San Francisco, March 1943
Sarah Bennett harbors two secrets: She sees ghosts, and she’s in love with a spy.
When Sarah takes a job with occult expert Dr. Matthew Geisler, he promises to help her understand the sorrowful spirit that seems to have attached itself to her—a spirit whose incessant weeping only she can hear.
Meanwhile, as Sarah struggles to cope with the relentless weeping, she comes face to face with Zeke, the man who left her six months earlier and is ostensibly convalescing from injuries suffered in an alleged accident. But Zeke has secrets of his own, and Sarah’s love and trust are soon put to the test.
Things take an even darker turn when an attempt is made on Geisler’s life, and Sarah finds herself caught in a struggle between the living and the dead. Unsure who she can trust, she must unlock the mystery of the weeping ghost in order to save Dr. Geisler—and herself—from an unknown enemy.
TAYLOR JONES SAYS: In Weeping in the Wings by Terry Lynn Thomas, we are reunited with Sarah Bennett. This time she goes to work for a doctor who is obsessed with the occult. Sarah has seen ghosts and is now being plagued with one of them who weeps constantly. She knows that the ghost wants something but she doesn’t know what, and it’s driving her crazy. In addition, one of the people at the hospital where Sarah works is being threatened by her dead fiancé and Sarah is determined to help her. But is the threat real or imagined?
Like the first book in the series, this one is well written, suspenseful and full of surprises. A chilling mystery with villains from both sides of the veil.
REGAN MURPHY SAYS: Weeping in the Wings by Terry Lynn Thomas is a paranormal thriller of the first order. Our heroine, Sarah Bennett, sees ghosts. The problem is that they always want something and they often are not real clear about what that is. This latest ghost is weeping. Constantly. And it’s keeping Sarah awake at night. As she tries to figure out what this one wants, she becomes entangled in the mystery of a young woman who insists that her ex-fiancé is trying to kill her. Even though he is dead. Sarah believes that someone is indeed trying to kill her friend and she doesn’t think it’s a ghost. But how can she prove it, especially when the victim isn’t all that stable to begin with?
Weeping in the Wings is heart-warming and hear-breaking story of love, loss, and the tragedy of war. Thomas has crafted a thriller that is as poignant as it is chilling. Once you pick it up, you won’t be able to put it down until the end.
March 1, 1943:
The weeping started when the foreman read the “not guilty” verdict.
The sobs played like background music as I sat numb, unable to fathom how my adoptive father, Jack Bennett, had gotten away with so many crimes. I remained in my seat as the audience in the gallery, the jury, the judge, and, finally, the attorneys filed out of the courtroom, their expressions running the gambit from pity to loathing and all the emotions in between.
The weeping echoed off the oaken walls of the courtroom, a solemn reminder of all that I had lost. Zeke. He crept into my mind. I didn’t have the strength to push him away. I had experienced my share of auditory hallucinations since falling from the second-story landing at Bennett House last October. The fall had killed my stepmother. By some fortuitous stroke of luck, I had survived. Dr. Upton, my psychiatrist, blamed the stressful situation for my current state of mind. I didn’t tell him everything that I had seen and had heard since the fall. Dr. Upton had been so kind to me during the trial, I didn’t have the heart to burden him with the truth.
In the days following the trial, I took the morphine drops that he prescribed for me, but they did little to quell the baleful tears. I tried to ignore the weeping and function as though nothing were wrong. I needed a job. I needed a place to stay. No small feat in San Francisco. Thousands of enlisted men flooded the city each day. The housing shortage had become so severe, many of these young men were forced to sleep in the lobbies of the over-booked hotels and in the seats of the theaters.
When Miss Macky, the proprietress of the school where I studied typewriting, referred me to the Geisler Institute for a secretarial position–good pay, room and board–I jumped at the opportunity without a second thought. I knew that my presence at the school distracted the other girls, and that Miss Macky wanted to get rid of me. This job would provide me an income and a chance to remove myself from the public eye.
As the taxi pulled up to the big house on the corner of Jackson and Laguna, I wondered what I had gotten myself into. We coasted to a stop just as the first rays of sun sliced through the morning fog. My driver, an old man with gaps in his smile where teeth should have been and a wad of chewing tobacco jammed behind his bottom lip, spit into a chipped coffee mug that rested on the dashboard. I got out of the cab, pulling my coat tight against the gust of wind that whipped around my ankles, while the driver retrieved my carryall–a scuffed Hermes leather case that had belonged to my adoptive mother–and hoisted it onto his hip with ease. I followed him as he limped up the walkway. Halfway toward the house I stopped and tipped my head back, taking in the well-maintained exterior, the curved corner windows, and a front door so large it could have graced a castle.
The driver stopped by the front door. With a quick glance, he observed my unpolished shoes, shabby coat, and misshapen hat. “You staying here?”
