WORTH DYING FOR

By KathyG.

What would Tess, Monica, Andrew, and Gloria do, if they found themselves during the end-times scenario prophesied in the Bible, prior to Jesus' coming? What kinds of assignments would they receive? How would they handle their assignments? This alternate-universe series is my attempt to answer that question, to surmise how the angels would handle the events of the Rapture and the Tribulation.

The first story in this ongoing series was written by Robin Day and myself. The rest, I am writing on my own.

In story #6 of my end-times series, an imprisoned Tribulation believer is going to be executed for his faith by the new world religion. Can the angels get through to his grief-stricken sister and to his embittered elder brother-the warden of that prison-before he dies?

PROLOGUE

A Hispanic man with dark-brown hair crouched on the cot of the San Quentin prison cell he had just been led to. Rubbing the back of his head, he took a deep, shuddering breath, then knelt at the side of the cot. It had only a thin mattress, a bare pillow, and a blanket—no pillowcase or sheets. He folded his face in his arms and scrooged his eyes shut. The California sunshine poured in through the bars crisscrossing the window set high in the wall opposite from the cell door. Unknown to him, a snow-white dove perched on his window ledge. One light bulb in the brick wall on the left shed a dim light through the cell.

"God," he prayed, "please send someone to get through to my brother. And to help my sister, 'cause she's going to be all alone now." He shivered. "It's so dark in this cell. And so cold." He wrapped his arms around his chest.

He took a deep breath. "God, I'm afraid my brother won't be at all kind to me. Since he's warden, he might just want to make an example of me." He swallowed hard. "He hates Christians." He paused. "Please help him, God. Por favor, help my brother." He glanced at his watch.

Unknown to him, five angels stood in a row outside of his cell, watching him. He failed to see or hear his visitors. "His name is Miguel Sintana," Monica said softly, speaking in an Irish brogue. "He's lived in Los Angeles since he was born."

Tess nodded agreement. "Yes. He became a believer just months ago. Now the government has arrested him and convicted him of religious treason." As she turned around, the sunlight poured through the metal screen covering the window across the hall from the row of cells, forming a rectangle of reflected light on the floor. Tess' brooch sparkled in the sunlight. She glanced out the window, then turned back toward Miguel.

Monica smiled. Her pearl earrings swung as she swiveled her head from Tess on her left to the other angels on her right. "Miguel has always been a kind, loving man, very different from his brother. And now he's learned to know God."

Tess nodded, an approving smile in her eyes; an instant later, they darkened. "Tony, on the other hand, is a tough guy." She shook her head. "He thinks he has to be, to survive. Unfortunately, he's never been able to find peace in his heart, so he's trying to find it now through the new world religion."

Gloria bit her lower lip, then tilted her head. "Is Miguel going to die, Tess?"

Rafael answered for the heavy-set supervisor. "Yes, he is. God hasn't sent us here to stop it, but to help the brother and sister he's praying for. And to help Miguel get ready for death." He glanced at Andrew. "You'll escort him to Heaven, won't you?"

Stuffing his hands into his pants pockets, Andrew nodded. "Yes, I will. But God has work for me before then. And for you, too."

Tess nodded. "That's right. He does. There have already been thousands of Tribulation believers executed in the last few months, under the pope's orders, and there will be more to come even before the midpoint comes. We have much to do in the years left before Jesus returns." She sighed. "It's only a year, now, before the events of the Great Tribulation get started. When they do, the abomination of desolation will be committed by Antonio Puccini. He will be indwelt by Satan at that point. Up to a billion believers will die martyrs' deaths during the Tribulation's latter half." Andrew sighed in response, as he nodded agreement. Sadness welled up in his gentle eyes.

Tess paused to gaze down at the kneeling prisoner. "Meanwhile, two souls are at stake—Miguel's brother's, and his sister's." She clasped her hands together. "Miguel's brother, Tony, is the warden for this prison, and he is especially harsh toward the believers facing execution. Miguel is right to fear what his brother will do." She shook her head, disapproval etched on her ebony face.

The prisoner took a deep, shuddering breath, and trembled. He raised his head to wipe his face, then rested it in his palms. Miguel dreaded the coming confrontation with his brother. He did not regret, for a minute, turning his life over to Jesus, but he had worried incessantly about how his brother, now steeped in the new world religion, would take the news. And now that Miguel was in the same prison Tony had charge of, Miguel had a strong suspicion that Tony, who treated Tribulation believers with much harshness, would feel compelled to be even crueler to his own brother, just to show that he could not be swayed by family ties.

Pain welled up in Monica's heart as she watched Miguel's inner struggle; how she hated to see the prisoner so burdened with fear and worry! "I will encourage him to turn his burden over to God," she muttered. Noiselessly, she approached Miguel, tiptoeing effortlessly through the iron bars; bending over, she spoke softly into his ear. "Miguel, God loves you, and He loves your brother and sister," she told him. "He is watching over you even as I speak, and He will be with you to the end."

Miguel didn't hear her voice, but a peace he had not expected seeped into his heart. Gradually, it flowed through his whole being; his trembling stopped. Taking a deep breath, he rose to his feet and perched on his cot; it sagged and creaked as he shifted position. Drawing his pocket-sized Bible from deep inside his blue pants pocket, he turned to a familiar passage in Revelation.

Andrew bit his lower lip as he watched the prisoner reading silently; still unaware of their presence, Miguel fixed his gaze on his Bible. "At least his Bible's safe." Gloria clasped her hands in front of her waist. "We will help him keep it safe."

Tess nodded. "Don't worry about that, Gloria; the Father has already acted to keep it safe for him. Miguel's Bible will be safe until God calls him Home. It's the souls of his family that are at risk now. It's our assignment to bring them to the truth."

Raising her head to receive silent Heavenly instructions, she nodded. "Yes, Father." Pivoting, Tess led the way out of the cell. Andrew paused one last time to watch the prisoner, then followed the other angels out of the prison. Cooing, the dove spread its wings and flew away. An instant later, a buzz echoed down the hall.

END OF PROLOGUE

CHAPTER 1

Tony Sintana paced his office slowly and methodically, taking deep breaths, pressing his white-knuckled fists against his sides. His shoes clumped on the tiled floor as he walked back and forth. An hour ago, he had received word that his brother Miguel had been transported to the San Quentin prison to be held over for execution. He gazed down at his tall, stout frame, rubbed the front of the polyester suit covering his crisp, bleached cotton shirt, then shook his head.

Rage surged in the Hispanic warden's heart and etched his olive-skinned face. He reached up to swipe his black hair out of his eyes. Even now, he couldn't believe that his own brother could have had the nerve to actually become a Christian! And especially now, no less, when he knew full well that to do so meant death for him. It wounded Tony's pride.

"I don't believe it! I don't believe it," he muttered. "My own brother, gone and joined that—that group! How dare he?!"

He sighed. Although he couldn't bring himself to admit it, his heart yearned for his brother, longed to make things easier for him. Another part of him determined to make Miguel's stay as tough as possible. "After all," he muttered, "I'm the warden. I'm not supposed to let family ties sway me." He sighed. "Not even my brother. After all—" He swallowed. "He deserves what he got." He shook his head, then sighed again. "I need a cigarette."

He opened the drapes covering his window, then pulled up the Venetian blinds, letting the sunshine pour through the metal screen into his office. He picked up a cigarette package from a mahogany side table and pulled one out. Before he had a chance to light it, a knock on the door startled him; he whirled around, glancing at the tarot cards stacked on his desk. "Come in!" he barked.

Two men—one Hispanic, the other with sandy-brown hair and gentle eyes—entered Tony's office. Both wore cotton shirts and blue jeans. "Antonio Sintana?" The young Hispanic man spoke with an accent. Tony nodded. "Mi llamo Rafael. This is Andrew."

Tony nodded again. "You're the replacements for the two guards who got fired yesterday. I'm glad you're here, men." He sighed. "Things have not been easy here lately, and I got a bad feeling they're going to get worse! Half of my death row prisoners are those—those Christians."

Andrew nodded, compassion etched on his face. "I've been told your brother is among the death-row inmates."

Tony glared at him. "Not yet, but he will be. He's to be transferred to death row later—right now, he's in an ordinary cell. The date of his execution hasn't been set yet."

With another sigh, he put his hands in his pockets. The fingers of his right hand rested against the soft wadded handkerchief bulging in that pocket "Rafael, I'm assigning you to the death row prisoners. You will see to their needs and keep order—some of them are desperate." Rafael nodded. "At the moment, there are none, but there will be before this day is over."

