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Sunday

Greece, Democracy and a Fascist Plot

Is there an adult in the room? Dominique Strauss-Kahn, MD of the IMF when the world economy collapsed. His mind was probably on other things.



We are living through a struggle between democracy and fascism. On one side, the Greek people have been given the opportunity to participate in a democratic process, in a reflection of the first democracy to emerge from that very nation around 500BC. In the other corner, the hated Troika* of European Central Bank, European Commission and International Monetary Fund. So, is this democracy V fascism?

The definition of fascist is "totalitarian, authoritarian, one-party, oppressive, autocratic, dictatorial, undemocratic, monolithic, despotic, tyrannous" (Free Dictionary), so could that be a valid description of the Troika?

European Central Bank
The owners and shareholders of the ECB, which is structured as a corporation, are the central banks of all 28 EU member states. The primary objective of the ECB is to 'maintain price stability within the Eurozone'. This is defined as price inflation of 'close to' 2%. The main decision making body of the ECB is called the Governing Council. The Council's minutes are not published. The Central bank of Greece has paid-up capital in the ECB of €220 million, for a 2% stake. Curiously, the ECB has paid-up capital of a mere €7.6 billion. Non-euro EU countries also own stakes in the ECB, which is also curious, as the ECB also runs the euro currency.
Eurozone inflation in May 2015 was 0.2%.
More from Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/European_Central_Bank

European Commission
The European Commission is the executive body of the EU, essentially Europe's Government, with 28 commissioners, a staff of 23,000. Commissioners are appointed by member state governments, as opposed to being elected. In Ireland, the plum role of commissioner is normally awarded to disgraced politicians as a reward for doing dirty work, or just to get them out of the domestic political arena. The EC is increasingly sidelined by Germany, France and the UK.
More from Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/European_Commission

International Monetary Fund
Set up to rebuild Germany after WW2 (which included massive debt write offs!), the IMF is controlled by America with a complicated organisational structure and voting system, which is based on wealth. The IMF is about pure financial muscle, even though it claims to have the reduction of global poverty as one of its aims. Eight countries get to appoint an Executive Director, including Saudi Arabia, a twisted, fundamentalist monarchy with no regard for human rights, no democracy, the root cause of much climate change, the wellspring of Al-Qaeda and IS.

Most observers agree that, when the IMF forces its loans on a country, income inequality rises. The IMF has been described as a pillar of global (economic) apartheid, a supporter of dictators and a cheerleader for US neoliberal policies.

800 million people go to sleep hungry every day. Current MD, Christine Lagarde is paid a tax-exempt salary of $467k, plus allowances and entertainment expenses.
More from Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/International_Monetary_Fund

So three supranational organisations, run by political appointees, with utterly failed objectives, are running scared from democracy. What does this tell us? Interestingly, all three member organisations of this unholy trinity are wholly behind the US/EU trade deal, TTIP, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. This deal is being negotiated in secret and aims to create a supranational judicial system that will operate above national law to deal with trade disputes. TTIP essentially gives corporations their own global legal system as a means of ensuring 'free trade'. If TTIP passes, I can guarantee that Irish Water will be sold to a global corporation within five years.



While Greece's misfortune - much like Ireland's - results from political incompetence, it must be remembered that most of the Troika's bailout funds to Greece are used to pay off existing debts, primarily to German and French banks, with only 10% going on social programmes or investment (and it sickens me to hear Christine Lagarde lecturing anyone about tax codes when she doesn't pay a cent in income tax). Again, a similar situation to Ireland's. What's different about Greece is the recent election of the Syriza-led Government, on a platform of ending austerity and crazy loan-piled-upon-loan policies, and with a left wing focus. Ireland's neoliberal Fianna Fail Government caved to the Troika's demands because they fitted with our Establishment mindset. And Ireland's current Fine Gael/Labour Government is even more right wing and neoliberal. But Greece is different. Greece doesn't fit with the groupthink of taxes, cuts, austerity and debt. So Greece must be stopped. We are witnessing an attempt at regime change by the Troika, to get rid of fresh thought and install a government that embraces groupthink.

