Nathaniel Cannon and the Panamanian Idol No. 12

Bleary-eyed, Cannon reached for his pocket watch. He sat bolt upright on seeing that it read nine o’clock. Then he remembered, spinning the dial on its side until it read seven, then winding it for the day.

Iseabail still slept soundly on the couch. Cannon pulled a beige suit from the bag hanging in the closet and tiptoed into the washroom to dress. A few minutes later, he emerged, nudging Iseabail’s shoulder as he made for the door. “Get up. We have a lot to do today. Meet me in the lounge when you’re ready.”


It took her the better part of an hour, by which time the stewards had set up the lounge for breakfast. The fare was traditionally Russian: a heavy, buttery porridge the stewards called ‘kasha’, fried eggs, and cheese dumplings, alongside tea with more kick than Cannon’s preferred coffee.

He and Iseabail sat and ate, in no particular hurry. The stewards circled the room, bearing away dishes. They came and went by a small door far aft, just ahead of the red banner hanging from the wall.

“What I could really use is a map,” Cannon said, glancing at the nearby tables. No other passengers sat nearby, so, for the moment, he could drop the accent. He chose not to.

“There’s a library midships,” Iseabail suggested. “Ye can maybe find a deck plan there.”

“Maybe.” Cannon put his teacup down. “If I’m to be taking a jaunt through the crew spaces, I’d rather know where I’m going.”

Iseabail nodded. “D’ye know, you’re soundin’ more like an Englishman by the hour.”

Cannon smiled a thin-lipped smile.

Iseabail made a noise of disgust. “I hope ye can turn i’ off when we’re done. Wha’ am I to do?”

“Keep watch on the crew. Find out what you can about the captain, and how we might come by an invitation to his table,” Cannon replied.

“How am I supposed ta do tha’?”

“You’re a bright girl,” said Cannon, taking his hat and rising. “You’ll figure it out, I’m sure.” Iseabail rolled her eyes, and Cannon settled his hat in place. “I’ll meet you here when I’ve finished.”

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Nathaniel Cannon and the Panamanian Idol No. 11

Dinner passed pleasantly. Stewards served black bread, borscht, potatoes, and fish, whisking away dishes and refilling glasses with speed and efficiency entirely out of keeping with Cannon’s expectations. Later, the stewards deposited a tea tray in the Russian style on the table: a teapot full of boiling water, in which the tea steeped without respite; a samovar, to provide hot water with which to cut the concentrate in the teapot; and a sugar bowl, to cut the bitterness. The tables on the balcony got Lomonosov china.

The evening stretched on. In the morning, they would set their clocks back two hours, to account for their westward progress, so nobody was in any particular hurry to retire. Cannon and Iseabail whiled away a few hours chatting with Wailani, on everything from archeology to their imagined home in England. Iseabail waxed eloquent about their country cottage outside of York, while Cannon filled in details of their shared career, working from his exploits with the Long Nines and mixing in bits and pieces from recent news in the field.

Eventually, they made their excuses, returning to their cabin. Cannon prepared to curl up on the divan, but Iseabail would have none of it: “Ye dinnae fit, cap’n, an’ I do.”

Cannon protested, but Iseabail was nothing if not stubborn, and after a bit, he gave up. Soon, she snored away on the sofa, while Cannon covered his ears with a pillow. Some time later, he was asleep.

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Nathaniel Cannon and the Panamanian Idol No. 10

Cannon looked into the distance at the ostentatious red banner hanging at the forward end of the dining room, as though he were deep in remembrance. “When I was a mere boy,” he began, “before the war, I had occasion to take a German zeppelin to New York. The chill cut through the heaviest furs—we rode in the gondola, and with the zeppelin filled with hydrogen, we could hardly heat it. Regardless, the captain dined with all the passengers, every night, hosting us in his wardroom.”

Cannon paused in his bogus recollection as four stewards set up chairs and music stands in the center of the balcony. Others delivered instrument cases to them.

“How far we’ve come,” Cannon said. “Can we expect music, then?”

Wailani nodded. The instruments came out, and the four stewards became a serviceable string quartet. “As long as you don’t mind Russian composers.”

Cannon nodded over the opening strains of something Tchaikovsky. “Certainly not. Old masters, one and all.” A moment passed. “Mr. Wailani, I feel we’ve been simply terrible guests. Here we are, imposing upon your hospitality, and yet we’ve done all the talking. How was your time in Panama? Seal any deals, did you?”

Wailani leaned back, losing some of his jocularity. “I had hoped to. The Panamanians do not see the value of a canal.”