“Excuse me, Miss High and Mighty.” He spit his tobacco on the sidewalk. “Ain’t this a nut house?” He squinted at the tasteful brass placard attached to the door at eye level. The Geisler Institute, Dr. Matthew Geisler, Ph.D., M.D. The driver narrowed his beady eyes into slits and stared at me. “I know you. You’re the girl what accused her father of murder. Jack Bennett. You his daughter, Sarah?”
“I didn’t accuse him of anything–”
“You should be ashamed of yourself, testifying against your own flesh and blood. You’ve ruined that man’s life. A daughter ain’t supposed to do that.”
What about my life? I wanted to shout at him, never mind that Jack Bennett was not my actual flesh and blood.
He dropped my suitcase. When it hit the ground, the lid popped open and everything I owned, including my undergarments, spilled out onto the wet walkway. He looked at my clothes–my linen underwear, my garter belts, and my last precious pair of silk stockings–as they lay scattered about then turned on his heel and walked away.
“Wait a minute,” I shouted. “You get back here–”
I stopped myself. I didn’t want him to come back and help me. I didn’t want him to touch my things.
“Buzz off, lady. If I had known who you were I wouldn’t have let you in my cab.”
“I hope you don’t think I’m going to pay.”
“I’d starve in the streets before I’d take money from the likes of you.”
He took one final glance at the house, spit again, jumped in his taxi, and screeched off.
I bent down and started stuffing my clothes back into my suitcase, casting a glance at the big windows on the front of the house, praying that no one watched me. The cold concrete hurt my knees. As I stood up, the snag that started at my kneecap crept up my thigh. Another stocking ruined. Soon I would be forced to forego stockings altogether and use pancake makeup on my legs. I could always switch to trousers, but I hadn’t any money for clothes. Just as the case snapped shut, the front door opened. A young woman with gray eyes framed in dark lashes welcome me.
“Miss Bennett, I presume? They’re expecting you. Won’t you follow me, please?” She picked up my suitcase and led me into a grand foyer. Two staircases, one on each side of the room, swept up to the second floor. The vast room had floors of marble, walls of honey-colored wood, and not one stick of furniture save a tiny desk near the front door and a grand piano tucked into a corner. “This way please.” The young woman’s voice echoed as she set my suitcase down near the desk.
I followed her down a short corridor lined on each side with wooden doors. We stopped before one of them, and she knocked upon it twice.
A man’s voice said, “Come in.”
The young woman opened the door and I followed her into a sitting room of sorts, where a man and a woman sat on an overstuffed brocade sofa facing a fireplace filled with a sweet smelling wood. When we entered the room, they both stood, but the woman covered the stack of papers that sat before her with a writing tablet, as if she didn’t want me to see them. A plate with crumbs and a half-eaten pastry sat on a tray on the low coffee table. At the sight of the pastry, my stomach rumbled. If either of them heard it, they gave no indication. A coffeepot with an unused mug, along with a creamer and sugar bowl, also sat on the tray.
“Thank you, Chloe,” the woman said.
The woman stood three inches taller than the man. Her brown hair was laced with gray. It curled around her face, softening its strong jaw, prominent nose and full lips. She had the clear skin of someone who ate well and took plenty of exercise. She reached out to the man, who grabbed her hand, squeezed it, and let it go. All of this happened in an instant. I wouldn’t have noticed it at all had I not been paying attention.
“Sarah Bennett.” The man walked toward me with his hand extended. He took mine and shook it. “I’m Matthew Geisler. We’re so glad that you’ve come. This is my wife, Bethany.”
“How do you do, Sarah? Please, sit.”
Bethany waved at the sofa across from them. On the couch between them lay yesterday’s newspaper. A horrible picture of me coming out of the courthouse graced the front page, with a caption underneath that read Jack Bennett Found Not Guilty!
Jack Bennett’s picture had been placed next to mine. He sat on a chair, dressed in a tweed blazer, holding his latest best seller in his hand. He smiled in that unique way of his that had disarmed everyone who had ever come in contact with him. He didn’t look like a murderer. I couldn’t argue with that sentiment, especially since the side-to-side placement of our photographs showed me in such a bad light. My pale face and gaunt cheeks accentuated the haunted look in my eyes. To the casual observer, I looked like a young woman burdened by the task of living, while Jack Bennett looked like the beloved son of the City by the Bay.
Jack Bennett’s books continued to fly off the shelves. The murder trial had fueled the publicity fire that raged around him, and he had been exonerated of murdering his wife and his mother-in-law. The sensational trial had garnered him notoriety and wealth beyond measure. Jack Bennett had been tried and set free. Jack Bennett’s fans had sentenced me to a lifetime of contempt and loathing. Waitresses refused to serve me. Shop girls turned their noses up at me.
“Let’s not worry about that, Sarah.” Dr. Geisler turned the paper over. “I know what that man did to you. That is of no concern to me. I believe we can help each other.”
Bethany Geisler poured thick, black coffee into the empty mug.