The Troika is composed of three deeply dysfunctional organisations, each of which has failed miserably to achieve core goals, instead creating a superstate that operates above what we call democracy. The Troika is not answerable to the citizens of the world in any meaningful way and it rules by fear. As such, I believe that the Troika can be called fascist and that democracy itself is entering a dangerous phase, however Greece votes.

*Troika is from the Russian, meaning three of a kind.
Participative democracy is the only alternative to a fascist, neoliberal European Union. Find out more here: https://www.facebook.com/wesayireland
Find out more about Gary J Byrnes here: http://www.GaryJByrnes.com

Tuesday

Ireland's Gay Marriage Referendum - A True Watershed

Ireland's Gay Marriage Referendum, Friday 22nd May, 2015
It's ironic that Ireland is to be the first country in the world where a public vote will decide to change the Constitution to allow marriage between same-sex couples. Ironic because our 1937 Constitution was drafted by famously conservative, Catholic Eamon deValera, guided - it's widely believed - by the then Archbishop of Dublin, John Charles McQuaid. Dev would have had no idea that Irish society could have turned from the Church in such numbers. We have grown up.

In a Constitution that's littered with all sorts of crazed homage to a mysterious sky being, we're not taking anything out, simply adding a sentence:

“Marriage may be contracted in accordance with law by two persons without distinction as to their sex.”

The rest of the god stuff will have to come out of the Constitution, and the sooner the better. For now, let's take a step towards ridding this Republic of the prejudice, ignorance, hatred and suffering that have been inflicted on society by the evil of organised religion. We are awake to the fact that our priests are obsessed with sex. Obsessed! Theoretical virgins who want to own and control our organs, especially women's organs. Oh, they adore women's organs!

So we are on a long road, one which will lead us genuine equality for all, for access to contraception, abortion and a free healthcare system that isn't about carving up women or considering the almost-life of an unborn foetus as more important than its so-alive mother. There's still a long way to go. But we take a great step forward towards a genuine democracy and a secular Republic when we vote yes.

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Friday

Paris, a Shining Beacon for a New Age of Enlightenment?

eiffel-tower-paris-gary-j-byrnes
Eiffel Tower, Paris, seen from Trocadero

My latest novel, To Eat the World, places two characters from the food and art worlds into one of this planet's great cities, New York, and a race against time to save us all. I'm constantly thinking about my creations, Sophie and Jacob, and where they should experience their next adventure. I've just enjoyed my first visit to Paris. So now I know where my characters will go. They will walk the hills of Montmartre, then eat croque monsieurs in the shade of the Tuileries Garden. They will get up close to the greatest art in human history. They will be stupefied by a multisensory assault, every sensation tickled, every cultural and gastronomic yearning embraced.

louvre-paris-gary-j-byrnes
Inside the Louvre's pyramid
Dublin, my hometown, is a quaint little city, capital of a dysfunctional, bankrupt country. Ireland is a broken, depressed nation, certainly, but Dublin has its moments. Contextually, Dublin was the second city of the British Empire for many centuries, on an island strategically important to the Crown and in relative proximity to the capital of empire, London. Dublin's only notable examples of decent architecture are the remaining monuments of colonialism. After a brief interlude of independence, which entailed little more than domination by the brutal Catholic Church, mass emigration and the entrenchment of a new landed gentry of farmers and slum landlords, Ireland is once again a colonial outpost. But this time, our capital is in flux. A tussle between distant Germany, Frankfurt, home to the European Central Bank, our financial overlords. And Washington, which sees Ireland as a convenient military transit hub off the coast of Europe and a convenient tax avoidance location for the biggest American corporations, many of them large political donors back home. Ireland is also a great place for US presidential hopefuls to drink a pint of Guinness and we punch way above our weight in greenhouse gas emissions. Thanks to cow farts, mainly.

blanche-metro-paris-gary-j-byrnes
Blanche metro station, Art Nouveau at Montmartre
Because Irish culture is so deeply coloured by our experience as part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and our reliance on the US for jobs, inward investment and export markets for alcohol, we have lost any real understanding of what it means to be Irish. We consume British and American news media, music, sport, junk food and junk culture and we have sleepwalked into the Anglo-American groupthink. This is evidenced in many ways, from our docile acceptance of the open market capitalist mantra to the sacrifice of caring society on the altar of the banks. And we've always had a sneaking suspicion of the French.

musee-dorsay-paris-gary-j-byrnes
Musee d'Orsay
The French are savages - they chopped the heads off their monarchs! The French have no place for organised religion! The French always surrender! The French smell! The French are rude! These are the subtle messages that have been propagated through the Anglo media and into the Irish psyche for generations. The French traits of liberty, equality, secularism and republicanism have been transformed by the British and American establishments into negatives and this poisonous message has been gleefully disseminated by a monocultural media.

