It wasn’t that he hadn't ever had fleas; he’d experienced them before when Dr. Braddock’s experimental ‘atmosphere’ had changed him into a hairy beast. But this was entirely different. He looked at his companion, panting as hard as he was from their exertions.
“Well, now what, Skipper?” the Bulldog asked him as it nudged a wet leaf off of it’s mud caked paw while they sat on the sidewalk.
“I don’t know, but we have to save the Admiral before it’s too late.”
“I’m still wondering if this is all some kind of horrible dream or something!”
“It’s no dream,” the former Captain of the Submarine Seaview said, his human form trapped inside the flea ridden feline. “C’mon, I think I see a bus.”
It had all been so unnecessary, Sharkey thought, not really knowing just what had ticked the Admiral’s fiancé off.
It had all started when the sub had pulled into
“I usually don’t look forward to these blasted affairs,” Admiral Nelson finished adjusting his Tuxedo’s bow tie, “but Edith has her heart set on it, and it’s hard to turn down the party invitation. You sure you don’t want to come along Lee? The invite included you and Chip. Wine, women, and song, well, that horrible stuff they call music now, anyway. But it is for charity, so....”
“Sorry, but I already have a date.”
“You haven’t even been off the boat yet,” Nelson said, amused, “Old girlfriend?” he asked hopefully.
“Excuse me, sirs,” Sharkey came into Nelson’s cabin, “but the limo you rented is here. Skipper, I got those new specs all laid out in the Wardroom, just like you wanted, and all crew have been dismissed for shore leave except for the security watch.”
“Thanks, Chief,” Crane said.
“One of these days, Lee,” Nelson said, “we’re going to have to sit down and have a little talk about your idea of a date and a real one,” Nelson said. “Besides, we’re not even ready to install the new system until we put Seaview in refit. You’re taking your duties a little bit too seriously.”
“That’s what I told him,” Chip Morton popped in, also dressed to the teeth, “But will he listen to me? I’d even check the blueprints tonight myself if I could get him to go ashore.”
“I’m not going to let you to loose the chance to maybe meet
“Well, at least make sure you eat something and...”
“Out! Now! Chief? Escort these reprobates topside. That’s an order.”
Nelson laughed, “C’mon Chip, I think we’re outvoted.”
“Chief?” Morton asked, “Will you at least make sure he eats something other than coffee tonight?”
“I’ll take good care of him sir.”
“Why does everybody aboard this boat think I need looking after?” Crane asked, “Don’t answer that.”
The gala was a lavish affair.
Anybody who was anybody had been invited. From business executives and the idle
Nelson had to chuckle as the Morton flair proved itself irresistible to the fairer sex. Edith had asked they wear tuxedos instead of dress uniform, and had sent Morton a white tuxedo with a blue cummerbund and bow tie. Her note said it set off his eyes. But he really didn’t need the accessories if the fawning women around him meant anything. Of course, Morton could charm just about anyone with his boyish grin. He was in for a busy night, thought Nelson.
“You’re Admiral Nelson, aren’t you?” a melodic voice interrupted Nelson’s musings.
“Darcy, Mary Darcy. I have to say these things bore me to tears; I don’t suppose I could interest you in a more, shall we say, quiet evening?”
“Oh, there you are Harry!” Edith waved before he could answer. “I wanted to give you a proper greeting when you docked but I just couldn’t get away.” They embraced affectionately then she straightened his bowtie. “You never have been able to get the hang of these. I see you’ve met Mary. I must warn you, she’s known to have put any man she meets under her spell,” she kidded.
“That’s not too difficult to believe,” Nelson said with a grin.
“Well, be good you two,” she smiled and wandered off to mingle.
Aboard Seaview, Sharkey coughed again as the steaming mug of chicken soup he’d placed in front of the shoeless Crane had gone cold and unnoticed.
“You know you don’t have to be here,” Crane said, as he finished writing another note to add to the ones already littering the blueprints. “Go on, get out on the town. Have a little fun.”
“Any port in a storm,” the shoeless Crane stretched, and cricked his neck and looked at his watch, then at Sharkey, who was setting up his cards for another game of solitaire. The man had insisted on keeping the Captain ‘company’, a rather transparent excuse to ‘baby-sit’ him on the almost deserted sub.
“You can use my Gala ticket. It’s not that late. Go on. Live a little.”
“But only you and Mr. Morton...” Sharkey said a bit sheepishly.
“What’s the difference if it’s for Charity and the ticket’s paid for? I’ll go with you, just to make sure there’s no problem. I’ll even stay a few minutes.”
“Well, Okay, I guess, if you say so. But...uh, I don’t have any fancy digs...” he said, indicating his uniform.
“Just change into your dress blues. They work for the White House.”
In a few minutes Sharkey stood at attention as Crane made sure everything was in order. “Now, you remember how to address most the foreigners?” he asked. “Some of them might be a little paranoid about protocol. I wish you could have been with us when we carted Prince Ang home...in fact he’s probably going to be there, only now he’s King Ang.”
“Well, if I get ‘your Excellency’ ‘your grace’ and ‘your highness’ all mixed up, I’ll just use ‘sir’ or ‘ma’am.”
“Works for me,” Crane pulled on his shoes, but he was still in his rather rumpled khakis, “There, I’m all dressed.”
“Skipper, I’m really not so sure I.....”
“You’re going. I’m not sure you’ll have a great time, but at least I’ll be able to get you off my back for a few hours,” he grinned, giving Sharkey an affectionate pat.
“Edith, darling,” one of the guests interrupted her chat with a European king, “you’d better get to the main entrance. There’re some ruffians from your submarine trying to crash the party.”
The Hotel Manager and Security Guards were in a heated debate with Crane as Edith glimpsed the intrusion.
“I’m sorry, Commander Crane,” the doorman said again, “I don’t care. He still can’t use your invite!”
“Lee!” Edith called out loudly, sweeping over to the men like a reigning princess, “And Sharkey! Oh, I’m so glad you could come! Well, open the way for them, what are you waiting for?” she demanded of the Manager.
“This is a fancy dress ball Miss Nelson and...”
“Well, you don’t expect our fighting men to wear dresses, do you?” she jibed, “Uniforms are perfectly proper. And they have better things to do besides trying to rent tuxedos when all the stores are closed,” she said.
“If you say so, but...only one ticket is paid for...”
“You’ll get your entrance fee,” Edith said, almost daring the Manager to object. Quickly she led Crane and Sharkey to a less crowded alcove. “Why don’t you try the buffet, Sharkey,” she said graciously and with a nod of approval from Crane, he vanished.
As soon as Sharkey was out of
earshot she grabbed Lee’s arm hard and led him into an alcove, “You know this
was a formal affair, Lee,” she hissed, “Bringing Sharkey here? An enlisted man?
Have you any idea how this could ruin my and Harry’s reputation? My god, Lee,
“Now wait a minute!” Lee warned.
“Skipper!” Chip approached, huge grin on his face, “Good to see you off the boat for a change!”
“Actually I was just leaving,” Lee said coolly, “But Edith insists on Sharkey staying, isn’t that right, Edith,” he said dangerously.
“Leaving?” Chip asked, confused, “Is something going on I don’t want to know about?” Chip asked.
“I hadn’t planned on staying,” Crane said. “Besides, our hostess doesn’t want me here.”
“Well, look at you!” Edith snipped, “Khakis? And wrinkled ones at that. Your hair’s not even combed. At least you could have worn your dress jacket like the Chief and been a little better groomed. You’re both an embarrassment to the dignity of this event. I’d have sent you both away at the door if people weren’t already gossiping....”
“Look, over there, look!” Sharkey
found them, not having heard the conversation,” It’s
“Well? What are you waiting for?” Crane said, “Go say hello. Ask her for a dance.”
“Are you crazy Lee?” Edith asked, “Chip maybe, but not...”
“Uh, maybe Miss Edith’s right, Skipper,” Sharkey said, embarrassed.
“I meant no offence, Chief,” Edith lied sweetly, “But you have to understand that she lives in a totally different social circle.”
“Yes,” Crane said, “the kind
that doesn’t make snap judgments based on income. Go ahead, Chief, you won’t
know until you try. Besides, I remember
“But, uh, it’s Mr. Morton that’s such a fan of hers,” Sharkey said of the XO, hesitantly, besides, he didn’t have to be a rocket scientist to know that the Skipper was only trying to do a little damage control from Edith’s implied insult.
“I’ll have a chance to meet her later, Chief, go ahead,” Morton said with a glued on smile, in the hopes of cooling things down, “And I think I need a little sustenance,” he nodded toward the buffet.
“Okay, sir, I will,” Sharkey decided and fought his way through the heavy crowd merged around the celebrity.
Lee wondered how he managed to get a word in edgewise, but Sharkey twirled his fingers to ‘dance’ above the crowd. With a dazzling smile, she accepted and they soon found themselves in a Tango.
