SERVANT OF THE SCORPION – Chapter 21, Dust to Dust

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SERVANT OF THE SCORPION – Chapter 21

Dust to Dust

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          I turned to Esmeralda and I saw Lucas shielding her from the falling earth.  The shaking stopped but the dust kept roiling.  The lantern glow turned red and the bright orb of each lantern flickered and grew dim.

          “We’re going to suffocate” screamed one of the workers.  I heard sobbing.  Everyone was coughing.

          “It’s the dust” shouted Rita, “Cover your mouth and nose with your prayer cloths!”

          Rita held her cell phone above her head and turned on its piercing blue light.  In the hellish dim she looked like the Statue of Liberty.  “Quickly.  Use your cell phones and make sure each other is OK.  Line up in your workgroups.  I’m going to call roll and then we’re getting out of here all together!”

          The camera man turned his video lights back on and swept the room like a searchlight dispersing in murky fog.  That was helpful, but I realized he was filming.

          I saw Esmeralda push herself from Lucas’ embrace, “Help the others, Lucas.  I’m OK.”

          Pastor Maximón yelled at the camera man, “Keep the light on the people so they can muster!”

          Rita knew the workgroups by heart, “Marcos’ group: Miguel”, (Here), “Rico”, (Here), “Diana” (Here)…

          The Video Director hollered to his camera man, “Over here, Bobby.  I can’t open the stairway door.”  The video light revealed the Director with his T-shirt pulled up over his nose and mouth, facing the metal door.  The door bulged inward in the fanciful shape of a forehead with horns.  There were several screams.

          I shuffled with Lucas and Esmeralda to Professor Maximón’s side.  Lucas said, “Boulders have shifted into the stairwell from the earthquake.”

          Professor Maximón lowered the prayer cloth from his mouth and I heard him say grimly, “That was no earthquake.”

          “How do we get out of here, sir?”

          “I can’t see!” shouted a worker.  Then another.  And another.  I rubbed my eyes with my dirty hands.  I was going blind with everyone else.  “It must be the dust!” said Esmeralda.  I watched Esmeralda fade from my vision.

          It was like dying.

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SERVANT OF THE SCORPION – Chapter 20, Blessed is Nothing

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SERVANT OF THE SCORPION – Chapter 20

Blessed is Nothing

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            Pastor Maximón opened his mouth and he spoke to the camera:

            “Science gives us the Meaning of Life.  Religion gives us the Purpose of Life.

            What is the Meaning of Life?  What is the Purpose of Life?  The two are not the same question.

            The Meaning of Life or ‘What Does All This Signify?’ is answered by the Science of Physics with the phrase ‘dynamic equilibrium’.  Hear me, beloved ones: anything is permitted in physical reality as long as it comes into existence balanced by its precise opposite.

            The Science of Physics tells us that sub-atomic particles come into existence, and can only come into existence, ‘holding hands’ you might say, as particle and anti-particle, spinning in opposite ways.  But they must instantly ‘let go of each other’s hand’ and fly apart to continue what we call ‘existence’.  When they meet again, or ‘join hands’ again, they truly vanish.  They once again become ‘empty space’, ‘nothingness’.  Or ‘No Thing-ness’, as someone once explained it to me.

            Hear me, beloved ones: This creation and destruction is happening all the time on the sub-atomic level and the sub-atomic level is the canvas upon which we are all painted.

            In the Science of Mathematics there is no difference between the phrase ‘add positive-x and negative-x‘ and the term ‘zero’.

            In other words, anything is possible in physical reality as long as it adds up to zero, to nothing.  Hear me, beloved ones:  physically we all add-up to nothing.

            So there it is: the elegant Meaning of Life.

            But why should Life exist at all?  ‘Because it can’, Science would answer.  And that is the only answer Science is allowed to give.  But Religion, the opposite of Science, now speaks to us.

            What is the Purpose of Life, the Purpose of All This?  Toward what End is All This moving?  Toward Nothingness?  Science has demonstrated that we don’t need a ‘Purpose’ to move to Nothingness.

