Nathaniel Cannon and the Panamanian Idol No. 41

Two weeks ago, if someone had told him he would be growing fond of Russian food, Cannon would have been dubious. Beets, cabbage, and excruciating poverty were hardly his favorite ingredients.

The chefs aboard made passable food in the Western European mode, but it wasn’t anything to write home about. After all, Cannon frequently dined in Paris, where a man could throw a dart at a list of cafes and find a culinary masterpiece wherever he ended up. When working in their native style, though, the Russians surpassed every expectation Cannon had. Sometimes the food swam in butter; sometimes it was seasoned and spiced to perfection. For Volkov, the chefs pulled out all the stops.

They talked of archaeology, mostly. Cannon filled in made-up details about one of his invented Indian dig sites. Iseabail did an admirable job coloring around the edges. Volkov was surprised to discover that the Royal Society was less an employer and more a sometime patron; the Soviet system seemed to consider its field archaeologists interchangeable cogs in the grand scientific machine. Fitting, Cannon thought.

He was surprised to hear very little out of Kopeikin; the short man had been the chattier of the two by far at the captain’s dinner. Volkov, on the other hand, talked more than Cannon expected, on a wide array of subjects. He spoke wistfully of his home in Leningrad, but avoided the topic after Kopeikin gave him a warning look.

Cannon eyed the clock. It was already past seven. They were running short on time. The stewards had just laid out a third—or was it fourth?—meat course, the promised stuffed duck, and there was no end in sight.

“Yer goin’ tae stuff me more than yon duck,” Iseabail said, cutting into the dish with a grin.

“Not to worry,” Volkov replied. “Is last real food. After we finish it, we will move to sitting room for dessert and cards.”

“Superb,” said Cannon.

“Do you mean the duck or the plan?” Kopeikin asked.


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