Well, I have woken from a bad dream and have seen the reality. Sure, Paris can stink, but so does every major city. Yes, Parisiens can be rude, but Londoners tend to be ruder. Certainly there is not a McDonald's on every street corner, and that can only be a good thing. Of course France has no place in her constitution for kings or queens or popes or mullahs. And that is only right. Ireland, smothered by the insidious blankets of empire and religion, lost her greatest talents to Paris, among them James Joyce and Samuel Beckett. And the contrasts with dowdy, backwater Dublin could not be more pronounced.

venus-de-milo-louvre-paris-gary-j-byrnes
Venus de Milo, Louvre
Paris is an epic, stylish city, full of a unique design sensibility, artistic expression, treasures of the the world, glorious architecture and a confident sense of itself. Parisiens are justly proud of their unique and exciting city and it is no surprise to me that Paris should be the world's top tourist destination. It is a genuinely multi-cultural, buzzing metropolis. People sit outside bars reading books. Books! People write, draw, paint, talk. People stroll through the parks in 1920s dress. Couples dance for tips in the squares. There is a fashion shoot around every corner. You can eat wonderfully simple food in a classic restaurant in the city centre for less than you'd spend on a burger meal in Dublin.

It is precisely because Paris is so successful at what it does that it has become a target for the haters. Rightwing US media buffoons hate that France didn't help to destroy and dismember Iraq. Cheese-eating surrender monkeys? Give me Camembert de Normandie on crusty bread over genetically-modified junkfood any day. And the evil spawn of US foreign policy, al Qaeda, with their hideous attack on Charlie Hebdo magazine, hate the very idea of free speech and their brothers-in-arms, Islamic State, despise the values of secularism that are at the very heart of what France means.
bouillon-chartier-restaurant-paris-gary-j-byrnes
Gary J Byrnes at Bouillon Chartier restaurant

France is not perfect - nowhere is - and that nation's colonial experiences are every bit as shocking and destructive as Britain and America's. And France seems to have an unhealthy obsession with nuclear weapons. But these shortcomings could be laid at the feet of her 'Establishment'.

Paris, the birthplace of the Age of Enlightenment, is the only city I've experienced which has the potential to foster a new enlightenment. With secularism, true republicanism, technology and culture at its heart, Paris must step up now and offer a clear vision of a better world. We can't all live in Paris, so Paris must come to us. France tried to save Ireland once, despatching thousands of troops to assist in the 1798 rebellion against British rule. France must once again come to our rescue by taking the lead in the European Union, challenging the austerity dogma and putting people first.

Je suis waiting...


Find out more about Gary at www.GaryJByrnes.com

Taste Paris at Bouillon Chartier, more details at http://www.bouillon-chartier.com/en/

Win a signed copy of Gary's latest thriller with Books Ireland Magazine at http://www.booksirelandmagazine.com/

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We Say - A New Participative Democracy Model for Ireland, Europe and the World




Irish writer, Gary J Byrnes, today helps launch We Say! on Facebook. We Say! aims to build a functioning, online, participative voting platform which will allow citizens to learn about, discuss and vote upon the issues that matter. The platform will allow for direct decisionmaking by the electorate on local, national and international issues.

We Say! will learn from the experiences of other nations in participative democracy and work to integrate Ireland's solution with solutions in other European Union states and, eventually, the World.

The democratic deficit has never been more pronounced in Ireland, the EU and worldwide. Our planet is being pillaged for the enrichment of corporations and banks. Religious ideology is driving too many politicians to the edge of global catastrophe. Austerity programmes are being inflicted on populations who never deserved them. The divide between rich and poor grows more pronounced by the day.

