Saturday, August 24, 2013



“Okay, we go live in 3… 2….” Then the cameraman’s voice was silent and he pointed at the reporter.

“This is newswoman Shara Livingstone broadcasting live from Purgatory State Prison where Governor Smith announced two days ago, a shocking across the board pardon for all the inmates held here at Purgatory. The Governor stated that he loved the people in his state so much that he was compelled to offer blanket amnesty. The only condition to be released was that each prisoner had to ask forgiveness for his crimes, accept the pardon from Governor Smith, and live a life dedicated to fighting crime. Many prisoners have been set free over the course of the last two days and can be seen walking around the prison. However, we have just learned that many of the prisoners held in Purgatory Prison were refusing to leave their cells. Joining us now is Cell Block Lieutenant Imp, “Lieutenant, can you tell us what happening inside the cell blocks right now?”

Imp scowled a moment and then commented, “It seems that most of the prisoners refuse to leave their cells. They just won’t believe that they have been forgiven by the Governor.”

“What are they telling you? Have they offered a reason why the prisoners refuse to leave?”

“They know in their hearts that they don’t deserve to be forgiven, therefore they will stay in their cells.”

“But the Governor has made it easy to be released. Haven't they been told how easy it is to just leave their cells and never return?”

Imp scowled again. “Oh they were told. Some of the Governor’s men walked through the whole prison and made their announcement.”

“What were the reactions of the prisoners?”

“Most of them refused to believe their good luck. But then the first fellow tried his cell door and walked away. It was the dogonedest thing. His cell was locked and then he asked forgiveness for his crimes, and then the cell door just popped open. Heck, we didn’t want to let him go. We knew that fellow was a thief. But after he was given amnesty, there wasn’t anything we could do to keep him there. Some of the fellows tried to get him to denounce his amnesty, but that thief wouldn’t have any part of it.”

“Why would the guards try to keep him in there if the Governor set him free?”

“Well heck, they are guilty and don’t deserve to be set free. Besides, what will we do for jobs if all the prisoners leave the Purgatory Prison?”

Shara Livingstone turned and pointed at the large gothic prison to her right. “Lieutenant, you have agreed to escort us through the cell block. Shall we begin our tour?”

“Might as well. Okay, you go through this here door and you will be inside of Cell Block One.”

“Shouldn’t the door be secured? It’s wide open.”

“The Governor ordered us to open the prison doors. We argued that all the prisoners would leave, but surprisingly, they ain’t left yet. We just keep on doing our jobs. As long as they refuse to leave, then we can keep on getting paid.”

“But don’t you care that their debts against society have been forgiven?”

“So long as it serves my purpose, I don’t care.”

“Okay, I’m now standing inside Cell Block One. Behind me and to my right are many rows of cells. You can see that bars separate and define one cell from the other. My first reaction to this prison is the smell. Lieutenant, can you tell me what that horrible smell is?”

“That is their own filth. All the garbage that they brink with them and all the sewage that they generate here. We don’t offer any toilets or showers here.”

“Isn’t that inhumane?”

“What do I care? So long as I have a job…”

“As I continue walking along, I am stunned by how dark it is here in Purgatory Prison. In fact, the further I go inside these walls, the brighter the light from the doorway that is the only opening to the outside. Lieutenant, why is it so dark in here?”

“Oh that serves several purposes.” He held up a finger as if to count. “For one, they can’t see all the filth that they are living in. B, if they are in the dark, they are easier to control. They don’t go getting a lot of ideas on their own. And third, as long as they can see that light, but can’t get to it, they stay miserable.”

“You sound like you want them to suffer.”

“They are guilty. Ever one of them deserves the death penalty. I hate to see them set free. They don’t deserve it.”

“But the Governor chose to forgive them. Shouldn’t you help them find that light?”

“Oh, they were told about that light. It’s up to them to choose to walk out of their prison. Some of them shout for joy and run out of here like a bull coming out of the chute havin’ just been branded.”

“Is that a prisoner in that cell there?”

“Yes ma’am, it is.” He hit the bars with his night stick. The prisoner flinched as the sight of the night stick. “Hey you! Get over here and talk to this reporter.”

The prisoner obediently stood to the bars. “Yes sir.”

“We have just been told that the Governor has granted you your freedom. All you have to do is accept the amnesty that was offered you. Why haven't you left?”

“Well, I don’t believe in the Governor.”

“Excuse me?”

“I don’t believe that the Governor exists.”

“Well that is ridiculous. Look around you. Can’t you see what the Governor has built here? This building had to have been built by the Governor. It was designed to be a prison.”

“No. It was here before I was born. I didn’t see anyone build it. As far as I’m concerned, this building has always been here.”

“But I hold in my hand the decree stating your freedom.”

“Okay, I’ll play your game. If you can make the Governor appear before me, then I will believe that he exists.”

“Well, I have no control over the Governor. Who am I to make him come and appear to you?”

