Treat or Trick

By Linda Delaney

 

‘Ghoulies and ghosties, and things that go ‘bump’ in the night…’

 

 

"Be careful, R.C.!" Helen Crane called from the doorway, "Remember that you are in charge of those youngsters!"

"Yes, Gran! I know!" R.C. Crane stood a little taller and straighter as he realized the trust that the Senior Staff of the NIMR was placing in him. At 12, he was going to be taking all the kids Trick or Treating today. Halloween!!! Even a mature 12-year-old enjoyed this day!!!

He had spent weeks working with his grandmother, and the other children to come up with the best possible costume he could… they all were so very excited about this event! They were going to be allowed off the institute grounds for the first time…. Karen Nelson had been able to persuade their fathers to allow them into Santa Barbara itself to go begging door to door for treats like all the other kids in his class. In fact, they planned to meet a few of his classmates and go with them. He was the oldest of the Senior Staff’s offspring and took the job of ‘leader’ quite seriously.

His ‘aide-de-camp’ in this expedition, was 10 year old Alex Morton. She had prevailed upon her father, Chip Morton of the S.S.R.N Seaview, who could refuse his daughter nothing, to allow the Morton children to participate. When eight-year-old Sean Nelson found his friends were going to be part of a grand scheme, he not only managed to participate, he persuaded his mother to volunteer to drive the children into Santa Barbara to R.C.’s friend’s house.

There had been much chattering and planning amongst the older children, and their parents. Finally costumes had been decided upon, and mothers, fathers, and a certain few crewmen enlisted to help. The COB, Francis Sharkey assumed his role of ‘watchdog’ of the project, and now the big day for the children had arrived…. It was 1600, the children having returned home from school and daycare, and costumes donned, all were meeting at the Nelson house at the top of the rise, the highest point of the Institute grounds. Robert walked confidently up the hill. His costume, which his new stepmother had helped him with, made him walk slightly taller and straighter. It was a simple costume, he was the Admiral, Sean was going to be the Captain, and Alex was going to be the XO. The younger Mortons had chosen to be a giant Jellyfish, and a Devil Ray. Even Harriman Nelson had to admit that Catherine Morton was the most adorable Devil Ray that he had ever seen! As R.C. made his way up the hill, he looked over the Institute, and in his young mind, imagined what it would be like to have all of it under his command…. It was a humbling concept for one so young, yet the life that they all led, the lives of their fathers, did draw one to think of such things…

R.C. Crane rang the bell at the Nelson residence. There was much activity inside the door, and it slowly opened. Admiral Harriman Nelson stood in the doorway. He looked at Robert Crane, smiled and slowly drew himself to attention, and smartly saluted the boy in the Admiral’s uniform…

Robert Charles Harriman Crane drew himself up to his full height, and saluted the Admiral smartly in return. "Thank you, sir. I’ve come to meet the rest of the group… Is Sean here? And Alex, Drew and Catherine?"

"Yes…Yes… R.C. they’re all here, in the play room…waiting for you …. Your Grandmother called and said that you were on your way… Karen wants a picture of the group of you before you all go off… C’mon, lad, let’s go get to them!" Nelson put an arm around the boy’s shoulder, and was surprised at the familiarity of the contours…’so like Lee’s!’

The rest of the children were in the playroom with Karen Nelson, Matty Morton and Francis Sharkey. Lee and Caitlin Crane had promised to meet the children in Santa Barbara after they were finished Trick or Treating. Caitlin and Lee were attending a meeting with Jiggs Stark at COMSUBPAC HQ in San Diego, and were both disappointed that they weren’t going to be there for the children to leave. But they had promised to meet the group at the Elias’ home, to pick them up when they were done.

Timmy Elias was one of Robert’s best friends in school, and he had invited all the children to Trick or Treat with him. Initially, Karen Nelson was going to be driving, but Sharkey had convinced the Nelsons and the other parents to allow him to do the driving… and the entire Senior Staff had agreed. So Sharkey took on the role, again, of driver and watchdog of the children. Laughing and giggling, they posed for a number of pictures, and then the CPO herded them to the NIMR van that had been elected as transport for the occasion.

As the children got into the van, Nelson took the Chief aside, and handed him a small radio… "Francis, in case you need me…. Use this… it will beep and notify me to contact you ASAP"

"Yessir, Admiral… now don’t you and the Captain worry any…the kids’ll be safe… I won’t let them out of my sight…!!"

