A Christmas Cookie
With apologies to Charles Dickens
“Merry Christmas, Admiral,” Lt. Cmdr. Joe Jackson waved goodbye to his boss at ComSubPac.
“Bah humbug!” Jiggs Starke replied, but
“You did approve it some time ago, sir. I did make plans…”
“Yes, yes, I know,” Starke sighed. “Still going to spend some time with Crane, aren’t you?”
“And his mother.”
“His mother?”Starke snorted, “Never thought Crane was a mama’s boy.”
“It is customary to spend the holidays with one’s family and friends, sir, and he hasn’t had a chance to see her in a long time.”
“How convenient. Just when I want Seaview to help with the Orion’s sea trials. Probably went whining to Harriman. I guess when you don’t want to do something, one excuse is as good as another.”
“Sir, with all due respect, you can’t expect them to drop everything they’ve planned and come running to your beck and call when it’s not a national emergency. Besides, why Seaview?”
“It’s more expedient to use a civilian observation platform,”Starke ran a hand through his hair, “Harriman and I already argued about it and I had to get another boat. But you can bet your bottom dollar it was Crane that convinced him to refuse.”
“Why shouldn’t he? His crew’s welfare is important to him, especially their
shore leave. Besides, it’s Nelson’s name on Seaview’s
title papers, isn’t it? It was his decision alone to refuse, not Lee’s.”
“He’s allowed his boat to be used during Christmas before,” Starke muttered.
“By your leave sir, I have a plane to catch. I fully to gain a few pounds just from catching all the crumbs from all those homemade eats. Can I bring you anything back? Fudge? Cookies? Schnecken?”
“Schnecken? What the heck’s that?”
“Kind of a cinnamon roll. It’s usually made by one of her friends, but she’s in the hospital and…”
“I don’t need your charity. Get out of here and go catch your plane.”
“And a Happy New Year to you too,”
It wasn't that Jiggs Albert Starke didn't observe the holiday, he just wasn't in the mood for it anymore. He hadn’t been for some time. The crass commercialism of it all. Even plastic and fiber optic trees had replaced a lot of the real thing. Hypocrites, everyone. He could count on one hand the number of people he’d known who actually believed in ‘Peace on Earth, Good Will Toward Men’. He was one of them, of course. But he couldn’t abide the rest that came with the holiday. Dept. store Santa’s who were probably down and outs begging for work, later to use up their pay to binge on the booze. Sales pitches everywhere. Heavens, in the retail world things went from Halloween to Christmas with nary a thought for Thanksgiving…money, money, money. That’s what it was all about. Even Harry had asked him for a donation for some down and out charity that Crane had waxed on about. Weren’t there federal and state organizations that his taxes were going to? Humph. Bah humbug! And he wasn’t kidding.
Lee wasn't used to flying first class and had welcomed the extra leg room, as well as an exceptionally good meal, complete with wine. Ordinary fare for Nelson, apparently, stretching out his legs and enjoying a postprandial scotch and soda. Crane opted for an extra brownie and ice cream, and sated, was soon catching up on some long overdue zzz’z.
The Admiral was glad that Crane had suggested they take the
same flight east.
Motherhood had been thrust upon her when her Navy husband came home on leave one day with the little boy at his side, a temporary fostering situation which evolved into something more permanent. Undoubtedly she’d played no small part in the man Lee became.
He’d only seen one picture of the widow. It was yellowed with age; with the smiling high school graduate at her side. Nelson hoped he’d be able to take up Lee’s offer of spending part of his Christmas leave with the Cranes, even the day itself. However Edith might have made other plans, so only time would tell.
As the flight dragged on the men enjoyed each other’s
company, but they had to be careful not to talk shop. No doubt, some of their
experiences ands plans for Seaview and NIMR’s future might raise a few eyebrows
not to mention pose a definite security risk. So instead, Lee beat Nelson with
a children’s card game called ‘Pass the Buck’, then the two discussed Edith’s
manuscript about the historical houses of
Jiggs pursed his lips, musing on his misfortunes, as he ate his TV dinner. First Crane had made sure Seaview wouldn’t be available, then invited Harry home with him! It was unforgivable. Crane had really overstepped his boundaries. Fraternization had no place in the real Navy! He’d have to do something about that before it hurt Harry’s reputation. Congeniality was allowed, but not friendship. Why, it was even rumored the man regarded Crane as a brother, possibly a kind of son. And Crane encouraged it! Yes, things had gone way too far. Perhaps recalling him back to active service… Starke gulped down another slug of some Apple Jack. He wasn’t a drinking man, but Harry had sent him the ‘original’ 110 proof liquor as a Christmas present, and now seemed as good a time as any.
Yes, Starke’s and Harry’s lives would have been all the better without Crane’s interference. And so, nursing his wounded pride Jiggs Starke began his Christmas Eve, a lonely, bitter old man.
He was soon bored flipping channel after channel. He could practically quote ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ and ‘A Christmas Carol’ by rote. Turning off the set, he was startled to hear something in the kitchen as he returned the tray to the kitchen.
