Nathaniel Cannon and the Panamanian Idol No. 42

By the time they pushed away their plates, the clock read 7:20. Cannon kept his poker face on as they moved to the sitting room. Half of it was given over to plush red chairs and a sofa, arranged around the window. The half nearer the entry centered on a green felt card table. A crystal glass sat on a coaster in front of each of the four chairs, and the bottle of vodka stood at the middle of the table.

Cannon pulled out a chair for Iseabail and circled the table to sit across from her. The Russians took the other chairs. Volkov poured a glass of vodka for each of them. “Zdorovye,” he said.

“To your health,” translated Kopeikin.

Cannon raised his glass. “And yours.”

They drank. The Russians drained their glasses. Cannon tipped his back, but left a good deal in the bottom of it. Iseabail followed his lead.

Volkov took one deck of cards and passed another to Cannon. Both men shuffled; Cannon set his deck aside for the next hand. The bidding began. The first round went ordinarily enough; after that, the Russians’ bids turned increasingly nonsensical. Cannon was no bridge expert, but he’d heard that skilled partnerships developed a sort of language during bidding. If that was the case here, they were in for a long night. He glanced at the clock, and corrected himself: not so long after all.

The bidding ended with Kopeikin, and Iseabail thought over her first move. She eventually led the jack of diamonds, and they were off to the races. The Russians said very little, despite Cannon’s attempt to engage them in further conversation, and after the second hand, he gave up.

Volkov and Kopeikin were savvy opponents, even with the vodka flowing freely, and Iseabail and Cannon found themselves a little behind in points a few hands in. They had spent most of the trip beating rank amateurs, and coming to grips with decent opposition was proving trickier than they had expected.

Twenty minutes passed in the blink of an eye, and at long last, the flow of stewards bearing many and varied confectionery delights slowed to a halt. Cannon and Iseabail won a hand, edging just a hair ahead. As Kopeikin and Iseabail shuffled, Iseabail raised an eyebrow at Cannon, and tipped her head fractionally toward the clock. Volkov refilled their glasses.

Cannon sighed. Not once had the Russians looked away long enough to spike their drinks. He would have to improvise.

“Beg pardon,” he said. “Might I ask after the washroom?”

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Commentary, The Panamanian Idol No. 42

We come now to that most auspicious of numbers, 42 (see note below). To my surprise, Panamanian Idol has climbed up to 17,000 words—I thought it was much shorter than that, and in all honesty, it probably should be. When I go through it again, I expect there’ll be some paring down. That said, this entry brings us firmly into the endgame. Things are coming to a head at last.

In other news, I’m relearning all the calculus I’ve ever known, then adding some more on top. The Star-Studded Black, the next entry in the Exile War series, is coming soon, and space navigation is, unfortunately, all differential equations of the most pernicious sort. Such is the struggle of the sci-fi author.

Morning edit: it turns out that I accidentally called this ’42’ when it is, in fact, ’43’. A slightly less auspicious number, but such is life.

Thursday edit: it turns out I was incorrect, and the post previously called ’43’ was, in fact, a repost of 42. I’ve moved this commentary back to 42, and posted the correct 43.

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Nathaniel Cannon and the Panamanian Idol No. 41

Two weeks ago, if someone had told him he would be growing fond of Russian food, Cannon would have been dubious. Beets, cabbage, and excruciating poverty were hardly his favorite ingredients.

The chefs aboard made passable food in the Western European mode, but it wasn’t anything to write home about. After all, Cannon frequently dined in Paris, where a man could throw a dart at a list of cafes and find a culinary masterpiece wherever he ended up. When working in their native style, though, the Russians surpassed every expectation Cannon had. Sometimes the food swam in butter; sometimes it was seasoned and spiced to perfection. For Volkov, the chefs pulled out all the stops.

They talked of archaeology, mostly. Cannon filled in made-up details about one of his invented Indian dig sites. Iseabail did an admirable job coloring around the edges. Volkov was surprised to discover that the Royal Society was less an employer and more a sometime patron; the Soviet system seemed to consider its field archaeologists interchangeable cogs in the grand scientific machine. Fitting, Cannon thought.

