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Irene McIntosh (Bookseller) on NetGalley, July 1, 2015
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars.
“Really enjoyed this book. It has been a very long time since an author has made me laugh out loud. A life lesson engagingly told. Take more time for squirrel fishing, deep water marine especially!”
Carolyn McVicker-Wilson (Reviewer) on NetGalley, Aug 24, 2015
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
“This book is quite quirky and very much of the love it or hate it school of writing. I loved it and was pleased to find a plot that was out of the ordinary.”
Christine DeSmet, mystery author, faculty associate and director, Write-by-the-Lake Writer’s Workshop & Retreat, University of Wisconsin-Madison (July 7, 2015).
"Doc’s Codicil by Gary F. Jones is entertaining, wise, and filled with touches of magical realism. I enjoyed following Doc—a dairy veterinarian—on his rounds with his unlikely guardian angel called Doofus. Doc’s family troubles and the authentic details of small-town life are charming and keep the plot moving at a good pace. And what the animals do (and think!) during the local Christmas Nativity play is downright hilarious. If you enjoyed movies where actor Jimmy Stewart conversed with a tall rabbit named Harvey and the angel Clarence in his search for wisdom, you’ll “get” this imaginative debut novel.”
Carol Wichman (Bookseller) on NetGalley (July 17, 2015)
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
“Humor was great. . .”
Paul Franco (Reviewer) on NetGalley, August 5, 2015
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
“This is one of those stories where the recently deceased leaves the descendants some puzzles to solve before they can receive the inheritance goodies. There’s the good girl, the guy who thinks it’s a waste of time, and other stock characters, though their interactions and thought processes as they try to solve the puzzles are stimulating enough. But most of the story is taken up by two historical threads, which are described in a book that is where the characters most look for clues. One concerns the dead man’s life as a veterinarian, while the other involves a Christmas pageant where everything that can go wrong does.
“I will say that I learned far too much about veterinary medicine than could possibly be good for me. The humor sneaks up on you, especially with the character—if you can call him that—of Doofus (drawn faithfully and hilariously on the cover), although the crown of best individual goes to Gladys the camel. Though it seems to meander at times, in the end it does lead exactly to where the inheritance hunters need to go, if they can figure it out.”
“If nothing else, whenever I need to get away from someone I can’t stand, I can say that I’m taking Doofus squirrel fishing. . .”
Susan Rae (Educator) on NetGalley Review, 22Aug 2015
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Full Text: “Great book with interesting storyline. Lots of humour and I am left with a life long memory of Doofus going squirrel fishing!! A very enjoyable read.”
Karen O'Hare, Reviewer, NetGalley, Aug 14, 2015
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
“. . . At times, this book was 'laugh out loud' funny and also poignant as the siblings work together to discover what was happening in Doc's life before he died. . . The book is well-researched and clearly shows the author's understanding of bovine matters!”
Nanette Tredoux (Educator) August 5, 2150
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
“. . . I found the background about veterinary science and farming fascinating, but I don't expect all readers will. . . . I liked it best when the author, through the character of Doc, made gentle fun of human foibles and priorities. . . ”
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Codicil: a document that amends a previously executed will.
The Heirs’ Story
Rockburg, Northern Wisconsin, September 2013
Al finished tying his tie and looked at himself in the mirror. A halo
of wispy, white hair edged his shining pate; his back was stooped;
and his face lined and creased. You’re kind of an old fossil for this
nonsense, he thought. He reached for his suit coat, hesitated, and left
it where it was. “Too damned hot today,” he grumbled. “I wouldn’t
bother with a tie if I knew these kids better.”
His wife Jan, white haired and dressed in her robe, looked at
him from the master bathroom and mumbled something as she
brushed her teeth.
He snorted quietly. Together forty-five years, and she still thinks
I can understand her when she talks with a toothbrush in her mouth.
“What was that, dear?”
Jan set the toothbrush aside and rinsed her mouth. “How do you
think your meeting will go?” she asked.
“I do not know. You can’t play games with bank stock and not
expect consequences, even if you are dead.” He scanned his dresser
and the bed. “Where the hell are my socks? I had ’em in my hand a
Jan sighed. “On your left shoulder, Al,” she called to him, “where
you put them while you tied your tie.”
He saw her roll her eyes. I guess I deserved that.
Thirty minutes later in the bank’s board room, Al Huss watched
Seth, Doc’s oldest son, pace back and forth at the other end of the
conference table. Six foot tall, frowning, muscular, and shaved bald,
Seth looked intimidating. Al followed Seth’s eyes as they lingered
over the dark wainscoting, wide moldings around the doors,
windows, ceiling, and the wood flooring that groaned as he paced.
