METAIRIE,LA.,FEB. 24 -- Victory over flesh does not come easily.

-- Jimmy Swaggart

According to those who inhabit the demimonde along Airline Highway, a seedy strip of no-tell motels, their neon lights flashing adult movies, water beds and rooms by the hour, he pursued a secret life. At times, he wore hats, or sunglasses, or headbands, combing his blond hair down in front, "as if he were hiding," says a woman who has been registered for some time at Tony's Motel as Peggy Carrier.

When checking in, he always "used the girls' names to register," never his own, according to "Mr. Mike," the owner of four cut-rate motels along the strip. Over the last "two or three years," the motel owner says, he watched one of the country's most powerful Pentecostal holy men -- a man who once called himself an "old-fashioned, Holy-Ghost-filled, shouting, weeping, soul-winning, gospel-preaching preacher" -- rent rooms here in the shadow of an ominous billboard with words warning, "Your Eternity Is at Stake."

Cruising about in his Lincoln Town Car, Jimmy Swaggart was wrestling Satan and his obsession down on the bayou. By his own account, he lost that round, confessing on nationwide television last Sunday to unspecified "sins" and stepping down from his $150 million global TV ministry. He admitted to paying a prostitute to perform a pornographic act, sources said, and to a lifelong fascination with pornography.

Now he awaits fates loosed last Oct. 17, when he drove into a motel parking lot here. A camera clicked, capturing Swaggart as he entered a room with a local woman reported to be a prostitute. Then, the man with the camera, or someone with him, picked up a phone and alerted Marvin Gorman, 54, a flamboyant local preacher who a year earlier was defrocked by the Assemblies of God after Swaggart, 52, accused him of numerous acts of adultery.

Did Gorman perhaps savor a sweet taste of vengeance when he took that call?

"I have been asked, 'Have I been involved in a vindictive way,' and the answer is, 'No,' " declared Gorman at a Monday night prayer meeting. "That's so far from my nature, it's not worth addressing ... I'm praying earnestly for the Swaggarts."

Silenced by his lawyers while he pursues a $90 million defamation lawsuit against Swaggart, Gorman says little in public. But a Gorman confidant says that in private he tells a saga of sex, sin and betrayal that goes like this:

For years, he had received anonymous calls about Swaggart's hidden life, but didn't believe them and took no action. Then, last year, he urged one of the anonymous callers to contact a man in his church who had experience in such matters, and surveillance began.

"He's here," Gorman's Swaggart-stalker reportedly said, moments after catching Gorman's nemesis on film with a reputed hooker. "Hurry up," he told Gorman. To buy time, he disabled Swaggart's car by yanking out the tire valves.

Gorman knew the area well. It was about a mile from his old church, the First Assembly Church of God, an imposing yellow brick structure he resigned from as pastor after the Assemblies dismissed him for immoral acts in August 1986. Facing bankruptcy, he had set up a new church in a drafty warehouse nearby. That night, he threw on some old clothes to venture forth incognito.

Arriving at the motel, according to the Gorman friend, he found Swaggart in a jogging suit and sneakers, hunched over his car, ministering to his ailing tire. "Jimmy!" Gorman yelled out, but Swaggart kept his head down.

Gorman confronted Swaggart. They climbed into Gorman's car; and, according to the Gorman confidant, the Pentecostal inquisitor broke down and confessed that he'd had a problem "for some time." For two hours he wept, begging Gorman to show mercy in the same way other wayward preachers had begged to Swaggart over the years before Swaggart, as one evangelist put it, "ground them to dust."

According to Gorman's version, Swaggart pleaded with him to drop the matter, offering Gorman and his family jobs with the Jimmy Swaggart Ministries. When Gorman declined, Swaggart vowed to seek help and confess to church authorities.

Swaggart confidants deny jobs were ever offered Gorman, charging instead that Gorman attempted to use the incident as leverage to get Swaggart to recant the sex charges against him.

"It was extortion," says a Swaggart adviser. "Now, he's just trying to destroy Jimmy."

For months, nothing happened. Frustrated with Swaggart's inaction, Gorman told friends, he blew the whistle. Photographs were dispatched to the Assemblies of God board of presbyters in Springfield, Mo., and the latest evangelical scandal broke.

Louisiana district church officials have banned Swaggart from preaching for at least three months, but Assemblies of God leaders have indicated the penalty may be stiffened, scheduling a special meeting of the church's 13-member executive presbytery for Thursday. Swaggart suffered another blow when the Christian Broadcasting Network said it would cancel Swaggart's show for as long as he is banned.

