A Seasonal Tale

By Sue James


December 23rd


“So what happens if we don’t get home in time for Christmas?” Stu Riley enquired with a grin as he and his crew mates relaxed in their quarters.


“What do you mean?” Kowalski demanded slightly more harshly than he had intended. “We miss Christmas….again…. that’s what happens!” These last words were said with a resigned sigh and Riley regarded the older man with a puzzled frown as Patterson interjected, “Aw, it’s not that bad, Ski. We had a good time last year and we did get to go home for New Year.”


“True,” Kowalski agreed with a reluctant grin. If you couldn’t spend the holidays with your blood family then spending it with your Seaview family had to be the next best thing but it was still tough knowing that they were likely to spend a second successive Christmas at sea when they had been looking forward to a promised vacation.


“So what happens?”  Riley demanded impatiently. “Do we get down and party? What about food? And Santa? How does the big red fella get aboard?”


“Santa?” Kowalski frowned disbelievingly at the younger man. “You still believe in Santa Claus?”


“Sure!” Riley grinned. “Don’t you?”


Before an incredulous Kowalski could reply Riley continued, “I sure hope the Skipper can be persuaded to surface the boat Christmas Eve cos I don’t reckon those reindeer can swim underwater even if Santa can dive and….”


“RILEY!!” A chorus of voices interrupted his words. “Santa Claus doesn’t exist!”


“Sure he does,” Riley appeared unperturbed by the words of his friends and colleagues.


 “HE DOES NOT!” Roars of laughter accompanied the shouted words but Riley continued to grin unabashed at his friends. He opened his mouth to continue but at that point the door opened and Seaview’s executive officer stood in the doorway, his face stern as his blue eyes quickly scanned the room.


Caught off guard the room’s occupants jumped instantly to attention, removing the grins from their faces as they did so.


“At ease!” Chip Morton nodded slightly as he fixed his eyes on the room’s senior rating. “Everything okay in here, Kowalski?”


“Yes, sir!” The dark haired man nodded.


“You sure?” Morton’s stern countenance didn’t waver. “I thought I heard some shouting in here?”


“It was nothing, sir,” Kowalski said earnestly. “Just a silly argument.”


“I see,” Morton switched his attention to Riley who was obviously having difficulty keeping his face straight. “Anything you want to share with me?”


“Yes sir! I mean No, Sir!” Riley’s fair complexion burned under the exec’s unforgiving stare. “It…it was nothing, sir!”


“Good, I’m glad to hear it,” Morton nodded. “Carry on, men.” He turned to leave only to stop and look over his shoulder as Patterson’s voice broke the uncomfortable silence, “Riley’s just worried that Santa Claus won’t be able to get aboard to deliver our presents if we stay submerged, sir! Maybe you could reassure him?”


Patterson smiled innocently at the exec as Riley’s face turned an even deeper shade of red and Kowalski struggled to hide a broad grin.


“Santa Claus, eh?” Chip Morton turned to face the room’s occupants again and his right eyebrow rose enquiringly as he took a step towards the highly embarrassed Riley who was glaring at the innocent looking Patterson. “Have you been good, Riley?”


“Ummm, yes, sir!” Riley swallowed almost nervously. “I think so, Sir!”


“Well, I’m sure that Santa will find a way to reach you if you deserve it,” Morton spoke seriously but his blue eyes twinkled with the beginnings of a smile.


“Yes, sir. Thank you, sir!” Riley’s anxious face broke into a grin as the other men looked on incredulously.


“Are you saying you believe in Santa Claus, sir?” Kowalski’s face was as disbelieving as his voice.


“Of course!” Chip Morton eyed the senior rating challengingly. “Don’t you, Kowalski?”


“Well…er…to tell you the truth, sir….I…er…I kinda stopped believing when I was still a kid….I mean…well, it’s just pretend, sir….isn’t it?”


“Are the presents “pretend”?” Morton asked seriously.


