When they first set foot on the plot of land given to them and their da by the Church, Connor and Murphy stood shoulder to shoulder and looked at the deep green stretching out before them, beyond the fences of their pasture and forever onward into the whole of Ireland. They looked at the hills and the trees and the sky thickly blanketed with rain clouds, and though they grew up in a city, the sight of the countryside stung their eyes and tightened their throats. They felt some impossible weight they hadn't noticed before suddenly lift and yet a strange sadness dwelled within them too. They couldn't know what their future held, what they would do or how long they would live in exile, but they felt the unmistakable relief of coming home and that was enough.
Connor looked at Murphy and Murphy looked back at him and they didn't speak. They could see in each other's eyes an identical feeling: Whatever happens, I have you.
The first week they spend in the Hoag, they lie in bed nursing their wounds, kept under safe watch of a guard at all hours. Romeo doesn't wake up, and when they aren't speaking, the brothers listen to the machines hooked to his body. They spend plenty of time on their backs, staring at the ceiling, each of them contemplating the days to come when they'll be turned out with the others prisoners and wondering if they'll get ever be free again. They know without saying it aloud because they're both thinking it: if Da can spend twenty-five years inside, we must have the stuff too.
Connor turns his head on his pillow to face Murphy one evening, and Murphy looks back at him.
"You know I'd never let anything happen to you, right?" Connor says.
"Aye," says Murphy. "Me neither."
They watch each other silently for a few moments. Murphy asks if Connor is afraid.
"Of the scum out there? Nah. We can take em. There's a good chance they'll keep us in isolation too."
But that's not all they could be afraid of, and they both know it.
"I wasn't exactly planning on spending the rest of my life in fuckin jail," says Murphy, blue eyes back on the ceiling and his right hand resting on his belly.
"We'll find a way out," says Connor.
He holds out his hand to his brother, suspending it in midair between their beds, and Murphy takes it in his own hand without looking.
The MacManus twins were twenty-one years old when they left Ireland for America, hoping for work and adventure. They didn't speak of their mutual attraction to the place where they knew their estranged father still resided, but when they said good-bye to their ma, all three of them could feel it: the silent presence of Noah MacManus. Ma kissed them both on the cheek and told them to take care of each other and call her and stay out of trouble and to always remember they could come home anytime.
Like most decisions, leaving Ireland was one they made mutually. It was never a question of one going and the other having to decide what to do. They had always known they wanted to remain together forever. Thinking of living apart made each brother's heart ache, and that wasn't something either of them would abide.
They chose Boston because they had heard of the Irish community there and figured if they were going to start a new life in a foreign country, it would help to make some easy friends. As their ship moved within site of the coast, as they stepped off in Boston, as they looked around for a flat and popped into storefronts and pubs throughout Southie, they both felt a swell of gratitude for having one another there. For two boys who had never set foot out of Ireland before, the world proved impossibly big; it might've been overwhelming if one had come alone.
They found quick acceptance in the heart of Southie, amongst other native Irish and pure-blooded Irish Americans. The meat packing plant was an easy hire for the both of them, though they had no experience with that kind of work. They were incredibly smart, though without college educations, but they were never snobbish about their intelligence. A job was a job, and they were grateful for whatever they could get, especially if they could work together. The sights and smells of the meat hung up on racks and piled on tables reminded them of Bill Morris' butcher shop where their ma had been a customer their whole lives.
The apartment building where they found a studio on the fifth floor was a total dump, but rent couldn't have been lower. The landlady took an immediate shine to the brothers and told them all her tenants were Irish, some of them even off the boat like the twins. She would let them move in without making a deposit and there was a washer and dryer set on the first floor, twenty-five cents a load. Connor and Murphy looked at each other and shrugged and decided to take it.
The day they moved in, they found two mattresses on the floor and a beat up old sofa and a rickety table in the corner kitchen with two chairs, on which they slumped off their duffel bags containing all they'd brought from Ireland.
