"But," the postal worker shouted at NIMR's security gate."It's special delivery!"
"Look sir," the armed guard said, as he tightened his rain gear even more from the early evening storm, "I've already told you, you have to clear security first."
"At this rate I'll have pneumonia!"
"What's going on here?" a new voice interrupted and an equally wet Lt. Cmdr. Morton got out of the NIMR roundabout. .
"I have to personally hand a letter," he checked his invoice," to a Lee Crane. These idiots took it, my ID and driver's license more than 20 minutes ago!"
"I'm sorry about the delay," Morton replied, irritated, "but clearance takes time. Besides, Crane's not here."
"Well why didn't anyone say so! When's he going to be?"
"He's not scheduled to return for two weeks."
"You people put me though all of this knowing that? Letting me get soaked out here? Give me back my stuff. I'll have someone else come back later."
"Sorry, but you have to stay here until you and the delivery are cleared."
"That's it. I ain't staying one minute longer and...."
"Oh yes, you are. The moment you set foot on NIMR grounds, you were subject to security clearance. Once cleared, you can go. We can give the delivery to Crane."
"Absolutely not! It's against the rules. You people should understand all about that, you're so gung ho about terrorists, invisible germs, gremlins..."
"That's not funny," Morton glared.
"Sorry," the man
replied contrite. "I guess I just got carried away, but...."
"Surely this item's not that important that we can't give it to him...."
"I don't know how important or unimportant it is. But I have to deliver it by hand, to the bone fide addressee. He's got to sign for it, not you."
"That's final Angie," Admiral Nelson said as the room shook from yet another thunderbolt. "You'll be staying here overnight. These thunderstorms are packing near gale force winds. It won't be over till tomorrow afternoon, if even. I'm not letting you risk an accident or a mud slide on the way home.There are no 'buts' about it, and we're not going to argue about it anymore. Do I make myself clear?"
"Did you convince her to stay?" Chip Morton entered the office, followed by the disgruntled postal worker.
"Ordered is more like it," Angie said, but then smiled, "thanks Admiral."
"About time you let him
knock some sense into you," Chip pulled off his rain boots. "I'm
ready to sprout gills and flippers or build an ark. Of course, we could just
sail Seaview to
"I do understand Mr. Whitman," Nelson repeated after introductions and explanations." But I simply can't risk you leaving NIMR grounds during this storm. Surely you can see my point of view. I became responsible for you the moment you arrived on Institute property and..."
"I'm sick and tired about your damn institute's responsibility," he glared at Morton."I passed your little test didn't I? Finally. Do you know I've spent more than an hour here, at the taxpayer's expense? So let me go already. Everything's honky dory. I'm clean, no outstanding police record and..."
"Your quarters will be ready momentarily. Now, about this item you have for my Captain. Let me sign for it. I'll guarantee delivery."
"I don't care if you have his power of attorney," he tucked the returned waterproof packet even more tightly under his arm. "Which I doubt. He may be your employee, but I'm not putting this in anybody's hand but his. I'm surprised your security didn't damage the blasted thing, what was that anyway, Ultra violet X-rays and Laser beams?"
"A non-invasive technique to make sure no contraband was involved. We're only following standard operating procedures. Surely you're familiar with today's need for a higher level of...."
"Okay, enough about national security already."
"Angie," Nelson spoke through the intercom, "Mr. Whitman is ready to go to his quarters. See to it he gets some hot food too, will you? Then get some rest yourself. Good night."
Whitman wasn't used to being dismissed so casually, and stomped out.
"Where is Lee anyway?" Nelson asked Chip as he poured himself a stale cup of coffee." No where near these storms I hope. He's supposed to be enjoying his shore leave."
"Last I knew, "he
was 'mushing' in
"Mushing, you know dog
sledding. Seems his friend Lt.Cmdr. Jackson won a vacation from 'Adventure Days
Hot Tubs' and invited Lee to come along. Some place called Yak's Milk in
"Good. About time he got out and socialized a bit."
"Well, the real reason
"Part of the prize was, to quote ' experience the Old Alaska, mushing through untouched wilderness trails..."
"Those poor dogs."
"Well, I'm sure they'll
enjoy the change of pace at least."
"No, I meant the canines,"Nelson laughed."They don't know the first thing about dog sledding. And not much about dogs either."
"Well, it's only a ten mile trail. Strictly beginners. 'Complimentary lessons and First Aid Station within calling distance.'"
Nelson rubbed a hand through his hair, "Well, let's hope they've plenty of bandages."
"I've never been so
exhausted in my life,"
"I feel muscles I never even knew existed," Crane leaned back and closed his eyes.
"Excuse me," a clerk walked to the patio with a phone, " A call for you Mr. Crane. Long distance."
"He's not here,"
Crane replied in unaccustomed luxury.
"Who is it?"
"It's a bad connection...sounded like somebody called Schip."
Crane grabbed the phone, "Chip?Is that you? Is Seaview okay? What' you do to her? Is everyone okay? Is...oh....uh I see, but....what?...what storm? Any damage? That's a relief...yes I...but...I see... oh, I don't care who signs for it. It's just a stupid letter. Yeah, I'm having a great time..what? No, really. It's been kind of fun. Okay, see you then. Sorry I got a bit antsy. Yeah...okay, bye."