Nelson clapped him on the shoulder and, smiling, said, "Believe me, Francis, I’m not worried!!!"

Sharkey turned to the delighted, squealing children, and spoke to them…"Alright, let’s get moving here… R.C., you take Catherine Elizabeth with you, Alex, you take Drew and Sean…Back two seats of the van, seat belts everyone… Transportation departs in 5 minutes." The children scrambled to get to the van, grabbing bags and pieces of costumes and laughing and talking they made their way to the van… Sharkey followed them closely, at that moment feeling a bit overwhelmed with the idea of being in a van with five children!

 

 

Less than twenty minutes later, the van pulled up in front of a modest house in one of the Santa Barbara neighborhoods. In the dusk there were already numbers of children in costume walking in groups up and down the block. Robert directed the Chief to a house on the block, and when he stopped in front of it, a boy dressed as a ninja fighter came running to the door of the van.

"R.C.!!! You made it!!!!"

Robert threw open the door, and jumped out… "Sure did! Told ‘ja I would! Tim… This is Chief Sharkey… he’s gonna be coming with us…. And this is…." He pointed to each of the children as they got out of the seatbelts, and climbed out, to the sidewalk. "Alex, Sean, Drew, and .." he turned to look at Catherine Elizabeth who was trying to undo her seatbelt with no success… a very large tear was rolling down her cheek as she looked at the older boy. "Can’t do! R.C.!"

Patiently, Robert climbed back into the van and went to the little girl. He wiped at the tear and spoke softly to her, "It’s okay, ‘Kittle’. I’ll get you out! Don’t cry!"

Her lower lip shoved forward, trembling, she waited as R.C. unlocked the seatbelt and helped her out of the van. She ran her arm under her nose, sniffled, and smiled shyly at Timmy. "This is ‘Kittle’, Tim. She’s the youngest of us."

"Hi!" Tim said, and then turned to R.C. "You guys bring flashlights?"

They all nodded. "OK, then, I’ll get my mom, and then we can go."

Sharkey leaned over to Robert, "I’m gonna follow you all, if you need me, Robert, I won’t be far!" Sharkey hung back behind the children and let them greet the others in the group and start down the block to the intersecting street, where they made a right and began to knock on doors, and collect their treats…

 

 

A few hours later, it was quite dark, and the children were still having a good time ‘begging’ for treats. Sharkey had followed then carefully assuring himself that they were having a good time, but that they were well protected. He was also pretty well convinced that he could never be, and he never wanted to be a parent!

The little group of eight had become a larger group of almost 20. There were several parents present and although they had politely introduced themselves to the COB, they had set themselves apart and left Sharkey to pretty much their own devices. His eyes rarely left the children, and he was there in a shot, as Catherine Morton fell. The little girl was tired and she had skinned her knee and put a hole in her tights… she was more upset with spilling her bag of candy than anything else. As Sharkey bent over to pick her up, R.C. ran up to them, "Kittle are you OK?"

The little girl looked up at him, her face tear-stained and Robert suddenly felt protective of her, even with the Chief there. He put an arm around her small shoulders, and , comforting her, said, "C’mon, Kittle. I’ll share my candy with you. Don’t cry… we have to catch up with the others…" Robert turned to look for the group and discovered to his alarm that they had disappeared, around a corner, or bend, but they were gone!

"Chief!" he said sharply… ‘The others… they’re gone!"

Sharkey looked up from the two children and, dismayed. Starting to run down the street, He told the children, "Stay here! Don’t move! Don’t go anywhere!!! I’ll find them, and be right back!" He turned a corner and was gone….

Catherine turned her face to Robert …. "R.C…?"

Robert Crane was scared, just a little… he looked at the little girl in the now soiled Devil-Ray costume. Trying to sound calmer than he felt, he asked her, "Yes, Kittle?"

She grabbed his arm. "I’m scared… it’s dark and I only know you!"

He held her hand with one of his, and with the other, held his flashlight, his bag of treats long forgotten. "Don’t be. I’m holding on to you, and we have a flashlight, and we’re gonna try to find our way back to the van." She shivered a little…

"R.C…. didn’t Chief Sharkey say to stay here?"

"Yes, he did. But you’re getting cold, and so am I and the van is by Timmy’s house, and if it’s locked then we can go into Timmy’s!"

Catherine looked at him dubiously. "I don’ know, R.C." She looked around, shaking her head, and looked at him again. He smiled, what he hoped was a reassuring smile, and gently pulled on her hand.