He shrugged and smiled smugly at her.

“But didn’t you hear about the amnesty? Don’t you want to be set free from your prison?”

“No. This is the only life I know. From this comfortable room I have everything I need. Besides, if there is no Governor, then I don’t have to leave my cell.”

“So, you are choosing to stay here, even though you have been offered amnesty?”

“Isn’t that what I have been saying all along?”

“Yes, in fact it is. I just don’t understand it.” She turned to continue on her journey and the man grabbed a hold of the bars and shouted out at her. “Tell me this, misses Smarty Pants, who made the Governor? Huh? Tell me that?” He laughed at her.

The Lieutenant rapped his fingers with his baton and the man shrunk back into the darkness.

“Lieutenant, who is the man in the cell next door?”

“Hey you, get up and come here.” He beat the bars wickedly. “This is one of our best prisoners.”

A prisoner stood before them with tear-stained eyes. He refused to look at them and stared down at the floor.

“My name is Shara Livingstone and I want to know why you haven’t accepted the amnesty offered by the Governor.”

“I don’t deserve any amnesty. I am a very bad person. I deserve to be in this cell.”

“It doesn’t really matter how bad you were. The Governor has chosen to forgive you.”

“I know, but I just don’t deserve it. You have no idea how bad I was. The Governor could never forgive my crimes. I want to stay here.”

“But the amnesty is all encompassing. None of you deserve it; it is a gift to you. Why don’t you accept this gift?”

“Well, I know that part of the requirements is that you have to turn away from a life of crime. I can’t do that. I am too bad. I don’t deserve to be set free. I’m just too bad.”

“Thank you for your time.” The prisoner sadly turned from the bars and heaved gasping cries of sorrow from deep within his chest. He crumpled down on the filth and wept bitterly.

Shara watched him in amazement. “Lieutenant, who is in the next cell?”

“This joker is a nut case. The psychologist says that he is sane, but the guy just doesn’t make any sense.”

A man was standing at the bars when she stopped in front of him. “How do you do?”

She politely nodded to him. “Sir, I have a few questions about your life here in the prison…”

“What prison?”

“This prison. The one we are standing in.”

“I don’t know about you, but I’m not is a prison.” He looked at over to Imp. “Hey, Lieutenant, where did you scare this woman up?”

“Shut up and answer her questions so I can go back to my work.”

The man smiled warmly. “His bark is worse than his bite. So, what did you want to know?”

“The Governor has just announced amnesty to all the prisoners. Why haven’t you accepted his generous offer?”

“I don’t know what you are talking about. The Governor I know would never build a prison. He is a good man. He is a very loving Governor and would never impose on any of us.”

“But sir, you are in a prison that was built by the Governor.”

“Nonsense. I voted for the Governor. I chose him to oversee us. The man that I chose would never put anyone in a prison.”

“Oh yeah?” A gruff voice in the next cell yelled out. “I don’t even believe that the Governor is knowable.”

The man Shara was interviewing waved him off. “Don’t pay any attention to him. It is amazing how it’s human nature to assume that because we believe or don’t believe something, then that makes it true. This joker doesn’t believe in gravity either. Even though he can feel the effects of gravity, he refuses to believe in gravity. I keep telling him that gravity exists where he believes it or not. The Governor is knowable. I know him. I voted for him. And the man I voted for would never put any of us in a prison.”

“Oh yeah?” Another man yelled at them several cells down. “I read that amnesty announcement and I didn’t understand it.”

“Well, I read it,” a different man yelled back. “And it had a contradiction in it. Therefore, it can’t be right. Besides, one of the Governor’s aids wrote the document for him, it’s not really from the Governor himself. There, I have proven that amnesty is a fraud!”

Shara Livingstone walked several cells down and saw a man sitting on the floor with his feet crossed. “Sir, may I ask you some questions?”

“I already know that you want to ask about the so called amnesty.”

“Yes that’s right. What do you think of the amnesty?”

“It doesn’t really matter. This prison is nothing more than a metaphor about life. Besides, I believe that when I die, I will be set free from this prison. I have lived a good life and what comes around goes around.”

“But sir, you can get out now without having to die.”

“I used to be a thief, but now I live by the golden rule. If I can continue to live a good enough life, then I will make it out of here when I die.”

“Thank you.” She walked a few doors down. “How about you, sir? Don’t you want to get out of this prison?”

“Sure, some day. When I’m older. I’m not through living here yet. But before I die, I plan to take the amnesty and get out. But for now, I’m just having too much fun. Besides, I don’t want to become a puppet for the Governor.”

“Thank you.” She turned to the Lieutenant. “I have time for one more interview. Let’s go to that man standing over there. “Excuse me, I have a few questions about the amnesty announcement made a few days ago.”

“Yeah? What do ya want to know?”

“Why haven’t you accepted the freedom and walked away from your prison cell?”

