The Night Before Christmas
"I'll get airsick, I just know I will," Lt. Cmdr. Will Jamison (aka ‘Doc’) complained in the blackness of the night, leaning against the wire fencing surrounding the Scampi Seaplane hangar.
"Do you want to help me or not?" Lee Crane handed his Chief Medical Officer some more of their specialized gear.
"What I want is for you to take it easy, not drag yourself or me on
"Will you quit harping? Now, come on. You're the one always complaining about not being able to keep an eye on me. Here's your chance."
"In Sickbay or at home, not undercover!"
"Shhhh!" Crane shoved his uncooperative operative into the shadows. "You want us to get found out? This mission is absolutely essential," he checked his watch, "and timing is everything."
"When I think of all the times I've saved your life, and this is all the thanks I get..."
"Please don't think I don't appreciate all you've done, but now's not the time to argue the fine points. Now, c'mon, Joe should be waiting."
The hot apple cider wasn't very good, but at least Cookie had tried. Admiral Nelson had put on a good face for the sake of his crew, but it was forced and everyone knew it. It was a disheartened lot aboard Seaview, even with the gaily decorated tree in the Observation Nose and bunting about the boat. It wasn't just the Navy mission at the height of the holiday season; the Captain had still been on medical leave when Seaview was ordered to test some highly specialized sonar equipment. Fankly, the crew was missing him, not to mention getting tired of Admiral Jiggs Starke's unending complaints.
Not that their XO couldn't handle things. Certainly Chip Morton had proved his mettle on more than one occasion, but he hadn't talked back to Nelson's old friend like Crane was wont to do. To Morton's credit he did try it once, but the ensuing dressing down had apparently insured that he wouldn't do it again. And Nelson, well, he simply desired Crane's company. It didn't help that Jiggs needled him about the almost father-son relationship that had unintentionally evolved between the two over a relatively short time. So Nelson was a bit testy to say the least.
Jiggs leaned back in one of the Observation Nose’s new lounge chairs, "So, Harriman, what had you wanted to do for Christmas before the Navy confiscated Seaview?"
"You don't have to keep reminding me! I just don't think serving as your flagship for these tests was a job for Seaview. Other boats..."
"Other boats don't have the amenities," he raised his glass, "and the SecNav chose her, not me. Besides, we’ll be finished soon enough."
"Hmpf. Anyway, in answer to your question, I was going to visit my sister.And you? What were you looking forward to, or is needling my crew it?"
"You think I want to be here at Christmas? Hardly. What I want," he patted his stomach, "is some of my grandmother's homemade pumpkin pie and turkey dinner with all the trimmings, God rest her. My wife's hopeless in the kitchen. Speaking of hopeless, will your cook be up to it tomorrow? If the cider was any indication..."
"There's nothing wrong with the cider!"
"Harriman. I've been aboard now, what, three weeks? In all that time I haven't had one decent meal. Getting skimpy on the paychecks? In fact, old friend, as I’ve tried to pound into your crew, I'm afraid there's a lot aboard Seaview I'm finding questionable for a Navy Reserve vessel and..."
"As I've told you before, you're here as an observer, not an inspecting Admiral for the Reserve Board, and we’re usually a civilian vessel, thank you very much!"
"Well, sorry, don’t burst a blood vessel.... Damn..."he added, scowling.
"You're not going to believe this, but I think I kind of miss Crane telling me off. You don't do it nearly as well he does."
Kowalski, on station in the Control Room stretched the kinks out as he heard their laughter. It was the first time since the cruise started. Still, no matter what the two had suddenly found so amusing, it just wasn't fair. There they were enjoying themselves while he and his buddies were stuck aboard the stupid sub when they ought to be home with friends and family and...
"Ski!" O'Brien interrupted his thoughts. "Get your attention back on that screen. I refuse to return Seaview to the Skipper with scratched paint or a dent in her side.”
"Aye sir. Sorry, sir,” he said then added under his breath, “as if there’s anything out here that could do that….er..I’ll shut up now sir.”
