The Christmas Gift
By Carol aka Catfish
· Readers should be familiar with the episodes ‘Haunted Submarine’, ‘The Phantom’, and ‘Return of the Phantom’ to understand most of this story.
“I don’t care if it interrupts the damn Christmas party!” Nelson fumed, rose and began to pace around his cabin aboard Seaview, finally circling his captain, “We have a thief aboard!”
Commander Lee Crane had faced many an irate Admiral in his career, including this one who just happened to be his best friend, but handling him right now was going to be tricky. Taking a breath he asked quietly, “Are you sure, sir?”
“Am I sure? Am I sure? Are…are you saying that I…I misplaced it? Really, Lee. It was right here on my desk …wait a minute. Didn’t Morton say he was coming by to drop off this report?” he picked up the incriminating evidence.
“You think Chip took it?” Lee asked, incredulous. “ He may have a bottomless tummy, but no way he’d even consider taking it. I mean,” Crane couldn’t help laughing, “…a fruitcake? Those lead bricks that they could have built the pyramids with? Cheech. You know what they say, don’t you, Harry? That at the end of the world there’ll be nothing left but cockroaches and fruitcakes, and the cockroaches will starve!”
“Of good grief! It’s similar to a fruitcake, I’ll grant you that, but is not an ordinary fruitcake. It’s a dyed in the wool, soaked in the best Brandy, super moist, and delicious British Plum Pudding! And don’t laugh. It’s an epicurean dream, a gourmet delight, a…”
“Triple X Hangover the next morning?”
“Captain Crane, however you may regard this culinary creation, it’s still missing. It didn’t just get up and walk away, did it?”
“Very well, sir. I’ll organize a search, but...” Lee hesitated and Nelson knew exactly why.
“Son, I realize that I’ve misplaced a few things lately. But I swear to you, the tin was right here before I had to go check on some specimens in the lab. I hadn’t even had a chance to have a bite…well, that’s not quite true. I was going to save it for Christmas, the flames will give off even more aroma…”
“Flames?” Lee furrowed a brow and ran a hand through his hair. “I don’t understand.”
“Haven’t you ever read or seen Dickens’ ‘A Christmas Carol’? Why, I remember my Irish granny taking months to create a plum pudding. I never did understand why she called it a plum pudding since it didn’t have any plums or prunes in it, and it certainly wasn’t any kind of pudding I knew, like the Jell-O kind, but apparently the term has been used through the decades for any kind of dried fruit or even dessert, at least I think that’s what that TV cooking show said. Well, anyway, each week granny would pour more
Brandy over it. Finally, months later, when the big day finally came, she’d douse a little more over the thing and set alight. Made quite an impression, those blue flames.”
“Not to mention burning down the house.”
“Only set fire to her apron once. Now, will you just get a search party going? Hm? Pretty please? I really don’t want to make that an order, not with us so close to the holidays. An hour or so to port, wasn’t it?”
“Less…I authorized full speed.”
“Anxious for your holiday shore leave too? I would have thought you’d just want to stay aboard, take your shoes off and meander around patting your best girl and whispering sweet nothing’s to her bulkheads.”
“Doesn’t hurt,” Lee winked. “We’ll get right on the missing pudding, sir, only…”he hesitated.
“It’s just, why the sudden interest in something so foreign all of a sudden? Why not just have pumpkin pie for Christmas dessert like most of the rest of us?”
“Just find the damn pudding, Lee!
“All right, all right…we’ll find your fancy frigging fruitcake,” Lee muttered as he headed toward the door.
“It would do well for you to remember, Mr. Crane, I’m not the only Yank in the mood for something a bit more…old world and a heck of a lot more festive than our native squash. In fact, why not join Jiggs and me for Christmas dinner and you can discover for yourself how good it is?”
“I, um, have other plans…”
“Excuse me sir,” Chip Morton entered the open doorway. “The crew’s wondering when you’re both going to join the party. Er…is something wrong?”
“The Admiral’s plum pudding’s gone missing.”
“Plum pudding? No kidding? You have a real one? Oh wow… where’d you get it, sir, and when?”
“Huh?” Lee asked.
