“Sister Sarah?” It was Sister Elizabeth behind me. “Who is that man? I’ve seen you talk to him before.”

I didn’t say anything.

“Is he the man who said bad things to you?” She stepped out in front of me, looking to where Johnny went, and then looked back at me. She looked around as if thinking about what to do next, then, obviously frustrated, said, “I’m right here if you need anything, okay?”

I went back to trying to talk to people walking by, but I found myself slowly meandering with a pamphlet in hand without interacting with anyone. That’s how it went for a long time—how long, I couldn’t say.

A short, stout man wandered about in circles, looking at me, before walking up. “Sister, praise Jesus. Where’s Scorpion?”

What should I do? What I dreaded ever since I found out about Johnny’s lies was now coming true.

“You don’t want to see Johnny.”

He looked at me. “Who?”

“The man you call Scorpion. He can’t help you.”

He scratched his head and looked around. “Is ‘Johnny’ around or not?”

“He’s in the alley, but…”

He walked away, ignoring all I said after him. I followed him as far as the corner, but he already had a big lead. Down the street, I could see Johnny, leaning on the wall at the entrance to the alley, smoking a cigarette. He saw the man coming toward him, and he disappeared into the dark.

“What’s going on, Sister Sarah?”

I turned to see Sister Elizabeth right behind me again. I tried to say something, but no words came out. I began to suffocate, unable to find a breath. I fell against Sister Elizabeth, who seemed surprised. Sisters Mary and Olive came over and asked what was wrong. I didn’t—couldn’t—say anything. My legs began to wobble and fail, but Sister Elizabeth held me up.

“Breathe normally, Sarah,” Sister Elizabeth said. “Deep breath, and let it out.”

Sisters Olive and Mary stood close as I saw stars. Brother Jed kept preaching and the traffic kept roaring and the lights kept flashing. People ignored us, walking back and forth and around us. It was as if I were invisible. It hit me like never before how useless I was, how inconsequential. The world would be better off without me.

Sister Elizabeth helped me walk with Sisters Mary and Olive on either side. We went to Brother Jed on his stool, still yelling as if nothing was going on, even though he was looking right at us.

“Jed, we are leaving.” Sister Elizabeth said it so firmly, I had never heard anyone talk to him like that. He stopped and started to say something, but Sister Elizabeth pulled me close, and together we walked away.


Sister Elizabeth had her arm around my shoulder, and we walked slowly along, though downtown, and finally into our neighborhood. Along the way, I told Sister Elizabeth everything through my loud sobs. She didn’t judge me, at least not openly.

Once in the apartment, I sat at the kitchen table while Sister Elizabeth heated up some water for hot chocolate.

“We have to tell the police. They’ll understand,” she said.

“I can’t.” I began to cry again. “If they find out I’d been dealing drugs, it’ll ruin everything.”

“You didn’t deal drugs. You were taken advantage of by a bad man.”

“It’ll destroy the tabernacle, and Brother Jed…”

“Brother Jed will be fine.”

“But I failed him, and I failed Jesus.”

“Trust me, Jesus has seen worse.”

I sobbed.

Sister Elizabeth rubbed my back. “Sarah, you didn’t do anything wrong.”

But I knew she was wrong. How many of the men I sent to find Johnny over the past three weeks ended up like that man who died in my arms?

“What can I do, Sister Elizabeth? I have to do something. How many people have I hurt because of my arrogance?”

I wanted to save someone, but I only hurt more people. Had I been responsible for the death of more men? I remembered all the people at his funeral.  The kind Dorothy Bussey, the man’s aunt. Then I remembered Caleb and his nonprofit New Path that tried to help Mr. Finnegan. Maybe he could help in some way? I told Sister Elizabeth about him.

“Maybe you could help Caleb. Maybe that would make you feel better.”

Help Caleb? How could I help him? But then I had an idea.


Sister Elizabeth and I walked back to our apartment. The trees bare, the air brittle but familiar and warm to my soul. We passed old brownstones, some boarded up, one with Christmas lights on the balcony. Two men carrying large garbage bags of what appeared to be cans walked down the middle of the street. We said nothing for the longest time. Until, “Sister Sarah, are you sure you want to do this? Go to street ministry tonight?”

