Nathaniel Cannon and the Panamanian Idol No. 31

Iseabail regarded Cannon with some skepticism. “Cannae ye tie yer tie any straighter?”

Cannon lifted his chin and looked at his neck in the mirror. “It isn’t any different than it’s been.”

“Aye, but we were nae tryin’ tae fit inta yon cap’n’s circle then.” She waved him over. “Let me have a look tae.”

“Isea, you aren’t going to retie my tie.”

“Ye said yerself we’re aye to do everythin’ we can tae get tha’ invitation from Volkov.” Iseabail raised her eyebrows, daring Cannon to object. He said nothing, and stood in front of her.

He caught her hand on the way toward his neck. “Not a word to the crew,” he said.

“Ach, it’s nae as though you’d get teased as much as me anyway.” Iseabail’s hands moved faster than Cannon could follow, and in fifteen seconds, she was done. “Better, aye?”

Cannon turned to the mirror. Iseabail poked him in the side, once, then again. “All right, all right. You win.”

Iseabail smiled a broad smile, delighted. The clock chimed twice. “Tha’s our cue.”

Cannon offered her his arm. “Shall we, Mrs. Smith?”

 

The steward waiting outside their stateroom led them forward, through a nondescript door a few yards shy of the end of the main corridor. It led to another corridor, paneled in dark wood and carpeted in crimson, which took them further forward. They passed a few doors—officers’ quarters, Cannon suspected—before the steward stopped and ushered them into the captain’s dining room.

The room was a long rectangle, centered on the table. Unlike the rest of the zeppelin, it was the picture of opulence. Even through his shoes, Cannon could feel himself sinking into the carpet. The table looked to be solid wood, an unheard-of luxury on a zeppelin this size, and though there were no windows, paintings all but covered the paneled walls.

A dozen people milled around in shifting twos and threes. The captain detached himself from a little knot of conversation and came up to them. “Good evening, Dr. Smith, Mrs. Smith!”

“Cap’n Rokossovsky,” Iseabail replied, dipping her head with a smile. “Once again, our thanks for yer invitation.”

Rokossovsky waved his hands. “I should be thanking you,” he said, “for returning such a treasure of Soviet art. You will dine with us for remainder of voyage.”

“How generous,” Cannon said smoothly. “It would be our pleasure.”

Rokossovsky gestured to the rest of the room. “Mr. Wailani will be seated next to you. You are across from Comrade Volkov—” he pointed out the largest man in the room “—and his assistant Comrade Kopeikin.”

Kopeikin was scarcely taller than Iseabail. “Rather a study in contrasts, wouldn’t you say, captain?” Cannon remarked.

The captain nodded. “They are fastest of friends. They met during the war.”

“I see,” Cannon said. “Well, thank you again, captain. We should say hello to Mr. Wailani.”

“Yes, yes,” Rokossovsky replied. “Make rounds. Meet passengers. Stewards will ring us to the table when dinner is served.”


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Nathaniel Cannon and the Panamanian Idol No. 30

Cannon passed a few hours in the lounge, paging through an English-language volume of Chekhov’s greatest hits. Despite the Soviet translators’ best efforts to cloud matters, Cannon could see the author’s skill. He made a note to find an edition translated by someone who spoke English as a first language.

Just before lunch, he returned to his stateroom, to find Iseabail relaxing on the sofa, just finishing the last typewritten page of his pre-Columbians Panama dossier. She passed his quiz with flying colors, and even called him on a trick question or two about Cortes. He had expected no less from the sharpest member of the Long Nines, provided she had the motivation to learn. As usual, all it took was a little prod to get her competitive side into gear.

“… an’ Cortes never came tha’ far south, an’ Balboa came tae Panama first anyway. Wasnae ’til the eighteen hundreds wha’ anyone who wasnae from Panama saw the ruins.”

“Good. One more: before the discovery of stone ruins, what was the only known indigenous dwelling?”

“Wee huts, palm leaves over branch frames.”

Cannon nodded. “Right again. You’re close enough to an expert to fool me.”

“I’m nae tryin’ tae fool you.”

“It’s more than enough for dinner conversation.”

Iseabail looked distinctly nervous. “If’n ye say so, cap’n.”