"Jaysis, it really is a shithole, isn't it?" Connor said, surveying the place.
"Aye," said Murphy, cracking a smile. "But it's ours."
Connor nodded and Murphy shed his coat, looking full of hope in the gray light falling through the windows.
The little sheep farm the Church gave them was located in County Clare, a few miles away from the coast. Connor and Murphy could smell the sea mingled with the scents of grass and wool, whenever they took the sheep out to pasture. When they first arrived, they knew fuck all about sheep farming or any kind of farming, for that matter. Neither did their da. Fortunately, sheep are easy to care for, and the boys learned quickly how to do it on their own. Da left them to it, intuiting they wanted the time to be alone, and he was right, of course. The little house they lived in didn't afford anyone much privacy; in the fields, Connor and Murphy could be as they were before, just the two of them.
After a week, the brothers were out herding, lying in the grass watching the sheep, when Murphy said to Connor,
"Do you know what occurred to me?"
"All this time, we been sayin that fuckin prayer when we shoot someone, callin ourselves shepherds. Shit's come true, Connor."
Connor looked out at the herd grazing and nodded. "I suppose so."
"And shepherding—that's God's work, that is."
Connor smiled a little, the wind in his hair, and said, "The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want."
"He makes me lie down in green pastures," said Murphy. "He leads me beside still waters; he restores my soul."
They were quiet for a while, listening to occasional sheep bleating, the dampness of the grass beginning to seep into their sleeves at the elbows.
"Maybe this isn't so bad," Murphy said. "Doing the Lord's work in a different way."
"Aye," said Connor. "A safer way."
It was the only acknowledgment either of them ever made, regarding the fear implicit in killing evil men. It wasn't fear for their own lives but each other's. They would have ignored it, had they been able to stay in the States and continue working, but with an ocean between them and that task, they learned to welcome peace again.
They still have stitches in their wounds when they're removed from the prison infirmary into a proper cell. They are allowed to be each other's cell mates—probably because the guards fear what would happen if they were placed with other prisoners—and the brothers thank God in their prayers for that. Romeo remains in the infirmary, unconscious; they both peer over their shoulders at him as they leave.
The resident Catholic priest stops by to see them. They shake his hand through the bars and he introduces himself as Father Donnelly.
"Is there anything I can do for you boys?"
Connor and Murphy look at each other, then back at the priest.
"Could you spare us some rosaries?" says Murphy.
"They took ours," says Connor.
Father Donnelly nods and promises to come back tomorrow. He lingers on them a moment before he turns away, the barest hint of a smile in one corner of his mouth and something indefinable in his eyes.
Their cell has two bunks, one on each wall, and the mattresses are the most uncomfortable fucking things they've ever slept on in their lives. The blankets are thin and old, and the sheets are faded from too many washes. Connor remarks on how their beds in the Boston flat were better than these, and Murphy laughs because it's fucking true. They never would've thought such a thing possible.
They're given three changes of gray uniforms to wear: loose cloth pants and short-sleeve button up shirts. They have one pair of black, lace-up boots each, obviously worn by other men in the past. They wear white tanks underneath their shirts and socks which were once white but have turned gray.
Through Father Donnelly, within their first month at the Hoag, the brothers acquire a rosary each and two posters they tape to their cell walls: one of Christ and the other of the blessed Virgin. The priest carries to them the Irish flag, folded in neat triangles. They hang it on the wall vertically, between the posters, and touch it when they want to remember the world outside of Hoag.
"You ever think about where we'll go if we get out of here?" Murphy says to his brother as they look at the flag for the first time, hands on his hips.
"Not much," says Connor. "Getting out is the priority. After we do that, we can decide where the fuck to go."
"Well, I'm thinking about it. I can't decide. Boston's too dangerous, but if we're to continue this work, shouldn't we stay in the States? I can't picture killing in Ireland."
"We'd be fuckin idiots to stay in Boston," Connor agrees, shaking his head. "I don't know."
