I left off last time at the point where my buddy Vinny and I had just cleaned out seven high-ranking squadron NCOs in a poker game. Oops! Not true.
Vinny wiped them out. All I did was sit and be a good luck charm.
Yeah. That’s what I said. Good luck charm.
Vinny actually thought I was his personal good luck charm, having gotten that idea because he noticed one night that whenever I walked into a room where he was gambling he always won.
Don’t blame me. Wasn’t my idea. And talking about ideas, beating seven big wheels in the good old 103rd AC&W Squadron, Air National Guard of the United States, out of six hundred bucks in a poker game wasn’t such a good idea.
There are people in this world who don’t like to be beaten. And they especially don’t like to be beaten by a happy, grinning, button-eyed kid who is willing to bet he can do anything.
Vinny, you see, was a gambler. He would bet on anything. I mean anything.
If you looked at Vinny and asked him what time it was his first response was to consider whether or not he could turn it into some kind of bet.
And since he thought I was his personal good luck charm, I spent a lot of time watching a lot of crazy things going on. I was getting nervous about it though. Vinny was doing crazier and crazier things. It was like a disease. He couldn’t stop making bets that were more and more bizarre.
Every time he won — which was always — he shoved money at me. But I wouldn’t take it anymore. I kept telling him to quit because he was either going to get hurt or get himself into trouble. It was no use. He just laughed at me and kept on making bets.
We had been told it didn’t snow much up on Cape Cod where Otis AFB is located. Something to do with the prevailing winds. But that winter turned out to be different. We got a lot of snow.
One fine morning it clouded over and began snowing. It kept on all day. By the time night fell, there was more than a foot of snow on the ground and it was getting deeper every minute.
I was sitting up in the little room that Vinny and I were assigned to because we worked nights and had to sleep days. In came Vinny. “C’mon, help me with my bunk. Grab an end.”
For one happy moment I thought Vinny had quit betting, was moving out, and my days as a good luck charm were over.
No such luck. We dragged the bunk downstairs and out the back door into the hard falling snow. Standing around were five or six guys from supply section. “OK,” one of them told Vinny, “hop in. And don’t forget. We’re gonna be watchin’ you all night.”
“No sweat,” Vinny told him. “Easiest money I ever made.”
Then he stripped down to his shorts, handed me his shoes and clothes, hopped into bed, and pulled his blankets over his head. “Goodnight, suckers!”
Back inside I asked what was up. “That idiot,” one of the supply guys told me, laughing, “thinks he can sleep out there in the snow all night under just two ordinary old GI blankets.”
“You didn’t make a bet with him, did you?”
The guy laughed again. “Fifty bucks. Ten bucks apiece. He gave us three to one odds. We’re gonna clean up.”
“Kiss your fifty bucks goodbye,” I told him. “Are you nuts? Nobody can sleep out there in that snow.”
I just shook my head. I knew that for fifty bucks Vinny would do literally anything. Their money was as good as in his pocket, even if I would have to toss him in an oven to defrost him in the morning.
However, we didn’t get to find out whether or not Vinny could do it. First Sergeant Oates stumbled upon him an hour later and chased him back into the barracks, so all bets were off.
Something else happened the next day, something that made me worry even more about Vinny. The next morning we were called into the orderly room, where Sgt. Oates, who was one of the NCOs that Vinny cleaned out in that poker game, tried without success to find some regulation under which he could string both of us up.
I warned Vinny that he had to quit making bets, that sooner or later Sgt. Oates and the other squadron wheels were going to find a way to get back at him for beating them in a poker game. But as usual, all I got was a grin and a happy laugh.
Two days later, with two feet of snow on the ground and snow still falling I got dragged downstairs by Vinny again. This time the bet was that he couldn’t run naked except for his skivvies from the corner barracks to the tall fence of the stockade almost a quarter mile away across an open field.
He did it, of course — eighty bucks worth. And he was so cold when he got back that snow was sticking on his chest and when we threw him in the shower to defrost him he said the cold water felt warm. In November!
Another kid in the barracks, jealous of Vinny’s growing fame — and bank account — announced that for fifty bucks he would eat a beautiful balsa model of a British Spitfire that someone had been working on for almost a month over in one corner of the bay.
“Hell!” Vinny said. “I’ll do that for nothing.”
“Me too!” some other nut chimed in, and so the owner of said model watched in shocked disbelief as we all joined in and ate it. I had a piece of the wing. A little dry, but nice and crispy.
Then Vinny got drunk, got slapped with two weeks restriction, and bet he could sneak out of the squadron area to buy a lousy eskimo pie. Sgt. Oates, knowing Vinny, had him under close watch. Court martialed, he drew 30 days restriction to base, made another bet, and ended up with six months in the stockade.
I knew it the day I went over to the stockade and talked to Vinny through the fence. If ever there was a doomed soul, he was it. I saw it in his eyes as he grinned and eyed the wire.
“Wanna bet I can be over this fence in 10 seconds?”
“Don’t do it, Vinny. Just wait out your time.”
He grinned again. “But what if somebody takes my bet?”
The last thing I ever heard of Vinny he was in Leavenworth.