“Cream and sugar?”
I nodded and took the mug when she handed it to me, hoping that the milky beverage would stave off the hunger pangs. If I didn’t get this job, I would have to use the last of my money to get out of town and go someplace where no one recognized me.
Dr. Geisler watched me as I sipped. The hair at his temples had started to turn gray. His cheeks were sharp, as if he hadn’t had enough to eat in quite some time. His dark hair came to a widow’s peak, making him look like a romantic character from a gothic novel. Bethany sat next to him, fidgeting with her wedding ring. She didn’t speak, but her gaze lay heavy upon me.
“Zeke is here, Sarah.” Dr. Geisler watched me as he spoke.
Time stopped. The mug slipped out of my hand and onto the rug. Hot coffee burned my legs. A dark stain spread on the carpet near my feet. My mind raced back to the previous October, and the circumstances that had thrown Zeke and me together. He had saved me then, and I liked to think that I had helped him in some small way. I thought we had fallen in love and that our feelings for each other were mutual. Zeke had been honest about himself. He had a job that he couldn’t discuss with me, a job that took him to unknown places for long periods of time. At least he had left me a note explaining why he had to leave. I, in my naivety, had accepted his conditions, thinking that I could love him and move on with my life when his mysterious job took away to places unknown. I had been wrong. I had spent six months trying to forget him, making a practice of pushing all thoughts of him to the back of my mind. My efforts had been in vain. One mention of his name, and all the emotions came rushing back. “I’m sorry.” I reached down to pick up the broken mug.
“Don’t worry,” Bethany said. “We’ll get that cleaned up. My husband didn’t mean to startle you.”
“Forgive me for being blunt, my dear,” Dr. Geisler said.
Zeke. Here. Tears welled in my eyes. I wiped them away just as they threatened to spill over onto my cheeks. I cursed the desperation that drove me to be here. I needed a job. I needed Dr. Geisler.
Bethany stacked the broken pieces of porcelain on the coffee tray.
“You need to know that he’s been in an accident,” Dr. Geisler said. “He came here to recuperate.”
“What kind of an accident?”
“It’s complicated.” Dr. Geisler hesitated, as if measuring his words, careful not to say too much.
“He’s hurt his knee badly, and he has two broken ribs which are healing,” Bethany said, with a quick glance at her husband. “He’s got a nasty cut across his face, and another cut on his arm that may have caused some nerve damage.”
“We can treat Zeke’s injuries with rest, diet, and exercise,” Dr. Geisler said. “He’ll be fine, Sarah. But he’s weak and tired. I don’t want you to panic when you see him.” He picked up one of the notebooks that were stacked on the table next to him. He thumbed through it, as if looking for something important about Zeke. I knew that Dr. Geisler was allowing me the time necessary to compose myself.
After a few seconds, he set the tablet back on the table and crossed his legs. “I’m sure you have many questions, Sarah, and I will answer all of them, but let me tell you a little bit about the job and what I would like you to do. I am a medical doctor, a psychiatrist. My specialty is healing severe psychological shock and trauma with hypnotherapy. I endeavor to do that at this hospital, although I have some patients–such as Zeke–who simply come here for a rest cure.
“I’ve written a series of textbooks that need to be typed. I understand you have had some difficulty finding a suitable position. I also discovered you were taking typewriting classes at Miss Macky’s Secretarial College and were doing quite well. Zeke suggested I hire you for the job.”
“You know an awful lot about me.” Irritation crept into my voice.
“It should come as no surprise that Zeke made arrangements for someone to watch over you during his absence. He read the newspapers during the course of the trial, but his hands were tied. For myriad reasons, he couldn’t come forward to help you. Although he couldn’t testify against Mr. Bennett, he did want to see to your wellbeing.”
A woman slipped into the room, shutting the door behind her. She had thick, snow-white hair pulled into a bun at the nape of her neck. She wore an ankle-length black dress, a relic from a bygone era.
“Excuse me. Miss Bethany, the nurse asked me to fetch you. Mr. Collins thinks there’s an intruder and he’s become quite agitated.”
“If you’ll excuse me,” Bethany said, “Sarah, I hope to see you later.” She rushed out of the room with the white haired woman, leaving me alone with Dr. Geisler. He smiled at me. “I’m sure we can come to an understanding about your salary–”
“Dr. Geisler, I saw you at the trial. You were there every day, in the front row of the gallery. Not only did you watch my every move, you took copious notes the entire time. While I appreciate the job offer–God knows I need it–I feel like you’re not telling me the whole truth. Why am I here?”
The room grew cold. The hair on the back of my neck stood on end. The soft touch of invisible fingers caressed my cheek.
‘I know a secret.’ The voice came in hushed tones, an ephemeral vibration no one but I could hear. I tried to put it out of my mind and focus on Dr. Geisler, but the room had grown cold. I shivered.