For the next few minutes, Kowalski couldn’t help feeling a little bit disloyal. Here he was bad thinking the boat when Crane had gone and gotten hurt on a camping trip, a real one, not an ONI assignment. Injured badly enough from a slip and tumble down a rocky hillside for Doc to remove him from sea duty until the bruised ribs, lacerations, and concussion had a chance to heal.
Oh gawd, Ski suddenly mused, what if he'd said something bad about the boat out loud? It would get back to the Skipper and if he found out....
"Mr. O'Brien?" Sparks voice called out interrupting his thoughts," We got a...well, a kind of situation."
"Well, out with it, man."
"Miss Angie called to say the Skipper's gone missing. She wanted to call him about something and she can't find him anywhere..."
"Gone missing?" O'Brien asked, hoping
"Yeah, she checked with his
apartment manager, Security searched the Institute, even the Med Center...it's
like he just...vanished...again,
Uh oh. Ski looked at the Admirals in the Nose sadly. It wouldn't be long before that laughter was going to turn into...well...it didn’t bear thinking about.
They all knew the drill and Ski wondered if O'Brien would ask Morton to hand out earplugs before informing Nelson that the Skip had probably caved into his James Bond Syndrome and was off on assignment. He’d probably also call the duty corpsman to be at the ready for Nelson’s soon to be raised blood pressure.
Yes, it was going to be a long night.
"Breathe normally Will," Lee ordered as he checked the small seaplane’s exterior, all the while glancing backwards to make sure no alarm had sounded.
"I'm going to make an appointment with a psychiatrist when this is over; I have to have been insane to have agreed to this," Jamison stowed the wire cutters into a zippered bag.
"You want to back out, now's the time," Crane tossed yet another bag into the aircraft and squeezed himself into the cockpit.
"Face Morton and Nelson's wrath leaving you to fend for yourself? Hah!"
"Will you quit with the babysitter mode, Jamie?”
"You're a long way from being fully fit," Jamison scowled as he sat beside him.
"Will you two quit arguing?" Joe intervened dockside, "Lee, you got the coordinates?"
"Very funny, bro. You do realize, don’t you, that if Starke finds out I helped you…”
“He won’t Joe. And thanks for all your help. Jamie? You sure you got everything on that list stowed?" Crane asked.
"I checked it twice, enough already! Now, hurry up at get us going or I’ll be tempted to call Starke myself that you’ve corrupted his aide.”
"Sorry, Joe,” Lee told "I forgot to tell you he bites."
"Good luck," Joe removed the chocks tying the plane to the dock. In seconds he gave Lee the traditional thumbs up.
Crane revved up the engine.
"You sure you know how to fly this thing?" Jamison queried nervously.
"I am a qualified aviator, as you well know," Lee said mildly exasperated. "Flying this reject from some surplus yard's no big deal.”
"Uh huh, then I guess you meant to turn on the windshield wipers."
"I knew I should have stayed home and taken my phone off the hook.”
In minutes the craft skimmed along the water, for a rather lengthy time, Will thought, before becoming airborne.
"Doug..."Nelson pleaded to the Director of ONI on the videophone in his cabin as Morton and Starke stood by.
"Look, Harry, I told your radio
operator, now I'm telling you! Crane's not
on assignment with us! You think we'd turn him out in the field so soon after
his release from
"In a word, yes!"
"Ask the CIA if you think they had anything to do with it, he works for them sometimes, but they don't usually bypass the boundaries between agencies without telling us. Maybe he's just gone home."
"Angie checked his apartment."
"No, no, no, I mean home...his mothers'..."
"She's in the Amazon on a Peace Corps expedition," Morton said," Lee told us about that last month, remember? Someplace in Brazil I think."
"Brazil? Oh shit," Doug said and began to punch numbers on his phone unit.
"What is it Doug?” Nelson asked.
"I'll have to get back to you. Out."
"Can't Sparks pipe anything else in ?"Sharkey complained to Morton in his cabin. "It ain't right sir. Jolly holly Christmas music? When the Skipper's traipsing off in the jungle to rescue his mom from cannibals and head hunters and God knows what..."
