To snatch an nfumbe from the Just Beyond and stickum in a cauldron, you need something deeply personal to them, like bones. The very marrow of their poor souls. You also need trauma, so that the nfumbe will be confused and without closure and full of doubt and ready to give hisself over to a human master and live among its own dusty remains, in an iron cauldron, as long as he can remain here, in Ntoto!

As our Kismet would have it, Fallujah was a trauma factory, and we were religiously industrious. Having made our compromiso with the skull, we were filled with the confidence of fanatic cult people, put the city under the sword, and became war heroes.

Any place where Palo is practiced there is a market for human remains. We harvested fingers, toes, and tibias (a highly prized stick in the religion). At night after missions, when we retired to the Forward COC (which was a square block in Downtown Fallujah our unit had cordoned off and turned into a makeshift garrison), we took our harvest and burned the flesh off in an abandoned bakery that was part of the Forward’s perimeter. We sent the bones to Miami thru our connections in the mail tent. Pancho’s dad, Tata Francisco Sr., sold them all over South Florida at a ridiculous markup. Every religioso in Dade and Broward counties knew young Panchito and his brothers in arms were out here in Fallujah slaying hajis for the USA and the Cauldron, and dead war-torn hajis made premium nfumbe. Bititi Congo, bititi nganga!

It was there in the old bakery where one Captain David Finch liked to sometimes make his coffee before he malingered out of the day’s missions. One morning he found a pinky among the ashes in the brick oven. He went full Karen with indignation and tried to get us all courtmartialed. But he could prove nothing, even tho our mutilations were kind of an open secret in the company. Finch was one of those spineless weasels with delusions of grandeur you meet in the military, especially in the officer castes, and nobody liked him. When he brought his beef to Colonel Müller, the latter told him, “That’s a negative, ghost rider. Sergeant Kadric and his devildogs is certified hard. True teufel hunden. You leave them boys alone.” Straight up and down we had lifted morale in our unit, which is well worth a few postmortem amputations. We wrote a report and said the finger was a “byproduct of mortar activity” and that was that.

Of course, Finch’s clit remained quite sandy about the whole ghastly business. But we didn’t give a fuck. By the end of the Second Battle of Fallujah in late December, Corporal Pancho’s dad was holding over $80k for us in his home safe in Miami. It was the first of our many business ventures.