“It’s a mega store in London, Lee,” Chip said. “You know, where Big Ben, Buckingham Palace, the Tower of London live…”
“I know where London is, smarty pants!”
“If I may continue,” Nelson said, “Harrods prides itself on its philosophy that “if they don’t have what you want, they’ll get it for you. Might bankrupt you, but you’ll get it. If’ I’d wanted to purchase a submarine, no doubt they’d figure out a way to get me one. Fortunately they had some genuine Scottish Plum Pudding’s in stock. The finest in the entire British Isles they assured me.”
“Of course,” Chip said, “I remember now that you went ashore while I was stuck babysitting the boat while our gallant Skipper went out on a date with that duchess.”
“Date?” Lee snorted, “she’s over 70 years old!”
“I guess that explains the blue hair and the pink poodle she had with her,” Chip said. “Don’t look so shocked bro; was in all the tabloids. Sure looked like a date to me. And how the heck did you get your medals stuck in her tiara at the Embassy ball?”
“A lot of pre-planned choreography, that’s how.”
“Ah, I knew it was an assignment! I knew you were up to no good when you got that fancy invitation and we didn’t.”
“MI 6 didn’t want to risk the operation and I certainly didn’t want to risk either of you! The less you knew, the better.”
“You could have let me in on it, Lee,” Nelson said. “I think I have enough clearance for your little escapades by now. Damn ONI keeping me out of things!”
“It was my decision to keep it quiet, even from you, Harry. Better that you didn’t know about the microfilm I was sent to retrieve from the courier…trust me, I didn’t enjoy the duchess’s attentions, courier or not. Trust me, no agent was ever in more need of rescuing than me!”
“Hate to interrupt, Lee,” Chip said, “but um…about the missing Plum Pudding…”
“Oh yeah…Mr. Morton, start a search, but...”he lowered his eyes.
“You still think I’m imagining things, Lee, don’t you,” Nelson said bitterly, “All right, go ahead. Search my cabin first.”
“No, I insist. And when you don’t find it here, you will detain your entire crew until you do find it, this close to Christmas or not. Have I made myself clear?”
“Man, like, who’d even want the damn thing,” Riley sighed as he, Ski, and Patterson searched corridor C and all its compartments for the umpteenth time.
“Yeah,” Ski said, “but where the hell is it?”
“Maybe the skip was right and the boss was imagining things…”
“Where’d you hear that?”
“All over the boat he and the Admiral had an argument about it.”
“Well,” Patterson said, “I vote for the Skipper’s intuition.”
“Attention all hands,” a familiar voice interrupted as it was piped through the PA system, “this is Commander Morton. Due to the fact that a four hour search by seven teams hasn’t located the missing….”
“Stolen,” Nelson’s voice interrupted.
“The stolen property, the Admiral has agreed with Captain Crane to allow…’
“Captain bossy boots you mean,” Nelson muttered.
“Agreed, my ass, Chip. He’s forcing me to let them go!”
“Shhhh. Ahem,” Morton began again. “ Make sure you let me know of any changes to your contact information in case of an emergency when you sign out. That is all.”
“All?” Nelson was heard before Chip could unclick the mike, “somebody aboard this boat snitched my personal property and our bleeding heart Captain’s letting them get away with it!”
“We’ve searched hi and low and there’s no evidence that...”
“ And when I find out who’s got my plum pudding they’ll be scrubbing the bilges for etern...”
“We’re still live, sir.”
“Are we, well, then, you heard me men. Now, why don’t you play nice, turn yourself or yourselves in as the case may be, and save me from recommending something worse than scrubbing the bilges if I have to wait for you to be found out, like a pink slip! I’ll be in my cabin for the next fifteen minutes waiting for you to fess up. Nelson out,” he clicked off.
“I’m glad I’m not in the culprit’s shoes,” Patterson said.
“If they ever admit it,” Ski said.
“I just hope the Skip’s okay,” Riley said. “Captain Bossy Boots? Bleeding Heart? Nelson’s really out for his blood this time.”
“The Skip’s taken worse,” Ski said, “they’ve stayed pretty good friends after all the other rows they’ve had.”
“Well,” Patterson said, “I don’t know about you guys, but I’m outta’ here.”