“I’ll concede you won this round, Lee,” Edith said, “But the fact remains that Sharkey’s way out of his league here, and utterly outclassed.”
“Look, Edith,” Lee said, coolly, “He may not have been born with a silver spoon in his mouth, but he’s not the scum you seem to think we both are. And you won’t have to bother with the admittance fees. I’ll take care of them both. You’ll find the money deposited to the Foundation account tomorrow morning.”
“You couldn’t afford a tenth of it.”
“Oh, I may be in hock up to my elbows for the next year, but it’ll be worth it if Sharkey can enjoy himself tonight, even if it’s with all of your stuck up friends, Cher excluded. I’m glad to see I don’t have to include her with them.”
Edith’s resounding slap on his face was unnoticed by just about everybody except Morton, only a step or two away, as the music was so loud, the chatter so busy. For a moment neither said anything. “I’m sorry I spoiled your evening, Miss Nelson,” Lee finally said, “Don’t worry. I’ll leave by the back entrance,” he added, and found his way to the servant’s door, followed by Chip.
“What was that about?” the Mayor approached Mary, “I thought you vouched for those men...”
“Where’s Harry?” Edith ignored the question.
“Oh, he and Miss Darcy left about a half hour ago. To have a ‘quiet evening’. Remind me to send him a get well card tomorrow morning,” he laughed but quickly stopped seeing Edith’s glare. “Common knowledge that she gives her dates a real workout,” he explained with a wink.
“Common it may be, knowledge it isn’t. Excuse me.”
“Touchy tonight,” he whispered under his breath, and wondered what kind of disagreement was going on between the two men at the servant’s exit. Whatever it was, the dark haired man won, and the blond returned to the party, albeit looking a little worried, to the main floor.
“All hands present or accounted for, except for the boss,” Morton yawned the next morning as he reported to the Captain in the Observation Nose, while some of the more awake crew ran test diagnostics in the Control Room, “I guess he had a really good time last night.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Crane asked, though he had already made a pretty good guess, as had all the crew.
“Well, Lee, it’s all over the place that he left the party early. With a real knockout. And, since it’s already and he hasn’t come back yet...well, you know...”
“Mr. Morton?” O’Brian called down the Control Room hatch, “Miss Nelson is requesting permis...”
“I told you, I don’t need permission,” Edith’s voice interrupted, loud and mad, “you forget I own half the damn boat!” Edith clambered down the ladder from the topside hatch. Morton extended a hand.
“I don’t need your help either, blondie... Sorry, Chip. I’m out of sorts today,” he hastened to add. “Where’s Harry?”
“He’s not aboard yet.”
“Yet?” she asked, realization dawning. She knew her brother had had the occasional fling, but he’d never flaunted them, and they didn’t happen very often as far as she knew. In fact, she’d pretty much come to think of him as a confirmed celibate. “Oh, I see. I guess I’ll have to wait. I’ll be in his cabin.”
“Wait a moment,” Lee said, approaching, “I’m sorry. You’ll have to wait in the Observation Nose or the Wardroom.”
“You have no right to stop me from....”
“It’s the Admiral’s cabin, Edith, not yours. You know the rules.”
“And you also know that as part owner of Seaview, I can break them.”
“Not while I’m her Captain, you can’t,” Crane said calmly. “Not without Nelson’s approval. Now, I don’t know why you’ve become such a snob lately, but your arithmetic’s off by one point. You only own 49 percent of the Institute’s assets, but it still won’t buy you any special privileges aboard Seaview. Now, if you want to wait for the Admiral on the boat, you’ll do it in the Nose or the Wardroom. Otherwise, you have my permission to go ashore.”
“I’ll have your job for this, Lee,” she said and left.
“So, Chief,” Ski said in the
still busy Crew’s mess, “Word’s out you and Morton spent more than half the
evening on the dance floor with
“She’s a real nice kid, that girl.”
“Kid? I don’t think that’s what Mr. Morton thought! He was practically floating on air when he came aboard last night.”
“Man, I know I would be,” Ski said appreciatively.
“Hey, did you guys hear the latest?” Riley quickly sat down. “Miss Edith and the Skipper just had a fight. He wouldn’t let her wait for the Admiral in his cabin and he actually called her a snob.”
“Well,” Ski said, “sometimes she can be, but not very often. I wonder what...”
“Then,” Riley continued, “she huffed off the boat saying she’d have his job. Anyone know what’s wrong with her?”
“Full moon?” Ski asked.
“Probably a female thing,” Frank the corpsman said.
“Skipper?” O’Brian’s voice came over the PA, “the Admiral’s just come aboard. He wants to see you right away in his cabin. Miss Nelson’s with him.”
“Uh oh,” Riley said, “You don’t really think he’d really can the Captain, do you? Because she....”
“Are you kidding? He’d only do that if hell freezes over,” Ski said.
“Don’t get too cocky, kid,” Sharkey said. “Little sister has some clout. Things change...even for the worse.”
“You wanted to see me?” Lee said after knocking on the open door to Nelson’s cabin, awaiting the storm to come.
“Yes, Lee. Sit down. Edith, give us a moment, will you?”
“Any particular place I should go, Harry? After all I wouldn’t want to tread on the gallant Captain’s toes,” she said, casting a glare at Crane. “I’ll see you for lunch at the Country Club,” she said, “but only if he doesn’t tag along.”
“Edith!” Nelson rose, stunned, embarrassed.
“I’ll be in the Observation Nose,” she said, “Captain,” she added, giving Crane a scathingly mock salute and left.
“Lee, I can’t apologize enough,” Nelson said.
“No, it isn’t. She knows better. I know you put her nose out of joint last night but that’s no excuse for her to behave like this...However, speaking of behavior, Lee, what on earth possessed you? One does not as a rule give their invite to someone else, even if the original fee was already paid for. Edith was outraged that you used her money, so to speak, to admit someone she didn’t invite. As it was, your own scruffy appearance last night was viewed by a lot of people as a deliberate slur to the event.”
“She doesn’t have to worry about the money. I paid for two admittance fees this morning. And what does a style of clothing matter when...”
“I’d almost buy that excuse if you weren’t so well groomed in naval protocol. You know damn well that to go to a formal affair, even if it was only to take Sharkey there, dressed so casually, is a little bit like greeting the President in your underwear. Did you want to embarrass the Foundation and Edith’s involvement in it?”
“Of course not!”
“Then you owe her an apology as much as she owes you one.”
“I’m sorry, sir. I guess I just didn’t see it that way.”
“Very well. Now, in spite of my sister’s little outburst, I really would like you to join us at lunch today.”
“Edith didn’t invite you. I did. And I have something I want to say to the both of you. Here,” he handed Lee a guest pass. “Your name’s on the reservation. 13:30. You don’t have to be in uniform, but I expect you to be reasonably attired. Any questions, here’s their dress code,” he said, handing Lee the ‘official guidelines’. If you don’t have anything suitable, get something at one of the nearby shops,” he pulled out his gold credit card, “Understood?”
“Aye, sir,” Lee accepted the card grudgingly.
“Good. I’ll be using the rental limo to pick someone up, so you’ll have to get a cab.”
“And, Lee? I really am sorry about the way Edith’s been so moody lately. I’m beginning to wonder if it’s the ‘change’. Frankly, I’m too concerned about my own self preservation to ask her,” Nelson chuckled.
“Face it Lee,” Chip said, as they checked his closet and drawers,” You don’t have anything suitable. I’ll have your dress uniform pressed.”
“No, wait,” Crane scrolled a finger down the list, “here’s something...O’Brian’s only a little smaller than me....I wonder....”
Whistles greeted Crane’s ears as he strolled down the corridors toward the Control Room.
“Aren’t you forgetting something Captain?” a grinning Ski said, handing him a tennis racquet. “You can’t go like that without all the accessories.”
“Here,” O’Brian hurried toward Crane, handing him a a light blue sweater, “I found this. Might be a bit nippy. Are the sneakers okay?”
“A bit tight, but I’ll live,” Crane paused at the base of the ladder.
“Second thoughts?” Chip asked. “There’s still time to go to Lord and Taylors.”
“I’m not going to waste the Admiral’s money on Edith’s silly pride...you have the conn.”
“Have a good time, Lee, or at least eat something.”
“What is it with you and food?” Crane grinned and climbed topside.
Edith was sipping her wine when more than a few feminine eyes turned to gaze on the dark, lean man in the ‘Wimbledon Whites’ as he stopped at the desk. The hostess motioned him toward Edith’s table.
“Don’t worry, I’m not crashing,” Lee said, taking his seat, “The Admiral ordered me to join you.”
“Sometimes,” Edith groaned, “I think you take deliberate pleasure in embarrassing me.”
“What now?” he asked, confused.
“Did you see anyone on the courts today? It’s cold out there.”