Did I have a choice? Brother Jed said I should go. Brother Jed knew what was best. Brother Jed was like a father to me. Not age-wise, mind you—he was only thirty-two. I mean spiritually. Three years before he saved me, both my soul and probably my life.

My father was—and may God forgive me for saying this—an evil, evil man. He drank. He didn’t have a job. I never knew my mother; she left him and me when I was just a baby. I was an only child; Grams raised me and took care of my father at the same time.

We lived in an old former farmhouse on the edge of the cities, slowly being surrounded by big houses and new highways. We had nothing, barely enough to eat but always enough for liquor and cigarettes. When I still went to school, I could see that other girls had very different lives, ones they never let me into. I did not have friends because when another girl started getting close, sooner or later she would want to play after school or, worse, come over to our house, and that could never happen.

Then my grams died, and my one anchor and savior was gone. I cried for days, not only from the loss of someone I loved so, but also for my future.

I was right to cry. My father made me drop out of school. I cooked and cleaned and did everything around the house. I tried hard, but never hard enough. When I cooked dinner, it was too cold or too hot or too spicy or not spicy enough. When I cleaned the bathroom, I missed a spot. When I mowed the grass, I did it wrong. He was sick in the morning and drunk in the afternoon.

Soon I never left the house. At first, I looked out the kitchen window and wished I could go back to school. I began to accept that what I could see was all there was. Then one day, my father said, “It’s time you became a woman,” his breath smelling sweet from whiskey. At first, I didn’t know what he was talking about. I was eighteen, and I had had my period for years. Then he grabbed my wrists and flung me on the floor.

The next day, while he was still asleep, I got dressed and left. I took what change and a few bills I had hidden and walked away.

Eventually, I found a bus stop. I ended up at the downtown Minneapolis library, sitting on a bench. I had no possessions, no plan, no anything.

That’s where Brother Jed found me.

He told me the Word of the Lord and told me that I had a good home, both in this world and the next, if I knew Jesus. He gave me my wood cross and said it would protect me.

I again had a savior. I never went home again.

I knew I would be dead or worse if it weren’t for Brother Jed.

“Thank you for your concern, Sister Elizabeth,” I said. “I think Brother Jed is right.”


The evening was cool and clear and dry, and the street crowded as if people were getting in one last stroll before winter made us bundle up and hide. An hour had passed, and I hadn’t seen Johnny or Scorpion or whatever his name was. I started to believe that he wouldn’t come when I saw him round the corner, walking right at me. He stopped too close, looking down. I didn’t know what to do. I looked forward at his chest. He had on his usual army coat, and I noticed for the first time how tattered it was.

“Are we good, Sister?”

I didn’t say anything.

“The alley.” He turned and walked off the way he came. I stood as still as a statue. If I sent men to him, would I be sinning? Did Jesus send customers to the moneychangers? No, he tipped their tables over. Brother Jed was yelling to the traffic about the end of the world, and I understood how right he was.



I WOKE UP IN MY ROOM, IN MY OWN BED. I couldn’t remember how I got there; I must have passed out or blocked out our walk home. It was dark, except for a sliver from the streetlight coming in through the curtain. I did not move. In the gray, I could see Sister Elizabeth next to me in a chair. “Sister Elizabeth?”

“Sarah, welcome back to us. We were worried about you.”

“I’m so tired.”

“You get some sleep. I’ll be right here if you need anything.”

I closed my eyes. It wasn’t that I felt tired; it was more that I felt heavy, too heavy to move.

How could I have been so stupid? How could I not see that I was being used? How could I let the devil toy with me like that? I wanted to be close to Jesus. I wanted to do what he would do, but everywhere I turned, the devil was using me like a cat with a ball. I wanted to lead a righteous life, but I ended up doing the opposite.

I laid there, turning it over in my mind. But I must have been tired after all because next it was day. The curtains were still drawn, but the light poured through anyway. I could hear voices in the living room. It was Sister Elizabeth and Brother Jed. I didn’t hear Sisters Olive or Mary, but maybe they were there and just quiet.

“She’s a sensitive girl, Jed,” Sister Elizabeth said.

He said something I couldn’t make out.

“Yes, but maybe she should stay home for a while. We don’t know why she had a panic attack.”

“We know why, Elizabeth.”

“Yes, Jed, the devil. But something must have happened.”

