“Gimme the dice, you son of a bitch!” Bobby Comlies grinned. He felt good. He felt Lady Luck’s presence. He started the night off on a streak of good rolls, and even though he hadn’t won a bet in twenty minutes he knew he was due.
Leo shrugged, “I don’t want to take everything you have. Your wife will whoop my ass if I take your grocery money.” The clanging of pipes and pumps forced them to speak up, otherwise the ships noises drowned them out. “Plus, we don’t need Old Man Johnson to catch us gambling in his engine room.”
“Pffft, Old Man Johnson loves me. Besides,” Bobby shook his head, “I have something better than money.” He pulled a piece of paper from his back pocket and threw it onto the table. “I can always borrow a couple dollars from you for food.”
Leo cocked his eyebrow at the folded sheet of paper. He reached down and opened the letter. A guffaw escaped his chest, “You really want to do this?”
Bobby’s blue eyes shined, and his grin grew even bigger, “You know I do. I’m going to win and take your money. That piece of paper should be worth a sawbuck anyway. Don’t you think?”
“Ten bucks? Really? Seems kind of steep to me…”
“Come on buddy. Gimme the dice. If I lose I’m done, if you lose I’m taking the old lady out to a lobster dinner,” Bobby rubbed his hands together.
“I don’t know, Bobby. Your wife will really be pissed if you lose that chit.”
Bobby’s eyes sunk a little, “Listen, Leo, if you don’t let me try to win some lettuce back, she’s going to kill me. No money with a chit is worse than money and no chit. Give me a chance to go home without getting hen-pecked.”
Leo shook his head, grinned, and handed the dice to Bobby.
Leo laughed and threw a pair of dice up into the air and caught them before winking at the man in line behind him. In his other hand he held a chit that granted him a three day liberty. A free three day weekend that he won with his lucky dice. He chatted up the guy behind him, waiting for his turn to see the pretty, young woman who would take his chit and turn it into a long weekend.
“Yup, that’s right. He rolled snake-eyes and you should’ve seen the look on his face when I picked this up,” Leo laughed and dropped his dice back in his pocket and pulled out a pack of non-filter Pall Malls with a lighter jammed into the cellophane. “I’m going to the big island and chasing some tail.”
He lit the cigarette just as the disinterested woman behind the counter called next. Leo winked at her through the haze of acrid tobacco smoke. He laid the chit in front of her and grinned. “You busy next weekend, doll? I got a three day break, and I could use some company with a gorgeous girl such as yourself.”
She smirked at him, “You’re a persistent one aren’t you, Leo? You know I have a…”
The woman never finished her sentence. The sound of engines roaring overhead, and a siren wailing cut off any sound he might have made in response. The pretty girl behind the counter stared over Leo’s shoulder, eyes wide and breath still. He turned around and ran to the door, where the other men and women in the office gathered around to watch the scene unfold.
Leo pushed his way through the crowd. In the sky he could see planes with the big red dot that told him that they belonged to the Japanese. The world moved in slow motion as he watched bombs drop on the docked ships. Explosions drowned out screams of agony. Flames washed across his vision as a bomb ripped into the USS Arizona, only a few hundred yards from where he stood.
An unintelligible scream of defiance ripped from his chest as he ran toward the carnage. Leo pulled men and women from under debris, fought fires, and saved more than a few lives that day. He never made it back to his ship, though. Through pain and injuries, he kept doing everything he could to protect his fellows as hell rained down from the skies that day. No matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t save his friends.
The attack lasted an hour and a half, but not for Leo. For Leo, the attack lasted a lifetime.
Kids ran around the yard, in and out of the house while Leo sat on the porch rubbing his head. He growled at them, pretending to be mad about the air conditioner running. He grumbled and complained, but the children ignored him. They knew his bite didn’t even compare to his bark.