“And stop calling call me ‘Miss Nelson’. Makes me feel like an old biddy.”
“Ah, good. You’re both here already,” Nelson approached, a woman on his arm. Lee rose courteously.
“I believe you already know Mary, Edith. Mary, this is Commander Lee Crane, my Captain. Lee, meet Mary Darcy,” he paused,” my fiancée,” he added.
“Married?” Chip asked in the Captain’s cabin as Crane changed out of his tennis clothes into uniform.
“He’s getting her an engagement ring right about now. I’m supposed to hold this for her to surprise him at the party she’s going to host for the crew,” Crane showed Chip an emerald ring, “it’s been in the Darcy family since the 1600’s....”
“You seem a bit on edge. Don’t you like her?”
“It’s not that. She’s charming, I guess. There’s just...something about her. He just met her last night, for Pete’s sake. What can he possibly know about her?”
“I agree it’s sudden, but it doesn’t mean she’s a goldigger, Lee.”
“I know that. In fact, she’s pretty well set, apparently. But, I still don’t like it. And the age difference! She’s young enough to be his daughter! I’m worried for him, Chip.”
“He’s a big boy, Lee. He can take care of himself. And May-December romances aren’t uncommon; in fact a lot of them do just fine.”
“He probably feels obligated, you know, it they’ve...” he let it drop, then continued, “then the way they played footsie under the table and held hands and got all dewy eyed looking at each other while the food got cold...even Edith was embarrassed.”
“Have they set the date?”
“The 31st of this month.”
“That would be on a...hey, wait a minute, that’s Halloween!”
“People do get married on Halloween, Chip. It’s just another day actually.”
“She wants it here in
“That’s even worse!”
“But logical. Edith’s here through Thanksgiving and Mary’s asked her to be a bridesmaid. There’s just one problem.”
“Nelson wants them to have a church wedding, but Mary says she’d rather not. Too much ‘trouble’, and ‘not enough notice’. They could use the Justice of the Peace, but Mary says that would be too ‘plebian’. So that leaves them one choice.”
“I’m to do the honors, here, aboard Seaview. Only the mayor and his wife are invited guests. ”
“You’re kidding! But Lee, you can’t perform the ceremony! The Maritime Commission barred Captains performing marriages long ago.”
“Apparently,” Lee handed Chip an official looking document, “they’ve made an exception. All the lovebirds have to do is answer the standard questions I’m to ask them in front of witnesses, then I pronounce them man and wife and sign the thing, then voila, they’re hitched.”
“Looks like everything’s taken care of then.”
“Not quite,” Lee hesitated, then spoke quietly, “They’ll be honeymooning, at least partially, while we sail home, aboard Seaview. She’s their personal yacht now, it appears.”
“It’s his boat, Lee,” Chip said after the shock wore off, “even if it takes a little getting used to the idea.”
“I just hope the Admiral won’t live to regret this.”
Due to the announcement of the nuptials, and staying in port longer than planned, shore leave had been extended. Ski, Riley and Patterson decided to visit some of the sights and eat some real food. While paying for their hot dogs and beers, Ski noticed some of the postcards at the diner’s register, sorted through a few, and then started to laugh.
“Listen to this,” he said as he read the back of a rather a primitive portrait, “Mirabella Darcy, accused by Goody Nelson of turning her son Zebidiah into a turkey! Oh man they take all that witch stuff here way too seriously,” he added the cards to his payment.
“I hope she didn’t serve him up with sweet potatoes and stuffing,” Riley said.
“Darcy?” Patterson asked and looked at the picture, “you don’t suppose she’s connected to the Admiral’s Darcy? And what about this Goody Nelson?”
“Kinda’ doubtful about the
Admiral. Those Nelson’s spent just about all their lives in
“You’re from the Seaview, aren’t you,” the clerk said handing Ski his receipt, “I believe congratulations are in order for your Admiral. Yes, Mary Darcy is one of the Salem Darcy’s. I’m not sure how she’s connected to Mirabelle, but she is. See that ring she’s wearing? It’s one of the Darcy jewels. Supposed to have magical powers, just like the family. She was a witch, you know. Have you met the bride yet?”
“No,” Riley said as he joined the others at the door, “but, I sure hope she isn’t as ugly as that Mirabella,” he said under his breath.
“Why the sudden interest, Francis?” Nelson asked Sharkey as he looked at the well shared postcard as he and Crane had a bite in the Wardroom.
“Oh, well, it’s just kinda’ well, weird. I mean, her being a Darcy and you being a Nelson...”
“Just a coincidence. I’ve never even heard of a Zebidiah Nelson. But I think I can assure you that Mary isn’t a witch, even if some of her relations were accused of it during the colonial witch hysteria.”
“Oh, no, sir, I didn’t mean that your fiancée’s a witch, it’s just....,”Sharkey said, his face red.
“I know...just a weird twist of fate, the names. Anything else?”
“Uh, no sir,” Sharkey said, and fled.
Lee had had a difficult time not laughing, but finally caved in and sprawled in the chair, laughing, “A turkey?”
“Gives a whole new meaning to the word, doesn’t it?” Nelson added, joining in the merriment.
“C’mon, c’mon, ” Sharkey said the next day pausing just outside the Mansion’s main doors, wide open in deliberate invitation. He struggled with yet another charm to place on the chain bearing his dog tags.
“You can’t be serious,” Ski said. “There’s no such things as witches. Or magic charms, or....”
“She may not be a witch, but I ain’t takin’ no chances against the evil eye. Runs in her family, so you never know...”
“Well, you don’t have to go to this party she’s holding for the crew.”
“I can’t afford not to go, then she’d really be pissed and who knows what’d happen. We’d better get going...”
Nelson and Crane were already there, off to the side from the main ballroom, in a small study heaped with cards and telegrams of congratulations, in spite of the fact that only two guests had been invited to the boat to witness the vows.
As Sharkey and his shipmates entered the mansion, it was hard for them not to eavesdrop on Crane and Nelson’s conversation....
“So, this ‘Goodwife’ Nelson is a relation?” Nelson asked, as Lee showed him some genealogical charts.
“Apparently. I did a little research. According the local librarian, she’s one of your direct ancestors. An Abigail DeWinter married a Florenz Nelson and...”
“Florenz?” Nelson asked, incredulous.
“Florenz,”Lee confirmed. “He was the father of Zebidiah and Percival.”
“And I thought being saddled with ‘Harriman’ was bad.”
“Anyway,” Lee continued, “Florenz died from, and I quote, ’excessive husbandly duty’. According to the town records, Abigail said he’d bargained for a herbal ‘remedy’from Mirabelle Darcy. He couldn’t afford the full price so he agreed to a kind of credit arrangement, whereby he would give her his most valuable possession to do with as she wished if he defaulted full payment by the date agreed upon....”
“Let me guess, Halloween?” Nelson asked.
“This just gets better and
better. No wonder
“Well, according to Abigail, he’d usually managed one or two nights of uh; let’s just say ‘conjugal bliss’. But the potion worked too well. He sought her wifely ‘obligations’ too often, every night, and several times at that!”
“Too bad Mirabelle didn’t market the concoction,” Nelson chuckled.
“Maybe she did; you said nobody really knew where all the old money came from.”
“Anyway,” Lee continued, “it got so bad, that he spent less and less time working on their farm and more and more time in bed, so, she made him return the unused potion. But, when Mirabelle still demanded the agreed upon full price, Abigail wouldn’t let him pay it. So, come Halloween, shortly after , she hears something odd and goes up to the loft to check on her son Zebidiah and all she finds is a turkey. At first she only thinks it simply flew in the window, but, when she continues to call Zebidiah’s name all over the house and farm, the turkey comes running to her. It happens again and again, and Zebidiah’s nowhere to be found....”
“Oh, lord. So she thinks...”
“She accuses Mirabelle of witchcraft, and the turkey spends its life with the Nelsons, fat, happy,” he concluded, “and uneaten.”
The crew’s laughter joined theirs.
“That’s a pretty good story, Skipper,” Ski said.
“Town record, courtesy the local historical society.”
“What happened next?” Ski asked.
“When the town elders went to
Mirabelle’s home to make her answer for her crime, she was nowhere to be found
and was officially listed as ‘missing’. However,” Lee added with a grin, “there
have been rumors of a woman matching her description haunting the streets of
“You made that up, didn’t you Lee?” Nelson asked.
“Sorry, couldn’t resist. But most of its town record.”
“We’ll join you shortly men,” Nelsons said, a hint for them to scram to give Lee and he a few more minutes alone. When they were, he turned to Lee, “Now, what was it you wanted to tell me about Sharkey?”
“Only that he’s been going around to every magic shop and church in town for charms and holy water to protect himself from the ‘Darcy legacy’? Perhaps you should forewarn Mary about his superstitions.”
“Good grief. And you, Lee? How do you feel about it? You have to have more than a passing interest to do this kind of research into her family tree.”
