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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The Outlaw Honey Moses and THE ONE BAD HABIT OF REX RAMSEY…

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Chapter 3 – The Outlaw Honey Moses and

THE ONE BAD HABIT OF REX RAMSEY

 

          Former U. S. Marshal Rex Ramsey finished pulling on his boots and he went out into the hallway of the Whisper Glory.  Honey Moses was down the hall talking with Kate Grody.  Rex went on downstairs and outside to his horse.

          He mounted up and sat there for a moment.  Pulling on his boots had made him recall the shaman woman Chonkusha.  Rex closed his eyes and waited for an omen.  A shadow fell upon his face and he opened his eyes.  He watched the hawk spiraling beside the sun.  The hawk then flew away to the southern hills.  Rex nudged his horse in that direction and he rode out of Bad Weather.

          When he had been a U. S. Marshal he had tracked the shaman woman Chonkusha.  The government wanted her for riling up the tribes.  Rex Ramsey was a sharp-shooter and a tracker and they had put him in charge of three Deputy Marshals –  Jubilee Dunbar, Clifford Austin, and Deuce Taylor – with orders to stop Chonkusha.  Chonkusha knew like Rex knew that animals are hunted by their habits.  Chonkusha eluded him and his Deputy Marshals for months.

          Still watching the hawk, Rex Ramsey rode and he would not stop until he found an auspicious campsite for the night.  He judiciously avoided habits.  He had enemies and that was one sure thing.  He owned the Whisper Glory with me and that was the second sure thing about him.  Otherwise he lived like a coyote – well, that isn’t true because a coyote has a home – he lived like the wind I suppose you might say.  He came from a direction and he went in a direction.

          Anyway, he found the shaman woman Chonkusha one day by the damnedest wisp of what we would call luck.  He saw a single glint of sunlight from some distant hills.  He ordered his deputies to stay put while he rode around those hills and then up the backside.  When he got near where he had seen the glint of sunlight he tied up his horse and he took off his boots and he walked.  Some would say he surprised Chonkusha in that cave, but not Rex Ramsey.  The way he tells it she was sitting there as calm as you please and smiled at him saying only, “Welcome, my Death”.  She gave him no fight.  And she was a fighter.

          Well, his deputies had disobeyed him and they hadn’t stayed put and they showed up soon enough.  They held their guns drawn on Chonkusha who said nothing but kept looking over at Rex.  They found her horse and they put her up on it with only her wrists tied.  On the way out Rex Ramsey rode in front with Chonkusha behind him and the three deputies behind her.

          Rex heard the pace of one of the deputy’s horses pick up and he turned to look just as Dunbar whipped the hind end of Chonkusha’s horse and made it bolt.  Austin and Taylor already had their guns drawn and shouted “Stop!  We’ll shoot!”.  Rex swears that Chonkusha was grinning as her horse fled past him.  And the deputies shot Chonkusha in the back.

          They told Rex that they had separate Presidential orders to make sure that Chonkusha would never be a problem again.  And they said the President knew that Rex Ramsey had a reputation for not shooting fugitives even if he was the best at tracking them.  When Rex confirmed those separate Presidential orders he quit the U. S. Marshals.

          Now, I knew Rex Ramsey near as well as anybody and I knew he had only one bad habit: he was in love with Honey Moses.

chapter 3 one bad habit

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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 13, The Curandero

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SERVANT OF THE SCORPION – Chapter 13, The Curandero

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            We all just stared at Irma who was sobbing on top of Garra’s limp body.

            Arturo found his wits first, “Irma, he can’t breathe.”  Irma instantly rose up on her knees and clasped her hands together in front of her face.  Garra coughed and gasped.

            “He’s choking on blood!” she cried.  Garra began to sit up but inhaled sharply and collapsed back to the floor.