The fifteen minutes and come and gone, and it was a full hour before Chip appeared in Crane’s cabin with the sign out roster.
Lee scanned it, looking for one name, hoping it wasn’t marked off. But it was.
“He didn’t even stop by to say goodbye,” Lee sighed. “Nelson’s royally pissed off at me but at least he usually tries to be civil whenever we depart the boat. Chip? I’m worried. I can’t believe any of the crew swiped his goodie and there’s just no evidence. We checked all personal property and every square foot of the boat! It’s getting more frequent, him forgetting things. What if he has dementia? Or worse, the beginning of Alzheimer’s? It’d kill him emotionally knowing he’s getting senile, and oh god,” Lee ran a hand through his hair, his eyes moist, “I’d rather die than see him go through that.”
“Try not to dwell on what it might be,” Chip placed a comforting hand on Lee’s shoulder, “and for all we know he’s just got so much scientific data floating around in his head that he loses his focus on the simpler things. He’s due for a full fit rep right after holiday leave, isn’t he? Doc’ll let us know for sure what it is then. Look, we’ve got a few hours for pizza before I have to drive to LA for my flight.”
“Thanks, but I don’t want all this paperwork waiting for me when I come back...if I still have a job, that is.”
“Angry as he is, he still knows who the best Skipper for Seaview is.”
“Thanks Chip and Merry Christmas, Chip. Tell the topside deck watch I won’t be too long.”
“Like they’re really going to believe that...goodbye Lee. Merry Christmas.”
“Harriman, slow down, will you?” Admiral Jiggs Starke said on the phone as he packed his bags.
“I’m sorry, Jiggs, but I’m just so damn angry!”
“You have every right to be after what you told me. It’s a shame you and your crew were on civilian status at the time, but why didn’t you just call the cops? “
“Oh that would look just great wouldn’t it. The press would have a field day. Admiral Nelson arrests the entire compliment of the Seaview on suspicion of fruitcake theft! Er, Plum Pudding. I’d be a laughing stock,” he sighed and sat down wearily.
“Whether it’s something from your safe or table, it’s still theft....”
“I know that! But...Lee thinks I only forgot where I put it!” he sighed.
“Well, in the words of a literary giant, ‘Bah Humbug’. According to my aide, my flight’s on time, so I should be knocking on your door tonight a little before 2300. In the meantime, try to relax a little.”
“I’m glad you’re coming to spend some time with me Jiggs. And Christmas dinner. I invited Lee to join us, but now I’m glad he had other plans.”
“You sure about that? I’m still a bit persona non grata with him. He still doesn’t like me very much, Harry.”
“It’s not that, Jiggs. You forget yourself sometimes. As Skipper, he....”
“He thinks he’s God where Seaview is concerned,” Jiggs snorted.
“He is,” Nelson grinned to himself, “well, then, I’ll see you later tonight. Remember, not the bungalow, the apartment above the ‘shop’.Bye Jiggs.”
It was past midnight when Lee finally looked at his watch to discover the items in his out box were finally at a higher level than his in box. Deciding to take a break and go topside to share a few moments with the security deck watch, it wasn’t long before he was walking just past the Admiral’s lab enroute when he heard something. An obscenity? A disgusted grunt? Whatever, security wasn’t scheduled to take a round below decks yet. Nobody but nobody had permission to enter the Admiral’s lab without said Admiral’s or Crane’s permission. Did Nelson come back aboard?
Lee didn’t bother to knock and stood gaping at the scene in front of him. There the Admiral was in a drunken stupor, legs sprawled out in front of him, a box with a handwritten Top Secret open on the deck, and the almost devoured plum pudding on his lap. And why was Nelson dressed like a picture from an old tintype?
“Harry?” Lee said gently.
“Harry? Me name’s not Harry! Well, don’t just stand there, boyo,” Nelson hiccupped in an Irish brogue , “Set yerself down and join us...”
“What’s wrong, Admiral...” Lee knelt down in front of him. “Us?” he added, immediately on the alert.
“Gerhard,” Nelson hiccupped. “He’s been awhile trying to find us some liquid refreshment to wash it down with...”