“Curiosity, that’s all. Perhaps it’s just the town itself.”
“Perhaps....Lee, we’ve been friends a long time...how do you really feel about me and Mary? I know you’ve been a bit...subdued.”
“Well, since you asked, I’ll have to be honest with you,” Lee said, eyes downcast. “I think it’s a bit too sudden. You barely know each other and...Well, if I can be blunt, the age difference makes me think she, well, maybe, has an ulterior motive.”
“You think she’s a goldigger, used sex to snare me, and is out for my money.” It was not a question. Nelson knew the scuttlebutt going around town and on his boat.
“Lee, she’s everything I’ve ever dreamed of in a woman. And why would a woman of superfluous means need my money? As far as the age difference, May-December marriages have less divorce proceedings and by and large are rather more successful than others. As for our sex life, well, that’s nobody’s business.”
“Of course not.”
“I will tell you Lee, in confidence, however, that it’s fantastic,” Nelson said, buoyed up, “ Now, any remaining misgivings?”
“I guess not,” Crane paused, not really wanting to say anymore.
“It’s really not for me to say.”
“What are you trying not to tell me Lee?”
“I... I just can’t help feeling that it’s...wrong,” Crane almost whispered.
“I see,” Nelson said, deflated and disappointed, “Well, that’s your prerogative.” He stepped over to the antique rolltop desk and stared at the telegrams without seeing. “Lee, I still want you perform the ceremony, if only to share in my happiness,” he paused, coming to a decision, “but not out of any sense of obligation you may feel.”
Crane said nothing..
“So, what will it be?” Nelson asked. “Chip can assume temporary command so he can do the honors, or should I continue to plan on you officiating when Mary and I pledge ourselves to each other?”
“Admiral,” Lee hesitated, “Harriman,” he continued, gently, surprised he was using the man’s given name since knowing him, “Your friendship means more to me than anyone else I’ve ever known. You’ve been more than a friend, more than a brother to me...but,” he sighed, “please don’t ask me to do this without any misgivings, because I... can’t.”
“Very well,” Nelson said woodenly, straightening his tie. “I won’t force you.”
“It’s just that..”
“You could probably use a little time off anyway,” Nelson interrupted, without emotion, “Consider your leave begun. You can report back to duty after the refit in two months time.”
“You don’t understand....”
“I think you’ve explained yourself pretty well, Lee. You should certainly know by now that I won’t demand you compromise yourself,” he looked at his watch. “Considering the circumstances, you don’t even have to stay for the party since our decision to wed offends you so much.”
“I never said that!”
“You didn’t have to,” Nelson said hurt, “It’s pretty clear you object to her. I would have preferred all of my officers and crew to welcome her into our little world, but I know now that’s too much to hope for. Regardless, that won’t affect my professional relationship with any of my staff, including you. Afternoon, Captain,” he said, leaving Lee standing alone, stunned at Nelson’s sudden change of attitude, but not altogether surprised.
It was a great party and had
an almost carnival type atmosphere. Several of the townspeople had also been
invited to the
Sharkey was a little surprised to find Miss Darcy delightful and began to think how stupid he’d been to have had any kind of worry about her carrying on the family ‘tradition’ of witchcraft. The Admiral was a very lucky man.
Crane looked up at the darkening sky. It had not been an easy decision to tell Nelson the truth. But he’d had no choice. He had none now. With an affectionate pat to the sail, he saluted the flag, flung the duffle over his shoulder and walked off the boat without even looking back.
“Well,” Cookie said as he served up breakfast the next morning, “I hear that the Admiral asked the Skipper what he thought about the marriage and the Skip told him.”
“That’s why he got kicked off the boat?” Riley asked.
“C’mon, you heard Mr. Morton; Crane’s on leave till after the refit, that’s all,” Patterson said.
“Oh, yeah?” Morrison said, “Then how come I didn’t see anything personal in his cabin when I went to empty the trash can this morning? Not a picture on the desk, not anything.”
“And O’Brian’s a nervous wreck,” Cookie said.
“O’Brian isn’t the type. He’s been temp XO before. Got to be something else makin’ him nervous,” Patterson said.
“Yeah, the skipper walking off like that,” Ski said, “I mean, sure, the Skip’s had to go off without much notice for ONI or the Navy or some of those other damn sidelines he’s got the quals for, but, an argument with the Admiral? You’d think he’d at least give temporary command over to Morton formally, give the boat a final check, say goodbye or something. Maybe even hang around for the wedding, even if he doesn’t want to officiate.”
“Yeah, maybe he’s got the hots for her himself, and the Admiral found about it,” Morrison said.
“Now you guys just stow it,”Sharkey said.
“He ain’t blind, Chief.”
“Look, you bozos, he appreciates a good looking woman as much as any man on this boat, but he ain’t the type to butt in on another man’s territory.”
“My goodness,” Edith said from the doorway, “perhaps I should plug my ears in this den of testosterone.”
“Morning, Miss Edith,” Ski said as they all rose. “Is there something we can do for you?”
“Actually I’m here to ask if Cookie can make the wedding cake. Don’t worry; I have permission from Lt. O’Brian to be here. I told Mary that you were just an ordinary Navy cook, but Mary simply insisted on giving Seaview first choice. She’s too busy just now to ask you in person.”
“I’d be honored,” Cookie said, despite the implied insult, “uh...I don’t know a lot of the super fancy stuff, but I can make those little rosebuds...”
“Very well, it’ll have to do,” she said, “Oh, make sure you don’t include Captain Crane in the number of servings. I understand he’s gone off to greener pastures. Too bad it isn’t permanent,” she added and left.
Crane hadn’t slept well. The Bed and Breakfast was not exactly as advertised. But at least he hadn’t had to stay aboard last night when Nelson could barely look him in the face. Lee knew shouldn’t really be taking it all so personally, but it was hard not to. Hadn’t their friendship meant anything? It had to Crane. And friends tried to protect each other. Nelson was acting as though they’d been nothing more than mere colleagues at best. Perhaps that was really all it had been, at least on Nelson’s part.
At first Lee had considered handing in his resignation; he really had. The proof of that lay in the fully packed duffle bag in the corner of his bedroom. But he wasn’t used to making rash decisions. It might be strained serving on Nelson’s boat for awhile, maybe even for the duration, but he’d managed with uppity superior officers before. It just wouldn’t be quite the same Seaview he’d come to worship so much. Pulling on a black turtleneck, he suddenly remembered he’d forgotten all about the ring in his care. Well, it was too late for her to surprise Nelson with it now, but at least he could return it to her.
“What are you doing here, Lee?” Edith asked from the Observation Nose as Crane was welcomed aboard by Lt. O’Brian.
“Just an errand I need to attend to,” he said and moved off.
“You wait just one damn minute!” she said, following him. “You’re not the Captain here anymore. At least for the foreseeable future. Don’t you need to request permission to move around the boat?”
“But the Skipper.....”O’Brian began to explain.
“It’s okay,” Lee interrupted. “She obviously doesn’t understand that Chip is only ‘Acting Captain’ and I still have some rights, including getting Mary’s ring out of my safe. She wanted to surprise the Admiral at the party, and I forgot about it. I’m returning it to her this afternoon.”
“I’m surprised you didn’t just hock the damn thing and keep the money for yourself.”
O’Brian gasped and Lee grabbed her arm, “With me, now,” he ordered and practically dragged her all the way to his cabin, as the odd crewmen in the area watched, then slammed the door behind them.
“What is the matter with you!” he shouted, letting her go. “You know damn well I’d never do anything like that! Why are you so...so... insufferable lately?”
lecturing me on being insufferable? You
humiliate me in front of the crowned heads of
“Oh, don’t act so shocked. I saw that bulge in your pants when we first met, and all the times after,” she grabbed and kissed him, violently. He did not return it.
“What’s going on here?” Nelson asked having entered without knocking to investigate the commotion.
“It’s not what you think,” Crane removed Edith’s arms forcibly.
“Apparently. Edith, go to the Nose.”
“No. I’m sick and tired of being treated like a second rate citizen! Have you even tried to see things from my point of view? What about my opinions? They don’t even count. I don’t count. You never asked me what I thought about this marriage, but you asked Lee! I’ve always been left behind. All my friends get to be married. Now you! But what does it matter that I’m all alone! I’m just your stupid little sister! That’s all I am to you, to the crew, to everybody, even to Lee! And I meant something to him once, I thought. I own the boat too Harry, but do you allow me the same privileges you have? Why, no, that would be too much to ask. Then, I find out you’re giving Mary my share of the business assets...”
“But,” Nelson interrupted, “you’ve known all your life that they’d go to my wife, if I ever had one. And you have an independent income...”
“That’s not the point!” Edith was on the verge of tears. “I don’t mean anything to either of you! I’m a nobody!”