But what did he find but a small man in green sitting atop the refrigerator, munching on a two day old piece of old cold fried chicken and smoking a corncob pipe.
“Top of the evening to ye,” the man grinned.
“Who are you, get off of my fridge and put that damn pipe out!”
But instead of climbing down, he disappeared then reappeared to stand before the confused man.
“Oh lord, I’m really loosing it. Got to keep away from the Apple Jack.”
“Apple Jack?” the little man smacked his lips again, “I’m a bit partial even if it is a colonial brew…”
“Absolutely not. You’re an intruder and the sooner the Cops get here the better…I’ve already punched my security button.”
“And what would you tell them?” he disappeared, then reappeared with the bottle of Apple Jack in his hand. “I’m here to help ye my boyo. Would you defile the season with being inhospitable?”
“Who the devil are you and what do you want?”
“Patrick. Patrick O’ Shaughnessy,” a giant business card appeared in his hand, “Leprechaun and shoemaker.” The card just as quickly disappeared.” How about a nice glass of milk,” it appeared in his hand.
“Er, no. Thank you,” Starke added, not quite believing what he was seeing and hearing.
“At least ye have some manners. For awhile I was beginning to wonder if you as bad a heathen as I thought.”
“I’m not a heathen! ”
“You’ve been acting like one. I’m here with a message. You’ll be visited by three spirits this night and…”
“What the dev…talk about the influence of too many Christmas specials…I must be drunker than I thought. I’m going to bed.”
“Tsk tsk tsk. Well,” he grinned, eyes heavenward, then, “Tis up to ye now, by the by, your police officers have been informed it was a false alarm.” With a wink the little man vanished.
“Time to wake up, oh I say, that is good,” the nasal voice said as bright light filled the startled Starke’s bedroom as the clock chimed 0100.
“Oh swell, go away. I’m too drunk to entertain another figment.”
“Figment? Figment?” the man in the 3 piece business suite snorted, “I’ll have you know I’m no figment! You’d better get dressed. We don’t want to be late for your appointment.”
“Appointment? For what?”
“Never mind that now,” he clicked a pocket watch and Starke found himself dressed in a bright Hawaiian shirt, and tan slacks.
“No, that won’t do, loosing my touch. Not this time of year,” he chuckled at some kind of private joke as Starke then found himself garbed in a frayed old flannel shirt and worn out jeans.
“Yes, that’s much better.”
“Better? I look like a bum. I used these when Harry and I went hiking…about four years ago…now, who are you?”
“My name’s Mr. Pemm, but I’m not here to talk about myself…let’s go shall we? ”
“I thought Patrick made that clear, why, to the past.”
In seconds they’d vanished from Starke’s
He felt the cold before he saw it. Snow was heaped to the sides of the two lane road. Several small businesses were decorated for the season as folks hustled by….all in the style of clothing from another era. Even the cars were out of another generation.
Bundled up carolers stopped every once in a while on the sidewalks to fill the air the sound of music.
“What is this? Where is this?” he wrapped his arms around himself in the attempt to warm himself.
“Let’s go in, shall we?” Pemm pointed to a diner. A home made sign announced it was closing at 5 pm for Christmas Eve.
“How about that spot?” Pemm indicated an open booth. Starke didn’t remember walking into the place. “A word of warning. Nobody can see or hear me.”
“Ah, yes of course, the ghost of Christmas Past?” Starke mocked. “Maybe I’ll wake up soon.”
“You’re quite awake, and, ” Pemm grinned sheepishly, “ technically I’m not a ghost, and this isn’t a shadow. You really are in the past.”
“But it sure as hell isn’t my past.”
“I, er, tweaked the rules a little…”
“Hurry up Liebling,” a plump white haired lady called to someone out of sight bending down behind the counter.
“Yeah, squirt. Hurry up, or it’ll all be gone, ” another boy, about 12, with his friends squeezed into one of the end booth’s, snickered, as he took the last cookie from the plate and waved it gleefully before biting into it.
“Herman, you be good,” the woman scolded.
The younger and much smaller boy behind the counter was struggling with a trash can far to big and heavy for him. “I’m moving as fast as I can Auntie Yodel,” he stopped and pulled on his jacket.
“For the last time, it’s Yoder, kid,” Herman said, “Not yodleoh-hoo-hee hee. And she’s not your Aunt.”
The youngster replied by sticking his tongue out as he went out the door with his can.
“You boys be good,” Mrs. Yoder said while picking up a menu from the counter, “Or I take away your privileges. Even if your papa does own 50 percent of the place.”
“Fifty one. That’s means I get all the cookies I want, when I want,” Herman rose and headed to the cloak rack and picked up his jacket and skates, “C’mon squirt, hurry up!” he yelled to the returning boy, “Get a move on.”
“Gimme’ a break will you?”
“Have milk and cookie, first,” Mrs. Yoder ordered, and placed the items on the counter.
“I’ll take the cookie with me,” the boy put it in his pocket.
