The Bear Hunt

By Michelle Pichette and Holly Cushing


It was a dark and stormy night and Lee Crane had been on the hunt all day, and the day before. He wasn’t happy about his lack of success, but Chief Sharkey and Riley, who were trying to help him, were not having anymore luck than he was. They had been kind enough to volunteer for this search and he wondered if they were regretting it now. As he ran for cover, he wondered if this lead would turn out to be as fruitless as all the others. Lee knew this bear was quite rare and that he wasn’t the only person searching for it, but he’d never expected things to be anywhere near this difficult. He just hoped his efforts were going to be appreciated. After all, tomorrow was Christmas Eve.

When he reached the mall door and stepped inside, he saw it was a mad house of last-minute Christmas Shopping. Why did he always seem to be looking for a Christmas present for his mother the day before said holiday? And why, oh why, did Fiona Crane, every year, tell him that she really didn’t want anything for Christmas, but if he happened to see this particular thing, well, he could pick it up for her. The particular thing, whatever it might be from year to year, always seemed to be the thing he was least likely to find, no matter where or when he looked. This year was no different. They had just gotten back from a month and a half at sea and instead of enjoying leave, he was off on another of these impossible quests. Lee was ready to quit and just buy his mother some jewelry or something else that he didn’t have to chase all over southern California for.

As he entered the Hallmark store that he’d been directed to, he saw a mob of people, mostly women, descending on a bin that the store clerk had just put down and then retreated swiftly from. Lee was a brave man, but he wasn’t foolhardy enough to plunge into that chaos. Just as he decided to wait for the surge to fade a bit, he spotted Sharkey in the thick of things, pushing his way forward with the rest of the group. Soon there was a general groan of disappointment and the remainder of the crowd began to drift away. An elderly woman who outweighed Sharkey by a good hundred pounds pulled at something blue that they both had a grip on, nearly pulling Sharkey over in the process. "I had it first!" she bellowed at him, swatting him over the head with her purse.

Sharkey’s face started to turn red and he looked like he was getting ready to sock the woman when Crane decided he’d better intercede. "Chief!" he called as he started to hurry over. The woman took advantage of the distraction and yanked the white speckled blue form from the Chief and bumped past him toward the line at the cash register. Sharkey snarled and started after her with murder in his eyes when Lee stopped him, quietly saying, "Chief, she’s a woman."

"No, sir, she’s a Sasquatch in pumps!" Sharkey stated loud enough for everyone in the entire store to hear. As the woman turned and huffed in indignation, looking ready to pummel Sharkey with her purse again, Lee bustled Sharkey out into the mall. "I had it! I had it right in my hand!" Sharkey groaned once they were out of the store.

"It was a valiant effort, Chief, but let’s try to keep the bloodshed to a minimum," Lee told Sharkey as he patted him on the shoulder. "Where’s Riley?"

"He went into the mall to a kiosk that carried those bean bag guys, but with a premium price tag," Sharkey said, then began to lead the way. That made sense. Lee had told them to buy the bear, no matter what it cost and he would reimburse them. "I don’t get it. What’s so special about these fluff bags that people go more nuts over them than some other stuffed animal?"

"I don’t know, Chief. You can ask my mother if you’re really curious," Lee replied. Fiona had begun collecting the strangest things ever since he had gone off to Naval Academy, not that she hadn’t always been a bit of a packrat. She had the most amazing scrap books of everything he had ever done that had been considered newsworthy. Now some rooms in her house looked like small museums and her beanbag animals in their little plastic boxes were forming an ever growing pyramid against one of her walls. She had taken great pride in introducing him to each one the last time he had been home to see her. He smiled, wondering how big that pyramid was now.

When they reached the kiosk in question, Riley was chatting up the pretty, young lady manning it, helping her bag a shopper’s purchase. He noticed them approaching, said something to the girl, then left her and met them just a little away from the small booth. "Any luck, Riley?" Lee asked as they moved out of the way of the majority of mall traffic.

"No, sir," the young sailor replied. "Tina, uh, the girl there, she said that there hasn’t been one of those blue bears with the white spots in her booth for a month and that most other stores are emptying them out as quick as they come in."

"Don’t I know that," Sharkey grumbled.

Riley looked a little confused at Sharkey’s comment, but he continued, "Anyway, Skipper, I talked to my folks to see if maybe they had any of those bears left or they knew anyone who did. My dad said that they’re as dry out there as we are over here, that they’ve had those bears on order for months and have only gotten in about a fifth of their order because of the demand." Lee knew that Riley’s parents owned a card store in Massachusetts just a little north of Boston.