An ever present glass of whiskey sat on the small table beside his favorite rocking chair. A bottle of the potent spirit lived in a cooler behind a fake plant. Once a day Leo made the trek from the freezer to the cooler to ensure the ice stayed full. The whiskey used to bring relief from his thoughts. Now the only respite he received came to him in the form of his grandchildren.
Over the last sixty years guilt had torn Leo apart. He knew that he should have died at Pearl Harbor; that Bobby should have been in the office exchanging a chit for a day off; that Leo should have been in the kitchen cooking breakfast for the men aboard the ship. He should have refused to take the bet. Then, at least, his friend would have lived.
“Papaw?” a little dark-haired boy tugged on Leo’s sleeve.
“What do you want?” The twinkle in his eye couldn’t be mistaken for anger.
“Can I have a candy from the jar?”
Leo’s face softened at the little boy’s smile, “You know you can have a candy. Just don’t tell your daddy. I don’t want to have to whoop him.”
“I promise I won’t tell,” The little boy winked at Leo, confirming their sacred candy trust, before running back into the house and letting the screen door slam behind him.
“Quit slamming the door!” Leo yelled out of habit. He knew none of the kids would ever stop allowing the door to swing closed too fast, but they expected him to yell about it. So he obliged.
A moment later he heard the musical notes from his candy jar, letting him know the boy had removed the lid and would soon be back outside running with the other five grandkids. Leo went back to his thoughts, eyes fixed on the road to make sure none of the children went too close to the road.
“Your friend Bobby is here!”
Leo’s eyes snapped to the older girl that made the announcement, “Wha?”
“Yay! Bobby!” The little boy, candy wrapper in hand and a butterscotch in his mouth ran out the door.
Leo shook his head, seeing another child joined in the game of freeze tag in his yard. One of the neighborhood kids, named Bobby, had joined the cacophony of play that took place in Leo’s yard every weekend.
“Dammit, quit slamming the door!”
Mountains of things surrounded the old man in his chair. Trash to most, they represented a lifetime of treasures to Leo. In his eight plus decades of life, he accumulated keepsakes and mementos from every part of the world. A miniature samurai sword set reminded him of his time in Japan. Matryoshka dolls adorned his fireplace mantle from his deployment to Russia. A simple green glass candy jar with a musical lid sat apart from all the other clutter, on a table next to his bottle of whiskey and a bronze five-pointed star that reminded him that he shouldn’t be alive.
Leo sat in his chair, thought, and drank. He counted his time left on Earth in days, now. He had fought aboard the USS West Virginia in his youth. He had married, fathered children, been widowed, remarried, and had fathered another child. His life had been a full one as far as anyone who knew him could tell. No one knew the weight that had fallen onto this simple Navy cook some sixty years before. And no one knew the decision he now faced.
Arthritic hands reached over and lifted the lid off the candy jar. Blue Danube played to the audience of one, coming from the lid. The tinny sound brought a rare smile to Leo’s face. He basked in the notes for a moment before putting the lid aside. The music continued playing, muffled by the cushioned arm chair on which he placed it.
A sigh built up in his chest, and he released it as he turned the candy jar over and dumped the contents over the table. The scents of cinnamon disks, butterscotch, and root beer rolls fought the musty odor of the room. On top of the hard candies was a piece of crinkled old paper wrapped around a pair of small objects.
Leo picked up his bottle of whiskey and gulped down a swallow of the smoky, phenolic liquid. His gaze fixed on the small bundle. He seemed to mouth a few words as he reached out and unwrapped the paper, careful to not rip the thin old sheet. A pair of dice fell out of the paper and landed on the pile of candies. Tears built up and spilled from his eyes as he read the paper.
“This chit grants the bearer an additional day of liberty on a weekend of his choice.” The paper bore the signature of Master Chief Johnson, a salty old sea dog by the time the attack on Pearl Harbor started that December morning. Master Chief didn’t survive the attack. He died beside Captain Bennion, on the West Virginia, directing the men to try and keep the boat afloat and everyone alive.
