After a wonderful tour of duty in Okinawa for eighteen months including not one, but two extended temporary duty tours to the Philippines, and enjoying fifteen months living off-base with a lovely Japanese girl named Kiyoko, I was headed back to the mainland. For the first time in three tries, I was going to one of the bases I had requested. Nellis Air Force base is located north of Las Vegas in the Nevada desert. I was aware of the town’s history and how the Mob control of many Vegas properties came through their association with the Teamsters Union. Youngstown, Ohio was home to 3 different steel mills, all unionized. Youngstown and the surrounding communities were full of connected guys and a lot of the guys in Northeast Ohio were moving to the desert to escape the heat of the feds back home. I had three years left on a six-year reenlistment and I intended to continue until I reached twenty years, and then become a civilian tech rep. The position includes all the benefits of military service combined with a much higher pay scale and housing in the quarters reserved for officers. So, as I left the plane and headed to grab my luggage, my thoughts were on something a couple of guys who had just come to Okinawa from Nellis told me a couple of days before I left. “Whatever you do, do not get mixed up with Cheryl. “I asked for more info, but they just laughed and waved goodbye. I had not publicized my engagement to Kiyoko as it was a late decision, and our plans were still a work in progress. I had given her a ring and ordered tickets for her to join me in a month.
Pulling my duffel bag and a suitcase from the moving carousel, I headed towards the exit and noticed a small crowd gathered ahead. They were waiting for a chance at one of the slot machines lining the walls. l got there just as a lady was pulled from her machine by an angry husband and slid into the seat. A young lady wearing a belt and apron packed with rolls of coins, asked if I needed any change. After looking at the denomination on the machine, I pulled three rumpled dollar bills from my trousers and got three tokens in exchange. I shoved all three tokens into the slot and pulled the handle. One 7, two 7’s, and the third reel seemed to roll in slow motion until the third 7 finally settled into place and bells and lights flashed as the machine dumped 300 tokens in the large silver tray below it. My life changed when I pulled that handle, now I knew what Jed Clampett felt when he moved to Californi, I was finally home. I was like a kid in a candy store as the taxi left the airport and headed towards the base. After hearing it was my first time in the city, the cabbie turned off the meter and gave me a tour of the Strip and downtown along with the couple of local joints that dotted North Las Vegas, the closer we got to Nellis AFB. I had always enjoyed playing cards and table games growing up, and that enthusiasm and my abilities grew with my time in service. I sent many airmen home to their families with long faces and sad tales as to why they had no money for bills. I was good with numbers and innately knew the advantage one had by being the dealer in games of blackjack. I was eager to go up against the experts in the casinos.
Two months later, I was forced to give up my apartment off-base after someone broke in and stole all my worldly possessions, in the middle of the night. I found out later that the helpful neighbors who welcomed me to the neighborhood were all members of a North Las Vegas gang called the GQs. (The GQs became the Donna Street Crips in the late 80’s and Donna Street led the city in the number of homicides by gunshot). I took back my statements of how I wish I had caught them in the act.
The assignment to Nellis was not going very well. When I was finally able to reach my fiancée, she let me know she would not be coming because her parents threatened to take her son away if she married a Koolaid (Google it). It was not an idle threat because her parents had raised him since he was six months old, and the boy had just turned six. She promised to return my rings and cancel her flight but after hearing a male voice in the background, I called the airline as soon as I hung up the phone. I was sad but it was for the best since she was ten years my senior and most of our relationship was built in bars and in our bedroom. She had taken an inexperienced shy lad and turned him into an accomplished lover. I learned what women wanted in bed and how to take them there.
Broke, I was thankful for the free room and board the Air Force provided and I drowned my sorrows at the NCO and Airman Clubs, playing for shots and mugs of beer at the pool tables. In Turkey, I had learned the game of table shuffleboard and was able to surprise the white guys, they had never saw Negroes playing the game. My First Sgt at Incirlik had taught me the game and we also ruled the Pinochle table. I had dor room to myself because my roommate was on a thirty-day leave. Payday was still two weeks away, so I spent the time exploring the base and settling in at the missile shop. There were free buses and other transportation to Downtown Las Vegas and the Strip, but it wasn’t much fun without any money. I was an E-5 (Staff Sgt) and a crew chief, which meant I spent most of my time drinking coffee and trading war stories with the other Non- Commissioned Officers. It was obvious that NCOs were responsible for the day-to-day operations in all the military branches because everything ran on relationships and networking with fellow NCOs throughout the military.
One night after work, I was called to the pay telephone on our floor and was surprised to hear a woman on the other end. She said she was calling to speak to my roommate and gave his rank and name. Thinking it was odd that she wouldn’t know her husband was on such a long leave, I just informed her that he was not there, but that I would give him the message. Two days later, she calls again and this time when I tell her that he’s not here, she asks, “Well you sound kind of nice. What’s your name?”
“SSgt Broomfield ma’am”, I replied.
“No silly, what’s your first name?”
“My name is Barron and yours?”
" Cheryl", she replied.
About the Creator
After attending Carnegie-Mellon for three semesters, I served in the USAF, worked in Vegas casinos, graduated college at fifty, on my fourth marriage, in the process of authoring two novels in a series. Favorite author John Grisham.