By Carol Foss
“It’s not your fault about Seaview, sweetie,” Mrs. Crane cooed as she spooned out another helping of turkey dressing and gravy.
“But I can’t help feeling as if I’ve let everyone down. Sitting here over Thanksgiving dinner while they….well…”
“Lee, sweetie, how were you to know it would be a little delayed getting home?”
“Delayed, hell, repairs will take forever.”
“Please don’t exaggerate. And I’ve asked you before not to use profanity while you’re here.”
“Your doctor put you on medical leave for a month. You couldn’t help it that Thanksgiving Day was smack in the middle of it. And it’s not as if your crew is in any danger, are they? It’s just some minor damage you said.”
“I still can’t help feeling guilty. I didn’t even suggest the galley stock up special in the event they couldn’t get back in time. “
“You’re not a mind reader honey.”
“They’ll be lucky to have Macaroni and Cheese ,” Lee pouted, her ministrations to no avail.
“Is that what your deep funk is all about? Food?”
“It’s one of the most important things aboard a sub, Mom…oh gawd, poor Chip…”
“He’s a big boy, he can handle it.”
“Morale’s bound to be low for everyone, especially today. ”
“I’m sure some most of their families can postpone things.”
“No, Mom, most families won’t be able to change their plans. And it wouldn’t be the same anyway even if they could.”
“Yes it’s an official national holiday, but what about all those folks who have to work on it? You’re making a mountain out of a mole hill.”
“ Sharkey was going to go home to New York, Nelson was really looking forward to spending the day with his sister in Boston and….”
“Enough! What makes you think you being on the sub could have made any difference? You’d be stuck on the damn boat too. I didn’t hear Bill Devine complain about a Fourth of July salvage job…”
“Bill Devine would leave his mother’s death bed for a mere dime.”
“Lee! Just because he’s made something of his salvage company you don’t have to belittle him! Now, quit gripping, and have some more cranberry salad and green bean casserole. I made enough for an army knowing how much you love it.”
“Hey, Mom, I don’t suppose you want to make some brownies? Cookies too? Right now? Lots and lots of them…”
“What’s the hurry?”
“You’re impossible, did you know that?” she rose and hugged him with a kiss on the forehead.
“Part of my job description,” he rose and began to pull on his boots and coat.
“Where are you going?”
“Perhaps it’s time I paid Bill a visit,” he simply grinned, and checked his wallet for the bus schedule.
“Why? You don’t like him… What are you up to?”
“It’s only a business proposition… your idea actually.”
“My idea? What idea?”
“He’s got the equipment, we’ve got the food. Well, we will anyway when I order 124 Turkey dinners from that place that’s always open…”
“I beg your pardon?”
“Devine Salvage is going to serve Thanksgiving dinner to Seaview. And we’re going to help. Get those brownies baking Mom. Love you!” he dashed out of the door.
“Are you out of your mind, Lee? It’s over 500 nautical miles to Seaview! And it’s Thanksgiving, for Pete’s sake. You really want me to call in my team today just so you can go take them Thanksgiving dinner?”
“I’ll pay you twice the going rate.”
“My boats can’t go the distance in the amount of time you want! And my choppers can’t go that far without refueling!”
“The Z-27 can. Just lower me by grappling hook, let go, and go home. You can do it yourself and be back for your own Thanksgiving dinner in plenty of time from what I see going on in the kitchen.”
“You said she’s below 700 feet…that’s too deep for what you plan. ”
“Not if I use the Zebo suit….”
“No. Absolutely not.. besides, I only have two and even they’re experimental! Lee, word’s out that you’re on medical leave and had some serious injuries. Was a concussion one of them? You’re crazy or delusional!”
“I’m fine and….”
“Think of how many Zebos Nelson will want to order after he sees how well it works and….”
“Sure, sure, and if it malfunctions with you in it, nobody will give us a contract for any of our equipment in future. You, Captain, are too high profile. I won’t have your maiming or death dangling over my head. Not that I’d care personally, but it’s not good for future business contracts.”
“What if I sign something absolving your company of any liability. I can do that. I have the authority.”
“I don’t believe you.”
“I have Nelson’s power of attorney.”
“You really have kissed ass on your climb up the ladder.”
“That’s below the belt Bill, and 100 % inaccurate.”
“All right, all right…then Nelson has to be out of his mind.”
“Look, Bill. My entire crew’s stuck down there for who knows how long for repairs, maybe even for Christmas…”
“Oh good grief. The damage is inconvenient, but your super sub will be home and safe and snug as a bug in a rug by then.”
