1. Good Night Papa (Japan)
A retired taxi driver takes a chauffeuring job to pay debts and receives an unexpected gift from a mysterious passenger.
2. The Girl Who Made The Kung Fu Master Cry (China)
A Shaolin kung fu school master finds an unorthodox way to channel the creative energies of a recalcitrant student.
3. The Pilgrim (Japan)
A fugitive who seeks redemption in a Buddhist temple learns his fate rests in the hands of a novice monk.
4. The Hunting Party (Australia)
Three cattle station hands find themselves out of their depth when a bull hunt turns awry.
5. Pleasure Land (Japan)
A young man ventures into Osaka's red light district seeking answers to his deceased father’s life after dark.
6. Bones (Spice Islands, Indonesia)
Amidst a tropical storm, a coconut farmer takes refuge in a jungle cavern and discovers the fate of his Japanese wife’s father who went missing during the war.
7. The Finke River Mail (Australia)
A recovering alcoholic mail pilot crashes his plane in the desert with a bottle of gin on board.
8. Meet Me Under The Plumeria Tree (Bali, Indonesia)
A business traveller becomes an unwitting audience for a Vietnam War veteran when he is forced to spend three days on a resort island.
9. One Night In Tangier (Morocco)
Asked to mind his uncle’s Tangier curio shop, a young boy inadvertently sells a family heirloom to a tourist. He must find the buyer and get it back.
10. Tuna Steak (Indonesia)
When an enormous python terrorises a beach resort in Bali, only one man has the ability and business acumen to turn the problem into a tasty success.
11. Weed (Mexico)
A canny restaurant waitress uses her wit to both rid her resort town of seaweed and have her husband released from prison.
12. Baby Grand (Fiji)
A snobbish European widow must enlist the help of local cannery workers when an oversize family heirloom arrives by ship from New Zealand.
13. Miniature Pineapples (Costa Rica)
A man tries to add value to a family heirloom he hopes to pawn by telling the story of his uncle’s life.
14. The Foonabiki Barbers (Japan)
Two rival gangs with plans to demolish an old neighborhood are brought to their knees by a barbershop full of ninja.
15. Cafe of Angels (Spain)
Suspicions rise to dangerous levels among patrons of a village cafe-bar when a stranger appears in their midst.
Sample Chapter: Cafe of Angels
Luca laid his big hands on the wooden counter and to Hugo, the barman, placed his first order of the day.
Watching Hugo at work reminded him of the workers’ cafes in Madrid where he and thousands of other young men from rural Spain had started their days before making their fortunes on construction sites during the boomtime of the 1960s. The huge barman handled the tools of his trade with brutal finesse, packing the chrome hopper with coffee powder, ramming it home and punching the button on the Expobar Diamant, a lovingly polished machine which rose from the counter like something from the age of steam locomotives. Vapor rose in wisps from the tiny cup beneath it, like fleeing spirits, Luca mused. Hugo flipped a bottle of Matusalem on its head and in one smooth motion poured a large shot of Cuban rum into the steaming coffee. Then, placing a single wrapped sugar cube on the saucer, he slid it across the counter and said, ‘Rough night eh Luca?’
‘You’re not wrong. My barn roof’s gone, my wife’s bicycle is missing and Antonio’s laying hens were last seen over Madrid.’
Chuckles and sniggers ran along the counter. The previous night’s storm was the talk of the village. Even a fool could have given his opinion on it without fear of being scorned. But a man with no opinion on the forces which shaped his world was an ignoramus, and their numbers, Luca lamented, were rising.
They came to Pitres in their ones and twos, entire families sometimes, up the winding mountain roads of the Alpujarra in old model Volkswagen or Mercedes Benz cars with their belongings strapped to the roofs; young land buyers fleeing the northern cities—some even from Germany and England—with intentions to eke out a ‘simple life’ of growing olives and almonds, making cheese and keeping bees.
Luca pitied them. Nothing but hardship and heartbreak awaited dreamers to this mountainous land which rose from the Mediterranean Sea and tumbled over itself before falling away to the hot, dry meseta of southern Spain.
And yet he himself had stayed. He had bought land to farm olives and had battled storms, droughts, fungal diseases, goat thieves and greedy land agents, to survive well into his old age. Through the cafe window, out in the plaza, he glimpsed the young farmers behind their produce stalls and he wondered who would be next to leave. It was a topic of lively debate inside the Cafe de los Ángeles. And while opinions often differed, the resolutions were always the same: that Pitres was a fine place to live and those that thought otherwise could leave.