Andrew stepped forward. "Warden Sintana, I should like to be assigned to look after your brother Miguel."

Tony pressed his lips together and furrowed his eyebrows. For a long moment, he gazed at Andrew. "And why is that?" He drew his hands of out his pockets as he spoke, dropping them to his side.

Andrew shrugged. "It sounds as if your brother needs guidance during his last hours."

Tony clenched his fists, as an angry glare crept into his eyes. He took a deep breath, and with an obvious effort, spoke quietly. "All right, Andrew. I will let you see to Miguel. But—" He wagged his finger for emphasis. "At no time are you to show him any favoritism! He is to be treated just like the other prisoners."

"And just like the believers, in particular?" Rafael spoke up, his eyebrows furrowed. "Bread and water, no visitors, no pillow for his cot? No time in the prison yard? No sheets or pillowcases for their cots?"

"That's right," Tony barked. "The Christians are a bigger threat than all the other prisoners put together, and they get the worse punishment here. Miguel Sintana will be no exception." He fixed his gaze on Andrew. "Is that clear, Andrew?"

With evident reluctance, Andrew nodded. "Very clear."

Tony nodded. "Good. You may go." He pushed the intercom button and ordered another guard to come to his office. "Ralph will show you where to find your uniforms."

The guard entered the room; Rafael and Andrew followed him out the door. Silently, Andrew prayed. Please, God, he said, work in the heart of Tony Sintana. And comfort Miguel.

A buzz down the hall, followed by approaching foot thuds, startled Miguel; before he had a chance to hide his Bible, a guard barked, "Open number 44!"

Miguel rose to his feet when the cell door clanged open. The guard pushed a fair-skinned man inside, then locked the door. Miguel laid his Bible on the pillow. To his relief, the guard never saw it.

The new prisoner nodded toward Miguel. "Hi." He crouched on the bunk. "I'm James. James Brooks."

"Miguel." The Hispanic prisoner raised his hand in greeting. "Miguel Sintana."

A mirthless smile crept across the newcomer's face. "I'm being executed for murder tomorrow. What are you here for?"

"I'm being executed, too." Miguel made a face. "But not for murder."

The man tilted his head as he gazed up at his roommate, eyebrows furrowed. "For what, then?" As he shifted position, he swiveled his head; when he glanced at the Bible, his eyes darkened. "You—you're one of those Christians, aren't you?" A hard edge crept into his voice. He looked up at Miguel, pursing his lips.

Miguel leaned against the smooth bricks that comprised the wall, and smiled. "Si. I am." With a chuckle, he rubbed the back of his head. "A capital crime in this day and age."

James spat on the floor. "You know, I thought we were rid of all those religious fanatics when they disappeared two-and-a-half years ago. But they breed like rabbits—you can never get rid of them!" He leaped to his feet and clenched his fists. "Tell me, Miguel. What has being one of them got you—except prison and death? Is it really worth dying for?"

"Peace. Love. Joy. Contentment. Life eternal," Miguel said quietly. "Knowing that when I die, I will go to a wonderful place, where there's no pain and no loss. Knowing God personally, not being cut off from Him. Yes, it's worth dying for—after all, Jesus died for me." He paused. "And you."

Rage etched James' now beet-red face. Striding toward the door, he clenched the bars. "Guard! Guard! Get this fanatic out of my cell! I don' t want to stay with him!"

Silently, Miguel snatched his Bible and shoved it into his back jeans pocket. God, protect my Bible. Don't let the guard see it, he silently prayed. And please save James!

END OF CHAPTER 1

CHAPTER 2

A young, heavy-set Hispanic woman lay face-down on her double bed, snuffling. Her brother had been transferred from the Los Angeles county jail to the San Quentin prison that day, and she knew he would soon be put to death. Across the room, a small black-and-white TV set stood on a desk. The remote control lay on the nightstand next to Juanita's head.

"I have pledged, as leader of the new world religion, that all holdovers from the so-called Christian era will be stamped out," the pope's voice blared from the TV set. He was giving a press conference from his new headquarters in the rebuilt city of Babylon, Iraq, where he had moved less than a year before. "We have already executed thousands for following that intolerant religion, and we will continue to do so until all get the message. In this new era of peace and unity, there is no room for intolerance of any kind."

"Shut up!" Juanita shrieked at the screen. She grabbed the remote and switched the TV set off. She flung herself face-down back on the bed, muffling her sobs.

"I want to see Miguel!" she muttered. "But I'm afraid Antonio won't let me! I want to see him before he dies!"

Juanita hadn't been able to stop worrying about Miguel since the police had arrested him just days before. It hadn't taken long for the court to find him guilty and sentence him to death—just months before, the new world religion had persuaded Antonio Puccini, head of the world government, to make accepting Jesus a capital felony. Believers had died by the thousands since then. With her brother gone, what would she do? She could not turn to Tony, she knew—he was too busy. Waves of grief surged in her.

Pushing herself up on her elbows, Juanita reached for her handkerchief. The mattress sagged underneath as she pushed herself further into a sitting position. She dabbed her eyes, then rose to her feet. Stifling a moan, she raised her eyes toward the ceiling. "I think I'll get some wine," she mumbled. "I could use a drink."

The jangling of the doorbell startled Juanita. "Who could it be?" she muttered, as she ran a comb through her hair and refastened her hairclips. The doorbell jangled again. Juanita stalked down the short hall toward the living room. She was in no mood for visitors, and in less of one for a criminal. Silently, she prayed that a thief or rapist hadn't decided to invade her home to harm or rob her. Los Angeles was a city in which one thought twice before letting strangers enter one's home.

Juanita peered through the door hole. Two women stood on her sagging front porch, she noticed. One of them was a heavy-set African-American, the other a slender brunette. With a sigh, Juanita swung the door open.

"Juanita Gomez?" The brunette spoke in an Irish brogue. Pearl earrings dangled from her ears.

Juanita nodded, her eyes wary, her eyebrows furrowed. "Yes. What do you want?"

"My name is Monica," the brunette told her. "And this is Tess." She gestured toward her companion. "We were sent here by the Society for Humane Treatment of Prisoners."

Juanita sagged against the doorframe. Paint chips had fallen off it, revealing patches of wood underneath. "I've heard of that organization—it was founded just before the disappearances over two years ago, wasn't it?" She sighed. "My husband and son disappeared with the rest. Mi brothers—are all—I have." She fought down a sob. "And one of them's going to be put to death soon!"

She stepped back. "Please come in. I'm afraid the house is a mess—I haven't felt much like cleaning up since they arrested Miguel a week ago."

The two angels followed Juanita into the living room. Lifelessly, Juanita waved a limp hand toward the couch. Tess and Monica perched on it. Piles of dirty clothes lay on the floor in the corner; a stain darkened the brown carpet kitty-corner to the armchair. Dust formed a thin layer on the round pine coffee table standing in front of the couch.

"I'll get you some coffee," Juanita said. "I made a pot this morning." She went to the kitchen. A few minutes later, she took two cups to the living room. She handed one to Tess and another to Monica.

"Thank you." Monica smiled at her. She took a sip of her coffee. Juanita sank into an armchair across the room, shoulders slumped. The mattress sagged underneath her as she leaned back.

"We came to see if there was anything we could do," Tess told her. She cradled her coffee cup in her lap as she spoke. A diamond brooch pinned to her chest sparkled in the sunlight pouring through the window. Next to her, Monica took another sip.

Juanita smiled, yet pain still surged in her gut. She rubbed her index finger against the smooth surface of the polished coffee table next to her armchair. A line of darker brown wood appeared under her fingertip as her index finger rubbed away the dust covering it. "Well, if you can't get my brother out of prison—" She bit her lower lip. "Well, I want to see him. I saw him last, yesterday—they transferred him to San Quentin today. My other brother, Antonio, is the warden, and he hates Christians. He's so rough toward them. I'm afraid he'll be rough toward Miguel, too."

Monica furrowed her eyebrows, as distress etched her face. She leaned forward, cradling her coffee cup in her lap. "But surely he'll be kind toward his brother."

Juanita shook her head. "You don't know Antonio. Yes, he loves Miguel and me, but he hates Christians more. And he's the sort of man to think he can't give—uh—preferential treatment toward family, because that wouldn't be fair to other prisoners." She gazed down at her clenched hands. "I'm so afraid he will be cruel to Miguel, and that he won't let me see him. And I want to, before he dies. I really do."