In one fluid movement, Dr. Geisler had moved to my side. “What is it?”
I recoiled, embarrassed at my spontaneous response. That’s when I heard the laughter.
My mind went to my pocket book where the glass bottle that held the opium tincture waited for me, the panacea for situations such as this. Two drops in eight ounces of water, and whatever I heard, whomever I saw, would disappear.
“Are you cold?” Dr. Geisler grabbed my hand, a look of burning desperation in his eyes, as though he longed for something I did not want to give him. I realized then that Dr. Geisler knew all about me. He knew what happened last October, when I encountered the spirit of my dead mother, Grace Kensington.
I jumped up, clutched my pocketbook, and walked with firm deliberation toward the door.
“Sarah, please wait. I didn’t mean to frighten you.”
I ignored him. When I reached the door, I grabbed the knob, driven by the desire to get away.
“There’s nothing wrong with you. I believe you are sane.”
I opened the door, ready to flee the Geisler Institute, the chance for employment, and even Zeke, until he said the words that stopped me in my tracks.
“I can help you with your visions.”
I stood for a moment with my back to him, swallowing back tears. They came anyway, flowing out of my eyes, running in a salty trail down my cheeks. I wiped them away with the sleeve of my sweater before I turned back around.
“Come sit with me, Sarah. We have much to talk about.” Dr. Geisler had moved back to his seat and gestured for me to return to mine. “Forgive my eagerness, but I do want to help you get your life back.”
Clutching my purse to my chest as if it were a shield, I returned and perched on the edge of the sofa.
“I followed your case when you were at the asylum. I knew full well that you didn’t push your mother–Jessica Bennett–down those stairs. I am also certain she didn’t fall. Jack Bennett tried several times to have you declared insane and have you committed. He used his guile to convince my colleagues that you were insane. I am familiar with you because I am on the board at The Laurels. It was I who convinced my colleagues that Jack Bennett was sorely mistaken. Despite the horrible time you had on the witness stand, I don’t believe for one minute that you attempted to hurt yourself, ever. I don’t know what happened to you at Bennett House last October, but I would like to find out.”
My well-honed defenses locked into place. The events at Bennett House were in the past. There they would stay. Nothing would ever induce me to revisit that fateful night last October.
“Not now, my dear. Not today. Not until you are ready. Are you familiar with hypnosis?”
I shook my head, not trusting myself to speak.
“I’ve an idea why you see things. I’ve an idea what you see. After all, you’ve been through, you don’t trust people. I don’t blame you. The people who you loved and trusted, the very people who should have cared for you, tricked you into the asylum. You had no business being there, of that I am certain. I give you my word that no harm will come to you here.”
“How can you help me with my visions?”
“I don’t think they are visions,” Dr. Geisler said. “I think you see through the veil.” He paused and watched me, gauging my reaction. “Ghosts. I think you see them. And if you do, there are things you need to learn so you can have a normal life. You must learn to keep the spirits at bay. They want to be heard, for whatever reason, and if they discover that you can see them, they will never give you a moment’s peace.”
The knowledge that this strange man spoke the truth welled up from some hidden place deep within.
“Picture two worlds: that of the living and another world across the veil, where souls go,” he continued. “They aren’t up in the sky or down below. They’re around us all the time. Some souls hover between the two worlds. They need help crossing over.”
“How do you know all this?”
“I’ve had a lot of death in my life. My mother died giving birth to my sister, my father died of pneumonia, my sister died in 1919 of the influenza. I have much to be grateful for, but there was a melancholia about me, a sadness which, I believe, came from all that death. I came to a realization not too long ago that this sadness resulted from the loss of my family and caused me to rethink my priorities. The occult has always intrigued me. Injustice infuriates me. I believe that you are a medium who has been treated unfairly by a society that doesn’t even know people with your abilities exist. I want to help people like you.”
“I would like to hypnotize you. I can teach you to control what you see by making suggestions to your subconscious mind while you are in a deeply relaxed state.”
“Hypnotize me? I don’t know if that’s a good idea. Would I be awake?”
“You would be wide awake, just relaxed. You will remember everything. There’s no secret or hidden agenda.”
I shook my head.
“You don’t have to decide now. I don’t want to do anything until you trust me and want to participate. Meanwhile, I do have a job for you. If you get to know me better, start to feel comfortable, and you want my help, we can discuss this further. I do need a typist, so let me tell you about that. Let me tell you about the job, what I expect of you, and we can go from there. Does that sound fair?”
“Can you tell me about Zeke?”
“Of course.” At Dr. Geisler’s earnest tone, I relaxed and melted back into the sofa. “My wife doesn’t know about Zeke’s work. As far as she’s concerned, he’s here to recuperate and rest. You know his work–well, he can’t be in the public eye. It’s not safe for him to be in a regular hospital, as you can imagine.”
“He’s not suffering from any psychiatric injuries?” My voice came out like a croak. “He suffered from nightmares before.”