“All right, all right, just ferry me over in your chopper, drop me in the Zebo suit and forget all about me. Is that too much to ask?”
“In a word, yes!”
“Three times the going rate?”
“Enough already! My answer’s no. If you want go off and to do some crazy stunt like this, Lee, you’ll have to do it without my cooperation or my company’s.”
“I thought money was the only important thing in your life.”
“It was, once. I have a family now.”
“The money could help pay for your kid’s college education.”
“My finances are just fine, thank you very much!”
“Please Bill? For old times’ sake?”
“There was no old times’ sake! You were just another kid on the same track team.”
“Well,” Lee sighed, “okay. I guess your mind’s made up. I’d better get home. Mom’s probably wondering what’s taking me so long. I just don’t know what I’m going to do with all those brownies…”
“Brownies?” Bill whispered. He remembered the few times Lee brought some to school and traded them for his purloined Playboys.
“Yeah. She’s baking cookies too. Was going to be a treat for them along with her cranberry salad and special cornbread and apple dressing to help with the dinners. You remember her special cornbread and apple dressing, don’t you?”
Lee could tell that Bill remembered all right. There had been fights among his schoolmates on what to offer Lee for the famous turkey and dressing sandwich’s for lunch after the brief holiday. He could also tell the effect his ‘wounded puppy’ look was having on Bill. He couldn’t count how many times it had helped him get his way from various friends and/or unsuspecting victims.
“Please Bill? Think of the 124 men aboard…missing home…missing family…missing Thanksgiving…”
“All right, all right!” Bill interrupted, “You win. That is of course, Lee, if I get dibs on some of those home –made goodies for myself, including the dressing.”
“Throw in one of your X3CZ wrenches that’ll really speed things along, and a waterproof hamper and you can have a dozen brownies and cookies each.”
“It’s a deal. By the way, did you ever sell used cars? I think you missed your calling. Come along, then Captain, let me help you bag up all that food to take to your poor grieving shipmates.”
“I’m sorry Mr. Morton,” Cookie stood before him in his quarters, “but with all that damage, we’re lucky to have Spaghettios in the pantry….”
“Well, that’s great. Only the Captain likes them. Tell me, what do we have to look forward to for today?”
“Well, we got plenty of creamed corn and…”he hesitated.
“Yes, yes, we’re well aware of that. Where did you get those cans from anyway? Army surplus?”
“Top of the line sir. I’m sorry you don’t like it. As for today, well, Like I said about the damage, the freezer’s busted and most of the dry goods got waterlogged except for a few things, so it’s, well, Macaroni and Cheese, or nothing,” Cookie said sadly, watching Morton wilt. If there was any food in the known universe that the XO didn’t like, it was Macaroni and Cheese. Even the Skipper had kidded him saying that if he were ever stuck on a desert island with a year’s supply of the stuff, he’d starve.
The boys were in the kitchen, scarfing down some of the brownies and dunking cookies in milk, while they packed the goodies up. Not friends, they sure were acting like it as trails of milk dribbled down both their chins and they discussed Bill’s new helicopter amicably. It reminded Mrs. Crane a lot of better times, before she’d been widowed, and she was angry. This was supposed to be a special day for she and Lee. He was finally home for Thanksgiving, and what did he do? It was bad enough when Nelson or the Navy purloined him away from their holiday or vacation plans, but did he himself have to interrupt what little time they did have together to talk Devine into helping him get to his damn boat? Today of all days?
He’d tried his best to convince her that they’d already had a few weeks of quality time including their mid-day Thanksgiving dinner and he’d make it up to her over the Christmas Holidays (providing Seaview’s repairs had been completed) and that she was doing her patriotic duty supplying home-made yummies for men in uniform even if they weren’t exactly on official business with the Reserves just now. Had a real gift of the gab, so he had.
In the end she’d had no choice but to use up what was left of the flour, butter, eggs, and vanilla she had on hand, along with all the rest of the peanut butter, oatmeal, and chocolate chips in the pantry.
Well, they’d better enjoy the brownies and cookies, all those men aboard Seaview. She’d stocked up on the baking supplies for Lee, not them she’d argued, but when he’d looked up at her through those eyelashes, the little hooligan, he knew damn well she wouldn’t be able to resist.
It was a talent he hadn’t known he’d had at first, when her husband had first brought the battered and abused child home to foster. And she’d had no idea at the time that she’d later agree to make it official. But the fates had taken a hand and the soon renamed Lee Crane had learned quickly enough that all he needed to do to for a second helping of cookies was to look at her with his eyes half hidden through the dark lashes. Puppy like, half hopeful, half afraid. Damn. He still had the touch.
