Profanity Hill

Sylvain pulled his case from the back seat of the car. It hissed as it slid across the fabric.

The wind was picking up, sending  leaves swirling in the gutters like excited children dodging playfully, dangerously around the wheels of the moving traffic.

One leaf, scooped from the sidewalk by the wind, tumbled up over the bumper. He tried to catch it, but it evaded his grasp and swept in to land next to the case. He plucked it out, crushed it with his thumb and closed the door.

A delivery truck roared by, shifting down as it clambered up the hill toward Seattle Central Community College.  Sylvain crossed four lanes of traffic to a coffee shop, limping, and occasionally hopping on one foot.

A car had to swerve into the next lane to avoid him. Another car screeched short and blared its horn. Without turning his head, he flipped them both off. The second car honked again, longer, and a third car going the other way joined in.

Sylvain stepped on to the sidewalk and up two steps to the coffee shop door. A dark-haired couple and a little girl in a blue dress reached it almost at the same moment. The girl twirled, enchanted with the way her dress billowed around her.

“Some crazy drivers, huh?” said the man with an accent. Sylvain smiled and opened the door for all three of them.

As they filed past, he said to the girl “Nice dress.” She opened her eyes very wide and hid behind her mother’s legs.

“She’s a little shy.” said the woman. He turned away as she was saying it and took the table in the window.

Sylvain was tall, young, but slightly stooped, with a nose like a beak. His hair was dark brown and very straight, cut in a way that could only be described as “Roman”. “Like someone put a salad bowl on his head and hacked at it with a salad knife” is how his ex-assistant described it.

He wore a non-descript suit that was immaculately pressed without a tie. As he sat down, he took a cell-phone from his jacket and put it on the table. It rang almost immediately.

He picked it up, looked at the number and opened it.

“What do you want?” he said quietly.

“No I’ll be late for the meeting”


“Send her back to detention.”

“I don’t give a good goddamn.”

“No she’s not. I’m going to rent the biggest cannon I can find and blow her back to wherever she came from, but I’m happy for her to rot in a 10X10 for another year before I get around to it.”


“Why am I late? Why am I late? Because I’m getting a twenty dollar fucking blow job that’s why I’m late.”

“No, I’ll tell you why I’m late. Do you remember that little cunt that broke my foot at the airport last week. Do you? Good, well her fucking father is showing up to see if I’ll drop the charges against his little cum turd.”


“No. I’m going to ram my fist so far up his ass he’s going to think his name’s Mr. Hand.”

The man he had met coming in approached the table and gestured at him. “How can you talk like that with women here…. and my daughter.” he said. He was a big man.

Sylvain ignored him and laughed into the phone. “Heh. heh. Mr. Hand, get it.”

The man grabbed his shoulder. Sylvain stood up suddenly and stared at the man two inches from his face. “I’ve got to go, I think I’m being assaulted.” he said. “Yes, again!”

He snapped the phone shut and said something softly in Russian. The big man stepped back. He said something else and the man’s face turned red.

Sylvain took a badge out of his coat pocket and held it up to the man’s face and began speaking steadily in Russian. The man turned white and said “I have a green card.”

“Do you really want to fuck with me?” Sylvain asked pleasantly.

“Sasha!” his wife cried and began jabbering in Russian. Sasha allowed himself to be pushed to the door and the little girl ran after him, crying.

Sylvain put the cell phone down and sat down. He checked his watch and looked at his reflection in the window. A parking officer pulled up to his car across the street, got out and began writing him a ticket.

Sylvain smiled faintly.

“Would you mind leaving?” said a shrill voice in his ear. One of the baristas from behind the counter was standing next to him. She was a Chinese girl, and so short she was almost looking him in the eye sitting down. A small silver cross peeked out from around her neck where the collar of her white shirt was unbuttoned.

Sylvain stared at her face, looked her up and down and then turned back to the parking officer outside.

“I asked you to leave” she repeated.

Without turning his head he said. “Get me a fat triple tall latte with a shot of…” he licked his lips and paused. “… a shot of gingerbread. And don’t make it too hot.”