“Seems rather redundant what with zeppelins, doesn’t it?”

Wailani smiled. “With that attitude, you could be a Panamanian. What most fail to see is that the day of the airship will, eventually, come to a close. Then, a man with a canal from Atlantic to Pacific could grow wealthy indeed.”

“Seems rather speculative,” Cannon said diffidently. “What if it isn’t for a hundred years?”

To her credit, Iseabail managed a disinterested air, though Cannon could see her foot tapping excitedly.

“Perhaps,” Wailani shrugged. “Business is my business. It pays to be ahead of the curve.”

“Quite the opposite, in our line.”

Wailani laughed aloud. “Well put. Though— well, I am no expert, but is it not the case that Mr. Volkov was ahead of the curve?”

Cannon mulled it over, then smiled in what he hoped was a reserved British manner. “You may just be right.”

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Nathaniel Cannon and the Panamanian Idol No. 9

Somewhere in the middle of the stream of passengers, Cannon and Iseabail entered the room on the balcony level. In two rows, one on each side of the door, stewards in gleaming white uniforms stood to define a passage to the stairs leading down. Looking between them, Cannon spotted Volkov taking a seat at one of the aft balcony tables, next to a main whose shoulders sagged beneath the weight of his uniform’s epaulets. That and the medals pinned to his breast pegged him, in Cannon’s mind, as the captain. Cannon edged that way.

“Nilzya,” a steward told him, holding out his hand in the universal gesture for stop.

“I would like to dine with the captain,” Cannon pressed.

“Angliski ni govoryu,” the steward replied, not yielding an inch.

A familiar voice boomed from behind them. “He can’t help you.” John Wailani clapped Cannon on the shoulder. “Perhaps you will accept my table as a worthy substitute?” Cannon could do nothing but nod, and Wailani parted the wall of stewards with a wave of his hand. “The Smiths will dine with me,” he said.

The very same obstinate steward replied in accented English. “Yes, Mr. Wailani.”

“Thank you, Andrey Andreyevitch.”

They proceeded to the other aft table, where Wailani ushered them to the two chairs against the inner wall. Cannon pulled one out for Iseabail, and took the other for himself. Wailani sat across from them.

“Thanks for the invitation,” Iseabail said.

“Say nothing of it,” Wailani replied. He glanced over his shoulder, toward the captain’s table. “It appears you have been foiled, as far as meeting Mr. Volkov goes.”

“I’m afraid so,” Cannon replied, heaving a dramatic sigh. “I suppose some things are the same the whole world round.”

Wailani raised his substantial eyebrows.

“Few captains deign to receive the riff-raff. It isn’t like the old days.”

“Go on.”

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Commentary, The Panamanian Idol No. 9

Quick update on my off week: if you follow Softworks or the Soapbox, you may have noticed that an OpenTafl prerelease, v0.4.0.0, is now available, including the replay functionality I’ve been working so hard on. I can’t claim much progress on my background story, unfortunately, but it should still be done in the not-too-distant future. More news on that as it happens.

Anyway, back to the story.

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Week off update: OpenTafl, other stories

Well, ‘week off’ isn’t altogether accurate. I’m up to my elbows in finishing a major OpenTafl feature (stay tuned; updates coming to the Soapbox on Thursday) and a short story I’m going to try to sell. It is, however, a week off from story updates here.

Keep an eye on the Soapbox for all your defense commentary needs, and for news on the next OpenTafl release. We’ll be back with regular story updates in one week’s time.

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Nathaniel Cannon and the Panamanian Idol No. 8

Iseabail pulled the cabin door closed. “Three-time heavyweight champion, eh? I dinnae think ye can take him anymore.”

Cannon paced, or tried to. The narrow confines of the cabin, along with the baggage still sitting on the deck—evidently, it was not within the stewards’ purview—conspired to make it difficult. “It doesn’t make any sense.”

“Tha’ he’s a scholar an’ a boxer?”

Cannon shook his head, kicking his suitcase out of the way. He took a few steps to the opposite wall, turned on his heel, and crossed the room again. “No. It doesn’t make any sense that he’s that big and that good.”

Iseabail wisely stayed out of his way. “Aye?”

Cannon waved dismissively. “A smaller man’d run circles around him. It doesn’t matter.” Now that he could move, he could think. “We have two problems. First, we need to meet Volkov. Second, unless you’ve been doing something useful with all that time you’ve been spending around Emma, we need a way to turn his lights out that doesn’t mean taking a fist to the kisser.”

“Wha’, friendship’s nae a good enough reason?”

