Aldo held his stare on Don then flashed his bulging eyes back at Mauro.

“Well then. That’s an amazing damn coincidence, isn’t it? Because Ed Troyer just came in from the fields and found his cat on the porch, bleeding like a virgin on her goddamn honeymoon,” Aldo roared.

“His cat?” Mauro asked, surprised. “What color was it?”

“What’s that got to do with anything?” Aldo asked, a vein growing in his neck the size of a garter snake. “Black. Had what looked like an arrow wound. Tell me now; what are the chances of that? You two bow-hunting motherscratcbers, and this cat—who’s minding its own goddamn business on his owner’s property—gets shot from a bow and arrow? Now, if it was an accident, Ed, he’d understand. Man’s a prince. So tell me right now; did you shoot that farmer’s cat? Did you?”

“His cat was like a, caramely color,” Don said, latching on to Mauro’s logic.

“Yeah, caramel-colored, like butterscotch pudding … Butterscotch-ish-like,” Mauro added. “Thing was so fat it looked like a stuffed animal, Unc—hardly moved. No, his cat was definitely not black. You’re right, Don … Butternut! That was its name.”

Aldo’s eyes looked as though they might explode right from their sockets.

“Butterscotch, Butternut! Minchia! He’s a farmer! You think he’s only got one cat? Farmer’s got craploads of cats you dumb mamalukes! You shot that farmer’s cat, didn’t you? Mauro, tell me! Didn’t you? It was you,” Aldo pointed at Mauro.

Mauro didn’t react.

“Uncle, it wasn’t us. Could’ve been anyone,” he said. “Hell, I saw a guy walking around the edge of the woods when I was in my tree. He was all camoed up—”

Don snapped his head toward Mauro.

“Guy was carrying a bow. I didn’t think nothing of it at the time … ”

The phone rang, quelling the tension a moment. There was a stare down between uncle and nephew as the ringing reverberated throughout the toasty cabin.

“Another guy? OK. You give me your word, and that’s all I need to hear—no bull. It wasn’t you?”

Nino looked at his brother, then at Mauro. He wasn’t sure now if he’d been wrong or if, as he suspected, he and Aldo were being played.

“Got my word, I swear. Wasn’t us,” Mauro said, never blinking.

Aldo finally answered on the fourth ring.

“Hello … hey Ed … ah, you’re kidding? Damn, really … well, they said it wasn’t them, so—yeah, I know how it looks, but if they said it wasn’t them, I believe ’em. Listen, my nephew Mauro mentioned seeing another guy on your property—whoa, I’m just telling you what he told me and—I’m sorry to hear that, that’s a real kick in the teeth … I hope he pulls through … ”

Mauro glanced at Don, whose contempt for his cousin was growing.

Aldo raised his hand. “Say again, Ed … ”

The three boys looked at each other. Aldo’s gaze never left Mauro, but his anger seemed directed elsewhere now. He listened intently, his mouth drawn tight into a sneering mask.

“Are you growing wacky-tobacky on that farm, Eddy? Four hundred dollars? You could buy a hundred cats … I know Ed, but come on; it’s a cat!

Pardon my French, but it’s not like it’s a person. She’ll have to get over it. Yeah, it looks suspicious, but it coulda been a hawk or an owl went after him … damn straight I’ve seen it happen. And like Mauro said, this other guy—”

Photo(s) by Illustration by Joe Borri,