"We don't know what he's doing, Chief."
"Yeah, well it's something he would do, isn't it?"
"Damn," Lee said as he fiddled with a few switches.
"What? What?" Jamison asked nervously.
They’d landed easily enough on the waves but ‘damn’ was not a good omen.
"I didn't want to worry you, but inertial navigation’s been having a few glitches. I'm pretty sure we're in the right place but if I can’t see some stars to confirm our location, the mission's a bust."
"Confirm our....Do- you- mean- to- tell- me, we're...we’re lost?"
"Technically?" Crane gave him his best wounded puppy look. It had helped before when he'd gotten into trouble.
"What the hell does that mean?”
"Easy Will...Look," Lee checked his watch, "I know our general location, just not our precise location and that's what we need to know for this mission to succeed."
"Then radio your pal Joe Jackson for help!”
"Can't. Seaview would pick it up… blow our cover. Wait a minute..."Lee scrambled from his seat and began to tear into some of the cargo in the back. "Well don't just sit there, give me a hand!"
"Uh, Lee? What are looking for?"
"This," Lee pulled out the manifest, "here, line twenty five, now, c'mon...help me find the thing."
"You realize, don't you Harry," the SecNav scolded from the monitor in the Control Room, "we now have ourselves an international incident?”
“How were we to know Mrs. Crane was at the Ambassador’s reception as safe as if she’d been at home in bed?”
“She nearly had a heart attack when she found out your man was missing. Look, Harry, ONI knows how Crane operates. And they assure me this isn't it. He's been intentionally lost before, hasn't he? He's probably having himself a grand old time someplace, wine, women, and song, without a care in the world..."
"Well that's just great, we don't have any batteries!" Lee complained of the mobile GPS.
"Lee, I know you're disappointed. But let's just go home."
"Not yet. Now, this might not work," Lee plugged the GPS unit into the cockpit cigarette lighter. "Remind me to thank Joe for finding a plane with one of these. Not standard equipment. Right on target!" Lee added happily as the GPS revealed the info he needed.
"Yippee," Jamison said acerbically.
"Okay, c'mon, let's get ready for the main event."
"Uh, Lee..."Jamison nodded to the smoking GPS.
"It does look kind of hot..."
"It's on fire you idiot!" Jamison yanked it out. "Ow! Ow! Ow! Ow!"he yelled as he tried to keep hold of it long enough to toss out the hatch. "This is all your fault," he blew on his hands.
"Hey, I'm not the one who insisted on coming along."
"Me? You asked me!"
"And you didn't have to appoint yourself my babysitter, either."
"Well, excuuuusse me!"
"C’mon Will, it's Christmas Eve, you know, peace on Earth, good will toward..."
"Just shut up and help me sort the gear."
"I knew you were a soft touch.”
"Ha. Just wait till I get you in my sick bay again."
"Wanna' bet?" Lee smirked.
"I give up."
It was nearing midnight and all hands aboard Seaview were both relieved and anxious. Relieved the Skipper probably hadn't been eaten and anxious because they still didn't know where he was.
"Admiral?" Riley called out from his console in the Control Room, "I'm picking up something weird. And close...about a hundred yards above us. But they don’t profile like any kind of biologics I've ever seen. Fish or dolphins with humps maybe...but what are those? See? There, there and there..."he pointed to the blips.
"I can't see it from the scope," Nelson interrupted, handing the scope over to Morton. "Jiggs, would any of the previous tests the Navy did in this area adversely affect any life forms?"
"You've seen as much as I have. They all seemed fine to me."
"Hey!" Morton exclaimed, "Something just brushed over the viewer."
"It’s settling on the hull, whatever it is!" one of the crewmen said from his console.
"Sail camera!" Nelson ordered as he turned on the monitor. "C'mon, c'mon..."
"Sorry sir, it bumped the camera. Broke it."
"I don't like this," Starke said.
"Neither do I," Nelson said just as they heard the outer hatch wheel turn. "What the devil? That hatch can't just be opened without our release."
