Name Calling at the Tall Tales Tavern

What a heavy burden is a name that has become too famous.” -Voltaire

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Public Domain in the US (created prior to 1923)

Public Domain in the US (created prior to 1923)

The Briar Patch was undergoing yet another normal day. Well, normal for the clientele. Sitting at the bar was Little Miss Muffet. She sat with her curds and protein whey, keeping an eye on her spoon. The last time she had dined at the tavern the spoon had smooth-talked the dish into running off with it; complete with Muffet’s dinner. Still, Muffet never felt that she could complain because Br’er Rabbit stocked curds and left it on the menu just for her.

Br’er Rabbit sniffed the air, noted its perfect balance of wood, beer, and that undefinable “old” quality. Across the room a dog stood up on a chair, its hind legs standing on the seat while the front paws rested firmly on the tabletop. The dog had been growling at its cup of water for over half an hour. The dog was convinced that the mongrel that stared back at him from the glass was the same mutt that had stolen his bone when they had last met at a lone pond. But as Br’er looked on from behind the bar, one eyebrow raised; all he saw was a crazy canine snarling at its reflection. Br’er grabbed a carrot from under the counter, knowing that neither of the patrons was likely to order more anytime soon.

Just then, the heavy wood door swung open and an unmistakable figure shuffled hurriedly in the door. His short and gnarly legs struggled to keep up with his temper. The little fellow was hardly any bigger than the stools that were scattered along the bar. Br’er Rabbit sighed and waved the arrival closer.

“Alright Rumpelstiltskin. I can see that you’re wound up about something. Let’s remember the last time you were this antsy, okay? I had to have Geppetto come in and patch that hole in the floor. There’ll be no stomping your foot today.”

“Yes, yes; fine”, Rumpelstiltskin replied. He pulled of his long cap and held it by the balled-top as he took in the tavern. “Have you seen a woman looking for me?”

Br’er turned his head to one side and considered the question. “Do you mean a human woman?” The idea of a non-grotesque creature making a date with this odd little man was a hard tidbit for Br’er to swallow.

“Oh shut your furry yap. Have you seen one or not?”

“No, not unless you’re here for Miss Muffet. I kind of think you’d scare her worse than that spider ever did, though.”

“Next time you come out from behind that counter; remind me to stomp on those big feet of yours. I’m going to wait at that table over there.”

Br’er started to shout that customers in his establishment usually ordered something, but he then realized that would involve greater effort than he was willing to dole out. He had his carrot, the place had plenty of open seats; why raise a fuss. Also, Rumpelstiltskin had chosen the darkest seat that he could have, the corner table by the entrance; the one that often gets a customer hit by the door opening if they scoot their chair back too far.

For the next ten or so minutes things continued as they had. The dog stopped growling at its glass for a moment. Br’er was beginning to think that maybe the crazy pooch had finally figured it out. But then the growling came back, now with intermittent pauses. Br’er listened and after a bit, figured it out. The dog had the hiccups. He didn’t think it was possible for the growling to have gotten any more annoying. But, in one of those rare moments, the rabbit had been proven wrong.

Slowly, almost perceptibly, a new noise echoed through the tavern. Br’er lifted his ears to their full height and tuned them in. Sure enough, the new thump thump thump sound was coming from the corner. Br’er looked to Rumpelstiltskin and saw him tapping his foot impatiently.

“What did I say about stomping?”

“I wasn’t stomping, I was tapping. A guy can’t have a nervous tick anymore?”

“How about you control your feet, unless you want to crush some grapes for me?”

“I’m waiting for the woman”, he replied in a clearly irritated tone.

“I mean, you’d have to take your shoes off”, the bartender said as he scratched under his furry chin with one ear and looked at Rumpelstiltskin’s feet.

“Not now. I’m busy”, he growled.

“And let’s be honest, you’d have to wash your feet first. I can smell those things from here.”

“Listen Br’er, if you don’t ease off—“

“I can’t exactly have whatever it is growing between your toes as part of my wine. Although, it might add a certain flavor.”

“Look—“

“Help me out here, would you describe the stench of your feet as pairing well with fish? Or maybe there’s a cedar-y or oak-y smell we could sell to the rubes?”

The door opened, ending Br’er’s taunting inquiries. In walked a woman with a traveling cloak. She doffed the hood, letting her auburn hair breathe in the atmosphere. Standing in the middle of the room, she exuded a confidence that showed she was entirely comfortable in this place that she’d never before set foot in. She looked around and took everyone’s measure, even the tar baby display near the back. The woman finished her surveillance sweep by turning slowly to examine the area behind her. As soon as she saw Rumpelstiltskin, she started towards him.

