Thank you nephew,” Aldo said, his voice a whisper. “I’m sorry I accused you, but you can see how it looked. I’m glad I can try to mend fences with Ed now, with a clean conscience.” Aldo stared at the phone. “There’s some state land you kids can hunt on. I’ll draw you a map. I want you three to go into Spruce Township for me and pick up a lawnmower being fixed, anyway. Mennonite kid there is a whiz at that stuff. It’ll take you right by the state land.” He rubbed his temples. “I’ll call Ed tomorrow, try straightening things … I’m gonna turn in now. ’Night, my nephews,” Aldo said.
He waited with open arms for the three. Each dutifully kissed his cheek. First Nino, then Don. Don fought off a sick feeling in his stomach as Aldo patted his back. Mauro waited an uncomfortable half-minute as Aldo wrenched himself from Don’s embrace.
When Mauro hugged him, Aldo held on tight, gripping him by the shoulders for what seemed like an eternity. He finally pulled away and looked into Mauro’s large brown eyes. He smiled at his nephew, making him uncomfortable.
“You look like your father. I love your daddy, you know that. You’re a lot like him. He never lied either, because he was terrible at it. But only a tremendous liar could’ve lied after the way I came at you. I had to do it, Mauro, you know that, right?”
“Thank you for telling me the truth. You’re a good kid.”
He kissed Mauro again and walked toward his bedroom, looking defeated.
Mauro’s heart raced. The three stood there a minute, the bows still on the table.
Mauro opened the refrigerator and poured a large glass of milk. Nino said nothing, just watched him. Mauro held up the milk in an offertory gesture to them.
“Yeah, OK,” Don said. Nino shook his head, no.
Mauro poured another glass and sat down with the two brothers. There was a plate of biscotti Nino had brought up from Alinosi’s in Detroit. He grabbed one and dunked it, letting it soak until it was soggy.
“So Mauro, you shot the cat, right?” Nino asked, testing the waters one last time.
Mauro looked right through him—unwavering—then at Don, and he could tell that his cousin was ready to back him up even though Nino was his brother. He took a bite of the mushy cookie and chewed it once, feeling the texture on his tongue.
And then he looked straight into Nino’s eyes.
“No, wasn’t us.” He kept looking at him and continued chewing.
Nino shrugged, then walked to the refrigerator. Mauro looked at Don and placed his finger to his lips. Don squinted dismissively.
Nino returned displaying a platter heaping with white walleye fillets and surrounded by a border of perch.
Don let out a long wolf whistle. “Damn, Neen, those are beauties,” he said.
“Nice. How big were the walleye?” Mauro asked, the cat incident evaporating.
“Biggest was near five pounds. Hog practically straightened my hook. Be eating good tomorrow night. Unc was going to drop some of the perch off to the farmer, but I don’t know now. It’d be more like a peace offering. Sounds like he’s convinced one of you guys tried to snuff his pussy,” Nino said.
Don laughed, “Good one, Neen.”
Nino turned to his brother. “Donny, take a breath—it wasn’t that funny.”
Mauro tightened his forearms, sitting coiled tensely as Nino returned the platter.
“Hey—let’s get that mower early tomorrow. Leave around seven,” Mauro said.
Nino shrugged. “OK. I’ll sit with you, Don, bring my Nikon with me.”
“Sounds good. We’ll hunt the state land there and on the way back. Guys wake me up,” Mauro said. He drank slowly from the glass of milk.
“Will do,” Nino said. “’Night, guys.”
“’Night, bro,” Don said.
Nino hunched near the hallway, his face suddenly filling with great exertion. He blew them a sarcastic kiss, lifted his leg and farted magnificently, breaking Don and Mauro up. He walked into his bedroom, satisfied to end the evening on such a low note.