“Mauro, watch your fingers; he might confuse them with some garnish,” Don said. “Eats like he’s going to the chair.” The remark prompted a comedic glance from Nino.

“I don’t think you got enough olive oil on that,” Mauro said to him.

They laughed watching him continue his creation. He took a big bite of the sandwich, oil dripping down each corner of his mouth like blood on Nosferatu. He made a face as if deciding whether it was to his liking, then he looked studiously at Mauro.

“Know what, cuz? I think you’re right,” he said, dipping the whole thing into the olives before taking another horse bite, his fingers now coated with oil.

Mauro and Don threw their heads back, laughing, the whole time Nino chewed the sandwich, oil dribbling from his mouth. “Now it’s not so dry,” he said with perfect comic timing, finally letting himself laugh with them.

Mauro wiped his eyes and broke off a chunk of stinky fontinella. “Look, you’re gonna get us some walleye tonight, right? Tired of hearing your five-that-got-away stories,” Mauro said.

“I’ll try. Man, these weekends go by so fast and my stomach always hurts from laughing. Let me ask you; you two going to get me some venison?” Nino asked.

“If they’re out there we’ll stick ’em,” Mauro said. “Supposed to be a lot of big-ass bucks. I may nab two or three. Screw that farmer’s PETA-loving wife. Lombardi  the taxidermist has to eat, too. Am I right? Should be fun, huh Donny?”

Don studied Mauro’s face and recognized the look his cousin got when they were getting ready to go head-to-head on a quest for any kind of game, be it fur, fins, or fowl.

“Definitely. Let’s just take it easy, though,” Don said.

Nino looked at his brother. “Farmer’s supposed to be a pretty good guy, huh?”

“You’re kidding, right? That’s the understatement of the century. You obviously haven’t heard the ‘salt-of-the-Earth’ speech yet?” Mauro asked Nino rhetorically.

“Guy’s a prince, I give him oak, he gives me corn … ” Nino mimicked Aldo spot on, nodding with a chuckle. Then he thought of Aldo forgetting their phone conversation and he grew somber. Not wanting to kill the mood, he decided against bringing up his suspicions. They returned to their meal, eating the way young guys with flat bellies tend to, as if immune to the effects of carbohydrates and caloric intake.

Mauro watched the brothers eat. It had been five years since he had killed a big buck with a bow, and he never felt more hopeful for a successful hunt than he did now. He was stoked. The prospect of having forty acres just for the two of them was too much to ask for, but somehow his uncle had delivered.

Nino didn’t hunt anymore, not since working with the small kids at the hospital. He’d seen too much death. He stood up, stretched and scratched his stomach, puffing it out to simulate a beer belly.

“I may have to bust a grumpy before I get in the boat. Starting to grow a tail … ” Nino said, disappearing into the bathroom. Making no effort to close the door, the sound of the seat clanking against the porcelain bowl echoed from the bathroom.

“At least put the fan on,” Don called out.

“You ladies have a good hunt if I don’t see you tonight,” he yelled between mock grunting and straining noises.

Photo(s) by Illustration by Joe Borri, www.skidmorestudio.com