"How is your poor baby anyway?"
"Very funny and she's just fine."
"Well, that's good to hear. I wouldn't want you to come all unhinged so soon before the big day."
"Do we have to go through with this?"
"Noooo, but think of the advantages," he winked at another of the Northern Lights contestants.
"Our guest is a bit late," Nelson said the next morning, as he heaped some more scrambled eggs on his plate in the cafeteria.
"Angie's giving him the grand tour." Morton said, "I think she likes him," he said, surprised. "The road crews said it would take most of the day to clear the highways before he can get home."
"I just don't understand why the area postmaster won't make an exception and have Whitman just give us the letter. I told him I'd put it in the safe."
"Speaking of Lee, I wonder if I should get him something to remind him of his vacation when he gets back, dog biscuits maybe?"
"Ouch, remind me never to take my vacation with you!"
"Admiral, I'm crushed," Morton laughed.
"So," Angie showed Whitman NIMR's aquarium, " I don't suppose you can tell me who it's from?"
"I don't know. There's no return address."
"Where was it postmarked?"
"It wasn't. It's pre 1847."
"Some historical society found it in an old ledger. It's sealed and never been opened. They did some research and found this Crane of yours to be the direct descendant of the adressee. It's from the 18th century as far as they can tell. That's all there is to it."
"But that would make it a historical document and..."
"To the Post Office it's just a postage due that got away..."he laughed. "In those days if the sender didn't pay for delivery, the recipient had to."
"I should hope
so....talk about snail mail! Oh this is so exciting!"
"I'm sorry Lee,"
"Swell, not only do I have fleas, I'm allergic to the flea dip you bought. I've never itched so much in my life. It's gonna' be horrible."
"But worth it. Think of it Lee, all those girls are suckers for us heroic types. Braving the elements, Nanooking in the north..."
"It's the middle of May for Pete's sake."
"It's freezing out there. Well, 42 anyway. And if all the snow's melted by then, we'll use carts. Same principle. Man and faithful hounds alone in the wilderness."
"They're not hounds. They're..."
"Lee, Lee, Lee, will you forget the formalities and get into the spirit of the thing? Besides, it really doesn't matter what breed a dog is, he's still just a domesticated wolf."
"That's a bunch of hooey, and you Joe, are the leader of the pack."
"Why Lee, thanks for the compliment.You know, some of your dogs are actually Wolf Dogs..don't laugh. It's a recognized hybrid."
"Huskie or part wolf,, they're still man's best friend...Don't stay out too late. We have to meet the Dog Sled Association at 0800. Something about signing a wavier. So we don't sue if we're killed or maimed in the line of competion..."
"It's just the Fun Run, not the Iditarod. You think they'd let us enter a real honest to goodness mushing contest? And with rented teams?"
"Don't knock it. The mayor said it's a real race. "
"So that's why their owners sold them to Rent-a Sledder.."
"So they're past their prime, I'd still like to believe in them."
"You always were a sucker for a pretty paw....can't you stop scratching? You know, hardly anyone's in any of the hot-tubs right now, why not take a dunk...drown the buggers. Hmm. Want me to bring you back a hamburger, or maybe a hot dog? The food, not the animal...though you could use a little companionship and...."
"I assure you Admiral," visiting Assistant Attorney General Sam Donovan said as he sat back accross from Nelson, "despite what the New Pottsdown Historical Society says, the ownership of this colonial letter is still in quesiton. It may be argued that since it was not delivered in the first place, it's the property of the descendants of the author, not the adressee...."
"Which can only be determined upon it's being opened, if even then. It could also be argued that it's a historical national archive. The New Pottsdown society had no right to simply give it to the Post Office to deliver to someone they only think is the owner. Who is to say the author was even going to mail it in the first place....why was it stuffed in a ledger and forgotten?"
"Or misplaced...look, there are a thousand 'what if's, and it could be nothing more than some 'goodwife's' request for baking goods from the local flour mill...."
"Yes, yes, of course we understand that. The problem is that Post Office is also claiming ownership since it was placed in their hands to deliver. Especially since there's still that notation for payment due by the recipient. Too bad it's so faded. Where's that Whitman anyway? What I'm saying is that I'm here to put that letter into Federal safekeeping until the court can decide. So you'll agree that getting Captain Crane back here is of the highest priority. He'll also have to prove his descent from the addressee. The sooner we take care of this the better and..."
"Mr. Donovan," Nelson rose, "it's just a letter, not a matter of national security. My Captain hasn't had an uninterupted vacation in more than two years. I think you can wait a couple of weeks for his return."
"But the press
conference has already been arranged and..."
"Well, un-arrange it. I may not be au fait with the law, but I do know that there isn't enough 'due cause' here to recall him for what is nothing more than a personal property issue."
"You're refusing to cooperate?"
"We can summon him."
"Yes, you can, but just remember,the public, and the press, can be very unforgiving of frivilous lawsuits, especially when the government's involved."
"At least tell me how to contact him? Let him decide if he wants to cut his vacation short. Now how do I get in touch with him? Your secretary..."
"...Administrative assistant was rather uncooperative and that Morton person was actually rude.He had the gall to tell me that it was 'none of my damn business where Crane was'..."