            Arturo raised Irma to her feet with his big gentle hands and nudged her over to Lucas.  He bent near to Garra’s face and said with terrible calmness, “You have a shattered ribcage and will probably puncture a lung and drown in your own blood.  If you try to speak a piece of your face will fall into your lung and you will suffocate.  Stop moving.  Turn you head to the side and breathe through your nose.”

            Garra turned his head and blew a glob of blood out his nose, winced and began taking short breaths.

            Esmeralda said to Lucas, “Check the entrance to make sure Garra was alone and be careful.

            Arturo added, “And bring back a wood panel to set Garra on.  We’re going to have to move him.”

            I tried to stand up but I was instantly consumed by vertigo.  I plopped right back on my tailbone.  Arturo said to me, “You have a concussion.  Don’t move yet.”

            Lucas returned with a piece of wood panel about the size of Garra.  “Things look normal out there.”

            “What about Rosalinda?” cried Irma.

            “I got ahold of the others.  They are on their way to the orphanage right now.”

            Arturo supervised the placing of the wood panel under Garra.  Arturo lifted Garra’s head and shoulders a fraction of an inch.  Lucas lifted Garra’s torso only slightly by holding onto Garra’s belt.  Esmeralda slid the panel completely underneath him.  They all lifted the makeshift stretcher and shuffled Garra into an adjacent room.  Lucas came back for me and held me erect while I moved my feet into the same room.  There were decorative carved blocks hanging on the wall.  They had set Garra and his wood panel onto a table.  They set me in a nearby chair.

            Esmeralda said, “We need to get back.  Arturo, will you be alright?”  Arturo fluttered his hand for them to depart.

            “Alonzo, you stay here for now.  If you can stand without falling…”

            “Or puking,” added Lucas.

            Esmeralda continued, “…you can help Arturo, OK?”

            I nodded emphatically and I instantly felt like a wave had swept up my head and dropped it back down again.  “Whoa!”

            “You can believe me that we must go now!” insisted Irma.

            So I was left watching Arturo tend to Garra.  He opened a box on a nearby shelf and recited to himself, “Calahuala is very good for the broken bones and Ek’ Balam will heal the wounded blood vessels.  Chaya will help healing as well.  Bakalche’ bark will close the wounded muscles.”

            “You sound like my friend Roberto with his ‘medicinal plants’” I said.

            “Oh?  Is he a Curandero?  A healer?”

            “You might say that.”

            Arturo smiled, “Does he heal the body or the mind?”

            “You would say the mind.”

            “Ah.”

            Arturo mashed herbs in a small bowl and then added a dark liquid, “Chacah,” he said for my benefit, I guess, “A bowl of medicinal chocolate to help it all go down.”

            Garra was focused on his own fragile breathing.  I think our conversation pained him.   Arturo finally leaned over his ear and said, “Turn your head slowly and face up.  I’m going to drip some medicine down your throat.  Hold your breath when I do.  Understand?”

            Garra raised and lowered his eyebrows in acknowledgement and even that was painful for him.

            “OK.  Now” said Arturo and he slowly dripped the dark sauce down Garra’s throat.  Garra coughed.

            “I said don’t breath.”

            Arturo set the bowl down and told Garra to turn his head to the side once again and just wait.

            “Arturo, where did you learn medicine?”

            “When I was born this way,” he made a sweeping gesture with both hands, “it was expected of me.  A big fat pink-eyed albino Mayan obviously had to be tight with the gods.  It was lucky that as a child I was interested in herbs and medicines anyway.”

            “Why do you have a wood carving business if you are, like, a doctor?”

            “Doctors heal the rich.  Curanderos heal the poor in the name of Ch’ulel.  If I wanted to be rich in gratitude and dinners I would have remained only a Curandero.  But I need more than dinners.  I need dinero.”

            “Ch’ulel?  Is that God?”

            “Well, not yours.”

            “Your Brotherhood runs a church for Christ’s sake.  Do you believe in all that or not?”

            “I believe the world is uncaring.  I believe the world is indifferent to its own existence.   Mercy, forgiveness, kindness are the flowers of Man and Woman.  They are what Man and Woman alone bring into the world.  Cruelty and selfishness are already here for the taking.”

