Excerpted from "Angels Over Their Shoulders" by Brad and Sherry Steiger, published by Ballantine Books.

The source for this story was Bill Jameson, a former army intelligence officer who had also served a stint on the New York City police force before becoming a private investigator in Florida.

Jameson said that the racketeer--we'll call him Jerry Nichols--had been one of the criminal kingpins in Florida and had run the parts of the state under his control with an iron hand. Then, strangely, the gangster seemed to drop out of sight. When Jameson next discovered him, he was in a legitimate business and was preaching the word of God on the side.

Stunned, the private detective pressed his old nemesis for details, and Nichols was delighted to tell him the remarkable story of his conversion.

"My twelve-year-old daughter, Jackie, got hit by a car walking home from school," Nichols began. "She was rushed to the hospital with her skull badly crushed. My wife, Brenda, and I were sweating it out in the waiting room, when this young doc comes out.

"I told the medic to drop the suspense and cut to the chase. My coarse, blunt manner had its usual irritating effect and he just came out and said that he and the other doctors could offer us no hope for Jackie's recovery."

Nichols's wife went to pieces.

"I had one of my boys drive her home, and I gave him the number of one of Brenda's friends," Nichols said. "I told him to call the lady and ask her to come and sit with Brenda while I stayed at the hospital."

Nichols sat by his daughter's bedside for the rest of the day and all through the night. The gangster did not leave the hospital until the sun was coming up. He was walking toward his car across the deserted parking lot, when an angel appeared.

The tough racketeer dropped to his knees. "I know that I'm just a wise guy. I am not worthy to ask anything of you. But please, oh, please, do something to help my daughter. Jackie is young. Don't take her away before she's had a chance to live." The angel stood before him, silent, expressionless.

"So that's it." Nichols nodded soberly, believing that he had suddenly received some insight into the angel's master plan. "You want me, don't you? You want my life in exchange for my kid's. Okay, you've got it. Take me. Now. This minute. I don't care. I'll do whatever you say to save my baby."

Almost immediately, the angel vanished.

Uncertain of exactly what had transpired, Nichols walked slowly to his car and sat in the driver's seat for several minutes before he regained enough composure to drive home.

When he pulled into his driveway, he saw Brenda standing on their front porch with her friend, Gloria, and Bennie, one of his boys. It was apparent that she was in better control of herself and that she was about to leave for the hospital.

They embraced, and Nichols mumbled, "No improvement, babe. You go on back to sit with Jackie. I'll try to catch some winks."

A few hours later, Nichols was awakened by the ringing of the telephone at his bedside. It was Brenda calling from Jackie's hospital room.

"Sweetheart," she managed to say, "our baby just opened her eyes and smiled at me!"

The doctors could not explain what had occurred. But Jackie made a miraculous recovery, and in a few days was discharged from the hospital to convalesce at home. On the night after Jackie was discharged, Nichols had another visit from the angel.

"Okay," he said, shrugging when the glowing entity materialized before him. "It's payback time, right? Well, I always keep my word, take my soul or whatever it is you want. A deal is a deal."

For the first time, Nichols was clearly able to perceive the supernatural being's eyes, and he felt himself drawn into their incredible depths.

Jerry Nichols burst into a loud spasm of uncontrollable laughter. "That's what you want? You want me to quit the rackets?" He stopped laughing as the angel's eyes exerted their full power.

Brenda was stunned when he told her that he had made the decision to quit the rackets. "This is too much joy," she said. "My daughter's life is spared and my husband is going legit. I am going to get drunk on happiness if I'm not careful!"

A week later, when three men came to call on him, Nichols could see they did not share Brenda's happiness. He recognized each one of them. They had been close "business associates."

"You heard right, boys," Nichols replied to their direct questions. "I'm quitting the rackets and becoming a minister."

"They were very polite," Nichols recalled, "but I knew that they were very upset with me. When they asked me to come with them, I knew that they planned to kill me. I asked them please not to do it in front of the house where Brenda and Jackie could see it. They promised me that they would not."

Nichols drove with the mobsters some distance into the country. He had made up his mind that he would not beg for his life.

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