“Rumpelstiltskin, I take it”, she said as she removed her cloak and draped it over her arm. She looked at the seat in front of her and was less than pleased. Removing a few napkins from the middle of the table, she unfolded them placed them on the seat, and nodded in satisfaction. She made a move to lay her cloak over the back of the chair, but changed her mind. The woman sat down, her cloak folded neatly in her lap.

“You the one I’m supposed to meet?”

“It would appear so”, she said. “Why don’t you call me Lizzie?”

“What sort of name is Lizzie?”

“It’s one that’ll do”, Lizzie replied; “at least for today.”

“Wait, haven’t I heard of you?”

“I rather doubt that”, Lizzie replied.

“No, I have. That Mother Goose lady told me all about you.”

Lizzie groaned. “You know that old busybody? She really does love to share everyone’s stories, doesn’t she?”

“Yeah”, Rumpelstiltskin said, becoming more confident. “I’m sure of it now. I remember.

‘Elizabeth, Elspeth, Betsy, and Bess,

They all went together to seek a bird’s nest;

They found a bird’s nest with five eggs in,

They all took one and left four in.’

That’s you, ain’t it?”

“In the flesh”, Lizzie replied. “Let’s not spread that around, hmm? After all, a lady must have her secrets.”

“Well why didn’t you take all the eggs? Why only make off with one?”

“You don’t get it, do you little gnome? Stealing all the eggs would have been thievery. And the knights around here simply adore punishing thieves. However, if only one egg disappears? Why, no thief would leave all those eggs behind. One egg missing is a miscalculation; a misunderstanding. Even if they had caught me, no one would press charges against me for a misunderstanding.”

“I guess that makes sense”, Rumpelstiltskin admitted.

“What you should really focus on are all the names. Who would be the main culprit? Who’s the master thief and who are the accomplices? That’s where I really shine; identities. No one can catch you if they don’t know who they’re looking for.”

“That’s what I wanted to hear. I don’t want anybody to know who I am.”

“Yes, that whole miller’s-daughter affair.”

rumpelstiltskin-anne-aderson“Yeah”, the little fellow said with a growl. “Somebody must have snitched, that’s all I can think. I didn’t think anybody knew my name outside of this turf. One of these days I’m going to find out who talked and they’re going to answer to me”, Rumpelstiltskin said as he punctuated his point by pounding the table with his fist.

“Hey!”

Rumpelstiltskin and Lizzie turned towards Br’er Rabbit.

“What’d I tell you about stomping?”

“That wasn’t a stomp, ya oversized keychain. That was a punch. Like my fist’ll do to you if ya don’t ease off.”

“You keep telling yourself that”, Br’er replied. The rabbit was quite confident that his powerful legs would be more than a match for Rumpelstiltskin, but he’d give the little man one last outburst before he tossed him out. He almost felt sorry for the insufferable grouch. Almost. Not to mention it was almost time for The Titans to come in for their weekly Brag-a-Bout Beerfest Gathering. Any of those powerful figures would happily smite Rumpelstiltskin for free. Br’er thought he might have to offer them a few dishes of dragonwings (served extra spicy) and barbeque sauce, but that would only be to show his gratitude. Br’er looked back at Rumpelstiltskin and smiled, his front teeth showing even more than usual.

“So”, Rumpelstiltskin continued. “What sort of proof can you offer? Word is that your services are a little pricey.”

“That’s because I’m the best. I can’t really discuss my previous clients in too much detail. It isn’t likely that I’d have you meet with them. However, I can offer up some samplings of truth.”

“Like?”

“Surely you’ve heard of Prince Charming.”

“Yeah, I guess. Not really in my crowd though. Word is he’s one of them high-falutin’ types.”

“Have you seen him lately?”

“No. But he’s gotta be around.”

“Really? When was the last time you heard a maiden say, “I’ve found Prince Charming.” Or, “Isn’t he just the best; a regular Prince Charming!”

“Not recently, but I don’t see your point.”

“If you did venture out into such circles, you would find that Prince Charming is no more. I have taken care of him.”

“Where’s the ol’ prince at now?”

Aerial_Hollywood_Sign“Oh, we set him up in Hollywood. He makes a killing with each movie.”