He was surprised to hear very little out of Kopeikin; the short man had been the chattier of the two by far at the captain’s dinner. Volkov, on the other hand, talked more than Cannon expected, on a wide array of subjects. He spoke wistfully of his home in Leningrad, but avoided the topic after Kopeikin gave him a warning look.

Cannon eyed the clock. It was already past seven. They were running short on time. The stewards had just laid out a third—or was it fourth?—meat course, the promised stuffed duck, and there was no end in sight.

“Yer goin’ tae stuff me more than yon duck,” Iseabail said, cutting into the dish with a grin.

“Not to worry,” Volkov replied. “Is last real food. After we finish it, we will move to sitting room for dessert and cards.”

“Superb,” said Cannon.

“Do you mean the duck or the plan?” Kopeikin asked.


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Nathaniel Cannon and the Panamanian Idol No. 40

There were four place settings, done in fine white china with blue patterns. A merry bubbling sound came from the samovar standing at the center of the table; a teapot waited next to it.

Kopeikin was already seated, reading a newspaper. He pointed Cannon and Iseabail to the other side of the table. “Good evening.”

“Good evening, Mr. Kopeikin,” Cannon said. He pulled out a chair for Iseabail.

“Anythin’ happenin’ in yon wide world?” she asked, sitting down.

As Cannon took the chair next to her, Kopeikin shrugged. “It still turns,” he said. “Do you know Harlan Calhoun?”

All too well, in fact. Calhoun was a competitor of sorts, another member of the brotherhood of sky pirates. Cannon had never crossed paths with him personally, but their crews had tangled now and then in ports across Southeast Asia. Dr. Smith, on the other hand, barely knew Calhoun from Adam. “The pirate?” he said.

“The very one.” Kopeikin shuffled the paper, and after some moments it was folded a different way. Cannon had never mastered that particular kind of sorcery. Kopeikin read aloud, “Famed Sky Pirate Robs Aerial Casino. Hanoi, French Indochina. Harlan Calhoun, scourge of French and German commerce in the East Indies, made off with hundreds of thousands of rubles in gems, specie, and banknotes after a daring hoist aboard the casino zeppelin Empress Eugenie…”

“Good heavens,” Cannon said. “I must say, I’m glad to be halfway around the world.”

“Aye,” said Iseabail. “I’ve no’ met a pirate face to face yet, and I dinnae want tae.”

Cannon saw the start of a smile playing across her face. It wouldn’t do to ruin the charade by laughing, so he pinched her leg. She shot him a black look.

Kopeikin regarded them quizzically over the rim of his newspaper, then set it aside as the door opened and Volkov returned with a bottle of wine. He dipped his head so as not to knock it against the frame and closed the door behind him.

“Is not my home,” Volkov said, “but I am glad to welcome you in anyway.” He took a corkscrew from the table and worked at the wine bottle. “Vodka later, da? Perhaps after dinner we will go to sitting room, and we will see if you are as good at cards as Comrade Wailani says.”

“He told ye that, did he?” Iseabail said. “Well, I hope we dinnae disappoint.”

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Many Words Press news: news is now more convenient

News from Many Words Press, formerly only available by visiting the ‘news only’ RSS feed, is now available in two new places: in the top menu, as befits its importance, and in brand-new direct-to-your-inbox form. You can use the ‘The Newsletter’ signup link to the right, or click here.

Please don’t be shy about signing up. I, too, find mailing lists which send something every day a little annoying. Fortunately, since I don’t have as much to sell as most mailing lists, Many Words won’t have a mailing list like that. We’ll only send you email when we have something to say: a new book is coming, a book has just been released, a book is on sale, your author is hosting an event somewhere. Tops, you can expect maybe twenty emails per year. I think that’s worth it to hear about the latest from your favorite independent author and publisher, right?

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Nathaniel Cannon and the Panamanian Idol No. 39

The dinner rush was just beginning as they left. They navigated upstream toward the lounge, finding it nearly deserted, and went to the forward end of the room. There, Cannon knocked on Volkov’s door.

