She’s a good princess from the top of her golden head to the tips of her tiny, do-gooding shoes. Everyone says so. Her company sells the best and sweetest-smelling straw you could want to bed out a horse stall with, and the crisp grasses it comes from are grown by the nicest farmers with red cheeks. She is kind to her subordinates and subjects. Yet amidst all her benevolent ways, a man came to grief by doing her will. We will never see his like again. And I blame her.
He had talent, that was plain. We were lucky to secure his services for the rebranding of her company, a sorely needed exercise. Our revenue was utterly in downfall, despite our sound product. Only two years ago our sales manager turned to the princess and said, “Aye, the bern is in spate,” which I guess is what Scots say when a creek’s at flood state, but he meant we were doing great, everything was turning to gold. But what do you say when the creek has run dry? Our name was slowly beginning to sound like failure, if a customer remembered us at all.
So we needed a rebrand and quick. After a ton of research and snooping around some other companies I finally uncovered a name: R Stiltskin Consulting. I learned it was headed by a weird little guy who didn’t like the spotlight, but could do miracles. The princess decided to try him out on a small project first, planting some good media hype about one of our smaller stores, and assigned me to manage it.
I tried to book with R Stiltskin by phone, but he never answered. Messages and email were ignored, which I found very odd for a consultant. So I drove out to his office, which was in a rundown section of town. I parked on the street, and entered by way of a shabby travel agency, where a clerk directed me to the fourth floor; ascending some creaking and precarious stairs, I eventually reached his garret.
The office was larger than I expected. I squinted and could hardly see anything in the dim light, but back in the corner past many shelves, filing cabinets, and one ancient metal safe, I spied him. His curved back in the chair was towards me, and he spun around at my footstep. I halted. Not meaning to stare, I had to take a moment to look at this odd person. Such a barrel little chest, above little bandy legs in tight green corduroy trousers! He looked through black-framed spectacles surely inherited from some great-grandfather, because no optician would carry such an item; the ends curved twice around his small round ears. His eyes were big, round, bright — a little mad.
He beckoned me closer, so I came forward and took a seat he offered. I started to introduce myself, but he forestalled me.
“Yes, yes, I know that you’re Wilson, and you represent Royal Straw which wants some good press,” he said. I have never heard a human speak so fast. His voice was high-pitched too, so I think I can be forgiven if I say it was just a little humorous.
“Absolutely,” I said. “I’ve compiled some info that will give you a clear concept of what we’re looking for,” and I handed him a thick folder. He snatched it from me and placed it on the tip-top of a very tall pile of books and papers. I began to speak again.
“I know exactly what you’re after,” he snapped. “I shall begin instantly. You’ll have results in 24 hours.”
“Wow,” I said. “Um, the standard agreement is there too, so are… we good to go?” This hasty resolution was rather unprecedented, even for a minor job like this one.
“As I said,” he squeaked, and turned back to his desk. “Please see yourself out.”
In the mid-afternoon of the following day, the princess showed up in my cubicle smiling. The little man had delivered results already. A couple of very nice reviews in high-ranking spots had shown up, with a photo essay featuring a pig farmer who’d bought from us for years, social chatter seemed to have bloomed overnight, and our stock picked up several percentage points.
Shortly I had a similar task, so I zoomed over to Stiltskin’s garret again, and handed it to him. He took it but told me, with accusing eyes, that he hadn’t received payment for the first job yet. I was surprised, and told him I’d get accounting to remit a check immediately. It was a particularly unfortunate oversight, because the princess had bigger plans for him.
Soon the princess gave the nod for R. Stiltskin to take on the rebranding. For almost a year I carried plans and work between his grimy office and Her Highness’ shining rooms. He really knew what he was doing, mapping strategy without hesitation. Our image was changing so quickly a joke started going round that the little man dealt with the occult and was magically transforming us. But some people are simply gifted. I assumed he was terrifically organized and probably a workaholic.
The princess had never met Stiltskin, but I knew they had a secret payment contract of some sort. He probably wanted a piece of the pie that he was perfecting. That seemed fair, but the details were never mentioned. I knew only that no checks had been issued in his name in quite some time.