James Hamill of Memphis, a member of the general council of the Assemblies of God, told a Baton Rouge TV station that the pictures "showed a motel -- a crummy little thing built in an L-shape -- they showed the number of this particular room and a woman accused of being a prostitute admitting several different men into the room, and eventually Jimmy Swaggart going into the room and later coming out of the room ...

"When he went into the room, they called Reverend Gorman and he came down and Jimmy Swaggart was changing his tire, and there's pictures of he and Gorman talking to one another," Hamill said. Swaggart struggled with the tire and "he put the wheel on backwards," Hamill said.

Sources say Swaggart has wrestled with a darker side for years, struggling to tame urges he found difficult to control, as he fasted and prayed. He has declined to discuss or comment on the charges against him.

Swaggart also brought in upwards of $500,000 a week preaching against sin and all its dangers: "Pornography," he once wrote, "titillates and captivates the sickest of the sick and makes them slaves to their own consuming lusts ... ensnares its victims in a living hell."

Two Preachers When he was riding high, Marvin Gorman drew as many as 5,000 worshipers a week and boasted a budget of $4.5 million a year. He produced a five-day-a-week TV show that aired in all 50 states under the auspices of Marvin Gorman Ministries.

He was close to Jim Bakker, appearing often on "The Jim and Tammy Show," buying air time for his own show on PTL's Inspirational Network, as did Swaggart until he was canceled in 1986.

It was in the summer of '86 that Swaggart apparently picked up the scent of Gorman's alleged secret life, and on July 15 of that year, summoned the tall, silver-haired preacher to his Baton Rouge domain. There, Gorman was accused of "numerous immoral acts over a number of years with several women," according to Gorman's lawsuit. A New Orleans civil district judge threw out the defamation suit last September, saying the fight was a religious dispute that didn't belong in court. A March 3 appeal is set before the state appeals court here.

Why would a giant like Swaggart care about the indiscretions of Gorman? "Marvin's ministry was blessed, and was growing too fast," says a Gorman friend who knows both men well. "I know it doesn't sound logical, but Jimmy was a little jealous. He was afraid Marvin might get too big."

By his own account, Gorman confessed to a lone fling "with one woman" seven years earlier, saying that he had "repented and had been forgiven by God for this act and that he hoped to be forgiven by his brethren, congregation and family ... since these gentlemen now wished to expose the matter in public."

But Swaggart, in their Baton Rouge face-off, charged Gorman with other affairs, said he had yet to repent and urged him to vacate the ministry to seek "rehabilitation," according to the lawsuit, which further portrays their encounter:

The next day, at the request of his board, Gorman resigned from his pulpit and church, anticipating a discreet announcement that would allow him to carry on his TV ministry. For Swaggart, it was not enough, the lawsuit says. Swaggart insisted Gorman should abandon "the ministry in its entirety," submit to two years of rehabilitation and walk away from his TV operation and "others depending on its existence." Gorman refused.

Spearheading what Gorman portrayed as a brotherly lynch mob, Swaggart helped prepare a church statement accusing Gorman of "numerous adulterous and illicit affairs" -- a statement read to Gorman's former flock July 20, 1986. Three weeks later, Gorman was permanently dismissed from his denomination after Swaggart wrote Louisiana District Superintendent Cecil Janway. It was Janway who this week urged leniency for Swaggart in his hour of crisis.

"Brother Gorman confessed to two different immoral dalliances," wrote Swaggart on Aug. 20, 1986, in a letter attached as an exhibit to Gorman's lawsuit. Swaggart said he was among those who heard the confession. "However, he only did that when the women involved confessed and he had no alternative or choice."

Swaggart's letter warned officials against believing Gorman's version: "Brother Gorman must be handled in exactly the same manner as any other minister of the Gospel in our District -- no more, no less," wrote Swaggart. "I want it to be clearly understood that I will take whatever steps I feel are necessary to see that this situation is not covered up and that Marvin is not treated differently than any other minister ..."

District officials delivered their verdict, according to the lawsuit, reciting "evidence" that Gorman had sinned: "adultery, illicit affairs, unscriptural lascivious conduct with women who came to him for counseling ... We cannot minimize the loathsomeness of sin or the horrendous consequences of sin and the damage, hurt and pain it can bring ..."