“Edith, I’m sorry. I had no idea that you felt this way...I.....”Nelson said.
“Spare me any apologies. You’ll forget all about them and then start treating me the same as before. I’m going to Paris. I won’t be attending the wedding. I’ve already told Mary.”
“She’ll make a lovely bride. She’s very horny and has had lots of men. Hope you’re up to it,” she huffed out.
Nelson stood flabbergasted.
“You’re not going to let her go like that, are you?” Lee asked.
Nelson was still too much in shock to think.
“Edie, wait a minute...” Lee ran after her.
“Chief!” Lee called out as Edith sprinted down the main corridor followed by Crane, “Stop her!”
“Whoa, Missy,” Sharkey said, easily grabbing and holding her in front of the crew’s mess and a curious crowd.
“What now, Captain,” she spat, “going to shove me out the torpedo tube?”
“Would it do any good?”
“Let me go!” she tried to get out of the Chief’s grip.
“I may regret this, but,” Lee took her in his arms and kissed her,” I’m sorry. I’m sorry I took you for granted. I’m sorry I’ve ignored and humiliated you. And I’m sorry if nothing romantic ever really happened between us, but I’m willing to start over and give it a try, if you are.”
“When hell freezes over!” she knee’d him in the groin and he doubled over. “You won’t be ‘answering any ‘balls’’ soon, Captain!” she said, mocking the naval term of ‘answering bells’. “Well, what are you waiting for Chief, help him to his cabin. He has an errand to do.”
“Edith..” Crane said practically groveling on the deck.
“’Miss Nelson’ to you. Permission to leave the damn boat?”
Crane said nothing. Nobody moved.
“I’ll ask again. Permission to leave the boat?”
Whatever response she or the crew were expecting, it was not Crane’s order to put her in the brig.
“I’m not sure that was a wise decision, Lee,” Morton said.
“What else could I do?” Crane said as he retrieved the ring from his safe, grimacing with a less than military posture. “We both agree she’s not herself. She hasn’t been for awhile. In the meantime we have to protect her from herself, and we have to protect others from her.”
“You know Nelson’s fit to be tied.”
“I know. Sorry I got you into this.”
“Hey, as Acting Captain it’s my prerogative to support you. At least he calmed down when I explained you couldn’t put her in the isolation ward in Sick Bay because it’s being fumigated.”
“And a quick thinker,” Sharkey said under his breath from the doorway. “Excuse me sir?” he handed Crane an ice pack, “Doc’s finally here.”
“Paranoia brought on by chemical imbalance?” Nelson asked in Sick Bay, while Edith dressed in Doc’s small offshoot office.” What the hell does that mean? That she’s using drugs?”
“That depends on your definition,” Doc said, “I found nothing illegal in her system, but there is a higher than normal level of some certain chemicals, commonly found in certain vitamins and herbs, that have been known to cause some mood swings in some instances. I’ve given her something to counteract them.”
“She OD’d on vitamins?” Lee asked incredulously, from his chair, ice pack on his groin.
“Some persons are more sensitive. But I would recommend a psychiatrist for a full examination, just in case.”
“I suggest a week or two of rest. No worries, no society functions..”
“And no wedding. I think I’d better postpone things,” Nelson said. “She said she wouldn’t attend, but I think to hold it now, would really crush her feelings.”
“That won’t be necessary, Harry,” Edith appeared, calmed down, eyes still red. “I’ll even stand as bridesmaid. Seems I should get used to the idea of ‘always a bridesmaid and never a bride’. No, it’s okay. I’m sorry I got so carried away with myself lately. I can see that now. I’m sorry Lee; I hope you’ll be able to walk. Well, I guess I’d better go apologize to Mary, and see if she still wants me... permission to leave the boat Captain?”
“Okay by me,” Crane said gently. “In fact,” he rose gingerly, setting the ice bag aside, “why don’t I go with you. I seem to recall an errand I need to do at the Darcy estate.”
“But shouldn’t Doc take a look at your...”she stopped and blushed red.
“I’ll live,” he said, defying Jamison’ raised eyebrow, offering her his arm and slowly escorted her, or was it she escorting him, the way he was almost leaning on her, down the corridor and towards the Control Room.
“It’ll take him hours at that rate,” Nelson said and picked up a mike. “Sharkey? Captain Crane and Edith are just outside Corridor A-3. Give them a hand to the Control Room, then topside, will you? Then drive them to Miss Darcy’s.”
“Well, they ain’t no vitamins I ever heard of,” Sharkey said as he drove Edith and Crane in her rented Cadillac.
“They’re not generally available to the public. Mary swears by them. I’m not sure where she got them from. I guess I’m just one of those lucky ‘side effect’ people. I really am sorry, Chief, for the way I behaved that night...”
“No problem Miss Edith. We all got a right to well, get moody sometimes.”
“Well, you may find it amusing, but for a time I thought I was going through the ‘change’. God help us when I do!”
“I have an idea for decorating the cake,” Riley said leaning on the ‘tween through’ to the Galley from the crew’s mess, “How about Seaview splashing out of the top?”
“Nah, a witch on a broomstick’s better. To honor her side of the family,” Hodges said.
“Well, I think you’re both bozos,” Cookie said, as he placed the last of the cake layers on a rack to cool in the galley, “I told you, it’s gonna’ be a rosebuds for love and shamrocks for luck.”
“I guess that’s okay. From what the Skipper said about her family, the Admiral’s sure gonna’ need it!”
“After you use up the frosting, can I lick the bowl?” Riley asked.
“Too late and outranked. Mr. Morton has dibs on that.”
“Doesn’t look like anyone’s home,” Sharkey said as the Mansion’s main gate refused to open when he pressed the communications box and the gate itself.
“That’s impossible,” Edith said, “She has the latest security system, she told me.”
“Maybe she’s gone to do a little last minute shopping?” Sharkey asked.
“We’d better scout around,” Lee said.
“Skipper, I don’t think that’s such a good idea. I mean...”
“It may be slow going, but if even her servants won’t answer, something’s wrong. You go back to town, Edith and get the police.”
“Be careful,” she said, climbing into the driver’s seat and drove away.
“Over here,” Crane said and
showed Sharkey a hidden recess. “I’m not sure, but it looks like the same servant’s
entrance I backed out from on the night of the gala. It goes down to a tunnel.
Keeps them out of sight I guess.”
Crane was glad of Sharkey’s help; it still hurt to walk, especially down the flight of steps. Perhaps there’d been more damage to his groin than he’d first thought.
The tunnel was adequately maintained and easy to navigate but led to a dead end.
“I guess I was wrong. Well, we’d better go back, Chief. Chief?”
Sharkey had vanished. Suddenly Crane’s felt dizzy and blacked out.
Crane awoke, lying on an antique bed with red satin coverlet. The fireplace cast a dreamy glow. He groaned as he tried to get up.
“Well, good afternoon, sleepyhead,” Mary Darcy said. She looked lovely, he thought, her Tudor style gown matching her emerald necklace and ear-rings. She was already wearing the ring he’d brought back with him.
“What happened? Where’s Sharkey?”
“He’s in the kitchen,” she said laying a cold compress on his head. “You blacked out. You know, it’s very considerate of Harry to employ such a strikingly beautiful captain just for me.”
“Of course, I wouldn’t have accepted his proposal had I known about you. Ah, love; it’s so fickle isn’t it? But then, if I don’t marry him by midnight All Hallows Eve, I won’t be able to collect my fee.”
“Fee? What are you talking about?” Crane grabbed his temples; the very words were making his head throb.
“Of course I probably wouldn’t have decided on claiming the interest if you hadn’t invented that little tidbit. You, Captain are that dividend.”
“Okay, you’ve had your fun. I’m sorry if you’re offended by my addition to the town records of your family’s history but....”
“Offended? On the contrary, I’m delighted, You see, I’m Mirabelle Darcy,” she removed her necklace, changing into Mirabelle’s image, then put it back on, ‘Mary’ forming again. “‘Mary’’s just a name I chose for this decade,” she continued, “and you’re just too cute to ignore cashing in on my rights.”
“Either I’ve been in Salem too long, or I hit my head when I blacked out.”
“But you didn’t black out.”
“I lied. Call it a family trait,
I brought you here by magic,” she fiddled with the ring. “Oh, not this old
thing. It lost its powers long ago...I like it because it matches the
“I’ve got to get out of his nightmare,” he said and tried to open the door. It was locked tight.
“It won’t work you know,” she said. “Hasn’t for centuries. Here,” she handed him a small cup of a steaming liquid, “You look a little peeked. Just a herbal remedy. Florenz swore by it.”
“Florenz?” Crane asked, remembering the town record.
“Yes, poor dear. Spent the remainder of his life rueing the day he refused to pay in full. Poor impotent man. My virility potion, you see, has a side effect. If you stop using it, you loose it,” she laughed, “forever! Don’t worry; I haven’t given any to Harry yet. He’s just super horny right now, having gone so long without any action. By the way, about Zebidiah, you were wrong about him.”