“Are you trying to make me feel guilty by representing the Governor? I don’t appreciate your attack on my personal beliefs. Who are you to judge me?”

“I’m not judging you; I only want to know why you haven’t taken the opportunity to leave your prison.”

“Well, there is a truth that works for you and a truth that works for me. My own personal truth tells me that I can live right here if I want to. You can’t force your truth on me. That violates my personal space and my personal beliefs. Who are you to come and try to condemn me? Now leave me alone.”

Shara turned away from the cell and began to walk with Lieutenant Imp back toward the exit. “I didn’t realize how far we walked into the prison. It is so dark and foul in here.”

“Yep, but that’s how I like it.”

“Isn’t it amazing how bright the light is from the exit door? It’s almost blinding.”

“Yes it is. I like the darkness better. It’s just too bright outside.”

“Hey, who is that walking around here in the cell block? Is it the prisoners?”

“Well, sort of. These people here stepped out of their cells, but refuse to actually walk into the light. They just love the darkness too much to leave it. What’s more remarkable is that they think that they are free. But they still live in all this filth like the men in the cells.”

“I need to talk to one of them.” She stopped a man that was wandering in the darkness. “Excuse me sir, but I have a question for you about the amnesty.”

“Sure, go ahead. That’ my favorite topic. I love to talk about the Governor. After all, he set me free.”

“But have you really been set free? You are still living within the walls of the prison.”

“I have been set free. There is no doubt.”

“Yet you are still here in the cell block. Why don’t you move on into the light and out of this prison?”

“I’m not in the prison. I am free. Sometime I do go near the light and walk around outside. But, this is where my home is and my friends live here also.”

“But I have been outside, and it’s clean and free outside. Why make your home here?”

“Oh, when I went out there, they wanted me to go and tell others about how the Governor set me free. It just seemed like they were expecting too much of me.”

“That is part of the condition for release, to live a life that directly opposes crime.”

“Well, I didn’t want all my friends to make fun of me. It was just too uncomfortable. I tried it out, but it just didn’t work for me. So, I came back in here where all my friends are.”

“Thank you.” She turned to the camera. “I would not have believed it if I hadn’t seen it myself. These prisoners all have different reasons for choosing to remain here in Purgatory State Prison. Despite the fact that none of their reasons or excuses make sense, they are content to live a life of filth and squalor rather than a life of freedom and responsibility. This has been Shara Livingstone reporting live. Now back to you…”

Sunday, August 11, 2013


Please note- This story is a work of fiction for entertainment purposes only, and is not intended to relay spiritual truth or establish any doctrinal statements.


Steve stepped with trembling feet onto the edge of the Bellagio Hotel and failed to notice the chaos of the Strip below him.  Las Vegas had billed itself as the homeland of anonymity; the city guaranteed that your secrets would stay there.

If only that were true.

His heart burned deep in his chest, forcing anxiety to manifest in the form of self destruction.  He lived with his secrets as long as he could.  He couldn't go on.  He was determined to jump.

"God," he whispered.  "I don't know if You care, but I'm at the end.  I'm too ashamed to go on.  I wish it was different, but I can't undo the past.  Please forgive me for what I've done and for what I'm about to do."   He tapped his pocket, guaranteeing that his backup plan was in place.

There.  He'd made as much peace with God as he could.  Now the only thing that remained was to jump.

 The Heavenly call center was an apiary of activity with angels buzzing back and forth dispatching answers and help in response to the prayers of both the saints and sinners on Earth.  Harney looked down from his supervisor window with satisfaction.  His troops were functioning with their A game.  They were always quick to respond once the orders were cut. 


"Now where is Athaneal?" he asked himself.  "Etta is supposed to be helping Athaneal with his orientation."  He referenced his schedule and remembered.  She was showing him the Intake Center.

Athaneal watched the prayer intake board light up with new requests.  "Brilliant," he exclaimed.  "It is almost as bright as the light coming from the Throne." 


Etta smiled.  The first time visit to the Intake Center was always inspiring.  "As each prayer is logged," she explained, "a single light burns, which prompts the Gopher Angels to forward the request to the processing center…"

"Gopher Angels?" he interrupted her.  "I'm unfamiliar with that designation." 

"Oh, you know.  They're Gophers."  She smiled eagerly, but he didn't get the joke.  "You know, they go for this, and they go for that…  Get it?"

Athaneal grinned brightly.  "Right, ho!"

"Imagine a type of prayer triage, if you will.  Once the prayers arrive at the center, they are sorted by the angels according to content.  You already know what happens to the prayers of gratitude and elation, right?"

"Oh yes!  Those go straight away to the Jumbotron, which reflects off the Crystal Sea!  It's very exhilarating."

Etta turned to the left.  "The prayers of petition, so called because they don't require an emergency response, are placed on a conveyer belt, where they are processed according to the time schedule approved by the Lord."  They moved farther along the work center floor.  "The prayers of great stress but low urgency are coded with green lights.  Do you know what those are?"

