Nino searched the faces of his brother and cousin. He felt a tinge guilty for not giving them the benefit of the doubt.

Aldo listened to Troyer’s protestations, his eyes seeming to test the anatomical limits of his orbital bones. Then he relaxed.

“Oh,” he said, sounding quite deflated. “You found an arrow.”

Mauro felt his balls sweat but resisted the impulse to look away, feeling like Lot must have, waiting for his wife to catch up as he sprinted from the wrath of God.

Aldo and Mauro locked stares as Aldo spoke. “Well, they didn’t do it. No, I’m not going to check the arrows, I’m sorry—no, I wouldn’t do that to them—I won’t do it!”

Don looked at Mauro, but Mauro stared straight ahead. Don focused on the head of a merganser featured on a Hautman print that hung above the couch, sure that if he looked anywhere else he’d start singing like a canary, buckling under Aldo’s interrogation. He wanted it to stop. It was a mistake, not worth getting his uncle this upset.

“I understand. Goodbye then … I’m sorry you feel that way.”

Aldo looked at the phone as if it were a New York Times crossword. Then he quietly hung up. He twisted his neck at Mauro.

“You shot that farmer’s cat, didn’t you? Didn’t you, Mauro? Come clean.”

“Uncle, it wasn’t me. It wasn’t. Why would I shoot a cat, let alone his cat? The guy set up tree stands for us!” Mauro protested. “He was a prince, I mean, he’s your friend!”

“Not anymore. Cat needs emergency surgery. Four hundred dollars. That’s crazy,” Aldo chewed the inside of his cheek. “You shot that cat, didn’t you? Orange and white vanes, he said. You shot it,” he accused him again; more livid than before. “My boy, Killer. Had to shoot it, didn’t you?”

Mauro’s face grew ashen. He stared at Don but didn’t say anything in response to the accusation. Instead, he bolted from the cabin. They heard his Cherokee’s hatch open.

“I’ll go after him, Unc.” Don started for the door.

“Don’t you move, nephew,” Aldo chided. He approached Don, his eyes narrowing and torched with heat. He looked quickly at the back door. “It was him, wasn’t it? Tell me Donny. He hates cats and I know he loves killing  stuff. That’s something Mauro would do. Tell me now. It’s OK.” Aldo’s tone was insistent.

“Uncle, it wasn’t us. There’s state land nearby … could’ve been anyone—”

“But it wasn’t anyone, was it?” Aldo snapped.

“Mauro saw some guy,” Don said, evidently having learned something from Mauro, because now Nino was buying in to their innocence, even in the face of such damning evidence.

Aldo studied him. Don’s throat tightened, and he felt faint. The door swung open, and Mauro stormed back in. He placed both bows on the table, their two quivers full of arrows. The shafts were both green camo, but one set had red and yellow vanes, the other were trimmed with green and blue.

“The red and yellow ones are Don’s, and mine are the green and blue. I don’t know what else I have to do to prove it to you. All the arrows are accounted for, all eight of them in each quiver. Go on, count ’em, Unc.” Mauro’s face was absolutely beatific, and he spoke with the sincerity of a cleric.

Upon seeing the green and blue fletched arrows, Don momentarily found even himself somehow believing his cousin. Nino couldn’t be sure of anything now. Aldo fingered the arrows, regarding the evidence and he slumped, looking his age for the first time any of them could recall. Mostly, he looked relieved.

Photo(s) by Illustration by Joe Borri,