She burst into tears. "What am I going to do?" she shrieked. "My brother's going to die soon, and he doesn't deserve it! My brother's not a murderer or anything like that." Leaning forward, she buried her face in her hands, shaking with sobs.

Tess set her cup on the coffee table and rose to her feet. Approaching Juanita, she knelt before her and hugged her, then clasped the grief-stricken woman's hands in her own. "Mrs. Gomez, you have our word that we will do what we can to get permission for you to see Miguel," she said. "Meanwhile, I encourage you to pray. God is watching over your brother."

Without a word, Juanita nodded, snuffling. She wiped her eyes with the back of her hand. Setting her own cup on the table next to Tess', Monica joined them, and the three knelt for silent prayer. When they finished, Monica looked at Juanita. "Do you have a message you wish to give to Miguel?" She touched the grief-stricken woman's arm as she spoke.

Juanita nodded. Rising to her feet, she left the room; a few minutes later, she returned with a notebook and pen in her hands. Crouching at the round coffee table, she scribbled a few sentences, then tore the sheet out and folded it.

"Give this to him," she said.

Monica took the folded message. "We will give it to a friend of ours who works at the prison. He will give it to your brother." She gave it to Tess, who slipped it into her skirt pocket.

Juanita smiled. "You're a kind woman, Monica. You, too, Tess." Her lower lip trembled. "Gracias for being here when I needed you."

The angels said good-bye to Juanita and drove to the prison. When they arrived a few hours later, they found Andrew in the dimly-lit basement with Rafael. The two angels had donned blue uniforms; badges hung on the fronts of their shirts. Keys jangled from their belts.

"Andrew, give this message to Miguel," Tess ordered. "It's from his sister." She handed him the folded message.

Andrew nodded. "I will." He glanced at Rafael. "But first, we need to go to Tony's office; Gloria should be there any moment now. Are you coming with us?"

"No, Angel Boy; the Father has assigned us our work elsewhere. But we'll be here when He sends us." Tess patted Andrew's shoulder then left, followed by Monica.

Meanwhile, Tony crouched at his desk, head in his hands. Could this day get any worse? He didn't see how it could. "I could always defend my brother when we were boys. And I did," he muttered. "But I can't defend him from this!" He banged his fist on his unyielding desk. "He's so weak! Turning to that religion to help him cope. Why didn't he have the good sense to turn to the new religion, if he had to find one?"

He shook his head. Just a few moments before, he had received word that Miguel had tried to share his faith with a new roommate, who was also slated to be executed. The very thought enraged Tony. He was going to have to see to it that Miguel got no more opportunities to do such things!

"Guess I'll have to put him in solitary," he muttered. "But not the hole. I don't want to send him there unless I have to. The hole's such a terrible place." He banged his desk a second time, in frustration. How had he ever found himself in this position, to begin with?

Miguel had always been Tony's kid brother. As a child, Miguel had been the weakling brother whom Tony had had to protect, to stand up for, because the bullies had wanted to gang up on him. To this day, Tony felt contempt for Miguel because his little brother hadn't become strong and tough, as Tony had tried to do. Added to that contempt, now, was rage toward Miguel for becoming a Christian. True, their mother had tried to raise them to become devout Catholics—even sending them to a local Catholic school—but Tony had always felt that Christianity, whether Catholicism or Protestantism, made a man weak.

Tony thought about the many times Miguel had come home as a boy, crying, his clothes dirty, his face smudged, and his eyes black…the times Tony had fought the boys who used to bully his little brother…how he used to be too busy for Miguel when the little boy had wanted to play with him. Tony had had no use for a little brother who was so obviously a sissy. Clearly, Miguel had not changed in that respect—Tony was sure of that. If Miguel expected his big brother to protect him now, he was sorely mistaken.

"He's going to have to take his punishment," Tony decided. "I can't protect him this time. It's his own fault he's here, and he's just going to have to toughen up." He lit a cigarette, and held it to his lips. Blowing a cloud of smoke into the air, he added, "Perhaps a day or two in solitary will make him shape up before he dies."

A knock on the door startled him. "Come in!"

Andrew entered, his keys jangling at his side. "Uh, warden, I have a written request from Miguel's sister, Juanita. She wishes to visit her brother."

Tony glared at Andrew for a long moment, then trudged toward the window. Leaning his head against the cold metal screen covering the windowpane, he gazed down at the prison courtyard. Several prisoners milled around outside, surrounded by armed guards.

Turmoil churned in Tony's heart as he watched them, pondering Andrew's request. He had no intention of letting his sister see their brother. He was convinced that Miguel would try to proselytize her if he did—just as he had tried to do with the other prisoner—and Tony wasn't about to let that happen. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Andrew lean an elbow against the nearest counter.

After a long moment, he turned toward Andrew, dropping his hand against his side. "Permission denied." He folded his arms across his chest and glared at the angel. "I'm ordering Miguel put in solitary confinement. He's to have no visitors. Not even Juanita. And no contact with any of the other prisoners."

Straightening his back, Andrew furrowed his eyebrows, distress etched on his face. "Forgive me, warden, but isn't that a little harsh?" He folded his arms across his chest as he spoke.

Miguel shook his head. "No harsher than the other Christians face." He slowly approached the angel, then put his hands on his hips. "If I was to let Miguel be with other prisoners, he'd try to convert them. To, uh—what's the word—proselytize? Yes, proselytize." He pressed his lips into a tight line. "And others would be converting to that same religion. I will not let him contaminate this prison by doing that. I just received word before you came that he tried to do that with a new roommate today."

He raised his finger. "He's to have no visitors, Andrew! Is that understood?"

With a heavy sigh, Andrew nodded acquiescence. "Understood." He dropped his hands to his sides.

Without another word, he left Tony's office; leaning against the plaster wall, he gazed at the ceiling. "Father, please soften Tony's heart. And the other prisoner's," he prayed. "And please intervene on Miguel's behalf, to make his last hours less painful and lonely."

END OF CHAPTER 2

CHAPTER 3

Fifteen minutes later, he went to Miguel's new cell, where he found the now-isolated prisoner kneeling at his cot, praying. "Miguel?" he said, softly. Miguel looked up. "My name is Andrew; I've been assigned to look after you."

Miguel rose to his feet. "Hello." A wan smile crept across his lips as he raised his hand in greeting. "Pleased to meet you—though I wish it'd been under—uh, better conditions." He clasped his hands in front of his waist.

Nodding agreement, Andrew said loudly, "Open 54!" A buzz echoed down the hall, and the cell door clanged open; Andrew stepped inside. His shoes clumped on the stone floor. "I have a message from your sister. She asked that it be given to you." Sadness creased his face. "I'm afraid your brother has forbidden Juanita to visit, but she wants you to know she loves you."

Bitterness etched Miguel's face. "That's what I was afraid of." He clenched his fist, then took a deep breath.

Andrew laid a hand on the prisoner's shoulder. "God is with you, Miguel. Remember that. And He will continue to protect your Bible so it won't get taken away from you."

Taking a deep breath, Miguel patted his bulging jeans pocket, then made an evident effort to force a smile across his face. Andrew looked up at the window high up in the wall, then smiled. Following his gaze, Miguel turned to find a dove perched on the ledge outside the bars. He turned back to Andrew, as he relaxed. With a soft coo, the dove flew off.

Andrew paused, watching the dove go. "He's proud of you for sharing your faith with the other prisoner. Rest assured, it will bear fruit in his life." Without looking at him, Miguel nodded. Wordlessly, Andrew handed him the folded message.

Miguel sank down on his cot; the mattress sagged and creaked as he leaned forward. Silently, he read his sister's message as Andrew waited, hands inserted into his pockets. Andrew took that moment to scan the cell Miguel had been transported to. Like the other cell, this one had a commode and a sink against the wall facing the cell door, a mirror spanning the wall above the sink, and a window just underneath the ceiling.

A grateful smile spread across Miguel's face as he rose to his feet. "It's good to know my sister is concerned." He sighed. "This is so hard on her, Andrew—Tony has no time for her, or me. Did you know her family disappeared in the Rapture a few years ago?"

Andrew nodded. "Yes. I heard."

Miguel trudged across the cell. With his back toward Andrew, he raised his arm above his head to lean against the wall's smooth bricks. For a long moment, he gazed up at the blue cloudless sky through the bars of the window, then turned back to Andrew. "Well, Juanita has been so lonely ever since." He sighed. "She needs Jesus, but she won't admit it. Andrew, how can I help her if I can't even see her?"

