New Story – Our Lady of Five Fires

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He loved them all: Esmeralda from Panama, Medellin from Colombia, Merthi from India and Oaxaca from Mexico. He loved their individuality, their essence. He coaxed them into releasing their secrets, with fire. Even today their earthy aromas brought powerful memories – the tang of anticipation – the first taste – the intoxicating rush – the feeling of being alive. And then there were his women: ill-considered, incandescent, disastrous.

His passport was that of a journalist or secret agent: Rwanda, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Uganda. His quarry: single origin green coffee beans. He stuck out like a sore thumb wherever he went – all 6 feet of His Royal Goofyness. If you watched him in some third-world market you’d pray to yourself, ‘Jesus, I hope he doesn’t start flashing money about’. And then you’d see him start flashing money about. You’d wonder how he survived, let alone ran a successful business. He was a man of contradictions, no doubt. He was Austin Vawdrey, master coffee roaster, and proprietor of Five Fires café, Melbourne.

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New Story – 1:32 Scale

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Scale

The first sign of trouble was when the Six Million Dollar Man appeared in Jason’s cubicle at work.

“Is that the one with the bionic eye?”

This is Phil, Jason’s best friend. Phil is still married.

“Yeah,” said Jason.

Phil looked around. “Tell me bud, what the hell are you going to do with a Six Million Dollar Man doll? At work?”

Phil had a point; Jason was 41.

“I don’t know. Mum had a clean out and sent me a box of stuff,” replied Jason.

“What are you, twelve?”

“Let me show you something else that was in the box,” said Jason. He produced a 1980’s Scalextric toy catalogue.

“I remember this stuff. Slot cars right?” asked Phil.

“Yeah, but look at the pictures. Look at these kids. Look how happy they are. I never had any of this stuff.”

“You realise that child is an actor? And this document is produced by the kind of people who work in our marketing department, right? You’ve met them, they make people want insurance.”

“I know, but,” said Jason.

“I mean look at this,” Phil indicated a page in the catalogue where a nuclear family was racing on an enormous slot car track, “nobody’s mum ever played slot cars with her kids.”

“Don’t you ever think about childhood?” asked Jason.

“I have three kids under 10,” replied Phil, “I’m consumed by childhood.”

“I mean your childhood.”

“It was the ‘70s, I’m not sure my parents put much thought into it.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well they were drinking a lot of cask-wine as I recall. For example, my mum used to let me ride in the parcel shelf of her Volkswagen. Forget airbags, there weren’t even seatbelts in that heap of shit.”

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New Story – Champions of Breakfast

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Champions of Breakfast

The lights came up. The producer counted them down.

“We’re on in five, four, three…” He counted the last two silently with his fingers and then threw to Bud Carryman.

“Hi there food fans, welcome to round five of World Series Buffet, coming to you from the Cancun Grande Hotel in sunny Mexico. This is Montezuma’s Revenge round and players will be looking to spice things up when they hit the breakfast buffet this morning.”

Bud Carryman was a sports journalism major and former offensive tackle from Texas A&M University. He was a large man from a world of large men, and was now tightly packed into a suit and tie. He was holding a Cable Sports Network microphone and standing next to an attractive though waif-thin woman. Both of them were wearing sports-caster headphones.

“With me as always is three hat executive chef Nadia Provolone. Good morning Nadia.”

“Thanks Bud. That’s right, for the first time the World Series Buffet heads south of the border.”

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New Story – Yeast

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Yeast Sm

“Hello Doctor, how are you feeling?”

“Under employed,” I said flatly.

This was Winona, my outplacement co-worker at UC San Francisco Medical Center. We were on a phone call. She lived somewhere over the bay near Tiburon. I’d never met her face to face.

“I see your divorce got date stamped,” she said.

“Yes.”

My profile was updated just prior to the call.

“If you don’t mind me saying so, it looks like you came out on top.”

“Thanks Winona.”

“I have your test results,” she said, “very interesting.”

“Interesting?”

“They suggest you might be open to something a little different.”

Winona and I had talked for a couple of months about my retraining and what I might do next. The ER where I’d worked for the last five years was the last part of the hospital to be automated. I’d taken a gig as the surgical project lead for commissioning. To be honest it was make-work; the robots were near flawless. All I did was squeeze plasma bags and straighten QR codes; it was nothing a process monitor couldn’t do. I’d spent most of the time cerfing.

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New Story – Grenade Fishing in the Andaman

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Call me Al. I was drinking with Oliver in a bamboo hut on the beach at Crawford’s Place and well into my second ice-cold Chang. It was late afternoon in July and the air was magically clean with the passing of one of the first storms of the wet season. I’d been in Thailand about a year, working as the sous chef at the new Andaman Pearl resort in Phang Nga province. Everything was right with the world.

“Secrets of the kitchen,” I said, “you don’t want to know!”

“Give me an example. I can handle it,” said Oliver.

“Alright, I’ll start you off easy. Bread and butter pudding,” I offered.

“Okay,” said Oliver.

“I’ve seen it made from yesterday’s pastries.”

“That’s not so bad.”

“Club sandwich.”