“Your mama say you have milk and cookie if you work here, no excuses. I promise her I give you strong bones and fatten you up. I no break my promise.”
“Okay Mrs. Yodel,” he sighed, “You go ahead Hermie. I’ll meet you later.”
“Cheech. I knew we shouldn’t have agreed to put a baby on our team, ” Herman and the other boys left.
“Wash first,” she ordered.
Pulling a step stool to the sink, the child did as he was told, then took the cookie out of his pocket.
“Don’t forget your milk, laddie,” a strong male voice said.
“Gee, thanks for reminding me, Officer Snow,” the boy replied sarcastically.
“Liebling, that was not polite.”
“Sorry,” the boy picked up the glass and took a few noisy gulps as Mrs. Yoder took the menu over to Starke.
“Frohe Weihnachten, Mister !
“Er, thanks, I think. Just coffee?”
“Yah, yah, ve have kaffee. Cream and sugar? Is extra.”
“Yes, thank you.”
“That will be, er…vart a mal…I forget…Liebling? How much is cream and sugar?”
“Five cents. Twenty cents for the coffee. Twenty five cents total.”
“Yah. Twenty five cents, pay now, please, Mister. Is tough times.”
“Er, yes,” Starke dug into his pants.“Uh, I seem to have forgotten my wallet…”
“Good thing you asked first, Ingrid,” Officer Snow looked at Starke pointedly.
“I really do have the cash,” Starke insisted, “I must have left it at home. I..er…”
“You can have my cookie,” the boy placed it on Starke’s paper placemat.
“Liebling! You work hard for that cookie.”
“It’s okay Auntie Yodel. Besides,” he motioned with his finger to get her down to his level, and whispered, “he needs it more than me.”
“Son, please,” Starke said, having overheard. “I can’t accept your cookie. Thank you but..”
“Oh, what the hell,” Snow dug into his pocket, “Here, Ingrid, give him the special, my treat. You got a place to stay, pal? The Salvation Army’s all booked up but we can give you a bench and a blanket at the precinct. At least you’ll be warm. It’s supposed to get colder.”
“I…I don’t know what to say..I…”
“You can still have the cookie,” the boy told Starke, and grinned, picking up his hockey stick from the coat rack.
“You didn’t drink all your milk, Liebling.”
“I did most of it.
“Almost not good enough. You finish all your milk or I tell mama you don’t stick to our bargain.”
“Do I gotta?”
“Oh, you gotta,” Snow ordered.
“Okay okay, sorry,” he eyed the rest of his milk with derision.
“Er, why not join me as you finish that up?” Starke asked. “Perhaps remind me of the correct way to dunk my cookie? It’s been awhile.”
“Well…Okay, Mister, but if they loose the game on account of me being so late, it’ll be all your fault.”
“Liebling!” Mrs. Yoder warned, “Is impolite! And not good to be proud.”
The boy hiked himself up onto the worn seat at the booth, right on top of Pemm, who disappeared the reappeared at Starke’s side.
But Starke’s attention soon returned to the child and couldn’t help noticing the half shaded lashes, longish to the point of being almost feminine. Some people might even call him pretty, poor kid.
“They think I need looking after,” he muttered after a moment after taking another gulp and wiping off his milk mustache. “You really don’t remember how to dunk a cookie?”
“Er, it’s been years…”
“You grab the cookie like this, then you dunk it in your glass, sideways, but you gotta’ be careful and take it out right away, or it might fall off,” he handed it back to Starke.
“Er, you go ahead with the first bite.”
“Thanks,” then after his bite, handed the cookie back. “Your turn Mister. Careful…that’s it…better get it before it…”
“Ooops…tarnation,” Starke feigned exasperation as part of the cookie fell to the bottom of the glass. “Sorry. Maybe you’d better finish the rest of that cookie for me…”
“Don’t you want it?” he eyed the man suspiciously. “It’s homemade. I got to lick the bowl.”
“Er, yes, I’m sure it’s splendid. But I can’t seem to do it correctly. And I’d hate to waste it…please, enjoy it. You can use my milk to dunk it in since yours is almost down to the bottom of the glass. ”
“Okay…”the child dunked a few more times before it was finished, wiping his mouth with his sleeve again.
“You know, son, I hear drinking milk after eating anything helps to avoid indigestion. Can’t have you belching on the ice. Too distracting. I’d hate for that other boy, what was his name, Herman, reading you the riot act for loosing the game.”
“What’s the riot act?”
“Sort of yelling at you. You’d better drink some down, that is, if you want to help the others win. By the way, how old are you?”
“Seven. And a half.”
“Mrs. Yoder’s not your aunt?”
“Is honorary title,” Mrs. Yoder smiled as she brought over the wiener schnitzel special. Along with a brand new heaping plate of warm cookies, some large cinnamon rolls, and two brand new glasses of milk.
“Me too?” the boy asked, barely stopping himself in time from reaching for one of the delectable rolls without permission.
“Yah, yah, for you both. I need my best employee strong.”