A chill had run down Lee’s spine at the mention of ‘Gerhard’. He’d only known one Gerhard, and it had been a most unpleasant experience. But then, he didn’t know everyone’s name on the NIMR roster.
“This is all I could find,”a familiar, accented voice complained, “you’d think he’d have a better supply.”
Captain Gerhard Krueger, or rather his ghost, appeared through the bulkhead with a bottle of whiskey.
“Harry...”Lee barely managed, trying to pull Nelson up and flee, but his hand went right through the man.
“I’m not yer confounded Harriman Horatio Nelson! I’m Shamus O’Hara Nelson. Captain Shamus O’Hara Nelson. One of yer Harriman’s celebrated ancestors, and don’t be lookin’ at me friend Gerhard like that, lad. He’s not here for your body this time, only the pud. ”
His words did nothing to comfort Crane who had moved to the wall mike.
“He’s right Capitan,” Krueger hiccupped and joined Nelson on the deck, and took a swig of the whiskey.
“I don’t know what kind of game you’re playing now Captain Krueger, but if you’re not here for my body, get off my boat! You too, Shamus whatever Nelson.”
“You don’t really, hic, think you can do anything to make us?” Krueger raised the bottle in a kind of toast, “Not as good as Schnapps, of course, but close. However, this ,” he read the empty container’s label, “McDougal’s Original Scottish, hic, Plum Pudding, is far better than the best Apfel Strudel I ever had. Why, I remember my mama’s...”
Lee backed up toward the wall again, torn between calling security, or having his head examined. Could ghosts actually get drunk? And on a fruitcake. But then he remembered that plum pudding spent months, sometimes years getting soused in brandy, rum or some other spirits. If the unintended pun about spirits was humorous, he tried not to show it.
“So you stole the Admiral’s fruitcake? He’s angry with me for not believing him, and for good reason apparently.”
“I did nothing of the sort. It was right there, in that box labeled top secret. And he thought he was so smart to squirrel it away in here. Don’t look at me like that, laddie. What with me and Gerhard trapped betwixt this world and the next, especially at this time of year, I thought we might partake of Harriman’s, hic, hospitality. It’s been years since I’ve had me a real Plum Pudding...me good wife insisted we leave the old ways behind when we came across the seas to Boston. Made me eat that damn American pumpkin pie with Christmas dinner for years! Aye, the native squash was one of the last arguments we had before I was lost at sea all those miserable years ago. Blessed relief it was, except for the eternal perdition I found meself in, for other reasons, of which I won’t go into just now. You know, this whiskey’s not exactly what we should be havin’ with the pud. We need Brandy, man. Brandy! Laddie, being this tub’s Captain, surely you must know where he keeps the good stuff...”
“That is the good stuff! And Seaview is not a tub!”
“Bah,” Shamus began to take the next to last bite of the pudding.
“Hey! Leave some for Harry!”
“All right, I’ve had enough. Harry’s ancestor not, get off my boat! That goes for you too Krueger!”
“How are you going to make us?” Krueger hiccupped. “And don’t be getting any idea of calling Lanni.”
“Ach, he and the fraulein had a falling out, so they did,” Shamus chuckled. “She’s gone on into the light, the light neither of us is allowed, at least, not for now.”
“So, Capitan,” Krueger said, “What are you going to do, get an exorcist?” he laughed. “Won’t work on us, anyway.”
Lee, frustrated, fled.
“What the ...”Nelson yawned as the buzzer of his private apartment right above his office sounded over and over. “Give me a frigging chance, will you,” he padded barefoot and in his pajamas to the door and peered out the spy hole.
“Lee?” He quickly opened the door.
“You’ve got to come with me,” Lee grabbed Nelson’s arm, “we have intruders aboard Seaview.”
“Harriman,” Starke emerged from the guest room, also in night attire. “Crane...what the...”
“Just hurry,” Lee dragged Nelson out the doorway.
Jiggs at least had the sense to put on some slippers and grab a robe.
“Why didn’t you alert the deck watch?” Starke said, puffing from the short run to the gangplank.
“Yes,” Nelson added, “they’re not on alert...”
“Not that kind of intruder. C’mon!” Lee demanded.