            Garra moaned drowsily as the medicine took effect.

            I said, “Arturo, I’ve met Rosalinda.  If this guy is her father, what is her mother like?”

            “Irma is Rosalinda’s mother.”

            “Irma?”

            “She was in Garra’s gang.  When Irma became pregnant she finally woke up and wanted to leave the gang life.  Esmeralda helped her and her baby Rosalinda to escape.  Irma was given a hiding place in the Mudéjar orphanage.  Esmeralda took Rosalinda to the United States.”

            “Why did she bring Rosalinda back here?”

            “That is something that Esmeralda will tell you when she is ready.”

            This was all too much for me, “Who are you people?” I asked in exasperation.

            Arturo made a face of mock indignity, “We are Christian soldiers!”

            “So where did Lucas learn to fight like that?  I’d like to learn that.”

            “Lucas was taught by Pastor Maximón.  And Pastor Maximón will be at the orphanage tomorrow.”  Arturo winked, “He’s making a TV commercial.”

            Garra groaned.

            Arturo handed me a small yellow vegetable pod, “This is for your concussion.  Chew it slowly and don’t swallow the fibers.”

            I began chewing it carefully in the front of my mouth.  It was bitter.  After a few seconds numbness began to radiate from my lips in concentric circles over my face, my head, my neck and on down my whole body.  Finally I had no bodily sensations left at all.  I felt good having no feelings.

            Then I heard myself think “The world is my body.”

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SERVANT OF THE SCORPION – Chapter 12 – The Sister of Mercy

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SERVANT OF THE SCORPION – Chapter 12 – The Sister of Mercy

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            I went over and stood at the feet of the 400 year-old Jesus statue.  The others began to whisper.  I pretended that I didn’t hear.  That room was a perfect theater.

            “Well?” asked Esmeralda.

            Lucas replied, “We went to the police station but our contact wouldn’t speak to us.  He sent some other guy over and stayed close-by so he could listen.  We were told that gringos showed up last night, paid off all the right people, and took both bodies.”

            Irma added, “And I think we were followed.  I kept seeing this guy on a bicycle.”

            Lucas said, “He was probably interested in you.”

            “No,” said Irma, “I think he was un vigilante.”

            I almost broke my ‘deafness’ and asked ‘for who?’  I tried to remember if my bicyclist had tattoos.

            “Irma!” I heard someone bellow.

            We all looked toward the entrance.  A man was swaggering down to us.  As the candle light reached his face I could see concentric tattoos that looked like war paint.

            “Garra?” Irma was clearly frightened.

            Garra sneered, “You?  Hiding in a church?  Even Jesus will not forgive you.”

            “Go away!”

            “I’m here to warn you, bitch.”

            Lucas stepped in front of Irma and Esmeralda.  Arturo closed ranks with him.

            Garra growled, “Don’t be stupid!”

            Then he roared at Irma, “Rosalinda is in danger, you stupid whore!”

            “Don’t you dare touch her!”

            “Not me, bitch!  It’s your puto Carlos!”

            I ran over to become part of the shield too.

            “Alonzo, no!”

            Good.  Esmeralda was worried for me.  And I never even saw Garra punch my head.

            I realized I was on the floor against the altar.  There were halos of bright fireflies around my face.  But I could make out Lucas and Garra throwing punches.  I saw Arturo backing the women away.  Garra punched and kicked at Lucas’ groin and tried to gouge his eyes.  Lucas was blocking every blow.  Then he got a hold on Garra’s fingers and bent his hand back until I heard a crack and a scream.  Lucas whirled Garra against the altar.  He held him there and battered him in the ribcage and in the stomach.  I never saw anybody’s arm move so fast.  Boom-boom-boom-boom-boom.  When Garra curled forward going limp Lucas held him up by the neck and started on the face.  Boom-boom-boom-boom-boom.  Garra’s face ended-up like a bowl of menudo.  Lucas let him slide to the floor.  Garra just gurgled and wheezed bubbles of blood.