People feel powerless, justifiably. The political parties who rule on a platform of representation are disconnected from the realities of their electorates. The time is come for a new approach to democracy, one which allows the electorate to make the decisions that affect their daily lives and to choose the direction in which society should go.

We Say that change must come. We Say that we are smart enough to make decisions. We Say!

Join We Say on Facebook today: https://www.facebook.com/pages/We-Say/448494228642336

We especially need computer programmers to help build our open source platform.

Find out more about Gary here: www.GaryJByrnes.com

Sunday

Islamic Militants to Merge

The Mujaheddin - Islamic terrorists, armed to the teeth and with a 7th century mindset - were created by America in Afghanistan in 1979, to combat that country's first secular, democratic government. Perhaps surprisingly, it was good old peanut-loving President Jimmy Carter behind that decision, aided and abetted by Britain's then new prime minister, Margaret Thatcher. Interestingly, recent American history seems blighted by Democrat presidents who appear benign but lead their nation into deadly, strategic cul-de-sacs, especially with militant Islamic forces. Carter was encouraged to support Afghan Muslim terrorists by his National Security Advisor, Zbigniew Brzezinski, who is still pushing buttons in Washington, recently encouraging NATO expansion into Eastern Europe. You have to wonder about history repeating and all that.

Zbigniew Brzezinski, National Security Advisor to President Jimmy Carter, who gave us Islamic State.
Carter's key Afghan ally was Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, a scumbag of the VERY highest order. Hekmatyar specialised in throwing acid in the faces of women who wouldn't wear the veil and growing the opium that poisoned the cities of western Europe, not least Dublin, where the heroin epidemic that has ripped the heart from the city can be directly linked to when the CIA began pumping billions of dollars into Hekmatyar's twisted operation. The CIA would likely call a junkie syringe stuck in a Dublin schoolboy on a bus to school blowback, collateral damage. Unless the destabilisation of Europe was an objective of what is obviously, in hindsight, an absolutely insane idea.

That idea: to work with the crazy, misogynistic mountain men of Afghanistan, with their medieval Islamic ideologies, against the atheistic, secular, modernising city dwellers of Kabul so as to weaken a Soviet influence that wasn't even there yet, then grab Afghanistan's mineral wealth and strategic location. That idea must rank with the stupidest, dumbest, most suicidal ideas of all time. The Afghan craziness (July 1979) followed the Iranian Revolution (February 1979) so I can only conclude that America jumped straight into the Sunni/Shia conflict that had been raging for centuries, opposing Iran's Shia because they'd had the cheek to depose the US-supported dictator Shah.

For it gave us the Taliban. It gave us al-Qaeda. It gave us 9/11. It gave us Islamic State. It gave us the shit world we live in today. That stupid idea gave us World War 3.

The Islamic Caliphate thrives in the cauldron of the Middle East, a region torn to pieces by US foreign policy. You actually couldn't make up a worse tale of incompetence, arms marketing, war starting, oil loving, dictator sponsoring, fundamentalist accepting and death dealing. America may, in a Fight Club kind of way, have decided that the occasional bit of blowback - the Twin Towers, Boston, Charlie Hebdo, Madrid. Benghazi, Bali - is worth it from a strategic perspective. But it is now certain that the militant Islamic armies will unite under the Caliph of Islamic State. The doctrine of divide and conquer cannot survive much longer and the Islamists know it. Islamic State will formally unite with al-Qaeda, the Taliban, Boko Haram, al-Shabab and all other Islamic terrorists. They will combine their resources, link their networks in the west, conduct simultaneous, complex, asymmetric attacks worldwide. The west will blame Snowden, WikiLeaks and the Russians. But we need to look much closer to home to identify and accept the root causes of this World War 3, and come to terms with the reality that this war cannot be won militarily. I just hope that we can do so in time to prevent the Islamic Caliphate of Europe.

