Our son Tony was at the table doing his science homework, while my wife Gina and I set the table. Tony was a big boy for his age already over six foot. Both Gina and my family were of southern Italian breeding. Any family member rare enough to get near 5 foot 9 was automatically called "Goliath".
"Who did I get my height from?" Tony asked. His science book was on open to a chapter about genetics.
"The Mailman." I said -ducking a napkin Gina tossed at me. She was still her scrubs from the hospital.
Tony looked confused. "Mrs. Wilson the old lady who delivers the mail? Why would her height matter?"
"Sorry son- I meant Juan the buff pool boy." I joked as Gina playfully launched a spoon in my direction.
"What Pool boy?" Tony questioned. "We don't have a pool boy, you make me and sis clean the pool all the time."
"Must be the Milkman." I countered as Gina looked around for something else to toss.
"What is a Milkman?" Tony asked.
Gina came around the table swatting at me good-naturedly while speaking. "Tony ignore your Dad he is trying out his warped sense of humor again. Now go fetch your younger brother and sister for dinner."
We watched our son Tony ran up the stairs. Gina picked the spoon up off the floor holding it menacingly in front of me. "And you Nick-any more talk like that and I am going to carve out your funny bone with this dull spoon."
I gave my wife Gina a kiss, patting her butt as I passed her. Gina backhanded me playfully.
"Later Nick- later." Gina said to me with an impish gleam in her eye.
The next day I was sitting in my little office off the bakery. I had begun baking cakes in "odd" shapes in my parents' kitchen after I had gotten out of the service to help offset college expenses. It turned out people liked my quirky cake designs. It expanded so quickly I had to build a small building in the adjacent lot to satisfy the health department and get professional equipment. "NICK's" as my business was called, had over the past dual decades provided my wife Gina, our family and I a good living -plus a chance to be involved daily in my two boys and daughter's life -as I could make my own hours or accept jobs as needed.
My best friend, now family attorney Bruce was with me as we were going over contracts. Bruce was tall, with flowing hair, deep blue eyes, complete with long eyelashes that ladies swooned over. But swooning was all the females could do as Bruce was 110% gay. Bruce and I had been friends since the days we had roomed at college. In those days no one would room with Bruce when he had come out of the closet. Unlike most of my homo-phobic counterparts -I had a different take on the whole "gay" thing back then. I figured the more good looking men in the gay movement, the better (for me) -as it was less competition for the babes. I felt the gay movement was increasing the odds for average looking straight men (again like me) to get girls. Also having a gay guy like Bruce as your wingman was a "babe magnet". Being pals with a gay guy lowered most ladies natural suspicions and also gave the straight guy automatic "Sensitive and caring" points, (even if I did not deserve them) as well as labeling you as secure in your masculinity. I had gotten laid by a lot of coeds with Bruce's help, until Bruce had introduced Gina my wife and I over 18 years ago.
Gina, a Nurse Manager, was still in her scrubs when she came into my small office in the bakery. She and Bruce were good friends. I figured Gina had checked via the intercom from the house to make sure I was not with a customer.
Gina greeted Bruce warmly, then she tossed an official looking letter with an envelope into my lap. "Nick this is not funny!"
I could tell she was a little annoyed with me by the tone in her voice. Gina claimed I had a weird sense of humor, but she was a good sport putting up with most of my pranks and antics.
I read the letter while Gina and Bruce chatted away. The letter was from a phony law firm -full of legalize. The gist of the letter was that an unnamed "Jon Doe" was claiming paternity of my oldest son Tony. This Jon Doe wished full privileges and claims due a parent, etc.
This did give me a chuckle and I told as much to Gina. "Can't take credit for this one Gina. But for the record –I do think it is a little bit funny –but I did not send it. Must have been one of your co-workers at the hospital, playing a practical joke on you."
Gina was not amused. "When I find the moron who wrote this, I am going to kick their butt so hard they are going to need Doc Weber in proctology to get my shoe out of their colon!"
Bruce had picked up the letter, reading it while I pulled Gina into my lap for a quick kiss.