"You do realize that I can contact the Secretary of the Navy who'll make him come back...."
"Not unless it's official business. And the SECNAV would want to avoid wasting taxpayer's time and money should the letter prove insignificant. Especially since Crane is on civilian status at present. Surely you know NIMR is a civilian outfit, and only called up to active duty when necessary."
"You're a devil did you know that?"
"My nearest and dearest have called me worse."
"You, Administrative Assistant," Donovan presesd the intercom button, "Get in here."
Angie obediently obeyed.
"Get me Crane's personnel file..at least I can call his next of kin... If you don't know how to find it I do."
"Brrrr," Nelson said, "Go ahead Angie. Ignore the insult."
"I...sorry," Donovan said.
Nelson reached for the phone, "If calling his mother is all you need..."
"No, I don't trust you. You could call anyone...pretend she's his mother..."
Within minutes Angie was back and handed Nelson Crane's employee folder..then exited and closed the door.
"You do have level delta clearance, don't you?" Nelson asked, "I can't let you have this unless...."
"You know damn well I do, your security guards made sure of that before they'd even let me in the place. Now hand it over."
"The information in this
file doesn't go out of this office."
"Okay, okay.." he began to leaf through the photos, id's, and various Navy and government agency code names. Within seconds the small next of kin card was ignored.."My lord" he began to mumble, "...what's he doing in that outfit? They're Army....and...he's a Seal too? Good grief Nelson, he must be in half a dozen federal agencies and....oh my lord," he whispered, "....he's a spy! For ONI!"
"Field agent. Though that's rather catchy, 'oh he's a spy for ONI..' You know, that'd make a good song."
"Admrial. What the blazes...is he...on assignment?"
"I'm not at liberty to say."
"Oh...oh, this changes everything. I'm sorry Admiral. I had no idea...none....when Crane's returned from....shore leave, just let my office know, and we'll get in touch...I'll tell the press we need to investigate the matter further... yes, that'll hold them...as for the letter...well, I'm sure it will be safe in Whitman's custody for the time being....yes..."he said, flustered. "Will that be all Admiral?
"Yes," Nelson said," that's all."
"Mind if I join you?" the matronly woman asked before joining Crane in the hot tub.
"You might not want to..." he waved his arm accross the water and held some dead and dying fleas in his hand. "It seems as though I'm infested."
"No bother, " she climbed in. "I'm not afraid of fleas. Water will kill most of them anyway....I hope your dog is okay."
"I don't have one."
"Mushing lessons. For the Fun Run."
"Hmm. That's odd. Most sled dogs are immaculately groomed and have almost continual flea repellant on their coats for the summer months, though some varieties are resistant. We'll have to advise the teams."
"Already did," he scratched his scalp, "Sure wish this flea dip wasn't so strong."
"Flea dip? You didn't use it on yourself?"
"Oh dear...look, get yourself dried off, and come with me. We need to take care of this..."
"Uh..." Lee hesitated to follow his guide into the small white cabin with the red cross on the door.
"What's the matter?"
Lee wearily leaned against the door. "I should have known my shore leave was too good to be true."
"Beg pardon?"she waved him in.
A groan greated their ears.
"Joe?" Lee asked, "as he saw his friend with his head over a bucket, a pretty girl beside him. "What are you doing here?"
"I should have bought stock in soda pop. How on earth could you have mistaken dog food for..."
"What're you in for
"Actually, I'm fine..."
"That's for me to
"Oh, Chip's gonna just
"So it's not a native variety?" the mayor asked the vet, as he looked through the microscope with Doris and Jackson.
"Nope. This little tourist is a Deep Southern variety,
"Probably hitched a ride from someplace." the vet said.
"Do you smell something?." The mayor asked with an accusing look at Crane's dogs.
"Uh, well, "Lee hedged."It's me, actually."
"Sommerby's? I told him that stuff he made was not fit for man or beast."
"He swore by it,"
"He'd say anything to sucker some money out of you. Look, boys, I'll have a talk with him and get him to give you your money back. You should feel better soon Lee, I'm just glad your skin didn't peel off."
"What do you mean telling Donovan that Crane's on assignement?" the director of ONI yelled at Nelson on the videophone.
"I said no such thing. If Donovan got the wrong idea it's a simple misunderstanding on his part."
"A Misdirection you planted you mean....so,'" the director grinned, "Just where is Crane anyway? If he has gone off somewhere, it was without our knowledge."
"Remember, " the mayor said to the group of children readying their dogs for the Fun Run as it snowed, "in the event of trouble, let your dogs lead. These sledder breeds, especially the Huskies, have an instinct to willfully disobey you to save your life if need be."
"That's a relief,
"the only other adult
"The trail, " the mayor continued, "is only ten miles, but can still be frought with danger..."
"Yeah, like which flea dip to use," one of the onlookers snickered and others laughed. Crane's discomforture was common knowlege here.
"Is everyone ready?" the mayor asked. "Then, get ready, set...go."
Within seconds Crane and
"It remains to be seen," the TV reporter said from the steps of the New
Pottsdown Historical Society," if
"Only that we gave the letter to the Post Office and we have not recieved notice of delivery yet."
