Nathaniel Cannon and the Panamanian Idol No. 56

Three days later, Inconstant swung against her mooring lines in the countryside near Hanoi, east of the river which itself was east of the city. Hanoi was a better zeppelin port than most cities around the rim of the East Indies. Unlike them, it was twenty miles inland, with plenty of sparsely-populated jungle nearby to turn into landing fields.

It was also a French port. The tricolor emblem of the Third Empire flew over the citadel at the northwest edge of the city. That was fine with Cannon. The Empire’s official position was that he was a dastardly pirate, and should be hanged on sight. As a practical matter, he was free to come and go in the colonies, provided he neither made trouble nor brought it with him.

He had borrowed a car from the Annamese official at the landing field, an open-topped coupe which bounced furiously over the rutted roads. Carefully wrapped on the back seat was the idol, and Choufeng sat in the passenger’s seat.

Cannon invited Emma first—she usually made better conversation—but she had refused to see Lachapelle in no uncertain terms. Earlier in the drive, Cannon had attempted some small talk, to which Choufeng had responded with a polite nod and, “I am well,” before turning back to the view out the car.

Men and women toiled away in rice paddies to either side of the road. Some sang as they worked. Soon, though, they left the fields behind, crossing the bridge over the Fleuve Rouge and entering the city proper. People filled the narrow streets. Cannon soon found a spot to leave the car, and he and Choufeng continued on foot. Weaving through the crowds, they passed wooden buildings in between more imposing constructions of brick and red tile.

After a walk of some minutes, they arrived at their destination, a nondescript building of the former type. A painted sign over the door had once proudly declared ‘Le Syndicat’. Now, it diffidently mumbled the name. Cannon went inside.

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