            Is our Purpose just to survive?  Again, Science has demonstrated that we don’t need a ‘Purpose’ to survive.

            So, beloved ones, is there no Purpose?  Can we make of All This anything we want?  Our ‘Modern World’ is based on such a premise, isn’t it?  Anything goes?  ‘Do your Own Thing’ before it becomes a No-Thing?  A No-Thing along with all those magnificent, mindless, sub-atomic particles?

            When Jesus entered Jerusalem for the Passover the crowds greeted him saying ‘Hosanna’ which means ‘Liberate Us”.  They believed that he was the Messiah, come to rescue them from Roman tyranny.  But, beloved ones, I say to you that he came to liberate all of us from the mindless tyranny of a Life Without Purpose.

            And the Purpose that Jesus gave us was…”

            Suddenly the catacombs shook.  Blinding dust exhaled from between all the stones.  The lantern light shuddered on the walls like the flames of Hell.  Dirt rained down upon our heads.  There arose wails of terror.

            “Esmeralda!” I cried.

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SERVANT OF THE SCORPION – Chapter 19, The Sermon in the Basement

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SERVANT OF THE SCORPION – Chapter 19

The Sermon in the Basement

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            In the evening all of us workers and several of the apprentice pastors were gathered together into the cloister of the orphanage.  I stayed close to Esmeralda.  So did Lucas.  We were led by Rita who was the senior apprentice pastor into a hallway and then down into a very large circular stone basement.  It was illuminated by the light of many lanterns.  I counted twelve corridors leading away from the large basement room.  We were in the back of the crowd.  There were swirls of gentle breezes, but the air smelled of moist earth.

            Esmeralda told me, “This is where Arturo’s statue of Jesus was kept before it was given to that first church, over 400 years ago.”

            Rita clapped and spoke up, “Attention, everyone.  Please.  Attention.  Pastor Maximón will join us in a moment for his sermon on this eve of Palm Sunday.  You will be interested to know that this ‘basement’ is actually the catacombs of the old estate.”

            There arose an uneasy murmur.

            Rita said quickly, “It is really a fascinating historical site which we can tour later if we so desire.”

            The girls said “Eww”, the guys said “Awright”.

            I don’t know what made me say aloud, “What about an earthquake?”

            In the ensuing silence I could hear the rustle of all the heads turning toward me.  Esmeralda looked at me with a pained expression.  I heard Lucas swear “Jesus.”

            Rita was ready for this, “People, people.  This catacomb was built to last a thousand years.  Look around you.  There has been no damage even after the most recent terrible earthquake.  In fact, this may be the safest place to be for a hundred miles around.”

            In the ensuing murmur many eyes flashed at me in the lantern light and they reminded me of the fireflies I was seeing after Garra punched my head.

            I was “saved” when the camera crew backed out of one of the tunnels while filming Pastor Maximón riding in on his motorized wheelchair.  For some reason I thought of a bullring with Pastor Maximón as the matador.  “I guess that makes you the bull,” came a thought into my head.  I looked around.  I saw the back of one head turning away from me.

            Pastor Maximón stopped upon a carpet of palm leaves and olive branches.  The camera crew stopped filming for a moment.  The director pointed the assistant forward.  The assistant placed a light behind the wheelchair for an effect of radiance.  The intricate colors and shadows of the old stone walls made an attractive back-drop.  Upon the wall directly behind Pastor Maximón was a cross made of twisted palm branches.  The director gave a thumbs-up sign and they started filming again.

            “Beloved ones,” began Pastor Maximón, “we are filming this sermon for broadcast tomorrow, Palm Sunday.  Rita will lead us in a prayer before I begin.”

            Rita bowed her head and others did the same.  Not me.  “Blessed is he who comes in the name of our Lord.  Speak to us through our Pastor Maximón this evening.  Guide his words.”  Then Rita opened one eye and caught me watching unhumbled, “Guide our hearing.  Let your message be received by all who await in faith and let it be imposed upon all who need chastising.  Amen.”