“Well, no but I…” Kowalski tailed off and he shook his dark head bewilderedly. He was pretty sure that the exec was teasing him. Heck, the guy was intelligent, wasn’t he? With a reputation for being highly practical. Plus he was over thirty! There was no way he could believe in Santa Claus and yet Ski didn’t quite have the nerve to call the man a liar or an idiot! He was the exec after all!


“Don’t you worry about it!” Morton slapped the dark haired man on the shoulder. “We all have different ways of looking at things.” He let his gaze sweep around the room again before bestowing a rare smile on the staring men. “Carry on!”


He strode back to the door and disappeared leaving a room full of gaping ratings staring after him.


Resisting the temptation to stand outside the door and listen to what the men might say about his impulsive claim to believe in Santa Claus, Chip Morton strode purposefully along the corridor with a broad grin on his face. He wasn’t quite sure what had come over him in the crews’ quarters but he had enjoyed the incredulity of the men when faced with the possibility that their executive officer still believed in Santa Claus. Chip was well aware of his standing as a serious minded, no nonsense, formidable exec and it was a reputation he had worked hard to achieve but he saw no harm in adding a little good natured confusion occasionally. As exec he was well aware of the great disappointment felt by the entire crew when they realized that their detour to assist a Navy sub with engine trouble in the south Pacific meant they were unlikely to make port in Santa Barbara in time to spend the holidays with their families. After spending the previous Christmas aboard the boat returning a young prince to his troubled homeland it was a bitter blow to the entire crew, from the Admiral down to the lowliest rating and if Chip could give them something to distract their disgruntled thoughts then he was sure it was worth the ribbing he would receive when scuttlebutt got back to his fellow officers, especially his captain and best friend, Lee Crane. 




December 24th


Here Comes Santa Claus! Here Comes Santa Claus! …….”  Lee Crane’s quiet singing was just aloud enough to reach the ears of his executive officer as the latter took a seat opposite him for an early breakfast.


“You say something?” Chip enquired pleasantly before filling his mouth with pancakes.


“Santa Claus is coming to sea! Santa Claus is coming to sea!”  Lee sang in perfect tune as he altered the words to another well known Christmas song. His golden eyes danced merrily over the rim of his coffee cup as he watched his exec eat. Chip munched on steadily, his eyes on his plate ignoring the amused looks from his best friend.


“So what are you hoping Santa will bring you?” Lee asked when he could stand the silence no longer.


“A new Skipper!” Chip muttered with a quick glance at his friend.


“Why? What’s wrong with the old one?” Lee challenged.


“He’s gonna get thrown overboard if he doesn’t stop singing,” Chip said good naturedly as he pushed his empty plate to one side and reached for his own cup of coffee.


It’s Christmas Eve!” Lee protested with a grin. “It’s the time to sing Christmas songs!”


“Well think about the real meaning of Christmas and sing a carol then,” Chip challenged. “After all, you’re too old to believe in Santa Claus.”


“That’s not what I heard,” Lee tried and failed to keep his face straight.


“And what did you hear?”


“I heard that my ever so serious executive officer still believes in the big man in the red and white suit!”


“I do not!” Chip glared over the rim of his coffee cup before setting it down and allowing a broad smile to split his good-looking face in two. “But you should’ve seen Kowalski as he tried to find the words to tell me I’m crazy without being insubordinate!”


“I do wish I’d been there,” Lee admitted with a grin. “I hear you had them seriously concerned about your sanity for a while.”


“It gave them something else to think about besides grousing over our delay getting home,” Chip grinned back. “Though I do hope they forget about it by New Year!”


“I guess that depends,” Lee said seriously.


“On what?”


“On whether Santa puts in an appearance tonight!”


“He doesn’t usually come until the early hours of Christmas Day,” Chip responded equally seriously. “And we’re due back in Santa Barbara at 22.30 hours.”


“Thank goodness,” Lee spoke with relief. “At least we can honour the week’s liberty even if most of the crew won’t get home in time for Christmas day.”