He said something too muffled to understand.

“No, I think I should talk to her this time.”

“She needs my help. I must help her, Elizabeth.”

“Yes, but…”

There was a bang that sounded like someone slapping the top of the table. It must have been Brother Jed, but he sounded calm when he said, “That is my decision.”


I spent the rest of what turned out to be the morning in bed. I didn’t want anyone to know I was awake, and no one came in until almost noon, when Sister Elizabeth slowly opened the door. “Sarah?”

I moved slowly, sitting up, not looking at her.

“Feeling any better?”

I nodded.

“Want to talk about it?”

I shook my head no.

“That’s okay. Hungry? Want some soup?”

I got up slowly. I was in my PJs—how had I gotten in my PJs? I followed Sister Elizabeth into the dining room and sat at the table.

Sister Elizabeth went to the stove and ladled me out a bowl of chicken noodle soup from a big pot. She reached into the cabinet and got out a box of crackers, which she set in the middle of the table.

“Mary and Olive are already at the tabernacle. But no hurry. Have your soup.” She laid a spoon in front of me.

I tasted the soup. It felt good going down.

She sat across from me, elbows on the table, chin on her fists, looking at me. “You know, you can always talk to me. You know that, right? We are friends. You can tell me anything, and that won’t change.”

I nodded and had another spoon of soup.


Two hours later, I was at the tabernacle, sitting in a chair on the edge of the stage across from Brother Jed. It was just the two of us this time. Sisters Olive and Mary were walking back to the apartment, and Elizabeth was busy in the back. “So that man swore at you? And made an obscene gesture? What else?”

“That was all. I’m sorry. I think I’m still upset about that man dying in the alley. It just affected me wrong. It won’t happen again.” I had decided on the way there that I wouldn’t tell him or anyone—couldn’t tell him or anyone—what happened. Pride? I told myself that that wasn’t it. More that I was afraid I would singlehandedly destroy the One Path Tabernacle with my arrogance and stupidity. Save someone? Me?

“Sister Sarah, people say the meanest things to me as well, every night. You know it is not them. They either are possessed with demons or are demons themselves. Either way, we have to be strong.”

“Strong like Jesus on the cross.”

“Exactly. Like Jesus on the cross.”

Sister Elizabeth came out of the stage door carrying two big garbage bags. They looked heavy. She put them down and came over.

“Sister Sarah is feeling much better,” Jed said.

She said she was glad to hear that.

“Tonight will go better. We’ll be strong,” Brother Jed said.

I was shocked—I thought for sure that I would have a day or two to figure out what I was going to do. “No! Please! I can’t go back to that corner!” If I went back to the corner, I would have to either help the devil or tell Brother Jed what happened.

“You just rest tonight, sweetheart,” Sister Elizabeth said, massaging my shoulder.

“I don’t think that’s wise,” Brother Jed said. “Will it be any easier to go back tomorrow or the next day or the next? The longer she waits, the harder it will be.”

“Brother Jed, Sister Sarah is not well.” She sounded so strong, so defiant.

“She’s fine. Aren’t you fine, Sister?” He looked at me. They both looked at me.

I just looked down.

“It’s best to confront our demons. That is my decision,” Brother Jed said with that look we all knew so well.

What I didn’t know well was the look Sister Elizabeth gave him back.



“Have you heard the Word of the Lord?” I said, holding out a pamphlet to the Shinders girl and a man in an usher uniform.

“I think so. Isn’t the Word of the Lord a band out of Athens, Georgia?” she said, and they continued toward Sixth Street. I never understood what she was talking about, but I knew I did not like it.

It was only eight, and I felt like a drowned rabbit, my hair, scarf, everything dripping wet. Worse, the drizzle made it so no one was out, and Brother Jed said it was time to go. I had to tell Johnny we were leaving. I hurried down the street to the Venice Café. In the alley, water ran down the center of the pavement to the gutter, oily puddles forming in potholes, the rain washing away most of the usual urine smell. Ahead, Johnny and the dirty man stood close. A headlight from the other end of the alley lit up the scene, startling them both just as Johnny handed the man a small bag. Then the headlight was gone.

But I knew what I saw.

The dirty man left as I walked up. “Praise the Lord,” he said walking by.

“You are a drug dealer!” I yelled, pointing right in Johnny’s face.

