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Marty Woods is a paternity investigator; Brad Macintosh is a putative father. But he insists he doesn't even know the mother, and, going with her instincts, Marty begins to believe him. Becoming personally involved with Brad could be risky to both Marty's job and her heart. And though Brad, with his intense blue eyes and "I cannot tell a lie" style, is very attractive, he may not be over his divorce, and he certainly hasn't learned how to live with an independent woman.
178 pages; ISBN 9780373092512
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Author: Elizabeth Neff Walker
“What the hell is the meaning of this?” the man demanded as he slapped the Summons of Complaint down on Marty’s desk. She was more startled by the smacking sound than by his voice, which was a nicely controlled growl. Looking up, she was almost surprised that the growl could have come from him. He wasn’t all that big, perhaps five seven, wiry and solid. His jet black hair was under control, though barely, but his wild eyebrows weren’t. They scattered like unruly twigs from the main branch, climbing jaggedly toward his hairline. Beneath them his eyes were an intense blue and there was an expression in them compounded of annoyance and disbelief.
Marty pulled the summons toward her, noting that her card was still firmly attached: Marty Woods, Investigator, Paternity Unit, Family Support Bureau. He should have called. That was really why the card was attached, but some of them just showed up. It wasn’t the first time; it wouldn’t be the last. Her eyes dropped to the name on the summons. “Mr. Macintosh? Please sit down.”
For a moment he looked as though he’d refuse. Then he changed his mind and took the chair beside her desk. “There’s a mistake,” he said firmly. “You’ve gotten the wrong man.”
Marty opened the drawer where she kept the files on her paternity cases. Maybe there had been a mistake. She didn’t usually run into men in her job whose eyes made her doubt her own expertise. Each case was carefully documented; there were seldom errors of identity. She shoved the drawer closed with a heavy thump and set the folder carefully in the center of her desk, opening it to the detailed sheet on Brad Macintosh.
“Brad Macintosh, thirty-five, owner of Macintosh Building Supplies. Divorced, joint custody of one thirteen-year-old daughter. Lives on Liberty Street and drives a Volvo (blue) which is several years old. Plays tennis, hikes, swims.” Marty looked up from the file questioningly. “Is that you?”
He looked incredulous. “Where did you get all that information?”
“From Lydia Brown, of course.”
“I don’t know any Lydia Brown,” he insisted, hiking the chair closer to her so he could impress her with his earnestness. Almost all the men denied the charges.
“Well,” she said trying to sound just as straightforward, “Lydia Brown obviously knows you, Mr. Macintosh. In fact, she has stated quite positively that you are the father of her child.”
He disrupted the smoothness of his thick, wavy hair by raking strong fingers through it. Disordered, it looked as wild as his eyebrows. He took a deep breath, possibly trying to rein in his frustration. “I don’t know anyone named Lydia Brown. I’ve never known anyone named Lydia Brown. I wouldn’t be likely to forget someone whose child I’d fathered, would I?”
Though he made it sound the most perfectly reasonable statement in the world, Marty grinned. “Men do it all the time. After all, they have no way of knowing they’ve fathered a child. Lydia told me she’d never informed you of the pregnancy or birth. However, she’s applied for Aid to Families with Dependent Children, and in order to be eligible, she had to come to this office so that we could obtain child support from the father, which in this case is you.”
Brad leaned forward in his chair. “You’re not listening to me. I have never heard of this woman.”
“I’m listening,” she retorted. “You’re only saying the same thing almost every other man says when he’s sued for paternity, Mr. Macintosh.”
"But I’m telling the truth! How can I get you to believe me?”
“You don’t have to convince me. You have to convince the court. At this stage you can do one of three things: voluntarily agree to child support; do nothing, in which case a judgment will be entered against you after thirty days; or deny the paternity charge and request a blood test. I presume you intend to deny.”
“You’re damn right I do!” He again raked his fingers through his hair. “This is preposterous. I’m not going to let some woman falsely accuse me of fathering her child.”
“Then I’d suggest you get a lawyer, Mr. Macintosh, to guarantee your rights.” Marty pushed her chair back slightly to indicate that the interview was over.
Brad Macintosh didn’t budge. His deep blue eyes, like icy lake water, continued to regard her intently. “I don’t want to get a lawyer. They’re immoral bloodsuckers, and I haven’t done anything that I should need one for.”
Marty’s lips twitched. “I take it you’ve had a bad experience. Still, in your position I’d recommend getting one.”
“I’ll think about it.”
He rose abruptly, his eyes still fastened on hers. Though he wasn’t particularly tall, he was a great deal taller than her five feet. She watched him take in her short, curly hair, her snub nose and her wide gray eyes. Probably deciding, as they all did, that she hardly looked like an investigator in paternity cases. Marty didn’t offer her hand. There was a resoluteness to his expression that warned her he’d ignore it. She shrugged inwardly. It was difficult for men charged with paternity. Even when they knew they were responsible, they didn’t want to accept the burden of child support. It was up to the district attorney’s office to see that they did. Marty was only doing her job.