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SERVANT OF THE SCORPION – Chapter 18, Blood in the Water

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SERVANT OF THE SCORPION – Chapter 18

Blood in the Water

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            I got a bad feeling staring through that window at those little girls.  Like the feeling I got when my father told me my mother was sick but not to worry.

            “Rosalinda, we need to get back to your Play Room right now.”

            This time I picked up Rosalinda and carried her as I retraced our steps out and down from the second floor.  To get her cooperation I held her facing forward sitting on my left arm leaning back against my chest with my right arm holding her around her waist.  “You’re flying the airplane!” I said.  I released her waist and held up my thumb, “Here’s how you steer!”.  She grasped my thumb and I made propeller noises, dipping and swerving as she turned my thumb.  Her shrieking laughter almost hurt my ears and I wondered if this was really the best way to sneak back into the Play Room.

            “Coming into the airport,” I said as we entered the Play Room.  And of course there was a crowd at the “terminal”:  Pastor Maximón in his wheelchair, Lucas, Esmeralda, Irma, and Itza.

            “Hail, Cesar,” smiled Pastor Maximón, “I see you have conquered.”

            All I could say was, “Pastor Maximón, my friends call me Alonzo.”

            Lucas muttered to me, “What friends?”

            Esmeralda pinched his arm.

            Irma put out her arms for Rosalinda and I handed her over.

            “We were just playing ‘airplane’ in the hallways,” I said as matter-of-factly as I could.  Itza smiled but the way she stared at me made me feel like blood in the water.

            Pastor Maximón said in a booming voice, “Alonzo, you are really going to feel good about today.  We are making a TV commercial that will show the good work we do here and make an appeal for support from viewers for the Mudéjar Orphanage.”

            Two men entered the Play Room with camera equipment.  “’Bout ready?” smiled the husky director wearing the Oakland Raiders baseball cap.  He gave directions to his cameraman partner about lighting and angles.  “So, Pastor, we’re going to have children all around you and you will hold the little girl with no legs on your lap.  Your wheelchair will be a nice touch, by the way.  So let’s cue the children, OK?”

            Itza went to a door at the other end of the Play Room and opened it.  Children limped, hobbled and wheeled in like a defeated army.  Itza carried little Belicia and placed her on Pastor Maximón’s lap.  Itza and the cameraman arranged the children in a semi-circle behind Pastor Maximón.

            Little Belicia began to weep.

            Rosalinda ran over, “Don’t be scared, Belicia.  Being on TV is fun.”

            “OK, kid, you gotta move,” said the director.

            “No,” said Pastor Maximón, “She will be fine.  She is Belicia’s friend and she will comfort her little nerves.”

            “You dah boss, Pastor.  Let’s try one, OK?”

            Rosalinda reached up and held little Belicia’s hand.  Pastor Maximón snuggled against little Belicia’s cheek.

            Pastor Maximón said to the camera, “Dear ones, this is little Belicia.  Isn’t she pretty?  But life has not been pretty for little Belicia.  She lost her family and she lost her legs in the recent terrible earthquake.”

            I looked at Belicia and she caught my eye.  Jesus damnation, I heard her voice in my head!  “I was mad at Mama and I ran away outside and I said I didn’t like her and the big earthquake came and my house fell down on Mama and my tree fell down on me and I want to tell Mama I’m sorry.”

            Tears began pouring down Belicia’s face as she stared at me.

            “Perfect!” I heard the director whisper.

            “If not for the generosity of you, Dear Viewers, what would become of little Belicia?  She has no family.  Where would she go?  There is no place for her except in your generous hearts.  Won’t you help the Mudéjar Orphanage to help Belicia?”  Pastor Maximón kissed her hot streaming tears.

            “And cut.”