Gorman claims that he was denied the chance to review the evidence, and that women cited by the church had no complaint against him.

Among evidence Gorman claims Swaggart and other officials used was testimony from the Devil himself, who spoke during an exorcism. A New Orleans minister was quoted in Gorman's suit as an example of the shaky evidence that state denomination officials used against him:

"I was conducting an exorcism at my church on a 'deaf, mute young lady,' " said the minister, "and during the service, she went into a sort of fit of rage.

"And when I cast the devil out {of her}, the devil then spoke in a man's voice and that man's voice was ... Marvin Gorman ... I have heard that voice many times and I was sure it was the voice of Marvin Gorman."

According to the minister, Satan threatened during the exorcism that "because the Devil's messenger {Gorman} had been hurt," the Devil aimed to "bring out an attack that would" hurt area churches.

Gorman said such "slander" cost him dearly. He lost financing for assorted projects. Facing $2 million in debts, he filed for reorganization under bankruptcy laws, charging in his suit that Swaggart and other ministry officials conspired to ruin him with false reports of adulterous affairs. The Bakker Connection Among Gorman's few steadfast allies during Swaggart's attacks was Jim Bakker, who, in the months before the PTL scandal broke last March, took up Gorman's cause on "The Jim and Tammy Show."

"Jim said, 'If he gets Gorman, he'll get me next,' " recalls Don Hardister, PTL's former top security man. "Jim was saying, 'This thing with Gorman happened seven or eight years ago,' " about the same time as Bakker's then-secret dalliance with Jessica Hahn.

Hardister says he wondered "why he was making such a big deal about" Gorman. "If we don't have anything to hide, what do we care?" Hardister recalls telling Bakker.

Grateful for Bakker's support, one of Gorman's sons, Mark, a budding evangelist, wept backstage after one PTL show. Bakker embraced him. Yet Bakker's televised defense of Gorman irritated denomination officials.

Swaggart, for his part, was furious, demanding Bakker fly to Baton Rouge to hear evidence against Gorman, say former Bakker aides. Bakker declined, and instead dispatched the Rev. Richard Dortch, Bakker's top administrator and a longtime Swaggart friend.

Bakker kept defending Gorman. Swaggart, meanwhile, was becoming more vocal in his denunciations of prosperity theology -- obvious allusions to Bakker and his religious theme park in Fort Mill, S.C.

In October 1986, to curtail what one former PTL official calls Swaggart's "smart remarks," Bakker kicked Swaggart off his PTL network. Also removed from PTL programming was Tennessee evangelist John Ankerberg, who last year joined Swaggart in instigating the church investigation of the sex scandal that brought down Bakker's empire. Swaggart called Bakker a "cancer" on God's kingdom, sneering at "pretty little boys with their hair done and their nails done, who call themselves preachers."

Swaggart's criticism of PTL escalated after he was taken off the network, says a former PTL official.

Then last year, according to a PTL source, Dwain Johnson, once a featured performer in the Swaggart ministry's band, appeared at PTL with a sensational story: Swaggart, the musician said, had threatened his life after discovering an affair between him and a Swaggart relative.

In a court complaint filed to answer a Swaggart eviction notice, according to the New Orleans Times-Picayune, Swaggart told Johnson's wife, "Tell that no good husband of yours, if he is in town tomorrow, I'll kill him."

Swaggart denied the allegations. In the $2.5 million lawsuit filed by the guitarist and his wife, the Johnsons claimed they were owed severance pay, vacation pay and royalties from the sale of tapes and record albums. Swaggart settled the suit in 1983 for an undisclosed amount. Johnson could not be reached for comment.

Bakker, according to Hardister, sought more information on the Johnson-Swaggart story, believing what he learned might be used to fend off a possible Swaggart attack on his ministry. It was apparently with this in mind that Bakker accused Swaggart last spring of seeking a "hostile takeover" of PTL when the news broke of his sexual encounter with Jessica Hahn.

Bakker, meanwhile, recruited the Rev. Jerry Falwell as a caretaker of PTL -- only to be banned from the empire he had founded.

Last summer, PTL, which stands for Praise the Lord or People That Love, filed for protection from its creditors under Chapter 11 of the federal bankruptcy code. Falwell returned to his own ministry in Lynchburg, Va., and Swaggart emerged as America's undisputed power in televangelism -- until Marvin Gorman's big play on Airline Highway.

