Nathaniel Cannon and the Panamanian Idol No. 20

Wailani left them. Cannon raised his eyebrows at Iseabail.

“Ach,” she said. “I hope his whatsit’s as good as he says.”

Cannon smiled. “Our Mr. Wailani doesn’t seem the sort to lead us on, does he?”

Iseabail shook her head. “Nae, but ye cannae always trust a businessman.”

“By some reckonings, I’m a businessman.”

“Is tha’ so,” Iseabail said. “My mistake, then. Ye cannae ever trust a businessman.”

Cannon thought about this. His expression must have allowed the point: Iseabail grinned the grin of the smug and self-satisfied, then quickly wiped the look away. Cannon looked over his shoulder.

Wailani returned, reverently placing a portfolio on the table. He motioned for Cannon to open it.

Cannon put his hand on the cover.

“Carefully,” Wailani urged.

Carefully, Cannon opened the folio. A few dozen handwritten pages filled it. The script was dense and spidery. He turned to the last page. At the bottom, the author had signed the manuscript: a tall A, a dot, then a Чех trailing off into scribbles.

“Chekhov?” Cannon said.

“His manuscript of The Queen of Spades,” Wailani confirmed. “A masterpiece of the form, peerless in the realm of the Russian short story. Obviously, it is unique. Its value is beyond estimation. It will buy you the meeting you desire.”

Cannon closed the portfolio. “I feel I’ve paid rather a small sum for such a treasure.”

Under the table, Iseabail kicked his shin. At eye level, she gave him a look which spelled out exactly how crazy she thought he was.

“Perhaps,” Wailani acknowledged. “Perhaps I am wrong about the value of that favor.” He smiled. The expression did little to comfort Cannon. “To be honest, though, I think I have the better end of the deal.”

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