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SERVANT OF THE SCORPION – Chapter 17, Pretty Girls All in a Row

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SERVANT OF THE SCORPION – Chapter 17,

Pretty Girls All in a Row

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            Rosalinda led me to another door.  It was unlocked and it opened into a narrow hallway that was dim except for lighted portraits of little girls all along both walls.  They were all smiling.  They were all wearing pretty little dresses.

            “Rosalinda, are these the ‘pretty girls’?”

            “No.  These are the good girls.  They get adopted a los Estados Unidos.”

            Rosalinda marched me down the hallway to a dark sitting room with a big window that looked into another room.  In that other, well-lit, room I saw little girls sitting at tables writing or drawing, sitting in chairs reading, and one was practicing on a violin.  They were all “picture-perfect” with their pink dresses and white sweaters.  I could only tell them apart by the color of the ribbon in their hair.

            Rosalinda went up to the window and turned a big dial on the wall below.  I could suddenly hear the violin.

            Rosalinda called-out “Hi, Carmen!”

            The little girl practicing the violin looked over along with the other girls.

            “Hi, Rosalinda,” said Carmen and several others in unison.

            “I bring my friend Cesar.”

            I felt compelled to step forward into the light cast from their room and I wiggled my fingers “hello”.

            They all studied me for a moment and then they all giggled, “Hi, Cesar.”

            Carmen said, “Rosalinda, have you heard?  I’m going to be adopted and go a los Estados Unidos!”

            Suddenly into their room from around a corner entered a young woman in an alluring black evening dress.  I was immediately aroused and began to panic remembering Arturo’s little joke.  But, no, it wasn’t a woman.  I realized it was a little girl with a precocious made-up face, dressed like a woman.

            She asked the “good girls”, with aloofness, “Who took my magazine?”

            Rosalinda said shyly, “Hi, Adora.”

            Adora looked toward Rosalinda and saw me.  That chiquita gave me a gaze as cold and as disdainful as ever any hot chica gave me at a club.  She took her missing magazine from the hands of one of the “good girls” and turned quickly to leave without another word.

            Rosalinda said with awe, “Adora is a pretty girl.  She will get to make movies a los Estados Unidos and meet ‘portant people.”

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SERVANT OF THE SCORPION – Chapter 16, The Children of the Ground Floor

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SERVANT OF THE SCORPION – Chapter 16

The Children of the Ground Floor

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            I insisted on riding “shotgun” in Irma’s Rover “to avoid getting carsick”.  Irma, Garra, and Esmeralda sat in the back.  Lucas was driving.  I placed both hands over my embarrassment.  Lucas looked over at me.

            “Wet yourself?”

            I glared into his eyes and lifted my hands to reveal my predicament.  He looked down and then back at me and he said “I’m impressed” and then we both started laughing.  As soon as I acknowledged the humor of my predicament my embarrassment deflated.

            “What is so funny?” hollered Esmeralda.

            “Alonzo brought his own shotgun.”

             “I don’t get it.  And I don’t want to know,” said Esmeralda wrinkling her nose.

            When we finally arrived at the entrance to the Mudéjar orphanage we saw the apprentice pastor Marcos waiting for us, holding little Rosalinda’s hand.  Marcos was tall and slender with veiled eyes and a pock-marked face.  He usually kept his face tough and impassive.  I always thought of him as some convict who had found Jesus.

            We got out of the Rover and walked over toward Marcos and Rosalinda.  Marcos let Rosalinda go running to Irma.  “Mama, mama!” she squealed.  We stood in a big circle.  Rosalinda looked up at the badly bruised Garra not knowing that he was her father.  She stared and neither of them said anything.  Then she looked over at me.

            To break the tension I said, “Hi, little sweetie.”

            Rosalinda replied very seriously, “I’m not a ‘little sweetie’.”

            “Oh.  Hi, little angel.”

            She smiled, “I’m not a ‘little angel’.”

            “Oh.  Hi, little tadpole.”

            She giggled, “I’m not a ‘little tadpole’.

            “Oh.  Hi, … little octopus.”

            She shrieked with delight and ran over to me.

            “I’m not a ‘little oct-pus’.”

