Sarah's heart was racing when she finished reading the email on her screen. She leaned back in her chair and sucked in two deep breaths to settle her nerves. The hum of the printer penetrated her thoughts. She reached over and pulled the printout of the email from the printer and walked into the living room. Plopping down on the chair backed by a window where sunlight streamed in, she read over the email one more time slowly:
Hi Sarah. You don't know me. My name is Dan. Let me begin by saying that I am your stepson sort of. Your husband was my father. Actually, legally, he never was your husband. He never divorced my mother. He is dead...right?
I am sure you are wondering why I have contacted you now. First, let me explain a little about my upbringing. It was a struggle to put it mildly. You see, my mother never fully recovered from my dad walking out on her. She turned to alcohol and drugs. She hated looking at me because I looked like him. I won't go into the sordid details, because I think you get the picture. By the way, she died from a drug overdose when I was fifteen almost twelve years ago. I managed to finish high school and even got a scholarship to a community college. From there, I went on to obtain a law degree.
If you haven't already figured out the reason for this contact, I'll spell it out. You see, I never blamed my father for walking out and I never blamed my mother for handling it the way she did. I blame you. You are the direct cause of my miserable upbringing and you are the direct cause of my mother's too early demise. In one month, I expect a half share in everything my father owned not including the house. I expect the house if you obtained it by inheritance as his widow. If you were a cosigner in the purchase of it, then I expect a check to cover my share. Now, if for some reason you cannot accumulate the money, you will need to move and I'll pay you your half. You see, I am the rightful heir, not you. As I said, he never divorced my mother. Legally you were nothing more than a roommate.
Awaiting your reply, Dan
Reaching for the phone, she started to punch the numbers.
Why am I panicking? It must be a hoax. She clicked the phone off. "Monty Montoya would not be pleased being disturbed at his home on a Sunday morning," she muttered to herself. She checked the mantle clock and rushed to her bedroom to finish dressing for church.
Sarah was finally beginning to get a grip on the anguish and overwhelming sense of loss that engulfed her after her beloved Michael died from a massive heart attack. She owed the calming and acceptance to her friends that stood by her and especially to Doctor John Knight. He counseled her, not as a doctor, but as a friend. Together, they reminisced, reliving the wonderful memories they had of Michael. John, in a gentle, persuasive manner, nudged her to enter a new phase in her life and leave the past where it now belonged in her memories. Having suffered the loss of his daughter, he fully understood what she was going through.
She parked the car in the parking lot and entered the church. It was during the homily of the mass that the email once again took over her thoughts. No matter how much she tried to dismiss it, it invaded her mind. She could not help but wonder if Michael had a secret he never divulged to her. Sensing that someone was watching her, she turned slightly and looked over her right shoulder. Her eyes met John's. He gave a slight nod and averted his gaze back to the priest.
After mass, John approached her as she headed for her car in the parking lot. He smiled and said, "Kathy insisted that I invite you to come to our house for breakfast." He took on a more serious look and asked, "Is everything okay?"
"Tell Kathy thanks. I'll be happy to join you for breakfast." She shook her head. "You are so good at reading people. Perhaps you and I can talk privately later on?"
"Of course. Why don't you come with us and I can drive you back here later." With that, he reached his arm around her in a comforting gesture and walked her to his car.
Kathy stepped up and gave her a hug. "Thank you for coming." Kathy was blessed with a smile that was so genuine and warm that people took an instant liking to her.
The two women chatted while they prepared a breakfast of pancakes, ham and eggs. Kathy, too, sensed a tension in Sarah, but she did not bring it up. It was John who told her after church that something was wrong with Sarah. They both loved Sarah as a dear old friend and neither could stand to see her hurt. The talk around the table was general subjects. While Sarah participated, John could tell that her mind was on something else. After breakfast, John stood and said, "Kathy, I'm going to steal Sarah for a while. If anyone calls, please take a message."
They entered John's den. He motioned for her to sit on the leather couch. He sat nearby in the matching chair. "What's happening, my friend? Are you backsliding on me?"