"We could go back to the fuckin sheep farm," says Murphy.
Connor raises an eyebrow at him. "I wasn't planning on spending the rest of my life sheep herdin either, Murph."
Every day, Connor and Murphy get on their knees, ignoring the dirty, hard concrete—Connor below Christ and Murphy below the Virgin—and they say their prayers with fingers poised on the plastic rosary beads, their heads bowed and eyes closed and voices barely audible to each other. They recite the Lord's Prayer and the Hail Mary and ask God to bless their parents and each other and to guide them down the right path, whatever it may be. Connor asks for strength and faith and good spirits, and Murphy asks for patience and protection and peace. They cross themselves and rise.
They were no different in Boston than in Galway: always together, sharing work and food and the same friends and a flat and the same pubs. Everyone they met grew quickly accustomed to the way they traveled in a pair—and it wasn't so much an inability to have separate lives as it was a natural preference to share things, to have each other's company because they enjoyed it so much. It was also a matter of sticking with the person they could each trust the most, someone they could rely on and who understood them.
When they were wee boys, they had told their ma they were going to marry each other, and she'd smiled at them and told them boys could only marry girls and you couldn't marry anyone already in your family. They had asked why and she had said it was the law. They had looked at each other and back at her and Connor had said neither one of them would marry, then. They would live together in a big house and that was all.
"Paul said it was good for men not to marry, if they could stand it," their ma had said, looking at her sons thoughtfully. "He said a man with no wife could better serve God. He was a wise fuckin man, he was."
When they were older, around fifteen, she had once asked them casually in the car if there were any good-looking girls at school. To which Connor and Murphy, their reflections in the rearview mirror, had looked at each other in that way of theirs before Murphy reminded their ma he and Connor wanted to stay bachelors together. She looked at them in the mirror, the expressions on their faces full of caution and hunger for approval. She'd smiled and said,
"It's just as well. Maybe you ought to join the priesthood, the two a yas."
They'd thought about it a while.
Connor and Murphy quickly settled into a comfortable routine in Boston: working at the meat packing plant from nine to five, Monday through Friday, going to church every Sunday and occasionally on Tuesday and Thursday mornings, and hanging out at McGinty's when they felt like a drink and a game of pool. They found a favorite café where they could share a cup of coffee and a toasted bagel, a favorite market to buy cheap groceries, a favorite bookstore where they would spend hours reading and browsing on Saturday afternoons, a restaurant serving cheap and decent Chinese. They would cook as often as they needed to save money, mostly stews and meat and potatoes, and on weekend mornings, they read the papers in bed and commented on all the bullshit going on in the world.
They spent too much money on cigarettes and felt no remorse about it, filling the ashtray on the kitchen table and the one in between their beds.
Rocco, who they met within the first year they lived in Boston, only took a few months to ask why neither one of them ever showed any interest in women beyond polite acknowledgment. The brothers, when they actually ventured to places with women present, would always avoid them and turn down the ones who did muster enough courage to flirt. They were good-looking young men, especially around these parts; in a logical and fair universe, they would be getting laid all the time.
"Are you gay or somethin? I mean, if you are, that's fine, I'm not gonna be an asshole about it or anything. It's the 90s, after all."
The twins grinned at him and looked at each other.
"We're not gay, Roc," Connor said and sipped on his pint.
"Just not much interested in the whole—" Murphy waved his free hand in the air, "shagging business."
"Are you serious?" said Rocco. "Never?"
The twins exchanged glances and one-shoulder shrugs.
"No, not really," said Connor.
"Is it a religious thing?"
"Not particularly," said Murphy. "Though it is a mortal sin, getting yer hole outside of marriage."
He squinted at Rocco as he said it, giving the man a knowing smile.
"Maybe it's time you go to confession, Roc," Connor said.
"Aye," said Murphy. "How else are you gonna get respectable?"