“Look, Isea,” Cannon said, “you’ve done great so far. I didn’t pick you for this job just because of your accent, or just because you can make it look like you belong with the rich zeppelin set. I brought you along because you’re sharp as a tack and you can think on your feet. When it comes to history, do you think I know what I’m talking about?”

“Aye.”

“Am I a liar?”

Iseabail shifted on the sofa. “Nobody’s sayin’ tha’.”

Cannon nodded. “So when I tell you that you could fool me, it means you’re ready. Are you ready?”

“Aye, cap’n.” Iseabail sat straighter and looked brighter.

“Good. Now, remember. We need to get into Volkov’s cabin so we can knock him out and toss the place. It’s a whole lot easier if we’re invited. If you see some chance to get us in the door—both of us, or either of us—take it.”

“Aye.”


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Nathaniel Cannon and the Panamanian Idol No. 29

“Wha’, tha’ easy?” Iseabail sipped from her teacup. She sat across from Cannon at a table in the corner of the lounge, far from anyone else. Nevertheless, they spoke in low tones. Two plates were stacked between them. Out the windows to Cannon’s right, the occasional puffy cloud floated past. In the far distance, the blue of the sky and the blue of the sea melted together.

Cannon looked into his own teacup with the air of a man adrift. “Isea, I could kill a man for a decent cup of coffee.”

Iseabail’s eyes twinkled. “Ach, tha’s good news.” To Cannon’s raised eyebrows, she explained, “Means ye willna be stickin’ wi’ yon insufferable Englishman act.”

“We’ll have to stop in on a roaster in Hawaii. They know what they’re doing.”

“Wouldnae know,” Iseabail said, daintily placing her teacup upon its saucer. “I’ve aye never had the ken of coffee. Dinnae know how ye drink somethin’ so bitter.”

Cannon sighed and shook his head. “I don’t have the time to tell you how wrong you are.” He looked up at Iseabail, then back to his teacup, then took a disappointing sip. “At dinner, we need to impress Volkov. Have you finished the reading?”

“I was done on the train.”

“Well,” Cannon said, “read it again. If we don’t pass for experts on Central American history, we don’t get on Volkov’s good side. If we don’t get on Volkov’s good side, we can’t get him alone to knock him out.”

“Ach, I know the plan.”

Cannon picked his teacup up. He looked into it, then set it down and pushed the saucer away. “Get to the reading. There’s a test when you’re done.”

“Wonderful,” Iseabail grumbled. “An’ here I was hopin’ we could keep our run at yon card tables goin’. Nae as much money in it as the job, but it’s aye easier.”

“That’s thinking like a real pirate.” A shark’s grin spread across Cannon’s face. “Read fast, and we’ll have time for some fleecing, too.”


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Nathaniel Cannon and the Panamanian Idol No. 28

The captain was quiet. He turned through the folio slowly, reading a few lines here and there. “You are Dr. Smith, then?”

Cannon blinked.

“A Mr. Wailani told me I might get visit from you.”

“A new acquaintance of mine,” said Cannon. “Yes, I am indeed Dr. Smith.”

“Archaeologist, yes?” the captain asked. “You and your wife?”

Cannon nodded. “We specialize in the pre-Columbian Americas.”

“Ah!” The captain grinned at the stewards. Cannon could picture them: dead silent, waiting for the order to strongarm him away, and certainly not sharing in the captain’s levity. “What wonderful luck. We have passenger aboard who is distinguished in the very same field. His name is Artiom Volkov.”

“Volkov!” Cannon said. His eyebrows shot up as he feigned surprise. “I understand he recently made quite the discovery in Panama.”

“Yes, this is true,” the captain replied. “He is private, but I think he might like to meet a fellow academic.” Elbow on the table, he waved his hand over the folio. “You have given an excellent gift. In exchange, if you wish to meet Comrade Volkov, I will invite you to dinner this evening.”

“It would be a great honor,” Cannon said.

“Wonderful! Dr. Smith will join us tonight,” the captain informed the stewards. One nodded fractionally. “One of my men will meet you at your stateroom at half seven—six-thirty, to take you to my wardroom.”