Behind the counter, the other barista cleared his throat, and the Chinese girl looked back at him. Taking a cup he turned and slipped into the kitchen

The door made a musical note, and a tall man in a black wool trench coat walked in. He was black, older, his hair  tipped with silver.

The Chinese girl stared at Sylvain for a second more as he watched the parking officer slip the ticket under his windshield wiper and then she turned to greet the customer.

Sylvain flipped his cell phone over and over in his hands, tapped it on the table idly and stared outside. A gust of wind pressed a handful of leaves against the window like little hands, making him jump. The midday light outside was fading and dark rain was rising up through the city from the Sound. Large drops began to knock against the glass.

The door made a musical note and a man entered the shop. He was thin, so thin that the word “scarecrow” popped immediately to mind wherever he went, that, and “cancer”. His hair was gray; he wore glasses and a faded leather jacket. The man looked around the coffee shop and exchanged a glance with the man in the trench coat standing at the cash register before settling on Sylvain. Sylvain smirked and leaned back in his chair.

Jerking his hand out of his pocket the man stepped up to Sylvain’s table. He offered it to Sylvain and said “Mr. Tourneau?”

Sylvain didn’t take his hand and stared up at him for a long moment before saying. “It’s Mr. LeTourneau.”

The man took his hand back and stood there for a moment and receiving no further response from Sylvain he sat down. “Do you know who I am?” he said at last.

“I do. Why did you ask me here Mr. Waring?”

Mr. Waring took off his glasses and wiped his forehead. “Well, quite simply Mr. LeTourneau I wanted to ask you to drop the charges against my daughter.”

Sylvain smirked. “What? No pleasantries? No can I buy your coffee Mr. LeTourneau? No how’s your foot Mr. LeTourneau?”

Mr. Waring folded up his glasses. “You seem like a busy man. I thought we should get right to business.”

Sylvain nodded. “Oh well if it’s right to business then let me think about it….” He stared off into space for a moment. “Ummm no.”

Mr Waring shook his head.

Sylvain spread his hands and said. “You don’t like that? How about ‘Hell No!’ or ‘You have to be fucking kidding me’ or even ‘Get the fuck outta here’ Does that work better for you.”

Mr. Waring rubbed his eyes. “Listen I understand she shouldn’t have been at the airport. I understand that her boyfriend had to be returned, but she’s nineteen years old. People make mistakes. She didn’t intentionally step on your foot. She feels badly about it. I’m not asking for special treatment but….”

Sylvain eyes practically popped out of his head. “Didn’t intentionally…. Feels badly…. Mr. Waring your daughter is a criminal and I’m going to treat her in the special way I treat all criminals, lock her up in a fucking box and let her rot away the best years of her life.”

“But…” started Mr. Waring.

“She assaulted an INS officer. That’s me. Do you know how serious that is? In the course of his duties no less. She interfered with the investigation of an attempt to evade our immigration laws….”

“She didn’t know what was going on!” Mr. Waring raised his voice. “She thought you were airport security hassling….”

“I am airport security.” Sylvain shouted back. “I’m security for the whole stupid fucking country Mr. Waring!”

Sylvain leaned back in his chair and laughed. “You people are all the same…”

Mr. Waring started to speak but Sylvain interrupted him, taking a sheaf of papers out of his coat pocket. “And as far as your little girl not knowing what was going on, I think we both know that’s a lie.” He threw the papers across the table. “These are copies of letters we found in the boyfriend’s personal affects. I’ve highlighted the more amusing pieces Mr. Waring.”

Mr Waring shifted in his chair but didn’t touch the letters. Sylvain continued. “The passages highlighted in yellow are where she discusses how he should stay in this country and get a job. The ones in red are to do with how she could marry him so he could get a green card. There’s enough there for conspiracy Mr. Waring.”

Mr. Waring clenched his jaw and closed his eyes.

“Take them. Read them. Oh and the blue passages are all naughty, naughty, naughty. I highlighted those for my personal pleasure. Your daughter is a filthy whore Mr. Waring.”