“He really works for you? He’s not family?” Starke asked as the child took a huge bite out of the cinnamon roll, eyes heavenward as the icing dripped down his chin.
“After school and on vacation Liebling wash dishes, take out trash, even cooks a little. Well, makes peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.”
“I…kinda’ got some eggshells in the scrambled eggs…”
“Mistakes happen…”Starke offered as he enjoyed the perfectly prepared specialty.
“Yah, but not good for paying customers…his papa teach him better when he gets home from Navy. Is cook at sea. Will be junior partner with Herman’s father when hitch is up.”
“Navy brat, eh? I’m in the Navy…”
“For real? The at sea kind?” the child asked excitedly, spraying Starke with crumbs…
“Under it actually…”
“Submarines?” the child’s eyes widened and almost seemed to change color, reminding Jiggs of …something.
“Mister, if you value your time, you’d better not say anything more,” Snow said, “he’s a bit…twitter pated about pigboats.”
“That so? Your father a submariner too, son?”
“Supply boat. I was going to be a submarine captain, but then…”the boy was suddenly furtive.
“Is good boy,” Mrs. Yoder said proudly. “Will join papa with diner when all grown up.”
“You know,” Starke said, having noticed the boy’s downcast eyes, “even during tough times, it’s not unreasonable for a man to have a few dreams of his own. If he wants to be a be a submarine captain, why not? He’d have a good income…a career. He could help out financially if that’s the problem…”
“If he doesn’t get himself killed,” Snow said.
“His Papa’s has had enough close calls,”Mrs. Yoder said, “ men die last ship. Even the Captain. The sooner Liebling gets Navy out of his mind, the better. Isn’t that right Liebling?”
It wasn’t a question.
“Besides,” Snow interrupted, “you gotta’ have college nowadays to be an officer. They ain’t never going to raise that kind of money.
“Well, there’s always
“Kid’s not smart enough to get in there, and even spent some time in Juvie. Not exactly all his fault though. But what congressman is going to go to bat for a kid from the wrong side of the tracks?”
Mrs. Yoder and Snow didn’t seem to notice the boy squirm, the furrowed brows and the moistening eyes except Starke.
“I think a man can and should try to do anything if his heart is in it. What do you really want to do, lad? ”
“I…I…”he rose and ran out forgetting his skates and hockey stick, the door slamming behind him.
“I think you better finish your supper then leave,” Mrs. Yoder said. “As good Christian, I can’t throw you out till crowded or closing even if you upset Liebling.”
“Can’t you see the boy’s torn between what you all want and
what he wants? As for
“Over my dead body!” a woman at the entrance who was
stomping the snow off her boots. “Ingrid? What happened? He ran out of here like a bat out of hell. Has
Herman been badgering him again? As for you, Mister whoever you are, my son is not going to join the Navy, let alone go
“I change mind,” Mrs. Yoder removed Starke’s half eaten dinner, the leftover cookies and Schnecken, “I not feed you. I give money back to Officer Snow. You not welcome here.”
“But I only..”
“I think you’d better do what she says,” Snow said firmly. “But, I can still take you to the police station for shelter.”
Declining the offer, Starke vacated the premises. Pemm was nowhere to be seen. Then he noticed the boy in front of a toy store just down the street, hands and tearful face leaning against the cold glass window.
“I’m sorry…”Starke soon said putting a hand on the boy’s shoulder, their reflections in the glass.
“Did you really mean it,” the child asked, without turning, “about me becoming a submarine captain?
“Every word. You can’t live another person’s life. If commanding a submarine is what you want, you have to do everything you can to get there, even if it’s a harder journey than you’d like it to be.”
“Get away from my son!” the boy’s mother called, pointing, the folks from the diner also rapidly approaching, including the cop.“Get your hands off him!” she grabbed the child away, “Snow! Arrest that man! God knows what he had planned!” she hissed, and dragged the boy off, “Don’t dawdle!” she ordered as they disappeared in a swirl of snow around the corner.
“I only wanted to help!”
“You’re under arrest,” the cop cuffed him.
“What for? Giving the kid some advice?”
“Suspicion of being a predator. You know what I mean. Kid’s had enough of that to last a lifetime.”
That’s absurd! I’m Admiral Jiggs Starke, the Commander of Submarine’s Pacific.
And I happen to be an Advocate of the Child Protection Services in
“And you’ll be spending a little time downtown behind bars while I check out your story. Damn, and on Christmas Eve too. I wanted to spend some time with the wife…”
“Well that went well,” Pemm appeared in Starke’s cell. In fact it was one of only two in the small town’s jail, the other empty, “By the way the Schnecken was really good…”
“You ate some my cinnamon rolls?”
“Not yours any more…so I figured why not?”
“Look, you. Who the blazes are these people and what on earth do they have to do with me?”
“I didn’t say they had anything to do with you.”
“It ain’t going to work,” Snow approached.
“What isn’t?”Starke asked.