"C’mon, Kittle…It’ll be alright! Sharkey’ll look for us at the van…" They started off down the street, the dark-haired boy holding tightly to the little blonde girl’s hand.

 

 

Francis Sharkey was regretting that he had not kept up with the Skipper’s regimen to keep in shape. He would definitely have to do something about it after tonight!!! He was running after a group of children, thinking that he saw some Khaki and what looked like a giant jellyfish He was breathless when he caught up to the group, and there in the center were the three N.I.M.R. children, happily oblivious to the fact that two of their number were missing. Sean was chattering away with Drew, and Alex had found a friend to talk to as well. The group was leaving a house with more treats, when Alex looked up and saw Sharkey. She waved gaily to the Chief. When he didn’t return her wave, she looked around for R.C. and the others. Not seeing Robert, she then became alarmed, and went to get Sean and Drew. She became more frantic as she realized that Catherine was also missing. Pulling Sean and Drew with her, she ran to the Chief.

"Chief, where is R.C. and where is Kittle?" He patted the child awkwardly on the shoulder. "They’re ok, Alex! Catherine fell, and R.C. is staying with her a few blocks back. We’ll have to get back to them and call it quits on the Trick or Treat."

"Oh, yes, Chief! Sean, Drew, let’s go with Chief Sharkey now." The two little boys looked unhappy, but Alex thought quickly and said with a smile… "That’s a great idea, Sharkey! Sean… Drew… we can eat some of our candy in the van!!! C’mon, guys!!!"

Alex, Sean and Drew fell into step next to the CPO, their shorter legs running to keep up with the older man’s stride. Sharkey turned two blocks right and then another left and halfway up the block, came to a halt. He stood and looked around, muttering to himself. He pushed his cap back on his head, and scratching it said aloud, "They were here…. I left them right here. They were supposed to wait for us here!!!!" he looked at the three children that were with him, and saw the growing fear in their faces. Trying to calm them, (as well as himself) he said, gruffly, " Now, they were supposed to wait for us here... but they probably got cold and headed back to the van."

Sean Nelson, pulled on Sharkey’s arm. "Then let’s head back to the van, Chief! I wanna all the candy we got put together… and I wanna see R.C. and Kittle too!!! Let’s GO!!!" he demanded. He headed off, leading the group with flashlights cutting wide beams in the dark. Twenty minutes later, the four looked woefully at one another, and six year old Drew mournfully exclaimed, "We’re lost!!"

Once again trying to reassure the children, (and himself) Francis Sharkey tried to speak calmly and somewhat quietly to the three children. "Now, look, kids!! We’re not lost…" he grinned crookedly at them, "I just got turned around a bit… Now if you all give me a moment, I’ll get us back on the right course. I can steer my way clear in a storm. I can find the van!!!"

Alex Morton felt frightened for her sister, and R.C. and for all of them, but she was worried about the chief.  She pulled on his arm, and whispered to the Chief, "I think that we should go this way, Chief." Looking at the little girl in the Lt. Commander’s uniform, the Chief shook his head.

"No, Alex, I’m sure that Tim’s house is this way." He indicated with a gesture a direction to the port side of the street. Alex shook her head. And just as firmly Sharkey took her hand in his, and took Sean’s with the other, and Sean took Drew’s hand. The four walked down the street…

 

 

Twenty minutes later, they still hadn’t found Tim’s street. Sharkey was becoming more and more concerned, and upset with himself. The three children remained quiet and simply followed the Chief’s lead. "Damn… I can’t be lost. I’ve spent over 35 years at sea!! I can’t be lost.. I never lost my way on the ocean… no ship or boat I was ever on was lost, what in the hell is the Admiral going to say!!! At least I have Sean here… But R.C. and Catherine!! Where in the hell are they? And where in the hell are we????"

 

 

Roughly five blocks away, the same rhetorical question was being asked. Lee and Caitlin Crane were on their way to Tim’s house, anxious because they had received a call from the Elias’ that the children had returned but there was no sign of the NIMR Contingent. Lee and Caitlin were the closest geographically, and they were hurrying to the house to find out what had happened and where the children were.

Lee drove faster than Caitlin had ever seen him drive. It was past the curfew, so that there were not children on the streets. As he drove, Lee Crane’s eyes surveyed the streets with a careful appraisal. Years of work for the ONI had trained him to be observant even while doing something else. As his eyes scanned the sidewalks, he caught sight of a tiny group several blocks ahead. It looked like an adult in Khaki with several small children. Crane speeded up the car to come parallel with the group. When the adult saw the car pull up and pace them, he turned and looked… a mix of relief, concern, and downright fear, when he recognized Crane and his wife.