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Preorders Available: Nathaniel Cannon and the Lost City of Pitu

Nathaniel Cannon and the Lost City of Pitu

The year is 1929. In the aftermath of the Great War, the world rebuilds, and the mighty zeppelin is its instrument. Carrying trade between every nation, airship merchantmen attract an old menace for a new age: the sky pirate. One man stands out above the rest. Ace pilot, intrepid explorer, and gentleman buccaneer Nathaniel Cannon and his gang, the Long Nines, prowl the skies in hot pursuit of wealth and adventure.

Cannon receives word from a sometime friend in Paris about a job in the Dutch East Indies. The contact tells a tale of a mysterious lost city, bursting with treasure, not seen by human eyes for a thousand years. Will his tip pay off? Or will it lead the Long Nines straight to a fight for their lives, lost in the unfriendly depths of the Indonesian jungle?

Nathaniel Cannon and the Lost City of Pitu, the first of the Nathaniel Cannon adventures, is now available for preorder at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Apple iBooks, Kobo, and Smashwords for $1.99. E-books include two never-before-seen short stories featuring the Long Nines. Reserve your copy now and get it at midnight, March 16.

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Nathaniel Cannon and the Panamanian Idol No. 27

“Good,” Cannon said. The wall clock chimed the first few bars of the Internationale. It read eight o’clock. Cannon turned his watch back two hours as the captain announced breakfast. “We make Hawaii tonight.”

“Aye cuttin’ it close,” Iseabail observed.

“Clean up and get dressed.” Cannon flipped through the timetable on the nightstand. “If we don’t have the idol by tomorrow night, all of this is for nothing.”

“Nae yer best speech ever,” Iseabail said. “Ye’d best take yon folio an’ see if ye can run intae our cap’n. It’d nae do tae miss dinner.”

“Most assuredly, Mrs. Smith,” Cannon said, putting on the accent again.

“Ach, I thought maybe ye were done wi’ that,” Iseabail grumbled. “I’ll be along.”


 

Iseabail retreated to the washroom. Cannon tied his tie, put on his hat, and headed out into the corridor with the folio under his arm. He joined the flow of passengers headed for the dining room.

Most of them spread out, looking for tables with a modicum of privacy. Cannon stayed close to the balcony, keeping an eye on the new arrivals. The captain came through the doorway, along with a dozen stewards. While the captain doffed his cap and made his way for his table, the stewards moved to form a wall as they’d done the first night, to keep the rabble out.

Rabble though he was, Cannon did not intend to be stymied this time. He rose, threaded his way through the crowd of passengers coming down the stairs, and slipped past the row of stewards before they altogether realized what was happening.

The captain blinked at him as he sat down at the table. “Just a moment of your time, Captain Rokossovsky,” Cannon said. He became aware of a pair of the burliest stewards looming over his shoulders.

The captain held up his hand, and the stewards became incrementally less menacing. “Yes, comrade passenger?” He had a warm voice, with less of an accent than Cannon expected.

“I wondered, sir, if I might present you with a gift.” Cannon laid the folio on the table and pushed it toward the captain.

The captain raised his eyebrows doubtfully, an expression which fit with the lines of his careworn face. Pushing his hat aside, he opened the folio and read a few lines. His eyes widened. Quickly but reverently, he turned to the last page. He looked up and met Cannon’s eyes. “This is real?”

Cannon nodded. “I am assured it is.”

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Missed update update

I was busy building a game over the weekend, and didn’t get much writing in. There will be news on that soon, somewhere.

Also, I’m deep in getting Lost City of Pitu out the door, and that’s approaching hair-on-fire status regarding timing. Also, I went to the gym today and I am quite tired.

Fear not, though. I do have something written; it’s just too short to post today. We should be back to our regularly scheduled antics for Friday.

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Nathaniel Cannon and the Panamanian Idol No. 26

Cannon woke a few hours later to the sound of the shower running and the distinct feel of a damp chill to the air. The door to the washroom was open. He stood next to it, looking away, and coughed meaningfully.

“Och, I’m decent,” Iseabail said.

“Good morning,” Cannon said, turning around to face her. “How—” The tureen, lid on, sat in the bottom of the shower stall, drenched by the cold water spewing from the head. Iseabail, her usual untamed curls matted against her head, stood by with a two-foot stick. To Cannon’s eye, she had a bit of the drowned rat’s aspect to her.

His face must have said it all. Iseabail immediately launched into an explanation. “Well, y’see, yon reaction is exothermic, aye? If I dinnae keep yon mix cool, th’ chloroform aye boils off before it’s done.”

