The Christmas Bells  

By Carol aka Catfish

*Author’s note: This story contains a bit of literary license. Please, no snowballs.

It was the night before Christmas, and Admiral Nelson, weary from his connecting flights from Los Angeles  to Boston, finally  emerged from the taxi onto the snow covered drive. He wasn’t really surprised that the ageing house looked a bit  out of place in the dim street lights. No holiday decorations graced its’ windows, roof, or entryway, as the neighboring mansions did. It was almost as if it wanted to be ignored. Nelson paid the taxi driver, wished him a happy holiday and gave him a hefty tip. No doubt the driver would rather be at home with his family and friends especially on such a miserable night. It was the least he could do.

 Some holiday’, Nelson muttered to himself after the cab drove off, depressed even after his act of kindness. As he struggled to unlock the heavy carved door, he couldn’t help but to remember that in days past, long past, that was, welcoming lights would have been waiting for him,  a butler would have opened the door, a valet would have taken his coat, and an under butler would have presented him with an appropriate hot toddy, or whatever his mother had ordered be made ready for her sailor son’s return from the sea.

Pine and poinsettia garlands  would have graced the vast curved staircase, and a huge, gaily lit and decorated Christmas tree would be  waiting for him to place that all important topper on it, star , angel or whatever, depending on his mother’s mood that year.

He would have been embraced and kissed by her, squashed in a bear hug by his father, fetted, wined and dined alongside a few remaining and aging relatives that had managed to survive the ravages of time, before he could finally escape and creep upstairs to his bedroom, not forgetting to  peek in on his little sister, who was hopefully fast asleep and waiting for Santa.

Yes, those were the good days, Nelson mused as he turned on the lights and shook off the snowflakes, hanging up his coat on the antique coatrack.   While the housekeeping agency had done its bit with a monthly dust and vac, the house smelled of must and disuse, not to mention the fact that the heater had been set to an extreme economical low. Too low, he shivered,  for a house this size and against the Arctic blast outside.

He really had no idea why he’d decided to come here for Christmas. With no family now save his sister Edith, it was a lonely homecoming as she was spending the holidays with her fiancé’s family, and attending various charitable events demanding the rest of her time.  As for his friends, he could count on one hand the number he’d really had in his lifetime, and they had their own lives, didn’t they? Oh, he had a lot of colleagues. But it wasn’t the same as having a good friend, a  best friend, maybe even something more, but now, he,  the great Harriman Horatio Nelson, four star admiral in the US Naval Reserve, recipient of numerous medals and even two  Nobel Prizes, was sure he’d lost forever Lee Crane, and doubted he could ever get back the almost father / son friendship which had formed between the two. And for something so damn trivial!

Arguments between Harriman Nelson and Lee Crane  weren’t uncommon, and sometimes the stuff of legend aboard Seaview and at NIMR. Though, unless they involved the safety of the submarine Seaview and her crew, Nelson, as Commander Crane’s Boss, usually won.

Nelson had  almost expected a letter of resignation to appear in the next morning’s interoffice mail as he picked up Lee’s returned ticket for the flight they had been going to share to New England. Of course, the errant letter  might be waiting for him in his ‘in’ box when he and most of the staff returned from their holiday leave.  No, Harriman tried to convince himself,  Lee might be angry with him, but he wasn’t stupid. He wouldn’t, couldn’t leave NIMR or rather his first love Seaview, out of spite.  No doubt, as in the past, eventually Crane would  put Nelson’s ‘suggestion’ behind him. But he doubted that things would never be normal between them again.

All day, all night, and even on the long flight here, he remembered their battle of wills...

“Why are you being so inconsiderate?” Nelson shouted angrily, incongruous with the holiday music being piped in through the entire Administration Building. In fact he’d already been after Angie to lower the volume.

“Inconsiderate?” Lee hopped off the edge of Nelson’s office desk, “you can’t be serious!”

“Damn it Lee! How can you be so pigheaded and insubordinate!

“Insubordinate? This is a personal matter. You can’t order me to cooperate!”

“I thought you were my friend!”

“I am, and as your friend, I have to tell you that this is the most hair-brained addlepated idea you’ve ever come up with. What’s wrong with you? You want me to change a girl’s mind about her fiancé? Your own sister?  Using  me as the bait to get her mind off Pierre?”

“It’s urgent, Lee! They’re going to set the date soon. Why won’t you help me stop the engagement?”

“You can’t tell someone who not to love!”

“We have to do something! She’ll ruin her life!”

“There’s no ‘we’ in this. She’s a grown woman. It’s her choice. ”

“A damned bad one! He’s no good for her!”

“You don’t know that!”

“Why are you defending him? Perhaps Jiggs was right.”

“Admiral Starke? About what?”

“Well, if you find it so hard to help me out, maybe you’re just using me to advance your career instead of being a real friend.”

Using you?”

“Well, being Seaview’s Captain certainly hasn’t hurt your image. Hardly a day goes by that I don’t hear something from somebody, even in Washington circles, about the gallant Captain Crane. It’s as if  I don’t exist anymore! Even with my name on the Institute!”

You drafted me, remember?”

“I’m beginning to remember a lot of things. For example, Jiggs is certainly right about how you’ve been getting away with behavior no subordinate in the Navy ever could!  And to think I defended it. Treating you like a brother, even a...”

“Now, wait a minute. I know you’re upset about Edie, but…”

“Misplaced loyalty on my part, no doubt,” Nelson pouted, interrupting.

“If that’s all you think about what we had,” Lee glared, deathly quiet, then raising his voice, “then damn Admiral Starke, damn  the Navy, and damn you!” he stomped out and slammed the door behind him.



“You’ve been awfully quiet, Lee,” Lt. Cmdr. Joe Jackson, plunked down in a chair, in front of a wall of highly technical monitors. Joe had opted for some Reserve time at the Cape Cod Coast Guard Station in exchange for a blessed two weeks away from Admiral Starke, who had not approved his leave request to join Crane Massachusetts for the holidays with his mother. And Lee, being Lee, especially after his rift with Nelson, decided a couple of weeks as a weekend warrior nearby to his mother in the town of Barnstable,  wouldn’t hurt, and arranged his own Reserve time (as was his unique privilege as Captain of the Seaview) securing Christmas Day off for the both of them.  “Want to talk about it?” Joe continued.