"Skipper! Thank goodness!!"

"Sharkey, Where is R.C.? Where is Catherine?"

Softly… "Skipper, I don’t know, sir… I left them after Catherine fell, and I told them to wait for me!! When I got back to where I left them, they were gone!!"

"Gone!!!" Lee exploded… "Left them!!!! Left them where??? Why??"

Caitlin laid a hand on his leg. "Lee, you’re shouting."

"I’m what?" he glared at his wife, who smiled sweetly at him in return. "I said you are shouting, dear. And you are frightening the children. Pull the car over and let’s get everyone to the Elias’ house… R.C. and Kittle can’t be too far away. We will find them… now, let’s get the children and the Chief into the car and get to the Elias’."

Caitlin was sounding a lot more confident then she was feeling. She was terrified that something had happened to Robert and Catherine. She was feeling that it was all her fault. She and Lee had had a real ‘go round’ about the Trick or Treat activities. She firmly believed that the children needed to get away from ‘home’ and experience that ‘real world’ that she had grown up in and that existed, with a vengeance, outside the Institutes gates. She had finally convinced her new husband that Robert would be richer for the experience.

Once Robert Crane had announced that he would not be trick or treating on the grounds, the children of the rest of the Senior Staff eagerly volunteered to be with him. The adults all caved into the persistent, dogged determination of their offspring. She felt the burden of the distress of Sharkey and Lee… not to mention her own concerns for her step-son and the Morton’s youngest.

Sharkey herded the three youngsters into the back seat of the car, and then got in with them. Lee turned to speak to him, and then saw the look on Caitlin’s face, and instead, turned the car toward Tim Elias’ house, hoping to find his son, and Catherine, just as they found the others.

Unfortunately, the two children were not found. The NIMR car arrived at the house, and Lee had all he could do not to run to the door and pound on it. Instead, he stopped the car, got the door for Caitlin and waited for Sharkey and the children to join them. The group somberly approached the gaily decorated house. Tim opened the door, excitedly.

"Captain Crane!!! Chief! Mrs. Crane!! Where’s R.C.? We lost you guys, Chief!! What happened?"

"Well, …er…. I ah…. Well, the Skipper here’ll tell you. Can I use your phone? Your folks at home? Captain Crane and Mrs. Crane need to talk to them."

The young boy indicated that all of them should enter the house, when John and Emily Elias came into the foyer, looks of concern on their faces.

"Captain Crane, good to see you again. Is there a problem?" he asked.

"R.C. and Catherine Morton are missing. May we use your phone?" Lee was holding tightly to his anger with Sharkey, which he realized was misdirected, and his fear for his son, and the little girl with him.

John Elias showed Lee and Sharkey to the family room. "We have two phone lines, Captain. You and the Chief can both use the phones." Lee picked up one of the phones, and dialed the Institute. Sharkey dialed Harriman and Karen Nelson. As Lee spoke quietly into his phone, Sharkey waited for Nelson to answer the phone. To his immense relief, Karen Nelson answered.

"Nelson residence."

"Captain, this is Chief Sharkey, Ma’am."

"What is wrong, Francis?" Karen questioned immediately. "Is Sean alright?"

"Oh, Sean is fine, Ma’am… just fine. He’s right here… but ma’am…"

"Yes, Chief?"

"Well, uh… ma’am… we are uh… missing two of the children!"

"You’re what??? Who? Why?"

"Well, Captain, it’s R.C. and Catherine… I lost them"

The voice on the other end of the phone changed to a resonant masculine one. "How in the hell did you lose two children, Chief????!!!!"

"Well, sir, it was kinda like this…." Patiently, he told the story to Nelson, who was relaying it to his wife. Lee Crane had hung up his phone, and was listening to the Chief. When Sharkey finished, Lee took the phone from him.

"Crane here, Admiral. Caitlin and I are here. I just got off the phone with Tommy Chin. He’s sending a car over, and he’s getting in touch with SBPD. I’m going to stay here and Caitlin with me… I’ll send Sharkey back to the Institute with the other children. Alex is very upset, tho she doesn’t want us to know. Sean and Drew are fine. They are looking at it like an adventure. I’ll call you when we have any word."