            Lucas turned to Esmeralda.  I must have been hallucinating because I heard Esmeralda say softly, “Kill him.”

            The white of one eye opened in the pulp of Garra’s face.  Irma shouted “No!” and she threw herself on him.

            “No!  He is Rosalinda’s father!”

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SERVANT OF THE SCORPION – Chapter 11, The Brotherhood of The Harrowing

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SERVANT OF THE SCORPION – Chapter 11, The Brotherhood of The Harrowing

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          Esmeralda held onto my arm as we walked toward the exit of the little museum.  Her touch was so tender.  My heart was flying away.  I wanted to paw the ground with my hooves.

          Outside she released me to shatter in the sunlight.

          “This way,” she said.

          “Where to now?”

          “The Brotherhood of The Harrowing.”

          “What’s that?”

          “Brotherhoods are responsible for the beautiful Holy Week processions, remember?  The Brotherhood of the The Harrowing is the one associated with La Paloma Blanca Ministries through our donations.

          “What does this have to do with me?”

          “La Paloma Blanca Ministries has been invited to carry their float for a portion of the procession route.”

          “What’s the big deal?”

          “Each Brotherhood cares for and parades a life-sized sculpture of Christ, Mary, or a Saint.  Some of those sculptures are over 300 years old.”

          We continued up the slowly winding cobblestone street.  A young man on a bicycle coasted past going downhill.  We came upon Indian girls sitting on the curb.  They wore the colorfully patterned Mayan clothing.  One was reading a tabloid newspaper, one studied a book, one was sewing, and the two youngest ran towards us clutching trinkets for sale.

          “Ah, muñecas de preocupaciones” said Esmeralda, stooping to greet the little girls.  “Voy a comprar dos bolsas, por favor.”

          “What did you buy?”

          “Muñecas de preocupaciones.  ‘Worry dolls’.  When children get scared they are given a little doll the size of a paper match.  They’re made of sticks and colorful threads.  They tell their fear to the doll and then place the doll under their pillow.  While they sleep the doll takes away their fear.”

          The young man on the bicycle came by again pedaling uphill.  He was leering at Esmeralda.  When he saw me glaring at him he stood on his pedals and showed me his bared ass.

          “Making new friends?” asked Esmeralda.

          “Could I have a couple worry dolls to stick in my eyes, please?”

          “I think you’ll need a whole bag” she laughed.

          We continued past a leather shop, several fabric shops, places to eat, souvenir shops, and a jewelry shop.  We finally came to a woodcarver’s shop.

          “This is it.”

          “This is the Brotherhood?”

          “Yes.  I’m going to introduce you to Arturo Luna who owns this shop and who dedicates himself to this Brotherhood.”

          The shop was filled with wood panels, boards, and blocks of every shape and size.  The smell was delicious.  The floor was carpeted in wood shavings and sawdust.

          “Is he in?” I asked.

          “Believe me, you would know if Arturo Luna were in” Esmeralda smiled mischievously.  “He must be in back at the altar.”

          We went through a wide doorway into a room that was cool and dark except for a lighted altar at the far end.  The floor sloped downward like a theater.  As we walked in, even before my eyes became accustomed to the dim light, I could hear how high the ceiling was.  There was a man standing in the candle light down on the altar looking toward us with his hands spread in welcome.

          “Arturo,” called Esmeralda in greeting.

          Then I saw three figures standing before the man on the altar.  Yes, it was Lucas, it was Irma, and it was a guy so big and round that I had to blink twice to make sure it was not two people.

          The big man turned and raised his hand to shake mine.  His skin was so blue-white it glowed with light from the altar.

          “Arturo, this is Alonzo.”  Arturo Luna was an albino with big round eyes that were ethereal pink.  His hand covered mine but it was warm and he was gentle.

