# * % ! ^

Frankly, Sergeant Dell, I’ve never been this worried. This is not like losing a Picasso or a thousand gold bars...we’re talking about the DeVance comma here, and this whole city should be shaking in its boots today. Imagine a bit of punctuation crafted so meticulously and so brilliantly by Franciscan monks four hundred years ago that even today it can be used anywhere---even within a simple phrase, even between the letters of a word, for the love of God---and still work as a completely legal, dictionary-recognized comma. The possibilities if the wrong sort of criminal has made away with it...I can barely speak of them. If the DeVance is placed just so, God knows what elements in a series might be separated from one another, what independent clauses could become irreparably divided. The entire meaning of key passages from any number of national constitutions could be changed overnight, or we may wake up tomorrow and have to pause between pronouncing the first and second syllables of Kiefer Sutherland’s name. Dare we even recall what happened during that dark episode not so long ago when splinter elements of the Mossad inserted a crudely fashioned but fully functioning ampersand into the Al-Bereh Treaty, making their enemies believe they were in favor of both war and peace? The confusion which set in has reigned for a thousand years! (Well, not a thousand obviously. The math isn’t important.) Either way, I say we pay the ransom tonight, no questions asked. I can come up with the fifteen dollars by making a few phone calls, but I’m a little confused as to why we have to put the bills inside the jacket sleeve of a new copy of Frampton Comes Alive. In fact, the more I look at the note, the more that references such as this one, plus the fact that it’s dated February 3, 1977, make me think that this matter should have perhaps been brought to my attention more than thirty years ago. So let me get this straight: the DeVance comma has been missing for three decades, and you picked this occasion---the traditional father and bride dance to mark the midpoint of the wedding reception---to inform me of it? Was there a reason you had to cut in as opposed to just waiting four minutes and ten seconds for it to be over with? I don’t know what’s gotten into you these days, Sergeant. First you completely forget to tell me the Pound Sign Killer is still on the loose, then you totally blow the Symbol for Absolute Value kidnapping investigation....sometimes it seems like you’re losing control of the entire department.

On a side note, should we maybe adjust the fifteen dollars for inflation? And since the last Bugle Boy outlet store closed about ten years ago, do you think the thieves would want us to make the drop at a comparable jeans retailer instead, or should we just call them back from the pay phone they mention that was removed in 2002 from the front of the Dart Drug they refer to that went out of business in 1995? See, this is the problem with making these ransom demands so topical.