‘Costa del Sol got snow this morning,’ said Mustafa.
Luca turned to the tall, handsome Moroccan standing beside him. Fifteen years ago this man had crossed the Strait of Gibraltar on a rubber raft from Tangier. He had made his way barefoot and penniless into the Alpujarra mountains where he had rescued a local woman from a swollen river. He had married her and converted to Christianity and together they had raised a herb farm from the stony slopes above Pitres, selling their harvests to the bakeries and cafes down in Granada. Mustafa had fought battles but he had stayed. For this reason there would always be a place at the counter of the Cafe de los Ángeles for the ‘Moro.’
‘World’s gone crazy,’ said Luca, raising his cup and taking several slurps. He felt the rum go to work.
‘And for all this snow what’s there to show for it?’ said Miguel. ‘My water tank is down to five fingers. Hugo, another carajilla!’
Luca chuckled grimly; if only the rain and snow would fall in the same quantities that Miguel consumed alcohol, they would all be better off, he thought. The man’s face had more crags and furrows than the bone-dry fields he tilled.
At the mention of snow, the men turned their backs on the bar to ponder the light flurry falling over the plaza. They watched it like young men eyeing bikini girls on the Costa del Sol, contemplating its soft, light flakes with heavy hearts, knowing that their hopes would amount to little, yet remaining hopeful.
Mrs Lopez-Luna finished her beer and left. Customers from the market, having made their purchases, entered the cafe in greater numbers, resting their packages of goat cheese, dried ham and pickled artichokes on chairs and window ledges while they drank coffee and smoked.
The morning bus from Granada arrived. It pulled up outside the cafe and disgorged its cargo of city folk who had come to visit relatives and a group of students from a university hiking club.
A familiar sound caused the barflies to turn. It was Maria, Hugo’s younger sister, who studied in Granada and came home on weekends to help out in the cafe. ‘Morning!’ she crowed in a gratingly high voice. She wore a tight red turtle-neck sweater and her thickly applied lipstick gave her mouth the look of a split pomegranate. The long brown ponytail which fountained off the back of her head reminded Luca of his plough horse, Chico, whom rustlers had stolen five years earlier.
‘Who’s the guy in the corner?’ she asked, lifting a bread knife and commencing to saw bocadillo rolls for the lunchtime crowd. The men turned around and sure enough, seated at the table where the card players had been moments ago, a solitary figure faced the window. He wore a brown Fedora and a dark suit, and resting beside his polished Brogues was a worn leather suitcase. The sunlight which streamed through the window pooled around him like a stage light.
‘Must have come in on the bus,’ said Miguel.
‘Go over and see what he wants,’ Hugo said to Maria.
‘Another carajilla for me, before you get busy,’ said Luca.
Maria returned a moment later. ‘He wants a pickled egg and a glass of water,’ she said, adding, ‘I think he’s a little deaf. He’s wearing a hearing aid.’
Hugo served Luca his second carajilla then picked up a glass and shoved it beneath the faucet. ‘Here’s the water. We’re all out of eggs,’ he said. ‘If he asks, tell him Antonio’s chickens are in Madrid on holiday.’
‘Don’t be a smart-arse,’ she said.
‘Then tell him the tripe is fresh and the next glass of water will cost.’
As Maria carried the glass of water across the room, the bar’s collective gaze followed her slim denim-ed buttocks, watching her lean in close and place the glass down on the table in front of the customer. She said something, waited, nodded, then returned to the bar.
‘He would like an apple and a knife to peel it,’ she said.
‘We don’t give knives to strangers,’ said Hugo. But before he could protest, she had taken one from the drawer and a large Golden Delicious from the fruit basket, and set off for the table again.
‘Well, what did he say?’ he said when she returned.
‘Looks kind of creepy, sitting there all solemn and silent like someone’s just died.
He just stares out that window,’ said Miguel.
‘You all stare out that window,’ Maria said.
‘Well what does he look like?’ said Luca.
‘Like an old boxer,’ she said, and returned to her bread cutting.
‘How do you mean?’