          “Well, Alonzo, what do you think?”  He gestured toward the man standing up on the altar who had not acknowledged us at all.

           “Jesus Christ,” I whispered.  He was a statue of Jesus.  But not an idealized statue.  He looked like a real person with flaws in his shape and complexion.  In fact his complexion was dark not white.  The skin glistened.  His eyes seemed alive.

          “You like those eyes, don’t you” smiled Arturo.  He whispered conspiratorially, “They are made with black diamonds and diamond dust.”

          “Did you…?” I began to ask.

          Arturo quickly raised a finger to his lips and looked around.

          “…carve Him?” I finished.

          Esmeralda laughed and said, “That statue is over 400 years old.”

          “How do you know?”

          “It was a gift to the first church in La Antigua from the conquistador’s estate.”

          “Why is it here?”

          “That first church was buried in a volcanic mudflow in the 1700’s.  Some devotees risked their lives to rescue that statue.  Since that time, it has been in the care of similar devotees who came to be known as…”

          Incredibly, as if on Esmeralda’s cue, Arturo rose on his toes and bowed like a ballerina, “The Brotherhood of The Harrowing.”

          Lucas spoke up, “Yeah.  You might say they rescued Jesus from hell.”

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SERVANT OF THE SCORPION – Chapter 10, The Conquistador

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SERVANT OF THE SCORPION – Chapter 10, The Conquistador

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            The next morning we were bounding down to La Antigua in Irma’s Rover.  I sat up front next to Irma.  I did not look her in the eye.  I pretended to study the hills rolling by in the sunshine as I tried to glimpse Lucas and Esmeralda in the back.  Lucas was turned toward her saying something and smiling.  I could see that she was looking down and smiling.  I almost bit my tongue off.

            Irma parked on a cobblestone street near the town center.  Lucas and Irma headed off up the street.  Esmeralda said to me “We’re early.  There is something I want to show you.”

            She led me up another street lined with little shoulder-to-shoulder buildings each painted a different color.  We did not hurry.  I wanted time to slow down even more.  I begged the sun to stand still for this perfect morning.  I didn’t have anything interesting to say to Esmeralda so I just asked, “Do you know Irma very well?”

            “You could say that.  She’s my sister.”

            Esmeralda must have seen my eyes bulge.

            “I don’t tell everyone that.”

            I was shocked and flattered at the same time.  Esmeralda just opened up to me.

            “Our family lived in a bad zone of Guatemala City.  Irma is my older sister and she was abused by my father.”

            “When Irma ran away from home at fourteen we heard that she had become a prostitute to make money.  We didn’t really know for sure.”

            “My mother took me and went to the United States.”

            “Itza is my mother’s sister.  She told us that Irma had joined a mara, a violent gang.  When my father disappeared Itza assumed that it was Irma’s gang that did it.  We don’t really know.

            “But I returned here with La Paloma Blanca Ministries and Itza and I found Irma.  The Ministry helped us a lot.”

            “Irma said she was desperate to get out of the gang so the Ministry got her a job at the Mudéjar orphanage, far from her gang.”

            “Irma has been quietly dedicated to the orphanage ever since.  She can still seem pretty intense at times even now, I know.”  Esmeralda became silent.

            I thought to myself, “You still don’t really know, do you?”

            I became emboldened and blurted, “What about Lucas?”

            “Lucas?”

            “He doesn’t seem much like an apprentice pastor.”

            “Oh?  And what does he seem like?”

            “He seems like someone that a pastor would be counseling abstinence to.”

            Esmeralda looked at me and covered her mouth as she burst out laughing.  She laughed until tears ran down the faint gold crosses on her cheeks.

            “I’m going to short-circuit” Esmeralda sighed as she wiped her eyes, “It’s a good thing we are here.”  We stopped in front of a white-washed building with deep set windows.

            “What is this place?”

            “A little museum.  Come inside.  I think you will like this.”