“I’ve been known to eat them,” said Oliver, “and I ain’t even a member!”

“Leftover bacon from the breakfast buffet,” I said.

“Same day?”

“Not necessarily.”

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New Story – L’etranger – The Foreigner

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The Foreigner

Marc was not his real name. The first thing that surprised him about The Farm was how little the instructors cared about his individual performance. They didn’t care if he was first at something, or fastest at something, or best at something. They were, however very interested in how well he worked with others. Once, when he filled only his own water bottle, he was berated for his selfishness.

Porc égoïste!” shouted the Corporal.

Helping others was not an easy thing to learn for a young man who had survived the darker streets of Amsterdam. It was late afternoon, winter at The Farm. Marc was standing at attention, shivering in the freezing rain with 45 other recruits. His body ached from the day’s exertions. His thoughts turned to a hot shower and the evening meal, served as always with wine.

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New Story – Haneda Fading

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Haneda Fading

Shota had not seen his parents for two years, although they lived in the next room. In the early evening he stood silently at his bedroom door, listening. He slid the paper screen open an inch and waited; there was nobody. He opened the door wider so he could bend down and pick up the tray. On the tray was a bowl of chirashi – a home-style recipe of sushi rice with smoked salmon, avocado and egg – and a pot of green tea. He returned to his room, slid the door shut and ate his meal in silence.

Shota’s mother blamed herself. And why not, everyone else did, including Japanese society and Shota’s father. “Amae”, his father spat, using the emotive word for the co-dependant collusion between mother and son. Every day Shota’s mother tried to imagine the reason for her son’s withdrawal, tried to calculate the moment his life stalled. Sadly, the root cause was unknowable to her. The truth was it was such a small thing that had such profound consequences. Like the leaking sink in the airliner galley that causes a chain of events that leads to the crash; the complex machine destroyed by drops of water.

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New Story – How to Make Chinese Tea

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howtomaketea

Since becoming a father I think a lot about what it means to be a man. I also think about the very short list of things I wouldn’t do to protect my family. Sung Be was a Chinese father I knew. ‘Be’ is pronounced bay, and means ‘horse’ in the Teo Chew dialect. People say Mr Be lived three lives in one. He was the quintessential man of few words. He knew how to grow vegetables. He taught me how to make Chinese tea. And he let me marry his youngest of eight daughters.

Mr Be’s first life was in China. He was born in Swatow in 1931. This was a time of great political unrest in China. It was a generation before the founding of the People’s Republic, but only a generation since the fall of the Qing Dynasty’s two thousand year rule. His mother died when he was 5 and his father migrated to Cambodia in search of a better life. He was left behind in China and raised as the youngest child in his Grandmother’s household – the wrong side of the family tree in Chinese culture. He was last in line to be served at the dinner table, was beaten by his uncle and forced to work long days in the rice fields. He tried to better his circumstances by going into the countryside and buying eggs, selling them at a small profit and investing the money in rice, which held its value better than the hyper-inflating currency. Imagine that, a 14 year old starting a business to lift himself out of poverty.

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New Story – Catwalk Empire

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Catwalk Empire 1

My heart sank, as it always did around great beauty. Chloe Hellmann was without doubt the most beautiful woman I had ever seen. For the last 15 years there would have been security guards preventing me from getting within 100 feet of her. Now she was sitting across from me in my new office. At this point I need to tell you I am not an attractive man: I am 50, balding and smell of divorce.

I got my start in recruitment in 1989 with William Russell Staffing, the original and biggest New York employment agency. It was a charnel house, but it taught me the game: how to cold call; spot a vacancy before the client knew they had one; collect a commission; and never pay a refund. Ex-Russell employees went on to create some of the big-name staffing agencies in the city today: Harrison Anderson and Associates, Le Stat and Louis, Girl Tuesday and Roquefort & Labne. But not me, I was the loyal journeyman, a 60 hour a week veteran with a work ethic that put an end to my marriage. I thought I’d see out my career at Russell’s as Vice President of Special Projects, but I should have known that job title has always meant the Kiss of Death. Six months ago I was shown the writing on the wall, and shortly thereafter the door.

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Nixon, Mao and the Harbin Globetrotters

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Basketball

“The greatest game of basketball ever played”. At least that’s what Henry let slip at The Godfather premiere. It’s taken me more than 40 years to piece it all together. At first I dismissed it as an impossibility. I mean really, a Top-Secret, USA v China basketball game in front of Nixon and Mao, in Beijing, during the historic visit in ‘72. When I pressed Henry on it he went all national security on me. But there was a glint in his eye. I’m a sports writer and basketball nut, so the tantalising possibility of such a game has kept me intrigued for four decades. And when I thought about it, Henry certainly had the connections to pull it off. I’m not just talking about the trips to China, significant though they were. There was no doubt Henry was a world-class diplomat, but he was also a first-class schmoozer with impeccable showbiz connections. If anyone could arrange the Harlem Globetrotters, it was he. Henry’s second slip came in 1985 when he conceded Ron might have some Super 8 footage. I tried for years to get in to see the former Press Secretary, but with Watergate and all, Ron wasn’t returning calls.

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