She was always amazed by his penetrating eyes that seemed to have the ability to see within a person. Michael once said that John used wisdom when he chose his profession because no one was better at reading people. She managed a smile. "No, John, I am not backsliding on you." She reached into her purse and handed the email to him. "This came this morning."
The only change in John's expression as he read was a slight squint. He read through it several times before looking up. "Did Michael ever mention having a son?"
"No, he never did."
"How about being married before?"
John reached for his pipe and lit it. He stretched his long legs out and said, "For the sake of argument, let's assume that this came from Michael's son. I doubt that he is a lawyer. A lawyer would not communicate in this manner, at least I wouldn't think so. It is unethical. It is also possible that he is lying about a lack of divorce and everything else for that matter. There are several possibilities. He might be Michael's son. He might be someone who gets his kicks out of scaring people or it might be a scam to separate you from your rightful inheritance."
"Are you saying that I should just ignore it?"
He ran his fingers through his thick, black and silver hair as he pondered her question. "Do you remember your password for your ISP server?"
She chuckled. "Oddly, I do. The only reason is because I just recently wrote it down in my important papers file. Why?"
"Let's see if we can get to your email from my computer." John stood and walked around behind his desk and turned his chair around to the corner table with his computer and printer.
Within minutes, with Sarah's password, John was able to access her email. He brought up the one from Dan and studied it a few moments. He clicked the reply button and began typing. Sarah watched over his shoulder. John typed: Please send the name of the law school from which you graduated. I would also like to see a copy of your birth certificate. He clicked the 'send' button and leaned back in his chair. "We will just have to wait and see if he replies. It is possible you may never hear from him again."
Sarah squeezed his shoulders. "You will never know how much you and Kathy mean to me and how much I appreciate all you have done for me."
He squeezed her hand in response and suddenly leaned forward as the little red flag on the computer screen popped up. He clicked. The message read: A copy of my birth certificate and diploma are attached. Dan
John hesitated because he wasn't sure he wanted to download files from a stranger. He checked the bottom of his screen to make sure the icon was there to destroy viruses, then, with a deep breath, he hit the download button. It was a split object page with the birth certificate to the left and the diploma to the right. They both studied the documents in silence for a while. "Oh God," Sarah whispered.
"I'm going to print this out. Then, we are going to see Monty." He looked directly at her. "Don't panic. These may not be authentic. Monty will know. And, if they are, we still have no proof that Michael was married to this young man's mother. Michael and Richardson are both common names. It could even be a case of mistaken identity."
David Montoya, or Monty to his friends, was a middle-aged lawyer who dealt with the financial aspects of corporations, bankruptcies, contract mergers, legal regulations and such, but he also handled wills and estate disputes for a few select friends. He was modestly well off, but not in the manner of others in his field who had managed to set up their own firms. Monty had always worked for the Becker & Becker law firm and knew that becoming a full partner was never in the cards. Yet, he always appeared content with his life. His easy going manner and engaging way of conversing garnered him many friends. He opened his door and a smile lit up his face. "Sarah, John, what a pleasant surprise. Come, come in." He stepped aside and gestured them around him. "Take a seat. Can I bring you something to drink?"
"We need to talk, Monty." John handed him the copy of the email.
Monty kept his eyes on it as he settled into a chair. He read it and looked over at the other two seated on a couch across from him. "I don't understand. Michael never mentioned having any children."
"For the sake of argument," John said, "let's assume that he did. How would this affect Sarah?"
"Well, it all depends on whether this young man is telling the truth about his mother and Michael not getting a divorce."
"Are you saying that Sarah would have no legal recourse if that is true?" John's gaze was riveted on Monty. "She was his life-long partner, not the other woman. And, Sarah went into her marriage fully trusting and standing by her vows. Surely this should account for something, even in the eyes of the law."
"For now, there is no sense in borrowing trouble. This could be a hoax, or at the very least, an attempt by Michael's son to cash in on his father's assets."
"We know that, Monty," John sounded impatient. "You didn't answer the question. What is it with you lawyers dancing around a question?"
