Nathaniel Cannon and the Panamanian Idol No. 13

Cannon made his way through the zep’s corridors to a large, wooden double door. It had less weight to it than Cannon expected: panels, then, and not solid wood, but the latter was a luxury zeppelin architects could rarely afford.

He stepped over the threshold. It was a moment before the fullness of the room struck him, bringing him to a dead stop. On Inconstant, he had a few shelves of books, a larger library than most zeps. Much more so than wooden doors, books were heavy. The Red Banner‘s architects hadn’t cared. This was a library.

It stretched one hundred feet fore and aft, at the aft end of the Red Banner‘s passenger spaces. A balcony level overlooked the reading area, a cluster of leather chairs and low wooden tables at the center of the main deck. Bookshelves lined the walls, each bearing hundreds of volumes. Plush red carpet covered the deck.

Cannon removed his hat. It seemed the right thing to do in such a hallowed place as this. It was a shame the Soviets would never let him come back after this job.

He approached a bored-looking stewardess who occupied a desk facing the door, paging through a book. “Er, dictionaries?” he said hopefully.

The stewardess lifted her eyes from the page with a titanic effort, jerked her thumb over her shoulder, and went back to her reading as quickly as possible.

So began several hours of arduous research. Cannon spoke no Russian, and he couldn’t very well ask for help: “Hello, I’m searching for plans to the zep so I can rob your most eminent passenger.” He suspected that would go over like a lead balloon.

The process went like this: use a Russian-English dictionary to read the card catalog, find a promising title, flip through it in search of diagrams. He tried a treatise in Soviet zep design, and found a chapter on the Red Banner. Going by its title, he surmised that, in the author’s view, he traveled in a shining example of the finest trends in luxury zeppelin design. Toward the end of the chapter was a facsimile of the zep’s deck plan, but it was too rough to make heads or tails of.

The citation for the diagram pointed him to his next target: the zep’s official history. If Cannon was reading his Cyrillic right, the author was one A. A. Alexandrov, which was the captain’s name. Cannon flipped quickly through the pages. Near the middle of the book, one page folded out to double width. On the front were engineering drawings—renditions of the Red Banner from the bow and the port side. She was a pure cylinder, capped at one end by a nose cone and the other by her empennage. An older design—modern zeps mad the more bulbous, rounded shape the Germans had pioneered after the war—but serviceable nevertheless, and possessed of a few advantages besides. For one, it was much cheaper to build and repair, and for another, the crew in the gondola had a clear view all the way aft to the tail, unobstructed by the downward swell in the hull found on more modern designs.

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