“Including us,” Chip said with a rueful grin. “I’m going to miss my Christmas dinner for the second year running.”


“Never mind, maybe Santa could arrange something for you,” Lee teased and then yelped as his friend threatened to throw his half-empty mug at him. “Don’t you dare Chip! I….”


Whatever else he had been about to say was lost as the door to the wardroom opened and Admiral Nelson appeared. He frowned quizzically at the two younger men before helping himself to a cup of coffee and approaching their table.


“Good morning, sir,” the younger officers chorused as they stood respectfully at the table, the grins wiped from their faces.


“Lee. Chip,” Nelson nodded at each of them in turn. “As you were.”


The Admiral seated himself at the end of the table and took an appreciative sip of the strong brew in his cup before looking up and grinning at his command team who had sat down again.


“So we’re going to be home in time for Christmas,” he said conversationally. “I’m so glad. I felt really bad at reneging on my promise to give the men liberty for a second year running.”


“So did I,” Lee nodded. “At least we’ll be on dry land for Christmas Day.”


“Mmm,” Nelson nodded and glanced at his exec who had remained silent so far. “And that’s got to make Santa’s job easier, hasn’t it Chip?”


“I…er…I guess so,” Chip stuttered and felt his ears begin to redden as both the Admiral and Lee grinned broadly at him. He felt suddenly remorseful for teasing Kawolski; it was no fun trying to argue your case in front of superior officers!


Relax, Chip!” Nelson admonished him gently. “From what I hear you did a good job distracting the men from all the moaning they were doing.”


“He sure did,” Lee spoke confidently with an affectionate grin at his friend who continued to look slightly uncomfortable. “All I’ve heard about is the great debate on whether the XO really believes in Santa Claus!”


“Mmm,” Nelson nodded, “but just for the record, Chip, you don’t really believe in him do you?”


“No, Sir,” Chip shook his blond head. “Not since I was about six or seven!”


“I was about that age too,” Nelson admitted with a smile. “What about you, Lee?”


“I don’t remember,” Lee frowned slightly. “It was more a gradual awareness I think. I can remember forcing myself to stay awake in order to catch him delivering my presents but I always fell asleep eventually and my stocking was always full when I woke up which kind of made it hard to deny his existence.”


“I remember one year my younger brother and I crept downstairs after we thought our parents had gone to bed and hid behind the tree,” Chip said reminiscently. “We used to have this huge tree and you could clearly see the fire place from behind it so we thought we had a good chance of seeing him.”


“And did you?”


“No,” Chip laughed. “We must have fallen asleep and our parents put us back in our beds or so my sister tells me. And when we woke up our stockings were full and there were presents all around the tree which kind of reinforced our belief because surely if our parents had put them there they would have done so before they went to bed. And my father told us that Santa had put us back in our beds and left him a note saying that if he caught us downstairs the following year he wouldn’t leave any presents! ”


“And you believed him?” Lee grinned.


“Sure,” Chip nodded. “I guess I was a gullible child!”


“And how old were you?” Nelson asked curiously.


“About six, I think,” Chip frowned slightly. “I guess I was beginning to question Santa’s existence and I wanted to prove it one way or the other.”


“Oh, so did I!” Nelson grinned. “I can remember pestering my father with all sorts of questions and he seemed to have a plausible explanation for all of them.”


“So did mine!” Both younger men chorused and then burst into amused laughter.


“So were you disappointed when you found out that Santa was just an elaborate lie?” Nelson asked curiously, his blue eyes alert with interest fixed on his young captain.


Lee took another sip from his mug and frowned slightly, “I don’t think so. I don’t really remember but I don’t think I ever thought about the concept as being a lie. It was just something little kids believed in and I can recall feeling superior to my younger cousins who still believed when I knew the truth!”


“Same here,” Chip interjected. “I can remember feeling quite grown up when I pretended to believe for the sake of my brother although I think he had it sussed the year after me!”