It wasn’t long before they’d descended into the sub and ran to the lab.
“The thieves are in there...with the pudding. It was in a box you labeled top secret.”
“Oh gawd. No wonder the search didn’t find it...Lee, I’m sorry. I completely forgot I did that...was going to take it home and surprise Jiggs with it. His family was originally from Scotland...”
“Never mind that now,” Lee opened the door. Krueger was leaning against the work table, licking his lips.
“Ohmygod...”Nelson paled then planted himself in front of Crane. “You can’t have him Krueger. I don’t know how, but God as my witness, you’ll never possess Lee again! If you have to have a body, take mine.”
“Harriman, what kind of joke is this?” Jiggs asked. “I don’t see anyone.”
“He’s right there. Captain Gerhard Krueger...”
“You see it Crane?”
“I wish I didn’t.”
“Then the U boat captain you told me about taking over Lee is really here?”
“Well, there, me boyo,” the other Nelson appeared through the bulkhead with a new bottle of whiskey, “have ye come to join us in a little Christmas cheer?”
“Shamus?” Nelson exclaimed, “what are you doing here?”
“Didn’t Captain Crane tell you? ’Bout time I got me a taste of the real thing...Plum Pudding all the way from Scotland, so the label says...damn good pud too, so it was, hic. Damn good. But it would have been better with Brandy, not this,” he looked at the bottle in his hand, “Glen Livet, so it says...”
“I’ll have you know that’s one of the best whiskeys in the world!” Crane said.
“Down, Lee,” Nelson said, amused.
“I just think I’ll call Jamison,” Starke backed out.
“Wait,” Lee said. “Look both of you. Make yourselves visible or Admiral Starke is liable to lock us both up in a padded cell.”
“Frohe Weihnachten,” Krueger appeared.
“Don’t get your knickers in a twist, Admiral Starke was it?” Shamus hiccupped as he too became visible to Jiggs.
“Oh god,” Jiggs leaned against the bulkhead.
“Well, it was a treat sure enough, this plum pudding, and other things,” he smirked as he took a swig of the whiskey. “Ought to hold me a good long time afore’ I have an inkling for another visit,” he disappeared, followed by Krueger.
“Hey!” Crane suddenly yelled, “come back with the Admiral’s bottle!”
“Oops,” Shamus’ voice echoed as what was left of the Glen Livet appeared on the work table.
“I don’t believe this...I just don’t believe this,” Jiggs shook his head.
“Never mind,” Nelson patted his shoulder. “Well, it’s late...I’m going back to bed. Goodnight Lee. I really am sorry I didn’t think I could have forgotten...I’ll um, see Jamison after the holidays for a complete, and I do mean complete checkup. Come along Jiggs...”
“Ghosts? There really are such things...I...I...”
“Don’t fret yourself over it. Oh, um, if I don’t see you before the day, Merry Christmas, Lee. And again. I’m sorry I was angry with you..”
“That’s okay Harry.”
“He’s supposed to be Admiral to you Crane.”
“Jiggs,” Nelson warned.”
“Okay okay, I should know by now not to interfere...good night Crane.”
Lee finally finished his in box and came to a decision. Picking up the phone he dialed an all too familiar number and wondered if the call would be in time.
Nelson and Starke were just about to sit down to Christmas dinner after a few days spent in each other’s company. It had been pleasant enough, but frankly Nelson was getting a little bored with all the ‘shop’ talk. He missed Lee’s easy banter and tall tales about his escapades, naval and otherwise. Nelson could only hope that the boy’s plans hadn’t included taking on some special assignments with ONI as he was prone to do when he had extra time on his hands. That, or taking his wreck of a sailboat out. Lee always purchased boats of less than seaworthiness, and refurbished them to finally turn over to various charities...
He was just remembering one such adventure he had shared in when the doorbell rang.
“Who could that be?” Jiggs wondered aloud as Nelson answered the door.
“Surprise!” Lee said and handed Nelson a gaily wrapped package, in tartan, no less. “Thought you might like a little Christmas present to open after dinner.”
“Why, thank you Lee...er,” he nodded toward the laden table with a raised eyebrow.