A comforting, knowing smile spread across Andrew's face. A Heavenly glow emanated from him. Miguel gaped at him in shock; the note slid from his fingers and drifted to the floor. "What—what's going on?"

"Don't be afraid, Miguel." Andrew smiled. "I'm an angel, sent by God. God wants you to know that He loves you and is proud of you. And He will stay with you until He calls you Home."

Miguel sagged his shoulders. "I'm going to die."

"Yes." Approaching him, Andrew put a hand on his shoulder. "And I'm going to oversee your transition."

Miguel stared at him again. "You're the angel of death." It wasn't a question, Andrew noticed. Reluctantly, the angel nodded.

"Yes, Miguel. I am. God sends me to escort Home the souls of people who die, and I will escort you when the time comes." He tightened his hold on Miguel's shoulder. "But until that moment does come, God wants you to pray and to trust Him. He wants you to remember that He has not abandoned you, and that He has sent angels not only to you, but to your brother and sister as well. God is working on their hearts, even as I speak. And He is working on the heart of the prisoner you tried to witness to, today."

Miguel nodded. "Gracias, Andrew."

Andrew patted his shoulder. "I will be back." He left the solitary-confinement cell, his shoes clumping on the stone floor as he strode down the hall. On the way, he ran into Gloria, dressed in a business suit and carrying a sheaf of papers in the crook of her left arm.

"Hello, Andrew." She beamed.

Andrew smiled back. "Hello, Gloria. You're here to see Tony?" Gloria nodded, pushing her glasses up the ridge of her nose.

Andrew gestured down the hall. "Come with me. I'll take you to see him." He led the way up the stairs toward Tony's office.

"Wait here," he told Gloria. He entered the office, where he found the warden sorting through a deck of tarot cards. Distaste at the sight surged through Andrew; silently, he prayed that God would free Tony of the deception being perpetrated by the new world religion. To his right, sunlight poured through the metal screen covering the window, forming little squares of reflected light on the thick carpet spanning the floor.

Tony looked up at him, then laid the top card on the deck. "What is it?"

Andrew leaned against the desk, resting his elbow on its smooth, unyielding surface. "Warden, an official of the Society for Humane Treatment of Prisoners is here to see you."

Tony froze. His face turned beet-red. "What for?!"

Straightening his back, Andrew squared his shoulders. "Warden, you'll have to ask her that."

The warden slowly approached the window. Resting his fingertips against the cold metal screen, Tony gritted his teeth as he stared down at the prison courtyard for a long moment. Andrew sensed the turmoil the warden was enduring at that moment. As far as Tony was concerned, Christians had no right to humane treatment. He was bound and determined to keep control of his prison. Silently, Andrew prayed.

At last, Tony turned away from the window. His shoes softly thudded as he returned to his desk. "No, she may not come in," he told Andrew. "Tell her I will not see her."

Frowning, Andrew folded his arms across his chest. "Warden, I would not be so quick to snub a member of that organization. It would be bad public relations."

Tony glared at him. "You really think so?"

"I know so." Andrew stared him down as Tony made an evident attempt to intimidate him with a glare. Tony narrowed his eyebrows into tiny slits as he glared at the angel; in turn, Andrew said nothing, but simply fixed his gaze on the warden.

At last, Tony sighed. Slumping his shoulders, he said, "All right. Send her in."

Nodding, Andrew swung open the polished mahogany door. Gloria entered, smiling at Tony. "Hello, Mr. Sintana. My name is Gloria. I'm with the—"

"Society of Humane Treatment of Prisoners! I know." Tony pursed his lips. "Suppose you tell me why you're here?"

Gloria laid her rustling sheaf of papers on his desk, then brushed her hair out of her eyes. She placed the palms of her hands on Tony's desk, leaning forward. "Well, Mr. Sintana, the purpose of our organization is to improve conditions for prisoners. It has come to my attention that the political prisoners here in San Quentin—the Christians—are treated with great harshness."

Tony stiffened, as he fought to control his temper. He resented this woman coming in to tell him how to run his prison. He had no intention of letting her organization usurp control of his prisoners. This was his prison, and he would run it as he pleased!

"Gloria, I'm going to tell you something, and you can repeat it to your bleeding-heart organization," Tony hissed. "The heretical Christians deserve their treatment; in fact, they deserve to die! They're members of a religion the pope and the world government have strictly forbidden. That religion is intolerant and a threat to world peace; the pope has rightly banned its practice." He pounded the desk, causing his ashtray to clatter. Tilting her head, Gloria just stood there, watching him. "If anyone is foolish enough to join that religion, he deserves just what he gets!"

"Warden," Andrew said gently, "do you truly believe this of your own brother?"

"And what about his sister?" Gloria added. "If she is deprived of the chance to see him before he dies, she may never recover. Does she deserve that, warden?"

Before Tony could respond, the phone jangled. He picked up the receiver and cradled it against his earlobe. As he listened, his face turned pale. "I see," he said. He swallowed hard, rubbing his chin. "Thank you." He hung up.

END OF CHAPTER 3

CHAPTER 4

He turned to the others. "Miguel is going to die tomorrow morning. Of lethal injection." He pursed his lips. "Excuse me, Andrew, Gloria. I've got to tell him."

"Do you want me to tell him for you?" Andrew asked.

Tony shook his head. "No thanks, Andrew. I'll do it." He turned to Gloria, fighting down the storm of emotion surging in his gut. "I'm sorry, but I don't have time to discuss this any further."

Without another word, he stormed out of his office and down the hall, his shoes clumping on the stone floor. He stalked down the stairs and down another corridor. A mixture of rage and grief surged in Tony's heart. If only Miguel hadn't been so foolish as to join that hated religion, Tony wouldn't be going through this now!

"Open 54!" he shouted; the familiar buzz echoed down the hall, and the door clanged open. Tony stalked into the cell and stood in front of his brother, who rose to his feet. For a long moment, he glared at Miguel, who gazed back at him without a word, hands in his pockets. For some reason, the way his brother looked at him reminded Tony of the way Andrew had stared him down earlier. It made him feel uneasy.

"How could you do this to me?" Tony shouted. "To us all? To your sister? You always needed someone to look out for you, because you were so soft—such a weakling! I always had to fight off the bullies to protect you."

Stepping forward, he grabbed Miguel's cotton shirt. "Are you such a weakling, now, that you'd turn to that—that stupid religion—to help you?"

"Get your hands off me!" Miguel shot back, jerking his brother's hand loose and straightening his collar. Miguel's eyes narrowed at they stared into his brother's. "You know, Tony, I've been in jail over a week now, and you never once came to see me." He swallowed. "And this is the first time you've come to my cell since I was brought in this morning."

"Si, it is." Tony folded his arms across his chest. "Miguel Sintana, you've got you some explaining to do!"

Miguel pursed his lips and took a deep breath. He glanced down at his watch, then back at Tony. "I have chosen to give my life over to Jesus. Plain and simple."

Tony shook his head, putting his hands on his hips. "You are so weak, Miguel." His voice dripped with disgust.

Miguel shook his head, an amused glint in his eyes. "Not weak, Tony. Strong. The Lord gives me strength. And He will give me the strength to die, too." His eyes narrowed as he stared hard at his brother. "Have you so quickly forgotten the lessons learned in catechism years ago? And in Catholic school? And the lessons the priest taught us?" He paused. "When we were growing up?"

Tony spat on the floor. The spittle formed several small droplets on its stone surface. "This isn't about me, Miguel, and I'm not letting you make it about me. This is about you! You're going to die tomorrow! First thing in the morning!" His voice rose in his anger. "How could you be so—so stupid as to throw your life away on something like that? Tell me!"

Miguel nodded, biting his lower lip. He slowly approached the wall and leaned against its brick surface, with his back to Tony. Craning his head, he gazed up at the window for a long moment before he spoke. "I was expecting that," he finally said. "In answer to your question, well, some things are worth dying for, Antonio. A long time ago, you thought it was worth it to throw your life away over that gang you ran around with. It wasn't, but you thought it was, and it almost killed you." He took a deep breath, then turned around. "So did our papa—it did kill him, didn't it?"

Pain etched Miguel's face as he spoke; Tony took a deep, shuddering breath at the memory. To his dying day, he would never forget the horrible day their father had been shot to death in a gang-related incident, when Tony was just ten and Miguel was five. (Juanita had been too young to remember.) Tony himself had indeed come close to dying in a similar fashion, years later, before he had wised up and left his gang.