“No, Sister Sarah, not at all. That was just the man’s medication.”

“I cannot believe I let you fool me!” It was so obvious! Forgive me, Jesus, but I got so angry. I felt anger like Jesus must have felt in the temple.

“You got it wrong, Sister. Let’s pray.”

“I will pray. Pray for your soul. Pray that the devil leaves you before it is too late.”

He laughed. “Yeah, you do that, Sister Jean Skirt.”

“You did kill Mr. Finnegan, didn’t you?” I wanted to believe that he was a good man so much that I was blind to the devil!

“He did it to himself. What, I’m responsible for these losers? I just help them out with a little of my top-shelf stuff. That’s all.” He gave a little laugh, almost a cough. “And don’t try to go to the police, Sister. You’ve been my best salesman for almost a month, and I suspect you don’t want them to know that. I bet you don’t want Brother Goofball to know how helpful you’ve been, either.”

I felt lost, and my anger began to change to fear. I turned to walk away. He grabbed me by the arm, spinning me around to face him, his breath smelling of cigarettes and alcohol.

“I’m serious, Jean Skirt. Our arrangement stays the same. You keep sending people to me, or everyone is going to know that you’ve been dealing drugs. You hear me?”

He squeezed my arm so hard I wanted to cry out in pain, but I did not. I did not make any noise at all.

He pulled me closer. “Well?”

I nodded.

“Say it. I want to hear you say it.” He shook me; I felt as if I was not a person.

“Send people to you.”

“That’s right. And if you’re good at it, someday we can talk about your getting a taste for yourself.” I did not know what he meant. But then, “I bet you could use a couple bucks for your little church or whatever you want to do with it.” He smiled. “A new wardrobe, for example.” He laughed.

He pushed me away. I knew I was looking at pure evil. I started walking backward, unable to avert my eyes.

He stepped out of the shadows and pointed. “Go on. Do what I told you.” I stopped, so many thoughts happening at once, and he yelled, “Beat it, Jean Skirt!”

I turned and ran up the alley, back to the street. When I came out onto Seventh Street, I ran into a young man in platform shoes. I staggered and grabbed him by his shoulders; he did not seem real. He yelled something, and I let go of his shoulders and ran up Seventh to Brother Jed, who was reaching his peak, Bible held up to the sky. I stopped, one hand on the wall of Shinders and the other on my chest, as if I were feeling for my heartbeat. The more I breathed, the more I could not catch my breath. The chaos and noise of people walking back and forth and the lights flashing and the smell of perfume and sewage and the music from bars and boxes on shoulders made the world spin faster and faster and faster until I fell to my knees. I still held the wall above me, my chest swelling and ebbing, and then Sister Mary touched my shoulder. She said something. Then I saw Sister Elizabeth and Sister Olive’s feet before me, and they said something. “The devil,” was all I said as the rain came down.


“Sister Sarah, my name is Johnny, although I usually go by my ’Nam helicopter pilot name of Scorpion. To answer your question, yes, I have heard the Good Word. Sister Sarah, should we take a minute to pray for—what was Black Jack’s name again?”

“Mr. Finnegan.”

“Mr. Finnegan?”

“Yes,” I said. “Yes, that would be good.”

We both lowered our heads and prayed. I felt Jesus in me. I felt so happy to be there. Brother Jed says Jesus never closes a door without opening another.

“Amen,” Johnny said.


I told him about finding Mr. Finnegan. He seemed saddened for him and concerned for me. Johnny seemed quite sweet. Then he told me about all the people in the area who use drugs and how many of them had been in Vietnam like him. He told me all about being there. He said the things he saw, no one should ever have to see. He told me about his social work, trying to get these men off drugs, to save them from themselves. Yes, that man at the Venice had Johnny all wrong. I had no doubt.

“Sister Sarah, I have an idea. Would you be interested in helping me with my work?”


“Perhaps when you are here working for Brother Jed, you can help me, too. All you’d need to do is send people over. That’s all. When one of my friends asks where I am, all you have to do is steer him to me, and I’ll take care of him. What do you say?”