“We thought Edith still believed when she was ten,” Nelson said with an amused smile, “which worried my parents a little but it turned out she was just pretending because she didn’t want to upset their fun!”


“Well, I guess we better make sure we’re still on schedule if we don’t want to give Santa extra work by forcing him to make a stop on board!” Lee said with a sly grin at his exec as he stood up. “Are you coming?”


“He won’t bring you anything if you keep teasing me,” Chip said seriously as he downed the remains of his coffee.


“I doubt he’ll bring you anything either if you keep making threats to a superior officer!” Lee smirked as he headed for the door.


“Least we’ll be equal,” Chip laughed as they exited the room together. ”No presents and no dinner; think I’ll stay in bed all day!”


“That doesn’t sound like a bad idea,” Lee agreed as they headed to the control room together.




Chip Morton closed the door to his apartment with a heartfelt sigh of relief. Dropping his cover on to the hall table he opened the closet door and dropped his holdall and briefcase on to the floor. He then removed his jacket and hung it carefully on a hanger before unlacing his shoes and pulling them off. Placing the shoes carefully on the shoe rack he closed the closet door and walked through to the main living area in his socks while loosening his tie with his right hand. Reaching the small, neat kitchen he flicked on the light and blinked in the sudden glare of the fluorescent bulb. Opening the door to the refrigerator he briefly surveyed the meagre contents before grabbing a can of beer and tugging off the ring-pull.


Carrying the icy can to a nearby cabinet he took out a glass, carefully poured the dark golden liquid into it and took an appreciative sip of the refreshing drink. Then he threw the can into the bin, carried his glass through to the living room and sat down in his favourite chair. Stretching out his long legs he stared for a long moment at his sock covered feet before turning his attention back to his drink.


As he drank his eyes fell on the wall clock opposite and he smiled to himself as the time…00.48 hours….registered. Christmas morning! Chip shook his blond head in wonderment. It sure didn’t feel like Christmas. Admittedly his short drive home from the Institute had been past homes and businesses festooned in coloured lights and other decorations but the mild temperatures and complete absence of snow made it feel like just another day. Born and raised in the suburbs of Chicago and later on the north east coast Chip associated Christmas with freezing temperatures, heavy snow falls and pine trees, not palm trees and beach weather. He was fairly sure that, even if he lived to be 100, he would never get used to Christmas in southern California. To be fair, in the three years that he’d been at the Institute he’d never actually spent Christmas here before. The first year he had managed to fly home to his sister’s two days before the big day and stayed until New Year; last year he’d been at sea until the end of the month and had flown home with Lee for New Year. This was the first time in his life that he had ever spent Christmas morning on his own in an undecorated apartment; no wonder he didn’t feel very festive!


Maybe I should go out later and buy a tree or something to brighten the place up, he thought idly as he leant back in his chair and let his eyes drift shut. Then again, he was meeting Lee at 10.00 hours for church followed by brunch before going to the Admiral’s for a proper Christmas meal in the evening and hoping to fly home on the 26th so decorating his apartment would be a waste of time and money. Shame though, he thought as his body relaxed and he started to drift into much needed sleep. Christmas decorations would be nice!  Vivid images of the brightly lit tree at his sister’s home filled his semi-conscious memories as he shifted into a more comfortable position and deep sleep claimed his mind.




“Not in bed, sleeping in your uniform, no Christmas tree, no treats for my reindeer!! You have seriously disappointed me, Commander!”


The booming, vaguely familiar voice penetrated Chip’s subconscious and he struggled to open his eyes as hearty laughter seemed to echo through his sleep dulled brain. Feeling thoroughly confused he opened his eyes and looked up in bewilderment at the figure bending over him.


“Tut! Tut!” The voice berated him. “Did your parents never teach you that I don’t leave presents if you’re not in bed and asleep when I arrive?”