"Get the Master at Arms up here," Morton hurried to the weapons locker to distribute guns, "prepare to repel boarders. That's no fish topside."
“Shhh!”a voice from the still closed inner hatch was heard.
Morton climbed the ladder and tried to turn the wheel. "It's jammed," he reported and climbed back down.
"Told you," the invisible voice muttered," the jigg's up."
"Jiggs up, that's funny,” somebody giggled.
"No it's not."
"Pick, pick, pick…there, all set. Ready?"
The hatch wheel turned.
The armed men in the Control Room looked up, guns at the ready.
A red diver's bootie took its first step, followed by another. Large red velveteen pants followed, attached by suspenders over the not quite matching red wetsuit, then the torso, along with a white flowing beard attached to...Crane.
"Ho, Ho, Ho, Merrrrry Christmas!" he cheerily said in his best 'Santa' voice and jumped off the rungs midway. “Ooops,” he added, as he quickly put a red velvet Santa cap over his wet curly hair .
“Crane, what the blazes!” Starke exclaimed.
"Name's Santa,” Crane corrected, “ or maybe Kris Kringle, but then, perhaps my driver's license was recorded incorrectly; that last ticket in Timbuktu when Rudolf got lost...Elf? Where's my bag? Come on down now, there's nothing to be afraid of. Santa has such a hard time finding good help these days,” he added for the benefit of the men.
"I'm not afraid, I'm just damn embarrassed," Jamison handed down several large lined net bags full of sealed plastic packages, along with the spent scuba gear and air bags that had aided in their descent before he too stood before the astonished men.
Sporting a bent green cap, green pants, (also held up by suspenders) over a black wetsuit, Doc also had pointed elf slippers over his diver's booties.
“If anyone says anything, anything,” he stressed, “I’ll make sure that after your next shots, you won’t be able to sit down for a week.”
“Ignore my trusted elf,” ‘Santa’ said, “He’s a bit overdue for some milk and cookies. Now, let’s see, according to my list which he checked..."
"Twice," Jamison said as he sorted through the parcels.
"Ah, yes, never fails to have backup as Prancer keeps telling me over our poker games at the North Pole...as I was saying," he turned and pointed a finger at Chip Morton. "You have been a very baaad boy."
"Uh, just how, 'Santa'?" Nelson got into the merriment.
"Santa has it on the best authority that your XO has been lax in the command duties entrusted to him. Has he once patted the bulkhead? Has he once told Seaview she's been a good girl? No. But Santa understands, indeed, it's only because he's thinking about his mother and father and brothers and sisters and current girlfriend, what’s her name again, Elf, Elosie? Ho Ho Ho. As I was saying, he’s simply forgotten what he promised the Captain. Therefore..."he nudged Jamison, "that's your cue," Crane whispered, "Therefore", he continued, as Jamison tore open the waterproof bag, and handed over the small packet inside, "you will take your family on vacation and..."
"This...this is an all-expenses paid vacation for seven to Las Vegas! Lee, you can't afford this.."
"Don't interrupt Santa. Especially when he's on a roll," Lee added as himself, then leaned toward Nelson. "We'll handle all those pesky financial details later, Admiral," he whispered. " Now, Ho, ho, ho, let's see who's next..."
For the next half hour or so, 'Santa' distributed presents as he meandered about the boat. It was noted deliveries were not in any kind of order, alphabetical or rating. One thing was certain, though. All the gifts were matching the interests of the recipients. For example, Ski received a sexy calendar from a popular TV show which caused wolf whistles and back slapping among his pals. Riley got a gift card to one of the more expensive surfboard shops, and Cookie a prepaid hotel reservation and entry form for the Pillsbury Bake Off.
"Ah, Mr. O'Brien, " 'Santa' said, as he returned to the Control Room, keeping it up thought the wetsuit was damned uncomfortable now, " Santa can't claim responsibility for this, but he can be the bearer of good news..."he handed the Jr. Officer a folded document.
"Uh, I'm sorry sir, but I think this must've gotten mixed up. It’s a savings bond for a Francine O'Brien"
"Oops," Crane said, and retrieved another document, " Santa doesn't make mistakes, but he can be forgetful at times, ho, ho, ho."