AND THAT WAS WHAT WE DID. That next Monday evening, shortly after Brother Jed, Sisters Elizabeth, Mary, Olive, and I went to work on the corner as usual, Johnny pulled me aside and asked if our plan was a go. I said yes, but I felt funny about not telling the others. Johnny explained that it was important not to get too many people involved. The needs were many, and he was just one man. If people came to see him from all of us at once, he could not do his work. Plus, he said, he did not want attention for his work, because if he got attention, the drug addicts would not trust him any longer. Best to keep it between us, he said, and he made me promise I would. I thought it strange, but working with drug addicts was well beyond my experience, so I thought I should do as he said.

Johnny spent the evening leaning on the wall outside of Shinders. When people approached him, he would point me out, and they would leave together. Johnny would then return to the corner alone, only to repeat it again the next time someone came up to him. Within a week, Johnny would come over at the beginning of the evening and tell me where he would be if anyone asked, for example, in the alley, in Moby Dick’s, or in the parking lot around the corner. Soon five or six men a night would come up to me and get a pamphlet and say, “Praise Jesus, sister! Do you know where Scorpion is?” and I would tell them. At the end of the evening, I would find Johnny to let him know I was leaving, and we would pray.

Meanwhile, Brother Jed said he was proud of me because he could see that I not only handed out more pamphlets than the other sisters did, but I had developed what appeared to be my own following. I helped Johnny with his social work with the Vietnam vets, and at the same time, I helped the One Path Tabernacle and Brother Jed. I could not have been happier.



We had been at it for three weeks or so, and it was going splendidly. “Yes, praise be to Jesus, brother.” It was that same man in jeans, dirty tennis shoes, and a sweat shirt who I had always wanted to connect with, the same one who almost bumped into Mr. Finnegan that night. “So where’s Scorpion?”

“He is in the alley behind the Venice.” I handed him a pamphlet and felt proud to be finally of help to this man.

A cold, drizzly evening, one of those November rains that chills a person from head to toe. Still, how the rain shimmered from the neon lights was magical, making me see God even on a night like this on a street like Hennepin.


I walked down the street, away from the avenue, past the World and then the Academy theaters, past a liquor store, a Japanese restaurant, and a bar on the corner. I did not see anyone who looked like the man the cook described. I thought I’d walk around the block. It was much quieter off Hennepin Avenue. I continued past a parking lot where I could see a man standing between two cars. He was urinating. I averted my eyes and hurried on. I got to the other corner in front of a little Latin restaurant and turned right. Still no sign of anyone matching that description. I walked past another parking lot, the entrance to a bowling alley, and finally back to Hennepin Avenue. The corner again teemed with all kinds of people lit by neon and fluorescent lights, and I held my cross for strength. I walked back toward Seventh past Brady’s Bar, McDonalds, and then a horrible sex theater. The theater door opened, almost knocking me over, and an old man with sunglasses and a cane with a white tip came out. He stopped, sideways to me, facing traffic. “Braille movies,” he said, maybe to me, maybe to no one, and then walked on down the avenue, tapping along, chasing people out of his way with his cane.

Outside of Moby Dick’s, a bar, a man wearing an army coat leaned against the wall. He smoked a cigarette and looked around. I had seen him before—I tried to give him literature in the past, but I do not think he ever took it. I stopped and watched. People kept moving back and forth, and he stood there, not doing anything, looking red from the Moby Dick’s sign. Could he be the man who sold Mr. Finnegan the drugs that killed him?

I asked Jesus for strength and walked up to him.

“Excuse me, sir,” I said. He ignored me. “Excuse me, sir. Mr. Scorpion?”

He looked down at me. He must have been at least a foot taller.

“Who the fuck are you?”

My voice wavered. “Sir, may I ask you a question?”


“I am sorry to bother you, I really am. But I have to know: Did you know this man?” I held the program up for him to see. My hands shook. I tried hard to be steady, but he must have noticed.

He looked at the program. He looked at me. “You’re the shortest pig I’ve ever met.”

For a second, I did not understand what he meant. “No, sir. I am not a police officer.”

He looked at the picture again. “What do you want with Black Jack?”

That took me back. Could he not know?

“Are you a relative or something? That’s it, isn’t it? I’ve seen him around, sure. He’s pretty messed up. I tried to help him. He has a drug problem, you know.”

“I know. He died of an overdose.”

