Nathaniel Cannon and the Panamanian Idol No. 9

Somewhere in the middle of the stream of passengers, Cannon and Iseabail entered the room on the balcony level. In two rows, one on each side of the door, stewards in gleaming white uniforms stood to define a passage to the stairs leading down. Looking between them, Cannon spotted Volkov taking a seat at one of the aft balcony tables, next to a main whose shoulders sagged beneath the weight of his uniform’s epaulets. That and the medals pinned to his breast pegged him, in Cannon’s mind, as the captain. Cannon edged that way.

“Nilzya,” a steward told him, holding out his hand in the universal gesture for stop.

“I would like to dine with the captain,” Cannon pressed.

“Angliski ni govoryu,” the steward replied, not yielding an inch.

A familiar voice boomed from behind them. “He can’t help you.” John Wailani clapped Cannon on the shoulder. “Perhaps you will accept my table as a worthy substitute?” Cannon could do nothing but nod, and Wailani parted the wall of stewards with a wave of his hand. “The Smiths will dine with me,” he said.

The very same obstinate steward replied in accented English. “Yes, Mr. Wailani.”

“Thank you, Andrey Andreyevitch.”

They proceeded to the other aft table, where Wailani ushered them to the two chairs against the inner wall. Cannon pulled one out for Iseabail, and took the other for himself. Wailani sat across from them.

“Thanks for the invitation,” Iseabail said.

“Say nothing of it,” Wailani replied. He glanced over his shoulder, toward the captain’s table. “It appears you have been foiled, as far as meeting Mr. Volkov goes.”

“I’m afraid so,” Cannon replied, heaving a dramatic sigh. “I suppose some things are the same the whole world round.”

Wailani raised his substantial eyebrows.

“Few captains deign to receive the riff-raff. It isn’t like the old days.”

“Go on.”

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