For more by Gary J Byrnes, see www.GaryJByrnes.com

Photo credit: "MSC 2014 Brzezinski Kleinschmidt MSC2014" by Kleinschmidt / MSC. Licensed under CC BY 3.0 de via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:MSC_2014_Brzezinski_Kleinschmidt_MSC2014.jpg#mediaviewer/File:MSC_2014_Brzezinski_Kleinschmidt_MSC2014.jpg


#JeSuisCharlie - Much Western Media Already Defeated

Charlie Hebdo, Survivors' Issue, Front Cover, 13/01/2015
Western media prides itself on its liberalism, openness and edginess but, in reality, it is generally conservative, Christian and owned by hedge funds. The massacre at Charlie Hebdo has put the European and US media in an uncomfortable place. They are afraid to publish the cartoons that Charlie Hebdo magazine published. Simply afraid. Afraid of any backlash  - from terrorists or Muslim media consumers or investors - that will negatively impact the bottom line.


Sure, the media will whine about not wanting to inflame the situation, nauseatingly bowing to the fear principle, but that does not excuse the need to report. Ireland's media is too afraid of its own shadow to rock the boat. Like in Britain, Ireland's media is owned by the state or by oligarchs, and will never take a stand on principle if a few quid can be found elsewhere.

But the media misses the key point:it it is impossible to effectively report on the issue of the Charlie Hebdo cartoons and why they caused the religion-inspired slaughter of 17 innocents in Paris without showing the cartoons. Impossible.


Because when normal, balanced people see the cartoons they can really only come to one conclusion: What's the big frikkin' deal? So, if the western media is too afraid to report on reality, where does that leave us?

France is a shining beacon of secularism, anti-monarchism and progressive culture. France has also challenged the rise of Islamofascism with military force, unlike many of the west's key military powers. When Britain collapsed in the face of Syria's descent into inhumanity, President Obama hesitated, IS was born and the jihadists of Paris were emboldened. 

And here we are, after the al Qaeda/IS Charlie Hedbo attack, after the Taliban Pakistan school slaughter, after the latest Boko Haram massacre which killed 2,000, after 9/11, after 7/7, the list is endless, here we are and nothing has changed. Except that things have gotten worse.

It's a big question: what can we do in the face of such relentless attacks on our way of life?

The best we can do is to fight for our freedom of speech and challenge those in power who would dilute it. We must not appease murderers and censor ourselves so as not to attract hate from the Middle east, the cradle of civilisation, of our religions. The poison of religion has never been compatible with freedom of thought or expression. The west has woken up to this. France led the way, the rest of Europe followed, kicking and screaming. Ireland lags far behind, with religion enshrined in her Constitution and the Catholic Church - as fundamental and destructive as militant Islam - still in control of most of the country's education system. This must change.

So the world must catch up with France. If that means combating violence from those who would rather live in the Middle Ages, while we keep our focus on progress, then that is what we must do. If men, women and children are to have any hope of freedom, human rights and equality in the 21st century, we must all be Charlie.




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Find Gary's new thriller, To Eat The World, on Amazon.

Connect with Gary at www.GaryJByrnes.com.



Tuesday

To Eat The World - My New Thriller

Now available in print and ebook formats.
BUY THE BOOK NOW IN PRINT AND EBOOK, ON SALE WORLDWIDE

Hanna's Bookshop, Rathmines - NOW IN STOCK









Everyone must die during dessert. Can Sophie save New York and the world?

In the dying days of World War Two, Nazi rocket scientists were spirited to America to give the United States a strategic edge in the atomic arms race. Some of the Nazis built a secret empire in New York, founded on looted art and gold.

Fast forward to today. Emboldened by the rise of right-wingers and the broken economy, the Nazis plan to take over the Presidency, destroy Wall Street and enslave the world, launching their coup at a King Louis XVI-themed art banquet. Sophie, a Manhattan chef, is asked to cook for the President at the feast. Her ex-lover, art expert Jacob, will be served as the main course.

A sexy, thrilling tale of great food, classic art and the meaning of beauty, love and life.