He looked at me. He looked around, left and right, and walked forward to the curb as if studying the street. I did not know what to do, so I stood there, holding the program and my wood cross. He flicked his cigarette into the gutter and came back. “Now that’s a real shame, that is. He was a nice guy. It’s just plain too bad when these guys get hooked on the hard stuff. I’ve seen it so many times.”

“Do you work with New Path?”

He looked at me long and said, “How would you know about New Path? No, I don’t work there. But that’s the idea. I’m more of a free agent. I try to help these men on my own. See, I used to be in ’Nam. I saw a lot of guys get strung out there, and I would try to help. Since I got back, I’ve kept in touch with many of them, so I come down here to see if they need anything. I’m like a social worker.”

Could it be true? Maybe the man at the Venice was wrong. Maybe this man Scorpion was a good man after all. “Have you heard the Word of the Lord?”

He looked at me and smiled. “That’s where I’ve seen you before. You work the corner for that street preacher.”

“Brother Jed, yes.”

He laughed. “So you are not a relative of that guy?”


“I see. What’s your name?”

“Sister Sarah.”


My first stop was the Venice Café. I was struck by the quiet—it was a relief from the noise on the street. I had never been in before, and the smell of garlic reminded me of my grams. There were not many customers, just three booths occupied with men alone with coffee and one older, well-dressed couple eating dinner at a table in the middle. It was nicer than I imagined with a beautiful mural on one wall—I knew the painting of Venice did not celebrate the Lord, but still, did not Jesus give us beauty to bring us joy? But I knew what Brother Jed would say.

“One?” said a tall, curly-haired Latin woman behind the register.

“One?” I replied.

A short but uncomfortable pause, and then, “Yes, is it only you for dinner?”

Silly me. “Oh, I am not here for food.” I walked over to her counter. I pulled the program from the funeral out of my jean skirt pocket and showed her the photo. “Did you know this man?”

She took the program and leaned over with both elbows on the counter.

I began to explain. “I saw Mr. Finnegan leave here before—”

“Mr. Finnegan? That was his name? You saw him leave here before he walked into the alley and died.” She sighed. “Yeah, he—Finnegan, eh?—was something of a regular. Well, ‘regular’ isn’t quite right. That would make him an actual customer. Came in once in a while and got coffee, but usually we would just kick him out.”

“Was he drinking coffee the night he died?”

“Are you a cop? There’s no way you’re a cop.” She stood up straight and laughed. “Mousy little thing like you. Why do you ask?”

“I am not sure.” I told her my story.

She shook her head. “Wow, what a trip. How are you holding up? Not well, if you’re fishing around here for answers.”

I do not know if I appreciated her tone, but I think she meant well, and I forgave.

“No, he wasn’t having coffee that night,” she said. “He came in and went right back to the bathroom. He locked himself in, shot up, and then Noah kicked his ass out.” She turned toward the kitchen. “Hey, Noah!” she yelled and then turned back to me. “Just a second.” She went to the back and returned with a large man who looked like a cook, wiping his hands on his apron as he walked. She picked up the program, handed it to him, and explained what I wanted.

“That guy?” He pointed at the picture. “Yeah, he was always around. He got food out of our dumpster all the time, and sometimes I’d give him leftovers at the end of the night. Actually, he was kind of a turkey. He’d shoot up in the bathroom. That’s why he came in that night; in fact, he left all his shit right there on the sink. Have you ever seen a junkie forget his works? Forget to eat, forget their name, forget they’re human— but they never forget their works. It’s as if he knew he had no use for it anymore.” He handed the program back to me. “Funny, the man dies, and the cops never even bothered to ask us any questions. No one has. You’re the first. Sad.”

“Did he have any friends?”

“I sure never saw him with anyone. Well, except for Scorpion, this dealer who works the block. But Scorpion is certainly no one’s friend.”

“Where can I find ‘Scorpion’?”

“Generally out on the street here—tall, scruffy guy, long hair, wears an old army jacket. But believe me, young lady, you don’t want to talk to him.”

I thanked them and left. I stood outside the door, right where I first saw Mr. Finnegan. Reaching in my pocket, I squeezed my cross. A young man walked down the sidewalk from Hennepin, obviously very drunk. As he passed, our eyes met. He stopped. I squeezed the cross even harder. He wavered a moment, then continued on. Was I really up to this task? I closed my eyes and prayed quietly to myself, asking for Jesus’s help.