A Seaview Christmas
Captain Lee Crane wiped a sleeve across his sweaty face. It was unbearably hot, but he didn’t roll up the sleeves. The green of his clothes helped him blend in with the plants surrounding him. Why he had to do requalifying trials for ONI right before the holidays, he couldn’t guess. Didn’t he qualify well enough for them by living through some of the missions they had sent him on in the past? That should have counted for something. Enough grousing. He only needed to get to the base with his team intact and he’d be done. The flying sub would get him back to Seaview in time to enjoy one of Cookie’s Christmas feasts. He brought himself back to the matter at hand and signaled his group.
Two hours later, Lee sat with a tall glass of iced tea in air-conditioned comfort with the other three members of his team. They looked as glad to be done as he felt.
“Taking the first flight to San Francisco to spend Christmas with my brother,” the female member of his group said.
“Back home to the wife and kids,” another teammate declared.
“Sharing a turkey breast with my cats,” the last member commented.
“On duty, but dinner will still be incredible,” Lee revealed when they all looked for his input.
“Call for you, Commander,” one of the test monitors called from his office. “Line two.”
Puzzled, Crane headed toward the man’s office and picked up the receiver. “Crane here.” When he heard the admiral’s voice, Lee was doubly perplexed. He thought Seaview was incognito for the duration of her mission, which wasn’t going to end until after Christmas. When he heard the reason for the call, he grabbed a pencil and paper and began scribbling down notes as quickly as the admiral shot them to him. When Nelson was finished and had clicked off, Lee could only hope he had gotten everything. He figured several officers’ lives depended on it, including his own. He looked at the list again and whistled. He wouldn’t be able to stay for the debrief. Then he smiled. Not a bad trade-off.
Lt. Commander Chip Morton couldn’t help it. He wrinkled his nose at the foul stench that wafted his way from the open doorway of the storage cooler. “What happened?”
“Apparently, about two days ago, I’d guess, the refrigeration unit died, sir,” Cookie answered.
“But why wasn’t it spotted earlier? Isn’t there some kind of alarm or something? And wouldn’t you have noticed when you got other food out?”
“I guess that failed, too, sir. And it was the food for Christmas. The rest of the food was in the smaller cooler or didn’t need refrigeration.”
“And we are undergoing tests and can’t restock.” Morton stared into the dim interior and imagined all the inedible Christmas turkeys that would be feeding sharks and bottom dwellers. “The dressing?”
“We have the dried bread crumbs, sir, but none of the things that make the dressing taste like more than reconstituted sage-flavored bread crumbs. No broth, no butter, no sausage. And the pumpkin pie, the gravy, ham….”
“Ham? I thought hams were cured or smoked or something,” Chip almost wailed in dismay.
“They are, Mr. Morton, but they’ve been in the same container with the foul fowl.”
“Are you trying to make light of our situation, Cookie?”
“No, sir, but…. Sorry, sir. I couldn’t help it. Uh, I’m gonna be the one that’s strung up first.”
Chip ignored the last remark. It was his considered opinion that the officers would be keel hauled first. “What’s left?”
“Potatoes, both varieties. Nuts. Rice. The afore mentioned dried bread crumbs. Canned goods. No burger to make a substitute feast. Roasts are gone. Only a few dozen eggs for breakfast, few slabs of bacon, powdered milk, which we have a lot of.” Cookie shrugged. “That will be good with the coffee. Cream’s almost all gone.”
Chip shuddered. “I guess the next question is if we have enough to feed the men for the duration of our mission.”
“Aye, sir, if you use the emergency rations to supplement the other stores.”
Chip almost groaned aloud. While not the worst you could have, the idea of eating K-rats for Christmas dinner seemed obscene on a boat like Seaview. “Okay, Cookie. Make a menu with what you have. We don’t have any choice but to dump that.” He pointed at the putrefying mess in the cooler. “And have someone work on the motor that runs that thing.” There would be many sea creatures looking at Seaview with love and gratitude this Christmas season. Maybe they could harvest something from the sea for their celebration. Whoever heard of Christmas squid? Holiday bonito? Solstice sailfish? Halibut pie? “Just do the best you can, Cookie.”
“Yes, sir, and one more thing, sir?”
“Who’s going to break it to the crew that they aren’t going to have a traditional Christmas dinner?”
“I probably will. I have to report to the admiral first, though.”
“Thank you, sir and . . . uh, good luck, Mr. Morton.”
He figured he’d need it. Where was Lee when dirty work needed doing? Off gallivanting with the ONI. He knocked on the admiral’s door. Inside the OOM’s room, there was little to show it was Christmas, but there was a sparkly little Christmas tree on the corner of his desk, probably courtesy of his younger sister, Edith. That he actually put it up was a miracle. Chip would have to let her know.
“Mr. Morton, it’s not time for the next test results. Is something wrong?”
“Well, sir. The refrigeration unit went out.”
“What?” Nelson jumped up in alarm. “You mean we’ve lost our specimens?”
“No, sir. The mess refrigeration unit. We’re having to dump most of our food stores.”
“Oh, well, all right.” Nelson looked relieved.
“But that means no Christmas dinner.”
“We have enough food to finish the mission?”
“Yes, sir. If we use the emergency rations.”
“We’ll have to make do, then. We can’t restock until the end of the mission,” Nelson pointed out the obvious.
“Do you want me to let the men know?”
Nelson was pouring over his notes and nodded absently.
“Aye, aye, sir. Might as well do it now as later.”
“Of course, Mr. Morton. Oh, and Chip….”
“Make sure the men are ready for the next dive. We don’t want anything to go wrong.”
“Oh, and when is Lee scheduled to get back?”
“Thank you, Chip. And by the way,” Nelson began. “We’ll be all right.”
