Doc's Codicil

Doc's Codicil; A Christmas pageant that won Forward Reveiws 2015 Bronze Medal for Humor

A Christmas Pageant that won the 2015 Forward Review Bronze for humor

  

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Reviews

  

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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EXCERPT

CHAPTER 1


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

second ago."


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

stubborn SOB.


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

warned me.


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

represent them.”


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

a lesson.”


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

question.”


“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

reading.


“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

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. 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

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.