Nathaniel Cannon and the Panamanian Idol No. 35

Dinner wore on through the evening. The conversation turned to the topic of archeology. Cannon, though he hadn’t been back to the Subcontinent after stealing Inconstant in late ’25, nevertheless remembered enough about the place to invent a series of plausible-sounding dig sites to flesh out Dr. Smith’s fictional career.

Later, over tea and cake, they spent some time playing cards. Cannon was beginning to think the pastime had the same place of honor in the Soviet national character as baseball did for Americans. He was hardly complaining, of course. He and Iseabail had already won back the money they’d spent on tickets, for the Panamanian railway and the Red Banner alike.

At half past nine, the clock chimed. Captain Rokossovsky stood up and announced that dinner was over, owing to their imminent arrival in Honolulu. He excused himself shortly thereafter, and the guests began to file out in quartets as bridge games came to a close.

“Play yon nine a’ spades, please,” Iseabail said, and Cannon pushed his last card into the center of the table. The man to Cannon’s right had just laid down the ten of spades. The man to his left played the jack of hearts—a trump card.

Iseabail smiled and placed the queen of hearts atop the stack. “Tha’ makes twelve, I believe,” she said.

Grumbling, their opponents pushed twin stacks of ruble banknotes across the table to Iseabail. Cannon assumed it was grumbling, anyway. They spoke no English, and he and Iseabail had firmly established that they in turn spoke no Russian. Bidding had been a complicated affair, carried out by holding up fingers for the number of tricks to be taken, and the aces out of the spare deck for the trump suit.

“You’ve been brilliant sports about all this,” Cannon said, injecting an apologetic tone into his voice. “Beginner’s luck.”

The Russians showed no signs of understanding any more than they had all night. Cannon pantomimed tipping a hat and gave a stiff British nod. They seemed to concur with the sentiment.

A shadow flickered over them, as though someone had briefly blotted out the sun. Cannon looked up. It was Volkov, passing in front of a wall sconce. Cannon maneuvered to intercept him. “Ah, Mr. Volkov! Pardon me. Tomorrow night, then?”

“Da,” Volkov said. “Seven-thirty. I look forward to it.”

“As do I. Good night.”

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