A slow smile spread over Monty's face. "That is what I like about you, John. You never mince words. Okay, here is the bottom line. If this Dan is telling the truth about everything, I'm afraid that Sarah doesn't have many options in the eyes of the law." He looked with sympathy at Sarah. "I'll do everything in my power to stop him, but you must understand that he may have the law on his side. It will all hinge on the authenticity of his claims. I'll get on it tomorrow morning and keep you posted on what I find out."
"Is there any way to find out where he lives through his email address?" Sarah asked.
"No, information like that is protected by law. He has not committed any crime as far as we know. If his information turns out to be false, then we may be able to get it. Don't worry, my friend, we will get to the bottom of this, and know that I am going to do everything I can to help you."
"I know that, Monty. And, I thank you and I love you and John for being friends I can always count on." She glanced at John. "Well, it doesn't sound like there is much else we can do except wait to find out what Monty discovers." She stood as Monty rose from his chair. He walked up and gave her a warm hug.
"One more thing, Sarah, did you and Michael have your property in both of your names, or did you inherit it as Michael's widow?"
"We bought it together, Monty, with the full ownership going to the other in the event of death."
Monty clasped his hands together. "Good! That gives you a legal hold." His dark, Latin eyes displayed genuine warmth as he smiled at her. "Don't worry, mi amiga."
They said their goodbyes and were on there way back to the church parking lot when John looked over at Sarah. "Do you have one of those profiles filled out with your real name on your computer?"
"Your screen name gives no hint to your real name. If Monty is correct in saying no one can access the real information behind one, then how did this fellow find out your email address?"
She shrugged her shoulders. "Who knows? Maybe I am on some mailing lists. I just want to clear the whole thing up so I can get back to normalcy again."
John remained quiet, but his thoughts were filled with the issue. He eased his Lincoln into the parking lot and stepped out of the car. He walked around and opened the door for her. He gave her a strong hug. "Call me day or night if you need me." He grasped her chin, "Okay?"
"Okay!" She grinned and headed for her car.
John watched as she drove away. He had an uneasy feeling. When he entered his car, his mind was racing. He was convinced that whoever was doing this to Sarah, knew her...knew her well.
Determined to clear her mind, Sarah turned the radio to a soft rock station, and recognizing the tune, sang along. She pulled into the driveway of her sprawling ranch house still singing. Caught up in it, she sat in her car. Her gaze scanned her beautiful home without really seeing, when suddenly, something caught her eye. The singing stopped as she stared. Something was hanging from the door knob to her front door. She shut off the engine and emerged from her car. Approaching slowly, she glanced around her yard as she tried to quell her nerves. It was a large canvas bag, dark blue in color with handles looped over the door knob. These were common and often used by women in lieu of a purse or book bag. She gingerly lifted it off the knob, inserted her key in the lock and entered her house. She shut the door quickly behind her and turned the bolt to lock it.
She tossed the bag on the dining table and rushed into the kitchen to prepare a cup of tea to settle her nerves before returning to the table.
Not wanting to reach into the bag, she dumped the contents onto the table. There were papers, pictures and a sealed envelope addressed to her. It was the pictures that caught her eye first. One-by-one, she looked at them. Her eyes welled with tears as she recognized Michael when he was much younger. In one, he was with a woman and he was holding a baby. In others it showed him with the woman or with a little toddler. The baby had Michael's eyes and hair color. There was no doubt that the baby was Michael's son. Her hands shaking, she reached for the papers and studied them. They were copies of Michael's marriage certificate to a Cassandra Sanchez, a birth certificate for a Michael Daniel Richardson listing Michael as the father and Cassandra as the mother and a copy of Cassandra Richardson's death certificate.
Overwhelmed with emotions, Sarah lowered her head to her arms and wept uncontrollably. After a while, she lifted her head and stared at Michael's picture on the mantle of the fireplace. "Why didn't you tell me?" she screamed. She ripped open the envelope and began reading through her tears. There was not much more than what was on the email. She scrunched it up and threw it across the room. The phone rang. She picked up the cordless phone and punched the talk button. "Hello."
A smooth, male voice said, "I assume you have had time to go over the items I left for you?"
She stared in shock at the phone then clicked the off button.