"Hold on a sec you two." Bruce murmured. "This may not be a joke- I think it is for real-well a real scam anyway."
"WHAT!" both Gina and I said at the same time turning toward Bruce.
"Yea I think it is one of these "Baby Greenmail" letter cons I heard about at the legal conference last year." Bruce was looking at the return address on the envelope.
"Bruce you mean that Hawaii trip with cocktail parties you write off as business trips each year."
"Well Nick all work and no play make Bruce a dull..."
Gina interrupted Bruce. "Try to stay on topic you guys. Bruce what the hell are you talking about Baby Greenmail?"
Bruce settled back in his chair before speaking. "Has your son Tony applied for any financial aid, school funds, state or government permits recently?"
"Yes last month Tony got his driving license. Restricted-he still has to drive with Nick or I."
"OK that explains some of it." Bruce continued. "This is a scam that started on the coast a few years ago. Our state makes available driver license information to the public. You know stuff like age, addresses, etc. Several marketing firms take this info, selling it in packages by age, sex, zip codes, blah, blah, blah, to various advertisers-a data mining kind of thing. How it works is some sleazy law firm gets stats on young drivers, then sends out this letter asserting to have a client claiming paternity of the child. They hope you will pay to make this go away."
"What bullshit." I broke in.
"Ninety-five percent of the people getting this correspondence, ignore the letter, or have their lawyer write a response. Nothing is ever heard about it again." Bruce waved the letter in his hand. "Nevertheless popular thinking is that 2-3% of married men are unknowingly raising children not their own. That means a small percentage of wives not wanting their husbands to know the truth, or maybe the mother is unsure of who the real father is, even perhaps both parents know –but wish to hide the information from their child -contact the law firm sending this letter. A monetary settlement is worked out, papers signed, thus the matter goes away quietly."
"That is Blackmail, extortion" Gina said.
Bruce went into attorney lecture mode. "Blackmail was originally a form of tribute paid in English times in return for immunity from raids. Blackmail was paid in goods or services, Whitemail was paid in silver. Todays version Greenmail, is of course dollars. But to your question Gina-yes some would call it a form of subtle extortion. However depending on the payout, it is not a bad return on investment for sending out a couple of hundred letters."
"It sounds illegal." I commented. "How many people fall for this thing?"
"The allegations never go to court, or are filed, so no one is sure how widespread it is. The mother or parents are not going to go public. All parties sign a non-disclosure agreement so no records are available. Worst case the law firm can always point that they have been following a client's wishes, so nothing illegal about sending a letter. Maybe slander, but that is difficult, not to mention costly to prove in court."
Gina was shaking her head. "No wonder everyone hates lawyers."
"My mother still loves me." Bruce grinned, than got serious. "Now Gina I need to ask -so do not bite my head off. Any chance, no matter how remote, that this accusation has any validity?"
My wife Gina let loose with a string of words I know she never learned in catholic school.
"Whoa Gina settle down." I pulled Gina tighter on my lap, laughing at her. "You still need to kiss our children with that mouth."
Gina drew a breath before speaking. "Sorry guys. Bruce let me put it this way. You have a better chance of being Tony's father than that a-hole Jon Doe." Gina gave me a kiss. "I have never been with any man but Nick here since the day you set us up."
Bruce put the letter in his briefcase. "You two don't worry I'll send a reply to make this go away." With that Bruce got up, shook my hand, gave Gina a peck on the cheek then departed.
The two weeks later on a Friday, I came into the house after dropping the kids off at a CYO weekend retreat. I was looking forward to a little "Momma and Me" time without the kids. I found Gina sitting at the kitchen table, with a bunch of papers in a folder from her hospital in front of her. A glass of wine was in Gina's hand, with the bottle half empty next to her. This was very odd; Gina drank a glass of wine at the occasional dinner out-but she rarely drank at home. Even at our wedding Gina never finished her glass of champagne.
"Nick, sit please." Gina was somber as she motioned to the chair across from her. "We may have an issue."
My heart froze as I thought something was wrong with her. I reached for Gina's hand as I sat down. "Gina, are you OK? We will get thru this-understand?"
.... There is more of this story ...