Yes, when Lee returned, she was going to have a little talk with him (and with Nelson, whose fault it all was) about the sanctity of family obligations and how his blasted boat was no friend of hers.
“You’re right,” Morton hovered over Kowalski in the Control Room, “What the hell is that chopper doing all the way out here…there’s no surface traffic within 300 miles of us…”
“What do you have Chip?” Nelson approached.
“Somebody’s getting nosey or they’re reconnoitering.”
“That doesn’t profile like a military chopper.”
“No sir, it sure doesn’t and it’s sitting up there directly over us….battle stations Mr. O’Brien.”
“Battle Stations! Battle Stations!” the Lt. ordered, the klaxton ringing.
“Sparks, try to make contact with the bogy.”
“It’s dumping something! “Ski yelled.
“All hands brace for impact and clear out of all damaged compartments!” Morton ordered.
“Can we move yet, Chip?”
“No sir! All we can do is take it!”
“Mr. Morton,” O’Brien called out, turning on the monitor, “we can’t get that damaged lens to focus, but it doesn’t look like an ash can…”
“Chopper’s moving off,” Ski said.
“Hey! Whatever it dropped is settling on the hull!” O’Brien yelled.
“Still no response, sir!” Sparks added.
“What the hell?” Nelson pointed to the blurry image on the screen. “It could be some kind of self-contained deep dive suit.”
“Sparks,” Chip yelled, “try to make contact with it.”
“He’s got a large crate or something with him,” O’Brien said.
“A couple of them, I think,” Nelson furrowed his brows. “And we can’t assume gender from a suit like that.”
“No response from the diver sir.”
“Could be a couple of bombs, ” Ski said to Patterson at the console next to him.
“It’s possible,” Nelson mused, “but not likely.”
“We have been warned about suicide terrorists,” Chip said. “It wouldn’t surprise me if our enemies went to all this trouble to disable, destroy, or capture us.”
“Bet we’re going to nuke it with a charge through the hull,” Patterson said to Ski.
“Should we, sir?” O’Brien asked, “nuke it?”
“Still no response to our hail sir!” Sparks called out.
“And if it just can’t pick up our frequencies?” Nelson mused. “Or doesn’t know how…I know we can’t see things very well…but it came down as if in a plum line and to do that, had to know our exact coordinates to be this close.”
“I don’t like the sound of that,” Chip said.
“Neither do I.”
“Missile Room, get some divers out there! Arm them, and use Stan Kowalski’s deep dive suits. They can handle up to 15 minutes at this pressure. Use the forward pressure hatch. Better to surprise our visitor. “Hey!” Patterson pointed to the monitor, “Is that a X3CZ in his hand?”
“Can’t tell anything for sure from this camera,” Ski said.
“If it is…are you thinking what I’m thinking, Chip?” Nelson rubbed his chin.
“We didn’t tell the Navy or NIMR that a X3CZ would come in handy. Missile Room,” Chip clicked the mike again, “Send the divers but belay the spear guns. Wouldn’t want our guest to feel unwelcome.”
“Be careful with those hampers!” Lee ordered a crewman, as Sharkey helped him climb out of the Zebo’s plating, “got some special supplies in there.”
“Captain? Is that you?” Jamison lunged into the hatch’s ready room, even ahead of Nelson and Morton, “ What the blazes do you think you’re doing!”
“That’s it Chief,” Lee unzipped his thermal body suit, part of the necessary layering of warmth for such a dive, “ get all those hampers to the galley.”
“Galley?” Chip asked. “I thought you had a X3CZ.”
“Over there. The hampers ,” he grinned “are for Thanksgiving Dinner, among other things.”
“You risked life and limb, not to mention complications to your head injury on a deep dive, dropped from a helicopter no less, for…for…some kind of food delivery service?” Jamison yelled.
“Uh, Doc, you’re turning red, but,” he patted the man’s shoulder,” that’s okay, it kind of compliments the cranberry salad. Mom’s cranberry salad.”
Morton rolled his eyes heavenward. He’d hated cranberry salad almost as much as Mac and Cheese. Until he’d tasted Mrs. Crane’s. A true convert now, he’d drooled just thinking about it when Lee had told him what she’d probably be cooking for Turkey Day.
“The dinners are from that place that’s always open, but, Mom had so much cranberry salad and her special dressing left…’
“Dressing too?” Chip gulped.
