...I mean," he stammered, "have you as my guests."

         Miss Brash slitted her eyes and began a brusque reply, but Miss Prudent cut her off. "No plans, and we're starved." Miss Tactful smiled in agreement.

         "Hang on a sec." Vincent said, as he thought, Ha! Overruled, Miss Brash --- three to one. He took a cellphone from an inside jacket pocket. While Miss Tactful glanced from his hands, to the phone and then to his eyes, he entered a number and put the instrument to his ear. After a moment someone answered.

         "Hi, Miriam," he said, smiling at Miss Tactful. "Have the Hendersons arrived yet?" He listened. "When they get there, fix them a shaker of martinis, feed them dinner and make them comfortable, I'll be along as soon as possible --- something has come up. And make the usual excuses for me." After waiting a moment he added, "Yes, I know they've heard all my reasons for being late. You're a sweetheart --- of course, you did know that already." Now all three ladies watched him intently. "That will be fine. I'll see you later."

         He pressed the OFF button, put the phone away and picked up his briefcase. "This way, ladies."

         When they reached the parking garage, Vincent pressed a button on the transmitter attached to his key chain. The lights came on inside a long, sleek, midnight blue automobile. He pressed the button again and the two doors swung open.

         Vincent went to the passenger side and folded the seat forward to allow two of the women to get into the back. Catching himself looking at their legs, he turned to inspect a blob of something on the roof of his car. He frowned and was tempted to whisk the droppings off his car, but decided to leave it for the weekly car wash. Returning his attention to the two ladies who had settled themselves in the back seat, he realized he had lost track of who was who. The third one got in the front after he dropped the seat-back into place. He had no idea how they decided which one would ride in the front seat, but there had been no discussion or confusion about the arrangement.

         He put his briefcase in the trunk and got into the driver's seat. Slipping his key into the ignition, he turned it and the twelve-cylinder engine roared to life, then smoothed out to a powerful purr.

         As they pulled into heavy traffic and turned west toward the setting sun, someone in the back spoke, "Can we put the top down?"

         "If you can stand the wind." He looked in the rearview mirror to see who had asked.

         "We can," the two in the back answered in unison. The triplet sitting in the seat next to him remained silent.

         "All right," he said as he popped open a compartment at his right elbow and took out a hat. "You asked for it." He pressed a button on the dashboard as they came to a stop at the next signal light. He put on a blue baseball cap with an intricate logo embroidered above the bill. It displayed a large drop of rainwater with a stand of towering sequoia reflected in it. There was blue sky in the background with fleecy clouds floating by. The words "Echo Forests" were stitched in a half-circle under the logo.

         When the car's convertible top started lifting and folding itself back into the boot, the woman sitting next to him asked, "What kind of car is this?"

         The light turned green just as the convertible top settled into place and Vincent stepped on the accelerator. Glancing over, he found her looking at the bird's-eye maple trim on the dashboard and the soft Cordovan leather of the seats, armrests and door panels. She had a rather contemptuous look on her face.

         "Jaguar," he said, and thought, hello Miss Brash.

         His car phone rang and he checked the caller ID display. Miss Brash also looked at it. Vincent let the call roll over to his home phone. She glanced at him and then turned away to look out her side window.



They arrived at Le Fontaine's on the edge of the financial district. Decorated in the style of a French chateau, it catered to wealthy businessmen and women who conducted their commerce over excellent food, expensive wine and fine china.

         Delicate shades of amber and jade glowed through Tiffany glass. The soft notes of Moonlight Sonata blended easily with the quiet lighting and hushed conversations.

         The maitre'd led them around a travertine fountain in the center of the main dining room. Sparkling blue water babbled down patinated surfaces and splashed into the deep pool. Fat goldfish swam lazy circles over a shimmering layer of copper and silver coins.

         The man showed them to a spacious booth, laid out their menus and hurried away. A hovering waiter took his place.

         "Good evening, Mr. Tramain, will your party be having drinks tonight?"

         "Ladies?" Vincent asked as he looked from one to the other. He was seated on one side of the table by himself while the three of them sat across from him.

         "Zinfandel," said the one on the left.

         Vincent and the waiter looked to the next one.

         "Zinfandel," said the one in the middle.

         The waiter nodded and looked to the third one --- a knowing smirk on his face.

         "Do you have Budweiser?" she asked.

         Vincent stifled a smile and pretended to study his menu. "Uh, yes, of course," said the waiter.

         "Then I'll have that," she said.

         "Ice tea for you, Mr. Tramain?"