“Talking to yourself. Pretending to be loony to get off. I checked with that office in the Navy and they’ve never heard of you. I’m going home. But don’t get any ideas. The deputy’s here. Don’t worry, we’ll feed you something since you didn’t get to finish your meal, but I have to tell you that personally I wish we didn’t have to, even if it is Christmas Eve.”
The hours passed while Starke sat in solitary silence. He’d given up on getting a straight answer from Pemm, who had, with a grin, as if he was part of a practical joke, disappeared into thin air some time ago.
Suddenly the sound of Christmas music and some rather tone deaf carolers visiting the station interrupted his musings.
“Psst. Psst. Hey mister…”the voice preceded his visitor.
“Herman?” Starke asked, incredulous, “What are you doing here?”
“Shhh! I’m not supposed to be back here in the jail cells. Got something for you,” he passed a sandwich through the bars, “Don’t get any ideas. The kid made me. Says it’s his sacred duty to make sure you’re fed, can’t see why. Told him the cops would take care of you, but he looked so much like a whipped pup I couldn’t stand it. ”
“Thank you, but you’d better go. I don’t want you to get in trouble.”
“He okay Hermie?”the younger boy peered around the corner.
“I told you to stay with the group!” Herman hissed, “your Mom’ll have a conniption!”
“Who’s gonna’ tell her? I’m fast asleep in bed waiting for Santa Claus, right?”
“You don’t believe in Santa.”
“I know, but she kinda’ got the idea I do now,”he grinned and batted his eyelashes expressivley,“made her real happy. Sorry, Mister, I heard about you not getting to finish supper. I only managed to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Here’s a cookie too. It’s not much, but...”
“Thank you…but like I told your friend, I don’t want you to get into trouble…”
“He’s always in trouble,” Herman laughed, and ruffled the younger’s hair.
“Will you stop that?” the boy shook him off, “I’m not a baby.”
“We’d better get goin’, before they notice I’m missing and find out that you snuck in here with the rest of us.”
“Yeah, okay..well, Merry Christmas, Mister,” he flashed Starke a brilliant smile, “and I am going to be a submarine captain. The best submarine captain in the whole US Navy, but,” he held a finger to his lips, “Just don’t tell anyone yet.”
“My word on it. Merry Christmas, son.”
As soon as the boys left the corridor, Pemm reappeared.
“Will wonders never cease. Good thing Seaview’s crew didn’t see this; they’d all have heart attacks that you could actually be nice. ”
“Hmph…look, you. If we’re in the past, tell me…what happens to the boy? Does he join the Navy after all, or do they talk him into being nothing more than a fry cook?” he took a bite out of the cookie.
“There’s nothing wrong with being a fry cook.”
“Answer the damn question!”
“That would be telling. You might want to keep that safe,” Pemm indicated the cookie which Starke put into his pocket, why he had no idea.
In seconds Jiggs Starke found himself back in his home, the TV dinner cold, the bottle of Apple Jack rolling on the floor.
“It was a dream…all a dream. Then the clock struck 0200 and the tune of Jingle Bells filled the air, along with the embodiment of…
“Avast, ye. I’m Shamus O’Hara Nelson! Not me admiraly scion.”
“You look like Harry.”
“So I do.. I’ve come to take ye to the shadow of Christmas Present. No one will see or hear ye.”
“They did in the past.”
“Aye, well, Mr. Pemm had his own rules…”
Suddenly he found himself inside a gaily decorated cafeteria. Nurses, Doctors, and patients of various ages and states of medical care were singing or listening to Christmas carols.
“Ah, the voices of angels, or so I’m told,” Shamus said.
“These are tone deaf too…”
Then Starke noticed a familiar face, even if he was dressed in a reindeer suit, complete with flashing antlers.
“I thought you two had it all arranged! It’s past 8!”
“Well, sooorrrry. He didn’t know he’d be having trouble with his pants falling down…”
“Perhaps I should cover for him…”the fair man laughed, and patted his own belly.
Shamus waved his hands and they found themselves in the modest industrial kitchen, as it was a small hospital. An older gray haired woman was on her knees finishing threading a button along Crane’s red velveteen waistband. A pillow of course, padded his stomach. “Hold still, Lee, there, how’s that one?”
“Seems okay, now,” Crane pulled the newly placed button through the buttonhole, then pulled on the matching jacket and cap.
“Are you sure you want to go through with this? I mean, with her here…you could wait for another time…”
“She still doesn’t recognize anyone?”
“No. Lee? They’ve pretty much given up hope that her memory will come back. It was a pretty bad head trauma from that accident.”
“I see….well, I’d better get into the mood…Ho ho, uh oh… where’s my beard? Oh, that’s just swell…Santa without his beard…it’s…it’s so unChristmas.”
“Everything okay in here?” Joe and the other reindeer opened the door.
“Can’t find my beard. We must have left it back home.”
“Well, we can’t go back now…”
“Wait. I have an idea…Mom, you go delay things a bit,” then he looked at his two friends, “I think it’s time we called in a favor…”
“It’s against the rules!” one of the police officer’s in the car complained, as Shamus and Jiggs sat in the back seat. “Hey, do I smell peanut butter?”