“You might want to restrain him, Doc, I think he’s going into shock, ” Lee kidded as he stepped out of the thermal body suit revealing T shirt and Jeans, and thick socks that had been underneath. “There’s brownies and cookies too. Enough for everyone.”
“Well, what are we all waiting for!” Nelson grinned, “Let’s eat!”
“And afterwards,” Doc said, “Commander Crane and I are going to have a little talk in Sick Bay. Isn’t that right, mister? And before you say ‘I’m fine’, may I remind you that you are still on Medical Leave and Morton’s Acting Captain. No doubt he’ll agree with me that you need your head examined, among other things…”
“You sure he’ll want to bite the hand that feeds him?” Lee smirked.
“You have a mighty high opinion of yourself Captain,” Nelson laughed, “must be why we love you so much….by the way, why didn’t you answer our hail? We thought you could be a terrorist. Chip almost sent out armed divers. Ski wanted us to nuke the hull.”
“Ouch. Well, er…you see…I’m not all that familiar with the Zebo suit..no time for a complete orientation…”
“Next time, Lee, just call us ahead of time,” Nelson said.
“I wanted it to be a surprise.”
“A very nice one too, Lad, but I’d like to keep my crew happy by bringing their Captain aboard alive, not fricasseed.”
“I get dibs on the green bean casserole,” he grabbed Lee’s arm and pulled him down the corridor.
A few weeks later, Bill Devine found an order for 10 Zebo suits, prepaid and signed for by Admiral Nelson himself, his check from Lee Crane’s NIMR account already having been deposited for Crane’s little adventure. Perhaps he could do more business with the fellow kid from the track team after all.
Meanwhile, several blocks away, Mrs. Crane grinned as she heard Lee, Chip, and Nelson discuss and argue about the pro’s and con’s about the correct way to decorate the Christmas Tree as it stood patiently waiting to be ‘clothed’ for the season. She’d had every intention of scolding Nelson about Seaview keeping Lee away so often, but had quickly changed her mind seeing her son so happy in his friends’ company.
While she hadn’t expected the company, she kept quiet about the inconvenience of putting up two additional people for his Christmas leave. If Lee was happy, she was happy. That’s what motherhood was all about.
“Which do we put on first?” Lee was saying, “the garland or the tinsel?”
“We haven’t even put the lights on yet, ” Chip said, untangling the lights Lee had brought down from the attic.
“I know, I want to be prepared.”
“We always put the garland up first,” Chip said. “I can’t believe you don’t know how to do it correctly.”
“We never had garland.”
“We always saved the garland for last,” Nelson said. “Well,” Nelson said, “Let’s think about this scientifically…we need to consider the best visual and aesthetic approach and…”
“By the time you weigh all the logistics, Christmas will be over,” Lee said.
“Ouch,” Chip laughed. “Santa won’t bring you any presents, Lee, if you’re naughty to Nelson. Hey, that’s a good lyric for a song…let’s see, yeah, Riley could do it…’oh, the Skipper was naughty to Nelson,’ he began to sing.
“Do you really want Mac and Cheese for Christmas dinner? I can arrange it with my mother.”
“Boys?” Mrs. Crane approached, wiping her hands on her apron. “Lee, why don’t you and Chip go outside and play, while Admiral Nelson and I take care of the tree.”
“Why him?” Lee pretended to whine.
“Because he’s older and wiser, and I’d like a little adult company.”
“Oooooh,” both men joked, and gathered up their coats.
“Uh, Admiral?” Lee motioned him aside, “no hanky panky or I won’t be responsible.”
“Oh good grief,” Mrs. Crane moaned, “Out. Now!”
“Ten bucks that I make a better snowman than you, Chip.”
“Heavens, those two,” Mrs. Crane sighed. “I’m surprised you can put up with them, especially Lee.”
“Not difficult at all.”
“I can tell. By the way…I’ve wanted for a long time to tell you that I don’t like Seaview. I don’t like the way you and she have him tied around your little fingers and er…diving planes, I think you call them, but now, after what he did for his crew, I’m not so sure.”
Just then a snowball hit the window and they saw Lee and Chip in a snowball fight, laughing like kids.
“It’s good to see him like this,” Nelson said. “You’re very blessed.”
“So is he, having friends like you…did I really say that? Anyway, let’s get this tree decorated before they come in.”
“My pleasure. And Merry Christmas, Mrs. Crane.”
“Merry Christmas, Admiral Nelson.”