"Just how valuable do you think this letter is?"
"That remains to be seen. We acted in good faith. We're waiting to see if they will."
"Who is the present recipient?"
"I'm sorry, we can't release that information to the public yet."
"Can you tell us who the addressee was?"
"Yes, a Rosannah Crane. That's Crane spelled Crayne, there was no standard spelling in those days, but the identity is certain. She was the wife of Algernon Crane. He was hung as a spy during the Revolutionary War. His body was never found."
"Beaten. Beaten! By a
bunch of snot faced kids no less,"
"Pretty nice kids at that. So, you think you impressed some of the Northern Lights girls with our exploits?"
"Don't be. Actually, I thought it was great. Invigorating. And that scenery....maybe next year we can enter the Iditarod."
"Are you out of your mind?"
"After some more lessons, of course..." he turned on the TV...
"And so the Revolutionary era letter has become entangled in the question of ownership. Meanwhile, it's been a fruitless effort to find out more about her. All we know is that she was widowed twice, and had 13 childre. Only one child was born from her first marriage, and he was born posthumously afer her traitor spy husband Algernon Crane was hung. The letter is estimated to have a monetary value of several thousand, perhaps even a million dollars and upwards....."
"Kind of doubtful. There's a zillion Cranes...
"Maybe your Mom
knows...just think, two spies in the family."
"Joe," Lee warned.
"Okay, okay, field agent. But think of it Lee, this is history....you could be famous. "
"Well, that's an
improvement at least,"
"I thought they liked
him. They were fawning all over him just today and...."
"Oh they do, but there are other hot blooded American males who want in on the action...seems they have a hard time competing with a man in uniform."
"Unifor...he was trying to keep that quiet."
"Oh he hasn't worn one...a phone call came in for Commander Jackson and the rest is history."
"Lt. Commander actually."
"Oh...do I detect a note of jealousy?"
"Absolultey," Crane grinned.
Jackson, "boy I'm gonna miss the girls when they go home."
"I'm sure you are, Commander....So, who's asking you to check up on me?" Lee knotted his bow tie, "I know about your little phone call."
"Nobody's checking up on you. You're getting paranoid. It was Angie. Seems she's all excited about you maybe becoming a millionaire....you know, the letter.. she picked up right away on Algernon. Seems your mother had mentioned the black sheep when she visited a couple of years ago. So you don't have to call her to ask about the family tree..."
"For Pete's sake..."
"Now, be a pal and tell me if I'm presentable. You sure you don't want to be in the live TV Hot Tub commercial during the break?"
"You won the contest, not me."
"Yeah, but think of it. You could talk about the added health benefit for flea control,"he laughed, and managed to depart before Lee could catch him.
"But it's an emergency Joe!" Felice argued backstage at the pagent.
"Oh anybody can sit in a hot tub...this is life and death!"
"Okay okay..." Joe found himself being dragged to one of the dressing rooms.
"Excuse me, " the stagehand took center stage, "Will Lee Crane please report backstage and Is there a doctor in the house?"
Both Doris and Crane hurried out of their seats and to whatever the awaiting doom behind the curtains was.
It was hard for Lee to avert his eyes. Some of the contestants were in various states of undress as they readied themselves for the opening dance number.
"Over here, Lee,"
"Doctor, hurry!" Felice yelled.
"Thanks for inviting me over Admiral,"Chip said as finished installing the new wide screen TV-entertainment unit.
"Not at all, besides," he clicked on the channel, " I didn't want to short circuit anything...I'd like to see this hole in the ground where Lee and Jackson are at."
"Nice scenery,"Chip said, as various clips of the Alaskan wilderness were intersperced with the town's events and advertisements. "Wha..." he stared at the image of
'Mushing is not for everyone, but dog sledding has become a sport event enjoyed by young and old alike.' The clip showed exuberant children crossing the finish line of the Fun Run followed by an exhausted Jackson and Crane slipping and falling.
'The Aurora Beuralis has mystified scientists and wildlife alike.' The image showed Crane and his dogs howling up at the wavy lights and the moon.
'Icy waters team with fish for the sportsman,' the clip showed Jackson smashing a hole in the ice and peering down with his fishing hook in the water, while Crane simply paid an ice fisherman for his catch.
'And of course, the Miss
Northern Lights Contest has become a major event.'
'After a long day of experiencing wilderness trails and sightseeing,' this clip showed Crane and Jackson sightseeing in snowshoes, with the dogs at their heels.
' What better way to relax than to enjoy the latest in hot tubs..'.Crane was in the rustic hotel's outdoor patio tub, holding a hot mug of cocoa against the backdrop of the Alaskan panorama.
"'Adventure Days Hot Tubs," a pretty girl said as she disrobed, revealing a pink bikini and Crane's dogs beside her," Just think what they'll do for 'your' aches and pains." She sat down in the tub with Crane.
Suddenly one of the Wolf-dogs from Lee's team jumped in the tub, followed by the rest of the pack, drenching all in view.
Crane had a hard time not laughing, but finally had to give into it, and raised his mug to the camera ad libbing, "and flea control."
"Well?" a now dried off and changed Crane entered the dressing room. "I got back here as soon as I could."