“I’m sorry, ” Lee ran a hand through his hair as he sat on the edge of the counter, “I thought I could get it out of my mind. Harry’s never been this thoughtless. I know he’s concerned about Edie, but…”

“Yeah, I know. I don’t know how you put up with it. First he claims to be your friend, then he throws it in your face…he can’t have it both ways, if I may be so bold.”

“How could he even think that I’ve abused our friendship?” Lee began to pace, “ I’ve always been professional aboard Seaview, at the institute….but…Joe…what if…what if he’s right? What  if I have gotten too full of myself? Maybe I did use my influence as his  friend sometimes without realizing it…what if  I’ve enjoyed hobnobbing with the brass…what if…”

“Well, why the hell not?” Joe rose and  put a comforting arm around his shoulder, “if you’d stayed in the Navy, bro,  you’d be one of the brass yourself now. Your abilities and the respect you have in the Navy have nothing to do with him or Seaview. And don’t you think otherwise. ”

“You should have seen his eyes,” Lee poured himself a cup of coffee, “probably already took my name plate off my cabin door already…oh God, Joe…what am I going to do without Seaview…”

“Relax bro, he’s smarter than that. Not only can’t he order you to do something  personal, even he  knows you’re the best damn submarine commander out there. He wouldn’t dare fire you.”

“After what I said to him? After  I told him to go to hell?”

“You said ‘damn you’, not quite the same thing, bro. Okay, maybe it is, I guess. You were justified to refuse him, and he knows it. He’s just covering for his own mistake, making you think you were in the wrong. Let me tell you about Admirals, Lee. I’ve been with Admiral Starke long enough to know how they think. They’re God, that’s what they think they are. And come hell or high water, they won’t admit when they’re wrong or ever apologize.”

“No, Nelson’s not like that. Stubborn, yes, but….”

“Lee, Lee, Lee. I know you’ve liked him all this time, loved him like a father even, but he sure didn’t treat you like a son, did he? Nobody would blame you if you call the friendship quits. Don’t you think it’s time you cut the cord?”

“I…don’t know…I…”

Whatever Lee was going to say was interrupted by the ear shattering sound, light, and force of an explosion.


As long as the ‘use by ‘ date hadn’t expired on the can of SPAM, no one could complain that Harriman Nelson ever wasted his money. Lee had joked, complained actually, that Nelson purchased Army Surplus.  Lee, Lee, Lee, Nelson frowned. That joke had been getting old. And now…well, he doubted he’d ever hear Lee joking with him again. Damnation! Had he really ordered Lee to help him out? Even to go against Crane’s deep seated and honorable principles?  Would Lee even consider returning to NIMR and Seaview?

 It wasn’t just this thing with Edith and Lee that had put Nelson into his sour mood;  it was Christmas itself. While most people invited festivities, Christmas reminded him of his parent’s death.  The train accident all those years ago had made headlines. The Naval officer  had been granted sole guardianship of the little heiress as the then 8 year old Edith, his only remaining relative at the time.

And it was he, who’d had to tell the little girl that their mother and father, even the plethora of relatives that had also died,  weren’t coming home for Christmas ever again. 

In the end it was the child herself who decided Christmas could wait till next year, and Harriman dutifully had the staff remove all the decorations. In fact, in the years following, while there were Christmas trees, none of them had ever  been graced with the generations of family baubles again. Simple white or silver snowflakes only adorned it. A kind of memorial, Edith had insisted, and it had become a tradition. The boxes of family ornaments handed down from one generation to another,  had never again seen the light of day. They were around someplace, he knew. Where, though, was anyone’s guess. In his loneliness, he had a sudden, overwhelming need to find them. Turning off the stove, and leaving the SPAM behind,  he decided the attic was as good a place as any to search.

 The attic  was on the third floor, a storehouse of not quite discarded or ‘once upon a whim’ kinds of things. He hadn’t been up here since he didn’t know when…certainly not since Edith had been a child.

One thing was certain, no housekeeping staff ever included the attic on their appointed rounds.

Dust bunnies and cobwebs seemed to encase the various pieces of old fashioned or broken furniture, dolls, toys, and even a wooden Celtic harp he’d never seen before. It was a sorry sight, unstrung and rotting with woodworm.  It might even have been brought over on the boat from the ‘old sod’.  It half hid a wooden box behind it. Thinking it might be the Christmas decorations, he blew off the dust and also used his sleeve to wipe it off before opening it.

Yes, there they were. Probably worth something, if you were into that sort of antique. The Nelson’s and O’Hara’s hadn’t decorated with  Christmas trees until they came to America. More a German tradition, Christmas trees hadn’t really been popularized until England’s Prince Albert, the consort of Queen Victoria  made it a royal tradition. Of course, once a picture of the happy family, sans crown, appeared in a popular lady’s book, it caught on like wildfire in America too.

One by one, Nelson picked through the ornaments, some broken, most rotted away. Setting aside the few that were still useable he noticed a cloth at the bottom of the box and pulled it out. He remembered the cross stich table runner that his mother had been stitching all those years ago. She’d wanted to finish the joyful bells before he came home on leave, but told him it would have to wait until next Christmas before it was finished and ready for the dining room table.  

The threaded needle, still tucked into the fabric, was still waiting for nimble fingers to continue move it up and down in the x pattern. He remembered her sitting in her favorite ‘morning room’, so named for the early morning sunshine, the fireplace aglow with warmth, as she stitched. He remembered the mantle covered with greenery and Christmas Cards, young Edith playing with a doll at her feet, and their smiles he greeted them before breakfast.

Fingering the cloth, deluged with memories, for the first time since the trauma of all those years past, he began to sob.

