The Heirs’ Story
Rockburg, September 2013
Jan set the dining room table as Al relaxed in his living room. He read the paper, one eye on the six o’clock television sports news. This was the home Jan had always wanted. It was open and spacious. Al could see the big TV from the kitchen or dining room, and she could interrupt his game from the same rooms.
“How did the meeting go?” Jan called. She popped another packaged dinner into the microwave. It hardly paid to cook for the two of them, which was a waste of a beautiful kitchen, but she had put in her years at the stove.
There was no response. Jan asked again, louder, as carpet and drapes in the living room absorbed sound, and Al was next to the television.
“What’s that, hun?”
“Dinner’s ready. Come to the kitchen, so I don’t have to yell.” Someday, I’ll tell him he can fix his own dinner, Jan thought. Maybe, he’d appreciate what I do. She put the dinners on a small table in the kitchen. Nah. He’s never given me credit for the information I dig up. Why would he start now?
“What were you mumbling about?” Al stood right behind her.
She told him to sit, put two cups of decaf on the table, and took a seat. “I asked you about the meeting with Doc and Mary’s kids. How did it go?”
“Fine, I had everything under control.” Al turned to peek at the sports show. “Why’d you ask?”
He deserves this. “Oh, no reason.” Jan took a bite and waited until she judged the timing right. “I was in the Coffee Cup this afternoon talking to Karen Jensen, when the heirs came in. They sat right behind me, with Gert.”
She stopped talking until Al took his eyes off a touchdown replay and turned to face her. “Gert and the kids were talking about the codicil and their dad’s book. Sounded like Gert had information for them.”
Al stopped in mid-chew and stared at Jan. “How does Gert know about it? Did you hear what she said?”
“Of course not, dear. That would be eavesdropping.” Jan pretended to be engrossed in removing a bit of shell from a shrimp on her plate. Let him steam a little, she thought.
Al watched her warily for a couple of minutes before going back to his meal and the sports news.
Jan was quiet until she served dessert. “Hank at the hardware store asked about the codicil, too.”
Al dropped his fork. “What? This was confidential. I haven’t said a word about it to anyone.” He drummed his fingers on the table, absently staring at the butter dish.
Yeah, never said a word. That’s rich. Complained to anybody who’d listen! “I might be able to learn what’s going on, if you’d tell me a little more about the codicil and Doc’s book.”
Al seemed lost in thought. “I wonder what Gert and Hank know?” he muttered. Could be more than I do. Doc ate at Gert’s, and he played cards with Hank.”
Jan coughed, cleared her throat, and waited. Rolling pin? Frying pan? Do I have to hit him upside the head to be noticed?
“Oh, sorry, dear.” Al paused and glanced around the table. “Hmmm, ah . . . yes, please,” and held out his empty coffee cup.
Rolling pin, hell. Meat Cleaver. Jan gritted her teeth and repeated her request for information as she poured the coffee.
Al sat back in his chair and looked in the distance. “I think, I think Doc started on the book and the codicil about the same time. It was after he retired. The book was about something that happened to him between Thanksgiving and Easter the year before he left his practice. Linda and Mark had problems over Christmas that year, too.”
“No, no. Whatever it was, Doc grew a lot that year. By the time he left practice for research, he was more confident in himself than I’d ever seen him—and we started kindergarten together. Linda seemed happier, too, although I rarely saw her. She and Mark were already living in New Orleans by then.”
Jan sipped her coffee. “What does the codicil have to do with the book?”
“I, ah, I’m not sure. Doc and Linda wrote the codicil while Doc was working on the book.” Al pursed his lips and rubbed his chin. “When did I first hear him mention Doofus? That was . . .”
Jan saw Al’s eyes begin to glaze and decided to intercede before he left again for that happy land his mind wandered to when she was talking. “Al, Al! Who is Doofus?”
“Uhh, yes, dear?”
“Who is Doofus?”
“Oh, I, I don’t know. I don’t even know if he exists. Doc said he’d introduce me to him once, but he didn’t show up. I think, yeah, it was the same day he told me about squirrel fishing.”
“Some fool game Doc played after he retired. I think he did it to irritate one of his neighbors, or maybe it was the squirrels. I couldn’t tell when he was pulling my leg.”
“Do his kids know Doofus?”
“No. They were emphatic on that.” Al absently pushed a crumb around his dessert plate with his fork. “Something strange happened at the end of our meeting this morning. Doc’s oldest son claimed he heard someone laughing in the cloakroom, and when he opened the door, the kids complained about a smell.”
“And?” Jan knew the cloakroom was used for storage. Old papers get musty.
“I didn’t smell a thing.” Al rubbed his chin again, “Strange.”
Jan ignored this. She knew what Al’s fishing tackle smelled like, and that never bothered him. She returned to what she’d heard. “It sounded as though the kids are trying to get into Doc’s computer files. They figure his manuscript will be there.”
“I hope so, and I hope they figure this out. Interpreting that codicil could land me on a psychiatrist’s couch. I can picture that crazy bastard stuffing his answers in the envelopes, thinking how this would drive me nuts, and cackling about it.”
Jan gathered up the plates. “Why would you expect that?”
“We used to play tricks on each—”
“Oh, Lord. I’d forgotten. Juvenile doesn’t—”
“The last time I saw him, he was talking about ideas, especially wacky ideas. That could open the door for all kinds of Delphic answers, knowing him. I just hope the kids figure it out quickly.”
“They might. Gert answered their question for them. They’re probably reading his book now.”