Miguel slowly approached his brother, his shoes clumping on the stone floor, and put his hand on Tony's arm. A pleading tone crept into his voice. "Antonio, I have found something—or Someone, rather—who truly is worth dying for! His name is Jesus, and He loves me! He died for me, so I could live forever with Him! He will give me the strength to die tomorrow. He has already given me peace. And when He returns, He will give me a new body. A perfect body. One that can never die. I will live with Him forever and reign with Him." His voice softened. "You could live with him, too, Tony! Right here on earth. He could give you peace if you'd let Him." He swallowed. "Tell me this, my brother. Has the new religion given you any peace?"

Sullenly, Tony said nothing. He stood stock-still, fists clenched, staring down at the floor. Miguel swallowed. "He's coming back in a few years to rule this earth, and everybody who refuses to accept Him as Savior and Lord is going to die!" His voice shook. "Including you, if you don't—"

"Shut up!" Tony slapped Miguel's hand off his arm; he took a deep breath. "I just came to tell you to get ready—a guard will be coming to take you to death row in a few minutes. You're going to die at dawn tomorrow." Without another word, he turned and left. The cell door clanged shut behind him.

Tony started to return to his office, then thought better of it and went to his living quarters. He didn't want to see anybody just then. Sunlight poured through the rectangular windows he passed. As Rafael approached him, he ordered, "You and Andrew take Miguel Sintana to death row. I'll be by later." Rafael nodded acquiescence as Tony walked past.

Minutes later, Rafael and Andrew locked Miguel in one of the death row cells. "You will be given a tasty meal this evening," Rafael told him, as he locked the door. "The prison has forbidden priests or ministers, Miguel, but Andrew or I will be here to minister to your spiritual needs."

Miguel smiled gratefully. "Gracias, Rafael. You, too, Andrew." He pivoted in a circle, taking a quick overview of his new cell. The walls were made of metal, he noticed, and there was no window; otherwise, the stone floor, the commode, the cot, the sink, and the wall mirror were the same. And the light was even dimmer than in the other two, in fact, because the cell lacked a window.

"Who is that?" an angry voice bellowed from the cell next to Miguel's. "It's not that stupid fanatic again, is it? I thought I was rid of him!"

Miguel stiffened; Andrew raised a finger and shook his head. "I will deal with him," he whispered to Miguel. He approached James, his keys jangling at his side, and thrust his hands into his pockets. For a long moment, he just stood there, watching James.

The condemned murderer fidgeted. "All right, guard, what do you want?"

Andrew took a step forward. "Just to know why you're so hostile toward Miguel."

James glared at him. "Because I hate Christians!"

"And why is that?"

"Because they're losers!" James banged the metal wall with his fist.

Andrew remained impassive, hands in his pockets. "In what way are they losers, James?"

James spat on the floor. "They're such holy rollers! Always promising pie in the sky and stupid harps and—and…" His voice trailed off.

"James, tell me this." Andrew spoke quietly. "Is a Christian a greater loser than one who robs a store and kills the cashier on duty?" Rafael joined Andrew as the angel of death spoke. The Hispanic angel wiped his face with the back of his hand.

James rushed toward the door and clutched the bars. "It would give me great pleasure to kill you, too! Both of you!"

"James, you can't kill Rafael or me. Even if you had a gun handy, you still couldn't." Andrew spoke in a gentle voice.

"No, you sure can't." An amused glint appeared in Rafael's eyes.

James' eyes narrowed into tiny slits. "What makes you think I couldn't, Andrew? Rafael?" He laughed derisively. "Because you have a gun on your side, and you're quick on the draw?" He pointed at the revolver dangling in Andrew's holster, then at Rafael's. "Or because you've got the keys that keep these cells locked?"

Andrew chuckled. "No, James. It's because angels can't die." A Heavenly glow poured from his body, and from Rafael's.

Taking a step back, James gaped at the two angels. "I must have taken too much speed before my arrest," he muttered. "I do believe I'm seeing things." His hands dropped to his sides.

"No, you're not, amigo," Rafael told him. "You're seeing angels."

"Sent by God," Andrew added.

James backed further away, his eyes wide open, fear etched on his face. His shoes clumped on the cell floor as he took another step backward. "What—what are you going to do to me?"

"Only to talk to you," Rafael said.

Andrew stepped forward. "James, listen to us. God loves you. He knows all about the void and the rage in your heart. The rage that led you to go on a killing spree, ending in the death of a cashier at the small grocery store you robbed in Santa Barbara. He wants to fill that void and heal your heart."

Rafael nodded agreement. "He sent Miguel into your life, to lead you to Him. To give you a chance to turn to Jesus. But you rejected Him and turned Him down. And you got Miguel sent to solitary because you were so angry at him for sharing his faith with you."

Andrew beckoned to James, who slowly, warily, approached him. Leaning his head against the cold iron bars, James stared at him, face white. "James, God will never force Himself on anybody," the angel of death told the frightened prisoner. "He leaves the choice up to the individual as to whether he will accept God or reject Him. But those who reject Him are, in the end, separated from Him forever. Trust me, the separation is terrible." Sadness welled up in his eyes as he spoke. "God doesn't want that for you, James, and neither do Rafael or I. And neither does Miguel." He nodded toward Miguel's cell door. "That's why he risked your anger to share his faith with you."

Rafael nodded agreement. "James, you're going to die shortly after Miguel does, and unless you've made peace with God before then, you will go to Hell. CHAPTER 5

In his bedroom, Tony lay prone on his bed, trying unsuccessful to stifle the unwelcome sobs that forced their way out of his throat. It had been a long time since he had cried, and he did not want to now. When he finally managed to regain control of himself, he pushed himself upward into a sitting position. The mattress sagged underneath him as he did so. After a moment, he rose to his feet, and gazed down at his second deck of tarot cards on his desk, and the crystal ball on his nightstand that glistened in the sunlight pouring through his window. Next to it, a photograph of his brother-in-law and his nephew stood in a wooden frame.

Turmoil surged in his heart as he glared at the crystal ball, then at the tarot cards. Who was right? Miguel was right about one thing, he admitted grudgingly: his participation in the new world religion had given him no peace. Only turmoil. Although he hated to admit it, his turmoil had actually increased since he'd started participating in the religion's New Age activities.

He picked up the framed photograph. "You were a good amigo," he muttered. "A bueno husband to our Juanita. And your son was such a joy to have." In a fit of rage, he hurled the picture at the carpeted floor. The glass covering shattered into tiny shards flying every which way. "God, how could You do this to me?" he shouted at the ceiling. "You've torn my family apart, and now my brother's going to die tomorrow!"

"Antonio, your brother's going Home tomorrow." A now-familiar Hispanic voice startled him; whirling around, Tony found Rafael standing behind him, hands thrust into his pockets. "Home to his God. The same God that could be yours, too."

Rage surged in Tony's heart; he whipped his revolver out of its holster and aimed it at Rafael's heart. "I've had enough, Rafael! Get back to work immediately, or you're fired!"

The angel crossed his arms. "Antonio, you can't fire me because you didn't hire me. I was assigned."

Tony narrowed his eyes into tiny slits. "What are you talking about? Of course I hired you!"

"Only because I was assigned to work under you, Antonio."

Slowly, Tony lowered his gun, then slid it back into his holster. "You're loco, Rafael! Who assigned you? What are you talking about?" He folded his arms across his chest.

"God assigned us." Andrew appeared next to him. In that instant, an unearthly light poured over both of them. Tony gaped at them, stunned. Andrew smiled, then stepped forward, his shoes softly thudding on the carpeted floor.

"Rafael's right. God assigned us to work under you, Antonio, because you and your brother needed His intervention."

Suddenly, three more angels appeared in the room. One of them, Tony saw, was the woman who had come on behalf of the Society for Humane Treatment of Prisoners. "You—you—!" He pointed at Gloria, open-mouthed. He stared at her, then at the other two angels.

"Don't be afraid, Antonio," the slender, brown-haired angel said gently. "We're angels. God sent us here because He wants you to know that He loves you."

"That's right." Gloria pushed her glasses up the bridge of her nose. "He does. And He wants to share His love with you."

Andrew took another step forward, his keys jangling at his sides. "I'm the angel of death, Antonio. My job is to escort to their eternal Home people who die. Tomorrow, I will escort Home your brother. And I will have to escort many more people in the years to follow, until Jesus returns to earth."

Tess approached the stunned warden. "God wants you to renounce the new religion the pope has ordered observed," she told him, "and to seek peace in a relationship with Him. You will never find peace in astrology, tarot cards, crystal balls, numerology, or any other occultic activity. Occultism is the basis of the new world religion; that's why it cannot give you peace. Its source is demonic, and its goal is to destroy the souls of man." She wagged her finger for emphasis.