Oh  God, I’m so alone! Why did you let all this happen to me? Why punish me like this? First,  my mother and father. Now  Edith’s going to ruin her life and Lee’s probably going to leave Seaview. He’s a good friend…my only friend, if you don’t count Jiggs, but he’s never been as close as Lee is…was…and now…now… what have I done…”

The ringing of the phone  interrupted.

“Okay! Okay!” he yelled, wiping his face with his sleeve as he headed downstairs. “Give me a frigging chance to get downstairs already! I’ve been eating far too  many of Chip’s cookies,” he was puffing to himself  by the time he picked up the phone in the den, just off the stairway. Formerly his father’s private  domain, boasted a library, fireplace, TV, and of course, the phone. It was an old fashioned rotary phone, but  still worked.

“If you’re selling anything, I gave at the office.”

“Harriman, finally. Turn on the news.”

“Jiggs? What...”

“There’s been an explosion at the Cape Cod Coast Guard Station…my man Jackson’s there…yours too, I think if the water cooler gossip is correct. ”

Crane? Nelson felt a knot form in his stomach.

“Harry…it looks bad. Now turn on your TV to CNN. Keep me on the line….”


“Apparently the Communications building, ” the TV reporter said from in front of the Coast Guard Station’s  main gate, “ suffered an explosion of unknown origin. While it’s still ablaze, it’s 80 percent contained and all base personnel and staff have been accounted for, except for two men, one on loan from the Navy, the other from the Nelson Institute of Marine Research. They were on duty in the building when the explosion happened, possibly smack in the epicenter. Search dogs have been requested to assist in the search and rescue of the rubble once the fire is out and it’s deemed safe to proceed.”


 Oh God, oh God, oh God…”

“Harry? Harry?”

“Sorry, Jiggs…I…don’t understand…Lee wasn’t scheduled for any reserve duty…” Nelson managed, confused and  trembling.

“Beats me. I’m trying to get more details…I thought you were going to spring for Crane’ flight back east  with you? Something about you wanting him to be able to stretch out those long legs of his in something other than coach.”

 “We…we had words. Next morning, the ticket I’d given him was on my desk. That’s all I know…Jiggs, I..I need to find a car rental that’s open Christmas Eve…”

“You stay put. You’re in no condition to drive. I’ll call in a few favors and have a Navy car come get you. We’ll call it part of our official investigation. Better put on your uniform…and keep me posted. Harry? I hope your boy’s okay. I know I hope mine is.”


“That’s all I know, Mom,” Chip pulled on his coat as his father kept switching channels to find more coverage of the explosion. “I’m sorry to wreck your  Christmas but… I don’t know why he decided on some reserve time...if it had been me I…”

“Could it be some other Reservist from NIMR? You do have a few… ” one of Chip’s brothers interrupted, “here’s your bag. Good thing you didn’t have time to unpack much.“

“What if it is Lee? Oh God, what if he dies?” Chip wailed.

 “We’ll be praying for him, Chip,” Mrs. Morton kissed her son goodbye, “it’s all we can do.”

In minutes Mr. Morton Sr. was driving his son to O’Hare Airport.



“What is it?” Stan Kowalski  approached his brother, standing in front of the wide screen TV’s the large mega store had turned on for customers to compare. Ski and Stan  were doing a little last minute shopping for their parents, visiting Ski for the holidays. The crewman was enjoying his parent’s visit but now they were the last thing on his mind.

“The Skipper…. Stan, I…I gotta go.”

“The head’s over there I think.”

“No…look! They just scrolled his name on the bottom of that TV report again. He’s…trapped…in that Coast Guard explosion….why’s he there anyway….oh God…what if…if….look Stan, I’ll make it up to you all, but I gotta get to.. where’s that place….”

As if in answer, the scroll bar listed the Cape Cod Coast Guard Station as being located near  a town called Mashpee, and Barnstable. Yeah, the Skipper’s mom lived there now. He’d been planning on visiting her…

“I gotta’ so see if I can help…”

The scroll bar had given way to the news team’s live helicopter view of the building’s devastation. The fire  was out, but the  fire rescue vehicles and flashing lights cast an erie glow to the rubble as men with four search dogs, covered in soot were sadly shaking their heads.

“Sorry, kid, there’s nothing you can do.”


It wasn’t a long drive, but it sure felt like it as the snowplows were limited at this time of night. Finally, the car was waved through the base’ main gate and in minutes was at the scene of the tragedy.

As the driver opened Nelson’s door, he could see  one of the victims was being loaded into the EVAC unit. He was on oxygen, and he managed to recognize Nelson and waved briefly. It wasn’t Crane.


Nelson braced himself for the next to be loaded. Crane too was on oxygen, but unconscious, and as his head rolled toward Nelson, it revealed ugly black and blistering burns to half of his face and his hair, what was left of it on that side, was singed.

The next thing Nelson knew his driver was summoning a paramedic to help  revive the Admiral from his faint, the EVAC units already gone the short distance to the base’s ER,   sirens wailing.

“I’m…I’m okay...low blood sugar I guess…”

“Admiral Nelson?” a four striper approached, “I’m Captain Firth, the commander here. I understand you’ll be part of the Navy’s investigating team?”

Er…yes…” Damn it, he was here to check on Lee, not to supervise Starke’s trumped up ‘job’.

“Perhaps you’d like to come to my office while we’re waiting for some of the preliminary reports. I have some juice in the fridge…”

“Thank you, but I really need to get to the ER… I have to tell you Captain, that I know both men. One of them especially….he’s my Captain.”

“Yes sir, we’re aware of Commander Crane’s affiliation with Seaview. I was a bit surprised when he volunteered some reserve time with us, Commander Jackson too. But no way was I about to question it. My men have worked very hard this past year and deserve some down time for the holidays. It was a godsend that the commanders volunteered, as long as they got a couple of hours on Christmas Afternoon off. I hope your men will be okay sir, but I have to tell you, Commander Crane’s unresponsive.”



Kaehler Memorial Medical Clinic on base was not used to too many emergencies but it was prepared for the worst of them. Due to his status as part of the initial incident team,  Nelson was allowed to wait just outside the ER while Captain Firth went to get him  some juice. It would not do to have the investigating  Admiral faint again.


