It was after 9 p.m. when Mauro got Aldo into bed, making sure he was comfortable, propping his injured arm with a pillow. He gave him one of the codeine tablets Nino had left, placing a glass of water on the nightstand.
“I’ll be across the hall if you need anything,” Mauro said.
“I’m fine. Thanks for staying, Mauro. You’re a good kid. Always were. Oh, I meant to tell you; Ed said everything’s forgiven. Wants you to come back next year. Says the missus will be calmed down by then. Man’s a prince, I tell you. Took care of me today … made sure I was OK. Oh and you won’t believe it—can’t believe I almost forgot to tell you—”
“Wait. He said all that? Really? What else is there?” Mauro asked.
“Wants you to stop by before you leave. Says you might be right about that hunter you saw. Guy he never gave permission to, chased him from his woods—last year, he said. Thinks it was him getting even,” Aldo said, sleep starting to pull him into its grasp. “You remember how to get there? I can tell you again if you forgot … ” His voice trailed out and his eyes closed. Mauro didn’t like seeing him so still.
He put the covers over Aldo and turned the light off. He stood in the dark for a while before leaving, hearing Aldo’s shallow breathing.
Standing beside his uncle’s chair, Mauro stroked the bald armrest, listening to the crackle of dried oak, the residual moisture trapped inside snapping and popping like a cap gun going off. The smell was redolent of so many nights up there, and he nursed three fingers of Jack Daniels recalling times he and Don would sneak off with a bottle of the stuff, fishing for new moon bass and catching a buzz, returning drunk under the cover of darkness to the warmed cabin.
Why does Farmer Troyer want me to come see him? Mauro thought.
It pecked at his conscience as he sipped the whiskey. Did Troyer really believe him? The idea of pinning the blame on another hunter wasn’t original, but it folded into his lie neatly and efficiently—and from the farmer’s mouth, too. Yet his stomach still felt queasy, and the thought of the cat pulling the arrow out of itself, a vision he was only able to imagine, haunted him since the moment he heard the wounded animal shrieking in the distance.
But if the farmer was willing to give him a second chance, he’d take it. He felt guilty wondering what his real motivation was for wanting to visit the farmer so badly. Was it truly the chance to put the incident behind him, or was it the prospect of a shot at another huge buck next year?
Or, he thought—better yet; maybe Troyer will give me the head and antlers? God, stop it, he told himself. He tried to suppress the thoughts, but found he just could not make them go away.
Even with the chance at bagging the Grey Ghost forever gone, genetics had a way of passing along certain traits, and there had to be other monsters lurking out there. Mauro chased away the selfish visions like a swarm of black flies. Either way, he’d go see Troyer on his way out of town, back to Detroit.
He figured he owed his uncle that much.