Tony sank into the nearest armchair, staring up at her. When he spoke, his voice was choked. "What—uh, what does God want me to do?"

Monica approached him next, propping her fingers together. "Turn your life over to God. Ask His Son to come into your heart. Accept the peace and the life He gives you. Live in the faith your brother enjoys." She paused. "And start being kind to your brother. There's no need to make an example of him, Tony, because what Miguel has done is not wrong, although it is against man's law at present. Miguel is going to die in the morning; he needs to know that you share his faith. And he needs his last hours to be made as pain-free and comfortable as possible. Let him share his faith when he feels led to do so."

Tony sighed, sagging his shoulders. "Si. I will do all that you asked."

He bowed his head for a few minutes, praying silently. When he finished, a peace Tony had never enjoyed before flooded his heart. He felt a compulsion, now, to make it up to his brother and sister before it was too late. He smiled. Broad, joyful answering smiles spread across the angels' faces; Monica beamed as she gazed down at him.

"The Father is rejoicing because you have finally come to Him," Andrew told him. "The peace He has given you cannot be wiped out, no matter how bad things get. And they will become considerably worse, Antonio, before they get better; I wish I could say otherwise. Many more believers will die as martyrs in the next year; up to, perhaps, a billion more will die during the three-and-a-half years that follow. And that doesn't count the billions of nonbelievers who will perish in the judgments that will be poured out on the earth during that time."

Rafael nodded agreement. "But every person who dies in the Lord will be given a brand-new body when Jesus comes back—a body that can never die, or get sick or hurt. The kind of body that your brother-in-law and your nephew are enjoying now."

Tony nodded. "I suppose I must be ready to face death, too, then."

"Yes." Monica nodded. "None of us can promise you will be one of the survivors who will enter the Kingdom as mortal believers. But we do promise that you will be protected spiritually, and that the devil has no control over you now. God has saved you from him."

Tess nodded agreement, then clasped her hands in front of her waist. "And now, Antonio, don't you think you should let your sister see your brother before he dies?"

Tony nodded acquiescence. "Si. I will." Rising to his feet, he picked up his cell phone and called Juanita. "Buenas tardes, Juanita! Como esta," he greeted her. He spoke to his sister in Spanish, offering to let her come to the prison and visit Miguel and himself, and to even spend the night if she wished.

When he hung up, he turned to the angels. "Juanita's going to come as soon as she can get transportation. She doesn't have a car."

Tess nodded. "Monica and I will bring her." They vanished from sight. Andrew and Rafael left Tony's room.

Tony went downstairs to Miguel's death row cell, where he found his brother perched on his cot, reading his Bible. He held the pocket-sized Bible close to his face, Tony noticed, his eyes squinting.

It's hard for him to read in that light, Tony thought. Out loud, he ordered, "Open number 2!"

As a loud buzz echoed down the hall, the cell door clanged open. Startled, Miguel stuffed his Bible into his back pocket.

Tony raised his hand. "Relax, Miguel. I'm not going to take it from you." He stepped into the dimly-lit cell, his shoes clumping on the stone floor.

Warily, Miguel rose to his feet, rubbing the back of his head, uncertainty etched on his face. Tony bit his lower lip, then sighed. "Juanita's coming to see you," he said. Miguel raised his eyebrows. Tony smiled wanly. "Mi brother, I owe you an apology. I couldn't understand how you would willingly throw your life away over a religion I hated. Now I do. You're right, faith in Christ is worth dying for, and I'm ready to make that sacrifice when the time comes. I'm sorry I treated you and Juanita so badly."

Miguel beamed; joy shone on his face. "This is a moment I've long been praying for!" He threw his arms around his brother. He stepped back, puzzlement on his face. "But what made you change you mind?"

Tony chuckled. "I've been visited by angels. Two of them work for me and I never knew it." He shook his head. "Till now."

"Andrew?" Miguel asked softly.

Tony stared at him. "He's one of them, si. Rafael's the other. But how did you know?"

Miguel leaned against the metal wall. "Andrew visited me yesterday. He's an angel of death, Tony. When I die tomorrow, he's going to take me Home." He nodded toward the opposite wall dividing his cell from James' and smiled. "James is a believer now, Tony. With the angels' help, I was finally able to share my faith with him. He's ready to die now, and so am I."

"That's right." James' voice from the next cell startled Tony. His voice was sad, yet peaceful, Tony noticed. "I'm a stubborn, mean, hard-headed man, and worse. But God has saved me."

Tony sighed. "That's good news, James. I wouldn't have said this a half-hour ago, but I'm glad to hear it." He turned to his brother. "I wish you weren't going to die tomorrow, Miguel." He laid a hand on Miguel's shoulder. "I couldn't admit it—even to myself—but I was upset when I learned you'd been arrested. Because I knew what they'd do to you even before you went to trial. I was real upset, and I blamed you. I'm sorry, Miguelito."

Miguel hugged him. "I forgive you. I knew that God would reach you, and He has."

Tony smiled. "Juanita can spend the night. I have to be on duty, but I'll be in and out to see you and Juanita. Rafael will be on hand to see to your needs, and so will Andrew."

"Gracias." Miguel smiled back. He peered intently at his watch, holding it up to his nose. "I don't have much time left, and I want to spend it with my sister. And with you, as much as possible."

Tony nodded. "You've got it." He left the cell and returned to his office to make the arrangements.

END OF CHAPTER 4

CHAPTER 5

In his bedroom, Tony lay prone on his bed, trying unsuccessful to stifle the unwelcome sobs that forced their way out of his throat. It had been a long time since he had cried, and he did not want to now. When he finally managed to regain control of himself, he pushed himself upward into a sitting position. The mattress sagged underneath him as he did so. After a moment, he rose to his feet, and gazed down at his second deck of tarot cards on his desk, and the crystal ball on his nightstand that glistened in the sunlight pouring through his window. Next to it, a photograph of his brother-in-law and his nephew stood in a wooden frame.

Turmoil surged in his heart as he glared at the crystal ball, then at the tarot cards. Who was right? Miguel was right about one thing, he admitted grudgingly: his participation in the new world religion had given him no peace. Only turmoil. Although he hated to admit it, his turmoil had actually increased since he'd started participating in the religion's New Age activities.

He picked up the framed photograph. "You were a good amigo," he muttered. "A bueno husband to our Juanita. And your son was such a joy to have." In a fit of rage, he hurled the picture at the carpeted floor. The glass covering shattered into tiny shards flying every which way. "God, how could You do this to me?" he shouted at the ceiling. "You've torn my family apart, and now my brother's going to die tomorrow!"

"Antonio, your brother's going Home tomorrow." A now-familiar Hispanic voice startled him; whirling around, Tony found Rafael standing behind him, hands thrust into his pockets. "Home to his God. The same God that could be yours, too."

Rage surged in Tony's heart; he whipped his revolver out of its holster and aimed it at Rafael's heart. "I've had enough, Rafael! Get back to work immediately, or you're fired!"

The angel crossed his arms. "Antonio, you can't fire me because you didn't hire me. I was assigned."

Tony narrowed his eyes into tiny slits. "What are you talking about? Of course I hired you!"

"Only because I was assigned to work under you, Antonio."

Slowly, Tony lowered his gun, then slid it back into his holster. "You're loco, Rafael! Who assigned you? What are you talking about?" He folded his arms across his chest.

"God assigned us." Andrew appeared next to him. In that instant, an unearthly light poured over both of them. Tony gaped at them, stunned. Andrew smiled, then stepped forward, his shoes softly thudding on the carpeted floor.

"Rafael's right. God assigned us to work under you, Antonio, because you and your brother needed His intervention."

Suddenly, three more angels appeared in the room. One of them, Tony saw, was the woman who had come on behalf of the Society for Humane Treatment of Prisoners. "You—you—!" He pointed at Gloria, open-mouthed. He stared at her, then at the other two angels.

"Don't be afraid, Antonio," the slender, brown-haired angel said gently. "We're angels. God sent us here because He wants you to know that He loves you."

"That's right." Gloria pushed her glasses up the bridge of her nose. "He does. And He wants to share His love with you."

Andrew took another step forward, his keys jangling at his sides. "I'm the angel of death, Antonio. My job is to escort to their eternal Home people who die. Tomorrow, I will escort Home your brother. And I will have to escort many more people in the years to follow, until Jesus returns to earth."