“He has no psychiatric injuries. He needs rest and physical rehabilitation. My wife is a skilled rehabilitative nurse. She will do all she can to help Zeke.”
“How come he never–” I couldn’t say it out loud, couldn’t acknowledge with words that Zeke never contacted me directly.
“I’m sorry. That is a question best directed to Zeke.”
Dr. Geisler crossed the room to where a pitcher and several glasses rested on a bureau. He poured a glass of water and brought it to me. I took a few sips, not realizing how thirsty I’d become until the cold water hit the back of my throat.
“Will you stay? I’ll pay you $150 a month, plus room and board. We’ve a nice room for you. You’ll be close to Zeke, and Mrs. McDougal’s a good cook. I think you might be happy here.”
“Yes, I will stay.” What other choice do I have?
“I’ll have Mrs. McDougal show you to your room. She will fix you some breakfast, and we can get started right away.”
We shook hands to seal our arrangement. As if on cue, Mrs. McDougal appeared.
I had found a place to hide.
I followed Mrs. McDougal into the foyer. The desk by the front door stood empty now. She led me up the far staircase, wide enough for four people to walk abreast. A large window at the landing and the sconces that were situated along the walls provided the only light in the second-floor corridor. With a flick of the switch, Mrs. McDougal turned the lights on. The walls up here were the same honey colored wood as downstairs. I counted the closed doors as we passed them, so I wouldn’t wind up in someone else’s room when I navigated the corridors by myself.
“Has this house always been a hospital?” I asked Mrs. McDougal.
“Oh, no. It used to be Dr. Geisler’s family residence. When Dr. Geisler and Bethany married, they decided to turn it into a hospital. Bethany is very passionate about helping people. She’s a nurse, you know. Dr. Geisler wants to cure their minds. They are both very noble people.”
When we came to a stop at the sixth door, Mrs. McDougal pulled a skeleton key out of her pocket, slid it into the lock, and pushed the door open. The boarding house where I had been staying had two or three beds crammed into tiny rooms no bigger than closets, and one bathroom, with no hope of hot water, shared by a gaggle of complaining women. This room was large enough to dance in, with floral wallpaper in pale shades of yellow. I walked across wool carpet the color of sweet cream to the window that took up the entire wall, and pushed aside the heavy drapes.
Below me, San Francisco pulsed with its own life. A milk truck drove by, a woman pushed a baby carriage, the mailman passed her, nodding as he lifted his cap. I walked through another tall door into a bathroom with a claw-foot tub deep enough to float in. I wondered if there would be enough hot water to fill it.
“The hot water heater is turned on at three o’clock every afternoon, so you can bathe after that time. We’ve plenty of hot water once the heater is turned on, so go ahead and fill your tub. You’ll have hot water until we wash up after dinner. If you require hot water before that, you’ll have to ask one of the girls to bring it up to you from the kitchen. I keep a kettle on the stove at all times.”
“I’m sure I’ll be fine with the cold water,” I said.
“I’ve seen to the unpacking of your things. Once you decide where you’d like to hang your paintings, I’ll make arrangements to have them hung for you.” Mrs. McDougal took a gold watch from her pocket. “It’s nine o’clock. Would you like some breakfast? You look like you could use a good meal. We eat well here, despite the rationing and the shortage of meat. My sister keeps chickens and has a nice victory garden on her roof. She lets me plant what I need for the house there too. Even though I can’t, for the life of me, get meat, we do have plenty of fresh vegetables.”
“If it’s not too much trouble.”
“I’ll leave you to freshen up. Can you find your way downstairs? Just follow the corridor to the back stairs and that will take you to the kitchen.” Mrs. McDougal paused at the door. “I know it’s none of my business, Miss Bennett, but you were so brave, the way you testified at the trial. Jack Bennett got away with murder, just as sure as the day is long, but never mind that. You’re here now, and that is all that matters.”
Hot blood rushed to my ears.
“Oh, I’ve gone and embarrassed you. Forgive me.”
“I’ve had a hard time getting settled–”
“You’ve no reason to worry. You’re in good hands. Dr. Geisler is very easy to work for. You come down to the kitchen, and I’ll have some food ready for you.”
I splashed icy cold water on my face and reached for one of the plush ivory towels, surprised to find that my hands shook.
‘Take a drop or two, Sarah. They won’t hurt you, and they will help you cope.’ I could hear Dr. Upton’s voice. Enough of those thoughts. I had been given a new beginning. Hard work and the satisfaction that comes from a job well done would see me through.