Al had seen the look before. Kids move to a big city and think our
bank is a museum piece.
Seth’s sister, Julie, an attractive, willowy brunette, the youngest
of the family, was dressed casually in shorts and blouse and sat
halfway down the mahogany conference table to Al’s left. Her pixie
haircut set off a wicked grin. Al saw her flick something, maybe
a paper clip, across the table at her brother Jed. Jed, in jeans
and T-shirt, had a beard, thinning auburn hair, and was slightly
shorter and leaner than Seth. Whatever Julie had aimed at him, Jed
deflected toward his cousin Mark, a thin, dark-haired young man
sitting next to him. Mark, the only one wearing a suit, gave a start,
and looking puzzled, glanced around the room. A smile flickered
across Jed’s face; as with studied innocence, both he and Julie used
magazines from a rack by the wall to fan themselves. Both have
graduate degrees and families, and they get home and act like fourth
graders, Al thought. Just like Doc said.
Yellowed curtains behind Al fluttered pleasantly in a light breeze
from an open window behind him. Wally picked up a newspaper and
began to fan himself. Apparently natural ventilation isn’t enough
for a generation raised with air conditioning, Al thought. They don’t
look happy that I haven’t turned the lights on, either.
The light from the windows was enough for Al. He drafted the
will years ago and reread it after the funeral last week. Al had
agreed to do this as a favor for Doc. That was before the codicil.
Crazy bastard, I told him not to do this. Just like him, though, the
He looked at Doc’s sons. Both appeared to be in their mid-forties,
Seth slightly older. Jed whispered something to Wally and smiled.
Al recognized something of old Doc in that smile. Ah, hell, I owe it to
him. We had some great times, but for Christ’s sake, squirrel fishing?
Al glanced at his watch and the door. Late, he thought. Doc
The pendulum clock on the wall struck ten o’clock. Al looked
over his glasses at it, then toward the heirs lining the table. “Julie,
Jed, and Seth, thank you for coming. Do any of you know if Josh
plans to be here?”
“He’s coming,” Julie said and shrugged her shoulders. “At least,
that’s what he said, yesterday.”
Seth took a chair, sprawling more than sitting. “Josh hasn’t
been on time in twenty years. Let’s get started.”
Al, elbows resting on the table, pressed his fingertips together
in front of him. It was an old habit, a pose he struck to make it
clear he was in charge. “That’s what your father said. He also left
instructions I was not to begin until all of his children were present,
barring accident or catastrophe.”
He turned his attention to the cousin. “Mark, as . . .”
Mark looked up from his newspaper. At thirty-three, he was the
youngest in the room. “I stopped using my first name—too much
confusion with my dad’s. I go by M. Wallace for legal documents,
otherwise, call me Wally.”
“I’ll make a note of that. As you know, there is not a financial
settlement for you and your family in the will, but all of your
grandmother’s descendants share equally in properties covered by
the codicil. Will the rest of your family be joining us?”
“Nope,” Wally said. “Mom isn’t well enough to travel, and my
brother and sister were detained by business. They asked me to
The door opened, and Josh, a harried-looking man in his late
thirties, with a beard and ponytail, and dressed in cutoffs, sandals,
and T-shirt, peeked into the room. He looked toward Julie and
grinned, “Guess I’m in the right room. Sorry I’m late.”
Al introduced himself and got down to business. He explained
that they had three items on the agenda: the will, the safety deposit
box, and the codicil. He passed out copies of the will to each of Doc’s
children. Wally busied himself with his cell phone while the will was
read. The terms were straightforward; all assets, except the farm
and those covered by the codicil, were to be divided equally.
The bank president, another old friend of Doc’s, brought in the
safety deposit box, and behind him came his secretary with her
laptop. They sat on either side of Al; the president opened the box
and gave it to Al, as his secretary booted her computer.
Al went through the contents—insurance policies, stock
certificates, deed to the family farm, certificates of deposit, outdated
contracts—naming each item aloud, accompanied by the soft clicks
of the secretary’s keyboard, as she prepared the inventory. The
routine was broken when Al came to four sealed envelopes.
Al paused a moment. He hadn’t expected this. Probate could
be a legal nightmare if the envelopes contained valuables and the
kids fought over something. “These envelopes have your names on
them. I will assume they are yours and are not part of the estate.
I suggest you open them later.” He passed them out to Julie, Seth,
Jed, and Josh.
Only a brown envelope remained in front of Al. He put it aside
earlier, hoping to get the bulk of his work completed before the
fireworks, just as he turned off the air conditioning before meetings
to encourage people to leave rather than argue. Al planned ahead.