"Mother and puppies are
"Thanks for taking over," Felice, now in a evening gown said and gave Lee a kiss on the cheek. "I just had to have Joe here with me while this was going on. Hard enough to leave Pickles for one second let alone some time for this stupid contest."
"I thought you were enjoying it," Joe said.
"Oh, I am. But Pickles is more important. I know I should have left her in Daytona with my grandparents when I was visiting, they would have been happy to keep her for the duration. They like Pekenese, but I just couldn't leave her."
"Yeah, they're a real problem there. My Mom's dog has to be dipped every three months and...."
Lee and Doris were begining to laugh.
"What is it?What's wrong?" she scooped up one of the puppies and nussled it against her face before setting it back down.
"Just another mystery of
"But," Nelson spoke into the phone as Chip began to switch channels, " I never told you he was on assigment, Mr. Donovan. If you'll recall it was you who...and who's to say he wasn't, on assignment that is. ONI, well, yes, they'd tell you he wasn't now wouldn't they."
Nelson held the phone away from his ear, then returned it, "He's due back here the day after tomarrow. Surely that's not too long to wait...snake in the grass? I assure you I'm a Homo Sapiens, not a reptile. You don't have to shout Mr. Donovan." He held the phone away again, eyes rolling upward.
The doorbell rang, "I'm sorry, I have someone at the door, goodbye," he hung up.
Chip answered it.
Nelson tried to calm the dishevled woman down." Those bastards ought to be hung up by their toenails. You're sure you don't want me to call Lee?"
"No, no, he's got a couple of days left up there doesn't he...I suppose I'm acting silly, but the press just won't leave me alone, not after the press figured out that we were Rosannah's Cranes' family. And I've even gotten some threatening phone calls..."she withered.
"Some people are pretty damn stupid. You must be absolutely exhausted. You'll stay with me tonight. Then we'll put you in the VIP suite. You won't be botherd by anyone here."
"Thank you Admiral. I hate to put you out, but I just didn't know what else to do. I had to sneak out of my own house. I used the old pirate tunnel under the basement, parts of it were falling apart...rats and snakes and...oh it was a nightmare," she began to sob.
"I'm calling Lee," Nelson said, "Chip, take her to her room. Ask Angie to come over if she can..."
"But will she be okay?" Crane tried to be heard through bar's phone. The place was packed after the contest. "I'm glad you got through to me... yes, I'm coming right away," he hung up.
"Joe?" he tried to find his friend, "Joe!"
"Hmmm?" Jackson and third place winner Felice turned.
"Joe, I have to go.. an emergency. Look, thanks for everything...take care of my gear will you. I don't have time to pack...I wish I could say goodbye to the dogs...."
"The roads are blocked for twenty miles from that last snowfall,"he said, "There's nothing that can make it to the airport 'till they clear the roads to it."
"Oh yes there is," Lee said decisively, and took out the Rent- A- Sledder card that had been issued to him at the start of the vacation.
"Just send all our stuff
in the mail,"
"And so" the reporter said on the late news, " alone, in the middle of the night, the two men are at this moment braving the elements to get to the closest airport here in the frozen north. When informed of the mushing trip, the mayor was surprised and worried, as these men are inexperienced and putting themselves and the rented dogs at risk. The reason for the sudden departure is unknown."
"Of all the stupid, idiotic..."Nelson raved. "I told him he might want to come home, not to kill himself in the attempt!"
"Admiral," Angie emerged from Mrs. Crane's room, "You'll wake her up."
"Sorry. Remind me to have a little talk with Lee when he gets here. He's not Nanook of the North for Pete's sake," he looked at his watch. "You saw how bad he and Jackson were at mushing. And to do it in the middle of the night...alone..."
"I know Admrial, "Chip offered him a cup of coffee, "I'm worried too."
"Lee?" he decided to speak, "want to talk about it?"
"She got some
threatening phone calls. To 'relinquish our rights to the the letter'; that we
were' traitor spawn 'and didn't deserve to live in
"I thought you were going to have that old pirate tunnel filled in and poison set for the rats."
"I was. But the state got into the act, said the house was a historical landmark....we could havd fought it, but...but it would have just been too time consuming and expensive."
"Good thing, considering, wierd, the fates...."
"This morning Assistant Attorney General Niles Donovan and the US Post Office confirmed the rumor that the delivery of the Colonial letter will be to Commander Lee B. Crane, a US Naval Reserve officer, currently employed in civilian capacity as Captain of the SSRN Seaview. That's the submarine with the big windows, owned by Admiral Nelson of the Nelson Institute for Marine Research.
"When we tried to
contact Crane, it was revealed that he was on his way back from shore leave in
"The Sled Dogs, none the worse for wear according the the local veterinarian , have been taken to the local kennel club which will take them back on a return trip to Yak's Milk in about a week.
"We've been unable to speak with the Commander and will keep you posted as events warrant."
"Dog sled? Dog Sled? My baby trecked through that frozen wasteland all night long and you didn't tell me?"
Angie placed a hot cup of tea in Mrs. Crane's hand as she turned off the TV.
"You were exhausted and there was nothing we could do about it. Lee'd
already gone...we only found out from the TV news like everybody else...I'm
sure he's fine...by now he's already airborne to
"I...I'm sorry..I just....I'm so tired...he must be too. I'm so ashamed. I should never have come here. I spoiled the rest of his vacation."
