Nathaniel Cannon and the Panamanian Idol No. 5

Cannon and Iseabail sat at their table for a full hour. At two o’clock, midway through their vigil, Red Banner set out, the stirring strains of the Internationale playing over her loudspeakers to mark their departure. From Panama City’s port, the zep turned northwest by west, taking them over the jungles of Panama, five hundred feet above sea level at the keel. The verdant hills roles so near to the zeppelin that Cannon could nearly have reached out and touched the tallest branches.

The clock at the forward end of the lounge chimed: two thirty. “I guess our Volkov isn’t looking for company.”

“Wha’ d’we do, then?” Iseabail asked.

Cannon touched the side of his nose and found his accent again. “Why, you just trust me, my dear Mrs. Smith. Our man is an academic! If we sing his praises loudly enough, he’ll hear us.”

“Ego,” Iseabail mused, canting her head. “Aye. Tha’ could do it.”

Cannon nodded. “Nothing more to do just now, I’m afraid. Perhaps I’ll freshen up for dinner.”

He stood. The lounge was now half-full, and had been for some time. As nice as the midships cabins were, they held little in the way of entertainments. A quiet buzz of conversation, mainly in Russian and Spanish, filled the air. At the aft end of the lounge, someone sat at the aluminum Wurlitzer, playing tunes straight from the Russian folk canon.

Cannon made his way toward the midships corridor, Iseabail in tow. Before he got there, a conspicuously English-speaking voice hailed him. “Your first time on a Soviet zep?”

In fact, it was. Cannon had never had much use for zeppelin liners in the days before Inconstant, and had none at all now. He turned to t he source of the voice, to see a bulky man with the dark hair, dark eyes, deep tan, and broad face of a Pacific islander—a Hawaiian, most likely.

“It is,” Cannon said. The man had next to him a stack of books with Cyrillic titles, and regarded them over the top of a newspaper whose masthead read ПРАВДА. This, Cannon thought, might be a good fellow to know. “Do you have any tips for the first-time traveler?”

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