Extract to follow:

TO EAT THE WORLD
by Gary J Byrnes

That feeling, that good feeling at the end of a busy, smooth service. Uneventful but for the trainee chef dropping his spectacles into the pot of boiling water and the customer who didn’t want to pay for his steak. Sophie put her hand into the water to retrieve the glasses without thinking. ‘All the nerves in your hands will become numb over time. And get a cord for the spectacles, yeah?’ Steak guy said he didn't like it. ‘He should’ve realised that before he ate the whole damned thing. He even licked the T-bone clean! Now tell him that we’ve got police officers on the premises and I can get them to sort it out for us.’ So he paid and apologised. It reminded her of the time the diner complained that her Vichyssoise was simply freezing. This kind of stuff happens every single day. Part of the reason she loved the job. It was all about meeting the key primal need for food, which comes even before sex and shelter in terms of daily importance.

Her dad, who brought his French culinary skills over during the War, always impressed on young Sophie the importance of food as a business. People can put off buying a new car or a coat. They can never put off eating lunch and dinner. And, in the end, hunger will make them kill for food.

So just some desserts going out, then a gushing sliced thumb, ‘You using my Global knife again, Jimmy? So don’t. Back in my knife bag before you get the first aid kit. And never cut towards yourself. Really’. Definitely a first generation cook. The busboys fiddling with the fancy coffees, the waiters counting out and divvying up the tips, the kitchen staff eating the family meal at the table by the kitchen, a hot Thai curry tonight, or drinking Peroni beer from coffee cups or smoking cigarettes or grass joints out in the back alley by the stinking trash and the sodium street lamps and the fat rats and the pure, clean night air.

Sophie pointedly ignored the drug and alcohol abuse that went on among the staff. It was defined by economic class, from the crack-smoking dishwashers to the pot-smoking busboys to the alcoholic waiters to the coke-snorting managers. It came with the territory. When you go out to a restaurant on a quiet night, you will likely deal with a staff that’s collectively off its face. Busier nights are better. Less boredom, less time to be filled with narcotics.

‘Table four sends their compliments, boss,’ says Ramon, a good waiter, union rep.

‘Four? Okay, thanks,’ she muttered. Odd. And he hasn't been out for his smoke with the help yet. Something’s up.

She washed her hands, slapped some cold water on the back of her neck, dried off. Then she carefully applied some lipstick, poured a glass of house red, a decent Californian Pinot Noir - Ingrid’s - good berry and chocolate tingles. And so, to meet her audience.

The restaurant was still full of customers but calmer now, all baked New York cheesecake, Colombian coffee and French brandy. The congressman spotted her and stood, grinning broadly. That spark in his eye, that curious, irresistible molecular reaction in her, like strawberries meeting balsamic vinegar. How did it happen, the two of them? He loved his food and the restaurant was near his campaign office. Was that it? Was that what brought people together, the coincidence of the mundane? No. Her food was definitely not mundane. That’s why her stake in Oral Pleasures was worth at least a million, so the accountant said. She glanced at the couples sharing desserts with single, long-stemmed spoons. Eight out of ten would certainly get in the neighbourhood of sex tonight, the condom machines in the bathrooms proved that. The minds would be willing, the bodies less so. Have more sex, then you won’t get so fat. One hundred and four covers, two seatings per night. Sometimes three. Hundred bucks a head. Do the math. Turnover last year: eight million. Surely this was something to be proud of?

So why the unease, the slithering emptiness?

Sophie’s typical day: Lie in bed awake until the alarm bings at 7.30. Green tea and salty olives and French cigarettes on the terrace, feed the dog, the Bijon Frise in her little house outside on the balcony (she rarely gets in the apartment), morning noises and smells, honking cabs and muffled shouts and the aromas of toasting bagels and street coffee drifting up from Bleecker Street below. The Village. The pulsing heart of Bohemian New York. Nigella sniffs the air, cocks an ear. Beautiful. Okay, she gets inside when Sophie's home. Shower. More tea, more smoke. Set up Nigella’s feeder, top-up her water. Then stroll up to West 4th St, catch the E up to 50th Street or, more often than not, walk, walk fast. Impossible to do that now without thinking back to that day, that crazy rush uptown with the bewildered thousands on The Day The Planes Came.
In the restaurant by 9.30, checking that the night cleaners had done a perfect job. Oversee the prep for lunch and dinner and the deli counter. How many potatoes peeled and diced? How much pesto today? Ten gallons, ten! It also sells by the half-pint to take away out front, nice little side earner. Sophie helps out a little during lunch service, but doesn't run the show. Her assistant, Carl, a little rough around the edges but talented and getting better, he manages lunch. She monitors, rolls her sleeves up when required, say when a tour bus with thirty jaded Japanese tourists turns up unannounced, all facemasks and Nikons. This happens. It's the pesto and the Facebook page.