“One moment!” the Russian shouted.

Cannon exchanged a look with Iseabail as various thumps and scrapes sounded from behind the door. A few heartbeats later, the door opened. “Is first time I have entertained,” Volkov explained, ushering them in. “Please, hang your hat by door. We had to move tables together. Ah! You brought vodka.”

Cannon placed his hat on the hook and dipped his head. “You needn’t have gone to any trouble,” he said, handing the bottle over.

“Oh, but if we did not, is nowhere to sit,” said Volkov with a smile. “I have told chef to do stuffed duck, since Mrs. Smith was so pleased by Kiev cutlets. I hope it will be a nice surprise.”

“Aye, most likely,” Iseabail said. She smiled pleasantly.

“May I take your jacket, Doctor?” Volkov asked.

Quickly, Cannon shook his head. “No thank you; I do not disrobe outside of my own room.” Iseabail snorted, turning it into a convincing cough before Volkov could notice. Cannon smiled to himself. He thought it was a good bit, too, stiff, formal, and British in precisely the way good old Dr. Smith was.

Volkov stepped back. “I mean no offense,” he said.

“None taken, dear Mr. Volkov,” Cannon replied. “I was raised with a certain set of rules, you know; it’s very hard to shake such things.”

“Da, of course.”

Cannon took a moment to get his bearings. He had the deck plan in his waistcoat pocket, and happily, it seemed accurate here, too. They stood in a hallway, with two doors on each side. Directly to their left, toward the zeppelin’s skin, was a sitting room with private windows. Further ahead on the same side was the larger bedroom. Another, smaller bedroom faced it, along with a washroom and shower, and the remaining space, directly to their right, was a dining room. At the far end of the hall was another door, artfully blended into the light wood paneling, which led down to the crew deck.

Iseabail elbowed him, and he just caught the end of Volkov’s sentence. “… through here,” the Russian said, reaching past them with an arm that seemed to be six feet long all by itself. He opened the door to the dining room and waved them in. “I will join you in just a moment.”

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Nathaniel Cannon and the Lost City of Pitu Released!

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 is available now, at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Apple iBooks, Kobo, and Smashwords, for $1.99.

The Skypirates world is my favorite place to set stories. I’m excited to share this one with you. Don’t forget you get two exclusive, never-before-seen short stories with your purchase, which shed some light on how two characters found their way into Nathaniel Cannon’s orbit.

If you enjoy the book, please don’t forget to leave a review or rating at your merchant of choice. Thanks again for your patronage. See you this winter for the e-book release of Nathaniel Cannon and the Secret of the Dutchman’s Cross.

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Nathaniel Cannon and the Panamanian Idol No. 38

They returned to the Red Banner and went aboard. The steward checking their tickets at the top of the ramp threatened to confiscate their vodka, extracting from them the usual bribe. They stopped by their cabin to leave their souvenir out of sight, then joined most of the other passengers in the lounge.

At four o’clock on the dot, the Red Banner sounded her horn once. Her engines coughed and chattered to life. Below her nose, the Hawaiian ground crew cast off her mooring lines. The massive airship slowly picked up speed, heading south. Out the lounge windows, looking down, the widely-spaced buildings gave way to a white sand beach, then to aquamarine ocean, flecked with gold where the sun caught the breakers.

A few minutes later, the sea turned from aqua to a deeper blue, and the Red Banner turned west for the long run to Yokohama. Cannon glanced at the clock on the wall. Four hours to go.


Two and a half hours later, Cannon shrugged on a gray jacket and gave himself a once-over in the mirror in their stateroom. The jacket hung loosely off his shoulders. He turned and held his arms up for Iseabail’s approval.

“Spin ’round,” she instructed. “Aye, I cannae tell tha’ yer Mauser’s there. Nae a verra nice suit, though.”

“Thanks,” Cannon said. “You look good too.”