         "Yes, Herman. Thank you."

         The women glanced at each other --- Miss Tactful had a perplexed look, Miss Prudent took up her napkin, knocking a fork to her lap. Were they concerned about their drink orders since Vincent was having tea?

         "Very good, Sir." The waiter bowed slightly to the triplets and sauntered off.

         "Now then," Vincent said as he laid his menu down. "Why should I hire you ladies to work for me?"

         "We have a degree in business management," said the one on the left.

         Vincent was tempted to ask if the three of them had worked on a single degree. But he thought better of it --- Miss Brash surely wouldn't see anything funny about it. Then he wondered if they had arranged themselves in the same order as they had been in the hallway outside his office. He glanced to his right at the one who had ordered the Budweiser. She smiled at him. No, she must be Miss Tactful. Looking from one to the other, he still couldn't find anything to tell them apart --- they were carbon copies of each other. Their clothing and hair styles matched. Their noses were perfectly proportioned, finely featured and completely identical. With the exception of Miss Tactful who seemed to be the only one who could smile, their lips presented matching curls. Then he remembered the ring he had seen on Miss Brash's finger. He glanced from one hand to the other. The ring was gone! It was on her right hand --- he was sure of that, and he could see all three right hands. Odd, he thought. Why had she removed it? Was Miss Brash playing tricks on him?

         "Work experience?" he asked as he looked at the one in the middle.

         "We just graduated last week," answered the one on the left.

         Vincent groaned and shifted in his seat. "Oh," he said and ran his fingers through the hair on the side of his head as if it were mussed. His hair was freshly trimmed and he was clean-shaven. Although by this time of the evening a dark shadow of a mustache was becoming visible.

         She went on before he could give voice to his concern. "What are the three positions you have open?" It was not a polite question and her face took on a rather insistent expression.

         That had to be Miss Brash on his left. He sighed --- he couldn't possibly hire three inexperienced managers, even if they had MBA degrees. One of the three positions might be filled by an unseasoned college graduate --- Vincent and the other managers could train him --- but three people with no work experience...no, that was totally out of the question. He felt a touch of disappointment. Somewhere in the back of his mind, he had already been thinking of their first day on the job and how he would struggle to separate Miss Brash from Miss Tactful and Miss Prudent. If, for instance, he met one of them in the office kitchenette, would he wait to see if she smiled, or glared at him with mean eyes or looked quickly down at her coffee before he said good morning Miss So-in-So? Ah well, he thought, some fantasies must remain in the realm of make-believe.

         Vincent could not suddenly announce the evening was over and take them home. Since they had not yet placed their orders for dinner, they would be together for at least an hour, maybe longer. Not really an unpleasant prospect --- an hour with three beautiful women. An anticipation more easily acquired than dismissed. He decided to use the time wisely and tell them about his operation --- it would help him think through his plans and get organized for the first day of business, which was only ten days away.

         Prospects for the new company lifted his spirits and his optimism began to rise. He remembered his father's best friend, years ago telling people; "That boy, he's the kind of kid who'll go out after Moby Dick in a row boat and take the tartar sauce along with him." Vincent thought about his father for a moment and wondered how much longer his inheritance was going to last. The new corporation was going to take a lot of the capital accumulated over the past half century. He was the last heir in a long unbroken line of males and he worried constantly about what he would leave for the next generation.

         When would that new generation begin? Vincent was thirty-two and not even dating anyone. He had not been serious about love since Jadey. A movement caught his eye. The sister on his right, Miss Tactful, reached to rub her earlobe. When he looked her way, she smiled.

         Why can't Miss Brash be a little more encouraging? he wondered.

         "There will be three departments in the company," he began, still looking at Miss Tactful. Then he turned back to Miss Brash. "Each with a manager, five clerks and computer operators. A total of twenty positions all together."

         The drinks came and the waiter set the Budweiser in front of Miss Brash after placing the two wine glasses before the other two sisters. She didn't say anything, but waited until he walked away, then she handed the beer to Miss Tactful who passed her the red wine.

         "That's only eighteen positions," said Miss Brash after she sipped her wine. "What are the other two?"

         "Well, I would like to have a secretary for myself." Vincent stirred a half packet of Sweet'N Low into his tea. Then he took a package of Equal and poured half of it into his glass also. He stirred again and took a sip. "She, or he, will also double as our receptionist."

         "Then Mrs. Applegate is the twentieth person?" It was the middle one this time, Miss Prudent.

         "No. Mrs. Applegate is a business consultant who's only working for me temporarily until we're fully staffed. She'll be gone after thirty days."