“Why didn’t someone contact me before this?” he asked.
“You mean, before you were sent the summons?”
“That, or when the child was born. Sometime. Anytime."
“Because most men deny paternity, and the blood test can’t be done on the child until it’s six months old.”
“Because some of the antigens aren’t fully developed until then, and sometimes the child’s veins are too small to get a good sample,” she said matter-offactly.
He grimaced. “What does a blood test show?”
“It eliminates men who couldn’t be the father. Blood tests are very sophisticated these days, Mr. Macintosh. If you’re not the father, in all likelihood you’ll be excluded immediately. They don’t just check red blood cell factors anymore. They do an HLA, serum proteins and enzymes. By the time they’re done they can get a ninety-nine point five or better percent statistical certainty that a given man is the father.”
“Good,” he said, a smile for the first time transforming his face. “Then I have nothing to worry about.”
When he turned to go, she reached down to pick up the summons. “You’ll need this, Mr. Macintosh. It’s essential that you give an answer to the court within thirty days. You can do it on your own or have a lawyer do it for you.”
Brad turned back and accepted the summons with a frown. “What happens then?”
“After the blood tests have been completed, they’ll set a date for a hearing. If the hearing goes against you, there will be a trial later, say in nine months or a year. With a preponderance of evidence at the hearing, the judge can order temporary child support.”
“You think that’s what will happen, don’t you?” His eyes flashed with anger. “If these blood tests are so great, you must have men excluded all the time.”
“You’re assuming the mothers lie,” Marty said gently. “Actually, we only have a fifteen percent exclusion rate, Mr. Macintosh.”
Brad glared at her, stuffed the papers in the pocket of his green parka and headed for the exit. Marty studied his energetic lope until he was out of sight. There was a great deal of controlled wrath in that stride. She imagined he’d do something to let off steam now—perhaps a few sets of tennis, or swimming a couple of miles in some pool.
What had he expected? she wondered. Did he think coming in and telling her it wasn't true would convince her of his complete innocence? Did he think that she would say, “Oh, well, then, we’ll just tear up the summons, Mr. Macintosh”? Marty grinned at the thought. If he was not, perhaps, the swaggering male she often encountered, his approach to the situation was very little different. The alleged fathers could rave and badger and bulldoze as much as they wanted. She had the facts in hand, and the facts indicated that they were the fathers of her cases.
But Brad Macintosh had somehow gotten through to her more than the others did. There was some quality about him, some inherent honesty in those startling blue eyes, that gave her pause. If she had met him somewhere else, she would possibly have labeled him constitutionally unable to lie. It might simply have been that he reminded her of someone who fitted that description; heaven knew there weren't that many of them. Still, he had disturbed her, and she leafed through the file on her desk, as though that might restore her confidence.
There was no reason to doubt the mother. She was young, of course, only nineteen. She had told Marty, with the usual prompting, that she’d left home at eighteen with a girl friend and had hitchhiked to San Francisco. Lydia’s friend had drifted off north after a few weeks, leaving Lydia alone and frightened in the strange city. With no job skills, no friends, and no money left, she had taken a waitressing job in the Mission and found a minuscule apartment on Valencia Street. The landlord wouldn’t bother with the repair of a broken faucet, so she had eventually gone to a building supply store to find a replacement.
That was where she had met Brad, or so she said. It certainly made sense. Lydia said he’d helped her find what she needed and had offered to install it for her. Not really having the first idea how to do it herself, she’d agreed. A dangerous thing to do, perhaps, but not unheard of. Their relationship had lasted for two months; The only slight weakness in her story had been its abrupt termination. “And then I never heard from him again,” she’d said, staring defiantly at the corner of Marty’s desk.
“Had you told him about the baby?” Marty asked.
“I didn’t know then.”
“Well, didn’t you call him when you found out?”
“No. It’s my baby. He’d just have yelled at me for getting pregnant. I was going to take care of everything myself; except that when I got real big they fired me at work, and no one else would hire me.”
“What about after she was born?”
“I didn’t want someone else taking care of her. I would have supported her, except that I can’t make enough to pay for her care and still have money left over to feed us and all. I tried one time but the sitter wasn’t any good, and when Cheryl got sick a couple of times and I took off from work, they fired me.”
No, Lydia was legitimate enough. Marty had seen her with the baby, too—fiercely protective and loving. When the child was a little older, maybe Lydia could be trained for some kind of work that would pay well enough to get them out of this circle of poverty, but this was probably not the time. Marty’s own job at the moment was simply to see that Brad Macintosh paid his share of the child’s support, so that Aid to Families with Dependent Children didn’t have the full burden.