With fresh resolve, I went to unpack, only to find that, true to her word, Mrs. McDougal had already seen to it. My suitcase had been taken away and my meager belongings had been arranged in the armoire that rose all the way to the ceiling. The seascapes I had taken when I fled Bennett House were now on top of the highboy, propped against the wall. One depicted the blue-green sea and the summer sky, while the other captured the dark blues and grays of the winter sea. The books that I carried with me, Rebecca, The Murder at the Vicarage, and The Uninvited–last year’s bestseller by Dorothy Macardle–had been placed in the small bookcase nestled in the corner of the room. I ran my fingers over the familiar worn spines, glad to have a touchstone from my past during this new phase of my life. A small writing desk rested in front of the window. I opened the drawer to it, and saw the pile of letters from Cynthia Forrester, held together with a white ribbon, all unopened.
Cynthia Forrester, the reporter from the San Francisco Chronicle, had told my story after Jack Bennett’s trial with a cool, objective voice. I took a chance and trusted her. She now had a byline and a promising career as a feature writer, and the hours we spent together while she interviewed me had kindled a friendship between us. After the story was published, Cynthia had reached out as a friend, with phone calls and invitations to lunch and dinner, all of which I declined. She wrote several letters, which I never opened. One of these days, I promised myself, as I pushed the drawer shut.
Not ready to go downstairs yet, I moved over to the window and, pressed my forehead against the cold glass. Below me, the traffic on Jackson Street moved along. I studied the houses across the street, noting the blue stars in the windows, the indication of how many sons and fathers were overseas fighting. Every day, mothers, sisters, and wives scoured the newspaper, hoping their loved ones would not make the list of fatalities. Every day, some of those same mothers, sisters, and wives would receive a visit from the Western Union boy, bearing dreaded news, and the blue stars that hung in the windows would be changed to gold.
I shook off thoughts of the injured and dead soldiers and watched as a diaper truck stopped in front of the house across the street. A white-coated delivery man jumped out of the driver’s side, opened the back of the truck, and hoisted a bundle of clean diapers onto his shoulder. Just as he reached the porch, a woman in a starched maid’s uniform opened the door. She took the bundle from the driver, set it aside, and rushed into his open arms. They fell into a deep kiss. The woman broke their connection. The man kept reaching for her, but she smiled and pushed him away. She handed him a bulky laundry bag, then stepped into the house and closed the door behind her.
As the deliveryman climbed back into his truck, a young woman dressed in a stylish coat and matching hat pushed a buggy up to the front of the house. The maid stepped out to meet the woman, smoothing down her apron before taking the baby from the woman’s arms.
I wondered what the mistress of the house would think of her maid’s stolen kiss with the diaper deliveryman.
“Excuse me.” A woman stood in my doorway. Her eyes darted about my room. “Did you see a tall, dark-haired man pass by?”
“No. I’m sorry.” She must be a patient, I realized.
She stepped into the room, surveying the opulent surroundings.
“Your room is much nicer than mine. I’m an old friend of Matthew’s–Dr. Geisler’s. I thought I saw–oh, never mind. My mind plays tricks on me. You must be the new secretary?”
“Yes,” I said.
“Minna Summerly. Nice to meet you.” She extended her hand and stepped close to me, moving with the lithesome grace of a ballet dancer.
“Oh, I know who you are. I knew that you’d take the job. In fact, I told Matthew–Dr. Geisler–you would agree to work here.”
She noticed my bewildered expression.
“Oh, I’m psychic. It’s a gift and a curse, if you want the truth. That’s why I’m here. Dr. Geisler is trying to prove that mediums exist. I happen to be one. Truth be told, all of us here are big fans of yours. We followed the trial, you see. Everyone in the house has been cheering you on. I can’t imagine what it must have been like, testifying like that, being called mad by the toughest defense attorney in San Francisco. The newspapers were relentless, weren’t they? I swear those journalists would do anything for a story.” She rattled on, impervious to my discomfort. “It’s going to be nice having someone young here. Dr. Geisler and Bethany are good company, but they are a little focused on their work. Were you going downstairs?”
“Yes,” I said. “Mrs. McDougal has promised me breakfast.”
“Allow me to show you the way.” Minna tucked her arm in mine, and together we made our way along the corridor to the back staircase which led to the kitchen. “I’m glad you are going to help Matthew. He’s a good man who cares deeply for those he treats. He needs someone to help him, so he can be free to pursue his other interest.”
We came to a rest on a landing with two corridors leading off of it. A man stood in the foyer, dressed in a cardigan with leather patches at the elbows. His glasses had slid down his nose, so he tilted his head back to look at us.
“Mr. Collins, do the nurses know you’re roaming around?”
“You have light coming off of you.” Mr. Collins spoke in a reverential whisper.
“This is Sarah Bennett, Mr. Collins. She is going to be working here.”
“I know. She has light coming off her.” Mr. Collins turned and shuffled away, staring at his feet as he went.
“He’s harmless,” Minna said, as if she could read my thoughts. “Just pretend you’re speaking to a two-year old. Ask him to leave you alone, and he will. There’s no need to be afraid of him.”
“I know. I’m just not used to…”
Not used to what? Having a job? A roof over my head? Having one single person say that they appreciate and understand the toll Jack Bennett’s murder trial has taken on me?
