Disclaimer: I did not invent the tale of Rumpelstiltskin. The opening paragraphs of each chapter are my own paraphrases of the original story.
Once upon a time there lived a poor miller who had only one child, a daughter. Now the girl was beautiful, and she was also clever, which is more to be valued than beauty. One day, as the king was passing by in his coach, he saw the girl and ordered the horses to stop. The miller came out, bowing very low before the king. "Who is that beautiful girl?" asked the king. "She is my daughter," replied the miller, "and she is as clever as she is beautiful." Then his pride got the better of him and he added, "Why, she is so clever, she can spin straw into gold." "This is a talent that pleases me well," cried the king, for he was very greedy, despite his immense wealth. "Bring her to my palace tomorrow, that we may have proof of this matter."
Chapter 1: On the Dangers of Affectionate Fathers
"Tell me about yourself, Mr. Miller."
Richard Miller ran a finger beneath his suddenly too tight collar. "Yes, sir, of course sir. What would you like to know…sir?"
The man-behind-the-desk leaned back in his chair and eyed the scrawny figure before him with the assurance of one who holds destiny in his hands. The man-behind-the desk was tall and broad-shouldered, with a superb tan, and an Armani suit perfectly tailored to his impressive physique. The man-behind-the-desk was Maximus Ferdinand King (the fourth), and since his primary rival, Prestin Kimstull (the seventh), had mysteriously disappeared three years earlier, he was in truth, king of American mega-corporations.
The man in front of the desk shifted in dress shoes that pinched and avoided making eye contact with the man-behind-the-desk. He was Richard Miller (the first), an expendable accountant, who had once aspired to be a novelist.
"I know you are industrious, honest, and virtuous. Otherwise you wouldn't be working for me." There was a pause, and Richard, sensing some response was expected, forced a chuckle. M. F. King's eyes gleamed as he continued in tones of smooth velvet, "No, Mr. Miller, I think you should tell me about your family. I feel the need to become more involved in my employees' lives. After all, what affects you, affects our whole community here at Mulctuary Money Management."
"Yes, Mr. King, my family." Richard took a deep breath. "My wife is…is…" His mind flashed a terrifying blank. Where was his wife? Oh yes… "My wife is dead."
"I'm sorry to hear that."
"Thank you, sir. I also have one…" One what? Waffle iron? No! "…daughter," Richard finished weakly.
"Tell me about your daughter, Mr. Miller. What is her name? How old is she?"
"Rachel. Twenty. Scholarship. Very clever." To Richard Miller, his Rachel was the cleverest girl in the world, even if her ears did stick out a little more than normal. There was any number of marvelous things she could do including, but not limited to, shopping for a straight six hours and staying within her budget, single-handedly keeping five three-year-olds under control, and baking the most delectable carmel-rasberry-triple-fudge cookies known to man. Somehow, in the depths of his fatherly pride, Richard Miller sensed that M. F. King would not be impressed by these accomplishments. And then he had a rare flash of inspiration. "She can spin straw into gold."
"Not really straw into gold, just a metaphor. You know the fairy tale?" Richard asked hopefully, wishing he could mop his brow.
"No, I'm afraid I don't."
"Ah, well, you see Rachel, my daughter, she can take a block of worthless stocks, and by the end of the day she's traded them into a fortune." Richard was proud of himself. This was a story guaranteed to attract King's interest.
"That is a remarkable talent," murmured King, his face inscrutable. "But, forgive me if I sound dubious, Mr. Miller, if your daughter has such an amazing gift, why are you working for me?"
Richard's mind worked frantically. "Humble! Rachel doesn't feel that spinning straw, er, trading stocks is the best use of her time. She'd rather be out helping people. I'm very proud of her."
"It would not take long for her to amass enough wealth to allow her to devote the rest of her life to philanthropy and still live in comfort."
"Weak character," croaked Richard. "Rachel and I both feel that too much wealth destroys a person's…" Too late he remembered who he was lying to. With all the sensations of a drowning man going down for the third time, Richard gasped, "Not you, of course, sir. Only people without the moral stamina to…to…"
"Like you?" King asked, with the faint trace of a smile.
"Like me," sighed Richard, wishing he could be sick in the small potted palm by the window.
"Your Rachel must be a rare woman indeed, to be able to both acquire riches and resist them."
"Remarkable," agreed Richard.
"I must meet her. Such a jewel cannot be allowed to remain in obscurity."
Richard's stomach took up permanent residence in his throat.
"Yes, I will send a car home with you," King continued briskly. "And I would
very much like it if she would consent to trade some stocks for me. I have a few that are a disgrace to the portfolio, eh? Does this sound like a plan, Mr. Miller?"
Richard hoped he was shaking his head in the right direction.
"She can spend the night on my estate tonight. That way we won't waste any valuable morning hours, will we? Good day, Mr. Miller." King pulled a stack of files toward him, indicating the interview was over."
Richard turned and staggered determinedly out of the office, not letting up his shaking stride until he was safely enclosed in the elevator, zooming down eighty-seven floors to his cubicle. He collapsed against the carpeted panel and gripped his aching head. "What have I done?"