Starke looked at Shamus who was licking his lips.
“Probably the day shift’s.”
“Do you have to use the siren?” the partner asked.
“Hey, it’s an emergency.”
“It’s a Santa beard! That’s not what I call using taxpayers money correctly!
“It’s for the Crane’s. Want to make an issue of it?”
“I guess not,” his partner sighed, “Just hope Chief Snow doesn’t get wind of it.”
“Who do you think gave me the go ahead?” he laughed.
A Christmas tree stood in the corner of the modest
Christmas cards overflowed from the mantle, it’s fireplace waiting to be lit. Well thumbed scrapbooks littered the coffee table in front of a sofa which was draped with a colorful granny square afghan.
While the cops looked about for the beard, Shamus sniffed and headed to the kitchen and began to peruse the cookie jar.
“You can’t do that!” Starke hissed.
“Over there,’ the spirit pointed. “That should be of some interest…”
On the kitchen table was a long list of names. By each name there was an item and two check marks. “Takes his duties as Santa seriously that lad does,” Shamus laughed then zapped them back to the cafeteria.
The Christmas carols were just finishing up when the sound jingle bells echoed through the room.
“Whoa,” Crane’s voice rang out, “Ho, ho, ho, Merrrry Christmas!” he emerged, carrying a large red bag over his shoulder and began to greet the patients and staff.
Jiggs found himself beginning to enjoy the show as Crane had a Santaish word for each of them, and distributed presents.
“Hey!” Starke complained as he suddenly found himself in a semi deserted corridor.
Santa’s bag looked just about empty as Crane approached the last room on his mission…
“So, Hermie,” Lee was saying as he straightened his beard, “when will she be able to go home?”
“Hermie?”Starke muttered, “then the other boy was…was…”
“They’re not sure she can, Lee,” Herman was explaining, “Aside from the memory loss, she’s very confused. She may have to go into a nursing home or an assisted living place. They’re not sure yet. But don’t worry. I’ll make sure she’s well cared for. It’s the least I can do for my father’s long time employee.”
“I know you will. And you can’t fool me. You love her too.”
“In there,” he patted Lee’s arm.
It was a semi private room, but had only one occupant, Christmas music playing on the radio. She looked up, and giggled.
“Santa! Did you bring me a doll?” she asked like a little girl.
Herman took Lee’s bag as he sat beside her and ran a gentle hand through her hair…
“Merry Christmas,” he said gently.
“What did you bring me?”
“Schnecken. Made it myself…”he nodded to Herman to pull out the gaily wrapped package of cinnamon rolls out of the bag and placed it on the end table.
“Danke…”she said, then furrowed her brows and touched his white beard, then his upper cheek as she searched his eyes, “Lieb…lieb ling?”
“Yes, Auntie Yodel, it’s me.”
“You drink all your milk? I promise your mama..”
“Liebling? Your papa home now? He teach you make good scrambled eggs?”
“Lee’s a submarine captain now, Mrs. Yoder,” Herman corrected gently.
“Is good boy…”she drifted back to sleep.
Herman patted Lee’s shoulder sympathetically.
“It’s okay Hermie…I’m glad she recognized me, sort of…that’s a good sign surely.”
“She thinks you’re seven years old.”
“It’s a start…”Lee sighed.
“Amazing isn’t it,” Shamus said, “how many folks would be better off without Lee Crane.”
“Please, don’t mock me with my own words,” Starke agonized.
“Come, we have another visit to make.”
“Thank God that’s over,” the evening gown clad Edith sighed, taking off her shoes, leaning on Nelson as the last guest left. “I’m sorry Harry. I had no idea all they’d want to talk about their latest investments, glittering celebs and such.”
“Then why’d you invite them?” Nelson asked, removing his tuxedo’s cummerbund with a sigh of relief and escorted her past the towering Christmas tree glittering with expensive ornaments. “You know their social circle. You’ve been in it too, pet.”
“I was lonely. I didn’t want to spend Christmas Eve alone again. It’s happened before Harry. The party was… insurance.”
“Will that be all Miss Nelson?” the caterer’s asked “May we start to clean up?”
“Yes, thank you. You’ll find a bonus in an envelope addressed to each of you. And Merry Christmas.”
“Thank you Ma’am,” they smiled, retreating to the dining room.
“Edie, did you, er, actually enjoy the food?” Nelson whispered.
“Not really, but I could hardly tell them that. If the mayor hadn’t been so into haute cuisine I’d have ordered a traditional turkey dinner for tonight, but most folks have that on Christmas day, not Christmas eve. Er, Harry…I’m afraid I didn’t actually plan on a feast for tomorrow…you should have taken Lee up on his offer…”
“I wanted to spend a little time with you. And I didn’t want to intrude on Lee. He hasn’t seen his mother and friends for a long time, and with him inviting Joe Jackson, well, frankly I’m sure they have other plans.”
“You miss him already.”