            “Are you sure?  You sure look like an octopus.”

            She grabbed my hand and hopped with each word: “I, am, a, lit,tle, girl!”

            “Well, if you say so.”

            When I looked up the others were smiling at us.  Esmeralda said, “Alonzo, if you feel up to it, why don’t you watch Rosalinda for a little while.  We have to get ready for Pastor Maximón.  Irma and Garra can have some time together.”

            Irma said, “Rosalinda, show Alonzo where your Play Room is.”

            Rosalinda corrected her, “His name is Cesar.”

            “Rosalinda, my name is Alonzo, too.  I’m Alonzo Cesar León Navarro.”

            Rosalinda laughed like it was a joke and leaned far backwards to drag me with her, “Come with me.”

            I walked while Rosalinda hopped and skipped down the corridor to the Play Room.  There were desks and tables and a hundred toys, but no other children.

            She asked me “What do you want to play?”

            I saw on the floor a toy piano with flat metal keys.  I bent down and tapped a couple of the keys and it made a chiming sound.  I sat down cross-legged in front of it, “Do you want to sing?” I asked her.

            “Sing!  Sing!”

            The only song I knew on piano was The Beatles Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Dah.  I played the beginning.  Rosalinda began to clap and flex her knees in time to the oompah-oompah rhythm.  I made up my own silly lyrics:

Rosalinda is a pretty octopus.

Alonzo is in trouble every day.

Rosalinda told me she’s a little girl.

But I like Rosalinda anyway.

            Rosalinda shrieked with delight and she hugged my arm.  She held it the same way Esmeralda did.  I stopped playing.  Rosalinda ran around the Play Room in a big circle.  As she ran I looked at all the toys she passed.

            “Rosalinda, where are all your friends?”

            She stopped and became solemn, “They are getting ready for TV.  I show you.”

            She took my hand and pulled me down the hall to another door and opened it.  The room was full of children.  The room was long with beds on each side.  The children were all wearing little white cloth shower robes.  I saw Itza at the far end rubbing dry the hair of a little boy.  I started to look closely at the children and I began to realize that they were all cripples or deformed in some heartbreaking way.  A little girl on the nearest bed had no legs.  She said, “Hi, Rosalinda”.

            “Hi, Belicia.”  Then Rosalinda looked up to me very seriously and said, “Do you want to see the pretty girls?”

            “Uh, sure.  OK.”

            Belicia said sadly, “Bye, Rosalinda.”

            “Bye, Belicia.”

            We went out and then up a stairwell to the next floor.  We stopped at a door and Rosalinda tried to open it.  It was locked.

            She clicked her tongue and said, “This door is always locked.  I show you where you can see.”

 

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SERVANT OF THE SCORPION – Chapter 15, Asleep at the Feet of Jesus

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SERVANT OF THE SCORPION – Chapter 15

Asleep at the Feet of Jesus

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            I was on my knees bowing before the dark-skinned Jesus, begging forgiveness.  He said to me, “Judas, even Evil bends to the Purpose of The Father.  You can atone but you cannot be forgiven.”

            I looked up into his black diamond eyes and I cried, “But the soldier who stabbed you with the Spear of Destiny is now a Saint!”

            My shoulder was grabbed from behind and a voice said, “You are alone, so…”

            “Alonzo!  Wake up.”

            I was being shaken.  I opened my eyes.  I was on my knees at the feet of Arturo’s statue of Jesus.

            I rolled onto my butt and I saw Lucas crouching beside me and Esmeralda standing behind him in front of the altar with Arturo.  I was completely disoriented.

            Lucas laughed, “Hey, ‘Dorothy’, next stop: Kansas.”

            “How do you feel?” asked Esmeralda.

            “OK, I guess, but… I remember Arturo…”

            Arturo interrupted, “The medicine I gave him was supposed to vent the pressure in the brain caused by the concussion, but sometimes it vents the mind.”

            “I remember…,” I couldn’t find rational words for what I had witnessed.