“Huh?” It was on the tip of Chip’s tongue to point out that he had been asleep and this…this person…had woken him up but his still sleepy brain was trying to make sense of what he was seeing and he remained silent as he stared at the very large figure in its bright red, fur trimmed coat and hat.


“You seem surprised to see me!” The figure laughed again, a big booming laugh that fitted his appearance.


“I…who the hell are you?” Chip demanded as he pulled himself upright, his head almost colliding with his visitor’s beard covered chin. “And how did you get inside my apartment?”


“Who am I?” The voice sounded offended. “Who am I? What sort of a question is that young man? I’m famous the world over and you’re trying to tell me you don’t know who I am!”


“I know who you are pretending to be,” Chip frowned and reached out a hand to tug at the beard he was sure was false.


“Owww!” The figure yelled and Chip recoiled shocked that the beard appeared to be real. He glanced at the empty glass on the small table in front of him and wondered if he had drunk more than the one beer he remembered. Either he was dreaming or he was hallucinating because the situation he now found himself in just couldn’t be real. It just couldn’t be!


“You haven’t even hung up your stocking,” the figure in red boomed. “Do you not want the presents I have for you?”


Chip glanced at the large brown sack sitting on the floor beside his unexpected visitor and, ignoring the question, repeated the one he had asked earlier, “How did you get into my apartment?”


“You mean you don’t know?” the figure sounded shocked. “Dear, oh dear, I thought all little boys knew that when there is no chimney I use my magic key although I admit that I find the chimneys so much more fun!”


“I’m not a little boy,” Chip growled, “and I don’t believe in magic keys or Santa Claus!” As the heavy sleepiness cleared from his brain he was fast coming to the conclusion that somebody was playing tricks on him but who? The most obvious answer was Lee who had a key to his apartment but the figure in front of him, although the same height as Lee was almost twice the size of his skinny friend with a huge, round tummy. Chip knew that could all be clever padding but what about the deep, booming voice? He had thought it vaguely familiar but it didn’t sound like Lee and then there was the face which was so much rounder than his friend’s and the eyes which were almost the same blue colour as his own, not the light brown shade of his superior officer!  Still, it had to be someone he knew playing tricks on him and it was time to find out who! 


Standing up he poked an accusing finger at the intruder. “Joke’s over, pal.” He reached out to pull the hat from “Santa’s” head but the larger man took a step back and grabbed his wrist holding it in a firm grip.

A surge of panic shot through Chip’s body and he put up his other hand to try and release “Santa’s” hold but that was also grabbed and he was pushed back into his chair.


“Don’t believe in me, eh? Well, I shall take your gifts Commander and give them to someone more deserving.”


With a huff the figure hoisted the sack on to his back and turned to head back to the hallway.


“No, WAIT!” Chip leapt to his feet and grabbed at the sack determined to stop the intruder escaping before he had found out who it really was and how they had got into his home.


“DON’T touch my sack!” “Santa” growled and swung round, hitting the unprepared Chip in the side with the surprisingly heavy sack.


“Owww!” Chip fell sideways crashing into the wall with his right shoulder and tumbling to the floor with a suppressed groan. Undeterred he reached out and grabbed at his visitor’s boots just as a slightly more familiar voice said, “Oh, no, you’re not hurt are you?”


The figure towering above him turned round bending to Chip’s level as he did so. “It was just a joke, Chip!” “Santa” pulled off his fur trimmed hood and white wig to reveal the sweat dampened dark curls of a very familiar figure.


Lee!” Chip gaped momentarily before getting a grip on his senses. “I knew it was you. I….”


“You did not!” Lee objected. “You were totally confused. Go on, Chip…admit it!”


“I…” Chip frowned heavily, unwilling to admit that Lee had confused him.


“Admit it or you won’t get any presents,” Lee said laughingly.


“Okay,” Chip rolled into a sitting position, still on the floor and nodded reluctantly. “I admit you had me confused for a while there but I had just woken up and you really don’t look like you, Lee. What did you do to your eyes and where did that voice come from?”