“You’ll be fine here, Sarah. We’re all glad to have you. We’re going to be friends, I’m sure of it.” When my stomach rumbled, Minna laughed. “If you go that way, you’ll find the kitchen. I’ll see you later.”
She walked down the corridor without a backward glance, leaving me to find my way to the kitchen.
I followed the enticing aroma of cinnamon and coffee and wound up in a large, modern kitchen. One entire wall consisted of tall windows, with French doors leading into a courtyard–a nice surprise for a house in the city. On a bright sunny morning these east-facing windows would fill the kitchen with morning light. A chopping block big enough for several people to work on stood in the center of the room. A young girl, dressed in a gray cotton uniform with a white apron tied around her waist, kneaded dough under the watchful eyes of Mrs. McDougal. When the girl saw me, she smiled.
“Pay attention, Alice. Don’t work it too hard, my girl, or the dough won’t rise.”
“Yes, Mrs. McDougal,” Alice said.
“Miss Bennett, come in.” Mrs. McDougal beckoned me to sit at the refectory table in the corner, where a place had been laid for me. “I didn’t know if you like tea or coffee, so I made both.”
Indeed there were two pots by my place. I sat down and poured out coffee, just as Mrs. McDougal took a plate out of the oven and put it down before me. Two eggs, browned toast, and a piece of bacon graced my plate. Real bacon. I could have wept.
“However did you get bacon?” I asked in awe, reluctant to touch it. California’s meat shortage had been in the headlines for weeks now, with no relief in sight, despite promises from the meat rationing board. Although sacrifices were necessary for the troops who fought overseas, I craved bacon and beef just as much as the next person.
“It’s the last piece,” Mrs. McDougal said. “I just read that the food shortage is going to get worse. I can’t imagine it.”
“They need farmers,” Alice said. “My momma says that all the men who harvest the food have gone off to war.”
“Pretty soon the women will be working in the fields,” Mrs. McDougal said.
“Unless they join the WACS or the WAVES,” Alice said. “My sister tried to volunteer, but they wouldn’t take her. She has bad vision.”
Mrs. McDougal and Alice chatted while I ate. Every now and then Mrs. McDougal would look at me, nodding in approval as I cleaned my plate. I hadn’t eaten this well since I left Bennett Cove. Dr. Geisler came into the kitchen just as I finished my meal and reached for the pot to pour another a cup of coffee.
“Ah, Sarah. Your timing is perfect,” said Dr. Geisler. He nodded at Alice. “Mrs. McDougal, would you please bring another pot of coffee into the office for Sarah and me?” He rubbed his hands together, eager as a schoolboy. “Come along. We’ve much to do.”
We walked through the foyer and up the staircase opposite that which led to my room. I gasped when we entered the room, not because of the view of the San Francisco Bay and Alcatraz, which stunned. My fascination lay with the floor-to-ceiling bookcases that covered every wall, all of the shelves filled to the brim with books of all sorts.
“May I?” I gestured at the shelves.
“Please,” Dr. Geisler nodded his approval.
Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott, The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens, a well-worn edition of Balzac in its original French, James Fennimore Cooper’s The Last of the Mohicans, The Life of Samuel Johnson by James Boswell, and a series of blue leather books that were too big to fit on the shelves were stacked on a library table
Books. Books. Everywhere books. There were leather-bound tomes with golden letters on the spine, classics, some so old they should have been in a museum. There were medical textbooks, music books, art books, books about birds, and architecture, and cooking. A small section of one shelf held a stack of paperbacks by Mary Roberts Rinehart, Margery Allingham, and Lina Ethel White.
“The mysteries belong to my wife. She has her own library upstairs, too.” He came to stand next to me. “Books are my indulgence. I love to be surrounded by them.”
“You have a remarkable collection,” I said.
“Consider my books at your disposal, Miss Bennett.”
I sat in the chair opposite him. Alice brought in a tray of coffee. Dr. Geisler poured us each a cup.
“I’ve arranged the handwritten notes for you to type into sections and put them in folders on your desk. You can work at your own pace, but I hope you can finish at least one of the folders, approximately five pages, each day. After you have typed up the pages, if you could handwrite a short summary of what you’ve typed, that will be helpful. Does that make sense?”
“I think so,” I said.
“I think I’ll just let you get to it. If you have any questions or difficulties reading my handwriting, you can let me know. You need to be mindful of my spelling, as it is not my forte. There’s a Latin dictionary and a medical dictionary on that shelf.” He pointed to two books on the credenza. “Does that arrangement suit?”
“Follow me, please.”
Dr. Geisler walked over to the corner of the office, where another door was nestled between two bookcases. He opened it and led me into the small room, with its own bookcase, but unlike the shelves in Dr. Geisler’s office, these shelves were jammed full of files, stacks of paper, and scientific journals, all in a state of chaos. My desk sat under a large mullioned window. In the middle of it sat a new Underwood typewriter. The promised handwritten notes lay next to it, anchored in place with a bronze dragonfly. A fountain pen, a bottle of ink, and a brand new steno pad lay next to the notes. Dr. Geisler flicked on one of the lamps.