 “You know, Mr. Bliss, these schedules are getting more and more complicated,” one of two white tuxedo clad men was saying, checking his clipboard. Not normally used to seeing men in tuxedos on a military base, nor a clipboard that was of a strange, almost bizarre design, perhaps one of those new digital voice gadgets…Nelson had to chalk up the outfits to some kind of Christmas party. Until an ER nurse walked right through one of the men on her errand.


Nelson shook his head. Perhaps he was more upset than he’d thought. Perhaps? he mused, well, of course he was upset.


“Yes, especially this time of year, Mr. Glad,” the other man was saying, “ but you can’t argue with HQ.”

“That’s for sure,” the other said as Nelson observed a tad belatedly that the man  had almost translucent like skin, snow white hair and diamond cufflinks. The other had burnished mahogany skin, midnight black hair like Lee’s and gold cufflinks. As worried as he was about Lee, he found himself totally mesmerized by the sheer glow of the two. Then doctors in green scrubs ran through them into the ER.


 As a man of science, Nelson chalked this up to his faint, though he couldn’t figure out why fainting had brought on  subsequent hallucinations. He’d have to get checked out. Later. Right now Lee as at the forefront of his concerns.  


“Well, we’d better get going,” the snow haired man said, looking at his watch. It too, was almost translucent but glittering with all the colors of the rainbow, and some colors Nelson couldn’t put names to.

“Here’s your juice, Sir,” Firth approached Nelson.

“Captain, who are those men?”

“What men, sir?”

“Those two, over there,” he pointed.

“I don’t see any men…”

“Oh, yes, of course, they must have just left,” Nelson lied as the white haired man raised an eyebrow toward him.

“He can see us, Mr. Bliss?” the other man asked, “he’s not supposed to be able to do that.”

“Well, there’ve been  a few cases, Mr. Glad,  but it’s usually temporary.”

“Admiral, are you all right?” Firth asked.

“Fine, just fine,” Nelson lied, causing both men to  tsk tsk tsk and shake their heads,  “just upset about the explosion,” the Admiral continued, “…any idea of the cause?” he asked, but not taking his eyes off of the men that Firth couldn’t see.

“It will take awhile….”

“Look, Captain, why don’t you go ahead on home to your family…I’ll take any reports that come in…and can call you if I need you.”

“I’d like that but it’s already almost midnight. The kids have probably already gone to bed…”

“Then go be with your wife for now, enjoy the morning with your children…I can handle any info as it comes in, and call you if warranted. I …need some time to assimilate all of this on my own anyway….for the investigation.”

“Very well, sir. Good night. I’ll let Security know you can call me at any time. They have my command number.”


“And in other news,” the late night news reporter said on the Flying Sub’s monitor, “ there are unconfirmed reports that while both officers were pulled from the debris alive and have massive injuries and burns, it’s rumored that one of them is on life support.”

“Turn it off kid,” Stan whispered as his brother tried to over- ride the vehicle’s security code. “I know you’re concerned, but are you sure you want to go through with this? I mean, you don’t exactly have clearance…”

“My Skipper needs me.”

“Kid, kid, kid, you really think you can help him? You heard it. It might even be him that’s on life support.”

“You think I don’t know that? I just know I gotta’ be there for him…”

“Man, you got that hero worship bad.”

“It’s not hero worship. He’s…he’s the Skipper. And the best damn Skipper I’ve ever had. And…”Ski hesitated.


“I like him, okay! Now, you don’t get airsick do you?”

“How the hell should I know? I’m a deep diver, not a joystick jockey.”

“The Skipper fell in love with her the first time he saw the Admiral’s little pencil drawings,” Ski mused, “man, I nearly pee’d in my pants when the Skip took her out on one of the first trial flights after she was built. Nelson was fit to be tied. He hadn’t exactly cleared the Skip as a test pilot. Not to mention that the Skip had only just finished flight school. Well, that’s not exactly true. Had his civi wings, propeller craft, you know, single or double engine, but not jet training. Had to get those wings when Seaview was getting refitted for this little baby. Aced it, but I overheard him telling Mr. Morton that he was sure glad to get back to the boat, something about being sick as a dog during the last phase of his training on some flattop.”

“Occupational hazard for bubbleheads I figure, surface craft.”

Suddenly the klaxton began to echo throughout the sub.

“Damn…busted!” Ski said and tried to shut things down, “let’s get the hell out of here!”

In minutes the deck watch had descended into the flying sub, followed by NIMR security.


“I’m sorry, son. I guess it’s just not meant to be,” Mr. Morton Sr., told his son,  all flights to Boston have been cancelled due to that Nor’easter.”

“Well, this is just great!” Morton hissed. “Lee needs me!”

“Son…what can you do?”

“I…just need to be there…”

“C’mon, let’s go home. Why don’t we stop at that old church we used to go to before it got too small for the congregation. It’s a shelter now…you said you wanted to volunteer tomorrow. We can begin tonight. It’ll be something to help you take your mind off Crane. They even kept part of the chapel intact. Might not be sanctified anymore but maybe you’d like someplace nice and quiet to pray.”

“I’ve been praying since this happened. I don’t see what difference a church would make.”

“I’m sure the Good Lord doesn’t care where you pray, but I’d feel better if you could just have a little place to get away between you and Him.”

“Thanks, Dad…you’re right. I might not be able to get to Boston, but…wait…maybe a commercial flight can’t get to Boston, but I know a way there!”


“All right, what are you two doing here?” Nelson hissed at the two men when he was alone, sort of, trying not to be noticed by the few medical staff not in the ER.

“I think you know, Harriman,” Mr. Bliss said as Jackson was rolled out.

“Well,” one of the nurses said to another as she walked through the men rolling the patient down the hall, “at least this one will make it. Too bad about the other. I’d sure hate to be in Captain Firth’s shoes when he has to tell the mother her son’s brain dead. ”

After a moment Nelson spoke, “Yes I know what you are. Now more than ever. You’re Angels of Death,  and you can’t have Lee Crane!”