Tess approached the stunned warden. "God wants you to renounce the new religion the pope has ordered observed," she told him, "and to seek peace in a relationship with Him. You will never find peace in astrology, tarot cards, crystal balls, numerology, or any other occultic activity. Occultism is the basis of the new world religion; that's why it cannot give you peace. Its source is demonic, and its goal is to destroy the souls of man." She wagged her finger for emphasis.

Tony sank into the nearest armchair, staring up at her. When he spoke, his voice was choked. "What—uh, what does God want me to do?"

Monica approached him next, propping her fingers together. "Turn your life over to God. Ask His Son to come into your heart. Accept the peace and the life He gives you. Live in the faith your brother enjoys." She paused. "And start being kind to your brother. There's no need to make an example of him, Tony, because what Miguel has done is not wrong, although it is against man's law at present. Miguel is going to die in the morning; he needs to know that you share his faith. And he needs his last hours to be made as pain-free and comfortable as possible. Let him share his faith when he feels led to do so."

Tony sighed, sagging his shoulders. "Si. I will do all that you asked."

He bowed his head for a few minutes, praying silently. When he finished, a peace Tony had never enjoyed before flooded his heart. He felt a compulsion, now, to make it up to his brother and sister before it was too late. He smiled. Broad, joyful answering smiles spread across the angels' faces; Monica beamed as she gazed down at him.

"The Father is rejoicing because you have finally come to Him," Andrew told him. "The peace He has given you cannot be wiped out, no matter how bad things get. And they will become considerably worse, Antonio, before they get better; I wish I could say otherwise. Many more believers will die as martyrs in the next year; up to, perhaps, a billion more will die during the three-and-a-half years that follow. And that doesn't count the billions of nonbelievers who will perish in the judgments that will be poured out on the earth during that time."

Rafael nodded agreement. "But every person who dies in the Lord will be given a brand-new body when Jesus comes back—a body that can never die, or get sick or hurt. The kind of body that your brother-in-law and your nephew are enjoying now."

Tony nodded. "I suppose I must be ready to face death, too, then."

"Yes." Monica nodded. "None of us can promise you will be one of the survivors who will enter the Kingdom as mortal believers. But we do promise that you will be protected spiritually, and that the devil has no control over you now. God has saved you from him."

Tess nodded agreement, then clasped her hands in front of her waist. "And now, Antonio, don't you think you should let your sister see your brother before he dies?"

Tony nodded acquiescence. "Si. I will." Rising to his feet, he picked up his cell phone and called Juanita. "Buenas tardes, Juanita! Como esta," he greeted her. He spoke to his sister in Spanish, offering to let her come to the prison and visit Miguel and himself, and to even spend the night if she wished.

When he hung up, he turned to the angels. "Juanita's going to come as soon as she can get transportation. She doesn't have a car."

Tess nodded. "Monica and I will bring her." They vanished from sight. Andrew and Rafael left Tony's room.

Tony went downstairs to Miguel's death row cell, where he found his brother perched on his cot, reading his Bible. He held the pocket-sized Bible close to his face, Tony noticed, his eyes squinting.

It's hard for him to read in that light, Tony thought. Out loud, he ordered, "Open number 2!"

As a loud buzz echoed down the hall, the cell door clanged open. Startled, Miguel stuffed his Bible into his back pocket.

Tony raised his hand. "Relax, Miguel. I'm not going to take it from you." He stepped into the dimly-lit cell, his shoes clumping on the stone floor.

Warily, Miguel rose to his feet, rubbing the back of his head, uncertainty etched on his face. Tony bit his lower lip, then sighed. "Juanita's coming to see you," he said. Miguel raised his eyebrows. Tony smiled wanly. "Mi brother, I owe you an apology. I couldn't understand how you would willingly throw your life away over a religion I hated. Now I do. You're right, faith in Christ is worth dying for, and I'm ready to make that sacrifice when the time comes. I'm sorry I treated you and Juanita so badly."

Miguel beamed; joy shone on his face. "This is a moment I've long been praying for!" He threw his arms around his brother. He stepped back, puzzlement on his face. "But what made you change you mind?"

Tony chuckled. "I've been visited by angels. Two of them work for me and I never knew it." He shook his head. "Till now."

"Andrew?" Miguel asked softly.

Tony stared at him. "He's one of them, si. Rafael's the other. But how did you know?"

Miguel leaned against the metal wall. "Andrew visited me yesterday. He's an angel of death, Tony. When I die tomorrow, he's going to take me Home." He nodded toward the opposite wall dividing his cell from James' and smiled. "James is a believer now, Tony. With the angels' help, I was finally able to share my faith with him. He's ready to die now, and so am I."

"That's right." James' voice from the next cell startled Tony. His voice was sad, yet peaceful, Tony noticed. "I'm a stubborn, mean, hard-headed man, and worse. But God has saved me."

Tony sighed. "That's good news, James. I wouldn't have said this a half-hour ago, but I'm glad to hear it." He turned to his brother. "I wish you weren't going to die tomorrow, Miguel." He laid a hand on Miguel's shoulder. "I couldn't admit it—even to myself—but I was upset when I learned you'd been arrested. Because I knew what they'd do to you even before you went to trial. I was real upset, and I blamed you. I'm sorry, Miguelito."

Miguel hugged him. "I forgive you. I knew that God would reach you, and He has."

Tony smiled. "Juanita can spend the night. I have to be on duty, but I'll be in and out to see you and Juanita. Rafael will be on hand to see to your needs, and so will Andrew."

"Gracias." Miguel smiled back. He peered intently at his watch, holding it up to his nose. "I don't have much time left, and I want to spend it with my sister. And with you, as much as possible."

Tony nodded. "You've got it." He left the cell and returned to his office to make the arrangements.

END OF CHAPTER 5

CHAPTER 6

A few hours later, Juanita arrived in death row, escorted by Tess and Monica. With a joyful squeal, she threw her arms around Miguel, then around Tony. "You don't know what this means to me," she told Tony. "Gracias, Antonio."

Tony squeezed her shoulder. "Did you bring an overnight kit? You're going to spend the night with Miguel."

"Yes, she did." Tess stepped into the cell, holding up a suitcase, her shoes clumping on the floor. She laid it against the wall, then smiled at Juanita. "Monica and I will be back in the morning, to take you home."

Rafael followed them in. He touched Juanita's arm. "Juanita, amiga, I want you to listen to your hermano." He glanced at Miguel. "What he has to say to you is very important."

"Si, Rafael." Juanita nodded. Rafael followed Tess and Monica out, leaving the cell door unlocked. Leaning against the smooth metal wall, Tony thrust his hands into his pockets.

Miguel approached his sister. "Juanita, I just have one night left, so I have no time, now, for small talk. I want to die knowing that you know Jesus. You remember how we used to go to Mass and take the Eucharist and study our catechism and confess to the padre every week." Juanita nodded. "But we never came to know Jesus—we'd have been taken in the Rapture if we had. With your husband and son." He turned toward their older brother. "Jesus loves us, and He wants to live in us. And He wants to live here with us when He comes back in four-and-a-half years. He's going to rule this planet when He does. I'm going to come back with a new body, then, and live forever."

With a wan smile, Juanita nodded acquiescence. Taking a deep breath, she bowed her head. "Por favor, Jesus, come into my heart and forgive me my sins," she prayed. "Amen." A broad smile spread across her face as she raised her head. She hugged Miguel again. "I feel so much better. I still feel sad that you're going to die, but I feel—well—"

"Peaceful?" Tony asked, softly. Juanita nodded. Tony smiled. "So do I. I feel more peaceful than I've ever felt in my life."

The warden looked at his watch, then sighed. "I've got rounds to make, so I've got to go now. I'll be back soon. I've ordered a floor lamp sent to your cell—it should get here soon." He left the cell. The clumps of his shoes faded as he left death row.

Juanita and Miguel stayed awake all night, chatting and munching on tortillas and enchiladas requested by Miguel. Together, they read Miguel's Bible and prayed out loud. Andrew soon joined them, bringing the floor lamp ordered by Tony; throughout the night he stayed in Miguel's cell, praying with them and encouraging them to trust in God. James joined the three in prayer, leaning against the smooth metal wall dividing the two cells to do so. Rafael stayed on duty all night.

The next morning, Tony and Rafael came to escort Miguel to the lethal injection chamber. "It's time, mi hermano." Sadness etched Tony's face. "I'm sorry, but I have to handcuff you."

Miguel nodded. "I need to say good-bye to James, first."