“That would be bad.”

“I wasna finished. It also makes phosgene.”

Cannon blinked. “The gas?”

“Aye.”

“That would be worse.”

Iseabail nodded. “I dinnae have an ice bath, or a bath at all, so.” She waved at the shower. “Improvisin’.”

“Why are you all wet?”

“It’ll nae work if I dinnae stir.”

Cannon looked doubtful, but he was no chemist, and Iseabail was usually a pretty poor liar. “Well, is it done?”

“Five minutes.”

“Good. We don’t want to miss breakfast. I hope to see the captain there.”

“Aye.”

Cannon retreated to the cabin to dress for the day. After a few minutes, the water shut off. With his tie draped around his neck, he investigated.

Iseabail hauled the tureen out of the shower and removed the lid. Cannon leaned in to look. Iseabail smacked him on the arm. “Ye tryin’ ta knock yerself ou’?”

Cannon held up his hands in apology, and looked into the tureen over Iseabail’s shoulder. In the bottom of the tureen was what looked like a small bubble. “Is that it?”

“Aye, tha’s it. We need tae ge’ rid of the water left over.” Iseabail took the tureen in hand and carefully poured the byproducts down the shower drain. At the same time, she added, “If this were me lab, I’d want tae distill it. It’ll nae be very pure.”

“Will it knock Volkov out?”

Iseabail nodded. “Aye, or kill him. If it’s nae pure enough, it’s poison.”

Cannon weighed this. “He’s a big fellow. He’ll live.”

Pointedly keeping her thoughts to herself, Iseabail set the tureen down, then took the bottle the acetone had come in. Carefully filling it, avoiding the little bubble of chloroform, she filled the bottle with water and dumped it. Another four bottlefuls left her with chloroform and a bit of water, which she carefully poured from the tureen into the bottle. Finally, she screwed on its cap and held it up. The liquid inside was slightly cloudy. She shook it back and forth. “Done.”


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Nathaniel Cannon and the Panamanian Idol No. 25

With any luck, when the Russians came to, they’d jump to the obvious conclusion. The last thing Cannon needed was the crew nosing around his cabin.

He passed a few more compartments, then took a turn down a side catwalk and finally came to the cleaner’s closet. Inside, he quickly found what he needed: two glass jugs of bleach, and a small bottle of acetone. He had a pocket sized just so for the acetone. The jugs, on the other hand, were too hefty. Taking one in each hand, he peeked out of the closet. He saw no Soviets in evidence.

He stepped out onto the side catwalk, looking aft, then forward. The Russians would, in all likelihood, still be out cold if he went that way, but there were too many of them around the bunkrooms for his comfort. He could hardly go diving out of the way, either, carrying Iseabail’s materials.

Forward was little better, given that he knew there were Russians awake in that direction. Then again, he would have a head start on them, and he doubted very much the midnight bridge watch could spare more than a man or two to chase him down.

He preferred those odds. Forward it was. He had only a dozen or two yards to the base of the companionway up to the main deck. It cast shadows in red on the overhead, illuminated by the night lights from the gondola below. Cannon tiptoed up the steps as quickly as he could. He heard voices from the bridge and froze. Nobody called out in alarm. A moment or two later, he was through the hatch, and back in the world of hallways and doors.

Without incident, he made it back to his cabin. Iseabail was waiting for him.

“Good tae see ye didna ge’ caught,” she said.”

Cannon nodded. “Closer than I would have liked,” he replied, setting down the bleach and producing the acetone from his pocket.

“Ach, ace,” she said approvingly. “Haul ’em intae yon washroom.”

Cannon did so. On the floor of the shower was an enormous tureen, five gallons at least. “Where in the world did you find that?”

“I didna find anythin’. I bribed yon steward to le’ me borrow it for the nigh’.”

Cannon raised an eyebrow and lifted one of the jugs higher. “Couldn’t we have bribed him to bring us these?”

“Didna want tae make him suspicious,” Iseabail said.

“What does he think we needed the container for?”

Iseabail shrugged. “I tol’ him tae use his imagination, an’ that we’d have it for him early in the mornin’.”

Cannon set the jugs down. “You’d better get to mixing, then. I’m going to get some shuteye.”

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