“Is that dinner invitation still on, then?”
“Of course! I’d be delighted! Come in! Come in. I hope you don’t mind Denny’s. Always open and they allow take out .Had a special for Christmas.”
“I thought you had plans, Crane,” Starke said.
“I hope you don’t mind Brandy,” Nelson sat an old bottle on the table, “Edith sent it. Got it at auction. It’s supposedly one of Napoleon’s bottles.”
“You’re kidding? Won’t it be...a bit off?”
“Probably... but I’d like to tell her we enjoyed it,” he popped the cork and poured it out into three fingerfulls for each of them. “Merry Christmas.”
Lee sipped his cautiously, then licked his lips. “Hey, this is good!” then grabbed the bottle and went into the kitchen with it.
“Go ahead and dig in. I’ll be right out...”
“Is there something you haven’t told me about him, Harriman? Does he drink on the sly?”
“Hardly ever drinks booze at all...I wonder what the ..”
“TaDah!” Lee said, carrying a platter, blue flames surrounding something. “I know it’s supposed to be for dessert, but I felt now would be a good time, before we guzzled all that brandy down...”
“Harrods didn’t have any McDougal’s Original Scottish Plum Pudding’s left. But instead of getting some other brand, I called in a favor,” he sat the platter on the table, “from the Duchess. Seems she likes the stuff too.”
“Lee, I ..I don’t know what to say,” Nelson said.
“Mighty nice gesture Crane...after all, Harriman purchased his to humor me. I was all for pumpkin pie, but he knew I’m a real aficionado of the old world customs. And he remembered how good his granny’s was...”
“Well, let’s try it...”Lee handed Nelson the knife.
“You sure you wouldn’t rather have pumpkin pie, Lad?” Nelson teased.
“In this case, I’ll pass.”
“Very well,” Nelson handed his friends their slices. “Dig in.”
“Wait,” Starke said before his fork reached the moist ‘cake’, “where’s the hard sauce?”
“Hard sauce?” Lee asked, confused.
“Heathen,” Jiggs got up and headed to the kitchen. “We have to devour this as it’s intended to be devoured. So no nibbling. Have some turkey and dressing while you’re waiting. I’ll be out shortly...I think...Harriman, where do you keep the vanilla and sugar?”
“Vanilla?” Nelson furrowed his brows. “I um, don’t think I have any.”
“I can’t make a hard sauce without vanilla, Harriman,” he emerged crestfallen.
“I bet Cookie has some in Seaview’s galley,” Lee rose. “I’ll be right back.”
“No, you don’t have to do that Lee,” Starke said.
“Hey, I want to see what all the fuss is about,” he grinned and closed the door behind him.
“That’s the first time I’ve ever heard you call him Lee.”
“Well, considering it’s Christmas...just don’t let it go to his head.
“Something I can help you with, Skipper?” Morton’s voice interrupted Lee as he scrounged around in the galley, opening one cupboard after another.
“Chip? What are you doing here?”
“I forgot a couple of Christmas presents... got the first flight back I could...but now...”
“Help me find the vanilla, and I’ll ferry you home via the Flying Sub.”
“Mission accomplished,” Lee held up the industrial sized bottle of pure vanilla extract as he entered the apartment above the shop, along with Chip. “Thanks to Morton here...he um...needs our help, sir. Forgot to take his Christmas presents home with him. Can we borrow the flying sub to get him back home with them? I’ll bring her back without a dent...promise.”
“By all means, but first,” Nelson said, “stay for some pudding, both of you. Real bone fide Scottish Plum pudding. It won’t take long to make that hard sauce will it Jiggs?”
“Not long at all. Go ahead and cut him a slice...”
“I um, don’t suppose I can help,” Chip asked.
“Sure, but remember, I run a tight kitchen,” Jiggs said.
“Lee, thanks,” Chip hiked his bag of presents over his shoulder as he left the flying sub, slightly bouncing on the surface of the lake near the resort hotel where the Morton family reunion was being held. “I really appreciate this. So tell me, did you like it, the plum pudding? I know you only had one helping. But then, I wasn’t flying. Now, wasn’t it better than pumpkin pie?”