“It’s always about you, isn’t it, Harriman?” Mr. Glad asked.

“Please…don’t let him die!”

“We don’t have the authority to change anyone’s appointment,” Mr. Bliss checked his clipboard,  it’s a tapestry of life thing…pull one thread out and the whole plan is compromised.”

“If we can mere mortals can patch up a tapestry of cloth, you angels can patch Lee up, too!”

“I’m sorry, Harriman,” Mr. Glad said, “ we can no more reschedule his arrival date than we could bring back your dog Lucky when you were 7, remember?  Besides, why should you care? You didn’t exactly part on good terms with the boy in Santa Barbara.”

“I didn’t mean what I said! I was angry, that’s all! Lee’s my friend. My  best friend!”

“Oh yes,” Mr. Bliss said,  ‘friend, enemy, partner, rival, big brother, blood brother, and sometimes you’d like to bash his head in’, your own words some years ago,  but that wasn’t quite true was it. After all, your friendship with Lee Crane is just  yourmisplaced loyalty’ or am I mistaken about what you told him?”

“No! I didn’t mean it!”

“Whether you meant it or not…we have a schedule to keep,” Mr. Glad  said. “If it makes you feel better, it won’t hurt.”

“If he’s brain dead, why haven’t you already taken him! There’s still hope…”

 “Our schedule, Mr. Bliss,” Mr. Glad gave Mr. Bliss a slight shove toward the ER.

“Wait! Wait…there has to be a way around this….take…take me instead.”

“But it doesn’t work that way!” the Mr. Glad said. “You should know that! You went to Sunday School, didn’t you! When your number’s up, your number’s up!”

“Calm yourself, Mr. Glad, ” Mr. Bliss ordered, then,  “so, Harriman, just why are you’re willing to sacrifice your life for his? He’s just a colleague, easily replaced.”


“It’s exactly what you were thinking before you came to Boston.”

“God help me, I know, but I was wrong…so wrong…”

“Mr. Bliss!” Mr. Glad pushed him closer to the door.

“Please!” Nelson knelt, pulling on both their pant legs, “take me!” Lee’s…more than a friend, he’s…like a son to me! I love him!”

“You’ve never told him that,” Mr. Bliss said quietly but firmly.

“It’s not something a guy says to another guy.”

“That’s not quite true,” Mr. Glad said. “Just because your father couldn’t bring himself to speak the word love,  at least he showed you that he loved you. Unconditionally. Is that the case between you and Lee Crane? No. You were ready to fire him! ”

“I was angry. Not thinking clearly. I was concerned for Edith.”

“No,” Mr. Bliss said, “you were concerned for yourself. You objected to her choice of companion. He was too much a snob to your liking.”

“Okay, okay! I get the point. Now, will you both stop badgering me and let me exchange my life for Lee’s? Please!” he pleaded, tears running down his face.

“But it’s just not done!” Mr. Glad said. “Come on Mr. Bliss, it’s time.”

“NO! I beg you!” Nelson yelled.

“You know, Harriman,” Mr. Bliss said, “for an educated man, surely you realize Angels of Death are still only Angels. HQ makes the decisions. We can do nothing on our own. The buck doesn’t stop with us, but with God.”

“Of course! I should have been talking to Him all along! Dear God, take me! Let Lee Crane live! Please! He’s got his whole life ahead of him! He’s more valuable to mankind than me! You know that! I know I’ve done wrong! I know I shouldn’t have talked to him like that. I didn’t mean it, well, maybe, but just because I was stupid and selfish! Don’t punish him because of what I did or didn’t do!”

“Why would you think that the death of Lee Crane  is  a punishment?” Mr. Glad asked, confused.

“His appointment was set the moment he was conceived,” Mr. Bliss explained.

“Shut up and let me pray, will you! Sorry for the interruption, Lord. As I was saying, please take me instead of Lee. Surely you can patch up the damn tapestry…er…sorry. I’m upset, if that’s any excuse. I won’t use profanity in Heaven, if that’s where I’m going. Please dear Lord in Heaven, if you’re willing…please God…let Lee live….”

“You realize, don’t you,” Mr. Bliss said, “that even if your prayer is answered, Crane may be disfigured for life. Possibly  handicapped…paralyzed, even. ”

“Shit, I didn’t realize… Lord, Lord, fix him up too! You can do it. You can do anything! Oh God, please, please, take me instead!”

“Two seconds to go, Mr. Bliss.”

“Wait,” Mr. Bliss checked his clipboard as the sound of bells tinkled, “apparently HQ has changed Crane’s appointment and replaced his name with Harriman’s.”

“But it just isn’t done!”

“HQ can do whatever the Boss approves, you know that. Very well, Harriman, shall we go?”

“Wait…can…can I see him…one last time?”

But  the schedule!” Mr. Glad said.

“It will be okay,” Mr. Bliss said, showing Mr. Glad the clipboard, “took a bit of doing at HQ they say, but Crane and Nelson’s lives are so intertwined the tapestry would only suffer minor damage which is already being remedied as we speak. They’ve already allowed a few extra minutes for it.  Very well, Harriman, shall we go in?” Mr. Bliss indicated the door.


“I’m sorry, sir,” NIMR Security responded to Cmdr. Morton’s call, “but the Flying Sub’s…er…unavailable.”

“What do you mean unavailable?”

“Sorry sir, but Ski’s in flight to Boston…you heard about the Skipper?”

“Yes. Tell Ski I want to hitch a ride.”


Lee was hooked up to a plethora of monitors. The respirator hissed. That was nothing new to Nelson. He couldn’t count how often Lee had been injured in the line of duty. The doctors and nurses saw the Admiral  at the door and shook their heads sadly as they exited, leaving Nelson alone with the man who was only awaiting the arrival of his mother, on the way from Barnstable, to authorize the removal of the life support as it breathed and pumped blood for him.

Gently Nelson took Lee’s unburnt hand in his own, and ran his other through what was left of Lee’s hair on the other side of his burnt and blistered face.

