Mauro slid his knife into its sheath. “You’re right, Donny. Probably dead by now,” he said. “I’ll come get you at dark.”
Don walked away, smiling. He could see Mauro’s mind working.
Taking a last look at the fields, Mauro headed back to his spot. Sitting again in the crotch of the oak, he eyed his quiver; seven arrows and one empty hole. The black hole filled him with dread, looming in his gut like an undigested meal. Something about that cat nagged at him.
The drive back to Aldo’s was quiet. Don kicked himself that he’d passed on a fork horn he’d seen at the edge of dusk. Mauro showed up at his tree stand ten minutes later. That surprised Don. Usually, he had to drag his cousin from the woods in pitch black.
“Other than a few spikes and the one eight-point, nothing but does. Huge does, but does just the same,” Mauro fumed.
As Mauro drove, Don watched the sun sink below the horizon, the trees creating a flickering effect. Mauro tilted his head side-to-side, still ticked about the cat. He couldn’t believe he missed it. The idea of its suffering didn’t bother him at first. Now though, he could hear the awful scream. It was like the sound inside your head two days after a rock concert; you know you’re not hearing it at that moment, but make no mistake, you are hearing it.
The cat was feral, he rationalized. In addition to the threat to the small game population, they often grew rabid. He wasn’t superstitious, but a black cat still made him uneasy, and something about it bothered him. That glint of light as it jumped. He couldn’t be sure. He tried not to think about it. Maybe tomorrow he would still have a chance at the Grey Ghost.
When they walked in from the back steps of the cabin, Nino was at the table.
“Bro, you should’ve seen the buck we saw! Like twenty points on it—”
The strange look on Nino’s face cut Don short. He recognized it as his brother’s poker face, the one he made when he was trying to bluff a crap hand. Mauro picked up on it, too. Nino shook his head at them and pursed his lips.
“Meeeoowww … ” he imitated a sad purr.
Mauro looked at him, nonplussed. He turned to Don who could only shrug. Aldo had the phone on his ear, his bulldog jaw set and his eyes bugged out, dark and serious.
“Well, I don’t know nothing about that—hey, they just got in. I’ll call you back. Yeah. I’ll ask them.” He looked at the phone a moment and nodded once. As he hung up, Aldo turned to them, staring hard at his nephews.
Then he redirected his gaze, settling on Mauro.
“Which one of you shot that farmer’s cat?” he asked.
Mauro didn’t hesitate.
“Wasn’t us, Uncle,” he said. Had Mauro gone all-in on a pair of deuces wearing the same stoic face, an opponent holding a royal flush would’ve felt compelled to muck it.
Don didn’t do as well. His inclination was to just fess up. But he felt Mauro there.
“Not me, Unc,” he added, bobbing slightly under Aldo’s gaze.