“It was very very good, Chip, I can’t deny that. Just glad I didn’t have seconds. Couldn’t risk getting arrested for flying under the influence. Cheech, no wonder Captains Nelson and Krueger were drunk!”
“Not all plum puddings are as, shall we say, as over the limit with booze as this one was.”
“ In all honesty, Chip, I have to tell you that I still prefer pumpkin pie.“
“Suit yourself. Headed back to Nelson’s? Remember he said he’d save you some turkey and dressing.”
“If Starke doesn’t eat him out of house and home,” Lee laughed. “Goodbye Chip, and Merry Christmas.”
“Merry Christmas, bro...”
In minutes Chip was being greeted by his family at the front door of the hotel while Crane launched the flying sub and headed toward California.
“You could have at least, hic, asked Harriman to invite me to dinner,” Shamus appeared in the co- pilot’s seat.
“Will you go away and haunt somebody else!”
“Gerhard also wants to try the traditional American Christmas dinner, even if it’s just leftovers, complete with dressing, gravy and cranberry sauce. He also wants some pumpkin pie. I told him it couldn’t compare to plum pudding, but then...he’s...curious.”
“Too bad! Now get out of here! I’m not going to ask Harry to invite either of you for leftovers!”
“Please Captain? Pretty please?” Shamus hiccupped.
“No and that’s final. Now, go away. Those fumes of yours are making me dizzy. You want me to crash?”
“Well, sorrrry,” he vanished.
It was late by the time Lee returned to Santa Barbara and berthed the Flying Sub with Seaview. He was surprised to find Nelson there, waiting. And what was left of Christmas dinner was waiting for him on the table, along with two uninvited dinner guests.
“I thought I told you two to go away!” Lee shouted.
“Never mind Lee,” Nelson said wearily, “let them have their Christmas dinner. Not much we can do about it anyway.”
Shamus hiccupped and Krueger grinned as they plowed through the meal.
“I’m afraid there’s not much left, Lad. Except the pie.”
“That’ll do...you know, Chip thought I was crazy, preferring it,” he cut himself a slice and squirted some canned whipping cream on top.
“Chip has a gourmet chef in his family. He’s used to being exposed to varying cuisines, including traditional British and Scottish fare. And in all fairness, Lee. In spite of the pudding being a sheer delight, it wasn’t as good as I remember. I guess grannies around the world make theirs better than any company can,” he cut his own slice of pumpkin pie and squirted the whipped cream on his serving too. “Merry Christmas Lee.”
“In the words of Tiny Tim, Harry, God bless us, everyone. Including our guests.”
“I rather doubt the Almighty will answer your prayer regarding me and Gerhard,” Shamus said, but,” he raised his glass of water, “Merry Christmas me boyo’s, Merry Christmas.”
With that both ghosts vanished.
“You think they’re gone? For good?” Lee asked, hopefully.
“Heaven only knows Lee. Heaven only knows.”
“Sir?” one of the men from the topside security watch appeared, “this kind of got lost in your office. From Miss Nelson. “
“Thank you. Piece of pie?”
“Oh yeah, thanks! Best damn, er, best darn Christmas dessert ever!”
“Or not,” Nelson said with a grin.
“Well, open the package,” Lee said after the crewman had left.
“Um, Lee...” Nelson paled.
“What? Did she bake some cookies?” knowing full well that Edith Nelson was not known for her culinary creations.
“Dear Harry,” Nelson read, “I found great granny’s recipe for a little something I hope you’ll like. It’s a kind of fruitcake. Plum pudding I remember mother telling me. I followed the recipe to the letter and it’s been ripening for over a year. Yes, that’s right, fortified with rum on a weekly basis so I’m sure you’ll like it, being a sailor and all. You know, yo ho ho and a bottle of rum. Be sure to sprinkle it with a little then if you really want to be fancy, set a match to it. The flame will burn out quickly so the recipe says. I’m not sure why they set it on fire though. Oh, and she added a note that over indulgence can make one tipsy. I almost decided against the rum, but without it, well, one of my friends told me that if the world came to an end, and only the cake and cockroaches were left, the cockroaches would starve. Well, I hope you like it. Just don’t drive after you eat it. All my love. Edith.”