"Nonsense, "Nelson emerged from his bathroom, freshly showered and shaved. "I'm sure he was more than ready to return...."
"Admiral," Angie said, "the cafeteria wants to know if you want them to send something over or if you'll be cooking your own breakfast."
"You can cook?" Mrs. Crane asked.
"No,but I do a mean defrost and microwave...kidding aside, I'm rather good with eggs, the real things. Trust me, I have no desire for my Captain to make me walk the plank should I poison his mother."
"Yeah?" Crane yawned." Despite this being their 3rd flight, he still hadn't managed much sleep.
"I didn't like the way the dogs looked at us when we gave took them to the kennel in Grisley Bark."
"Joe, they do this all the time. It's not that they had any loyalty to us as individuals. They must go through ten mushers a month. We didn't desert them. "
"But they were our teams...."
"Don't think about it.
Besides, it's too hot for them in
"I was thinking about my home port."
sure, Huskies doing the hula in
"But you were thinking about it weren't you?"
"Okay, I'll admit I thought about buying them right then and there when I first saw them in Yak's Milk, but it's just too...inconvienent. And expensive, Do you have any idea who much those dogs are worth? Thousands.You want what's best for them, don't you?"
"Yeah, I guess..."
"Do you really think they'd be happy surfing, or building sand castles on the beach? Look, these dogs are worker types. Athletes actually. They need to run, the snow..."
"They're not bred for
blind obedience like other working dogs Lee. Willful disobedience, the book
said. They have to disobey at times,
to save their masters. As for snow, well, skier's train on sand too you know.
"I know,I know..." Lee pulled out a small photo of his team. "Shit."
"Speaking of shit.. Patsy seemed to have to strain too hard and.."
It was going to be a long
Commander Crane!" reporters called as he and Jackson finally arrived in
"Have you anything to say about your infamous ancestor?"One shouted.
"That he was hung as a spy on the field of battle is beyond dispute. That he was one, has never been proven."
"Why did you rush off from Yak's Milk like that?" Another reporter asked.
"We needed the
Skipper," Chip said, " you too
Within seconds the car sped away.
"Beard stubble and the smells of sweat and wet dog greated us as Commander's Jackson and Crane arrived at the airport,"the live TV reporter said, " Both men look tired after mushing all night and flying a good part of the day. When Assistant Attorney General Donovan will meet with Crane is unknown, but we've been reliably informed that the Nelson Institute has been in contact with his office and the meeting will no doubt be soon."
"Here," Chip handed the men two thermos's from a compartment in the Limo. "Thought you could use a little pick-me- up," Morton explained. " And a bath. We'll take you to the VIP suite Lee, where you can freshen up a bit, and meet your Mom. You too Joe. Then the Admiral wants to talk to you both."
"Seems he has some technical questions...on mushing....in the middle of the night...in the middle of nowhere...with his right hand man who should know better and..."
"Down Chip," Lee ordered. "sorry, habit."
The smell of something wonderful cooking greeted Lee's nostrils as he opened his eyes. He hadn't meant to doze off in the bathtub and the water had cooled under the bubbles.
Morton peeked in. "Don't look at me. Your Mom made me add the bubble bath.
You'd fallen asleep while the water was runing. She said you needed something
strong to neutralize the smell. This is all there was aside from disinfectant
skin bath from
"Thanks," he stretched. "You know I think I could sleep for a year."
"That's what the Admiral said."
"In the kitchen. Helping your Mom with dinner."
"My Mom can't cook! Come to think of it neither can he..."
"No, but they can warm up the plates for the freshly baked pizza that was delivered a few minutes ago."
"Oh," Crane reached for the thick towel Chip handed him.
"And don't forget those," Chip nodded to the new can of shaving cream and unused razor on the sink's edge."Orders. Just because you smelled like Grisley Adams, you don't have to look like him, the Admiral said."
"Well Lee," the Admiral wiped his lips, "I still think you should have told us your plans. Do you have any idea how damn worried we all were?"
"What about me? I thought Mom was having a nervous breakdown."
"That's my fault, Lee," she said, "I was scared and just panicked."
"These threats...any word from the police?"
"It was too late to put a trace on them.." Morton said finishing his pizza. "But they think most of them were hoaxes."
"Well that's a relief, and the others?"
"No way to know, but probably the babblings of intolerant idiots. For the time being your mother will remain here for her own protection, until this letter business is resolved one way or another."
"Meaning that the government has to decide who owns the letter."
"That could take months."
"No, actually now that you're here, all concerned parties can present their cases and the court can decide. The Post Office has waived ownership, but still demands it deliver the letter to you, the only remaining descendant of this Rosannah and Algernon Crane."
"But I'm not their descendant. Not by blood.Mom's the legal heir, through Pop."
"No, Lee. The historical society knew that to begin with.They did a thorough job checking all public records including non sealed adoptions like yours. You and you alone are the only and legal son of Edward Crane, deceased. Otherwise the letter would normally go to Rosannah's estate, or in this case, because there aren't any other descendants, the dead letter department...."
"But due to it's historical value, it's doubtful they'd actually place it there."