"Ah, fuck you," said Rocco.
The twins smirked at each other.
At some point, Connor and Murphy stopped shaving and cutting their hair. They don't know why; they didn't openly agree to stop together. They simply let it go a while, until stubble and untamed ends turned into beards and long manes. They buried the things of their old life beneath the barn: the money and their clothes and their guns, and they decided to move on properly. Here in Ireland, they weren't saints; they were simple men again, living in obscurity.
They learned how to ride the horses provided them and rose early in the mornings to brush them and feed them and saddle them and shovel out the stables. Almost always, in a cool mist settled over the land. They would work together in silence, save for the occasional whisper and hum to the horses. Their da would stay in the house and brew enough tea for the three of them, toast bread in the oven and cut cheese. The brothers would go in for breakfast after finishing with the horses and before taking the sheep out to pasture, and the men would listen to the news on the little radio they kept in the kitchen. Nobody spoke much. The morning ritual took on a kind of therapeutic quality and fueled the new quiet of the MacManus men's lives.
Connor and Murphy would go weeks without seeing any other human being, except each other and Da. Half the time, when they needed supplies, their da would drive into town twenty minutes down the road without them. A strange aversion to society crept over the twins, the longer they lived on the farm. Their world narrowed down to earth and beast and each other, and the silence, the need to conceal their true selves rendered needless, became too comfortable to shake off even for a short trip to buy groceries and livestock feed. They became all the more adept at speaking to each other with the expressions in their eyes, the rise and fall of their lips at the corners, jaw tightening or teeth clenching, different ways of taking a breath in or out. They simply didn't see a reason for words anymore unless they had something important to say—or wanted to make each other laugh.
Their beards grew and the wind weathered their faces with ocean salt and one year turned into two and three and four, until they stopped noticing because so little changed. The sheep became their true charge and the horses their friends and the men they had been on a different continent seemed to slip away altogether until they couldn't find them in the mirror anymore. The boyishness left them, only to briefly return in pushes and shoves and wrestling and drunkenness and one brother jumping on his twin's back and that twin carrying him to the horses or into the house.
One morning before they herded the sheep out of their pens and into pasture, Connor and Murphy rode past the boundaries of their land and further into the hills, the light still weak and gray coming through the thick wall of clouds in the sky. They rode fast because they rarely had the opportunity and felt the delicious stretch of powerful muscles beneath them seeping into their own bodies and the clean, cool air filling their lungs and the horses huffing it gladly. When they found a raised flat suitable and sat the horses, overlooking their herd's grazing area and the little house and barn, they were quiet for a long while until Murphy looked at Connor.
"You know I love you," he said.
Connor looked back at him, this man who he had never lived a single second of life without since the day they were born and whose heart beat so much like his own as if by some primal rule demanding from them the same time, and he saw in those eyes all that lay behind them and the unknown of what lay ahead. And the words seemed a mere summary or introduction of that which they lived.
"Aye," said Connor. "I love you as well."
Murphy drank in the moment, for it was rare and precious, and they both turned their attention back to the green, green land.
At first, life inside the Hoag is boring. They're usually kept apart from the prison's general population—though whether for their safety or everybody else's, they can't tell—and they pass the time reading books checked out of the prison library and hanging out in the chapel when they're allowed out of their cell. The first two months, they're given yard time apart from the other inmates; Romeo, who did eventually wake up, is allowed to join them. Inmates are let into the yard twice a day, once in the morning and once in the evening. By the time the Saints are released in the evening, it's pitch dark outside and cold. They wear their standard issue fleece jackets and black knit beanies, rubbing their dry hands together and smoking under one of the yard lights.
"That stew tonight was a fucking nightmare," says Murphy, referring to the main course at dinner. "Almost made me sick just lookin at it."
Connor nods, tapping the ash off his cigarette.
"Hey, man, I'm just glad we haven't been served Mexican food yet, you know what I'm sayin?" says Romeo. "That shit's probably gonna make me ask forgiveness from el Señor, hombres. And from mi tío y abuela tambien."
