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"What are we going to do now?" she asked

Continued from “Down those mean sentences I walk alone”

Martha zipped off in some little Italian two-seater that she’d bought with the proceeds of Things That Make Us [Sic], and I lumbered along in my wheezing General Motors product. Maybe I should write a book.

Her house — yeah, she was the “friend” with the problem, to your astonishment and mine, I’m sure — was a modest bungalow. Guess the royalties hadn’t spread wide enough to upgrade the house, too. Even the rain couldn’t disguise that it could have used coat of paint.

She shivered a little at the front door, and her hand was unsteady as she tried to get the key into the lock.

I grabbed her by the elbow. “You going to tell me what your problem is?” I asked.

“Soon enough.” And she went in.

There wasn’t a light on in the place. It was as cold as a publisher’s heart, and nearly as black. She switched on a lamp. It had one of those little fluorescent bulbs, so the light just limped out a couple of feet and died.

“Well?” I said.

“Mr. McIntyre, I’m afraid that I didn’t tell you everything back at your office.”

“Sugar, I’m a copy editor. Nobody ever tells me the whole story.”

“All right, would you please just follow me.”

She walked across the room to a closed door and paused with her hand on the knob.

“It’s in here.”

I stepped through the door as she switched on an overhead light.

There he was. A man of middle years, slumped over a desk. There was a flier for National Grammar Day on March 4 clutched in his fist.

I walked over and touched the cold dead flesh of his neck. No pulse, of course. There was a small bruise at his right temple.

I reached for his collar and pulled him upright in his chair. An Eberhard Faber Col-erase number 1277 pencil, carmine red, protruded from his chest, just over the heart.

“Did that kill him?” she asked. Her voice quavered.

“Sweetheart, that’s for the M.E. to say, but I’d bet a first-edition Fowler’s that that pencil has been recently sharpened.”

“What are we going to do now?”

“You, my lovely, are going to call the police and sit here waiting for them.”

“And what will you do?”

“I’m going to see the Fat Man.”

To be continued ...



Posted by John McIntyre at 10:38 AM | | Comments (9)


I am looking forward to part three.

Yes, waiting with bated breath (or is it baited breath).

Yes, waiting with bated breath (or is it baited breath).

You're supposed to fish with the bait, not eat it.

Yes, consuming the bait and blowing bubbles underwater will not attract fish. Sharks and alligators, yes. Fish, no.

Bated comes from abate, to diminish. When you hold your breath in suspense, your breath is abated, or bated.

I am such a pedant.

Thank you for clearing that up, gentlemen.

You're supposed to fish with the bait, not eat it.

Not always. As you will soon learn.

You're supposed to fish with the bait, not eat it.

Isn't that sushi?

The murder weapon reminds me of a similar scene in John Darnton's very funny Black and White and Dead All Over—there, however, the fatal blow has been dealt with an editor's spike.

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About John McIntyre
John McIntyre, mild-mannered editor for a great metropolitan newspaper, has fussed over writers’ work, to sporadic expressions of gratitude, for thirty years. He is The Sun’s night content production manager and former head of its copy desk. He also teaches editing at Loyola University Maryland. A former president of the American Copy Editors Society, a native of Kentucky, a graduate of Michigan State and Syracuse, and a moderate prescriptivist, he writes about language, journalism, and arbitrarily chosen topics. If you are inspired by a spirit of contradiction, comment on the posts or write to him at
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