The tears flowed freely down his cheeks now, remembering the pain and the chaos of that day. Without realizing what he did, he picked up the yellowed dice that sat atop the candies. He gave them a shake inside his cupped hand and tossed them onto the floor.
“You have taken a long time to decide, Leo.” Bobby Comlies stood before him, a ghostly visage in the shape of a man. Holes with burnt edges marked up the otherwise pressed and neat chambray shirt. His name tag had burnt away all those years ago, leaving only the letters “ies” still intact. Torn bellbottom dungaree pants revealed legs that a living man wouldn’t be able to stand on, so deformed were they from fire and the crushing weight of the bulkhead that had collapsed on him below decks. His Dixie cup, though, still stood at a jaunty angle back on his head, as if it defied all the chaos that erupted around it back in 1941.
Leo looked up at the apparition. His breath hitched at the sight of his old friend. The man who bet him a three day liberty chit in a game of dice, and lost his life because of it.
Leo nodded, “I know.”
“You cheated me in that game. I gave you eight decades to make your mistake right. Just admit it. It was promised to me that if you just own up to your cheating ways, the First Queen will put us back on the boat. Maybe we’ll both live next time.”
Leo dropped his head, and pushed up on the arms of the chair. He struggled to his feet on weak, shaking legs and walked to where the dice lay on the floor. After several painstaking moments, he was able to bend down, scoop the dice off the floor and stand up to look the apparition in the eyes.
“Bobby, I didn’t cheat you. I tried to talk you out of betting this chit,” Leo waved the dirty, ragged sheet of paper at the specter. “I lived my life feeling guilty that I survived. You screwed up, not me.”
Bobby’s eyes narrowed, “If you didn’t cheat me, then why don’t you accept the offer? You’ve nothing to lose by going back. You could get your entire life to live again by going back. You’ve not much time left on this Earth, this opportunity will give you all of your time back. Your strength restored. Your lungs, your mind, will be returned. Join me, back on the boat, Leo.”
Leo’s left eyebrow lifted, “What about my family? My kids and their kids, what happens to them?”
“If you didn’t cheat me back then, I can only assume that events will unfold as before and time will lead you down the same path. This is a one shot deal, a double or nothing. We’ll be as ghosts within our bodies. Neither of us will be able to change anything, except the outcome of the game. If you didn’t cheat it’ll give you a free pass to live your life again; if you did, it’ll give me my chance to live mine. Either way we can’t stop the attack on Pearl,” Bobby looked sad at the mention of the attack.
His eyes dropped to the floor as he considered the option laid before him. For six decades he had carried those dice knowing that one day he would have to make this decision. It had taken the entire six decades for Bobby to figure out a way to tempt him into saying yes, despite the guilt that kept him from saying no.
“Everyone wants a second chance to do things the right way,” Leo looked up at his old friend. “I don’t trust you, or this ‘First Queen’, but I’m ready to make my choice.”
“Say the words and we’ll get our chance back, Leo.”
“Take me back…”
The world turned bright white and grew silent as a tomb. The last memory Leo could recall was of the grin on Bobby’s face. Leo wanted to return to the boat, to prove to Bobby that the dice weren’t loaded, to get a second chance at living his life. What happened, though?
Leo shook the cobwebs loose from inside his skull and took in a deep breath. His lungs expanded easily, drawing in air that tasted of oil. As he caught his bearings he realized that the thin mattress on which he laid did little to cushion his body from the hard steel of the bunk. He opened his eyes, taking in the familiar, if long forgotten, sight of the bunkroom on the USS West Virginia.
He swung his legs out of the bunk and stretched. All of his morning pops and crackles took a vacation for the first time in fifty years or, rather, they wouldn’t move into his body for another decade or so. The whole situation confused Leo to no end. His body looked at the clock and started rushing off toward below decks. The feeling of being in his own body but not in control of it would have been nauseating, were he in full control of his body.