"My God!" O'Brien wavered on his feet.
"What is it Frank?" Morton asked.
"I'm a dad! Shelia wasn't due yet," he added, somewhat fearful looking at Crane for reassurance about the copy of the birth certificate.
"She's fine, so's the baby," Lee grinned, "Happened just before I stole the pla...uh, I mean," he reverted to 'Santa', "acquired transportation."
"I’ll just bet, Lee..."Nelson began.
"Transportation" 'Santa' continued, "that will be available topside as soon as Commander Jackson arrives with a relief pilot for the seaplane already upstairs. Don't you wish now, Admiral, that you'd written Santa for a new inducer valve for the Flying Sub?"
"I didn't know it was going to break! And it's not my fault we didn't have a replacement in stores and...."
" Santa' even remembered you," Santa ignored Nelson, turning to Starke, as Jamison handed him a coupon. "It'll have to do, had a bit of a deadline...you know, especially this time of year...".
"No doubt. Thank you Captain," Jiggs laughed, showing off two complete meal coupons for the all hours restaurant appropriately named ‘Granny’s which prided itself on its home style holiday meals.
"Ahem," 'Santa' turned to Nelson, "Now you have been almost as naughty as Chip Morton."
"I have?" Nelson asked, incredulous to the amused stares of the crew.
"Well?" Starke asked.
"In addition to breaking the Flying Sub's inducer valve, it has come to Santa's attention that his sister, living in Paris right now, would like him to visit. But Nelson being Nelson he put business before pleasure again. Tsk Tsk Tsk. Not the way to win friends or influence people at the North Pole,” Santa handed him a small packet containing round trip airline ticket and hotel reservations.
"Lee, I can't accept this.."
"Santa's feelings will be crushed if you don't, I had such a hard time getting them, besides," he slipped back into himself, "she's already there getting fitted for a Dior gown for a party being given by the French President. She’d be happier if you escorted her. You're staying at the Hilton. You don't want to disappoint her, do you?"
“Santa,” Lee corrected.
"Give up Admiral," Jamison said, "Trust me, it's no use to argue with him."
"Good! Ho, ho, ho. Glad you learned your lesson faithful elf. And now for you,” he pulled out a heavy manila envelope tucked inside his pant pocket and handed it to Jamison.
"Well open it," Crane
"Ohmygod. How did you do this?"
"Never ask Santa his secrets, just enjoy them."'
"Will, what is it?" Nelson asked.
"My book’s going to be published! Lee," he suddenly gasped in sudden horror, "you didn't pay for it to be published did you?"
"Santa nor the AMA frequents the vanity press .Look at the fine print.”
“But how? It’s been rejected more times than I can count. Lee? How?"
"Just enjoy it Will..."
"And now, last but not least.it wouldn’t have been last, but the GPS Santa wanted to include for the Admiral to take to his sister had a slight accident..."
"But there's nobody left," Ski said.
"Ah, but there is," Santa reached into his other pocket and pulled out a rolled scroll. "Admiral Nelson? Would you do the honors?"
"Some kind of certificate...."Nelson began to read it, and soon leaned on the periscope railing, overcome.
“Harriman?" Jiggs asked.
Meanwhile Crane had already walked to the Nose, poured himself a drink, patted one of the view ports and nodded his head in appreciation toward the tree.
"...It's from The International Star Registry,” Starke was saying, “they...they've named a star for...Seaview? And here's a picture of it...my God, Crane..."Starke said, awed.
"It's not a name any real astronomical board will recognize," Lee began softly, “but for all that she is, all that she means...has done, will do...for all of us, for mankind...well..."he paused, then reverted to character, "Santa feels her name should be written in the stars, for all to see."
"Amen to that, Skipper! Er, I mean Santa," Ski said amid the applause that had erupted.
"Wait a minute, guys, settle down," the Chief interrupted, "What about the Skipper? I mean...what do you I mean, what does Captain Crane want for Christmas?"