“I know you can’t hear me, but I have to tell you before I go…I love you, son. Please don’t hate me for the things I said to you…”

Suddenly the monitor beeped erratically causing beeps to summon the medical staff as Lee’s eyes opened, surprised at the sight of Nelson by his side, surprised by the sight of medical staff hurrying to his side right through the two men in white tuxedos.

“Easy…easy,” one of the nurses said, “he’s agitated about the tube…”

“He’s supposed to be brain dead,” one of the doctors said.

“He’s trying to breathe on his own…”another said.

“Pull out the damn tube out already!” Nelson ordered.

“Go ahead. Admiral please get out of the way,” the head doctor  said, then to Crane, “it’ll feel like you have to gag…”

Mr. Bliss took Nelson’s arm.

“No, wait…I want to tell him I love him, so he can hear it…” Nelson wailed.

Lee gagged and coughed as the tube was removed, and turned toward Nelson,  Admiral?” he managed, hoarsely.

“Right here, son…”he tried to get back closer to Lee but was stopped by the staff.

“This is impossible,” the head doctor said of the machine readings as a nurse tried to take Crane’s pulse.

“I…I know you!” Lee pointed to the angels.

“Of course you do, Commander,” the nurse said, “the Admiral’s been at your side a few minutes.”

“I know that! I mean them!”

“Hallucination due to the head trauma,” the doctor explained to the confused nurse.

 “Oh God, Harry,” Lee cried out, “ what have you done?”

“Come along, Harriman,” Mr. Glad said dragging him away.

“No!” Lee croaked, “no! You can’t have him!”

“You know Mr. Bliss?” Nelson edged his way back to Lee. This time the staff let him, conferring in whispers about their patient’s mental state (as well as Nelson’s), deciding to call the base commander with this update.

Nelson wanted to  put his arms around Lee but to do so would cause more pain. Instead he cradled the side of Lee’s head that wasn’t  burnt.

“Yeah,” Lee responded, “met him a couple of times…the one with the diamonds.”

“Is Lee one  of the exceptions you spoke of?” Mr. Glad asked Mr. Bliss as they looked on.

“He was always a bright boy. Very sensitive to things of a holy nature…”

“Please…don’t take him,” Crane pleaded.

“But it was Harriman’s idea in the first place!” Mr. Bliss said. “HQ went to a lot of trouble to reweave the tapestry…”


“It’s the tapestry of life thing, Lee,” Nelson explained. “Please son, I love you more than life itself. Let me do this.”


“Young man,” Mr. Glad said. “You don’t seem to understand. All the threads of life….”

“Then undo the damn tapestry! Start it  over if you have to. You’re Angels! Do something!”

“Any good reason why we should?” Mr. Bliss asked calmly.

“Because I love him!” Lee shouted, “and he doesn’t deserve to die! Especially not for me…”

“Death is not a punishment, my boy, ” Mr. Glad said. “I do wish you humans would realize that…”

“I’m sure most of them do, Mr. Glad. It’s just that they have this compulsion to hang on to what they’re familiar with…”

“Lee, believe me,” Nelson said, “ I’m happy to exchange myself for you…”

“No! You can’t!  You…you’re like a father to me. I’ll always love Edward Crane, but…I love you too…just as much…maybe more…should have told you a long time ago…”

Nelson kissed Lee on the patch of unburnt skin on his forehead,  me too, son. Very well, Mr. Bliss, I’m ready to go.”

“No!” Lee yelled.

“And just how are you going to stop us?” Mr. Bliss asked, as he took Nelson’s arm.

“I stopped you before,” Lee pouted, defiant.

“No. You stopped an evil persona from destroying your shipmates, but even he  wouldn’t have been powerful enough to change anyone’s actual appointment with us. You did show your courage and self -sacrifice, though. Very impressive.

“That’s true, Mr. Bliss,” Mr. Glad mused, “I remember another time when Lee…”the clipboard began to beep. “We’re overdue!”

“Not only that, there’s a new message coming through…”

“Oh boy, Gabe  is really going to like that…” Mr. Glad said sarcastically as he looked over Mr. Bliss’s shoulder, “ I knew I should have stayed in the Tear Labeling Dept. ”

“Very well. Harriman,” Mr. Bliss said, “ your appointment’s been rescheduled.”

“No!” Nelson wailed, “I won’t let you take it back! I won’t let you make Lee die!”

“Oh, his appointment’s  been changed too.”

By now the medical staff had had enough of Nelson and Crane arguing with thin air and were about to sedate both when Mr. Bliss waved his hand.  “A little  parting Christmas present from upstairs. For the other young man too.”

“What?” Lee asked as everyone stared at him, mouths agape,  what is it?”

Nelson ran a hand over Lee’s smooth unblistered face, then ran his hand through Lee’s fully restored curls.

“I can’t believe it,” the doctor said,” what happened to the burns?”

“Not a sign of the crushed ribs,” the nurse had pulled the sheet over his chest down and was poking and prodding, “not a bruise in sight either. His skin’s as smooth as a baby’s bottom…I can’t believe it either…”

“I do,” Nelson said, pulling the sheet back up to cover Lee, “thank you Mr. Bliss, Mr. Glad.”

Us? We had nothing to do with it. The Boss must think you’re both worth all the time and trouble for the Tapestry Dept. Oh, by the way, Harriman. You really will have to work on that profanity problem. Not exactly the kind of language one wants to hear wafting up toward the pearly gates. Your mother is appalled.”

“Uh…of course…I’ll work on it.”

“Me too,” Lee said.

“You do that,” Mr. Bliss said, and walked out with Mr. Glad just as Captain Firth brushed past them, accompanied by Mrs. Crane, turning to look at them.

“Who were they?” he asked, as Lee’s mother ran to Lee’s side and embraced him.

You saw them this time?” Nelson asked Firth. “Well, at least now you can tell your staff that neither Lee and I need a shrink.”

“He…he…”Firth pointed to Crane.

