Chuang Choufeng dabbed antiseptic against the cut on Cannon’s cheek, then pulled the skin together with a thin strip of tape. Iseabail, Joe, and Emma watched. The crow’s feet around Choufeng’s eyes grew more pronounced as he gave Cannon a close look.
Cannon sat on the edge of a table in Inconstant‘s mess hall, medical supplies spread out nearby. Today, there were fewer than usual. The others stood in a loose half-circle around him. “I’ll be fine,” he said.
Choufeng’s expression was a picture of doubt.
“Really. I’ve taken harder punches.”
“Abou’ tha’, cap’n,” Iseabail said, holding back laughter, “I dinna remember everything Choufeng an’ Emma say abou’ punches, but I’m verra nearly sure tha’ number one is you’re nae supposed to stop them wi’ your head.”
Cannon fixed her with a glare, but she was cackling too hard to notice. “You spend too much time around Emma,” he said.
Emma barked out a short laugh. “He’s fine,” she said to Choufeng.
Joe smiled, but was quickly back to business. “You sure you saw Snavely, boss?”
“The toughs said Lord Crosswhite sent his regards, Joe,” said Cannon. “Where’d Lachapelle go?”
“He wanted to go back and get his bag,” Emma said. “I sent Henderson and Burr with him.”
Cannon nodded approval. “You’d better take some muscle and round up the rest of the crew, too. With Snavely around, we don’t have time to waste.”
Emma nodded unhappily, her mind filled with visions of barfights never to be started and subsequently won, then turned to go.
“Joe,” said Cannon, “meet me in the chartroom in half an hour, and tell Churchill I want this zeppelin under way in ninety minutes. Isea, get the camera into one of the Kestrels. Joe’s going to have to make a reconnaissance flight, and I want him on his way as soon as we cast off.
“Sure thing, boss,” Joe said, and held the hatch for Iseabail on his way out.
Cannon let Choufeng pack up his medical kit, then said, “If you could, double the guard on the gangway, and make sure it’s armed.”
Choufeng dipped his head in acknowledgement and left Cannon alone.
Cannon allowed himself a little smile. His gut said he hadn’t seen the last of Snavely. Like a bad penny, the Englishman was always turning up. If his gut was right—and it usually was—things were going to get interesting.
The sun glowed orange as it sank low over the mountains of central Java, turning Inconstant into a golden sliver hanging low over the darkening green of the jungle below. The zeppelin sped on into the sunset.
Cannon leaned against the hatch into Iseabail’s laboratory, lit in red by the airlock indicator lamp over his head. Iseabail had closed the hatch behind her, and now she was in the middle of developing the photographs from Joe’s flight.
Joe leaned against the ventral catwalk to Cannon’s right, still in his flying gear, his leather helmet tucked under his arm. He’d seen two zeppelins there, and they looked Nazi. That, he thought, didn’t bode well for Cannon’s mood.
Emma stood across from him, drumming her fingers in a restless rhythm against the handrail. Joe shot her a look, which she returned with considerably greater rancor. He rolled his eyes. Emma waited a moment or two so it was obvious she wasn’t taking orders from him, then willed her hands to be still.
Lachapelle paced up and down the catwalk, occasionally glancing nervously at Cannon. The captain still didn’t trust him after his betrayal at Panama, a move Lachapelle realized was the wrong one almost immediately after he made it. He was a French monarchist, though, and that very nearly required of him as much distaste for the Germans as it did distaste for the British. He just hoped Cannon remembered that.
Choufeng sat lotus-style a few yards past Lachapelle. His face remained an expressionless mask.