He crosses himself, and the brothers smile.
"I could really go for a beer right now," says Connor.
"Fuck yeah," says Murphy. "A nice, cold tall one on tap. Christ."
"Aren't too many things I miss about the free world but there's one of them."
Connor and Murphy could think of more things to miss if they set their mind to it—soft beds and the fireplace in their Ireland cottage, riding the horses together across the green earth, getting drunk with Rocco at McGinty's, their ma and their da—but they have each other. And that's enough to soothe them, even in this place full of evil.
"How are we getting out of here, man?" says Romeo. "I know you guys got a plan."
The twins look at each other.
"Not yet," says Connor.
"But we're thinking about it," says Murphy.
They stump out their cigarette stubs beneath their boots and stick their hands in the pockets of their fleeces, breathing the cold air deep into their lungs. The fences are high and lined with barbed wire, snares and coils glinting where the light grazes.
When the MacManus brothers first started killing deliberately, after the two Russians in the alley, they felt little trepidation and no substantial doubt. The dream they shared in their holding cell at the police department the night of their confession left no room for doubt. They had been upstanding citizens all their lives, angelic as far as men go, and the notion of serial executions felt not like a horrifying sin but an order handed down in war. They didn't fathom their family history, couldn't have imagined their own father locked away in some unknown prison for doing the very thing they now had to do. They only knew what God had spoken, the clearest words in both their hearts: destroy all that which is evil, so that which is good may flourish.
In this, as in all tasks, they had each other. It was the reason neither twin ever asked the Lord for a sign; they needed no more than the look in each other's eyes.
Some nights in Boston, when the mercury sank below twenty degrees and the heater conked out in the building, Connor and Murphy would join up mattresses and sleep curled together in a heap of all their sheets and blankets and their bathrobes. In no more than their boxer shorts, they would warm each other's bodies, quietly savoring the skin to skin contact as if they were wee children again or even in the womb. They would wrap their arms around each other as they forked with Murphy's face in Connor's chest or Murphy would spoon Connor with his head resting against his twin's back. It was something the both of them always appreciated, a perfect and absolute peace filling them from head to toe as they felt each other breathing.
In the mornings, they would wake, Murphy poking his head out of the blankets and squinting in the light and both reluctant to brave the freezing distance between bed and the showers. It was usually Murphy who got up first, squeezing Connor under one arm and pecking the back of his shoulder.
He'd hiss curses as he dove under the shower head and hopped around waiting for the water to heat up.
"Murph," Connor would say from inside his warm cocoon.
"Make me breakfast and cigarettes."
"Fuck you. Get yer ass out of bed before the hot water's gone."
"Get the fuck outta the shower first."
Murphy turned off the water and dove back into bed with his towel still wrapped around his waist, wet hair dripping all over his pillow, and Connor rolled out and hissed at the cold air on his naked torso, saying "fuckin' shit" and turning the shower handle as far as it would go immediately.
The cold of Boston winters was unlike anything they'd known before, relentless and penetrating and with a nasty bite in the wind. It made them want to stand closer together, share body heat in bed more often, watch each other for sniffling or coughing. It made them look out the windows of their flat in utter dread each morning, anticipating the walk to work, and in the evenings, it justified their drinking. The walk home from the pub always felt comfortable, with their cheeks red from the alcohol and redder still from the cold and their bodies warm on the inside. Murphy flung his arm around Connor's neck in the last alley, as they grinned and laughed stupidly, and many nights, they fell into bed still in their jeans and t-shirts, their socked feet suspended in the air off the end of their joined mattresses, Connor on his belly and Murphy on his brother's back.