“He’s fine Captain Firth. Just fine…and Commander Jackson is too, I believe you’ll find…”

 “Oh, my baby, my baby,” Mrs. Crane was sobbing in sheer joy as she held on to Lee as if he could break,  “I thought…I thought…all the news reports…”

“I’m fine, Mom. God’s honest truth.”

“Doctor?” Firth asked.

Er…well, give us a few minutes to verify things, sir. But…I saw the transformation myself! I guess you could call it a…a….”

“It’s called a miracle,” Nelson said calmly. “They do happen now and then, you know.”


It was still dark when Morton pulled himself up to his full height as he tried to enter the waterside gate, Stan Kowalski having volunteered to babysit the flying sub at the dock.

“Look, I’m Lt. Cmdr. Morton of the Seaview! I demand to see Captain Crane.”

“Sorry, sir. We got orders. Nobody in or out of the place…we gotta’ check you out with Captain Firth, what with that situation at the clinic.”

“Oh God…the Skipper’s dead….”Ski said.

Dead? Hardly. Thought he was, everyone did. Till he wakes up, and starts ordering the staff to let him go…and you know what’s really weird, neither he or the other Commander was as bad off as the paramedics and medical staff first  thought. I think all the sawbones are going to have to get in some more training ….okay,” he took the printout, “ here’s the message from Captain Firth. Says you’re welcome on deck, but that Commanders Crane and Jackson have been released. Both of ‘em also released from Reserve duty;  Captain Firth was adamant.

“Do you know where they went?” Morton asked.

“To the Admiral’s. He has a place in Boston. If you wait a minute, I’ll get you the address. Captain Firth demanded some contact info…and seeing how Nelson’s your Boss…look, why don’t you let our SP’s guard your flying sub…I promise we won’t touch it.”

“Sounds good to me, Mr. Morton. And after all, he did help out.”


Lee whistled as the Nelson mansion loomed above the car as he stepped out, helping his mother, while the driver and  Joe picked up their gear.

“I don’t remember keeping the lights on,” Nelson mused as he unlocked the door, “what the…”

A small table top, and rather pathetic Christmas tree was in the corner by the stairs and an open box of half eaten pizza on the entry table, accompanied by a set of pink luggage at it’s feet.

“Harry? That you?” a woman’s voice called out.

“Well of course it is, who else would it be…”

“Oh Harry,” she ran from the den into his arms, “I was so worried about you…poor Lee…is…is it over?”

“Oh, I’d say it’s just beginning,” he turned to show Joe and Lee just now at the doorway along with Mrs. Crane on his arm.

“You…you’re not all burnt up and dead?”

“We’re fine. Joe Jackson, ”he extended his hand.

“Careful, Edie, he known to be a wolf,” Lee gave her a friendly embrace. “This is my Mom.”

“Mrs. Crane…I’ve heard so much about you.”

“Good I hope.”

“Um, where’s Pierre?” Lee asked.


“Yes, sweetie,” Nelson said, “I want to apologize to both of you and welcome him into the family…”

“We…um…we broke up. That is. I did…when I heard that Lee was at death’s door, well, I realized that what I felt for Lee as a friend was far more than what I felt for Pierre. It would have been a mistake…”

“I’m sorry it didn’t turn out, but whatever you decide for your life, sweetie, it’ll be okay with me.”

“Are you sure you didn’t hit your head on something? Now come on into the den. I have a nice roaring fire and want you to tell me everything. And then if the rest of you don’t mind, perhaps Harry can read us all the Christmas story from the family bible like Daddy used to do when I was young…I know it’s late, but no way I can sleep. Oh, I hope you don’t mind the tree, Harry. It’s all I could find at the last minute…thought you’d need some cheering up, but now…I guess I’ll throw it away.”

“Don’t you dare, sweetie..come along boys, Mrs. Crane…”


“Early this morning the Cape Cod Coast Guard Station issued an update on Commanders Jackson and Crane, the two officers at the epicenter of an explosion. Apparently their injuries were not as bad as initially believed and both men have been released.  No further word is available.”

“You can turn the radio off now,” Morton told the taxi driver.

“Well, I still don’t believe it, sir,” Ski said as he and Stan exited and his superior paid the tab. “That was a pretty big tip, sir,” the crewman piped up as they trudged through the snow to the door.

“I always like to tip well. Just like Lee…Captain Crane. Even the Admiral tips pretty good now…somebody’s still up, judging from the lights.”


Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men,” Nelson ended his rendition of the ancient gospel from the tattered bible, letting Lee take it after an inquiring nod.

“It has  beautiful engravings,” Lee said perusing through the leaves.

“When I was small, my mother would tell me bible stories about some of the pictures…what is it Lad?” he asked as Lee suddenly stared at a page in the back.

“Your family register…”

“My grandmother began the list…hard to decipher the calligraphy of the times…”


“About time Harry,” Edith looked over Lee’s shoulder and the newly inked entry.

There underneath Harriman Horatio’s birthdate was Nelson’s scrawl…Lee Beauregard Crane.

Beauregard?” Edith asked.

“Long story,” Mrs. Crane said. “Remind me to tell you about it…chose it himself when the adoption was final…”

“Admiral…you didn’t have to do this…”

“And why the hell not? For all intents and purposes, Lee Crane, you are my son.”

“Could be a bit awkward, but…thanks Harry…er…father.”

Just then the doorbell rang.

“Who could that be at his hour?” Nelson said, and headed to the door, shouting loudly, “if you want a donation, I gave at the off…er…wait a moment. Changed my mind,” he muttered, “ Damn, I’d better give them something…especially after what’s happened….here you go,” opened the door with  a handful of wadded up bills,  “…oh…Chip! Ski! Seaman Kowalski. What are you doing here! Never mind! “

“The Skipper?” Ski asked. Radio or not, he wouldn’t believe he was okay, unless he saw him himself.

“Is he really okay?” Chip asked, “ I mean…first he was dying then we hear that  he’s been released….”

“Oh, he was at death’s door. Literally, but he’s okay now. In fact. He’s fine! Truly. Well,  don’t just stand there letting all that cold air in.. I don’t suppose you want to tell me how you got here when just about all the flights in and out of Boston were cancelled last night or need I ask?”

