They made a fine study in contrasts. Emma was a tall, willowy blonde, and her open, innocent face disguised that she was a cynic to rival any veteran of the Great War, a crack shot with both rifles and aircraft guns, and the best barfighter between Ceylon and San Francisco.
Iseabail was short and stout, but no physical description could capture her as well as the epithet ‘mad scientist’. She reveled in it: her wardrobe consisted exclusively of nondescript shirts and trousers, which she covered with stained, scorched lab coats as often as not shot through with holes. She always smelled faintly of chemicals, and often much more strongly than that. Her hair was a perpetual red frizz, and Cannon couldn’t recall having ever seen her with both eyebrows intact.
Between them was a radio, one of the tabletop receivers of the sort popular in the Americas that looked like a miniature cathedral. A band in the new Pacifican style played over the airwaves, an orchestra’s worth of horns blaring out a complicated melody with a strong counterpoint. As they came to a crescendo, a man crooned, “When we lift off, then you’ll be tipped off toooooo, how my heart it soars for you…”
Cannon ignored the music and sat in front of the shortwave set. He’d barely touched the tuning knob when Iseabail shouted, “D’ye know what ye’ve just done, cap’n?”
The radio on the table now played only static. Emma threw up her hands, and in her inimitable Australian twang, said, “Great. I’ve still never heard him sing the whole thing.”
“Who?” Cannon asked.
Iseabail looked at him as though he’d sprouted a third arm. Emma said, “Jimmy Ellis, only San Francisco’s King of Swing. He was on the shortwave this one time. Do you know the next time he’ll be on?”
“No,” said Cannon, “and you don’t even need to say it. Neither do you. I do know that we’re better off without music and far away from the British than the other way around, though.”
Emma and Iseabail settled into a sullen silence, while Cannon found the test tone he was looking for on the tuning dial. At six o’clock precisely, the tone faded, and the speaker came to life with a man’s enthusiastic voice.
“This is South Seas Radio, broadcasting from—we’ll never tell you, copper. It’s ten o’clock Quebec time, and the Indian Ocean is lousy with Limeys. Keep your distance, scoundrels and villainnesses, or else you’ll find yourself taking a crash course in the hemp fandango. Not to be outdone, today the French sent five more zeppelins south and southeast from Hanoi with orders to find Harlan Calhoun, whose recent casino robbery drew further condemnation of the German royalist cause from Nazi Party headquarters in Berlin. In this announcer’s book, nothing that tweaks old Adolf can be all that bad.
“The Soviets, too, are on the hunt, Nathaniel Cannon and his Long Nines gang the object of their ire.”
“Made the news, skipper,” Emma observed.
“The kind of caper we pulled on those Reds, I can’t believe we didn’t get more,” Cannon replied.
“—short, pirates, buccaneers, and lowlifes of the sky,” the announcer continued, “keep your eyes open and your guns loaded, and remember: the only thing worse than a British rope or a French guillotine is a Bolshevist prison. And now, the weather…”
Cannon began to copy down the forecast, while Emma and Iseabail made for the door. “Before you go, ladies…” Cannon said. At this new imposition, they stopped to glare. “If Lachapelle’s plan pans out, we’ll spend some time in San Francisco. While we’re there we’ll see if we can’t get you into that Ellis fellow’s club.”
Mollified, they turned to go. Cannon heard Iseabail’s voice fade up the ladderwell: “The Lost City of Pitu, is it? It’s nae a certain thing, but it coul’ be interesting yet…”