He passed people who would die in the morning from the Japanese attack. Try as he might he couldn’t yell at them to get off the boat before morning. Bobby spoke the truth, he could only ride along with his body, reliving events, but not shaping them. His fingers dipped into the hip pocket of his dungarees and out came a brand new pair of dice, which he kissed as he passed through a watertight door and into the engine room.
Bobby sat on the floor at a makeshift table, his jovial smile lost, as he waited on Leo. Leo sauntered up to the upside down bucket with a piece of sheet metal on top, and took a seat across from Bobby. Upon sitting down a wave of vertigo passed through Leo’s body.
“What the hell just happened?” Leo shuddered.
“You’re back in control of your body.”
“Now we play,” Bobby reached out for the dice.
This time around the game played without the joking and good natured ribbing that accompanied the original. Leo kept track of the money as it changed hands between them. The first six rolls took money from Leo, then for the next fourteen Bobby lost every dime he brought on the boat.
Bobby reached into his breast pocket and pulled out the chit throwing it on the table, “Well, here we are, Leo.”
“Bobby, please don’t do this. Let’s just call it a night and go to town, what do you say?”
“Leo, give me the damn dice. I have to prove you cheated me.”
“I didn’t cheat you, Bobby. If we walk away now, maybe we both live.”
Bobby stood up in front of Leo, breath quickening, and fists clenched tight. “You give me those dice, or one of us won’t ever walk out of this engine room again!”
“Bobby, don’t you remember? This is what happened last time. I tried to save you from losing that chit the first time but you insisted. You never left this engine room back then, if you roll these dice you’ll never leave this room again,” Leo stood up, keeping his eyes on the man across from him.
“You’re right, old friend. But I’ve spent the last six decades mulling this moment over in my head. Sixty years of watching you lead the life that you stole from me. Sixty years of waiting for the chance to have my life returned to me,” He stepped closer to Leo reaching for the dice. “I will not walk away. You cheated me, and proving that gives me purpose.”
Leo pushed his friends hand away, “I will not give you these dice. I won’t be responsible for your death, not this time.”
Bobby’s eyes widened, and caught fire at the push. He grabbed ahold of Leo’s wrist and attempted to pry the small objects from a clenched fist. Leo, surprised at the quickness with which Bobby pounced on his hand, almost released his grip.
“Let them go!” Bobby yelled.
Without thinking Leo swung his free fist hard into Bobby’s stomach. The impact drove the air from his lungs and dropped him to his knees, “Shit! You need to calm down.”
Bobby got his legs under him, “I won’t… calm… down…” He stayed in a crouch and pivoted toward his adversary. “Give me the dice you son of a bitch!”
“Don’t you see Bobby? You’ve said that to me before!” Leo backed away from his one-time friend.
The words bounced off uncaring ears. Bobby stared at the hand holding the dice, and launched himself at Leo. He ripped at the fingers while Leo shoved at him and pulled the hand away. Bobby held on as Leo shoved, forcing his fingers open and then backward. A wail of agony reverberated through the engine room. Leo stared at his two middle fingers that jutted back toward his body and away from his hand, as the dice fell toward the floor.
A wide, crazy grin spread over Bobby’s face. He dove to the floor, and scooped the dice up from the floor. He turned toward the makeshift table and cocked his arm to roll the dice. Leo’s pain laced mind pushed his body into reacting without thought. He reached out with his injured hand and spun Bobby around by the arm. Pain shot from his fingers, causing him to yelp, even as his other hand met Bobby square on the jaw.
Bobby spun back around, releasing the dice as he staggered. The dice fell onto the floor and skittered for a second before falling to rest, even as Bobby fell onto a valve wheel. Blood dripped from Bobby’s nose. His eyes fell onto the dice, where they had fallen with both single dots facing up.
With a final gasp, Bobby huffed out, “Snake eyes…”