Chapter 1, part 2 (In part 2, the heirs discovered that they must take Doofus squirrel fishing to get all of their inheritance)
Seth scowled, Josh looked at Wally and shrugged his shoulders, and Jed dropped his pen. The soft clatter sounded like an overturned garbage can in the quiet room.
Jed retrieved his pen and broke the silence. “Who is Doofus, and where does he fish?”
“I do not know. I suspect it is allegorical,” Al said. “The answer for each question—”
“I think Doofus was a character Dad invented for his stories,”
Josh said. “I’m not—”
Al coughed. “Allow me to finish, please. The answer for each question is in a sealed envelope. There are three. Each is to be opened only when necessary.”
“How much is the bank stock worth?” Wally asked.
The heirs nodded in agreement.
“Yeah, what’s the payout on this dizzy game?” Seth asked.
This is where it gets unpleasant, Al thought. Maybe nasty. “My guess, which is only a guess, as shares in the bank are sold infrequently, is somewhere between 150 and 200. Sale of the farm could add over ten times that, depending on the appraised value.”
Seth made a quick calculation. “So, 2,000 bucks divided between seven of us?”
Al fidgeted. Even with the breeze from the window behind him, he was sweating. “You misunderstood me; 150 to 200 is 150 to 200 thousand dollars. With the proceeds of the farm, that could be 350 to 450,000 dollars for each of you, with a possible $100,000 bonus CD.”
Josh whistled. The rest of the heirs looked, in turn, incredulous, happy, and upset.
“Why in hell tie everything up in bank CDs?” Seth asked.
“None of you are fifty yet. Linda and Doc agreed with their parents about young people and money,” Al said.
The heirs, some scribbling on scraps of paper, some looking into space, each quietly calculated how the money would affect them.
Al interrupted their reverie. “I didn’t mention it before, as the value is uncertain, but your father’s book is due to be published in November. Proceeds from the publisher’s contract will add $2,000 per heir to the CDs. That figure could be increased substantially, if the book sells well.”
Wally looked surprised. “Unk wrote a book?”
“It was a fantasy,” Jed said. “That’s the story about Doofus. He talked about it a lot after Mom died, but I never paid attention.”
Julie thought for a minute. “I did. So did your kids. All our kids did. Dad told those stories every Thanksgiving, silly stories, stories about the family and his work. The kids ate it up.”
Seth nodded. “Marcie learned a bunch of new words from Dad’s stories. Martha was furious. That’s why we cut back on holidays with the family.”
Josh snickered. “Yeah, Dad’s language could be salty.”
Seth stopped his pacing. “I’ll be damned if I’m going to—”
Al interrupted. “One of the reasons I mentioned the book was that Doc and Linda signed the codicil before he wrote the book and negotiated with the publisher. I would suggest you contest the codicil were it not for that, as the sums involved and the bizarre requests bring Doc’s sanity into question. I don’t think that’s open to you now.”
Seth wasn’t mollified. “Well, I’m not going to give up that kind of money. He wanted an answer? Okay, I’ll go squirrel fishing.”
Al already had the appropriate envelope in hand. He had hoped someone would answer the question, today. It gave him a chance to look at the response Doc wanted, which might give him an idea of what the hell the old fool had been up to.
A small piece of paper fell from the envelope. Handwritten. Great. Doc’s handwriting was nearly indecipherable. Al read the answer, straightened a crease in the paper to see if that would help, pulled out his handkerchief, and wiped his glasses. The answer remained the same.
Al reevaluated his friendship with Doc, trying to remember if there were reasons Doc would deliberately torture him. The last time he’d seen Doc was after Doc’s retirement. They’d been having a beer on the deck at Doc’s. A couple of squirrels had been in a tree above them.
Al remembered. He tried not to, but he started to laugh. He gave up any pretense of self-control and let loose, howling with laughter. Tears were running down his face by the time he regained his composure. God, I loved being around that guy.
Al turned to Seth. “No. That is not the correct answer.”
Seth’s face was dark. The other heirs were silent; the men, other than Jed, were sullen.
Al decided he’d better do something. “Doc didn’t say I couldn’t give you a hint. Remember the backyard of your parent’s home. They were inveterate gardeners. One structure was unusual. That structure is the key to your father’s question, ‘Do you want to go squirrel fishing?’”
Silence, again. Al felt a trickle of sweat running down his back. He held his breath as the trickle turned into a stream.
Julie started to laugh. “Dad, you crazy . . .” Grinning, she looked at Seth. “Will I go squirrel fishing? Freshwater or marine?”
Al exhaled. “I believe we are done for today. With your permission, I’ll sell 30 percent of the bank stock and have the initial payment for the question mailed to each of you.”
He began to gather the papers before him. “There are no limits on the number of answers you submit or the time you require to take Doofus fishing. You are to discuss this amongst yourselves, as Doc and Linda did this, in part, to ensure continued communication between the branches of the family. Contact me if—”
“What the hell. That was the answer?” Seth asked. “A question was the answer?”
“Yes. Congratulations, Julie. You read your father’s mind.” Al stood, put the brown envelope in his briefcase and moved around the table, shaking hands.
Seth’s handshake was uncomfortably firm.
As they left, the heirs passed the door to a cloakroom. It was a long, narrow room of a type common in public buildings built before 1920. Seth energetically waved the others over and held a finger to his lips when he was next to the door. With exaggerated care, he turned the doorknob, stepped to the side, and jerked the door open.
What the hell is he up to now, Al thought, and watched in consternation as the heirs behaved as though they’d been teargassed.
Josh slapped a handkerchief over his nose. “Wheeuww. For God’s sake, close it. Smells as bad as when they clean Grandma’s barn.”
“What possessed you to open that?” Julie asked.
Seth didn’t answer. He took a gulp of air, flipped the old fashioned light switch next to the door, and quickly explored the windowless room.
“I heard somebody in here,” he said, as he came out. “He was listening to our meeting. I heard him laughing.”
The room was empty, and Seth was standing in the only door.