Athaneal held up his manual.  "Yes.  These prayers were uttered by people experiencing a large and sudden dose of fear or stress, but the situation resolves itself of its own accord."

"Very good.  For example, Cindy, who is susceptible to peer-pressure, allowed her school friends to taunt her onto a roller coaster, which terrified her.  She prayed the entire ride, but the situation resolved itself when the coaster rolled to a stop and the bar lifted."  She pointed across the length of the hall.  "That is where we are going next.  The Agent of Change Engagement Center."

"ACES," Athaneal whispered.  "Hold up, I have a question.  We refer to the Center as ACES, but there is no S in Center."

"Before the Great Flood, there were only a few hundred thousand people on Earth, and this was just a station.  As the population grew, the station was too small and it became a center."  They walked into the ACES hall and stopped for a moment to enjoy the grandeur.

Harney joined them and dismissed Etta to her regular duties.  "I will take over the tour now, Athaneal.  Do you understand everything?"

"Oh yes.  It's absolutely fascinating!"

 "Right on, then."  He began walking under the display screen.  "The prayers seeking repentance or salvation are coded orange until the praying human is comforted, at which time the light turns blue, and then falls into the sea.  The prayers of urgency are labeled Code Red.  Once the Code Reds are answered by the Lord…"

"Which actually happens before the prayer is uttered!" Athaneal interjected eagerly.  "It's so cool!"

Harney smiled.  "Code Reds are sent to the dispatch center, where the operator on duty activates an Agent of Change, or an ACE, for short."

"An ACE is often a Christian—or the nearest operative, who will fulfill Heaven's response." 

"And it all occurs at light speed!"  Athaneal was excited to be part of the team.

"Yes it does!" Harney was proud of his job and his troops.  "No prayer too small!" was his team's motto.  "Alright, I'm going to set you at this station.  You are next to Etta, who can help you if you get in trouble.  Godspeed."

Harney strolled the floor watching his dispatch team receive requests and activate the proper ACE.  He leaned over Etta's station and motioned for Athaneal to join him, "This is a good example here of basic ACE management.  Watch how Etta handles this situation.  I'll be in my office should you need assistance."

Timmy, one particularly needy boy on Earth, was always getting himself in trouble, but he knew how to get out of it.  He was a frequent requestor, and his name came up often.  Today, he was stuck in a well, and the only ACE available was his dog.  Fortunately, the dog was very gifted with rescues, and he was able to summon Timmy's dad to lower a rope into the well and fetch the poor boy.

Harney watched as Athaneal returned to his station.  He would do fine.  He was certainly eager enough, and he would have Etta nearby in case of any problems.    

The only time Harney felt stress himself was when his team activated an ACE, but the ACE was reluctant to respond, or too involved in his or her own life to react.  That is why he was often forced to dispatch a pet, most often a dog, (cats are notoriously reluctant to be helpful) because the humans were too busy to be helpful.

One orange bulb lit up and was immediately forwarded to his team.  Some lost soul was crying out for God to save them.  Etta received the request and her nimble fingers hit the keyboard as she located the nearest operative.  She was looking for a harvester.  She activated her microphone and said, "Chaplain Smith to the OR waiting room, Penson Memorial Hospital.  Look for an aged man with a brown sweater, who is wringing his hands with great urgency.  He has called out to God that if He will save his wife's life, he will surrender his own in repentance.  This situation has been forming for 63 years, and he has finally surrendered his life to Jesus."  Harney watched as the orange light slowly faded to blue, and a cheer when up throughout the call center.  Another soul was saved!  What a great way to start his shift!

Harney watched as a red light flashed on the display, and then began pulsing between red and orange.  He leaned forward.  This light meant trouble.  Something was going on, and if it wasn't handled properly, it could end in disaster.  He scanned the floor to see which angel was next in the rotation and his heart sank.  Athaneal.  He came to them from the heavenly choir, but after some unfortunate developments, he became an Angel Junior Grade, of the 3rd Phalanx, 15th Cohort, and was transferred to Harney's company.

As rapid as a courser Harney flew from the window and landed behind Athaneal's station.  "What is it?"

"Well, sir.  It appears that Steve is in a conflict.  He wants to commit suicide, but he doesn't really want to die."  Athaneal glanced at Harney through the corner of his eyes.  "What am I supposed to do?"

"You fix it!  Don't be an oocephalus, Athaneal.  We don't have time for that."

"Ah gee.  You don't have to be so mean."  He looked down at his keyboard.

Harney frowned.  "Yes, you're quite right.  I didn't mean to call you an oocephalus.  Let us put this unpleasant business behind us and move on, shall we?"  He watched Athaneal for a moment, who didn't respond.  "Now get to it.  Find an ACE."