         "Then, what's the twentieth position?" asked Miss Tactful with a smile.

         "Wait a minute," said Miss Brash.

         Vincent looked at her, as did her sisters. Now what's her problem, he asked himself. Miss Tactful was easy to like --- open and thoughtfully diplomatic, no pretense of anything other than one who wanted to know and understand him. Miss Prudent could be tolerated and after a time, maybe she would be likable. She was a little stiff and reserved, perhaps somewhat fearful of a man getting too close to her. But this Miss Brash --- nothing but a pain in the ass.

         "Is this a start-up operation?" Miss Brash asked.

         Vincent nodded. "I thought you knew." When he placed the ad in the newspaper, he failed to mention that his company was new --- qualified applicants might not apply. Obviously she could not have known it was a start-up, but now he was just trying to tip her off balance.

         "No, we didn't know." She was thoughtful for a moment. "I think we've made a mistake." The other two seemed to agree. They didn't speak or nod, only watched Vincent and waited for him or their sister to make the next move.

         "A mistake?" Vincent said, leaning forward, trying to see if there was anything in her eyes that could possibly be identified as soft.

         Miss Brash went on. "We don't want to work for a new company that might not be in operation very long."

         "Seventy-five percent of all new companies fail within the first year," quoted Miss Prudent, trying to be helpful.

         "We were actually looking for a bigger company, one that will be around for a while." Miss Brash again, naturally.

         Vincent felt his pulse quicken and he tried to subdue his rising temper. He wanted to project an image of the cool and accomplished businessman, but sometimes he was nothing more than a klutz. And he had another problem; he was intimidated by women --- especially women whose intelligence he considered greater than his. He was also tired of this woman's attitude.

         "Well," he said, "I hate to disappoint you, Miss Brash..." The word slipped out before he realized it.

         "Bravant," she said, and added ironically, "But you were close." She didn't pronounce the final "t" in her name, but said it in the French way.

         "Miss Bravant, of course." After stumbling over her name, he tried to cool his flushed face with a long drink of iced tea. Restraint, he said to himself. "I plan for Andalusia Publishing to be in business long after the three of you are rocking away at the old folks' home." He wasn't doing very well at controlling his temper. "And furthermore, I don't need three uninitiated college graduates to explain to me the risks of starting a new company." So much for decorum and restraint, he said to himself.

         There was dead silence for a few seconds before anyone spoke.

         "What's the twentieth position?"

         Vincent looked at Miss Tactful, on the right. She smiled and sipped her Budweiser.

         He took a deep breath and slowly let it out. "That job will go to my vice president. He..." Vincent paused but didn't bother adding the words; "or she." "...will have to run the operation on a day-to-day basis. I don't intend to be in the office every day. And, for your information..." He looked back at Miss Brash-Bravant. "...I plan to fill that position by letting the three managers compete for it. Then, when one of them is promoted to vice president, he will hire a replacement for his old department. I'm sure they taught you in business school, that interdepartmental friction is good for the overall health of the management staff. I want the best to rise to the top. The ones who can't take the pressure can drop out and they'll be replaced with people who can do the job. With all due respect..." He looked from one to the other. "...I don't think the three of you could compete with each other for any of the jobs."

         Fortunately the waiter chose that particular moment to take their orders. The man glanced from one frowning face to the next, looking hopeful. When no one acknowledged his presence, he said, "I think I better come back later."

         "No, Herman" said Miss Brash-Bravant, and she shot a piercing look at Vincent. "We're ready to order." She grabbed her menu and popped it open. After a quick scan of the items, she said, "I'll have the veal filet mignon with crab filled morel mushrooms." She dropped her menu to the table, folded her arms and fixed Vincent with her icy stare. "Medium rare," she said before the waiter could ask.

         Why not pig brains and eyeballs, Vincent mused as he held her stare. Or dead insects and spent lovers as preferred by all the normal black widows.

         Miss Prudent ordered the roast duckling with orange and fig chutney and dropped her menu to the table.

         Vincent looked down the list of entrées and noticed they were ordering the most expensive dishes. After a moment, he realized Miss Tactful hadn't ordered yet. He looked up to find her two sisters watching her, waiting for her order. Let me guess, Vincent said to himself --- Alaska King Crab.

         "How's the fried chicken?" Miss Tactful asked the waiter.

         "Delicious," the man said. "And it comes with your choice of two vegetables."

         Vincent glanced at her and then at Miss Brash.

         "Okay, I'll have that," said Miss Tactful. "With baked potato and snow peas."