“Wait, you gave him a new identity but let him be famous?”

“Plastic surgery does wonders. I highly recommend it if you’re open to the idea.”

“Sounds painful.”

“It’s worth it. Charming found it worked great for escaping all those women that kept looking for him. Now he’s only hounded by the agents and media. Much less emotional mess involved.”

“Okay, fine. You got one guy off the hook. Where’s that get me?”

“What are you looking for? That’s the question, isn’t it? You obviously don’t need money. Apparently you can create gold whenever you like. This, by the way, is the only reason I agreed to meet. In addition, it is the only reason I allowed for a conversation in this… place.”

Br’er Rabbit overhead the comment but said nothing. That Lizzie person had essentially called his fine establishment a hole in the wall. And not the good kind. Maybe he’d toss in plenty of beer nuts with those dragonwings; really get them in a party mood…

“I want respect”, Rumpelstiltskin answered.

“Respect? And your name is Rumpelstiltskin?”

“What’s wrong with that name? It’s the name my mother gave me.”

“Let’s break it down, shall we? Rumpel, or rumple means crumpled, crushed, or wrinkled. And often the Brits refer to a stilt as a cane. So really you’re a wrinkled man with wrinkled skin who walks funny. Why not just call yourself Uglyhobblesleg?”

“Yeah, well doesn’t ‘Elizabeth’ mean something about oaths and God? Why should I believe you when your name is all about promises and oaths and you’re all about deception and lies?”

“You’ve done some reading. I’m impressed.”

“Names are a specialty of mine. Besides, I’m older than I look.”

“Somehow I doubt that”, Lizzie said as she took in his drooping ears, long nose, and prune-like flesh. “Look, the thing is to create a name that is easy for you to remember but still different enough that nobody guesses it.”

“Exactly, that’s why I already have a name in mind. I only needed you to advise me, maybe move the paperwork along.”

“Uh huh. And what sort of identity change of greatness did you have in mind?”

“Festerskulklout.”

Lizzie thanked whoever was in charge up above that she hadn’t had a drink in her mouth to spit out. “I’m sorry…, what?”

“Festerskulklout. I think it has that certain amount of temerity to it while still feeling like that’s the name of a standup kinda guy. C’mon, tell me the name Festerskulklout won’t make the ladies swoon.”

“I’m sure it will have a very powerful effect on them, yes. Rumpelstiltskin, I’m the expert. Maybe you should hear my ideas. I was thinking Richard Stillman.”

“What?!?!” Rumpelstiltskin tried to leap onto the table in a rage, but his efforts produced only scrambling as he huffed and clamored to climb. “Hey now missy”, he said exhaling with frustration and sitting back down. “No one in my family has ever had two names. That’s…. well, that’s now how things are done. The idea is crazy. Who do you think you are?”

“That’s the brilliance of it. Who would ever suspect that you’d have such a name? Richard; or go by Dick if you still want to be an off-color little man, I don’t care. It’s a solid ID, easy to remember, and who’s going to guess it?”

“No. Not going to happen. Festerskulkabout or nothing.”

“Fine”, Lizzie said as she felt her forehead tighten. The dog growling at the other side of the room was not helping her newfound headache. She needed some encouragement to continue this consultation. “Tell me one thing though; you can make gold out of anything, right?”

“Oh sure. Gold, diamonds, opals, amethyst; whatever you want.”

“Okay”, Lizzie replied. “I’m going to go get a drink and we can work out the details.” She walked to the bar, feeling much less chipper than when she first entered The Briar Patch. This was going to be a very long day.

Opportunity Knox

In “Anecdotal Tales”, stories will be told. Some will be fun, some will not. Some will be great, some will be less so. Some stories are true, some are merely possible. This is one of them.

Opportunity Knox

Vast wealth has temptations which fatally and surely undermine the moral structure of persons not habituated to its possession.” –Mark Twain

Cady drove her white van past the electric fence and shook her head.  It wasn’t enough to have twenty-thousand volts coursing through the metallic deterrent; the overzealous fools had felt the need to put endless coils of barbed wire atop the fence as well.  Trust the government to overdo things, she thought to herself.  Still, it wasn’t something that Cady needed to worry about.  She was merely the owner and operator of Cady’s Cleaners.

