“Grammarnoir 5: The Shame of the Prose” is a four-part serial, running on Mondays from February 11 until the thrilling conclusion on March 4, National Grammar Day.  Grammarnoir is a work of fiction.  Any resemblance of characters to any persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

Part 1:  See a Fellow About a Scam

 

Part 2: The Capo

I knew where to find David Minthorn. When the bottom fell out of the paragraph game, the AP Stylebook gave up its ritzy offices on West 33rd Street, and Minthorn wound up working out of the back room of a bar called Strunky White’s.

We opened the door into Strunky White’s and got a punch in the face from the smell of stale beer and yellowing newsprint. A crowd of AP louts loafed around its dim recesses. A couple of them were playing Scrabble, but nobody seemed to have come up with a word of more than four letters.

“Afternoon, lads,” I said. “We’re here to drink tea with Mr. Minthorn.”

“Boss don’t need to see no stinking copy editors,” one of the punks snarled.

“Double negation aside,” I said, “I have to insist.”

Four or five hoods pushed their chairs back and moved toward us, growling low in their throats, when a door in the back opened, and someone said, “All right, what’s the rhubarb?”

It was Darrell Christian, Minthorn’s sidekick. His eyes met mine, and he said, “Oh, you.  Stand aside, boys, and let the man through. He’s more damn trouble than he’s worth, so let’s find out what he wants and get him out of here.”

He led us into a back office. A man in his shirtsleeves was sitting behind a battered desk, rubbing his eyes. It was Minthorn. He looked up. 

“You again,” he said. His voice lacked enthusiasm, like a slot editor’s at the sight of a first-day head on a second-day story. “You got a real bad habit of showing up where you’re not wanted, like the sports staff at an open bar.”

“No need to take up your valuable time,” I said. “Mr. Finch here is just small fry. Let him off the hook, catch and release, you know, and we’ll be on our way. You go back to figuring out how to transmit emoticons over the wire, or whatever game you’re up to now.”

“Drop it,” he said. “You don’t know what you’re messing with. Just drop it before you get your fingers burned.”

I noticed that his fingers were trembling slightly. The words menaced, but the voice lacked force. Something wasn’t right.

“I’m afraid I have to insist,” I said.

“Insist, do you, you grubby little proof-monger? Insist? It’s time you had a little lesson.”

He looked toward the door, where a couple of bangers stood at the ready.

“Take the gent to Colleen.”

NEXT:  Cocktails with Colleen