I had been transferred to Sheppard AFB down in Texas to work in what the Air Force called Phase Two Basic Training, but so far all the barracks in my new squadron were sitting empty, waiting for men from Phase One.
I was moving my desk across my office when I heard a voice behind me with a distinct Texas twang.
I said yes and heard a loud, “Airman Davis reporting, sir!”
Figuring my first basic trainee had arrived, I turned around, but the two stripes on the sleeve on the smiling man’s facing me told me he wasn’t a basic.
“Did I getcha?” he asked.
I think I said, “Huh?”
“Always wanted to try that out on another DI,” he said.
And so began my friendship with Chance Davis, who turned out to be the most unusual person I have ever known, and someone who taught me an incredible number of things — because he thought I ought to know them.
I learned more from Chance than I ever learned from anyone else. And I learned part of it that very first day — namely that he was a nut. And a great friend.
Chance was supposed to be my assistant DI, but by the time we had been together for a week or so, I went over to the office and told them to change that.
Yes, I outranked him, but that made no difference. Chance was just too doggone good at what we did to be anybody’s assistant. I had to argue long and hard, but we ended up being co-DIs.
What kind of things did he teach me?
For one thing, he taught me how to put six in the black at a hundred yards — with a .357 revolver.
I say “taught me,” but in truth, “browbeat me” would be accurate. Chance was ... well, different. He was good at everything — and I mean everything! And he just could not believe that anyone who tried couldn’t be as good as he was.
“Shucks!” he used to say — both to me and the basics. “I’m just an old Texas boy. If I can do it, who cain’t?”
The truth, though Chance never seemed to get it, was no one could do the things he did, at least not as well as he did them.
He could shoot any weapon, and hit any target, at any range this side of the moon, anytime, anywhere.
He had a commanding voice that sounded like the crack of one of his many rifles. And when he was in uniform, he looked like a Marine recruiting poster.
On top of that, he was the happiest person I have ever known.
Chance could make me laugh until my stomach hurt. No kidding. He had a pair of upper teeth in front that had — so he told me one day — been knocked out “by a rackety coon that took a swipe at me one day for doin’ nothin’ except pickin’ him up and grinnin’ at him.”
The teeth were in a bridge that could be taken out and put back, but Chance used them like he used everything else — to prove he was a nut.
He was fairly tall, and he used to lean over a basic once in a while and say something like, “Looka here, boy! You gonna tell me you cain’t shoot this little rifle gun we give ya?”
And at the same time he was saying it, those two front teeth would be rattling up and down with the most perfect rattlesnake clicking sound you’ve ever heard.
They sounded like a pair of hedge trimmers. You should have seen the eyes on those basics!
And you should have seen the time we threw a squadron party and I found out the one thing that Chance could not do — drink!
There he was, in the barracks latrine with his arm in a toilet into which he had just spewed his guts. “My teef!” he said over his shoulder to me. “My teef! Gotta find my teef!”
“They’re in your shirt pocket,” I reminded him.
It was the one and only time Chance came out second in any conversation we ever had.
You should have seen him teaching me to shoot empty .22 casings off the barbs of a barbed wire fence with his octagonal barrel Remington falling-block rifle — from a hundred feet away.
You know how small a .22 short casing is? You can barely see it!
And you should have been there the time that a kid in a ’56 Mercury challenged Chance and his ’57 Chevy — the only Chevy in the world with a brightly polished brass radiator — to a race.
Man! We — yes we, there was no time to get out of the car or I would have — took off like a rocket. Side by side, Chance and that Mercury sped down the highway as I watched the speedometer go up over a hundred. Side by side. Side by side. Side by side. Neither of the cars seemed able to get ahead of the other one.
Then Chance grinned and said, “Heh! Heh! Heh! Watch this!”
He’d had the shift lever on the steering post disconnected and replaced with four-on-the-floor. As it happened, the old shift lever was sitting in the position for second gear. Chance beeped his horn. The other driver turned and looked. Chance grinned at him and dropped the shift lever into the position for third gear.
You should have seen that Mercury back off! Br-r-m-m-m-m-m!
Think of what that poor guy must have been thinking. “Oh, my God! He’s had it in second gear all this time!”
But that was Chance. He never lost at anything.
The odd thing about it was that he had two younger brothers who looked just like him.
He had a picture of the three of them sitting together on a log with their rifles, each of them with that same crazy grin on his face.
“Pete and Henry,” he told me. “They’re gonna join up too, soon’s they can. I figure we’ll be able to get the Air Force to station us together somehow or other.”
And I suppose — being Chance — he’d have managed it.
Why not? He managed everything else?
Think about it, Johnny. Can you picture some poor Air Force base with three Chances on it? The poor base commander wouldn’t have stood a chance.
I can see it all now. “Come on, General! You gonna tell me you cain’t shoot a little casing off of a barbed wire fence? What are you gonna do if the Russians come over the hill some day?”
You should have seen the time Chance rode in my 1950 Plymouth while his Chevy was in the shop getting something done. Chance didn’t say much, but as we were getting out he said, “Garrett, you drive like Jenn.”
Jenn was his wife. And at the time she was still sane!
You should have seen the time we were in his Chevy on our way out to a ranch in Seymour, Texas to do some plinking, as Chance called casual shooting.
There we were, zooming along the highway at 65 mph when Chance yelled something. And then ...
Uh-oh. Guess I get to tell you about that next week.
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