Mr. Waring jumped to his feet and headed for the door, fumbling with his glasses. Sylvain threw his head back and laughed. “Come on back if you ever want to try again.” he called after him.

The Chinese barista slammed his drink down on the table spilling a little. Sylvain chuckled. “No tip for you.” He looked up. The tall man in the trench coat was standing in the middle of the room staring at him.

Sylvain looked up and grinned. “Can I help you.”

The man closed his eyes for a moment, opened them and said. “Your phone is about to ring.”

Sylvain looked at his phone and back at the man. “It is?”

“Yes it is.”

“Ah so you’re Mr. Cleo then?”

“No, my name is Glenhof.” He approached the table and put a business card next to Sylvain’s coffee. “You’ll know me by reputation.”

Sylvain looked up at him and back at the card.

“Have you heard of me Mr. LeTourneau?”

Sylvain took a sip of his latte, started to say something, then changed his mind. “Yes, I’ve heard of you, what do you want.”

“I wanted to put a face to your name. I will be advising Mr. Waring – and his daughter – as a personal favor. Christine is my god daughter.”

“Are you trying to intimidate a government official Mr. Glenhof?”

The man smiled and moved toward the door. “Oh no, Mr. LeTourneau… I’m not. But your phone IS about to ring. I would answer it if I were you.” The door made a musical note as he left.

Sylvain’s phone rang. He stared at it, clenched his jaw and answered.


“I’m on my way in. Why? Is there a problem?”

Sylvain paused and listened for a long time. The two baristas were behind the counter watching him in amazement. Apart from the three of them the coffee shop was empty. An angry voice could be heard coming from the phone.

“Jack. What are you talking about, she interfered with me and two other agents, not to mention the Port Authority. Of course, I’m going ….”

“No… That’s not right…”

“Jack, please you know me I’m always professional….”

“He did what? How could…. You were listening!? How? His cell phone. He called you?”

Sylvain sat up straight. “Yes. No. If that’s what you heard I suppose it’s true.”

“Yes I did call his daughter a whore. You’re right I shouldn’t….”

“But Jack, this is way out of line. He can’t use that….”

“No. I…. The mayor? What the hell does the mayor…? The governor’s chief of staff?! Are you kidding me with that shit?”

Sylvain sneered and switched the phone to the other ear. “Listen, Jack I’m not going to be pissed on like this. It’s fucking ridiculous to let these local… Jack? Jack?” Sylvain looked at the phone and put it back on the table.

“Fuck it.” Sylvain swore – stood up – and made for the door.

The Chinese girl slid off her stool behind the counter. “Hey! You need to pay. Hey…”

“Bite me.” Sylvain swore at her and jerked the door open. A gust of wind slammed it against the wall. The rain was falling hard.

Hobbling out into the street, Sylvain stopped traffic with his hand, getting two loud honks from a delivery truck.

“Hey asshole,” the male barista yelled after him. “We spit in your coffee.”

Sylvain flipped him off and made it to his car. Lightning flashed close by, and a tremendous clap of thunder rocked the city as it lay, stretched out on its back, beneath Profanity Hill. A passerby jumped and ducked under a bus stop shelter. Car alarms began clamoring up and down the street.

Rain spattered the black leather interior of the BMW as he climbed in. His phone rang. He ignored it.

He started the car and jerked into traffic. A pedestrian leapt  out of his way as he accelerated up the hill toward the college. At the light, he went straight through heading angrily into Madrona. The storm eased up at the crest of the hill but the electricity seemed to have been shut off in the neighborhood ahead. A line of cars waited their turn in front of a flashing traffic light. His phone rang. He ignored it.

Sylvain swore and turned left down a residential street. He went two blocks and swerved right trying to get around the traffic light. He stepped on the gas going hard between the lines of parked cars. As soon as the phone stopped ringing it started again.

A little girl in a blue dress was running along the sidewalk in the same direction. A car blocked the driveway in front of her. She had to get home; she shouldn’t be out in the lightning and the rain. Anyway she couldn’t hear because of the wind and the BMW was so silent. That’s what she would have said anyway, if anyone had asked her why she darted into the street, but no one ever did.

