After our shift ended the sun went down and the muezzin started calling Allah hu-akbar, all the chants overlapping and syncopating with each other from the loudspeakers on the minarets. We ran back into the compound with our hyper new puppies nipping at our combat boots. We went straight to the cauldron cave where the rest of the squad was smoking cigars and drinking otí while playing dominoes. They immediately fell in love with the puppies. We all have a soft spot for pets that rivals Tony Soprano’s.

Billy and I told them how we got the puppies and all about the mercenaries and how much luka they made working for Blackwater and how they lived on ice cream and rocked elegant gold grills and rollies. We all made plans to join private armies after our enlistments. Then we played double-nine dominoes for hours and kept drinking otí and speculating about the future. Since the beginning of the 2nd Battle of Fallujah we had gradually come to view most of reality as something confined to a bubble around the city, the misty death space just beyond the bubble, and the nucleus that is our cauldron. But now we had these puppies (we named the boy Changó and the girl Oshún) and a realization that we could make real money with our skills. The otí and the cigar smoke and that organic earthy smell from the cauldron and the puppies running around the cueva soaking up affection, and the sheer joy of dominoes blocking strategy, and latin jazz from the iPod speakers. . . Our idlozi inhabited the whole room. It was in that state that Corporal Pancho floated the idea of starting a private military ourselves.

Kadric said, “Oh, that right? And what we gonna call it?”

Pancho got serious and said Malongo Inc. As a thought experiment we began to speculate on how it could even work.

Flaco said, “Hell, we’d have to spend at least a couple years with these outfits for the experience and to save up some luka.”

“Shit, mane, after all we been through mercenary work be a vacation,” said Jones.

“Nah, you know what we might could do?” said Sergeant Kadric. “We serve a little time in the outfits, learn the business. Then we open strip clubs in San Diego and North Kakalaki, and offer free VIP to grunts and recon marines. We get ’em drunk and horny and suggestible, and we recruit ’em like that. Build our own little battalion of devil dogs. You know it would work. Pussy don’t just sell, it sell anything.”

“It can prolly sell the Sticks. . .” said Pancho.

(None of us had seen a real woman without either a military uniform or a hijab on in many months.)

I laughed and said, “Remember when Flaco tipped that one stripper a month’s pay and the platoon sergeant had to take away his weekend liberty so he wouldn’t go into town and give her the pocket lint?”

“Fuck you. She took my virginity. I’d rather have loved and lost, dick,” replied Billy.

(Camp Lejeune, NC is surrounded by strip clubs. Like remoras on a shark.)

Corporal Pancho said, “We could prolly scratch the clients themselves into the Sticks. Then we jack them from whatever outfit we work for.”

Sergeant Kadric added, “Shit, then they’d not just be clients, but our ahijados in the cult.”

Pancho suddenly pounded the table and said, “Si, pinga! We learning by leaps and bounds, boys. Look here. I ain’t scared to die, but if I’mma be a warrior for a living then I might as well play for everything, all the sticks and all the luka on Ntoto.”

Jones said, “Hell fuck yea, son. Let’s milk the whole fucking cow!”

I said, “Zeeá-kará! Kuenda luka, kuenda Kongo, kuenda makuta. Let’s do a fucking shot!”

(We were quite drunk by this point.)

Pancho went and kneeled by the nganga and sprayed a mist of firewater on it from his mouth. Me and Flaco went and got two pigeons from the coop to feed the muerto and have a parley.

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