People do not talk about it, but they know that sometimes you will see a young man that looks hungry or a girl who has not slept inside for days. They have a look to them, the ones whose families have abandoned them, who have come to the Big Apple to find people who know what it is to be different. More often than not, these kids fall through the cracks, but if they are lucky someone might slip them the address of Sergeant Sarah’s place and they will find a temporary home.
There are rumors about Sgt. Sarah. Some people say she was in the army during Korea, that she had been a nurse there. Others say that she had been a lady police officer who went after the made men in Manhattan. Still others say she had been in the Salvation Army, which honestly seems most likely given what she does for the community. However, what everyone does agree on, when they are asked, is that whatever organization Sarah was in definitely booted her out because of Sky.
Sky Masterson, some say her mother called her Rebecca and that her father called her trouble. She could often be found on the steps of Sgt. Sarah’s place—she almost never came in for the prayer meetings Sarah held in the storefront, but she would point people who looked like they were looking in the right direction. The residents in the dormitories were never sure how to act around her. They said she was connected and you could definitely believe it. She was always dressed impeccably, her man’s suit tailored perfectly. She felt like the closest thing you could get to Marlene Dietrich or Katherine Hepburn. She would sit in the common room playing solitaire while Sgt. Sarah sat next to her reading the Bible, just as they had every night for at least twenty years.
“Don’t even think about it, Sky.”
“I see you eyeing those kids in the corner. They have enough temptation without you trying to take the little bit of money that they have.”
“Sarah, I was just—“
“And you have enough temptation, too.”
“Could I maybe tempt you in another way?”
“I could be tempted, but later.” Sarah smiled and Sky happily went back to her cards.
They were sweet ladies. If you asked Sarah, she would tell you they had a Boston marriage. If you asked Sky, she would say that Sarah was her dame and whatever that dame wanted she would get. The evidence was clear in that they lived in a mission when they could be living in luxury.
“Jesus told his followers to give all their worldly goods to the poor and follow him.”
“I guess it is good then that you do not have us living on the street.”
“Well, that would be impractical for the work we want to do.”
“Maybe though, you would agree to a vacation somewhere warm this winter.”
“I might be persuaded. Ask me again in the fall. Nicely could be trusted to run the shop for a week or so.”
There were sometimes men who came around the place. They would use the storefront when Sarah was not having a prayer meeting or the kitchen when she was. They would nod politely to Nicely-Nicely as he showed them to whatever room they had that day and no one would be allowed in there while they were there, except for Sky who would at times join them. There were those who said that the deference they showed her was because she was a woman. There were others who more rightly said it was because she was Somebody. If Sgt. Sarah’s mission was partly funded by less than legal means, no one would say anything. And, of course, Sarah herself would never be found in their meetings. She would accept the baked goods their wives sent over and invite them to the prayer meetings. Sometimes a few would actually come. When they did, the new residents got nervous, especially those who had shown up at Sarah’s door bruised or bloody. They would try to sit as far from the obvious gangsters as possible, but the regulars who still came to the meetings even after moving out on their own would greet these made men and ask after their families. Once you got used to the gangsters and the insistence on Christian behavior (“Love and respect for everyone, even yourselves. We are all God’s children.”), Sgt. Sarah’s mission was a great place to get on your feet.
Angel nearly jumped when the gangster crossed the room to talk to her.
“My sister has a shop and needs some help running the counter.”
“Is that right?”
“Sarah says that people like you and that you are good with numbers. My sister could use someone like that.”
Angel’s heart tried to escape from her chest. “She could?”
“Yeah. Would you be interested in a job?”
“It wouldn’t be anything, anything illegal?”
The gangster looked offended. “My sister is a respectable businesswoman and a widow. She is not the type to get involved in anything, how would you say, nefarious. I almost am tempted to take back my offer of the job despite how much I respect Sarah’s recommendations.”
“No! I would love a job!”
“Excellent. I will tell my sister that you will start on Monday.”
The thing about Detective Murphy was that he was determined to make Captain and he knew that making a name for himself on one of these raids they kept having was the best way to do it. After weeks of staking out this one den of iniquity that called itself a bar, he had noticed that there were always patrons who left and went to a place called Sergeant Sarah’s Mission. Everything in his gut told Murphy that something was just not right about that place. In his off hours, he took to strolling past the so-called mission and stopping in at the diner on the corner. There were all kinds of the wrong kind of people going into that building night and day. He was sure he had brought some of those deviants in after a raid down on 7th a few months back. The strangest sight, however, had to be the man in the Santa suit who left in the morning with a bell and came back in time for the supposed evening prayer meeting. Every time he watched that building he saw something that shocked him.
It was on one of his stops to the diner that he saw them, the men in the dapper suits, and he knew instantaneously what sort of place this really was—a brothel. And he knew exactly who the madam had to be, that bitch in the suit all the lowlifes nodded to when they entered the place. After seeing them come a few more times, he had enough to make a case for a raid. His chief and the DA agreed and the date was set.
The night of the raid on Sgt. Sarah’s mission was legendary. Go in the right kind of bar and ask someone who looks like they have been around a while and they will tell you. There was never a more ridiculous sight. The fuzz showed up during a prayer service and instead of finding hookers, they found people singing hymns and reading the Bible. The cops who forced their way into the dorms found no illicit substances or acts—Sarah did not permit such things in her establishment. In the common room, they did find people playing cards, but it was gin rummy.
However, just as they were about to give up, Murphy forced his way through one more door and there sitting at the kitchen table and eating a slice of cheesecake was the most wanted man in New York City, the head of the biggest crime family in the city, whom no one had seen since they got enough dirt on him to put him away for good. Murphy had gone to bust up a non-existent brothel and came out the hero that took down the mob.
Of course, he did not really take down the mob, just one old gangster. He may have been the head of one family, but heads can always be replaced.
“Sarah, I have something important to tell you.”
“Does it have anything to do with the stains that the police left on my rugs or the vacation we will not be taking because of these stains and repairs?”
“Sadly, it does not and I would like to get back to the matter of the vacation later, but I must inform you of something that I know you will not like.”
“You are not filling me with much confidence, dear.”
“You know that I had promised you not to engage in any illegal activity and that I have kept my promise all these years?”
“I can feel my confidence getting smaller and smaller.”
“I fear that I may not be able to keep that vow as I have just been named the head of the Family.”
Sarah sighed and shook her head. Then determined, she raised her eyes to Sky’s and asked, “I don’t suppose there’s any way to turn it into a legitimate import business, is there?”