On Airline Highway Earlier this week, private eyes for Gorman's lawyer Hunter Lundy were still hunting leads along the strip here, driving past such hideaways as Tony's Motel and the Travel Inn, which charges $13 for one hour, $16 for three hours and $20 for the night. "Positively no refunds after 15 minutes," a sign says. As reporters lined up outside Room 5 at Tony's to quiz Peggy Carrier, she stepped out of the room accompanied by a man wearing faded jeans, white Reeboks, a gray blazer and a suntan.

It was Reed Scott Bailey, private eye.

"He works for us," said Lundy. "He did an investigation to substantiate the allegations that we made in our {court} pleadings a long time ago," and remains on the case.

Had she ever seen Swaggart? "I saw him at least two times with two different ladies," said Carrier, a fortyish woman with red hair who, the desk clerk says, has lived on and off at the run-down motel for years.

"He was always out here cruising by himself in a brown Town Car, with brown velvet seats," she asserted. "He wore a maroon" jogging outfit, a "white V-neck T-shirt and a sweatband around his head." She says she confronted him behind the Texas Motel nearby during the "Tammy Bakker mess."

"How are you doing, Mr. Swaggart?" she says she asked.

"I'm not Jimmy Swaggart," she recalls the preacher saying.

"Yes you are."

"No I'm not."

She claims he then insisted he was "waiting for a man" he'd promised to help with an adoption, "and he went off cruising."

By now, a dozen reporters had gathered. Amid thrusting microphones, Carrier climbed into the front seat of a Toyota with a man she said she didn't know who claimed to be working with a local attorney.

Only his car wouldn't start, and she was hustled into the motel manager's office to await the attorney. He soon roared up in a new Mercedes, and left just as quickly. Scott Bailey then made his move, whisking Carrier away in his two-tone Bronco II, heading on down the strip, past the Sleepy Hollow Motel, the Texas Inn, auto parts stores and bars, with reporters in hot pursuit.

Down the road at the San Antonio Inn, cook Hazel Bond, grandmother of seven, said she recalled seeing Swaggart go into a room at the Travel Inn one midafternoon at least five years back. Suddenly, she said, "a guy on a motorcycle comes up with a girl on back. They both went into the room he was in. Thirty minutes later, Jimmy comes out, carrying his head {sideways} like he's hiding ... and leaves. The couple never left the room."

"I don't believe it!" snapped a barmaid.

"I saw him go in the room!" Hazel Bond shot back.

At the bar, truckers nursed long-neck beers and the jukebox blasted forth "Great Balls of Fire," by Jerry Lee Lewis. "That's his cousin," said Bond, pausing to reflect. "It's kinda like UFOs. I've always wanted to see one of those, too, but if I did, no one would believe me either."

The Mystery Woman Tonight, a woman who claimed to have had several sexual encounters with Swaggart -- including on the night when she and the evangelist were photographed -- made her public debut here on WVUE, a New Orleans TV station.

"Sometimes I would see him drive down the street every week, and he wouldn't stop unless he knew I was there -- sometimes once, twice a month," Deborah Murphree, 28, said in the interview. Murphree said she never had intercourse with Swaggart but performed obscene acts for him, the station reported.

The station found Murphree in a hotel in West Palm Beach, Fla., where she had been staying with a friend. Murphree is wanted in Jefferson Parish on prostitution charges. "We arrested her three times at the Travel Inn," said Sheriff Harry Lee, "but I have no interest in Jimmy Swaggart other than idle curiosity."

According to the TV report, the woman met Swaggart along Airline Highway.

Murphree said she recalled the evening when Swaggart was discovered: "I seen this guy run into Room 12 real fast like he didn't want to be seen. So I told Jimmy about it. And so he got nervous and left," she said.

"I went outside. He had a flat tire when he went out. I seen a man pull up as he was changing his tire, and he was talking to him. And I don't think it was a very good conversation, because Mr. Swaggart wanted to shake his hand but he wouldn't shake his hand." The Prayer Meeting They trickled into his prayer meeting Monday night, about 150 standing hard by Marvin Gorman -- his faithful but diminished flock. Son Mark sang gospel songs. Son Randy fielded the media as worshipers waved hands and spoke in tongues. And Gorman promised them he would talk when the time was right. But he was confident that "the gates of Hell will not prevail against us."

How was he holding up as the man who had humbled a mighty preacher who had humbled him?

It was like any other tribulation, he said. "You can become better or you can become bitter. I feel like I've become better."

Staff writer Laura Sessions Stepp contributed to this report.