He stepped out of the cell and approached James' door. "I'll see you on the other side, James," Miguel told the other prisoner, as he grasped one of the cold iron bars with his left hand. With his other hand, he reached into James' cell to shake hands. "Andrew will escort you Home next. He's an angel of death." He squeezed the other prisoner's right hand as he spoke.

James gaped at Andrew, who nodded agreement. "Thank you," he whispered. Andrew smiled at James, then followed Tony and a handcuffed Miguel down the hall, their shoes clumping on the floor.

Tess and Monica joined Juanita in the visitors' gallery facing the lethal injection chamber. Unlike the light in the cells, a bright light flooded the room. Two waiting guards removed the handcuffs from Miguel's wrists and strapped Miguel to the gurney; one of the orderlies hooked him to a heart monitor. Miguel flinched as another orderly deftly inserted an IV needle into his wrist.

Andrew appeared by his side, glowing in a beige suit. He drew a gleaming pocket watch out of his suit pocket, opened the lid, and glanced down at its surface. Miguel smiled up at him. "It won't be long now," he said.

Andrew nodded agreement. Closing the watch's lid, he inserted it back into his pocket. He gazed down at the condemned prisoner. "No, it won't be. I'll be right here till it's time to take you Home." He touched Miguel's shoulder as he spoke. "No one can see me but you and Tony and Juanita, Miguel. I'm invisible to everyone else." He smiled at Juanita, who sat in the gallery's front row, forcing a brave smile across her face. He scanned the rows of reporters sitting behind Juanita in expectant silence. He then smiled at Tony, who bit his lower lip.

Tony cleared his throat. "Do you have any last words, Miguel?"

Miguel nodded. "Si. It is a privilege to die for the One who died for me." He smiled.

The orderly started the fatal drip that would put the condemned prisoner to sleep and end his life. Miguel craned his head to look at Juanita, who sat with hunched shoulders between Monica and Tess. "Don't be sad," he told her. "In just a few minutes, I'll be in Heaven with God. And we'll be together soon, you and me." He glanced at Tony, who stood in the corner, deep pain in his eyes. "All three of us."

Juanita bit her lower lip and took a deep breath. "Si, mi brother. We will."

"Si," Tony agreed. "Vaya con Dios, mi hermano."

Miguel nodded. "Go also with God, my brother."

The orderly pushed a series of buttons on a nearby machine. As everyone watched, Miguel closed his eyes; a moment later, he stopped breathing. Suddenly, he found himself standing next to the gurney, where Andrew waited, still in his glowing beige suit.

"Are you ready, Miguel?" he asked. Miguel nodded. Andrew put his hand on Miguel's shoulder and led him out of the room, into a flood of Heavenly light.

Meanwhile, Tony joined Juanita in the visitor's gallery, who sat sobbing. "He was right," he told her. "We will see him again, maybe very soon. I shall take comfort in that." He put his hand on her shoulder. "And soon, we will be with Jesus too."

Juanita nodded, as she rose to her feet and wiped her eyes. For a long moment, she clung to her oldest brother as Tony hugged her. Tess and Monica followed them to the door. "We will stay the night with you," Tess told her. "Wait in the lobby, and we will bring my car."

"And I'll make arrangements for his funeral," Tony said. He took a deep breath, fighting back tears.

Nodding, Juanita followed him into the hallway; for a moment, she paused to glance at the clouds drifting across the still-golden sky. At least my brother's at peace now, she thought, then followed her surviving brother.

END OF CHAPTER 6

EPILOGUE

Monica, Tess, Gloria, and Rafael perched on the edge of the prison roof, waiting for Andrew. A cool breeze ruffled their hair. Gloria raised her face to the wind, to enjoy its coolness. "When Andrew returns, we will get my car," Tess said. "Juanita and Tony will need much comforting at this time."

Monica sighed. "And so do so many others whose loved ones the pope's henchmen have had executed." She clasped her hands in her lap. Her pearl earrings swung as she shook her head. "Miguel's death was actually quite merciful. So many of the executions have been quite brutal and bloody."

Andrew appeared, perching next to her. Monica smiled at him. "How was the trip?"

"Glorious." Andrew beamed. "Miguel and James are in the Father's arms now, and reunited with Juanita's family. And they will stay with Him until He sends His Son to come back." He bit his lower lip. "We have much to do until then."

"Indeed, we do," Tess agreed. "The pope's days are numbered, but the Antichrist's reign of terror still lies ahead."

Gloria tilted her head, puzzlement in her eyes. She had been struggling with a couple of questions for weeks now; now she determined to seek some answers that day. "One thing I don't understand." She gazed at Andrew, then at Tess. "Isn't Vatican City—in Rome—the center of Roman Catholicism?"

"Yes, it is," Andrew told her. "It's been the center of Catholicism for centuries now."

"Then why has the pope moved his headquarters to Iraq? To Babylon?" Gloria pushed her glasses up the bridge of her nose and tilted her head.

"Because, baby, deep in his spirit, he feels that Babylon is a more fitting headquarters for the new religion he leads and preaches, than for the old Catholicism of which he was pope." Tess' voice hardened. "Occultism was first formed in that particular region, and it reached its zenith in the city of Babylon. There's no time to tell you its history now, Gloria, but the demonic spirit of Babylon has existed in this world ever since, and has held sway over many kingdoms and empires. It held sway over Rome during the time of Christ. And it holds sway again now, over the whole earth. Even over Puccini, but only for the moment."

Monica nodded agreement. "And it has become very rich and opulent in the last few years. The pope has taken the Catholic Church's wealth for himself and acquired more. He has devoted it all to the building of his religious empire. He means to push Puccini aside and become the world dictator himself."

"And he's shed the blood of many Tribulation saints in the process. He began to do that even before he left Rome, but it has really picked up since he moved." Tess shook her head. "But the end is coming for him. In his spirit, he senses that, too. That's another reason he moved his headquarters to Babylon. Because he knows he isn't too popular with Puccini or the European Union anymore. He believes he's safer in Iraq than he would be in Italy."

Furrowing her eyebrows, Gloria bowed her head, gazing at the prisoners in the courtyard. For a long moment, she watched them milling around in their blue prison uniforms, talking, exercising. "I don't understand. The new pope surely knows that Jesus is Lord and Savior. Is that not taught in the Catholic Church's catechism, its prayer books, and its writings?"

"Yes, it was, Gloria. But the new pope swept all that away, when he unified all the world religions into one and made the occult its foundation." Monica crossed her legs. "The disappearance of all true believers in the Rapture from the Catholic Church, as well as from all Protestant denominations, made it possible for an apostate pope to do that. He is pope in name only; he does not recognize the true God, and neither do his followers. He follows a demonic, occultic religion spearheaded by Satan."

Andrew craned his neck to face Gloria. "You know, that's why his predecessor, Pope John Paul II, fought so long and so tenaciously to hold onto his post. He was a conservative Catholic; he feared that his successor would be a liberal apostate, and that he would lead the church astray. And his fears proved to be well-founded, especially in the Rapture's aftermath. The Catholic Church just happened to possess the wealth and the organization needed to unify and change the world's religions as the new pope has done."

Tess pursed her lips. "It certainly did. And the new pope was more than eager to take the job when he was approached by the leaders of the other religions to help them make world peace by unifying their religions. And since then, he has sought to stamp out the revival of worship of the true God by imprisoning and executing Tribulation believers." She shook her head. "That is just a small foretaste of what Puccini will do to the believers when Satan indwells him."

Gloria nodded. "Seems to me the pope needs an angel more than anyone, then. Especially if his end is going to be as bad as I've been told." She lifted her gaze from the prisoners to the barbed-wire fences surrounding the prison.

Monica nodded agreement. "I agree, Gloria. And he will get one when the time comes. But even if he repents and turns to God, that will not save him from the death that faces him, or from the destruction of his religious empire."

"If he repents, though, it will save his own soul," Rafael added. "And that's worth more than anything."

Tess rose to her feet. "Well, there's much to do until that day of decision comes, so let's get to it. The Father has told me He has another assignment for us as soon as Miguel's funeral has been held, so let's take Juanita home and assist in the funeral arrangements for her brother."

The angels left. A snow-white dove flew overhead, cooing softly.

THE END

©2004, by Kathy Green

Note: If you want to learn more about the end times and what lies ahead for the Body of Christ and for the world, go to this URL, . . On it, you will find an extensive list of links to Christian Web sites, many of which refer to end-times prophecy.

If you'd like to read my testimony, go to this URL, . .

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