Iseabail twirled. She wore a dark green slim-cut number she’d picked out in San Francisco, which swept down in straight lines from her waist to her ankles. It had a high slit, a feature Emma Foster—the Long Nines’ resident expert on running and fighting in dresses—had recommended. “Yer bein’ sarcastic, but yer nae wrong, either.”

“I’m glad you like it.” Cannon faced the mirror again and straightened his tie. “We’re leaving everything else behind.”

Iseabail’s face fell. “I was beginnin’ tae like dressin’ fancy again.”

“When we get paid for this score, you’ll be able to buy it all back ten times over.”

“Ach, the moment’ll be gone then.”

Cannon grinned. “The trials we pirates face. Nobody ever said it would be an easy life.” He offered her his arm.

She swatted it, then sighed and took it. “At least we’ll no’ see yon good Dr. Smith again after tonight.”

“I’m afraid I can’t make you any guarantees, Mrs. Smith. Shall we?”

Iseabail rolled her eyes. “Please.”

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Commentary, The Panamanian Idol No. 38

Welcome to a special early edition of the Many Words Friday update, now on Thursday night. Why Thursday night? Well, in ten minutes, Nathaniel Cannon and the Lost City of Pitu releases, and I don’t want to stomp on my own special day. Stay tuned tomorrow! I’ll be giving out some free Smashwords copies of We Sail Off To War through the day.

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Nathaniel Cannon and the Panamanian Idol No. 37

“Are ye sure you’re aye a pirate?” Iseabail groused.


“Tha’, too. When ye broke me out of jail, I thought there’d be less apologizin’. And tha’ I’d aye get tae be meaner.”

Cannon turned down another broad, tree-lined avenue. “There’s a rule that’s kept me in business this long: don’t make any enemies you don’t have to. To say it another way, don’t steal from anyone who can’t afford the loss.”

Iseabail tutted. “An’ tae think we’re in the same line o’ work as Blackbeard.”

Cannon glanced over at her. “Iseabail, where is my head?” She blinked in utter confusion. “What’s it attached to?” Cannon clarified.

“Yer… neck?” Iseabail answered, after some time.

“That’s right,” Cannon said. “Do you know what happens to pirates who break the rule? Pirates like Blackbeard?”

Iseabail managed to look a little green and a little pale at the same time. “I’m aye tae understand there’s… choppin’.”

“I like my head right where it is, too,” Cannon agreed. “That’s why we steal from people richer than we are, and pay for things we take from— Mr. Wailani! I say, what a spot of good fortune to run into you here!”

Across the street, Wailani’s head turned toward them. He cracked a grin, and crossed to their side. “Good afternoon, Dr. Smith. Mrs. Smith.”

“Aye, it’s a lovely one, at tha’.” Iseabail smiled. “An’ one of our favorite places. We dinnae make the Pacific crossin’ too often, bu’ when we do, we aye look forward tae stoppin’ here.”

“How kind,” said Wailani. “Accurate, too. I—like you, I expect—have been around the world a dozen times over. Not once have I found a place half as nice as our little slice of paradise here.”

“Quite,” Cannon agreed. “I had hoped we might say farewell to you this morning, but by the time we made it to breakfast, I was informed you had already left. So…” he began, casting about for the words. Eventually, he came to, “Farewell.”

Wailani laughed. “Dr. Smith, I am not one for goodbyes. We will meet again. Even if you didn’t owe me a favor, I would hope to make it so.”

“Until our next meetin’, then?” Iseabail said.

“Precisely, Mrs. Smith.” Wailani smiled and dipped his head. “Until then.” A moment passed, then he added, “One more thing.”

“Yes?” said Cannon.

“Whatever you have planned—be sure it happens outside Hawaiian airspace.”

“Mr. Wailani, I’m sure I don’t know what you mean,” Cannon said smoothly.

Wailani smiled knowingly and tapped the side of his nose. “Of course not. Good afternoon. Captain.”

Before Cannon could make a further denial, Wailani had already turned and left. Cannon looked to Iseabail, wearing the self-satisfied expression he expected to find.

“You don’t have to say it,” he said.

“Told ye he knew.”

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