‘Well, his nose is flat, kind of crooked and he has a scar here.’ She pointed with the tip of the bread knife to her thickly pencilled eyebrow. The bar members exchanged glances and pondered this information. Then Mustafa said, ‘There’s a new water inspector in Granada.’
‘How do you know that?’ asked Miguel.
‘My wife told me, and one of the bakery staff told her.’
‘Well then maybe it’s him, come to check on us, make sure the quotas are being followed. Look, he’s even ordered the stuff. I’ll bet that bag is full of water gauges and penalty fine books.’
This was more food for thought and again the men were silent; they drank and stole glimpses of the stranger over their shoulders.
‘Maybe he’s just here to look things over, hear your complaints and go back to his stuffy office and type another report,’ Luca said.
‘He’s not from the water department,’ said Maria.
‘How can you tell?’ asked Luca.
‘I dated one last year. They’re all young and tight.’
‘He’s tight. He ordered water,’ said Mustafa.
‘Well I haven’t been cheating on my quota,’ said Luca.
‘Me neither,’ said Miguel.
‘Don’t look at me,’ said Mustafa.
‘Well what’s the big deal then? Since you’re all angels, you’ve nothing to worry about,’ she said.
The men averted her gaze for a moment, sipped their drinks and kicked the floor rubbish a little further beneath the counter.
Maria continued, ‘The “Water Book” is right here under the counter and the records are all up-to-date. Right?’
The bar’s gaze shifted to Hugo, who nodded, picked up a glass and began to polish it.
‘Well that’s settled then,’ said Maria. ‘Even if that man was a water inspector, which he isn’t, you’ve nothing to fear.’
The men lit fresh cigarettes and ordered new drinks.
‘Could be an agent,’ said Mustafa after a while.
‘From the Centro Nacional de Inteligencia?’ said Miguel.
‘I mean a land agent. Since old Afaro and Mrs Fuentes passed away, their kids have been taking offers on their farms.’
‘Yeah, I heard that,’ said Miguel. ‘Even put in one myself. Maybe that’s what’s in the satchel, contracts and calculators, cheque books, stuff like that. More land off to market, more fools from the cities arriving.’
Mustafa murmured, ‘Look, he’s making a move on the apple.’
The customer picked up the knife and began working it with deft precision about the apple’s skin. Now and again, sunlight caught the blade and sent a glimmer racing around the walls of the cafe. This reminded Mustafa of the stories his grandmother in Tangier used to tell him about jinn, the mischievous spirits which caused people problems. His grandfather’s death, beneath a truckload of Berber carpets, had been attributed to jinn. Though others had suggested it was because his wife had chased him in front of it.
‘He’s pretty handy with that knife,’ he said.
‘Shit!’ rasped Miguel.
‘What?’ said Luca.
‘Shit, shit shit!’
‘Who? For Christ’s sake, who?’
At the mention of “Christ”, the stranger stopped peeling his apple. He tilted his head slightly to one side. The men turned slowly back to the bar. Edging closer to Mustafa, Miguel murmured to Hugo, ‘Watch our backs.’ The big barman’s eyelids flickered. His Adam’s apple bobbed like a fishing buoy. His gaze worked left and right between Miguel’s fearful face and the man at the far table.
‘What the hell are you talking about?’ said Luca.
‘It’s the Salamanca Slasher,’ rasped Miguel.
‘Get a grip, man. That’s a Salamanca problem,’ said Luca.
‘They caught him outside Madrid last month,’ said Maria.
‘Yeah, but he escaped,’ said Miguel. ‘Stabbed his guard in the eye with a chorizo.’
‘A sausage? How do you hurt a man with a sausage?’ said Luca.
‘It was extra spicy.’
‘Stop talking shit,’ said Maria.
‘It’s true! The papers said so. He was last spotted outside Toledo, heading this way.’
‘That guy is not a serial killer,’ she said. ‘He’s a gentleman and, besides, he asked me the way to the church.’
‘He what?’ said Luca.
‘The church. He wants to visit the church.’
Miguel turned pale. ‘My god, it is him. He’s stabbed priests and raped nuns. Claims he’s the Devil, come to take revenge on the clergy for abusing him as a child. They say he cuts off the priests’ testicles and stuffs them in their mouths. Then he pours on the gasoline and barbecues them.’
‘Jesus Christ,’ said Luca.