"What do they want me to do?"
"Simply, to open the thing. They need to know not only what it is, but whom it's from. That person's descendants could also claim ownership."
"Along with everybody else...what a mess. I'm glad you kept me out of it for so long. I'd never have been able to enjoy my shore leave with the press and public on my tail."
"The hearing begins at
0900, so I suggest an early night. Speaking of which... I'll say my goodnights
walls," the TV reporter stood outside
the court, " a centuries old mystery is
being revealed for the first time as Lee Crane is being handed the ancient
document by a representative of the
"Well?" Mrs. Crane asked as Lee read the letter silently.Donovan grabbbed the letter......
By the tyme you get this, I'll be dead. They don't believe I was framed, but I'm as loyal to General Washington and the cause as the next man.
I'm trying hard not to be afraid, but am ashamed to say that I am.
I've seen the hanging tree. It's a big sturdy thing. I writ some last words on it-
Here was fouly hung Alge crayne, martyr.
But then they gouged most of it out.
I want you to to return to your parents in Willow Brooke and make a new life for yourself.
Lt. Mercer says to hurry up. They want to get thys over with before supper. He's promised to give you this when he has leave. I pray it reaches you. I love you with all my heart. Yours forever. Alge
Please take care of Snowboots, he's a good dog, even if he is ugly.
Algernon met his death bravely, though still claiming innocence of his cryme. The ground was too hard to bury him, so I've taken the liberty of placing the body in a new keg of Brandy from the Horshew Pub, and have scheduled it's delivery to you wythyn the month..
Misguided tho he was, your husband was a good prysoner and feared God.
His wolf dog, whych he befriended at Crispen's Creek a few months ago, and called Snowboots,we traded to a migrating tribe of Northern Indians. It has no monetary value, and it was only with a grudging acceptance that I allowed Algernon to keep the damn animal in the first place. I enclose the beaded medallian Algernon made for it. You must understand that I had neither the tyme or the resourses to ship the beast to you.
Your obiedient servynt,
'Lt. Niles Mercer
"Lt. Mercer? Oh lord," Elias said.
"What are you talking about," Nelson asked as he examined the beaded disk.
"Mercer, we know all
about him in
"He became a
priest," Elias continued," On his deathbed he admitted to having hung
an innocent man accused of treason. He'd placed the incriminating defence plans
in the man's clothes to protect himself from being caught. He said only God
could forgive him, becuase he'd never been able to forgive himself, for the
murder or for the treason but he he died before he could identify the man....And
the ledger, it all makes sense now. The Horsehew Pub burned to the ground when
some ammunition stored there caught fire. Only a teapot, snuff box and business
ledger were spared along with one keg of Brandy which was bought by the mayor
"So who owns the letter
"Well, the author is the adresse's wife, so no other family is involved at least. Actually it's back to square one. It's of immense value. Personally to the Cranes. Politically to the nation. And as a finders keepers right as such for the historical society. Take your pick, all have a viable right.There's no precedent to determine this.It could take years to decide."
"Oh my god," Nelson
suddenly exclaimed, "the body! The house in
"It's a long shot," Donovan said.
"His grandfather was the mayor during the Revolution."
"Ownership of the
letter, "the reporter said, " has not yet
been determined. Meanwhile a forensic test is being carried out on the body
believed to be that of Algernon Crane, ironically found in a barrel of brandy
in the old
A lock of hair of the late Edward Crane and a bone sample of the remarkably well preserved body are being tested for DNA.
In fact the body was so well preserved, that on viewing it, Mrs. Crane was visibly shaken and had to be escorted out of the funeral home's morgue. Rumors are flying that Algernon Crane bears a remarkable likeness to her late husband.
With only the verbal stories of Mercer's deathbed confession that he framed Algernon, it is unlikely that it will not be conisdered enough proof to remove Crane from the list of traitors during the revolution.
When asked about the apparent injustice, Commander Lee Crane simply said,"My mother and I know, that's enough for us."
"You okay Lee?"
"Yeah, I just had to get away. From the morgue, the reporters, the officials. You know they still can't decide about the letter. It might have to go all the way to the Supreme Court. And now the body's got questionable ownership too. Not every day you find a 200 year old mummy. Medically speaking. Some universities want to study him. And the Smithsonian..."
"What do you want to do with him?"
"Me? I want to give him a decent burial. An honorable one. He was a patriot and a martyr. And my dad's great great...back to whatever it is grandfather."
A frisbee struck Lee on the head.
"Sorry!" a child yelled
as a dog grabbed it and ran off to play with the children.
Crane smiled. "I wonder whatever happened to Snowboots...."
"Lee sure is moping
around a lot today, "Chip noted from Nelson's office as he watched the man walk
along the grounds alone, hands in pockets. " You 'd
think he'd be glad now all that legal tangle's done with. The letter's in the
Smithsonian, along with Algernon's uniform and reconstructed wax image, the
historical society gets a finder's fee, you did too didn't you for finding the body? And Lee got
an 'undisclosed financial settlement' for giving it to the US Government. And
to top it off Algernon got a 21 gun send off in
"Fleas?" Nelson grinned.