Split shift. The afternoon is all about the accounts, with Wang, who runs the back office for her. Numbers, account balancing, debtor and creditor management, payroll, taxes. The dullest but most important part of the restaurant business. Sophie enjoyed it. As much as cooking even.
This was why she was so successful, why she was sometimes hard to live with. She cared passionately about the little details, wouldn't let stuff slide. When things were in a smooth groove, she'd have some time to work with Lucy, the young marketing graduate who looked after the ads, the coupon deals so-loved by the rich, the public relations, the website. Green tea and cigarettes and a bowl of fresh pasta with butter and black pepper at six. Maybe a few prawns fried in olive oil on top.

On sticky summer days, she would sneak up to the rooftop herb garden and sunbathe naked for an hour. This made her feel like she was being naughty, a feeling she relished. Of such tiny revolutions are interesting lives made.

5pm. Send a busboy out for another pack of Marlboro Gold, then sleeves up and dinner service. Four manic hours, wind down, maybe sit with some guests for a while, depending on who's in: movie star, politician, fashion designer, or anyone old rich. Sip a glass of wine. Maybe another. Pass the baton to her business partner Rod, the general manager and maitre d’, the perfect front of house man, who was rich (old money, very old), interesting and had the connections that mattered in business. Cab back to Greenwich Village. Balcony. Cigarette. Shower. Cigarette. Bed, to lie there, stare at the cracks in the ceiling, process the day. It seems like her eyes just slow-blink and she's awake again, waiting on the alarm.

‘Sophie!’ called Congressman Sam Walsh, the third most powerful man in American politics.

‘Mr Speaker. Enjoy your meal?’

‘Did you get my compliments?’

‘You normally do it in kind. What's up?’

‘Later, honey. Don't bust my balls, okay?’

That vague edge of menace to his syrupy voice, not strong enough to put a finger on, just the subtle ring that made you do what you were told. The congressman was not a super-wise man, not especially charismatic, so go figure how he became so powerful. Family. Tradition. Wealth. Connections. No real ability, yet just two heartbeats from being the most powerful man in the world. Sophie felt this enigma from the beginning, chose to ignore it. And here she was, his piece on the side when he was up from Washington, typically at weekends. No doubt he had a woman, maybe more than one, down there too. She often wondered whether he’d make a good president, wondered if she’d get to see the Oval Office.

‘I’m sorry,’ he said then. ‘It’s all this war talk.’

He embraced her and kissed her cheek wetly, caused her glass to lose a drop or two of red, which trickled down her grubby whites. Then he turned to his party. Sophie knew them all, especially the congressman's permanent detective escort, Danny O'Brien, a decent Irish-American cop from Woodside, over in Queens. Those wet lips proposed a toast to the best chef in New York City.

A wild-eyed man eased off the bar stool.

They sat and talked and spooned dessert and drank and then the guy showed up at the table. He wanted to keep both fifties. Everything slowed down as the congressman’s security got to their feet and reached inside their jackets. The congressman grabbed a wine bottle by the neck. Sophie's crazy alarm went off as the guy loomed over her. He looked familiar, somehow. But how could a guy like this be familiar, with his shining blue eyes, his shaved head and his tattoos? The street, he's off the street.

‘This is for you, sir,’ he said in a strong voice, more of a bellow, as he thrust a little parcel towards the congressman. Sophie thought that it looked like a lover’s gift, wrapped nicely in golden paper with a white bow. Maybe a pearl necklace inside.

The background buzz of slurred conversation stalled, died.

One of the other plainclothes cops grabbed the guy from behind while Danny snatched the parcel from his outstretched hand. A tableful of drinks went flying crashing. Sophie instantly calculated the replacement cost. Bastard.

The package fell apart, exposed its contents. The congressman saw the flash of gold, remembered, knew. It has to be a real surprise.

End of extract.