            Esmeralda smiled, “Arturo told us that you were sleep-walking ‘in a play’ all night.”

            Arturo’s face was impassive but in his eyes I saw something peeking out.  He said, “You ended up sleeping on the feet of my Jesus.”

            I was startled to see Garra, shuffling up to the altar stage supported by Irma.  I stood up.  Garra’s face and torso were covered in welts, black and blue and green.  But he didn’t look shattered and bloody like he did the night before and he wasn’t gasping for life.

            Lucas said, “I guess I didn’t mess him up like I thought I did.  He’s tough, I’ll give him that.  Arturo cleaned him up real nice.”

            Irma complained, “But he has amnesia.”

            Garra’s expression and demeanor were not those of the swaggering gangster that descended on us yesterday.  He was docile and quiet.

            Arturo said, “The medicine worked well enough.  I don’t know about the amnesia.”

            Irma and Garra shuffled away up to the entrance.  I was sure that Arturo knew all about the amnesia.  What I had witnessed last night wasn’t being dismissed from my memory the way a dream would have been.

            I asked Esmeralda, “Is everything OK at the orphanage?”

            She said, “Rosalinda is fine.  We’re being vigilant.”

            Lucas said, “We don’t know where your guard has gone but we’re sure not going to call the authorities to send us a replacement.”

            For some reason, it seemed like the right time for me to confess, “I didn’t tell you about my guard and those two tourists who died.”  I waited for a reaction.

            “Go on.”

            “My guard never actually told me his name.  When the tourist woman was being attacked I saw him trying to get to her through the mob.  He was calling out ‘Olivia’.  And she was calling out ‘Carlos’.”

            Esmeralda raised a finger, “Last night Garra said that ‘Carlos’ was the threat to Rosalinda, not him, remember?”

            Arturo asked, “What do you think it means?”

            Esmeralda said, “I don’t know, but at least we have the name of one of the tourists: ‘Olivia’.  That’s something.”

            Lucas then asked me, “Anything else you haven’t told us?”

            “Well, when we left the city after the killings, Irma said something strange.  She said that she was ‘glad the whore is dead’ and it sounded personal.  Even Itza noticed.”

            Esmeralda said uneasily, “Maybe she believed the crowd’s accusations?”

            “Before the killings Irma followed Carlos.  She saw Carlos with the two tourists.  The tourist woman seemed really attentive to Carlos.  Then Irma disappeared and showed up back at El Mercado just before the trouble started.”

            Lucas said, “For Christ’s sake, is there anything else?”

          “No.”  I didn’t tell them about the buried metal suitcase.  Or the violent sexual relationship between Carlos and Irma.

            Esmeralda shook her head slowly.

            Arturo spoke up, “Esmeralda, you need to talk to your sister.”

            Esmeralda pinched her lower lip, “This is starting to get weird.”

            She looked at Lucas and nodded toward the entrance.  Lucas clapped his hands once and said, “We need to get back, Arturo.  Rita is meeting Pastor Maximón at the airport this morning.”  Lucas hopped down from the altar and started up toward the entrance.  Esmeralda went up behind him.

            As I hopped down I looked at Arturo and nodded good-bye.  In return he made his eyes go rapidly cross-eyed then wall-eyed, cross-eyed then wall-eyed over and over again.  I didn’t laugh.  I thought “Why do you keep fucking with me, Arturo?”

            Then suddenly I “sprouted wood”: I got the biggest hard-on I’d ever had.  It could have been a steel pipe.  “No, The Spear of Destiny” said Arturo’s voice in my head.  Under the weight of that blasphemy I leaned forward and moaned.

            Esmeralda heard me and turned, “What happened?  Are you alright?”  She came back and took my arm the way she did in the little museum, so tenderly.  I had to stay bent forward to hide my predicament.  Esmeralda thought she had to support me so she pressed my arm tightly against the side of her breast.  My cojones began to throb and cramp.  I heard Arturo’s voice in my head again, saying it as if I should be thinking it: “Arturo, you magnificent bastard.”

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