"Crane already has what he wants for Christmas, Chief. To be home with his family." Then he raised his glass in a toast, "Ho, ho, ho, Merry Christmas!"
"Excuse me," Sparks suddenly called out, "but I have an urgent message from ONI...for Captain Crane."
"Captain Crane's not here, Sparks," Lee said as himself , but pointed to his beard.
"But," Lee sighed, "Ho, ho, ho, Santa is," 'Santa' Crane rose and turned on the monitor.
"Crane!” the ONI director blared, “ What's the big idea! Did you or did you not steal a plane from Scampi’s?”
" Scampi Seaplanes are sub-contracted to ONI aren’t they?”
"For official use only! Stealing a..."
"Borrowing a seaplane in nothing less than a covert action when there isn't one is hardly..."
"Come here Frank." Lee put
his arm on O'Brien's' shoulder, "This is Lt. Frank O'Brien, and as
of," Crane looked at his watch, "twelve minutes ago was released on
compassionate family leave. Now, we can have the Institute send you the copies
of the paperwork while you make up your mind about NIMR using the plane, but do you really want me to
keep him cooped up aboard Seaview when he should really be going home to his
wife and baby, a premature baby at that, just born tonight, a Christmas baby, when they need him the
"I could call in some favors," Lee grinned like a Cheshire cat.
“You wouldn’t dare.”
“Oh, he’d dare,” Jamison said.
“And," Lee continued," of course, my alter ego, James that is, just might just decide to stay home the next time you need him.”
"You have a mighty high opinion of yourself Crane."
"Part of my job description. Take it, or leave it."
"I’ll let it go this time. I’m not heartless. But don't you ever pull a stunt like this again. Do you understand?"
"Hmph. I'll believe that when hell freezes over. "
"Santa never lies, Ho, ho, ho..."
"ONI out,” the director ended the call.
"He does, however," Lee added for the benefit of his crew, "sometimes stretch the truth a bit...better hurry and get your gear together Frank. And if I didn't say it before, congratulations."
"Permission to sit on the front porch?" Crane asked from the spiral ladder, attired in his familiar old pajamas and robe.
"Lee! It's past 0300," Nelson said. "And since when do you need permission?"
"I couldn't sleep," he sat down, "Too much adrenaline I guess. Malone told me you were still up. Did Will give you the details about my limitations? He was spitting tacks at me when we cleaned up. You know, I don't think he gets out much."
"The only limitations he mentioned was a problem with your inner child escaping like it did tonight," Nelson laughed, "and your James Bond Syndrome, but don't worry, Lee. As of 0800 tomorrow, I mean today, you're back on full duty....Lee...am I correct in assuming you knew what some of us wanted by bugging the boat?"
"Who me?” Lee grinned, "Actually, Joe had heard some conversations when he was getting some things together for Admiral Starke’s visit before you even sailed...so when I planned on becoming Santa Claus, well, we just put our heads together. I kind of conned Doc into it."
"And about those pesky financial details…now’s as good a time as any.”
"Actually I had a small inheritance from my aunt tucked away for a rainy day. Well, with Seaview stuck out here for the holidays, well, I couldn't think of a better time to use it..."
"Excuse me Admiral," one of the galley crew approached, "But Cookie figured the Skip would like some milk and cookies."
"Don't mind if I do. Just the thing after a long night's work. Thanks. And Merry Christmas."
"You too Skipper...er Santa," the crewman grinned as he left.
Lee managed one of the cookies and half the milk before he found he couldn't keep his eyes open against the comforting beeps and hums from Seaview's adjacent Control Room.
Nelson thought better of waking him and decided to let him sleep in the chair. Getting a blanket from under one the storage chests by the whiskey cabinet, he spotted the discarded Santa cap and elf shoes the Chief had put under the tree. And the engraved scroll with Seaview's star. Yes, Nelson thought, Kris Kringle would be proud...
"But I heard him exclaim, ere’ he drove out of sight," Nelson whispered as he covered Lee with the blanket, "Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night."
*Excerpt from: The Night Before Christmas by Clement Clarke Moore