If it seemed strange to her that Brad would have picked an eighteen-year-old, well, men were sometimes like that. Lydia was not a street-smart kid; she was incredibly naïve and rather helpless, in addition to being pretty. That combination would be fatally attractive to some men. Marty closed the folder and returned it to its slot in the drawer. There was nothing more she could do with it now.
She looked up to find Virginia Rodrigues standing beside her desk, regarding her curiously. “An alleged father?” Virginia asked, nodding her head in the direction Brad had disappeared.
“Yes. One of the ones who vehemently denies it.” Marty stood up, trying to shake off the slight feeling of anxiety that still clung to her. “Ready for lunch?”
“Sure.” Virginia removed a pair of glasses she used only for reading. “Don’t let it bother you, Marty. He looks like he can afford a good lawyer. That parka he was wearing must have cost a hundred and fifty dollars. There’s one just like it in the L. L. Bean catalog. I was thinking of getting one for Pablo for his birthday.”
“Apparently he hates lawyers. He called them immoral bloodsuckers.”
Virginia laughed. “Clever fellow. And good looking, too. You’re going to have to look out for that one.”
Marty slung her purse over her shoulder. “That’s what I’m afraid of,” she said.
~ ~ ~
Brad emerged from the building at Tenth and Folsom more disgruntled than he could recall feeling in a long time. Imagine that little snip of a woman not believing him! As if it hadn’t been bad enough when he’d walked toward the door of his business to find a nondescript man coming up to him and handing him the Summons of Complaint. Several of his employees had been there at the time and he was convinced they now thought him a hardened criminal. His waving aside their curiosity with the comment that it must be a mistake had not appeared to alleviate their suspicions one bit. Well, in a similar position he supposed he wouldn’t have believed himself, either.
But she should have. Miss Woods. He pulled out the crumpled summons and stared at her name. Marty. Short for what—Martha? Martha didn’t suit her at all. She looked like a counselor at a Girl Scout camp—wholesome, energetic, cheerful and whatever else those women had to be to take care of a bunch of rowdy ten-year-olds. She had no business looking like that and holding the kind of job she did, where she tracked down innocent men to squeeze child support from them.
Brad hunched his shoulders and zipped up the parka against the nippy April morning. His business was only three blocks away, and he had walked to the Family Support Bureau, hoping then, as he did now, that a vigorous walk would ease his rage. What could be more infuriating than being falsely accused of anything, especially being the father of a child whose mother he’d never heard of?
He had told Marty the truth, for all the good it had done. As he loped along the sidewalk, his mind was working with its usual speed and efficiency. The first thing to do was check the employment records of Macintosh Building Supplies to see if Lydia Brown had worked there. How else would some unknown woman have found out so much about him? He frowned as a bicycle messenger swept past, dangerously weaving in and out of the Folsom Street traffic.
Offhand Brad couldn’t think of anyone except an employee who could put together so much information on him, not that most of his employees could, unless they purposely went after such details so they could sue him for paternity. If someone had told him he would receive a summons this morning, the last thing in the world he’d have imagined it would be for was paternity. Hadn’t he practically been a monk since Karen divorced him?
He considered the possibility that Karen had something to do with all this. It seemed highly unlikely. She wasn’t the least bit vindictive. She had, after all, been the one to request the divorce—to change her life, to “realize” herself, to get away from the building supply business, for a hundred different reasons, it seemed, most of them having to do with his supposed inflexibility. Brad was personally convinced now, as he had been then, that there wasn’t an inflexible bone in his body.
He liked coming home to a hot meal. Hadn’t he sent her home from the store in time to be there when their daughter got home from school, with plenty of time to make dinner and do any necessary cleaning? They had a maid who came in once a week, didn’t they? What was so tough about picking up a little around the house? Brad had mulled these things over so many times in his mind that just the thought of Karen seemed to set off the whole refrain again. Well, he didn’t have time to go through the complete litany now; there were more important matters to be considered.
The store sat like a squat peacock, taking up about a third of the frontage of the block. Karen had said it needed to be colorful to attract customers. It was colorful, all right, bright yellow with splashes of red, blue and green but tastefully done, of course. Everything Karen set her hand to was done tastefully. There was parking to one side, an essential facility in the city. His own Volvo sat in the lot. He would have called it blue-gray rather than blue, but Lydia Brown obviously didn’t let such details bother her.
The side door to the building was kept locked, and he let himself in with the key. Ordinarily when returning to the store he would walk through the main floor to see if everything was in order, if there were a good number of customers, if the sales and stocking people were doing their jobs well, if there were any problems only he could handle. But he was in a hurry now, and almost uninterested in the state of business. The hallway was inelegant, with scruffy linoleum floors and walls continually banged by materials being brought through to the floor display. Karen had not convinced him that sprucing up the back areas would in any way increase his profit. Their profit, she would have said.