They learned how to shoot when they were teenagers—digging through their ma's bedroom one afternoon when she was out of the house, finding their da's revolver in a box on the high shelf in her closet. They took turns holding it, surprised at how heavy it felt in their hands, and Connor led the way out of the bedroom with the gun unloaded in his waistband, Murphy carrying the rectangular box of bullets behind him. They hid it under Connor's bed until they left for the countryside two weekends later with a friend from school who had an uncle with a farm.
The power of the gun surprised them the first time they shot it, bullets disappearing into the distance and the grass deep green and nearly brushing their kneecaps. They had nothing in particular to shoot, so they picked an imaginary point. They each held it with both hands, nervous before their first try. The kick wasn't too pronounced and after a few shots, the gun was hot against their palms.
They traded the gun back and forth until they ran out of bullets, and once the chamber was empty, they looked at each other in silent agreement: this was a good thing, this gun. It felt right to use it. It felt natural, like a circuit had been closed within them they hadn't known was broken. It didn't enter their minds in the slightest, what guns would mean to them a decade later. On that day, their first taste meant no more than another secret they kept between them—and a reaching out to their unknown father neither one of them wanted to examine.
On the second day of their third month in prison, Connor and Murphy finally get themselves into a brawl. They're sitting across from each other at the end of a table in the mess hall, Romeo to Murphy's right on the inside. The twins sit with their elbows on the table, leaning forward as if in the middle of a confidential talk, even when they're not talking. Another inmate, someone they've seen around but don't know personally, walks past them with his empty tray and dinnerware in both hands just as Murphy stands up to go refill his water glass. The inmate knocks into him hard with his shoulder and the right side of his torso, nearly knocking Murphy over. Murphy apologizes at the same moment the inmate turns around with a glare and tells him to watch where the fuck he's going.
The mess hall suddenly goes quiet—voices and footsteps and silverware all coming to an abrupt halt.
"I fuckin said I was sorry," says Murphy, not looking the least bit apologetic now. "You're the one who bumped into me."
The inmate—who's well over six feet tall and built stocky, with mean eyebrows and a rough face—steps up to Murphy until they're toe to toe and eyeing each other dangerously. Connor and Romeo watch from the table where they're still seated; Connor's body tenses like a loaded spring, ready to bolt up to his brother's defense if necessary.
"You think you're something special?" the inmate says. "Huh? You think you're better than the rest of us just because you got a bunch of ass-kissers out there? I know who you are. And I don't give a fuck."
Murphy, completely unfazed by the man, cranes his neck up to make up for the height difference and scowls at him. He nods.
"'s good," he says. "I don't give a fuck who ye are neither. I don't apologize twice. Now get the fuck outta my way."
Murphy sidesteps the man, who shoves him backward with one hand, the tray in his other. Connor stands up but stays where he is. Everyone in the mess hall's watching, including the guards posted at the doors and the dining staff. Romeo glances at Connor, then back at Murphy, waiting. Murphy tries again to go around the man, and the man hits the back of his head with his tray.
Connor's on the man faster than anyone can process, as Murphy stumbles and straightens. The man and Connor hit each other undisturbed for only half a minute before the man's gang makes their approach, and Murphy turns around as they get there, watching Romeo sliding into the defense as the four new guys charge toward Connor. Murphy, baring his teeth and almost growling, jumps into the fight. It isn't long before other inmates get up from their tables and join in, though whether for either particular side or for the sake of fighting itself is unclear.
The guards let it go for a few minutes, before breaking it up, calling in more of their co-workers from outside the mess hall. Batons and guns drawn, shouting over the men, they don't have to make much of an effort to end it. The inmates spread apart like two sides of the sea, leaning backward over tables, looking across the aisle at each other as they catch their breath. Connor sags against Murphy, his arm on his brother and hand in Murphy's shirt, and Murphy curls his fingers into Connor's shoulder. Blood drips lazily out of Connor's left nostril and Murphy's lips are swollen and cut and his cheek raw.
The man who attacked Murphy has a nasty black eye and a purple face and that satisfies the brothers.
"Ye fuckin touch me brother again, I'll fuckin rip off your balls with my bare fuckin hands," says Connor.