A helicopter flew right above her, but Cady paid it no mind.  They all recognized her van by now and gave her as much leeway as they could.  She had already gone through the customary stops.  She had pulled onto the off-ramp and seen the black SUV with tinted windows follow behind her.  That same SUV lingered as she pulled up to the road and parked her car.  Men with machine guns and large dogs went over every inch of her car and ran tests on the cleaning chemicals that were kept in the back of her vehicle.  Cady had learned after the first few trips to leave all the supplies that she didn’t absolutely need at home.  It wasn’t worth the hassle of waiting for the security detail to go through each and every container; better to reload the van when she got home.

After driving a long stretch of road, she saw two Humvees drive by on either side of her.  She had heard from one of the friendlier security guards that there were all sorts of scanning equipment contained within those military cars.  Cady tried to ignore the fear of being made sterile and instead waved to the men in their camouflage gear.  They glanced back at her, their eyes impenetrable through their steely expressions and their opaque sunglasses.

Cady drove around the massive building’s exterior until she came to the loading dock in the back.  An immense door, probably twelve feet thick of concrete and metal, slowly swung open to allow her admittance.  There, her car was stopped by another series of officials.  One man escorted her to an all-white room where she was searched more thoroughly than Cady ever preferred.  At least the guard had been handsome.  The last time she had been here an older man with wrinkly hands had been gruff and most unpleasant.

Her car was taken from her and parked in an underground lot where video cameras and automated weapons kept a vigilant eye out for any surprises.  The cleaning equipment had been removed by personnel and placed on a plastic cart made especially for her.  She rearranged the items on the cart for easier access, took her temporary ID badge that the guards printed for her, and nodded to the four men that surrounded her.

Everything about the building had an annoyingly “official” feel to it.  There were no decorations, no areas that had been “spruced up”.  The hallways were concrete gray with white areas of paint.  She long suspected that the white color was only there to maximize the efficiency of the harsh lights that glowed dimly from their perch on the ceiling behind grilled cages.  Cady always hoped that the lights would be upgraded to LED technology each time she came.  However she knew that the rare number of visitors the placed had meant the fortress didn’t really need to appear homey or inviting.  In fact, they certainly aimed for the opposite effect.

A familiar face in army fatigues and expertly shaven head nodded to Cady.  The man would have been a calming representative of power; his build was that of a hometown quarterback.  However the long scar that ran down the entirety of the man’s right cheek always made Cady wonder what he was capable of.

“General”, she said to the older man.”

“Ma’am”, the General replied with utter propriety.  “Shall we?”

“Of course, General”, Cady said.

The General took the lead, the four guards flanked Cady, and the cleaning woman pushed her cart down yet another long hallway.  It was during this roughly quarter-mile walk that Cady had time to think.  She had tried over and over to extract a conversation from these men, but she had rarely succeeded.  She thought of her own father who had once been stationed at this very installation.  She remembered her mother who had been an agent for the National Security Agency.  Cady had grown up around serious people with important jobs.  Cady wasn’t like that.

Cady liked people.  She liked conversations.  She enjoyed her occupation because it let her meet all kinds of people and helped create spaces where folks could congregate and socialize.  This industrial type, function-only building was not her ideal environment.  However the money was an amount which she couldn’t turn down and the government liked Cady’s clearance level.

There it is, Cady thought.  The vault door never ceased to amaze her.  It was ten-feet thick and made of what she assumed were the strongest metals on this earth.  She doubted if even a nuclear bomb could break through the hatch, though she was quite sure that was the idea.  Even with its astounding size, the door swung open quietly and easily on a single giant hinge.

Cady followed two guards inside while The General and two other guards joined those already positioned in their assigned spots.  Normally she would enjoy having twelve men huddle around her, keeping an eye out, but Cady had work to do.  The regular areas could be cleaned by standard government lackeys, but the area Cady was in required a higher level of clearance than most people could ever dream of.  Cady was a contract worker but everyone assumed she would be there until she retired.  The upper brass had no desire to go through the lengthy process of vetting someone else to do their cleaning.  So it was that Cady came out to Fort Knox three times a year to dust and clean the bars of gold.

Cady didn’t mind that she couldn’t tell anyone about her most profitable client.  She resisted the urge to share stories or take pictures of one of the most secure facilities in the world; a place that she had regular access to.  The one thing that bothered her was the joke that she just couldn’t seem to formulate.  She knew there was a good guffaw to be had from “cleaning money” or “laundering money” for the government.

Cady put her feather duster to the first pile of gold bars.  The nation’s wealth was right in front of her, but that perfect one-liner that would make the security guards break character and chuckle continued to be off-limits to her.

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