The Hayloft: a 1950s Mystery
father for living
    “Of course, I married Dorothy for her money,”
Uncle Jeff said, smiling. “But I wish she’d make a will to protect
me in my old age.”
    “It runs in the family,” my mother said. “Tom
won’t make a will either.”
    She was referring to my father, not my
    “If we die without a will, our spouses will
inherit, according to law,” my father said firmly, in an attempt to
close off the discussion.
    I knew from experience how stubborn and
opinionated my father was. “But what if they die first?” I asked,
suddenly concerned about my own future.
    “Then our children inherit, then other living
    “We’re almost out of living relatives,” Aunt
Dorothy said. “I think John here and you kids are the only
    She looked at Ed and Kate. There were too
many males named John and Thomas in the family. It was difficult to
figure out which one we were talking about. I was glad my name was
    “But that’s enough morbid talk for one
dinner,” she continued. “Who wants some pie?”

    CHAPTER 12
    After dinner, Ed proposed that we youngsters
play in the hayloft of the large red barn that had been built next
to the road fifty years ago. I pointed out that he and Kate were
hardly dressed for playing in a hayloft. Ed said that they had
thought of that and had brought along play clothes. So had Tom and
Archie. We had often played in the hayloft on past visits to the
farm, and for that reason, we always came prepared. Apparently Ed
and Kate had also played in the hayloft before.
    We all changed into blue jeans with holes in
the knees, old sweatshirts, and sneakers and trooped along the
narrow concrete walkway across the lawn to the barn. It had been
recently painted and was in good repair. The green roof had
lightning rods along the peak. Inside, it was dark and smelled like
a barn, even though no animals were kept here anymore. Odors of
manure and silage remained from the ghosts of cows who had once
been milked while standing in the metal stanchions on the ground
    Tom led the way up the rickety iron ladder to
the hayloft. He pushed up the trapdoor and secured it with a hook.
Kate went next, and Tom gave her a hand to help her make the
transition from the ladder to the wooden floor of the loft, rubbed
smooth and somewhat slippery by the polishing effect of hay bales
being slid across it. The rest of us were on our own.
    Tom had turned on the floodlight that
illuminated the basketball court in the center of the hayloft. The
only other light came from a window at the top of one end of the
barn. Uncle Jeff had built the backboard for Ralph when he was
young. The court took up the center third of the voluminous open
space. Another third was filled with a twenty-something-foot-high
pile of loose hay, and the remaining third contained rectangular
hay bales, stacked up to several feet below the window.
    This was the first time I had been in the
hayloft since Ralph had died. We had played basketball here
together and built forts in the hay bales. One time I had watched
as Ralph used a toy archery set to repeatedly shoot at one of the
pigeons that liked to roost on the rope under the peak of the roof
and drop white feces bombs onto the basketball court. It had taken
him a while, but he had slain the pigeon. Uncle Jeff had plucked
the feathers and roasted it. The pigeon was scrawny, and the meat
was tough and not very tasty.
    Ralph had loved basketball as much as I did.
I wondered whether we should be playing on his court. Maybe it
should be left, undisturbed, as a shrine to him. However, Tom had
no such compunctions. He grabbed a ball and started shooting
baskets. He was a slightly smaller version of me—not quite as tall,
not quite as quick. But give him a couple of years.
    “Let’s have a game,” Tom said, as Kate and Ed
took turns shooting with Tom.
    Archie had already disappeared up into the
hay bales. The only fair way for the rest of us to play two on two
was for

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