“The flying sub’s berthed at the Coast Guard Station under guard.”

“Good, I wouldn’t want the Captain to head out there to check on her. Of course, he might just want to pat her bulkhead and kiss her.”

“I heard that!” Lee approached. “Merry Christmas Chip, Ski. Hello Stan. And yes, I really am okay. As if it never happened. They still can’t figure out the cause of the explosion…”he yawned sheepishly.

“I think it’s time you went to bed, Lee,” Mrs. Crane said. “It was really nice of the Admiral to invite us to stay with him for Christmas.”

“You’ll spend some time with us too, won’t you Chip?” Edith asked, “and you two, er…”

“Kowalski, Ma’am,” Ski spoke, “we’re brothers. This is Stan.  I just go by Ski.  But er…”

“You’re both welcome,” Nelson said, “though  I still can’t promise you much more than Spam for Christmas dinner.”

“That’s okay, sir,” Chip said. “It’s the company, not the food that means Christmas to me. But we didn’t exactly bring any changes of clothing…”

“No problem. I’m sure we have some more than enough items of clothing from my father’s closet that will fit just fine…”

“And I’ll be happy to go home and bring over some of the goodies I was planning,” Mrs. Crane said.

“But I like Spam, Mom,” Lee teased, yawning, “sorry.”

 I’ll put him to bed,” Joe said, “c’mon bro,” Joe grabbed their gear by the entry… “any room except the one with the pink canopy bed, wasn’t that right Admiral?”

“That’s right,” Edith said before her brother could respond, “but I really wouldn’t mind in a pinch. Haven’t used it in ages…still, I  think we’ll put you  in Granny’s suite, Lee. Mrs. Crane, you’ll be right next door, Chip,  you’ll take the room adjacent. I hope you won’t sharing with Joe or the décor. Belonged to a couple of  our great aunts.  Ski, Stan…you’ll take the rooms adjacent. A bit Spartan, belonged to a sea captain and he always had a servant at hand next door, but lots of room.  Harry, are you still in your old room?”

“Yes, sweetie…”

“Good, good…I didn’t want to pull out the rollaway. The cleaning company only does the ‘family’ rooms,” she explained as she led the group upstairs. I’m afraid the others have been locked up for I don’t know how long…you need a few winks, too Mrs. Crane…I’ll help you go get your Christmas fixings tomorrow. I’ll loan you some of my night things…”


The sun was shining on the snow when Edith’s squeal woke her brother as well as their houseguests.

 “What?” he quickly opened his door,  what is it?”

“Look!” she yelled from downstairs in her robe and slippers, clapping her hands.

“What the hell?” Nelson said as he hurried down the stairs.

“You mean you didn’t order it?” she asked of the massive and gaily decorated Christmas tree which had taken the small pathetic one’s spot. Even the old family ornaments on it looked new and shiny.


“Well, there wasn’t any intruder,” she checked the auto alarm. “There’s something here too,” she unfolded the piece of cloth. “Oh, it’s beautiful!”

“But…it wasn’t finished,” Nelson mused… “Edie, it’s mother’s table runner. I saw it in the attic. Unfinished, as if she’d just left it there…waiting for when she’d return from her trip…”

“You mean before the accident?”

“Yes…there was a lot left to do on it…”

“Well, after everything that’s happened, I guess I’ll just have to accept it.”

“There’s a card in the tree,” Joe said as he and Lee joined them, Mrs. Crane and the Kowalski’s following in various states of night attire.

“It’s for you,” she handed it to Nelson. “Read it to us…”


Dear Harriman

Just a little something from HQ.

PS. You really must work harder on your language.

Bliss, Glad, &  Gabe


“Gabe?” Lee asked quietly. “I don’t remember a Gabe.”

 Er...they mentioned him,   Nelson mused.

“You know,” Lee mused, “Gabe’s a nickname for…er…you know…”

“The Archangel Gabriel was involved with you too?” Chip asked, awed, while Stan had already vacated the group to find a weather report on the den’s TV, but ended up with an old movie.

“No, but  Chip, an Angel is after all, just an Angel. It’s we humans that Christ came for after all.

“God bless us, every one,”little Tiny Tim was saying from the TV as the movie ended.

“Oh, He has indeed,” Nelson said, “very very much…”

Suddenly a church choir was singing ‘Angels We Have Heard on High’. And Nelson joined in, soon followed by everyone as they enjoyed the glory of the new day.


“Well, it looks as if we’re finished here,” Mr. Glad checked off an item on his clipboard and handed it back to Mr. Bliss, as they walked through the snow, leaving not so much as a footprint. “Any idea when we’re due back?”

“HQ hasn’t released that information yet. But I’m sure it won’t be any time soon.”

“You know, I wouldn’t be surprised if HQ knew all the time about what those two would be willing to do, sacrificing   themselves for the other. It’s just not done, rescheduling appointments, unless perhaps the Boss had decided on it already? When  they were conceived. And they and, well, we beings too, were just being tested?”

“Nothing like a little fire to remind us where God’s heart lies, Mr. Glad. Mankind is what our duties are all about you know.”

So  true, so true.  Merry Christmas, Mr. Bliss.”

“Merry Christmas, Mr. Glad.”

The sound of the carolers inside the Nelson mansion wafted outside, the Angels began to hum, then sing along, both remembering that very first night, so long ago, when they, along with a host of angels from various departments, sang praises to God and announced to the world the great joy that had come.


The End



*Spam is a processed meat product.

*Angels We Have Heard on High; beloved Christmas hymn with the Gloria in Excelsis Deo *Glory to God in the Highest chorus.

* Timothy Cratchit, aka Tiny Tim, character from Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, turned into several film versions.

*Cape Cod Coast Guard Station. For real. As it houses helicopters, jet aircraft, and sea going cutters, a ‘back gate’ was appropriate as I had to ‘park’ the Flying Sub someplace.

*Theological notes…I’m not a theologian, but I am a Christian, and I realize some may take offense at how I handled the Heavenly in this story. Please don’t toss the snowballs at me.