April 7th 2018


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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY Free trade agreements leave us even more dependent on China

EDITORIAL Why Russia re-elected Vladimir Putin

CANBERRA OBSERVED Empty seat last vestige of minor parties' party

NATIONAL AFFAIRS Liberals take power but plan for none for SA

INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS Sexual exploitation at Oxfam symptom of culture of death

RELIGIOUS FREEDOM General protection gives a false sense of security

PHILOSOPHY AND CULTURE On celestial politics

GENDER POLITICS Trans ideology awash with big money from big biomed and big pharma

REGIONAL AFFAIRS Taiwan stands up to Beijing's bullyboy tactics

CINEMA Outstanding film follows St Paul to his death in Rome

HUMOUR An Appetite for Diamonds: Porphyry Volpone investigates

MUSIC Power playing: Technique v musicality

CINEMA Peter Rabbit: More Bugs than Beatrix, but lots of fun

BOOK REVIEW We're doomed; but we're not alone

BOOK REVIEW Subcontinent set for Asian century

LETTERS

NATIONAL AFFAIRS The deeper causes of Australia's social malaise

GENDER POLITICS Queensland proposes transgender birth certificates

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HUMOUR
An Appetite for Diamonds: Porphyry Volpone investigates


by Vivianne Banksia

News Weekly, April 7, 2018

Porphyry Volpone carefully laid his hand on the door handle. It felt sticky. Volpone was pretty sure it wasn’t jam. He aimed the beam of his torch at the handle. He was right. It wasn’t jam. It was honey.

“And that dame told me this was money for jam,” he muttered wryly.

He pushed open the door (at least it wasn’t jammed) and waited for any sign of movement from within. The moon threw his shadow before him down the length of the passage. His silhouetted bulk was clearly visible to anyone inside, who could have easily picked him off. But, that was Volpone’s way: reckless and, frankly, clueless.

After a frozen moment of eternity, a crackling sound came from the first room on the right-hand side of the passageway. Then Duke Ellington’s orchestra launched into Cottontail.

Volpone felt the sweat trickle down his chest and back and on down into his shoes.

“Crack, crack.” Volpone was flat on his face inside the doorway. His moisture-activated Target-Special socks had exploded.

“Who’s there?” came a querulous voice from inside.

Volpone thought quickly … “If three workmen can dig a trench three feet by six feet by 12 feet, how many feet have they?” … But not quickly enough. The inner door flew open and there stood Caravandra Enogula, grotesquely got-up in a tattered dressing gown, severely overdone makeup and a cigar lodged behind her ear.

“Who is it? I can’t see without my hat on.”

“Volpone, Porphyry Volpone.”

“Are you all right?”

“Shaken, but not stirred.”

 “Mr Volpone, eh? So, we meet again. But, must you wear such loud socks?”

“Your sweet talk will get you nowhere with me this time, Caravandra Enogula; or, should I say, Felicia Enobarba da Silva?” snarled Volpone.

The woman just laughed and turned back into the room where the gramophone was crackling into the coda of Cottontail. Volpone followed, took the gin offered him and sat down. The woman, whatever her name was, leaned against a dresser opposite and blew smoke rings from the cigar. Finches somersaulted through the smoke rings.

The room was drab and dreary. In one corner was a cage in which sat a large African grey parrot with a handkerchief over its head.

“What do you know about the death of Morton Pustule?” asked Volpone.

“Nothing,” said the parrot from under the hankie.

“I was talking to Ms da Silva.”

“Fair enough,” said the parrot.

“Well?”

“Morton Pustule? Hmm. For some reason that name rings a bell,” mused the woman.

“Well, he was your butler for several years.”

“Ah, yes, now it comes back to me.”

“And your business partner, co-conspirator and husband.”

“My recollection is incomplete. I would need to consult my diaries to confirm it; but, yes, I think that pretty well covers it.”

Volpone sat back and drew his lips back off his teeth in a simulacrum of a smile. “It’s pleasant to swap such warm memories. You are cold.”

“No, no, it’s just the complexion of my skin.” Da Silva crushed out the end of the cigar on her bare knee. She looked up slyly into Volpone’s face. “But my recollection of a more recent night is more complete.”

