Excerpt from Bruised Spirits
What's that feeling you get when you think you've been somewhere and done something before? It doesn't last long, but it's jarring. I think the alienists call it déjà vu or something like that.
Whatever it's called, I suffered an instant and distinct case of it when I opened the door to my family's bungalow on South Marengo Avenue in the fair city of Pasadena, California, and beheld upon my porch Flossie Buckingham. Flossie, after a very difficult start in life as a poor girl in a dreadful slum in New York City, had moved to Pasadena with her then-lover, a gangster named Jinx Jenkins. She had once showed up at my door battered almost beyond recognition.
That particular morning—the déjà vu one—Flossie was fine. Her companion, however, looked very much as Flossie had looked that other morning a few years prior. I think she was in even worse shape than Flossie had been, because Flossie seemed to have to hold her up by an arm to keep her from collapsing onto the hard concrete of the porch.
"Flossie!" I cried, bewildered.
"Daisy, please let us come in," said Flossie in a soft voice, as if she didn't want others to overhear her. "This is Lilian Bannister, and she desperately needs your help."
My help? My help? The woman looked like she needed a doctor. But I trusted Flossie as I trusted few other people, so I stood back, making sure my late husband's dog, Spike, didn't jump on either Flossie or Mrs.—Miss?—Bannister.
"Come in," I said, grateful the rest of my family was out. Ma and Aunt Vi were at their daily employment, and Pa had gone out to meet some friends and chat. My father is one of those folks for whom the expression "he never met a stranger" applies. Great guy, my father.
"Can you help me, Daisy?" Flossie asked cocking her head for me to take Lilian Bannister's other arm. So I did.
Flossie and I carefully maneuvered the poor woman into the living room and over to the sofa, where we tried but failed to gently lower her. She sort of fell on the sofa with no other sound than a muffled groan and then a sob or two. I looked a question at Flossie, who appeared quite flustered, not a customary state for the gentle and loving Flossie Buckingham I'd come to know since she'd met and married my old childhood chum, Johnny Buckingham, a captain in the Salvation Army.
"May we speak in private, Daisy?"
My gaze was riveted on poor Lilian Bannister, who sagged on the sofa. Then I transferred my gaze to Flossie. "Yes. I guess so. Come into the dining room."
So she did and, with a worried backward glance at Flossie's battered companion, I joined her.
"What the heck is going on, Flossie? Who is that woman, and why did you bring her here? Someone's obviously beaten her to within an inch of her life."
"You've got that right," muttered Flossie, sounding bitter.
"I thought Johnny was the one who helped folks in distress. That's his business, for Pete's sake. I'm just a phony spiritualist."
I guess I should explain that last remark, but I'll save an explanation until lager.
"That's just it, Daisy. Johnny can't help her. He wanted to, but he can't."
Huh? Last I heard, the Salvation Army took in all the strays and orphans and drunkards and drug fiends and poor folk and immigrants and so forth that no one else would touch with a barge pole. "But Flossie, Lilian Bannister has clearly suffered a… a… Well, I don't know what happened to her, but she need medical help. I'm no doctor."
"She's been beaten almost to death," said Flossie, confirming my suspicion. "But Daisy, just listen to me, please. Unless you know a doctor who is absolutely true to his oath of privacy, we may even have to forego medical help."
"Her husband beat her to a pulp and then kicked her down the basement steps—concrete basement steps, Daisy—and locked her in. She barely managed to escape with her life. Fortunately for her, Billy and I were walking, and I spotted her nearly crawling down Fair Oaks Avenue, trying to get to Johnny's church."
"Her husband did what?"
"You heard me," Flossie said in a much harder tone of voice than I'd ever heard issue from her gentle lips.
Billy, by the way, was Johnny and Flossie's infant son. He'd been named after my late husband. That's probably something else I should explain later.
"But… But isn't that a crime, what her husband did to her? Can't he be prosecuted for nearly killing her?"
"He can be prosecuted for murdering her, which will probably happen if she's forced to back to him," said Flossie. "Until then, he's her husband in the eyes of the law and the church." Her mouth pinched up. "She's a Roman Catholic, and she once made the mistake of asking her priest if he could intercede and help her get away from her husband. The priest said it was her duty to abide by her solemn marital oath." Flossie jumped up from the dining room chair in which she'd been sitting and commenced pacing. "Oh, it just makes me furious! I've been in that woman's position, you know. Well, of course you know." She whirled around and faced me. "But I didn't have the obstacles Lily faces. I wasn't married to that horrible Jenkins man. I wasn't married to anybody! If I'd gone to the law after he'd beaten me up, they'd probably have arrested Jinx. But the law won't arrest Mr. Bannister. They'll send her back to him. So will her church! You have to help me help her, Daisy! You have to!"
"Can't Johnny do anything?" I asked in a small voice, wishing I knew what to do.
"Johnny has to abide by the law, Daisy. If he hides her somewhere, he's liable to be arrested himself! Oh, it's all just so unfair!"
"Yes. Yes, I can see it is." However, that didn't negate the fact that I didn't have a clue what to do for poor Mrs. Bannister. "But… Oh, but Flossie, I can't keep her here. There's no room. And besides that, I don't think my parents would like it. They don't like breaking the law any more than Johnny does."
Flossie glared at me and I held up a hand. "Honestly, Flossie, I don't mind breaking the law for a just cause, and Mrs. Bannister is definitely a just cause, but—"
The telephone rang. I do believe it was the first time in years I'd been glad to hear it, generally because anyone calling the house called to speak to me, and usually to engage my services as a spurious spiritualist-medium. Not that my clients didn't think I was for real. But never mind that. I'd just been saved by the bell! At least for a moment or two.
I walked into the kitchen, followed by Spike, who loved the kitchen because it contained food. I lifted the receiver from the cradle of the wall-mounted 'phone, and spoke my typical greeting, "Gumm-Majesty residence, Mrs. Maj—"
"Daisy!" cried a voice I recognized.
Joy and hope bloomed in my heart. "Harold!"
"Cripes, Daisy, don't yell at me."
"I'm sorry, Harold, but I'm so glad you called."
"I should hope so, because I'm going to take you out to lunch today and—"
"Harold, come to my house right this minute. It's urgent. It might even be a matter of life and death."
A pause on the other end of the wire preceded Harold's puzzled, "I beg your—"
"Oh, please don't argue with me, Harold! I need you now."
And Harold, bless his heart, said, "Be right there," and he hung up.
Turning to Flossie, I actually managed a smile. "If anyone can help Mrs. Bannister and us, it's Harold Kincaid. I'll bet Harold even knows a discreet doctor he can call upon to tend to the poor woman."
"I've met him, but I don't really know him," said Flossie doubtfully.
"Harold is the most kindhearted, useful man in the universe, Flossie. He's actually one of my very best friends. I tell you, if he can't help Mrs. Bannister, nobody can." I thought about the wilted woman on the living room sofa and said, "We'd probably better go see how she's doing."
"Yes. Yes. I'm sorry, Daisy. But when I heard what Lily told me, you were the only one I could think of who might be able to help her."
Lucky me. "I hope your faith isn't misplaced." I meant it.