Nathaniel Cannon and the Panamanian Idol No. 49

Cannon padded along the catwalk. Further forward, behind them, came the sound of boots rattling on steel. He flattened himself against the bulkhead behind him. Iseabail scrambled to follow suit, but the Russians were going the other direction. Nobody seemed to be interested in the baggage compartment.

Nobody besides Cannon and Iseabail. Cannon readied his lockpicks. Before he could get to work, Iseabail turned the knob, and the hatch opened. Cannon frowned at her. She smiled innocently and shrugged. They went through the hatch.

The baggage hold was only thirty feet by thirty, and half-full at best. Most passengers couldn’t afford to carry freight beyond what they were allowed in their cabins. A handful of crates were stacked in one corner, strapped down tightly, and a row of suitcases lined the opposite bulkhead.

“Toss the place,” said Cannon. “Check the luggage. I’ll see if I can’t lever these open.”

While Iseabail went down the line, pulling out a bag, opening it, and scattering its contents, Cannon undid the straps securing the crates. He lifted the top one experimentally, then slid it off the stack and placed it on the ground. Prying with his fingers revealed that the top was nailed on firmly.

A handtruck leaned against the bulkhead by the hatch. That would work. He took it, wedged its ledge under the crate’s lid, and pulled hard. The nails popped out, and the crate opened.

“Isea,” he said. No reply was forthcoming, so he repeated, “Isea.”

“Ach, wha’ d’ye want?” she replied, irritated.

Mesmerized, Cannon murmured, “How big are your pockets?”

“I’m wearin’ a dress. They dinnae have pockets,” Iseabail said. “Why?” Cannon pointed into the crate. Iseabail huffed, rolled her eyes, and came over. The rancor drained away the moment she looked into the crate.

A golden idol stared back at her, a squared-off form with fiery opal eyes. She tore her gaze away after a few long moments. The crate was packed with straw, and almost equally packed with the riches of ancient Panamanian civilization. There was a ceremonial knife with an intricate engraved monkey, inlaid with gems, wrapping its limbs around the handle. Next to it was a ceramic jug, entirely intact, bearing a many-colored mural depicting some great battle. Tucked in against the crate’s side was a golden mask depicting a face and headdress, surrounded by sunbeams.

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