One evening I had some documents to give him and stopped by his building. Luckily the downstairs door was still unlocked so I went up. On the landing of the 2nd floor I began hearing odd sounds. I definitely heard the clattering of hard heels. His door was ajar, so I peered around it. But I didn’t want to disturb him, so I tried not to make a sound. Workaholics can be so finicky. I looked, and put the papers at the threshold and went away as silently as possible. He was dancing — which I can describe only as the most sinister and unnatural dance I have ever seen.
At work the next morning I got a clue to Stiltskin’s jubilation. It seemed our brand had “arrived,” and the company was buying up farm after farm, and branching immediately out into new products of all sorts. We were golden. The princess had a corporate party, which included even employees of my level. Drinks and celebration took place all around, and the princess (surrounded by her people-in-waiting) came up swishing in silks, gave me her hand, and thanked me royally for bringing Mr. Stiltskin into her orbit.
Two days later I couldn’t find him. His office was unlocked, but there was no sign of him. I came back repeatedly with the same result. He’d vanished.
Now I want to straighten one thing out. If you’ve worked in marketing, you might have heard a rumor about our princess and a certain subcontractor’s disappearance. Maybe someone told you she blackmailed him to get lost; that she had some secret information about him or something. But our princess wouldn’t do that, that’s all. She’s good, like I’ve been saying.
It was just an unfortunate thing. Weeks after I’d last seen Stiltskin, I ran into the princess’ advisor, the royal Chamberlain Bertson in a bar. He looked a little ghastly. I sat and talked with him, and mentioned the odd little man, asked if Bertson knew anything. He took a long minute before answering.
“That had a bad ending,” he said. “A funny little person, and very temperamental.”
“You actually met him?” I asked.
He nodded. “Yes, he came to a meeting with the princess. That was the last day we saw him.”
“And what happened?”
He bit his lip. “Well, you know, he wanted a tangible part of the company — “
“Yes, I was certain of that,” I said. “Was the princess willing to give it to him?”
“He wanted to become the icon for Princess Land. He wanted to become part of the brand.”
“Oh, my God,” I said. “That’s a family thing, isn’t it?”
“Her son runs it,” Bertson said. “It’s a castle where they make the TV show. Can you imagine an insect like him becoming part of that beautiful, majestic cast of characters? Also, he has a criminal record and all cast characters have a morality clause. He has a pretty dark past.”
“She owed him, though,” I said. “What happened, finally?”
Bertson swirled his drink. “Well, he had a kind of fit. He was savage — threw himself into the air and sort of, sort of, injured himself. I think there was actually a puff of smoke.”
“My goodness. Was his injury bad?”
“I don’t know,” Bertson said. “I don’t remember, really. I think he left or something right after that. Anyway, I didn’t see him again. I haven’t heard about him.”
It was as if Bertson found the whole thing insignificant. How could they dispose of someone like that, who’d done so much for the company? No one seemed to have followed up to see if he was all right. How could the princess behave so? This was beyond anything. She was, as I keep telling everyone, good.
A little while on — perhaps a week — I got an appointment with the princess to ask about Stiltskin. She welcomed me warmly, and I sat before her gleaming desk. I asked what had happened to Stiltskin.
She looked blankly at me. “Who?”
I was speechless. I questioned her more, but could get nothing out of her. I stalked out.
In ensuing weeks of investigation, that was all I could uncover. Obviously the princess is hiding the fact that a vital worker went unrewarded for a very significant body of work. I am angry. When a benevolent company fails to reward its people — no matter if they’re regular employees or outside contractors — it’s no longer benevolent. I sent in my notice, and declined an exit interview with the princess. I didn’t want to see her anymore. She was flabbergasted because of my long relationship with the company, and sent me a very large severance check.
I’ve been looking for him at his office and everywhere around that part of town. I’ve also queried at other consulting and branding firms to see if he’s there, but no one seems to have heard of him. If I run into him, I’d really like to help him. Everyone deserves to be paid.