"I don't know what to do, sir.  He is praying that God allows him to die, but he doesn’t really want to die.  Which one am I supposed to answer?"

Harney growled.  "Read the orders.  The Lord answered his prayer.  Read what it says."

Athaneal glanced through the orders and sighed.  "This says for me to activate an Agent of Change."

 "Yes, go on then.  Activate an ACE.  Who is the closest?"

 Athaneal appeared pained.  "It also says to active a specific ACE."

 "Well, get to it."

"But sir, the ACE isn't anywhere around.  He's in Colorado on a ski slope."

 "And where is your petitioner?"

"Gosh, he's in Las Vegas."

 "Oh.  Well, that explains the suicide!  Don't just sit there staring at me.  Get it done."  The blank look on Athaneal's face told Harney everything he needed to know.  He sighed deeply and said, "Very well.  Tell me what's happening?"

 "Well, sir. Apparently the petitioner is in distress over the condition of his pockets and is in so much pain he wants to die."

"His pockets?"  Harney thought for a moment.  "We know he's in Las Vegas, right?  Where exactly is he?"

 "He's standing on the top of the Bellagio Hotel.  I think he might jump."

"Dear me."  Harney looked at the screen.  "Yes, he appears to be rather unstable.  He's holding his face as if in torment. Poor chap.  He looks like the subject of a Salvador Dali painting."  A shiver ran down his back.  "And what's this about your ACE being in Colorado?"

"The orders are specific.  It has to be Joe.  And Joe is in Colorado on a ski slope."

"We must get them together.  Make it happen.  Chip, chop.  No time to waste."

 Athaneal didn't move.  "But sir?  How?"

 Harney wanted to be angry, but he remembered that Athaneal had only been at this post for a few hundred years.  He was still an intern.   "Allow me to help you, and then you can do it on your own, next time.  Right?  Let's see what resources we have here.  Go on, scoot over and let me have a go at the computer."  His fingers were a blur as he tapped on the key board.  "First, we must get a plan together.  What is your petitioner's name?"


 "Very well then, Steve it is. And the ACE is who?"

  "J-J-J-Joe," he said hesitantly.

  "What is it?" he asked impatiently.

   "There is a notation that we've had to use Joe before.  His file was flagged."


"And Joe is a reluctant ACE.  He doesn't like people.  He sort of has a history."

  "Out with it.  We haven't got all day."

"He was an Army surgeon who was arrested and dishonorably discharged when he punched the general's wife in the jaw at the Christmas party."

"Hmmm.  And then?"

"And then he was forced to work in third world countries because he couldn't get a job in the States.  He grew bitter and now he hates people.  He wants to be left alone."

"But you've used him before?"

"Yes.  He was dispatched to help a woman who was having a heart attack."

  "Did he save her?"

Athaneal nodded slowly.  "He mostly saved her."

"And how does one mostly save someone?"

"Well, he saw her heart go into defibrillation and backed his car over a telephone pole, knocking the pole over, sending the transformer to the ground, which shocked the woman and caused her heart to beat again."

 "See?  That sounds like a problem solved."

 "Except she sustained electrical burns over 15% of her body, and the downed power pole caused the black out of Las Angeles in 2005, and subsequently the rolling blackouts of the Western seaboard."

 "Oh, yes."  Harney certainly remembered that day.  It was their busiest shift since the end of WWII.  "Nonetheless, the Lord orders that ACE Joe is the man.  We must make that happen."

"How, sir?  They are in entirely different states."

Harney cracked his knuckles.  "We had better get to it, eh?  Let's see now.  First, we need to get Steve off the roof of the Bellagio."            


 "I don't think that will be a problem."


"Because he's about to jump right now!"

Harney nodded.  "That will make it easier.  It's a good thing we have the speed of light on our side!  Now, the Bellagio is the hotel with the lake in front and the spectacular water shows with fountains, right?  So, we set off the fountains at just the right angle and then, presto!" 

Athaneal sat up straighter.  "Incredible!  You just hit him with a blast of water that pushed him higher into the sky and he landed on the crane where they are building the hotel next door.  Now what?"

 Harney smiled.  "Now we need a construction worker to see him and lower him to the ground."

 "There," Athaneal pointed eagerly.  "That guy is looking up at him."

"Okay, that gets him on the ground.  Let's switch over to our ACE, Joe.  He's on a ski slope in Colorado?  Ah, there he is.  He's in the middle of that blizzard and is huddled up in the search and rescue line shack on the top of the slope.  So, he's an emergency worker, eh?  I thought he was on vacation.  This is much easier.  Here's what we do:  He needs to hear someone calling for help, which will get him outside on his skis."  He looked at Athaneal.  "Have something start making a noise that will get his attention."

Athaneal nodded and pressed a button.  A mountain lion crawled out of a tree and perched herself on a windswept ledge and began crying into the darkness.

