Nathaniel Cannon and the Panamanian Idol No. 3

Cannon and Iseabail disembarked. Cannon collected their bags from the porters.

“Where now?” Iseabail said.

“Out the west door,” Cannon replied, putting on his best generically English accent.

Iseabail chucked. “Who d’ye think’s going tae buy tha’, Dr. Smith?”

“I’m aiming to fool a gaggle of Russians, dear, not the King,” Cannon replied archly. “Come along. We’ve a mile’s walk to the zeppelin.”

The sea breeze only slightly tempered the jungle humidity, so they adopted a leisurely pace, strolling through the city. Ancón sat along the coast; Panama City mainly occupied a tiny rectangular peninsula, jutting east into the Pacific. They crossed it at its inland end, ambling along dusty avenues. The mid-afternoon sun beat down on a sleeping city. They were all but alone on the streets. Passing another shuttered cafe, Cannon found a patch of shade, set the bags down for a moment, doffed his hat, and mopped at his brow.

“I can carry me own, if it would help,” Iseabail offered.

Cannon folded his handkerchief and put it back in his pocket and sniffed. “It wouldn’t be proper.”

“Careful. We dinnae want ye tae become the mask,” Iseabail replied.

Cannon broke character for a moment, cracking a grin. “What was it you said? Who do you think will buy that?”

Iseabail rolled her eyes. “Let’s go.”

Forty minutes, all told, took them through Panama City to the zeppelin field, which covered a mile or thereabouts between the city and the Gabilan Rock to the southwest. Two zeppelins were moored by the old method, fixed only at the nose and free to weathervane. Panama was small and unimportant, as far as the world was concerned. Too few zeppelins put in here to merit a more modern sky harbor.

The nearer zep bore a gold hammer and sickle on her side, and a red star on her tailfin. Beneath the star was her name, stenciled in Cyrillic characters.

“If I had to guess,” Cannon said, “that one is ours.”


An hour later, they settled into their cabin. The Red Banner was shorter than Inconstant by more than a hundred yards, with a correspondingly greater curve to her sides, so the Soviets had built her in the traditional German style. All the cabins were amidships, inside the hull, surrounded on either side by public spaces with windows looking down and out the zeppelin’s flanks. The nicest cabins, fore and aft of the portside lounge, had their own windows, but such accommodations were beyond the modest means of a pair of British archaeologists such as Doctor and Mrs. Daniel Smith. Still, the inner cabins were well-appointed in the Soviets’ traditional restrained style. They had a washroom to themselves, a luxury not even found on Inconstant.

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