“Never mind.” Cannon tapped his chin. “Wailani’s right. We’ll have a few shots at meeting Volkov before we get to Hawaii. Taking him out will be the hard part.”

Iseabail held up a finger. “I may be able tae help wi’ that. D’ye think this place has a cleanin’ cabinet?”

“Count on it,” Cannon replied.

The Scot grinned. “Ach. That’ll do. I’ll make up a shoppin’ list.”


That would have to wait. The captain’s voice, ringing over the loudspeakers, had called all guests to dinner, first in Russian and Spanish, and then, to Cannon’s relief, in French. The two of them, once again staid English archaeologists, joined the flow of passengers to the starboard dining room.

In rough layout, it mirrored the portside lounge. They entered on the upper tier, more accurately a balcony here: it extended only ten yards or so to either side of the door, and the rest of the room constituted the lower tier. Four small, round tables, one at each corner, occupied the balcony, while long banquet tables ran in rows below.

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Nathaniel Cannon and the Panamanian Idol No. 7

“Then perhaps,” said Wailani, “you’ve heard of our most distinguished passenger, Artiom Volkov?”

Cannon didn’t need to feign his excitement. “I have. He has advanced the state of Central American archaeology by decades.”

Wailani nodded. “He is also a three-time heavyweight champion in the Soviet Union.”

Cannon blinked. “How unexpected. He seems a fascinating fellow. I should like to meet him.”

“You may have the chance,” Wailani said. “You asked for tips? Flying aboard a Soviet zep is certainly an experience—there are no classes. Odds are you will come across Mr. Volkov at dinner at least once. All but the captain’s favored few dine as equals.”

Cannon raised an eyebrow. Iseabail said, “Tha’ sounds like classes ta me.”

Wailani laughed. “Don’t you see? The Soviet Union is a classless society. The captain is, of course, a good Soviet. Therefore, the captain dining with his friends among the wealthy and famous cannot be evidence of separate classes.” He lowered his voice and leaned in conspiratorially, eyes gleaming. “Don’t let the Russians catch you talking like that.” Straightening, he added, “Nor should you expect much service from the stewards.”

Cannon leaned back, momentary speechless. “What, then, do they do?”

“Deliver meals, and sometimes help with cleaning. If you want more, you may hire one.”

“Haven’t they already been hired?” Cannon said, then held up his hand to forestall further comment. “Never mind. It is too bizarre.” He smiled regardless. “Thank you for your advice, Mr. Wailani. Perhaps we will meet over dinner.”

All three of them stood, and Wailani grinned. He offered his hand, and Cannon shook it. “Undoubtedly.”

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Late update update

Today’s story update will end up being tonight’s story update, because I’ve been playing around with Second World War British web gear all night, and my fingers hurt from loosening the snaps. Have a great day. See you tomorrow night.

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Nathaniel Cannon and the Panamanian Idol No. 6

The Hawaiian folded his paper and set it aside, then gestured to the empty chairs at his table. Cannon pulled one out for Iseabail, then sat next to her. “First,” the Hawaiian continued, “introductions. I am John Manu Wailani.”

“Doctor Daniel Smith,” Cannon replied, “and my wife, Iseabail. It is our pleasure to meet you, Mr. Wailani. I confess, I had some concern we would be the only ones who speak English on this voyage.”

Wailani showed an ear-to-ear grin. “The pleasure is all mine. I have had my fill of Russians lately.”

“D’ye meet many Russians in your line, then?” Iseabail put in.

Wailani nodded. “Though I am a mere man of business, the Kingdom of Hawai’i nevertheless thinks I am a worthy economic ambassador for our little island paradise. The Soviets are national partners, as are the Central Americans. I spend much of my time traveling. Fortunately, I am returning home for a time.” Wailani spread his arms. “Enough talk of me. To meet fascinating strangers is one of life’s delights. Tell me of yourselves.”

Cannon gave a little laugh, then embarked on a round of that traditional British sport, self-deprecation. “I’m rather afraid you’re the more fascinating personality. The lives we lead must seem terribly dull by comparison. Mrs. Smith and I are archaeologists working under the British Museum.

Wailani laughed, a booming sound as deep as his voice, but no less musical. “Archaeologists! Fascinating indeed. What brings you to the Red Banner?”

“We’re headed tae Yokohama,” Iseabail said. “An’ India, after tha’. Our tommies found a temple wha’ hae been lost ta time near Assam.”

“And what brought you to Panama?”

“I am something of a specialist in pre-Columbian peoples of Central America,” Cannon said sheepishly. “An acquaintance of Mrs. Smith called on me to give my opinion on a find of his.”

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