“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
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
“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.
"But I’m telling the truth! How can I get you to
“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.
“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
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
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
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
“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
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?”
“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
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
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.