By Trent Unruh, Edwin Tran, Kaitie Christensen, Rendle Williams, Ana Santana, and Melissa Waters
Chapter 2: The Cliché of Crime Investigation
HQ made mention of a murder. It was related to some ongoing case about this “Oxford Comma Serial Killer.” However, the gruff and rather stereotypically jaded veteran detective’s mind was never in the right place.
Instead, Howard Phillips was one thousand nine hundred and twenty one kilometers away, metaphorically of course, from the conversation at hand.
“Jesus Christ Phillips, you’ve been sitting there for a good thirteen minutes just staring off into God only knows what. It’s almost like your thoughts were jumbled and disorganized, lacking any way to separate them in a more cohesive way that elicits clarity and understanding. Are you listening or are we gonna be sending ya’ off to the mental sanitations by the end of the day?”
Phillips nodded automatically. It was the usual go-to and often worked when he dealt with his neighbors, his banker, and more often these days, his lawyer and/or psychiatrist. He regarded the presence of the young recruit rather sardonically. He tried not being too caustic with the man, though child seemed to be more of an apt description of the badly bearded ideologue standing before him.
“Charles, I am rather aware of what you’ve been saying. You needn’t say it in so many words though.
“There’s been another murder. A. Murder. Do. You. Hear. Me?”
“It is the old weaver’s place.”
With those few words, they hurried off together towards a narrow network of small corridors and alleyways that seemed to be rather haphazard and without any semblance of planning.
They arrived at the scene of the crime and began the cliche mystery crime investigation. Of the most “obvious” signs of murder was a note hidden in the far recesses of a tiny cabinet. It read simply as follows:
“A man, a typewriter, and a grammatical mistake walk into a room. Only a man leaves alive. Always remember your rules, kiddos. The Oxford Comma Serial Killer has struck again.”
Chapter 3: The Vital Nuance of Grammar
Back in their office at HQ, the two detectives went over the evidence, having made notes of the gruesome scene; the overturned typewriter, the frantically fluttering pages, the man on the floor, and the note in the cupboard.
“What do you make of this, Charles? ” Phillips asked. “We’re looking for a motive…” He trailed off, staring into the middle distance, as was his habit.
“Well,” began the novice detective, “clearly the man was stabbed. He must have been working at the typewriter when the struggle began. The typewriter was overturned, there was paper everywhere, and the calluses on the man’s fingers indicate-”
“Cut to the point,” interrupted Phillips, emerging from his stupor. “The evidence that really matters is…” he grabbed a notepad and began to write, “the stab wound, the page and the note in the cupboard. We can see from the way that man was dispatched that the killer is experienced, skilled and attentive to detail-”
“Wait, there wasn’t another page in the cupboard, was there?”
“No, you idiot, I never said that. Anyway, the killer may strike again-”
“Yes, you did, just here; you wrote, ‘the page and the note in the cupboard.’ The page in question was on the man’s chest, not in the cupboard with the note.”
“You know what I mean,” Phillips retorted.
“I might be able to understand, but this is evidence of a MURDER, Phillips, we have to be precise. You would need to use a comma between ‘page’ and ‘and’ in order to accurately present the evidence as it was at the crime scene. We can’t afford confusion,” Charles said, as he corrected the note with a flick of his pen.
“Eureka! That’s it! Look here, at the page we found on the dead writer’s chest,” Charles began to read the final sentence aloud. “The famed chef found true solace and serenity from the mad race of London in cooking his family and his friends.”
“I see nothing wrong with it,” grumbled Phillips; although he saw clearly the same issue Charles had corrected in his note moments before.
Charles began to explain, “Here it says that he would cook his loved ones (now, wouldn’t that be quite the murder case), but it can be assumed that he didn’t mean that. The author must have meant…” cooking, his family, and his friends, Charles scratched into his notepad.
“So you’re saying that the lack of this simple, trivial punctuation mark could have been the motive for a serial killer?” asked Phillips incredulously.
“That’s exactly what I’m saying!” Giddy at his own brilliance, Charles tripped on his way over to the bookcase and fetched back the Oxford English Dictionary. “Not only is it his motive for this murder, it’s his whole motive for being a serial killer. Look at this: the Serial Comma, also known as the Oxford Comma, is a comma immediately preceding the conjunction in a list of items.”
“Makes sense. He couldn’t very well call himself the Serial Comma Serial Killer, could he,” laughed Phillips. “And if he styles himself a serial killer, he must have done this before. You’re too young to remember, but we had a number of cases, if I recall, that went unsolved– something like this with papers, in private homes and offices…” He trailed off again and mindlessly followed Charles downstairs to the basement where the archives were kept.
The two detectives worked late into the night, pouring over the evidence of the London’s unsolved murders of years past, while somewhere in the heart of the city, the Oxford Comma Serial Killer tossed and turned in his sleep.