“What do you mean?” Lee asked, beginning to believe her.
“Oh, he lived with Goody and Florenz Nelson, for a time. But Florenz never really believed her talk, and certainly Percival didn’t, and he was soooo hungry. Tough old bird by then actually. The Nelson’s still have the wishbone hidden someplace... Come now, don’t be afraid of me. I know you find me attractive....”she moved toward him. He backed away. “Well, you will,” she oozed sensuality.
“Get away from me you witch!”
“Only because the mayor and his wife are here and I have an appointment with the photographer. A present for Harry. Of course, he won’t live much longer than the wedding night to enjoy it,” she smirked. “Yes, sweet sweet revenge, payment in full at long last,” she said, “I’ll be back,” she added and vanished.
“What a cute dog!” the mayor said as the bulldog tried to get out of the kitchen. “What’s its name?”
“It’s name?” Mary said, “Well, it’s a stray, and I haven’t decided yet.”
“Looks like a fine specimen of the breed.”
“What’s that?” the mayor asked, “sounds like sirens...fire?”
“I have no idea....”
“Mary!” Edith came running into the mansion, “Is everything all right?”
“Why ever not?”
“Nobody answered! It was like the place was deserted when we came earlier to give you back the Darcy ring. We thought something was wrong.”
“Well, as you can see, everything’s just fine. I’ve given most of my staff some time off. Perhaps the remainder just didn’t see or hear you at the gate.”
“Oh, of course...” Edith said. “Are Lee and Sharkey still here?”
The bulldog chose that moment to escape through the kitchen door,jump up and down and run around Edith in circles.
“Oh, what an active little fellow,” Edith said.
“Yes. Welll, I’m afraid I haven’t seen Captain Crane or Chief Sharkey. Maybe they went back to the sub. Or in Lee’s case to the Bed and Breakfast he was staying at. Harry told me all about Crane’s little tantrum.”
“Sit, stay!” Edith said to no avail toward the dog. “Maybe you’d better have it fixed or something, it’s so active. Maybe it got into these herbal vitamins you gave me. Oh, I meant to tell you, I was hoping...well, if you’d accept my apology in flaking out about the wedding. Can I still be your bridesmaid?”
“I’m sorry, but I’ve already asked the mayor’s wife, but thank you for offering.”
“Yes, well, I’d better be going....see you tomorrow. Will somebody get this dog away from me?”
Suddenly it ran up the stairs, down the stairs, then back into the kitchen, sniffing everywhere.
“Please excuse me,” Mary said, “I think I’d better call the vet,” she followed the dog into the kitchen but not before Edith had a glimpse of her kicking the poor thing, then carrying it out of sight.
“But the way she...”
“I’ll have a word with her about the dog,” Nelson said in his cabin, “She must be a bit stressed right now too, big day tomorrow, after all.”
“Harry, are sure about this?”
“Don’t tell me you’re having qualms about the wedding now too, other than having been left out of things?”
“I don’t know. She just seems ‘different.”
“Pre-wedding jitters that’s all.”
“And you?” Edith asked.
“Absolutely petrified. But only with fear of making an ass of myself if I do something wrong.”
She looked at her watch, “It’s a long time isn’t it that Sharkey hasn’t come back yet?”
“Well, he may have gone with Crane to his place. Maybe they’re even having a few beers in town.”
“Maybe...Harry, I’m worried. It’s not like Lee to not send word is it? I mean if he’s delayed Sharkey’s return to Seaview? And I’m not being paranoid. Just concerned.”
“I’m sure they’ll have a perfectly reasonable explanation. Now, why don’t you go take a look at the cake? Cookie’s just about finished decorating it from what I’ve heard and you can help Chip lick the bowl.”
“Thanks, I’d like that.”
“If you’re so damn insistent on finding Crane,” Mary hissed to the dog under her arms, “I have no choice but to let you find him.” With a puff of green smoke the dog was gone.
Crane was pacing, talking to himself, wondering if he was in the need of a first rate shrink or if the Darcy Legacy was for real. Suddenly a Bulldog jumped on him.
“Hey! Where’d you come from? Look, any other time I’d say, sure, glad to play fetch with you, but I gotta’ get out of here and warn the Admiral about what he’s getting into...Why the hell didn’t I ask for one of Sharkey’s charms?” he muttered.
The dog barked once and lifted its paw high. It almost looked like a salute to Crane’s fevered imagination.
“I’m sorry, but I can’t play with you....c’mon Crane, think!”
“Talking to animals,” Mary suddenly appeared, “how pathetic. Perhaps you’d care to be one for a while? Call it insurance from loose lips should you manage to escape. Doubtful, but not outside the realm of possibility if your skills are to be believed.”
Instantly Crane felt himself fall and twist on the floor, his fur matted and fleas in abundance.
“Tomorrow I wed Nelson,” Mary said, “And when he dies from his husbandly excesses, I’ll not only have my fee, but I’ll own your precious submarine and Institute as well. The Darcy’s will have won! Oh, and I’ll have you too Crane, in my bed; Perhaps even you Sharkey. No man can resist my charms. Not even the Captain and Chief of the Seaview. Oh, I beg your pardon. The ‘Former Captain’ and Chief of Seaview. On leave and reported ‘Missing’...for all eternity.” She smacked her lips in a mock kiss, cackled and vanished.
For a moment neither Sharkey the dog or Crane the cat said anything, both still stunned by the entire paranormal experience.
“You got any idea’s Chief?” Crane finally said.
“What about those charms of yours. They didn’t work at all?”
“After meeting her, I thought all the talk was a bunch of hooey and sold most of them on that computerized auction house. I mailed them to San Francisco.”
“Uh, yesterday actually...”
“Then they might still be at the post office. If we can get them, they can give us a little protection or maybe the Admiral.”
“Maybe..I mean..It’s all just hearsay, Skipper.”
“Maybe, but right now, I’m inclined to believe anything and everything.”
“Me too, but uh, how the hell do we get out of here? It all looks pretty secure to me.”
“We use what we have. You’re a dog, I’m a cat...you have a nose, I have claws...sniff for anything wet...weakness in the walls, or floors...I’ll see if I can scratch an opening...”
“I’m sorry Admiral,” the police chief said the next afternoon in the Observation Nose as Mary paced about, irritated. Edith offered her a cup of coffee, which she refused. Morton had dark circles under his eyes from his own participation in the several search parties he’d had going, to no avail.
“They haven’t been missing long enough for an official APB,” the cop continued, “but, I will put the word out on their descriptions for a statewide alert. I know the B&B was concerned that been no sign of Crane. He is good for the bill isn’t he?”
“Yes, of course he is. I’ll pay it if they’re that upset. Look, have them bring his bag to the boat and if he returns to the B&B have them tell him to return to Seaview...under a...hmm... let’s see, something he won’t object to...ah yes...under General Order number 13. He and I may have had some disagreements, but I still feel responsible for him.”
“Will do. Oh by the way, we need to know if this will postpone tonight’s nuptials?”
“Of course not,” Mary said.
“A moment officer,” Nelson took Mary aside, “I want to get married tonight as much as you, but the fact remains that my Chief of the Boat is AWOL. And Crane...”
“Crane is on a leave of absence and from what I understand; he’s under no obligation to tell you every little thing in his life. He’s a good looking man; do you really want to postpone our day of days because he’s seeing some long overdue action in some brothel? Salem or not, there are a few in town. Even some that specialize in the kinky I’m told. And Sharkey, well, he’s probably passed out drunk some place. He’s known for tying it on, now and then, isn’t he?”
“These are my friends, Mary.”
“If they were friends, they wouldn’t be putting you through this...oh very well..”
“Thanks, honey,” he kissed her. “And we may not have to delay it after all if we find out anything before 19:00. I’ll make it up to you.”
“I know you will,” she smiled and departed.
“Problem officer?” Nelson asked of one of the cops as he responded to a dispatch.
“Oh, not much. Seems the Post Office was torn up by some animals. They must have gotten in from a loading chute. Almost looks as if the mail was deliberately rifled through,” he chuckled. “Supplies, you know, tape, string... One manila envelope was actually torn open, the contents gone. Probably somebody mailing catnip... but we still have to investigate...well, goodbye.”
“Goodbye officer,” Nelson said and accepted a cup of coffee from Edith.
“What’s general order number 13?” Morton asked.
“How should I know, I just made it up. Lee will have no choice but to be curious enough to return to Seaview.”
“If anybody can find him.”
Damn it! Mary mused; she hadn’t counted on Sharkey’s absence raising eyebrows. A really bad blunder on her part. She’d seen the rotted gaps when she’d returned to check on Crane and Sharkey the previous night. Well, what should it matter, that they’d managed to escape, she asked herself again. The spell was only reversible in a few circumstances. Her secret was still quite safe. But she was concerned about the wedding. She’d originally agreed to an evening ceremony because Harry said it would be more convenient for the boat, but if it was delayed too long....she just had to snare him before midnight. She just had to!