Their divorce had damn near bankrupted him. In order to buy her share of the business he had been forced to borrow money, just when it looked as though Macintosh Building Supplies was really going to take off. The only thing that had saved him at all was Karen’s agreeing to take part of her share in continued ownership of the business. That was the lawyer’s suggestion. His lawyer. Oh, the hell with both of them.
Brad unzipped the green parka and hung it on the scrubby coat rack outside his office. Karen had said if he didn’t appreciate the antique one, she’d replace it with something more serviceable, which she had.
Brad sometimes kicked it out of sheer frustration. He was frustrated a lot these days. And to think he’d always considered himself the most easygoing of fellows. He felt as though he hadn’t laughed in a million years. Karen said. . . oh, forget it, he told himself sternly as he brushed his windblown hair down with his hands and nodded to his secretary. In the doorway of his office, he paused.
“I want the personnel files for everyone who’s ever worked here, Kerri," he said. “Right away.”
Kerri blinked at him. “All of them? Do you have any idea how many people that is, Brad? And I’m not sure they’re all easily accessible.”
“I don’t care how accessible they are. I want to see every one of them.”
Kerri shrugged. “Whatever you say, boss.”
Brad hated it when she called him boss. Mostly because he knew she’d picked it up from Karen, who only used the term when he’d annoyed her by ordering her around. He didn’t think of it as ordering her around. He thought of it as taking charge of things in the most efficient way possible, which was the only way he ever did things. After being married to him for thirteen years, she should have known that.
When the files eventually came, an hour later, they were not complete. “Personnel says some of them are in storage and they don’t know exactly where.” Kerri looked uncomfortable. “They said Karen would probably know, though.”
Brad silently gritted his teeth. There was nothing he liked less than calling Karen about work-related matters. It was perfectly all right to talk to her about their daughter; that didn’t bother him at all. But asking her about business matters somehow always made her laugh and say, “You see, Brad, I was more involved in the business than you thought.” He could, of course, have Kerri call her, but Karen would see that as cowardice and tease him about it the next time he had to talk to her.
“All right,” he sighed. “I’ll call her.”
“She may be in school now.”
Brad glared at her. “If she’s in school,” he growled, “I’ll call her again later. That will be all, Kerri."
Damned if the girl didn’t grin at him as she swung the door shut behind herself.
Karen’s answering machine was on. Brad didn’t care much for leaving messages on answering machines; it seemed so silly to talk to a machine. But he wanted the information as soon as possible, so he forced himself to say, “This is Brad. We... I need to know where the old personnel files have been stored.” And because he was feeling particularly cross, he added, “You should have given them all that information when you left.”
He was about to hang up when there was a click and Karen’s amused voice said quite clearly, “Should I? Well, I’m quite sure I did, you know, but they’ve probably lost it. Why do you need the old personnel files, Brad? The ones in the office go back more than a year."
“Why is your answering machine on if you’re at home?” he demanded.
“Because I’m studying and I didn’t want to be bothered for anything unimportant. Since you never call about anything unimportant, I felt in all fairness I should pick it up. It’s called monitoring calls and it gives me a wonderful sense of power.”
“I’m flattered you accepted my call,” he said, sounding sardonic rather than appreciative. “I won’t keep you from your studying, if you’ll tell me where to find the files.”
“They’re in a file cabinet in the smallest storage room, second drawer, clearly marked. Those go all the way back to the day the store opened, when it was on Potrero. There aren’t any current addresses for any of the employees, so I hope that’s not what you’re looking for.”
“It’s not. Thanks for your help.”
“No problem. Andrea said she had a good weekend with you.’’
Their thirteen-year-old daughter had spent most of the time reading novels Brad considered far too sophisticated for her, but he didn’t remark on this. “We always have a good time together,” he said, more defensively than he’d intended.
“She’s looking forward to going to Disneyland over spring vacation. I really appreciate your doing that. It’ll give me some extra time to catch up on my course work.”
Brad wanted to insist that wasn’t why he was doing it. Instead he said, “She’s arranging the whole thing with the travel agent—airline tickets, hotel, rental car. She said maybe she’d be a travel agent when she grows up.”
His former wife laughed. “She changes her mind about what she wants to be almost every other week. Fortunately, she has plenty of time to decide. Look, I’ve got to go, Brad. If they have any trouble finding the files, let me know.”
Brad found the files himself, without any difficulty. It took him several hours to go through each of the records, and when he was finished he hadn’t turned up one single bit of useful information. Macintosh Building Supplies had never hired anyone by the name of Lydia Brown, or anyone resembling her. He crumpled the empty paper cup from the soda Kerri had brought him with his lunch and tossed it at the wastepaper basket across the room. He missed.