“Welcome to the Hotel Incognito,” a bored, shabby, elderly question mark intoned. “How can I help you?”
The hotel unsuccessfully tried to project the grandeur and luxury it once had.
Grammar Smith scrutinized the question mark. There was something vaguely familiar about him.
“We’re looking for En Dash,” Dis Connect said flashing his badge. “Have you seen her?’
The question mark turned his back on the two and started sorting mail into pigeonholes.
“I’m sure I don’t know who you mean,” he said.
“We have good reason to believe she’s staying here,” Dis got stern. “Look at this picture. She may be going by the name ‘Henrietta Hyphen.’”
“Our guests are entitled to some discretion,” the question mark ignored the outstretched picture.
“Turn around, and take a look!” Dis was miffed. “We have a warrant for her arrest. If you don’t tell us what room she’s in, I’ll haul you in for obstructing justice.”
Out of the corner of her eye, Grammar caught a figure stealthily creeping toward the lobby door.
“Hold it right there!” she commanded turning around.
Almost in mid-step, Then froze. It was almost as if he thought remaining motionless would make him invisible.
“Well, well,” Grammar sauntered over to him. “If it isn’t my old pal, Then. Have you been up to your old tricks popping into comparisons again?”
Then slumped. “C’mon, Lieutenant. You know I try to stay out of the racket. I can’t help it if writers keep dragging me in where I don’t belong.”
“I could haul you in on suspicion, but right now we’re here to track down En Dash. Have you seen her?”
“Well, uh…” Then stammered and glanced over toward the question mark whose total lack of energy was stonewalling Dis.
Leaning in, Then whispered, “I don’t know what room she’s in, but I’m sure she’s on the fifth floor. Can I go now?”
“You’d better not by lying to me or I’ll hunt you down,” Grammar warned.
Then slunk away as Grammar returned to Dis and the question mark.
“It’s okay Dis. She’s up on the fifth floor. Which room?” she grilled the question mark.
He sighed. “502”
Dis got the passkey from the crestfallen question mark, and Grammar had Sgt. Metaphor stay with him to keep him from warning En Dash.
As she turned to go, Grammar snapped her fingers as recognition dawned on her.
“Now I know where I’ve seen you before! Weren’t you the butler at Anthology Acres? I met you about three years ago when I was tracking down the missing Oxford Comma. What happened to Fiver and Paragraph Essay?”
The question mark grimaced. “Reading habits have changed, and the Paragraphs had to cut back. They let me go with a very small retirement.”
Grammar shook her head. “And here you are running the Hotel Incognito, a known den for words and punctuation marks masquerading as something they’re not.”
(Thanks, BERL! 🙂)
If you’re into some grammar giggles, check out the New Yorker’s “A Compiled List of Collective Nouns.”