Lee rose and headed to the sideboard, and dug around. “Ah...” he held up a bottle of rum. “Want to brave it?”
“I admit, I am curious, but...”
“We can always lie.”
It was past 0900 when the deck watch asked Admiral Starke to come down to the boat. ‘A situation’ he’d told the Admiral.
There in the observation nose, Nelson and Crane reclined, sound asleep, an empty bottle of rum on the table, and what appeared to be the remnant of a fruitcake...er...plum pudding...er...whatever...
Jiggs reached for a glob of cake and tried it.
“Mhhff?” Nelson woke. “Ah Jiggs..oh shit, my head...”
“Harry, where’d you get this? It’s better than the one we had.”
“My sister....made it...old family recipe. My great grandmother was from Scotland. Owww.”
“Does she have any more?”
“I’m afraid Lee and I pretty much finished it... I’ll ask her to make you one for next Christmas.”
“Add me to that list, Lee said yawning and squinting at the sunlight through the viewports.
“I thought you said you liked pumpkin pie better than plum pudding,” Nelson said. “And you can always get a premade pumpkin pie in the freezer section.”
“I liked the pumpkin pie better than the tinned pudding. There’s a difference.”
“So there is...well, as soon as I get rid of his headache, I’ll call Edith and tell her about her success. It’ll make her day.”
“Maybe we should add Shamus and Krueger to the list...just in case,” Lee grinned.
“Just in case.”
“Now, that’s what I call a Christmas present!” Shamus’s voice echoed around the Observation Nose.
“Not again,” Jiggs leaned wearily against the table. “Do you see him yet?”
“No, but he’s here. Come along Jiggs,” Nelson patted his shoulder. “I think we can all use some coffee, spectral company excluded.”
“You sure he won’t follow us?”
“He won’t if knows what’s good for him. After all, I can just as easily exclude his name from the Christmas pudding list. His name and Krueger’s. Clean up after yourself Shamus, that’s a good ghost. Tell Krueger to mind his manners too. Or I will find an exorcist who can get rid of you both!”
“They said an exorcist wouldn’t work,” Lee whispered to Nelson as they headed up the ladder.
“They don’t know that I can’t find one that will.”
Lee was the last up the ladder and took one last look. Shamus, now garbed in dazzling white, winked and Krueger, equally clothed, clicked his heels and saluted. Could they finally have ‘crossed over’, Lee thought, trying to understand it all, but simply said, ‘And a Happy New Year’ before joining his companions topside.
In researching Plum Pudding for this story, please take into consideration, that as I’ve had no first-hand experience with one, I had to rely on notes from nutritional anthropologists, Wikipedia, Good Eats, and various other printed, online, and other’s personal information on the history and preparation of both Plum Pudding (why it’s called a pudding is anyone’s guess as it’s certainly no pudding in the custard or Jell-O sense that I can find)and its first cousin, fruitcake. Of course, being ‘across the pond’ from the home of Plum Pudding, I beg your indulgence for any errors.
Plum Pudding is, however, more of a centuries old tradition in the British Isles and now commonwealth, than in the United States, where Pumpkin Pie is still the most common dessert for Thanksgiving and Christmas. And so, some notes:
· Technically, Plum Pudding is a kind of glorified fruitcake utilizing various spices, dried fruit, and alcohol, brandy or rum being the usual choice. Taking weeks, months, and in some cases even years to ripen, the mixture is cooked (boiling being the traditional method), then small amounts of alcohol are poured over the dense cake on a regular basis, making it very moist.
· When finally ready to be served, this cake is drizzled with the same type of alcohol used to help ripen it, and set afire, the alcohol quickly burning off.
· Scottish plum puddings are reputed to be the best made.
· Yes, after some research, it has been confirmed that one can get drunk on Plum Pudding depending on the amount of alcohol used in ripening it, and how much is consumed at one sitting.
· Unlike most American fruitcakes, which have a pretty bad reputation for being almost inedible and brick like, traditional British Plum Puddings are very moist and rich.
· Most Plum Puddings are served with an equally rich hard sauce or glaze made with butter, vanilla, brandy or rum.