"Captain Crane?" a security guard interupted as he and Chip were inspecting Seaview's hull. "We have a problem at the gate that demands your immediate attention."
"Go ahead Chip."
"Sorry sir, Mr. Whitman said you have to sign for it."
"That man's an immovable object....not another historical document?"
"I wouldn't know sir," the guard said. "Something about some postage due."
"The Post Office hasn't had that service for ages. Not even COD's anymore as far as I know...." Morton said. "What's going on?"
"I don't know sir, but Miss Angie says the Captain had better come. "
"Out of the frying
pan..." Crane hopped onto the NIMR rover with Chip and security guard.
A small group of NIMR employees and Seaview crew were observing with interest the squabble at the gate as Crane approched.
"What seems to be the problem Mr. Whitman?"Lee asked.
"I need you to sign for, Per se, 2 Siberian Huskies, 2 Malamutes, 2 Wolf Dogs, and 2 dogs breeds unknown, delivered alive and in good order; 100 pounds of kibble, two sets of harness, and one dog sled, and three boxes of Super Delux Flea Dip."
"But...."Lee turned his attention to Whitman's van, and pulled open the back. Inside from their cages, his team greated him with barks and wagging tails. " I don't understand. This has to be some kind of mistake."
Nelson was suddenly beside him, with a huge grin. "Well, I can't have my Captain down in the dumps without his dogs."
"Admiral," Lee was at a loss for words..."you can't do this. It's just too expensive. And how can I have any dogs let alone eight of them...they can't run around Seaview and..."
"No. But they can enjoy NIMR grounds and all that private beach. There's also a large new kennel attached to the VIP guest house. I don't think your apartment will allow eight dogs. Besides, they'll make great petting dogs for employees, their families, and I've already been contacted by the local Ski club and several nursing homes and hospitals for visitations....I know you donated your government check to St. Jude's Children's Hospital. Let me do this Lee. I want to."
"I...I don't know what to say..."
"I do,"Angie said. "Mush!"
The assemblage laughed as Crane signed the invoice.
"Oh, and Lee,"
Nelson handed him some papers. "
"Oh, wait, what was that about a postage due?"
"A stamp, Lee, you owe me a stamp, for my letter to Yak's Milk."
"Angie!" Nelson shouted again from his office three weeks later, "Will you get these animals out of here!" Nelson held a vase out of danger as dog jumped on him.
"Don't yell at me, it was your idea to get Lee his dogs back," she tried vainly to pull one of the larger Huskies away from the bookcase he was marking. Some of the others had decided to join him in the exploration of the Admiral's office.
"How did they get here? Why aren't they in the kennel? I had that thing built for their comfort and safety."
"You scheduled them to play with the schoolkid's tour.They must have left the group."
"Down!" Nelson tried to pry his newpaper away from one of the Wolf Dogs, to no avail. None of his commands were obeyed. "This isn't going to work," Nelson moaned. "Lee adores the muts, I know. But they're becoming a damn nusiance. Even Lee has trouble getting them to behave at times. And the K-9 security section doesn't have the time or the manpower to retrain them. I think Leee was glad to get sea, just to get away from them"
"That's not true and you know it. I heard him call Yak's Milk for a little guidence but you sent him away before he could do anything."
"Well, he'd better so something when he gets back or I'll have no choice but to evict them."
"What's going on in
The dogs instantly obeyed, a servile crew.
"Commander what are you doing here?" Nelson asked, relieved, "never mind...you've come just in time."
"So remember," Commander Jackson said on the Humane Society's TV spot, "It's never too late to teach an old dog new tricks." The image went to Nelson, and other NIMR employees in a dog training session.
"Even if the shoe's
on the other foot,"Nelson said
"I can't believe he talked the Admiral into doing that commercial,let alone the Admiral talking him into some training sessions" Chip said as he turned off the monitor in Seaview's wardroom.
"Something about a year's supply of dog food..."Lee grinned. "You know, the Admiral got Joe's dogs back too. I don't know how we can ever thank him."
It was a cool night in the
"You okay?" he asked as he climbed into the conning tower.
"Yeah, I'm fine..I just....look at it Chip...Like God just made it seconds ago. Untouched, unspoiled."
The aurora lights wafted their magic and Seaview's lights cast weird glows on the water and icebergs.
"A little I guess. Best vacation I ever had in my life."
"Good, 'cause I want to give you this. Happy Birthday."
"What?" Crane took the card. Inside was an entry form, for the Iditarod.
"Next year I know, but...you could use the training...."
like to join you."
"I'm not sure your'e qualified."
"Don't get me wrong, it's just there's one thing you have to be able to do, and I'm not sure if you can..."
"Tell me and I'll do it. I promise."
The crew below decks had to wonder if they should alert the master at arms, or perhaps Doc. The only wolves in the area were the two friends topside, howling at the moon.
The Iditarod is the premier dog sledding event in
There really is a Wolf Dog, a hybrid cross between wolf and dog. The breed is still controversial as a pet.
Yak's Milk, the Fun Run, the New Pottsdown Historical Society, and the Miss Northern Lights Beauty Contest are fictional as is Assistant Attorney General Sam Donovan Rent-A-Sledder, Lt. Mercer, and Rosehanna Crayne. Any similarity to real persons or places is coincidental.