“I can’t help it, even…well, never mind.”
“Even if you’ve busted regs, so to speak, by becoming friends with a subordinate? I know the rumors Harry. He’s become more a brother to you than a simple friend hasn’t he?”
“More like a son, actually if I’m honest with myself. Just don’t tell him that. It could be rather awkward…I’m not sure how he’d take it. I’m already getting grief from Jiggs.”
“But surely Lee must have some kind of an inkling.”
“As best friends, no doubt. But he’s never allowed our professional relationship to take a back seat to it. I just wish…well, never mind…good night pumpkin, see you in the morning.”
“Night, Harry. Love you too.”
“I thought I’d find you here,” Joe emerged onto the front porch, handing Lee a cup of hot chocolate as the Christmas lights began to flicker at Starke and Shamus’s arrival.
“Sorry…I…just…”he shook his head.
“Lee, there’s a lot they can do nowadays. At least she’ll be taken care of. Herman’s her legal guardian now, what without her having any real family…”
“It’s just so unfair...she was almost a second Mom to me.”
“I know…don’t stay out here too late. I don’t want your real Mom after me for letting you freeze to death.”
“Very funny. I’ll be in soon…”
After Joe had returned to the house, Lee looked up to the stars, “Please God, please let her be okay. She’s done everything for everybody, that’s what makes this so difficult to understand. Can’t you use me instead, right now? Nobody will care if I loose my marbles, my memories, but her…”
“Honey?” Mrs. Crane appeared at the door, “it’s late. Please come to bed.”
“Oh Mom,” Lee rose and embraced her, unable to stop his tears.
The US Naval Academy’s chapel was silent now that services had concluded for those who had remained behind during the annual Christmas leave. Memorial plaques in the lobby honored those graduates deceased, missing and on ‘Eternal Patrol’.
“This is impossible…I know some of these men, these vessels,” Starke muttered, “just played golf with Jake a couple of days ago. His boat never went down…what kind of joke is this? Shamus? Where are you? Show yourself! You have some explaining to do!”
“He has finished his task,” the uniformed German U Boat Captain appeared, “Now, it is my turn.”
“If you’re the Ghost of Christmas Future I want out of this nightmare, and right now! I get the point, already!”
“Not until I have finished my mission!”
“Okay, okay. Who the devil are you?”
“I am the Ghost of Christmas Future. Capitain Gerhardt Krueger,” he clicked his heels, “ at your service.”
“Krueger? Not Harry’s Krueger, surely?”
“You have heard of me. Then you know this is no dream.”
“Look, these names, dates…it all has to be a mistake.. Why that man went on to become the Vice President! And what the blazes am I doing on this this brass?”
“Without Capitain Crane, some action of his aboard Seaview, or on another craft or even while on an undercover assignment, they all died. Even you.”
“Look, you, you…poltergeist…”
“The correct term is ghost or haven’t you read Charles Dickens?”
Suddenly Starke found himself at NIMR, or what was left of it. The gate was secured by padlocks, derelict and desolate. Some signs advertised the property and wharf for sale.
“What’s happened here?”
“The Nelson Institute no longer exists. ”
“That’s impossible. It’s a valuable resource, civilian and military. Seaview…”
“Seaview is at the bottom of the sea, her officers and crew entombed, along mit Nelson.”
“Without Nelson, the Institute could not continue. It tried under various managements, but to no avail and….”
“But why? How?”
“Do not interupt! Seaview came under attack and was not able to escape or return fire.”
“Balderdash! Crane would have found a way…”
“But the gallant Capitan was never aboard Seaview, or any other vessel. Everyone was better off without him interfering in their lives, or am I mistaken about what you yourself wished for.”
“But I didn’t mean it like that! The folks in the diner, they thought I was a bum but helped me because of him; he played Santa Claus for a hospital, and he even offered himself as a sacrifice for the old lady. He’s saved Seaview and the whole damn world a number of times, and Harry…Harry would be lost without him. Oh, Lord, this is a nightmare…”
“At last, at last, at last,” Patrick appeared, dancing a jig, “you’re not so dense after all. You can go now, Krueger.”
“I still want Crane’s body.”
“Too bad. That wasn’t part of the bargain,” the leprechaun snapped his fingers and Krueger vanished.
“Please, Please,” Starke got on his knees, “This…this is a dream isn’t it? I mean…this,” he waved his arms, “emptiness, it can all be changed, can’t it? Take my wish back! Give me back Crane! Patrick? Patrick? Where did you go? Pemm? Kruger?”
The clock chimed 0400 am; Starke rolling on the floor of his home.
“Wha…oh Lord…it was a dream…all a dream..” then he noticed the wooden pipe on the carpet. “Or not.”
He stumbled to the phone and began to make plans.
“But I didn’t order anything!” Edith Nelson argued at the door on Christmas Day.
“Doesn’t matter, lady. It says right here deliver to Miss Edith Nelson, instructions to follow.”
“I realize your establishment is open even on Christmas but…”
“We don’t usually deliver, but this was a special order. Now, can I bring it in already? It’s freezing out here.”