Again, the customer cocked his ear in the direction of the bar. The men stopped talking. Maria put down her bread knife and peered over their hunched shoulders. The man had returned to his apple and was now slicing it into clean, equal sections.
‘Rubbish,’ she said.
‘It’s him I tell you, and you gave him a knife!’ said Miguel.
Mustafa glanced over his shoulder. ‘Look! Here comes the priest now!’
Through the window they spied a short, stout figure dressed in a black frock step from a side street on the other side of the plaza. He stopped momentarily to chat with the young farmers, then began walking in the direction the cafe. Mustafa rubbed out his cigarette.
‘We’d better do something,’ he said.
‘He’s got a knife. He’ll turn us into noodle sieves,’ said Miguel.
‘You bunch of old fools,’ said Maria. She was about to berate them further when a thumping noise stopped her. At the far end of the bar, Hugo had hauled from beneath the counter a long flat heavy case. He slid it onto the counter, flipped the brass latches at each end and raised the lid. The barflies could see nothing, but Maria’s eyebrows leaped like startled crows.
‘My god, what are you doing?’ she cried.
Hugo lifted from the case’s velveteen interior a 12-gauge shotgun. Two 3/4 inch barrels of blued steel, a stock built of dark walnut and hand rubbed with Germanic engraving either side, rose into the air. It was truly the most beautiful and most terrifying thing Luca had ever seen. Until now it had been the subject of myth, relegated to joke status, the rumour that Hugo’s grandfather had an 80-year-old Grulla Armas shotgun hidden somewhere in the bar and that if the rustlers who had stolen his herd of goats ever showed their faces in Pitres again, he would give them both barrels.
Now the myth was no longer thought Luca as he watched Hugo break open the barrels and insert two waxed paper and brass cartridges into the breech.
‘Holy shit Hugo, what are you going to do?’ he said.
Miguel’s eyes widened to the size of the hubcaps on his old yellow Citroen. Luca stood motionless, rooted to the spot, watching in fascination as Hugo crossed the room. It was as if time had slowed and all living things had been set to half-speed. Not even Dalí could have captured the surrealness of the moment.
The customer began to chew his apple. He chewed it with the same slow, unconscious rhythm of a goat chewing hay on a sunny Sunday afternoon.
Hugo approached. He held the shotgun level with the customer’s head. When he was almost over him, he stopped and cocked the hammers. Two heavy clicks sounded. The customer stopped chewing. He turned his head slowly and his eyes met with two 3/4 inch black abysses. His gaze rose to the huge Spaniard clutching the other end and his eyes widened. The wall clock chimed. The door opened. The priest stepped into the room.
‘NOOO!’ cried Maria.
She leaped onto Hugo’s back, causing him to stagger backwards. The shotgun jerked upwards. One barrel after the other discharged, filling the room with a deafening roar. A pall of plaster and dust billowed from ceiling, enveloping staff, customers and clergy. There was something else—feathers. They came floating down like snowflakes. Luca caught one between his fingers and examined it.
‘Antonio’s chickens!’ he said.
The priest rushed across the room to the customer. ‘Pedro! Pedro! Are you alright?’ He gripped the man’s shoulders and shook him.
The customer, dazed, brushed the dust from his hair and said, ‘Shotguns inside a cafe, brother? I knew the Alpujarra was a wild place but that is a little dangerous, no?’ The priest turned on Hugo and the barflies. ‘What’s the meaning of this?’
‘Padre, we thought he was a serial killer,’ said Miguel. ‘We thought he’d come to kill you…’
‘Serial killer? This is my older brother!’
‘What?’ said Hugo, hauling Maria to her feet. The entire bar stood staring blankly back at the two men who did, now that they came to think of it, look alike.
‘This is my older brother, Pedro from Puertollano!’ he said, addressing the bar. ‘Have you all gone mad, firing a shotgun inside a public house?’
‘But how were we to know, Padre?’ said Hugo.
The priest looked up into the cavernous hole in the ceiling. Beyond it came the sound of a wounded chicken beating its wings. He shook his head. ‘Well if you men had attended church more often, you would have known that I am leaving for a month in Madrid tomorrow. Pedro, here, will be your priest while I am gone,’ he said.
The man adjusted his hearing aid which gave off a high-pitched whine. He brushed the feathers and dust from his shoulders, coughed, and to Hugo said, ‘Are you sure there are no pickled eggs?’