Volpone felt his face heat up; his beard was on fire.

“Just tell me where you were last Tuesday evening when Morton Pustule, the poor little guy, was being crushed to death under a truckload of cigarette papers in the drawing room of the van Burgh mansion in Kew? Tell me you weren’t upstairs in the house, feeding the stolen diamonds to the dog. Tell me you hadn’t been seeing Chevy van Burgh for six months before and the pair of you weren’t planning to skip the state and live in a humpy outside Broken Hill on the proceeds of your ill-gotten gains.”

“Very well, I wasn’t and we weren’t.”

Volpone sighed. “Blast,” he muttered, “I thought I was on to something there.”

He said: “Well, could you tell me where you were, then? And, you wouldn’t happen to know anything about the death, the diamonds and the dog?”

“Tuesday night last, I spent with my aged mother at the speedway at Calder Park. We arrived about 6.30pm and left after the last smashup derby at about 11pm.”

“And between those hours?”

“I was playing back my favourite morse-code messages on my diesel sewing machine for the entertainment of the workers in a turnip swapping factory in Horsham.”

“Had you been drinking?”

“I should say so! I hate turnips!”

Volpone rose and paced the room a few times. He came to a halt beside the birdcage. His brow creased as he stood looking into the cage. He made a mental note to iron it when he got home.

Da Silva still leaned against the dresser, but she was watching Volpone closely through successive smoke rings. She was wondering whether he believed her.

With an unexpected celerity, given his statue-like immobility before the cage, Volpone reached in between the bars and snatched the handkerchief from the head of the parrot.

“Morton Pustule, I presume,” he declared triumphantly, striding down the room towards the woman, bearing the handkerchief high like a trophy of war.

“It looks like a hankie from this angle. Let me get my hat.”

“No, no. I mean him in the cage.”

“So, Mr Bond, you have discovered our fiendish plan,” said the man in the cage, shedding his parrot suit.

“Volpone. My name is Volpone.” Although he spoke to the now revealed Pustule, Volpone lounged before the da Silva woman. “And yours,” he declared suddenly, again moving like greased lightning, “dear lady, is van Burgh. Chevy van Burgh.”

He pulled the wig from the head of the person before him to reveal, sure enough, the aforesaid scion of one of Melbourne’s premier families.

“It is I, sure enough,” said van Burgh, with tears in his eyes, “But that wasn’t a wig.”

“Never mind that now,” said Volpone. “Tell me, the body of which unfortunate was crushed beneath that killer load of cigarette papers?”

Pustule sauntered down the room and stood defiantly, hands on hips, directly in Volpone’s face. He said nothing, just sneered. Chevy van Burgh was applying an ointment to his bleeding scalp and sobbing with pain. For some time, that was the only sound in the room.

“Well?” asked Volpone impatiently.

“Well, what?” said Pustule.

“Well, who was it under that pile of papers? And where are the diamonds and the dog?”

“You really don’t know?” asked Pustule rhetorically.

“No!” replied Volpone emphatically.

It was Pustule’s turn to move like the wind, and in a second, he had Volpone’s wig and false beard in his hand. But, it wasn’t Volpone underneath. It was Caravandra Enogula, aka Felicia Enobarba da Silva, aka Celine Lucy Pustule (nee van Burgh).

“Aha!” cried Pustule triumphantly. “I knew Volpone didn’t have a beard.”

“No,” whimpered Caravandra etc etc. “But I did.”

“Ah, my beloved, Celine, here is your husband.”

Chevy van Burgh crushed his wife in a warm embrace. “My love.”

“My all.”

“But,” asked Pustule, grinning from ear to ear with happiness, “What’s become of Volpone?”

“You don’t think it was him under …?” began Celine, her hand going to her mouth at the thought.

“Don’t you worry about Mr Volpone,” announced van Burgh. “He may be feeling a little ill right now, but I think it’s just something he ate. Ha, ha, ha.”

“Ha, ha, ha,” went Pustule.

“Ha, ha, ha,” went Celine.

“Ha, ha, ha,” went the finches.

FIN




























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April 4, 2018, 6:45 pm