“What’s the matter pumpkin,” the still robed and rumpled Nelson joined her at the door. It was 10 am.
“Somebody ordered us a Christmas Dinner with all the trimmings…Harry, did you…”
“Not me pet..may I see that order form? Jiggs?
“What instructions, Harry?”
“Well of course we’d love to have you visit, Admiral Starke,” Crane said cautiously on the phone as his Mother and Joe could only overhear his end of the call, “Admiral Nelson? No, he’s not here…he will be? Edith too? No, not problem…”he crossed his fingers. “Yes, see you soon sir.”
“I take it we’re not repelling boarders?” Joe asked.
“Is it okay Mom? I really couldn’t say no to him,”he sighed.
friends was one thing, he’d hoped for it; but abiding the presence of Jiggs
Starke, however, was not his idea of a
“It’s fine sweetie, it’s only the one person more. But the food, well…a lot will depend on their appetites…”
“He said not to worry about Christmas dinner, whatever that means, ” Lee furrowed his brows, confused, “What’s weird is that I’m sure Nelson would have told me if he was coming, not leave it to Starke…”
“Maybe something came up dear. Did he say when they’d be arriving? ”
“A little before 11.”
“Then there’s plenty of time for you boys to go have some fun. Herman should already be at Dunker’s pond. ”
“147, this must be it,” Nelson said as he parked, or tried to, along the other cars alongside the snowplowed side road.
“Harry are you sure about this?” Edith asked nervously, “All Jiggs said was to meet him at the Crane’s. I’d feel better if you’d spoken to Lee yourself.”
“I’ll get the food. Should still be warm in those insulated bags.”
“Harriman! Edith!” Starke emerged from the house, pulling his jacket tighter, “So glad you could make it. I’ll take that…”
“Jiggs,” Nelson took him aside, “What’s this all about…”
“You’ll see, you’ll see…come along you two, let’s give Mrs. Crane a hand before the prodigal returns.”
Nelson and Edith were welcomed like family by the woman. The fact that they’d never met before made no difference. They were Lee’s special friends and that was enough. She also felt secure enough in their relationship with him to draft them to assist in the kitchen and help setting the table.
“Harriman, look at this…”Starke called from the living room window, laughing.
Snow covered Lee and Joe were on their way back from Dunker’s Pond, skates swinging over their shoulders, but not before they climbed a few snowbanks, and slid down them a couple of times on their jackets appreciatively.
Shaking the snow off their jackets and boots at the entry, Lee and Joe were surprised to find themselves face to face with their guest.
“Er, Merry Christmas, sir,” Lee said, more confused than ever. Had Starke had some kind of head trauma too?
“What are you waiting for Harriman?”
“Lee,” Nelson smiled and shook the young man’s hand.
“Oh for goodness sake, Harry, don’t act like an old lady,er…no offence ladies,” Starke pushed Nelson closer to Crane. “He’s your closest and dearest friend. Give him a hug, man.”
“We’ll have to discus his phobia about showing his emotions later, Crane, eh? Now, come along. I’m starving…”he headed to the table.
“Is he okay?” Lee whispered to Nelson as he removed his boots.
“I’m not sure. I’ve never seen him like this.”
“C’mon, c’mon, I have a toast to make,” Starke ordered.
As all settled down to begin the Christmas feast, soft music playing in the background, Starke raised his glass, the wine his own contribution.
“I know I’m treading on Lee’s territory as the man of the house, and as someone who really knows how to keep Christmas in his heart all the time, among all of the other fine things he does to help his friends and countrymen. But I’d like to use this opportunity to wish you all a Merry Christmas with all my heart.”
Just then the phone rang.
“I’ll get it,” Lee rose to take the call in the adjoining living room. “Hermie? No, it’s okay…what…what? That’s wonderful! Oh Lord…thanks Hermie…”he ended the call.
“She’s okay! She’s okay!” he returned to embrace his mother.. “Auntie Yodel remembers everything! Everything! Er…” he looked at the laden table and the gathering askance.
“It’s okay, Lee, you go ahead and see her,” his mother said, “we’ll keep a plate warm for you.”
“That’s right, Lad,” Starke said, “we’ll explain.”
“Thanks, Mom…”he kissed her on the cheek, fled to grab his jacket and pull on his boots, Joe following. “I didn’t know Admiral Starke knew about Auntie Yodel…”
“Guess your Mom must’ve told him…”
In minutes they’d driven away in Lee’s rental.
“Wonderful news about Mrs. Yoder, just wonderful,” Starke said, then raising his glass again, “As I was saying Merry Christmas…and God Bless Us, Everyone.”
Now, everyone knows there is no such thing as the Ghost of Christmas Past, Present, or Future, and that these three, not to mention leprechauns, simply do not exist outside of fiction. But as Starke unpacked and pulled out his frayed old jeans and a crumbled cookie rolled out of it, whatever the truth, he’d keep Christmas in his heart from now on, just like Lee Crane did, every day.