Murphy's nodding beside him.
"One warning only, pendejo," says Romeo, wiping at his bloody mouth with the back of one hand.
It's a warning—duly noted—to everybody present.
Back in the infirmary, after they've been cleaned up knuckles and faces, Connor and Murphy sit on the ends of two adjacent beds, their feet on the floor in the aisle between and their knees almost touching. Murphy reaches out to touch Connor's forehead, the raised red welt on the upper left side, his thumb tender against that spot. Connor slides his hand warm and familiar over Murphy's cheek, cradling it, thumb stroking over the scraped and swollen purple cheekbone. They look at each other with an intimate vulnerability, no longer fierce. Murphy drops his hand from Connor's face to Connor's knee, and Connor's hand remains on his brother's cheek.
"We won," says Murphy.
"Ye all right, Conn?"
Connor nods, then shakes his head, dropping his hand away from Murphy and looking down into his lap with anguish. "I don't know how to protect ye in here, Murph. I don't have me gun. What if—what if one of those motherfuckers comes for you and I'm not there?"
Murphy pushes Connor's face up with his hand on his brother's forehead again, thumb on the bump and fingers in Connor's hair. He looks at Connor with kind blue eyes.
"You're always there," he says. "They're not gonna hurt us. We'll live out of each other's fuckin pocket if we have to."
"We already do," says Connor.
"Aye. So we keep doin what we're doin."
They stare at each other and despite Murphy's light expression, Connor's brows remain drawn and his mouth tight.
"Christ," says Murphy, both wrists on his knees now, mirroring his twin. "I've never seen you like this."
He reaches out with both hands and takes Connor's face into them, as gentle with him as he is brutal with so many others. He leans forward and sets his forehead against Connor's. Connor's hands close around Murphy's wrists. They shut their eyes and rest in that position, breathing in harmony.
Murphy murmurs in Gaelic: Peace, brother. Peace.
Connor follows him, into the green hills.
Some days, the MacManus brothers brought the sheep into their pen and left them under their father's watchful eye, so they could ride the horses three miles west to the sea. The smell of salt and water grew stronger and stronger, the closer they rode, until they stopped at their favorite rise overlooking the coast and breathed in the pure ocean air as if their lungs had never known the true pleasure of breathing. The hair on their heads and their faces had darkened, and in their eyes and the rest of their shoulders was a somber quiet. They watched the waves cresting white against the shore below them and listened. The sea stretched infinitely into the horizon line, a deep blue-green. They could see nothing beyond it. They could fathom nothing beyond.
They felt their souls clean, the blood washed away and their hearts made smooth like stone in a riverbed. They felt the horses alive beneath them, warm bodies and soft coats, the smell of land in their manes mingling with the smell of water all around them. Each man felt the other's presence, like the whole of God contained inside the companion given to him for life. In this moment, suspended in time, one: with self, earth, the divine, and each other.
Their hands, worn with labor as the years passed, reminded them daily of what they had done and what they could still do: their trigger fingers inked with truth and justice permanently, no matter how long they lived without feeling the weight of their pistols. Now, they carried rifles on their backs and used their hands for caring, for preserving life instead of taking it away. To look at the sea was not just a reminder of what they no longer had but also, what they had gained by crossing over again.
They smoked cigarettes in the hills, as their sheep grazed behind them and they learned what kind of man their da was beneath the violence and every day, they said their prayers.
One November night in Boston, when it was cold enough for their pea coats but not enough to keep them inside, Connor and Murphy stepped out onto their fire escape for a smoke, each of them with a bottle of beer in their free hand. The sky was clear and they could see a few stars so small and distant above them, no moon.
"Do ye ever think what the fuck we're gonna do with our lives?" said Connor, staring at the rooftops and buildings that went on for miles ahead of them.
"What do ye mean?" said Murphy, tapping the ash off his cigarette into the alley below.