 "Well done," Harney bragged.  "A mountain lion's cry is often confused for a woman in distress.  That will get him outside the shack.  Yes, there he goes!  Just like clockwork."

"Now what, sir?"

"Now we need to get Joe to the bottom of that mountain.  Can you have the cat lead him through the forest and over to that ridgeline?"

"Yes, sir.  Won't take but a moment to do so."

"And by now, Steve is on the ground with the construction crew trying to explain how a burst of water caught him and pushed him into the crane on their construction site.  We need to convince them that Steve is 51-50."

"51-50, sir?"

"Yes, you remember our code for whacko?  If they think Steve is bonkers, they will call for an ambulance to take him to the hospital.  After all, who would believe that a burst of water would land him on a crane like that?  So, we have an ambulance team who is already there and ready to go."

"But sir, those paramedics are on vacation from Idaho."

"They are not on vacation, they are getting their CEU's by attending a mock disaster drill, and they will be ecstatic to be doing anything but that.  Have you ever had to endure continuing education courses?  They're miserable."  He keyed his microphone, "Boundary County Idaho ambulance respond to construction site next to Bellagio, where you will transport Steve to another location."

Within a minute, an ambulance from North Idaho rolled onto the scene and after a brief examination, loaded Steve into the back of the unit and began driving.

"Now, the fun part," Harney said with a smile.  "We need to direct that ambulance to Page, Arizona."

"Page, sir?"

Harney nodded.  "Try to keep up, Athaneal.  We are going to have both parties meet at Page, Arizona."

"What's in Page?"

"Nothing much, really.  Just Lake Powell, I suppose.  And Antelope Canyon, if you're into that kind of thing.  Anyway, that's about halfway between them, and there is a really nice hamburger joint there called Bonkers.  How are we doing with that cat?"

"Joe is almost to the ridge now.  He's starting to think that he's chasing a ghost."

"That's fine."  He keyed his microphone again.  "Search and Rescue Helicopter One, report to the top of the ridge near Pagosa Springs, keep your eyes open for a skier searching for a lost woman.  Skier will need transport upon your arrival."  He looked at Athaneal's screen.  "How are you doing with your rerouting?"

"Fine, sir.  The CSI television show is filming in the area and have a large section of the road blocked off.  I've been adjusting their GPS to take them around the blockage.  They will arrive on Interstate 15 any minute now, and for some reason they will hang a left instead of a right.  It actually helps for them to be visiting from another town.  Otherwise, they would know how to get around my road blocks."

"Excellent work!  Now my helicopter is landing and Joe is explaining that he needs to use the helicopter to search for the woman.  And now they are in the air.  Good.  Now I need to order an incredibly stiff wind from the east to blow them off course."  He typed a moment longer, and then sat back.  "Their next stop will be Page, Arizona.  We need to get things set up at Bonkers.  Any ideas, Athaneal?"

"Well, sir.  We could get out a bunch of free meal coupons and distribute them to the proper players."

"And how do you propose we make that happen?"

"How about a trivia game on the radio?  Human love to brag about how much they think they know.  Especially about movies!"

"Genius, Athaneal.  Just genius.  Make it so."

Athaneal keyed his microphone and put on his best DJ voice, "Hello all you dogs and cats out there in radio land, this is Athaneal, your voice in the sky, coming to you live on K-I-N-G radio with a fantastic opportunity to receive a free meal from, are you ready for this?  BONKERS!  All you have to do is text the proper answer to HEAVEN.  The first, fourteenth, and twenty second responders will win a free meal at BOOOONKERS, good for this night only.  So don't delay!  Are you ready for your question?  Here it is:  What 1945 movie was known as the film that ruined Jack Benny’s career?  If you know the answer, text it to HEAVEN.  Good luck and Godspeed."

Athaneal's panel lit up with eager text messages.  "Yes," he announced.  "That did it.  As soon as I have texted the coupon code back to the winners, we should be ready for the participants to arrive."

Harney nodded.  "Yes, I've been blowing this helicopter all over northern Arizona trying to get him lined up on Page.  He should be there in less than 10 Mikes."

Athaneal said, "The lost ambulance just won a free meal at Bonkers, so they are going to stop for a bite to eat before continuing on their wild goose chase."

Harney rose from his chair.  "I often forget how much fun this job can be.  What do you say we take our break right now and pop in on the activities below?"

Athaneal eyed him warily.  "Is that allowed?"

"Well, I'll make an exception, just this once."  He looked his trooper over.  "You'll need to change if you're going with me."

"What century is it down there?"

"They just started the second millennium a few years ago."

"Oh, then I'll just don this robe.  Everyone will think I'm a Jedi Knight wanna be."

"Good idea.  I'll do the same, and everyone will think I'm a wizard from Middle Earth."

"Or Hogwarts!" Athaneal snorted, and they laughed together.