“I’ll tell you later,” Lee grinned. “When I’m sure you’re okay; I really didn’t mean to hurt you Chip.”


“You haven’t,” Chip assured him. “I might have a bruise later but I’m fine although I wonder what you have in that sack that weighs so much.”


“All will be revealed,” Lee laughed as he straightened and offered a hand to his friend to haul him up from the floor. “Are you sure you’re not hurt?”


“Positive! Stop fussing,” Chip grinned broadly at his friend as he stepped close to him and peered intently at his face. “Are you wearing contacts?”


“Aha,” Lee nodded as he stuck several fingers into his mouth and removed the padding from inside his cheeks as well as an interesting pair of false teeth. “Gosh, that’s better,” he spoke in his normal tones.


“Where’d you get all this stuff?” Chip was incredulous. “It’s the early hours of Christmas Day for goodness sake!”


Lee grinned, “That’s my little secret…and it’s not so early Chip,” he glanced at his wrist watch, “it’s nearly 06.30.”


“Is it?” Chip glanced at his own watch, surprise on his face as he realized that his friend was right. Good grief, he must have slept in the chair for nearly five hours.


“It is,” Lee grinned at his friend’s expression. “And you haven’t even been to bed yet.”


“Never mind that,” Chip frowned, “why are you here so early? I take it your get-up is linked to my comments about Santa on the boat?”


“Yea, sorry, just couldn’t resist it,” Lee grinned widely. “But I have bought you some gifts.” He hoisted the abandoned sack and offered it to his friend. “Happy Christmas, Chip!”


“But I haven’t got you anything,” Chip protested.


“Who says the gifts are from me? This was a special Santa delivery,” Lee continued to grin as Chip reluctantly took the sack with a sideways look at his friend. It crossed his mind that there might be something “funny” inside and he carried it back to the main living area where he placed it on the coffee table and proceeded to open it warily.


“It won’t bite!” Lee laughed at his friend’s cautious approach and suspicious expression. “Relax, Chip; it’s Christmas!”


“Better safe than sorry,” Chip muttered his reply as he finished opening the top and reached carefully inside to extract a large, weighty box neatly wrapped in seasonal paper.


Surprised and still a little wary Chip turned the box to read the gift tag and his suspicious expression vanished to be replaced with a broad smile.


“How?” He frowned in bemusement.


“Came yesterday apparently,” Lee explained as Chip began to tear the paper from the box with enthusiasm. “Special courier; seems your sister was expecting us to be delayed and had the parcel ready to ship if she heard you weren’t going to make it home in time for today.”


“Oh, wow!” Chip’s face lit up with almost childish delight as he finished tearing off the paper and opened the large plastic box to find a collection of edible goodies including his favourite Christmas cookies. The familiar, tantalising smells transported his mind back three thousand miles to the other side of the country and he felt a huge wave of gratitude to his beloved elder sister. 


“Looks like we don’t need to go out for breakfast!” he said happily as he picked up a cookie and offered the box to his friend. “Happy Christmas, Lee!”


“Happy Christmas, Chip!” Lee responded as he helped himself to one of the delicious looking cookies and bit into it.


“Mmmmm,” both men said simultaneously as the cookies melted in their mouths. “Definitely no need to go out for breakfast,” Chip attested as he helped himself to a second cookie and offered the box back to his friend.


“Definitely not,” Lee agreed as he looked in the box. “May I try the muffins?”


“Sure!” Chip nodded. “And help yourself to a drink, Lee.” He reached for the nearby phone. “I’m just going to call Helen.” He started to press the buttons for the long distant call to his sister.


“Well, wish her a Merry Christmas from me!” Lee said between mouthfuls of muffin. “And tell her she saved our Christmas!”


“I will,” Chip grinned as he turned his full attention to the phone and debated his opening line as he waited for someone to answer the phone on this rather unusual Christmas morning.


The End




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