“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 3: Cocktails with Colleen
Colleen Newvine was the Stylebook’s hotsy-totsy enforcer. You saw the long hair, the deftly applied makeup, the tasteful clothes, you figured she was just another skirt that wandered into journalism, wised up, got an M.B.A., and went upscale.
Then you’d see her smile. If a moray eel could smile, it would almost look like that. I’ve seen managing editors scream and fall to their knees when she turned that smile on them. And now she was smiling at us.
Finch looked like he might pass out.
“Let him be, Blue Eyes,” I said. “This is between us.”
“It is indeed,” she purred. “But he’s involved, too. Hasn’t he told you?”
“Told me what?”
“This is rich. Your client hasn’t told you? That while he was subscribing to us, he’s been in bed with Chicago.”
Pieces started to fall into place.
AP and the Chicago Manual of Style had had their informal territories, AP the newspapers, Chicago the books. They split up the magazines, except for mavericks like The New Yorker, with that weird diaeresis policy Harold Ross dreamed up one day when he was hung over. They were supposed to have divided everything up formally at the big conference at Apalachin, until the feds busted that up. There'd been talk on the street lately of a ruction between them.
“But you’re right,” she said. “We’re not interested in him. Since this is between us, see him out.”
I showed Finch the door. He shuddered as he walked down the hall, staggering a little.
I turned back to Colleen, who said, “Care for a little bracer?” She held up a cocktail shaker, condensation beaded on in like the sweat on a rewrite man’s forehead at deadline.
“Sure. What’s the poison?”
“It’s a Muckraker: rye, applejack, arrack, wormwood, bitters, and regret for lost hope.”
“Pour me one. Make it a double. I don’t measure out my life with coffee spoons, babe.”
She served me a glass and took one for herself. We sat on her sofa, and as she crossed her legs genteelly, I said, “So, saucy wench, what’s this kerfuffle between AP and Chicago all about?”
“Oh,” she said, “you’ll know all about it. Sooner than you’ll want to.”
Just about then the lights went out.
NEXT: The Syndicate