Bonkers was busy.  Locals and tourists alike loved to stop in for some excellent burgers and quality Italian food.  After being eyed suspiciously by their waiter, the two angels were taken to their table, where they left their hoods covering their heads.  "What's good here?" Athaneal asked Harney. 

"I think the chicken parmesan is wonderful, but the chicken Italia gets good reviews as well."

"It's so hard to decide," Athaneal complained when the waiter appeared for the fifth time after being told that they only needed a few more seconds to decide.  "When you only eat once ever decade or so, it's hard to make a snap decision."

"Look," the waiter replied impatiently.  "I have a whole restaurant of important guests tonight.  I really need you to order something or you two can take a hike."

"Oh…" Athaneal was feeling the pressure.  "Then just give us two orders of Bonker's Cheesy Fries."

The waiter resisted the urge to scowl at them and quickly disappeared around the corner while murmuring, "Last of the big spenders."  

Harney pointed.  "Look, there comes Steve now."

"The whole ambulance team is still with him?"

"Those guys live in a place where there aren't a lot of restaurant choices.  I thought it would be a treat for them to hang out for a little while longer."

"So, Steve will have a table next to Joe?  Is that the idea?"

"Yes.  That method works really great.  Humans run into old friends in a restaurant all the time without realizing that Heaven actually orchestrated that event.  They'll automatically assume it was a coincidence."

"Gosh, they really are naive, eh?"

"Why are you suddenly talking like a Canadian, eh?"

"Shhh," Athaneal whispered.  Here comes the rest of the party.

"Good, they are being seated next to the others.  Perfect.  I love it when a good plan comes together."

Steve, who had been staring at his menu for the last few minutes, suddenly looked up to see Joe staring at him.  He watched the man for several seconds before it dawned on him that he recognized him.  That was Joe Ponska, his Army buddy—well, associate, from years before.  Joe was an oral surgeon who was deployed with him many years ago in Iraq.  They worked together for their entire tour.  The last time he saw Joe was… and then he remembered.  His glance suddenly faded into the floor, and he prayed dearly that Joe hadn't recognized him.

Joe, who immediately noticed Steve, sat simmering in his booth, wishing he had the freedom to throttle Steve, who abandoned him—left him holding the bag—all those years ago.  He'd dreamed so often of what he would do to him if ever given the opportunity.  He hardly noticed the older couple sitting down between them.

The man and his wife sat awkwardly in their chairs.  They were accustomed to finer dining than Bonkers.  But they did win that free meal on the radio.  Who would have thought that knowing about the movie The Horn Blows at Midnight would ever benefit them?  "Well, dear," Peter asked.  "What do you think?  Should I go with the New York Strip, or the rack of ribs?"

"Oh no, Darling.  You should never eat ribs this late at night.  You'll be up all night looking for the Alka-Seltzer's if you do."

"What looks good to you, Samantha?"

"Oh, I will either have the Seared Ahi Tuna, or the Idaho Trout."

The Boundary County ambulance crew overheard her say Idaho Trout and immediately began to advise her on her diner selection.  "Ma'am, if you don't mind me saying so, I'd go with the Idaho Trout.  We're all from Idaho and there's two things Idaho is famous for.  Trout is one of them.  We're mighty proud of our fish up there."

"Oh, my!" Samantha managed to smile.  "You have certainly influenced my decision.  Thank you so very much."  She glanced at Peter.  "Don't you appreciate the help these men have offered?"

Peter rolled his eyes and folded his menu, forcing himself to look at the table of Idaho emergency workers.  "Yes, there is no way to express my appreciation for your insights…" and then his eyes met Steve's, and just as Steve, his eyes immediately went to the floor, praying that he had not been recognized.  But it was too late.  The wheels of destiny were already turning.

Samantha noticed her husband's sudden change of mood and glanced at the Idaho boys quizzically.  When she saw Steve, her jaw fell.  "Why, it's that…"

Peter was suddenly on his feet.  "Come on, Samantha, no free meal is worth this much trouble."

Steve, feeling the pressure building from a wound many years old, stood to his feet.  Sudden movement to his left caused his eyes to shift.  Joe was now on his feet as well.  And if the others were shocked, Joe was angry.  A storm was brewing, and Hurricane Joe was about to land.

Samantha followed Steve's gaze and when her eyes landed on Joe's square jaw, her face drained of all color.  "Oh dear…"

Peter moved fast for an ageing gentleman and placed himself between Joe and Samantha.  He locked in on Joe and said, "We want no trouble."

Joe growled at him.  "I've waited an entire lifetime for this moment."

Steve snapped into action and positioned himself between the belligerents.  "Now hold on a minute, gentlemen.  There's no need for violence."

Joe pressed closer.  "There is every need for violence.  I've wanted a piece of him for so long I can taste it."

Athaneal watched the chaos unfolding across the room and asked, "What's happening?  How does this situation resolve a prayer request?"