"Very well," Nelson’s voice was significantly calmer. He was as concerned as before, but he and Karen knew that Sean was safe and they were calmer… they were very worried about Robert and Catherine, but Sean was safe! "You’ll call me with any word?"

"Aye, sir." Lee hung up the phone, and turned toward Sharkey. "Chief, you take the three children back to the Institute. Caitlin and I will wait here, and Tommy Chin is on his way here now. C’mon, now… lets get these kids to the van. The Admiral wants to talk to you ASAP!!"

The COB blanched. He knew that he was walking into a maelstrom of anger and frustration, and didn’t really want to face it. He shrugged, and turned to Crane.

"Sure, Skipper. Time for these little ones to get home!" Sharkey, Lee and Caitlin herded the three children to the van. Fumbling with the key he finally unlocked the cargo door and as he pushed it aside, the three adults and three children stared open-mouthed at the scene in the van. Catherine Elizabeth Morton was curled up in the lap of Robert Crane. Both children were sleeping, so soundly that the cargo door opening did not disturb them. Robert had his arms protectively wrapped around the four-year old.

Caitlin touched her husbands’ arm, a gesture that showed him that the relief that he felt was shared.

The children put heads together and laughed, softly.

Sharkey’s shoulders straightened significantly. He could stand any kind of a dressing down, as long as the children were safe.

Lee Crane ran a gamut of emotions as he stared at his son, and ‘Kittle’ Morton. The first reaction was one of gratitude that the children were safe, followed in due course, by anger, and then, ultimately, an intense feeling of relief. Caitlin’s grip on his arm was tighter, and when he looked down into her eyes, he saw reflected the same things that he was feeling. Softly, so that only she could hear him, he said, "Little Girl…. That was too close, way too close!!! I hope that we never have to go through something like this again… Only a few minutes, and I feel like I’ve lived my life over a hundred fold."

"If I tell you I know exactly how you are feeling, now, will you believe me?"

He nodded and the two children in the van began to stir. Robert brushed at his eyes with one arm, and Catherine moved about a bit, snuggling deeper into her protector’s other arm. Robert looked blearily at the crowd at the door, and sat up slightly…Catherine moved a bit more, and opened her eyes.

"Dad!… uh… Oh! Caitlin!… Chief!! What’s wrong?"

At that moment Tommy Chin and two security men pulled up behind the van, the Elias’ had come out of the house and were standing on the front porch of their home. Tommy Chin came over to the van, saw the ‘missing’ children, and took his mike to call the SBPD, and cancel the call he had made. He spoke to Sharkey, got back into the car, and headed back to the Institute.

Lee looked at his son, and questioned, "Why did you leave the place that Sharkey told you to wait for him, Robert? You’ve given us all, especially him, a huge fright!"

"I’m sorry, Dad. Kittle fell and she was cold, and scared, and I figured if we came back to the Elias’ the Chief would find us here, and we’d be ok… But there wasn’t anyone home, so I took the extra key to the van that Sharkey had given me, and came in here. I guess we both fell asleep! I’m sorry Dad, but I thought I was doing the right thing!"

The sharpness left Lee’s voice. "You did what was best for Kittle, Robert. But it wasn’t the best for the rest of us…"

John Elias came into the group. "I guess part of it was my fault, Captain. Emily was with the children, and I was home, just in the back of the house, and I guess I didn’t hear the bell when Robert rang it."

Lee turned to the other man, "You didn’t know that the children would return early… We’re going to take them all home now. I’m sure that we’ll be in touch, with the boys being such good friends." Lee shook the other father’s hand and then turned to his son. R.C. was talking softly to Catherine. Alex had climbed into the van and was holding the sleepy little girl in her lap so that Robert could move.

"Robert, would you get into the car with Caitlin?" He looked at the rest of the children, "Into the van with all of you." He looked at the COB. "I can trust you to get all of them to the Admiral’s Chief?"

"Yessir! Right Away, sir!!!!" he hustled the two boys into the van, and into seatbelts. Checking the belts on the two girls, he climbed into the driver’s seat. "I’ll see you at the Institute, Skipper?" It was more of a question then a statement. Lee merely nodded, knowing what Nelson would have to say to Sharkey when he returned, and not wanting to be there when he did.

Robert whispered a few more words to Catherine, then patted her hand gently. He climbed out of the van, and Lee closed the door. Robert headed toward the car. Caitlin caught up with him and enfolded him in a tight hug. Trick or Treat for this year was over, and it felt more like a Trick than a Treat.

 

 

 

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