Doc had given Al the envelope five years earlier. It still mystified
him. It resembled a standard business envelope, but was heavier
and made of card stock rather than paper. “Buy War Bonds” was
printed in large blue letters across the front, and in the upper
corners were an eagle to the left and an American flag on the right.
It was an antique in its own right, a survivor from World War II.
Doc insisted the codicil be stored and delivered to his children and
his sister Linda’s children only in this envelope.
Al didn’t recognize the name “Tim Wilson” or the handwriting
on the front. Maybe, it had something to do with the final request in
the codicil. Al glanced at each of the heirs and hoped Doc had passed
on his sense of humor. Guess this is when I find out.
“Doc and Linda inherited two properties. One is the family farm,
now being managed by the son of your grandmother Elspeth’s, ah,
grandmother’s . . .” Al was a bit prudish, and finding the right words
with the lady’s granddaughter in the room came hard for him.
“Ahem, ah, your grandmother’s companion.”
“You mean Grandma’s boy toy,” Julie said.
The heirs giggled, and Al felt himself turn red. At least, they had
a sense of humor. “Whatever. The codicil states that the farm is to
be sold at a discount to the current manager. The proceeds will go
to fund the codicil and your expenses incurred in discovery.”
“Discovery?” asked Seth. “What’s that all about? And why does
the manager get a deal?”
Al remembered Doc had warned him about Seth. “Your father
recommended the young man to your grandmother and helped her
hire him away from another farm decades ago. It was only later that
they discovered the relationship to, ah, the relationship. Doc and
Linda have, or had, great respect and affection for the young man.”
“There’s a property other than the farm?” Wally asked.
“Stock in this bank. It was purchased by your grandfather in
1950, when he served on the board.”
“Grandpa was on the Board of Directors? Here?” Julie asked.
“He was the Chairman of the Board. There were two factions
on the board, and the only person in town who could get along with
both of them was your grandfather. Board members sold him bank
stock at a discount to get him on the Board. He left the stock to
your grandmother, and she put it in trust until Linda was fifty.
Apparently, neither of your grandparents thought people under fifty
should be trusted with money. Doc and Linda agreed to set the stock
aside for the next generation. They saw it as a means to bring you
together, bring you back to their home town, and to teach all of you
Al knew he’d made a mistake as soon as he finished the sentence.
Seth came out of his chair. “What? Teach us a lesson!”
Al tried putting his fingertips together again and looked over
his glasses at Seth. This was not going well, and he hadn’t even
gotten to the hard part. “Doc was one of my best friends. Wally, your
mother Linda is another. Your mother and Doc prepared this codicil
together, against my advice, and over my objections.”
Two crazy bastards, Al thought, but immediately regretted it.
No matter how crazy Doc could be, Linda was always a lady, Al
thought. He looked at the heirs again. They were staring back at
him. He took a deep breath and forged ahead.
“Doc, with the approval of Linda, requested I read the following:
‘Linda and Mark and I and Mary are proud of all of you. You are
honest, hardworking, and bright. That’s a good start in life, but we
are asking more of you.
‘We would like you to laugh and sing, loudly and often. Be kind
to others, help your fellow man, love those close to you, study for the
sheer joy of learning, seek out difficult tasks, and go at them. Do not
fear failure; it happens.
‘Your checking accounts will be empty before the end of the
month from the time your kids are in high school until they’re out
of college, maybe longer. Buck up; it will pass. Enjoy them while
they’re with you.
‘Be honest, be truthful, and always, always remember to take
Doofus squirrel fishing.’”
“Squirrel what? With who?” asked Seth.
Al ignored him, and without pause or looking up to check the
other heirs’ reactions, he went straight into the financials.
“The bank stock is to be sold within five years, or as needed, to
allow the estate to get the best price. The proceeds will be deposited
in the bank as long-term CDs until they are dispersed. The initial
CDs will be given to each of you when one of you answers the first
“What’s the question?” asked Jed.
Jed was the only one of the heirs who was smiling. Al remembered
Doc had told him Jed was a puzzle fan.
Al swallowed hard. He’d be lucky if he weren’t committed for
psychiatric evaluation after this meeting. “The first question is,
‘Would you like to go squirrel fishing?’”
Silence. Al had never seen five such clueless people. Make that
six, counting himself. He had no idea what the answer was. That
was in a smaller envelope.
Al continued reading the codicil. “The second set of CDs will be
given to those of you who take Doofus squirrel fishing, and—”
Seth snorted, stood, and resumed pacing the floor. The
squeaking floor was the only sound in the room, until Al resumed
“The last CD will be given to the person who returns this
envelope to its rightful owner. If any of you do not take Doofus
squirrel fishing, your share of the proceeds will be given to your
issue upon your death.”
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
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
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
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
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. eth’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
“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.