“Is this all right? I thought you might want some privacy, and I’ve always liked this room.” He eyed the chaotic shelves. “Once you’ve settled in, I’ll get someone to deal with this mess.”
“Yes, thank you.” I sat down at the desk.
“Well, I’ll let you get to work then,” he said.
“Dr. Geisler,” I called out to him before he left the room. “Thank you.”
“I believe we are going to help each other a great deal, Miss Bennett.”
“Call me Sarah, please.”
“Very well. And you may call me Matthew.”
He nodded and closed the door behind him.
And so I spent my first day at the Geisler Institute. The work proved interesting. Dr. Geisler’s handwriting wasn’t school-room perfect, but I managed. The new typewriter was exquisite, especially in comparison to the rattle-trap machines at Miss Macky’s. Those relics had many keys that were stuck or missing and ribbons that were often as dry as a bone. A student had to type fifty words a minute before they were allowed access to the precious ink bottles that would bring the desiccated ribbons back to some semblance of life.
On this machine, the keys were smooth and well oiled, the ink crisp and black on the page. I started to work and fell into a routine. I would type three pages, proofread them, write a short summary, and move on. At two-thirty, when my stomach growled, I had finished eleven pages and felt very proud indeed. I pushed away from my desk, stood up, and started to stretch out my arms and neck, when Bethany came into the room.
“I see you’ve settled in.” She hovered around my desk. “Is everything to your liking? I wasn’t sure what sort of a chair you’d want. We’ve many to choose from, so if you aren’t comfortable, I hope you’ll speak up.”
“Everything is fine,” I said.
“We’ll be going out for dinner this evening, so you can either have a tray in your room or eat in the kitchen with Mrs. McDougal. Just let her know your preference.”
After a few minutes, I grabbed my purse and stepped into the now empty office. Remembering Dr. Geisler’s offer to use his library, I perused the books on offer and had almost reached for Middlemarch, but settled instead on The Secret Adversary by Agatha Christie. I tucked the book under my arm, ready to head to my room for a few hours of reading time.
I stopped dead in my tracks.
Zeke sat in one of the chairs that angled toward the window. A thin scar, shiny as a new penny and thin as the edge of a razor, ran from his cheekbone down to the edge of his full lips. I wondered who had sliced him so. His right arm was bandaged and held close to his body by a sling. A wooden cane leaned against his chair. A smattering of new gray hairs had come in around his temples, making him even more handsome.
“I know. I look horrible. I didn’t mean to surprise you, but I get the distinct impression that you’re avoiding me.”
I sat down in the chair opposite him. “No, it’s not that.”
“You don’t have to say anything. Just sit with me. We can figure out what to say to each other later.” He reached over and took my hand in his, the heat of him came over me in waves, knocking me off guard.
“I’ve missed you,” he said.
“I know.” My words were but a whisper. I couldn’t find my voice. “I know that I got the job because of you. I’ll repay you somehow,” I said.
A look of hurt flashed in his eyes. “You owe me nothing, Sarah.”
I nodded at him, mumbled some feeble excuse, and fled to the safety of my own room.
I spent the afternoon with the Agatha Christie mystery, trying without much success to push thoughts of Zeke to the back of my mind. When the clock struck five, I filled my claw-foot tub to the brim with piping hot water, and soaked until my skin wrinkled and the water turned tepid.
I spent a quiet evening with Mrs. McDougal. We ate our meal together–potatoes au gratin, salad with green goddess dressing, and green beans–chatting like old friends, while various nurses and orderlies who worked the night shift came into the kitchen for tea or coffee.
Mrs. McDougal didn’t ask prying questions, but every now and then I caught her staring with an inquisitive look. We both liked Inner Sanctum Mysteries, and after dinner we retired to the cozy sitting room where Mrs. McDougal spent her free time. We listened to the show together on the new Philco radio with a mahogany cabinet, a gift from Dr. Geisler.
Back in my bedroom, I made quick work of my evening ablutions. I took the drops of morphine and crawled into bed exhausted from my long day, confident that the tincture would continue to stave off the merciless sobbing.
I dreamt that Zeke had recovered from his injuries. In my dream we were on a picnic in Golden Gate Park. Zeke put his sandwich down and reached out his hand to touch my face. “I’ll never leave you, Sarah,” he whispered to me. He morphed into someone different, someone who stroked my face, saying strange words I did not understand. I awoke, disoriented, not sure where I was.
As my eyes adjusted to the light, the shape of a man standing near my bed came into focus. This was no dream. A flesh-and-blood man stood at the end of my bed. When he moved close to me and reached out to touch my face, I screamed.
© 2016 by Terry Lynn Thomas