Harney inhaled deeply.  "Well, it's like this:  Years ago, Joe was an oral surgeon in the Army and Steve was his nurse.  They worked very well together, and they did a lot of good healing soldiers who were injured during the war.  Joe was able to repair a lot of dental damages done when a soldier suffered a head wound.  He helped a lot of soldiers get back on their feet.

"Peter, there, was the commanding general of his post.  Peter was the man in charge, and he didn't need or desire anyone's help when it came to managing his post or his troops.  Samantha, his wife, came to their camp in Iraq with an USO tour.  One day, the actors and singers with the tour were visiting the injured soldiers.  Samantha was with them.  They went from bed to bed and shook every soldier's hand.  One soldier recognized Samantha as the Commanding General's wife and thought it would be funny to give her a gift.  It was a live grenade, and the only thing that had to happen was to pull the pin, and it would explode.  Samantha never imagined that it wasn't a dummy grenade, so she was walking around playing with it.  Joe and Steve noticed what she was doing, and Joe tried to get the grenade out of her hand.  She wasn't interested in surrendering her new play pretty to anyone.  She was only playing when she did it, but she reached up to pull the pin, and Joe, fearing for the lives of everyone in the room, hit her on the jaw, knocking her cold.  She collapsed on the floor and he collected the grenade, which he handed to Steve and told him to make it disappear.

"When the General's wife came too, she was lying on a gurney with a broken jaw.  She was humiliated and immediately accused Joe of attacking her.  Joe tried his best to explain the matter, but the General refused to hear any explanations.  He ordered Joe to a Court Martial hearing.  At the trial, Joe tried to explain his actions, but it was his word against her word."

"What about Steve?  Wasn't he there?"

"Yes, he was.  But Steve was afraid of crossing the General and allowed Joe to go down for something he didn't do.  The truth was covered up, and he has lived with that guilt for the rest of his years."

"What about his petition?  He said he had a problem with his pockets.  Wasn't that a request about the money he lost in Vegas?"

Harney shook his head.  "Not at all.  He stuffed the grenade in his pocket all those years ago.  Somehow he managed to make it home with that live grenade, and has had it in his pocket all those years."


"Humans.  There's no way to understand them."

Steve, now standing between the belligerent parties and said, "General, Sir?  I have to say something."

"Who are you?" he demanded.

"My name is Steve Collins.  I served under your command in Iraq, and I served with Joe as well.  I was there the day Joe hit your wife.  And I have to say, Joe was wrongly accused.  He's innocent of all charges."

Joe watched him for a moment, and then backed away a few steps.  The General snorted his response.  "What in blazes are you talking about?"

Samantha placed a hand on her husband's shoulder and calmly said.  "I think he's trying to right a wrong.  Years ago when I was touring with the USO, when I was attacked by Joe, there was more to the story than anyone knew.  I had asked Steve to help me with some headaches that I had been having, and after some persuading, he snagged me some pain medicine.  I took more of them than I was supposed to, and I was a little high.  When the soldier gave me the grenade, I was not in my right mind, and I was pretending to pull the pin.  Joe tried to stop me, but I was too high to know it.  If he hadn't of struck me, I would have killed us all.  We owe him our lives.  Instead, we sent him to prison and ruined his life."

Peter's shoulders fell.  "Is that true?"

Joe slowly nodded.  He had lost interest in a confrontation.

Steve stepped forward.  "It is all true.  Worse, I lied about it because I was afraid I would loose my next promotion if I was discovered for illegally supplying narcotics.  So I allowed a good man to suffer for what I did wrong.  And now I can't live with the guilt anymore."  He thrust his hand into his pocket and produced the grenade.  "I'm sorry, but I have to end it all."  His hand went to the pin and his finger slipped through the ring.

Joe shook his head in disbelief.  How many times can the same bad thing happen to the same guy?  He made a fist and punched Steve on the jaw, snapping his head back, sending him into a heap at the feet of the ambulance drivers.

The General watched Joe for several minutes, and then at his wife.  After a moment, he exhaled loudly.  "Joe, I have no way of expressing how sorry I am for what happened to you.  I can promise that I will restore everything I can to you, and do everything in my power to make it right."

"What about him?" Joe was pointing at Steve.

"Has he suffered enough?"

Samantha jumped into the conversation.  "I sincerely doubt that he has suffered enough, but I suggest that both of you consider showing him mercy.  We all deserve worse than we receive.  I think we should show mercy in this situation, and I think it should begin right here, at this very moment."

Athaneal clapped his hands together fiercely.  "Man, I really love humans.  Sometimes they can really surprise you."

Harney nodded.  "That is one of the reasons God loves them so much.  And it is also why He was willing to die for them.  He wanted them to have mercy as well, no matter what they deserved."

The waiter was suddenly behind them.  "Hey, if you two pixies are finished, I'd like to clean your table and get some real customers in here."

"It's just as well," Harney grinned.  "We have to get back to work anyway."