The next three months were maybe the happiest of our lives. The insurgency was still inactive in the city after we crushed them in the Battle, tho reports were beginning to come in of alibaba activity in other places like Ramadi. They were definitely getting their shit together, but we saw this as such an inevitability, we’d stopped giving a fuck.
We read and played games constantly. It was during this time that Jones taught us and the pobs to play backgammon with the doubling cube. BG came from the Middle East, probably. But in the 1920’s in NYC, Grand Duke Dmitri Pavlovich (one of the guys who whacked Rasputin) invented this cube with 2, 4, 8, 16, 32, and 64 on each side respective. If we’re playing and suddenly I feel I have an edge in the position, I can turn the cube on 2 and force you to either forfeit the game for 1 point, or take the cube and continue as an underdog for 2 points. But if your luck turns later and suddenly you have an edge, then only you can turn the cube to 4, and force me to make a decision for quadruple the initial stakes! The doubling cube marked the dawn of modern backgammon. Everything about it was way up our alley and it made us obsessed with the game. The pobs too. Fat Bob started getting better by leaps and bounds. We ordered books on strategy from home and studied while on duty in the bunkers.
(I love backgammon so much that, like Buffett with contract bridge, I wouldn’t care if I went to prison for eternity as long as my cellie was a decent player and willing to play around the clock.)
The last good day in that period was towards the end of the summer when we went to see the Euphrates. We needed to do a trabajo for Our Lady of Charity, which is Cuba’s patron saint and also the orisha of rivers. She’s super important in Osha, Palo, and Catholicism. We left Fat Bob and the pobs in charge of the Forward and drove down to the river in a Humvee. I was on the gun turret with the mounted .50 Cal and I had Changó cradled in my sling with me. He had his paws on the roof and his tongue out. Just outside the city we parked by a lush area on the river that was fairly pristine. We performed our ritual with the tutu, which is fresh river water. (Omi tutu, ana tutu, tutu ilé, tutu laroye.) Then we gathered whisks of ewé and used them to beat osobbo and dust off our souls and uniforms.
When we finished we felt incredible. (A ritual of any kind, from any tradition, is Magic.) We found a sandy slope by the bank and laid out on it and opened our flak jackets and cammie blouses and let the sun toast our chests and bellies. Our dogs were sniffing at the brush by the river and suddenly two hares darted out along the bank. Changó and Oshún gave chase. We jumped and saw.
“Goddamn, boi. The’dei go!” said Flaco.
“Go on, git ‘em!” said Sergeant Kadric.
The hares jumped in the river and the dogs pounced behind them, splashing. They dispatched the hares in the water. They came back out and presented the catch, super proud. We pet the crap out of them. Then we said fuck it and stripped and we all jumped in the river. We’d left the rifles by the slope and our only protection was our dogs. They understood this somehow and stayed vigilant on the bank.
Afterwards in the Forward we skinned the hares and lay the two pelts over the nganga. We had a squad of pobs go into the bazaar and bring salt, potatoes, garlic, onions, red peppers, and broccoli rabe. We made a huge stew with the hares plus two chickens. Flack and Bob were in charge of the giant pot. They cooked the stew on a low flame for hours while playing backgammon.
Billy got nostalgic while cooking and told us about growing up in West Texas.
“Shit, mane. I ‘member I lived a whole year on jackrabbit and quail. My daddy was gone and my momma didn’t need food cuz of the meth. I was starving by association. Our trailer sat right on the goddamn prairie. I’d grab the .22 my daddy left and crawl on my belly along the prairie grass half the day. Jackrabbit taste like leather ‘less you cook it slow for hours. And quail is good, but it’s so fucking rich that by the second week of eating one quail a day you’d rather starve. Dead-ass serious, mane. You look at it and you wanna puke your guts out.”
(A few years later, when we hosted big backgammon chouettes with high stakes gamblers in Sunny Isles, our favorite proposition wager was to bet someone that they couldn’t eat a quail a day for thirty days straight. We know it’s physically impossible, but because quail are so small everyone thinks the prop bet is basically free money.)
The stew was the best I’d ever had. After eating we brewed fresh coffee and smoked cuban cigars Pancho’s dad had sent us, and listened to latin jazz and played backgammon deep into the night.