“Is it holding?” Crane the cat asked. Each of them had nudged tape and string to hold some of Sharkey’s charms on their fur. But that had been hours ago.
“So far. This is a bigger town than I thought. Man, my feet are killin’ me,” Sharkey the Bulldog complained, “Uh oh, I think we got a problem.”
“Just some more kids trick or treating. They’ve all been out a while now...”
“These kids look mean, it’s Halloween, and you’re a cat. A black cat. I don’t like it. We’d better scram. Fast.”
But it was too late.
“But we can’t wait any longer, Harriman,” Mary whimpered from her guest cabin’s intercom aboard Seaview, her soft voice at odds with her hook nose as she finished prepping. “Don’t you love me?” she asked.
“Let’s get started. I’ll send O’Brian.”
“Harry? How do I look?” Edith twirled in a bright yellow dress in his cabin.
“Just lovely, my dear. Do I have to wear this?” he complained as Morton helped adjust a final button on his dress white uniform, complete with every award and decoration the Navy had bestowed.
“Yep,” Chip grinned, his own dress whites resplendent. “But at least you won’t have to wear them for long,” he said, suddenly realizing a second implication he hadn’t intended.
All three laughed.
“Thank you Sparks,” she said, and clicked the speaker phone. “Edith Nelson here.”
“This is the Salem Animal Shelter. We’re sorry to call you so late, but we have a case of suspected animal cruelty you’ll want to inspect as a member of the board for the prevention of cruelty to animals. It’s a cat and a dog. The dog only has some minor scrapes, but the cat has some burns due to hot candle wax deliberately dripped on its fur. Eyewitnesses said the dog tried to protect the cat and the cat tried to protect the dog from some kids who wanted a little ‘fun’. They’ve been charged. What’s odd is that they admit to the candle wax but not to the string and tape found on both animals. Threre were also some kind of religious or other kind of ornaments under the tape and some hooked on the string. Must be some kind of practical joke on those poor animals.
“Will they be all right?” Edith asked.
“They should be. The dog has a good chance at being adopted. He looks like a purebred. But the cat was in pretty dismal shape before the wax. Scruffy, flea ridden, and rather scrawny. I’m not sure anyone will want it. Seems nice enough, though I don’t think it knows how to purr. Maybe it can’t. And it seemed most anxious to escape. The dog was rather upset when we took it away from him. We’re going to put them in the same cage overnight. Its’ not standard procedure but, it might help calm them both down. Our ears are killing us.”
“I’ll be there first thing in the morning....”Edith said.
“The mayor and his wife are
“Ready Harry?” Edith asked.
“Lead me to the slaughter then, sister mine,” he grinned. Morton preceded them and they headed forward.
“Here you go,” the worker on duty at the animal shelter said, setting two food bowls down in the open cage and waited. Both animals looked at the bowls then at each other then at her. “What’s wrong? Don’t you like it?”
With leaps and bounds they darted out, and found their way to the door. Crane the cat turned the doorknob while supported on the back of the bulldog. In seconds they were free.
The bus driver was just about to close the doors when Crane the Cat and Sharkey the Bulldog jumped aboard the back exit and scooted under the seats to hide. Had that last person getting off been the last passenger? Crane hoped the route was not to the garage. He was familiar with the route to the harbor, and hoped this would work. He had seen a store clock showing . In 15 minutes it could be too late. But luck held, at least as far as the route was concerned.
“How are we going to stop them?” Sharkey asked as they bounded off the bus and ran to Seaview’s dock, “Even if we get aboard? They ain’t gonna be able to understand us.”
“I don’t think it matters. Jump on them; make a mess, pee on them. Just don’t let them both say ‘I do’ or receive Morton’s declaration before ...”
Guests and crew alike ‘oohed and ‘ahhed’ as Mary came forward, a vision of loveliness. Her earrings and necklace glittered along with the diamond engagement ring on her hand. Her emerald ring lay on the bridal pillow with the gold ring Nelson was to give her.
O’Brian handed Nelson her hand, and moved to the side.
“We are gathered here,” Morton began and continued the standard words until he heard noise topside and a splash.
“Man overboard!” the deck watch said.
O’Brian grabbed a mike. “What the hell’s going on? We’re docked!”
“Sorry sir,” the voice said, “A cat and dog got aboard and when Coon went to shoo them off, the cat clawed him and the dog bit him. He lost his balance and well..”
“Is he all right?”
“Yeah, wet, but okay.”
“May we continue?” Mary asked, more irritated than amused.
“Of course,” Morton said. “Now marriage is...”
“You already said that part,” Mary said, increasingly concerned. She knew darn well just who and what those animals were up to. They’d be so sorry in the morning.
“Oh...yes...here we are,” he found his place in the book, “Harriman Nelson, do you take Mary Darcy to be your...”
“Ouch!” Ski yelped by the Control Room ladder, followed by epithets of surprise and pain.
“What now?” Nelson asked, irritated, leaving his bride at the ‘altar’.
“Damn cat!” Ski said, holding it firmly as it yowled fiercely, but getting in a few more scratches just the same.
“Would you please remove that animal from my boat,” Nelson said. “Have the deck watch call the animal shelter.”
“Wait a minute, Harry,” Edith said, joining him, “it looks like the description of the one they just called us about...”
“It can’t be...,”Nelson said.
“Poor kitty, what happened?” Edith cooed, “how on earth did you get here? ’I'll take it, Ski. It must be terrified.”
“Terrified, my ass,” Ski muttered. “It’s a visious beast,” he added and leaned against the ladder sucking the blood on his hands.
Morton coughed politely.
“Sorry for the interruption,” Nelson returned to his bride, followed by Edith with the cat. “Continue Mr. Morton.”
“I have to start again,” Morton said, “Harriman Nelson, do...”
“Hey!”a crewman uttered from topside, quit doin’that!”
“Grab it!” another voice uttered but too late. In seconds the bulldog ‘fell’ on top of Ski.
“What the hey!” he grabbed the dog, “What’s going on? I mean I heard of raining cats and dogs but this is ridiculous.”
“Let’s continue please?” Mary said as nicely as she could. It was nearing . “Harrim...”Morton said.
“Damn!” Ski exclaimed as the dog managed to jump out of his arms.
“It’s peeing all over the equipment!” Riley yelled.
“Is this an omen of bad luck or isn’t it,” the mayor whispered to his wife.
“Bad luck or not, continue please Captain Morton,” Mary said. “And I don’t think you have to start from the beginning.”
“Go ahead Chip,” Nelson said, “I think they have things under control now.”
“Do you take her for your wife?” Chip said simply.
“I do,” Nelson said.
“Do you take him for your husband?” Chip said, taking no chances on being interrupted again.
Before the bride could answer the cat managed to claw its way out of Edith’s clutches and literally flew toward Mary, digging its claws into her breast, grabbing her emerald necklace in its teeth and ripping it off her. Then it clawed its way down her dress, and darted away, but not before shaking it’s head violently to slide the necklace under a console edge and safety.
Mary screamed and hid her face, thin trails of blood on her dress. Nelson went to the arms locker and aimed at the moving target. “It must be rabid! Move everyone back. Mary, move,” he ordered and fired. The cat lurched into the air from the graze, the console taking most of the hit, but it lay still now.
The dog managed to jump from Smitty’s arms and run to the cat, nudging the still and blood soaked feline, then setting up a howling of despair, before growling ominously at Mary, her watch alarm dinging. Nobody gave it much notice, but her.
Nelson was about to shoot the obviously mad dog as well, when Mary looked up. Only it was not Mary. It was Mirabelle, who was changing into a very ugly warty old crone.
“What the...”Nelson asked himself, in shock.
“Do you still love me, Harry my pet? No, I didn’t think you would...however, my love, while I can’t collect my payment, at least I can have my little dividend,” she scooped up the limp cat. “Crane still ought to be good for something. Maybe with a little tartar sauce,” she laughed hysterically.
“Your change,” she added, she cackled and at that moment there was a puff of green smoke, the dog reverted to Sharkey, sobbing in grief, “Skipper, Skipper...”and she’d vanished.
“Look!” Morton shouted, pointing to the witch on a broom holding the motionless cat flying off into the moonlit sky.
“My god, it’s all true,” Edith said.
“Chief, snap out of it!” Nelson ordered of the grieving man, “is the cat Crane?”
“There’s got to be a way to get him back.”
“Then why would she take him?”
“I know what she said and I don’t buy it,” Nelson said, thinking hard. “Chief, was it the necklace that kept her true form from us?”
“Chip, load the laser to fine point accuracy. Shoot Mirabelle out of the sky, but don’t hit her. Only the broomstick. Do it, Chip. O’Brian, get that necklace! It’s our only bait.”