         "Very well. And you, Mr. Tramain. The usual?"

         "No." He dropped his menu and looked over at Miss Brash. "I'll have what she's having, Herman." He waited for the waiter to write veal filet mignon on his pad and for Miss Brash to blink. She didn't.

         "Rare," Vincent said.

         Miss Brash sipped her wine nonchalantly and inquired, "Do you have a business plan?"

         "Excuse me?" the waiter said.

         Miss Brash ignored him, her eyes were on Vincent.

         "Of course," Vincent said.

         The waiter picked up the menus and made his escape.

         They talked about the five-year business plan for a few minutes --- projected income, estimated expenses, cost of office furnishings and equipment, payroll, taxes and insurance. And then Miss Brash asked, "What's your capitalization?"

         Good question. Vincent hesitated. Was it any of her business how much money he had set aside for company operations? Was it anyone's business? He saw her look him over. She was obviously studying the cut of his suit and the quality of the fabric, and she seemed to be inspecting his hands --- looking for rings, perhaps a wedding band? Making sure she had to tilt her head to get a good look at his fingers, he picked up his glass with his left hand. Was she sizing him up?

         Putting his drink down, he finally decided to answer her question. "A million and a half." After all, he thought, I'm not going to hire them. Does it matter what they know about me or the company? And besides, he felt he had something to prove to her. Maybe not about himself or the money, but about his business expertise. Let's see how much she really knows, he thought.

         The three women exchanged glances. "Is that cash, or equity in other assets?" asked Miss Brash.

         Another good question. How does she know all this financial crap? Vincent wondered. He remembered business school as a pile of management theory, nothing of any practical value. Real financial procedures had to be learned in the bloody battles of day-to-day operations --- the harsh reality of cash flow. But here she was, an untrained bachelorette of business administration, asking the right questions. "Cash," he said.

         "What's your company's product?" asked Miss Prudent.

         Their food came and the four of them leaned back to give the waiter room to place the meals in front of them. When everything was set the three women exchanged plates.

         Vincent was amused by their automatic sorting out of other people's confusion caused by their identical appearances. And they displayed their silently collaborated consideration by waiting until the waiter left before they corrected his mistakes. An inflated sense of self-importance could easily allow the three women to embarrass or belittle someone. But Vincent saw not the slightest hint of conceit in the Bravant sisters. Well, maybe a little in Miss Brash.

         "It's a new magazine," he said softly in answer to Miss Prudent's question about the company's product.

         There was a moment of silence except for the sound of silverware on china as they cut their food and ate. The three women apparently were not impressed with another magazine hitting an already glutted market.

         "What's it called?" asked Miss Tactful.

         "Orphan," he said and then chewed a bite of veal. It was a moment before Vincent realized something had happened. When he looked up, he found all three had stopped dead in their tracks. Food halfway to their mouths, silverware poised --- they all stared at him.

         He cut a piece of meat from his steak. "It's a magazine called Orphan," he explained and dipped the meat into a pool of steak sauce. He put the bite in his mouth.

         The three women went back to their food. Eating slowly now, and quietly. They seemed absorbed in the last words he spoke.

         "You mean," began Miss Brash and she paused to chew a bite. "It's a magazine without a parent publication?"

         "Or," said Miss Prudent, "a magazine about orphans?"

         "I guess it could be both," Vincent said. "There is no parent publication, but actually it's a magazine for and about orphans."

         After a few seconds of silence, the floodgates opened and all three of them spoke at once.

         "Have you done market research?"

         "Are you on the Internet?"

         "What kind of ads will you take?"

         "Who's going to write the editorials?"

         "What about photos and artwork?"

         "Will you print letters to the editor?"

         "What's the cover price?"

         "Have you contacted distributors and bookstores yet?"

         "Will you give free copies to orphanages?"

         "What do you know about orphans?"

         Vincent laid his knife and fork down, picked up his napkin and sat back in the seat. He was overwhelmed by the questions and the unexpected enthusiasm of his three dinner guests. And something else was happening --- a distinctive warming of the atmosphere around the table. The air was suddenly elastic and lighter, easier to breathe. It seemed there had been some invisible pressure alternately compressing and loosening its grip on his body all evening. Like a sated boa constrictor, toying with its prey --- not really hungry but unwilling to let go of a delicious --- and occasionally entertaining --- victim. But now, all was peaceful.

         He answered the last question first. "The only thing I know about orphans, is that I am one."

         Miss Brash's smile was almost sweet. "So are we."





You can write to Charley at





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