“Yes, sir.” With an inaudible sigh, Chip closed the door softly behind him. He made his way to the control room and announced the bad news. He swore he heard groans all the way from the missile room.
Lee Crane had intended to fly directly back to Seaview, but in light of the admiral’s request, he was obliged to head to the commissary. He showered but had not brought more than another set of greens. They don’t know me anyway, he thought as he stood in the parking lot perusing the list again. He wondered how he was going to get everything in a couple of carts.
“Excuse me, sir,” a young voice brought Crane out of his contemplation. A young girl about sixteen or seventeen gazed up at him. Next to her was a boy who looked to be a budding fullback on a local high school football team.
“We are from the high school athletic squad and we’re trying to help the local Armed Forces Help-a-Kid Foundation. We’re trying to make sure kids on some of the outlying islands get a good Christmas this year. Coach Watson says there isn’t enough for all the island kids to have toys and food if we don’t help.”
As she paused to suck in a breath, Lee pulled out his wallet and handed the girl two twenties.
The fullback finally said something. “Wow! Thanks, sir! That will really help.”
“You’re welcome and good luck.”
An hour and a half later, with the help of several teen-aged bag boys, Crane headed out of the commissary. He felt like the conductor of a train, with five carts trailing behind him. It took everyone’s know how to get it all in the compact rental car he had been using when he wasn’t playing war games in the jungle. The young men and one young lady stood by their carts staring at him. Lee peeled out bills and they flashed him grins of gratitude. A little bit of extra spending money right before Christmas never failed to make a young person’s heart merry, he thought as he opened the driver’s side door and folded himself inside. As he put the key in the ignition, Lee saw something fluttering under his windshield wiper.
Muttering under his breath, he pulled himself out far enough to jerk off the offending sales pamphlet. He looked at the sad picture and tossed it in one of the grocery bags. He had already given. If he could get the flying sub loaded and get out of here within a couple of hours, Cookie would still have plenty of time to get dinner finished. It took him less and he was doing his pre-flight checks when something fluttered in front of his face. It was the pamphlet. “I gave at the office,” Lee growled to no one in particular. He crumpled it up and tossed it into a garbage receptacle.
“Cleared for take off?” he asked the air controllers. Lee would have preferred a water take-off, but the flying sub was more secure in a guarded hanger while he was undertaking his trials.
“Shortly, shortly, m’boy,” came a vaguely familiar voice.
Lee waited, wondering just how long it would take for a frozen turkey to thaw.
The annoyingly familiar voice came over the speaker again. “Now if ye’ll take off on runway 233 and bear southeast to 7 degrees north and 170 degrees east.”
Crane already knew where Seaview was and it wasn’t at the coordinates he had been given. “Negative on the coordinates. Cleared for takeoff?”
“M’lad, runway 233, destination 7 north and 170 east.”
He would report the idiot in the tower when he was in the air. “Affirmative, tower.” He still couldn’t figure where he knew the voice. Lee checked his own instruments in case the guy in the tower was some kind of imposter or drunk or something. The runway was clear as was the airspace overhead.
The familiar voice was soft this time as Lee cleared the runway and angled up into the clear blue sky. “Captain, humor an old man. Go to the coordinates I gave ye.”
Now Crane knew who he was talking to. As impossible as it was, he knew who the voice belonged to. He smiled, knowing his butt was going to be fried when he got back to the boat.
Chip Morton stood in the control room, staring out the herculite windows. Where the hell is Lee? Christmas Eve and he had just had his lunch of canned meat loaf and limp noodles. His stomach gurgled in protest. He knew he had received enough to nourish his body, but his palate demanded something more tantalizing. Something like a traditional Christmas meal. Even something that attempted to come close to a traditional meal.
The admiral had told him this morning that he had contacted Lee and given him a shopping list. It was a shopping list of much of what had been lost in the cooler meltdown. The Flying Sub couldn’t come any too soon.
“Sir, Flying Sub incoming,” Ski called out. “Skipper coming home?”
The surprise was only known to himself and the admiral. When it came to the boat and their missions, anything was possible, so it made sense to not get up everyone’s hopes. Chip heard the sub settle in her berth, and reached down and opened the hatch. Lee opened the flying sub’s hatch. The executive officer looked down and saw nothing on the deck below.
“Didn’t you get the message from the admiral?” Chip asked lamely.
“Yes, I did. Permission to come aboard?”
“Not sure I should,” Chip grumbled. “What happened to the food?”
Instead of answering, Lee handed up a small packet of Polaroid pictures. They showed smiling faces of island children playing with new toys and enjoying a variety of different kinds of food. Chip didn’t have a clue about the toys, but figured most of that food was originally meant for Seaview.
“So you decided to give all of our food away,” Chip said.
“No, not all of it. There are hams down here. They didn’t want those.”
“And who talked you into this show of generosity?”
“Santa Claus,” Lee said with a grin.
By now the admiral was standing behind Chip. “Hams? I like a good ham.” Sharkey was nearby, looking bemused. “Chief, get a couple of the men to unload the flying sub,” the admiral ordered.
Morton handed the pictures to the admiral. “The Skipper gave away the rest of our food.”
“And shuttled toys, too, I gather,” Nelson murmured, looking at the pictures.
“Yes, sir,” Lee answered.
“Did you say Santa Claus recruited you? So you saw Old John again.”
“Not exactly, Admiral, but he asked me to do him a favor and I obliged. I knew we had enough rations to do us until we got back to base and….”
“You don’t have to say anything else, lad. I understand perfectly.” He looked at the pictures again. “They look very happy. That’s all that counts. Merry Christmas, Lee.”
No one seemed to mind the next day that the Christmas meal consisted of K rations, ham and calamari.