Immediately Chip had the laser gun, aimed, and fired.
The broomstick shattered and Mirabelle fell, still clutching her prize as they fell into the harbor.
“Over here,” Doc said as the quickly retrieved wet cat was laid on the topside deck. He quickly felt for a heartbeat as he tried to staunch the wound.
“Is he alive?” Nelson asked.
As if in answer, the cat opened its eyes and gave a weak meaow.There was an audible sigh of relief from everyone on Seaview’s deck.
Nelson turned to the soaking wet woman grinning at him, held tight by Kowalski and Sharkey. “Turn him back Mirabelle.”
“And spoil the remaining fun I can have? I don’t think so, ducky.”
“Turn him back and I’ll give you your necklace,” he pulled it from his pocket and dangled it in front of her. “You can be beautiful again.”
“Beauty’s only skin deep.”
“I’ll marry you anyway, you bitch, just turn him back into the man he was!”
“But he’s always been a ‘man’. I just prefer this form, don’t you?”
“Just tell me what you want and I’ll do it!” Nelson pleaded, tossing the necklace at her feet.
“I never was one to turn down a good deal,” she said, and picked up the necklace. “Captain Kitty is no more,” she said. The cat immediately formed back into Crane, his black turtleneck showing the gunshot graze to his shoulder. His eyes flitttered open but just as quickly fell shut.
Mirabelle pulled the necklace over her head and looked at her hands. They were still rough. Still ugly as the crone’s. “It should have worked! How did you prevent it? Never mind, I’ll deal with you later Nelson. Now, to turn you all into the ugly toads that you are...” She screamed and pointed, but instead of the crew being transformed in the puff of green smoke, she was.
“What happened?” Edith asked after a stunned silence as all that remained of Mirabelle was a fat ugly amphibian.
“I’m not sure,” Nelson said.
“I am,” Sharkey piped up. “I pinned a charm against the evil eye on her when we were bringing her up on the boat after Mr. Morton shot her down. I’d kept a few of ‘em I didn’t sell aboard. Of course the Holy Water I’d dunked it in didn’t hurt. I guess it just gave her a taste of her own medicine.”
“You can’t be serious,”Eith said.
“You got a better explanation?”
“What about Harry’s promise....”
“Well, seein’ how she never actually told him what she wanted...I guess it’s a moot point. Don’t you think so Admiral? Admiral?”
But Nelson had already moved over to Crane, and quickly all hands got back to the business of helping Doc move his patient to sick bay.
“I don’t think I need to tell you that if word of this gets out, we’ll all be carted away to the Looney bin,” the mayor said in the Observation Nose. “My wife agrees. You can count on us to keep quiet. As far as the few people who may have seen what looked like witch shot down by Seaview, we’ll just say it was an illumination for the night, like a firework display. I’d like to stay and chat, Admiral, but my wife’s been pulling on my leash,” he said indicating the topside hatch. “All wives do,” he sighed, “Though, there are a few perks,” he shook hands and climbed out.
The officers and crew remaining below deck sagged in relief. It had been one hell of a day and night.
“‘Rumors abound,” Chip read aloud of the local paper, as he had breakfast with Edith in Nose as Seaview headed home, “that the break up of Admiral Nelson and Marcy Darcy was amicable and both have gone their separate ways. Miss Darcy remains incommunicado...”
Edith laughed, “That’s for certain. I wonder how she’s doing at the reptilian research lab.”
“I don’t think I even want to know...” he continued, ‘The Darcy estate had been entrusted to the town of Salem indefinitely’....oh, here’s something about you...’Miss Edith Nelson, her generous nature at the fore again, donated a sizable sum to the town, as a farewell present, having to leave Salem sooner than planned, some of which will be used to renovate the Post Office, damaged by animals last night, and the animal shelter, which can always use help, especially in cases of animal cruelty’... uh oh...’ rumors that Seaview aimed a weapon into the night sky has been dismissed as a firework mishap’...I must remember to have those fireworks stowed properly,” Chip kidded.
“You’re in a good mood,” Nelson joined them, “Glad to be Executive Officer again, Chip? No doubt to strike terror into the hearts of any miscreant crewman?”
“Absolutely. I just have figure out how to write it all in the log. Lee insists I do it.”
“Somebody call my name?”
“You’re supposed to be resting,” Chip said. “Doc’s orders. You may have command but I have the conn until you’ve had a nap.”
“Later,” Crane said, giving Morton and Edith a ‘give us some space’ nod and the two excused themselves. Lee pressed the accordion doors separating the Nose from the Control Room, then turned Morton’s vacated chair toward the great bow window and sat down.
For a while neither said anything.
“I thought you might like to talk about it...” Crane said softly.
“Damn it Lee, I shot you! I practically kicked you off the boat, I even had every intention of making that Leave of Absence permanent, I was so angry, so enamored with Mary that she meant more to me than anything, anyone...”he flung down the pen he’d been twiddling with. “I should have known something was amiss. You did, right from the start. Only did I listen? Did I even try to? No. There’s no fool like an old fool, and I nearly lost you because of it.”
“You know,” Lee said, “the Good Book says there’s no greater love than to lay down one’s life for his friend...you did in a way, you know. To offer her anything to save my life, and you didn’t even know if it would, bringing me back like that...”
“Stop tryinf to salve my feelings. I feel guilty as hell, and you’re just going to have to let me say so.”
“You were bewitched! It’s not your fault.”
“Lee, whatever ‘magic’ she may have used on me was strictly human. Women have used their charms on men through the ages; witches are no exception, apparently. Now, will you please accept my apologies for nearly destroying our friendship?” Nelson asked.
“There’s nothing to forgive,” Lee smiled. “I’ve never stopped considering you anything but.”
Nelson relaxed for the first time in a week. “I’m pretty humbled by that Lee. Thank you for not giving up on me. So, tell me all about your and Sharkey’s heroic venture to save me and the Nelson family from the clutches of Mirabelle Darcy...”
Morton glanced toward the accordion doors at the sound of Nelson and Crane’s laughter. It was good to hear that sound and most of the crew at their stations breathed sighs of relief. Things were going back to normal.
“I thought I’d never see food like this again,” Crane said, scratching an itch on his scalp the next day as he had another piece of ex-wedding cake for a snack in the Wardroom.
“You’ve been scratching a lot, sir,” O’Brian said. “I know Doc said it was only a graze, minor flesh wound, but maybe you’re reacting to some medicine or something.”
“I’m fine. Could be a lot worse, though,” he added.
“Well, at least I’m not Sharkey, ‘marking his territory’,” Lee said.
“What?” O’Brian asked, aghast.
“Well, it was you wasn’t it, when as acting XO you gave Morton a report that Sharkey’d put Ski on the carpet for being in an unauthorized area? Sharkey made Ski quote each and every compartment on the boat that was off limits except to him and us gold braids.” Lee said. “Well, isn’t that marking one’s territory?”he laughed.
“Can I get you any thing else Skipper?” Cookie asked as he cleared the sideboard as O’Brian was leaving, grinning from the Skipper’s good mood.
“Hmm. You know, it’s weird,” Crane said, just loud enough for O’Brian to hear, “I usually don’t like it, but I sure am in the mood for some ice cold milk.”
“Milk?” O’Brian asked, just inside the doorway, unsure if Crane was joking or not. The Skipper hardly ever touched the stuff, to Doc’s chagrin and in spite of his lectures about the need for a better balanced diet.
“Right away,” Cookie said, “its okay Lt,” he whispered to O’Brian, “Doc said there might be side effects. Just like Sharkey keeps pestering’ me about when I’m gonna’ serve up some t-bones. Better just humor them both for now,” he put a finger to his mouth to motion ‘shush’.
O’Brian nodded and left, shaking his head.
After about a minute, Crane and Cookie laughed heartily. Crane looked at the clock. “Ten to one that in five minutes he has the whole crew wondering if I still have fleas. So, how about another piece of cake? You know, milk actually does sound kind of good right now...”
Of course, everyone knows witches don’t really exist and Mirabelle Darcy never turned anyone into a turkey or dog, or cat. And certainly no-one’s ever flown on a broomstick in the night sky over Salem. Undoubtedly the photographer making a police report would never imagine such things. His work had been stolen and replaced, a horrible practical joke by somebody against his rich client. A woman who had planned to get married and who’d paid up front when she’d had the sitting was now incommunicado and unreachable. Understandably upset, he simply laid the grotesque picture on the police counter, with instructions for the town do hold it until his client returned and he could have her re-sit for him.
It resides there still, that portrait. In one of the back storage rooms. A fitting place for it, unwanted and unwelcome; of an ugly green toad, its eyes opened wide in surprise, just like the real one had been, aboard Seaview.
Note: Any similarity to the living or dead, historical records or reality itself is pure coincidence.