His name wasn’t The Grammarian, but he’d never given them anything else to call him. More than that, he was comfortable with it. It conveyed a clarity of purpose, and that was what he was all about.
He was a professional; that much was certain. Quiet, punctual, efficient. A software engineer by trade (now, at least), precision was his life. His workmates had even reached a sort of acceptance of his, shall we say, eccentricities, though it had taken them the best part of two years to do so. His face always wore the same expression - stone cold focus - but he felt a flicker of internal amusement when he recalled his first day at the office all those months ago.
The boss had introduced him purely by his role. The others had politely introduced themselves, but their requests for his name had been met with silence. His eyes, permanently masked behind dark glasses, gave nothing away. The introductions over, he’d departed to set up his desk, allowing the boss a moment to explain a few things to the rest of the staff. He was ex-Secret Service. His past, his personal details, and even his very name were classified. No questions were to be asked. He was here “for the foreseeable future”. And, he had a certain special dispensation. It wouldn’t be long until they found out exactly what that meant.
“He’s… meticulous, you might say. Precise. They seemingly call him ‘The Grammarian’. I’ve been advised we’d do well to run a tight ship whilst he’s with us; you know, language-wise.”
Language-wise? What did that mean, they’d asked? “The man… well, cares deeply about the use of language. Correct spelling and punctuation; that kind of thing. I’m told he can be somewhat adamant.” The nervous tone of his voice and the bead of sweat on the boss’ brow had conveyed the remainder of the message adequately.
The rest of the morning and afternoon had proceeded uneventfully, if not without an understandable degree of tension. The girl from reception had asked him if he’d like to join them all for lunch. His silent, unbroken gaze through the tinted glass lenses had quickly drawn an embarrassed “well, maybe another day, then!” and a hasty retreat. He ate his lunch alone. He worked alone. It was how things worked best.
He pushed back his chair and stood up fifteen minutes before the end of the working day, and walked silently towards the elevator. The boss, passing by, didn’t question his early departure, offering only a muted “See you tomorrow”. He might have acknowledged the statement with an almost imperceptible nod, but he didn’t break his stride. He could feel many pairs of eyes watching him from the upper-floor office window as he walked from the building and started down the street. His day, however, was far from over.
It was so often like this, and so damn unnecessary. He’d seen the carpet store on his way in this morning, but the sign hadn’t been there. Typical sandwich-board ad, and inevitably hand-lettered. His right hand curled into a loose fist.
“DOZEN’S OF OFFERS! STEP INSIDE FOR THE ‘REAL’ CARPET SALE IN THE WEST END!” He stepped inside.
“Ah, mate, how can I help you? Looking to…. ?” The store owner’s voice trailed off as he looked up to properly see the visitor. Dark glasses, with reflected points of light. A long, black coat, open to reveal the twin underarm holsters, chillingly empty.
“What?! Now wait … JESUS!”
Two silver-blue muzzles stared at him unblinkingly. His mouth went dry. His tongue seemed to shrivel as the man’s voice cut through the air like a midnight winter breeze.
“The apostrophe is used for conjunction or indication of possession; it is not used for plurals. The use of quotation marks does not give emphasis; rather, it actually connotes a degree of doubt in the enclosed claim.”
The shopkeeper made no sound.
“Punctuation is important.”
He was neither the first nor last soul for whom those words were the very last heard in this world.
The office staff were able to put the pieces together from having seen their new colleague walk back out of the shop, then only minutes later seeing the police cars arriving. The complete lack of any coverage of the incident in any news outlet afterwards also added weight to the boss’ note of “special dispensation” earlier. Spelling and grammar checkers were hurriedly re-enabled in their copies of Word, and silent vows were made to never, ever send email to this particular recipient. And no more was said.
He kept himself to himself. His work was the best, and his diligence was beyond reproach. You just had to come to terms with his self-imposed extra duties. That, or move to another company.
There was a disease eating away at the city: the decay of our language, and he’d made it his job to sterilise the place. Because language is the greatest creation of our civilisation, and our primary tie to civility. Because spelling, punctuation and grammar are important. And because no one else could provide this particular service.
He was the Grammarian, and his work had only just begun.