All Sylvain saw as he picked up his ringing phone, murder in his eyes, was a flash of something small – and was it blue – that darted under the right front fender. That and the speedometer pegged at fifty miles per hour. The thud was quiet and the car only made the slightest bump.

He slammed on the brakes, yanked the wheel to the left and the car skidded across the street and screamed as it sideswiped a Toyota. For a moment he sat there gripping the wheel staring straight ahead. His phone rang.

He picked it up. “Hello.”

“No. It’s been off. “What? No. I don’t know. No.”

“Jack I have to go. I have to go. I just killed a kid.”

Sylvain got out. The rain had stopped and steam rose from the street up into the dark canopy of the oak trees. The sun glared down the pavement at him, making it too bright to see.

Shaking like a man who had been shot, he walked down the middle of the street, peering round behind each car as he went. About six cars back in the gap made by a driveway he found the little girl in the blue dress. She was sitting on her knees in front of a black cat.

The back half of the cat had been crushed. The eyes were wide and staring and a bloody froth covered his face and protruding tongue. The little girl was rocking back and forth. She was whispering something and stroking the cat’s head. Sylvain closed his eyes. His hands were shaking uncontrollably. His phone rang.

Carefully, deliberately, he snapped it in half, wrenched the pieces apart and put one piece in each pocket. Then he kneeled down on the other side of the cat from the girl.

He could hear. She was stroking the cat’s head and saying. “It’ll be alright. It’ll be alright. I’ll get Daddy.” Sylvain couldn’t control his hands so he held them together.

“Little girl.” he said. “Are you okay?”

She stood up and looked at him. “I’m okay.”

“Did the car hit you? Are you hurt?”

“No I’m okay.” she said.

“Where’s your mommy?”

“Mommy’s working. Daddy doesn’t know I come out. I’m in trouble.” She turned and ran away down the street and up the steps of the next house.

He stood up. The wind had picked up and water was dripping steadily off the oak trees onto his head. He looked around, his car was still up the street, the emergency flashers blinking from where he must have put them on.

Blood was draining off the back half of the cat in thin reedy streams into the gutter. Turning he hobbled back to his car and got in. He turned off the flashers and pulled slowly into the intersection and turned right. The clock on his dashboard read 9:31.

In two blocks he found himself back on 10th. The line of cars waiting for the traffic light blocked the way to the left so he turned right back toward the Community College, back the way he had come, back toward the coffee shop.

Suddenly he turned right again back down the residential street, going in circles now, and slowed as he passed the street where he had hit the cat. People were out, gathered around the Toyota. He stopped. He could see the cat, lying where he had left it. As he watched, it leapt violently, the head trying to escape the weight of the crushed back half.

A vile taste like copper filled his mouth and Sylvain passed his hand over his eyes. Slowly he turned the wheel and drove up the road to the driveway where the cat still lay, half on and half off the sidewalk.

He got out; the two men in the road ignored him. A woman stepped from the open door of a house on the right. Over head, the leaves chattered together in the breeze that followed the storm. Cloud shadows ran up the street alternating patches of dark and the afternoon sun. The woman stared at him, stared at the spot just behind where he stood.

Somehow, without quite realizing it, he had opened the trunk of the car and taken out his coat. It was a heavy woolen duffel coat of a vaguely nautical type with wooden toggles instead of buttons. His father had found it on the Brittany coast over half a century ago. Without even thinking, he rolled the broken cat onto the coat, carefully wrapped it up and put it gently into the trunk. He waited, half expecting it to meow and struggle free.

A car squeezed by  on the left and stopped by the two men up ahead, the window rolled down. The woman on the porch stared at him fixedly. The light changed from light to dark, light to dark, the temperature dropping with each passing cloud. Next to him a woman and a little girl had appeared and were tying a bunch of flowers to the mailbox. Sylvain shivered. The light was fading. The sun fell into the sound and turned all the sky to scarlet, reflecting a  bloody light  down onto the houses.

Leaving his  car behind, he began walking down the street, past the house with the solitary woman, past the car and the two men in the street.

When he reached the intersection he turned right and began the long march back to Profanity Hill.