"I appreciate that you called, Riley," Lee told him. That was when he remembered that Riley usually would go home if they got leave around the holidays. He had been so happy to have some help chasing around after this silly bear that he hadn’t thought about how this was affecting the people aiding him. "Aren’t you going home for Christmas?"

Riley gave him a sheepish look. "My flight is in the morning, sir."

Suddenly Lee began to feel a bit guilty. It was nearly eight o’clock. "Have you packed or even finished your own Christmas shopping, Riley?" he asked.

Riley rubbed the back of his neck. "Well, I did have a couple of things to kind of finish up, skipper, but..."

"You go on and do that, then, Riley. Thanks for all your help, but I’m about ready to give up on this whole thing. You have a nice holiday," Lee told the young sailor. Riley smiled and wished him and the Chief a merry Christmas before he moved off, disappearing into the milling crowd.

"You’re not really giving up, are you, sir?" Sharkey asked. "We were so close!"

Lee shrugged, saying, "It’s getting late, Chief. I’m going to go find her something else and call it a night. You probably have things to finish up yourself, maybe a flight to catch. It was good of you to help me out like this," Lee told him.

Sharkey frowned, plainly unhappy about the search ending like it had, but he fought off the expression and said, "Well, if you’re sure, sir. Happy holidays."

"And to you, too, Chief," Lee told him. He found himself unable to help himself from grinning as Sharkey walked away muttering about how he’d had the lousy bear in his hands. Lee went to the nearest jewelry store and settled on earrings for his mother, hoping that she wouldn’t be too disappointed that he’d failed to find her ‘one little thing’ this year.


The next morning, Christmas Eve, Lee went into the Nelson Institute to drop off a couple of little gifts for Admiral Nelson and for Katy, the Admiral’s secretary. He’d picked them up last night when he’d finally admitted defeat on his search, along with a little something for Sharkey and Riley for at least trying to help him. He would give them their gifts when everyone returned to the base after the holidays. Once he left the Institute he would be going to the airport to catch him flight home. Katy was wearing a smile as he approached her desk, a strange smile, like she knew something he didn’t, something funny. The Admiral’s office door was opened, which meant he wasn’t there, so Lee half wondered why Katy was still hanging around. He hadn’t actually expected to see either of them.

"Happy holidays, Katy," he told her, then put the brightly wrapped box he had for her in front of her on her desk as he sat on the corner. "This one," he handed her the second box, "Is for the old, old man. The Admiral isn’t keeping you here too late today, is he?"

Katy just continued to smile at him. "Oh, he told me not to even bother about coming in, but I was pretty sure you’d come in to drop off your gift to him last minute before you headed for home, just like you do every year."

"I don’t buy you that good a Christmas gift, do I?" Lee asked with a grin of his own.

"You always get me something nice, Lee, but I stuck around because you owe petty cash fifty seven dollars and I want to make sure the books balance before I go enjoy my holiday," Katy said, resting her chin on one hand. Her face was still lit up with the same silly smile.

"What? Why would I..." Lee started, not understanding what the devil Katy was talking about or why it was amusing. Then, slowly, she lifted her free hand. In it was the blue polka dotted bear that he’d spent the last two days searching for. "Katy, where did you find it? How did you find it?" Lee asked, taking it gently from her. The tag on it’s ear was in one of those little plastic protectors and it looked to be in perfect shape, as did the bear itself.

"When you were briefing Chief Sharkey and Riley on your bear hunt two days ago, I overheard what you were looking for. Every year, you go nuts looking for some silly thing, so I thought I’d give you a hand this year, especially since I know those silly bears are about impossible to find. I hit the Internet and I won an auction. I had them same day mail it and I charged it to the Institute petty cash account so that they’d send it right away," she said with the same smile she had been wearing when Lee had first been approaching her.

Lee hadn’t even considered looking on a computer for this year’s questing beast. He didn’t even have a computer at home, never wanting to bother about it when he could type up any reports he had to do here at the Institute, in his office, and he’d never really thought about using the computer here for anything else. The only reason he didn’t feel totally stupid was because Riley and Sharkey hadn’t thought of it either. "Katy, I could kiss you. In fact, I think I will," Lee said, then gave Katy a warm kiss on the forehead. He fished out his wallet and wrote her a check for the bear. "You are a life saver. An absolute life saver."

Katy just shook her head, still grinning as she took his check, saying, "Merry Christmas, Captain."

Lee tossed the bear into the air and caught it lightly, grinning himself now. "It is now, Katy. It is now."