            Esmeralda paid the woman sitting inside the doorway.  I followed Esmeralda as she headed directly to a specific lantern-lit alcove.

            “Here we are.”

            “What is this?”

             She began to lecture me.

            “These are personal possessions taken from the Mudéjar estate before it became an orphanage.”

            “The estate was given in 1527 to one of Pedro de Alvarado’s conquistadors as a reward in the conquest of Guatemala.”

            “The conquistador’s ‘official’ name was Don Gonzalo Contreras but he was actually a Spanish Moor named Abdul Aghrab who volunteered to fight in the new world for a chance at wealth.”

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            Esmeralda was mesmerizing me with her story.  I began to feel light headed.

            “Are you alright?” she asked.

            I felt like I was going to throw-up.

            “Alonzo?”

            “Esmeralda,” I saw her name come out of my mouth as if off of a diving board and my mind just ran and jumped.

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            “I love you, Esmeralda.”

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            Esmeralda finally took my arm, “Alonzo, you have a lot of bad habits.”

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SERVANT OF THE SCORPION – Chapter 9, The Guardian Angels

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SERVANT OF THE SCORPION – Chapter 9, The Guardian Angels

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          I heard soft commotion in Irma’s room.  I heard the door open and shut.  Then I heard quick steps toward where I huddled in the wood closet.  Both closet doors flew open in Irma’s hands.  She still wore the torn dress and so I was staring at her tattooed breasts.  She pulled her dress together.

          “Get out” she said with no shame.  Carlos was gone.

          I got up quickly and hit my head in the wood closet.  I hurried past Irma without looking at her again.  Stepping over the fallen religious objects I went straight to the door.  I opened it peeking both ways down the corridor and exited gratefully into the twilight.

          Afraid of what I had seen and heard I hurried to the cloister.  There Esmeralda and the other apprentice pastors were standing in a circle holding hands.  They faced each other with eyes wide open.  Alternately one or another would say something that I could not hear.

          “Amen” they all said in unison and disbanded.  They hadn’t noticed me.  Esmeralda and the apprentice Lucas strolled away together toward a fountain.  I didn’t like the looks of that.  I crept along the corridor toward the same fountain.

          Esmeralda and Lucas talked close together.  They seemed intent on each other’s words.  But Lucas saw me, “Hey, pervert…”

          Esmeralda turned, “Alonzo, stop spying and come over here.”

          She smiled but they had embarrassed me.  I could feel my face getting hot.  “Why do you all hold hands in a circle like that?”

          “That’s how we communicate.”

          “To God?”

          “To our Guardian Angels.”

          “Your Guardian Angels?” I derided, “Isn’t that for little kids?”

          Lucas snapped back, “I’m thinking you’ll be needing your own guardian angel real soon.”

          Esmeralda frowned at him.

          I thought “Alright!”

          Then she turned to me, “Alonzo, we need you to come with us back into La Antigua tomorrow.”

          “Who’s ‘us’?”

          “Lucas, Irma, you, and me.”

          “Why?”  I thought of Irma and I was afraid again.  “Is this about those tourists who got killed?”

          “Lucas and Irma are going to find out more about that.  But, La Paloma Blanca Ministries is participating in Semana Santa and we still need to make certain arrangements.  You will come with me.”

          “Why me?”

          Lucas interjected impatiently, “Would you rather dig out the toilets in the orphanage?”

          “I’d rather dig shit than listen to shit.”  I was losing control.

          “Alonzo!” Esmeralda admonished me like a child.  Then the way Esmeralda gently said, “Lucas” really pissed me off.

          Lucas grinned, “How cute, Esmeralda.  You have a jealous puppy.  Listen, tough guy.  Figure it out: Rita thinks you’re bad for morale.”

          “Lucas, please.  Alonzo, that is not true.  I asked Rita if you could join us.”

          I wanted to tell them all to fuck off.  I wanted to run away into the jungle.  But I wanted more than anything else to just be with Esmeralda tomorrow.

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