It just figured he had managed to find a change of the watch. Now he had to wait out the men coming back in. Sure enough, after a few minutes more, they came in through the same hatches their colleagues—or comrades, Cannon supposed, in true Soviet fashion—had left by. Mercifully, they went straight to their bunks.
He had just about made up his mind to move when two more men came in by the aft hatch. Cannon dropped down to the floor, careful not to make a sound. The lights came on. Heavy footsteps grew louder, and the sofa squeaked as the men sat down. Cannon imagined a litany of curses he couldn’t afford to utter. He grew steadily more creative as he heard the men tear some paper wrapping. Then came the unmistakable sound of a cork being pulled from a bottle, and it dawned on Cannon that he might not be able to wait this one out.
In the faint hope that he had encountered the only two Russian lightweights in the world, he waited a few minutes, but they showed little sign of slowing down, much less turning in. No, it looked like he would have to help himself. He took a bead from his pocket, carefully removed of its wrapping, and tossed it to his left, along the wall toward the aft hatch. It hit the ground noisily and skipped behind one of the bookshelves.
For a moment, the Russians were silent. One of them said something. The other thought for a moment, said ‘nyet’, and poured another glass of vodka. Cannon sighed and threw another bead.
Words passed between the Russians. One of them stood. Cannon heard his footsteps receding. The other tipped the bottle back. The first heard the sound and rushed back, shouting. From his tone, Cannon surmised he was demanding an explanation. The conversation between the two got uglier. The sofa squeaked as the sitting Russian stood. The crunch of a haymaker hitting home came next, then the sofa squeaked twice as loud as one of the Russians sprawled across it, out cold. The other shoved him off the couch, then sat himself. Cannon shrugged to himself, got his blackjack in hand, stood slowly and quietly, and gave the remaining Russian a solid clock across the back of the head. The airman slumped over on the couch. Cannon poured most of the remaining vodka over the two men, then left the bottle conspicuously nearby. Moments later, he slipped out the forward hatch.