The Straw Man

"R.S., CEO and Chairman" was etched in gothic lettering on the frosted glass pane of the door. None of his employees, not even the Board Members of Croesus Corporation, had the first inkling what the initials represented, for old R.S. was extraordinarily cagey when it came to divulging personal information.

The company had sprung up overnight, or so it seemed. Its triumphant entry into the arena of computerized role-playing games had been nothing less than astonishing. It was whispered in the marketplace that even New World Computing was beginning to feel somewhat panicked and pressured. One thing was sure, R.S. definitely possessed the mythological Midas Touch when it came to supplying what Joe and Jane Public craved in the realm of fantasy. His "Legend of Draco D'Or" had proved to be an instant classic, and the new "Alchemy Wars" had catapulted to the top of the best-seller list within one week of release. Avid mouse-clicking questers were chomping at the bit in anticipation of the promised sequel.

In appearance, R.S. was far from the stereotypical image of a computer nerd, and he didn't even come close to resembling the established concept of a successful entrepreneur. No expensive three-piece suits of Italian origin or nifty pocket protectors for the bow-legged R.S. He was a runty, puckish little man, gnome-like in features, and very fond of wearing peaked caps, whose bills were only a tad shorter than his incredibly long, thin...yet bulbous...nose. In other words, not what anyone would consider a snazzy dresser, certainly no George Clooney, and his temperament left much to be desired to boot.

In truth, R.S. had no knowledge about the workings or programming of a computer and cared even less to find out. He couldn't tell a mother board from a disk drive. No...R.S.' forte lay solely in ideas and notions. He had the uncanny knack of turning flights of his imagination's fancy into gaming gold. It was an enviable ability.

Speculation among the work force suggested that Croesus Corporation was merely a legitimate front for a more insidious operation, but concrete evidence was lacking. The supposition wasn't entirely without foundation. R.S. dabbled in the juicy fillings of many fruitful enterprises, each one perfectly lawful but which afforded the opportunity to further the passion for his hobby.

R.S. was a collector. The only trouble being, the items he accumulated were very difficult to come by. He had his own set of rules for their acquisition. They couldn't be bought, not in the traditional sense, and they couldn't be stolen. R.S. used the barter system...a deal was proposed, a commitment fulfilled, and then the item was given. It was a hobby that would probably be judged appalling in nature if word ever got out. But R.S. was a crafty individual who kept private matters close to his wheezing chest.

Rumors were rife that R.S. was on the lookout for a worthy successor, one who would inherit the secret of his Midas Touch. Many were tempted to broach the subject, but R.S. was a cranky and unpredictable character, given to seemingly irrational and unreasonable dismissals. He paid amazingly generous salaries and to find a comparable job elsewhere would not be easy. Most of the employees deemed it best to give him a wide berth when they saw him gambolling on his way to the executive office. Better safe than sorry!

But that was before Amanda Delaney came on board.

The top graduate in her Graphic Arts class, the honey-blonde Amanda was bright, ambitious and bold. Born into a low income family, she had been determined to make something of herself and was prepared to work hard to attain her goals. However, Amanda was also shrewd. She was not above eliminating a rung or two on the upwardly mobile ladder of fortune. She had done it before. If prosperity and prestige could be achieved by sucking up to an old man, Amanda saw no reason why such an opportunity should be allowed to slip through her scarlet-tipped fingers.

R.S. appraised Amanda with a cunning eye. Her smile was encouraging, almost seductive. "I hear you might be looking for a protege," she lisped, the tip of her tongue delicately licking her top lip. R.S. chuckled.

"Nothing comes without a price," he told her. The palms of his hands crackled like dry parchment as he rubbed them together. Amanda had suspected as much. She perched on the edge of R.S.' polished oak desk and inched her tight skirt a little higher.

"Naturally," she whispered as she leant forward. "I'm more than happy to discuss terms."

R.S. cackled and tugged the hem over her knees. "That isn't necessary," he said. "Carnal pleasure wouldn't be part of the arrangement. I'm impotent, my dear...always have been."

Amanda refused to be discouraged. She reached out and stroked the grizzled cheek. "There are methods," she promised, but R.S. shook his head. "You're barking up entirely the wrong tree, my dear."

Amanda was puzzled. He couldn't possibly be desirous of wealth or power...he already had those in abundance. Perhaps a sweet, young thing to hang on his arm at social functions? She smiled. Well, that would be easy.

She glanced at the frosted glass panel which bore his initials. Time for negotiation. "May I call you Richard? Robert? Roger?"

R.S. frowned. "Don't try to speculate, my dear."

The situation had conjured a very distressing memory. Many years before, he had struck a out of which the other party had managed to wriggle by guessing his name. He had vowed never to make THAT mistake again.

Amanda laughed. "I'm at something of a loss," she admitted. "You don't need money and you're not interested in sexual favors." She shrugged and asked jokingly, "So, what DO you firstborn?"

R.S....Rumpel Stiltskin to his friends, if he had any, which he didn't...leaned back in his comfortable, overstuffed leather chair and grinned.

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