"We're twenty-five years old. Fairly young, all things considered. And here we are with decent jobs and our own flat, shithole though it is. It's good. But do you ever see yourself twenty years from now? I've been trying to picture it and I haven't any fuckin idea what to picture."
"Christ. What the fuck are you thinkin of that for?"
"Shouldn't we know where we're going? Are we supposed to work at the fuckin meat packing plant the rest of our lives? Are we stayin in Boston? Are we still together in twenty years?"
Murphy shoved him hard, hand in Connor's right shoulder where it connects with his chest. "What the fuck you mean are we still together? You fuckin leaving me now?"
"No! Of course not! I don't fuckin want to, Murph. Ye know that. But shit, I don't know, twenty years is a long fuckin time."
"What fuckin shite are you talking about? Are you leaving me or not?"
"I'm not fuckin leaving."
"All right, then, stop fuckin saying we might not be together in twenty years."
"You're not gonna want ta leave me then?" said Connor.
Murphy blew a stream of smoke over his shoulder and scowled at his brother. "Fuck you. You don't even have to fuckin ask me that."
Connor nodded penitently. "You're right. I'm sorry. You're right, we'll always be together. No matter what happens."
"Fuckin' a right, we will."
They finished the cigarettes and dropped the butts over the side of the fire escape, sipping lazy at the last of their beer.
Murphy, calm again, said after a few minutes: "One day at a time, Conn. Ye can't always fuckin plan everything."
Once the bottles were empty, they dropped those too and heard the glass shatter on the pavement.
In the end, they don't have to find a way out of prison. A guard comes by their cell one day in the sixth month and tells them they have an hour to gather up their stuff. He gives them no explanation, and the twins look at each other, stretched out in their own bunks with magazines and books. They roll up the posters and fold the flag and when the guard returns to escort them out, they stop at Romeo's cell to let him know they're leaving and promise him they'll find a way to get him out if they don't come back.
"We fuckin promise you, Rome," says Connor.
Murphy nods beside him, blue eyes and face serious. "We don't know what the fuck's happening but we won't leave you behind."
They're given the personal possessions confiscated when they first entered the Hoag, everything in plastic bags with their identification numbers written on with black marker. They change out of their uniforms and back into their civilian clothes and shoes and when they look at each other, they have to pause.
"Fuckin hell," says Murphy.
"Aye," Connor says.
They collect their wallets, loose change, rosaries, pocket knives, and keys and they don't ask any of the guards where the fuck they're going as they continue their way out of the check-in building and outside into the drizzling rain, down the long driveway leading to the first of two gates encircling the entire prison. They're let out completely.
Smecker's waiting for them, hands in his coat pockets and cigarette in his mouth, hair shorter than the last time they saw him but unmistakably himself.
"What the fuck?" says Murphy.
"Hello, boys. Good to see you."
"You're supposed to be fuckin dead!" says Connor.
"And you're supposed to be in there," says Smecker, inclining his head toward the prison.
The brothers look at each other with mouths agape and back at him.
"Walk with me," he says. "You've got a lot to catch up on."
They follow him, one twin on either side, toward the black car idling a few yards away with its exhaust smoke white in the cold air.
Connor and Murphy go back to McGinty's for their last drink in Boston and to say goodbye to Doc. The pub's closed early for the night and it's just them, sitting at the bar side by side with a Guinness each, their bellies full of good food for the first time in months. They'll sleep upstairs in the spare room again and in the morning, Smecker will pick them up and drive them to the airport, where a private plane waits to take them to Washington D.C. They only have a few months to do as much clean up there as they can, before they'll move again to Detroit. He's promised them new guns and plenty of ammo and Romeo's freedom soon.
"Are you ready for this?" Connor says, flicking his eyes toward Murphy.
Murphy looks back at him. "I think so. It's moving pretty fuckin fast, is all."
"Aye. No rest for the wicked."
"How long we gonna do this, Conn?"
Connor thinks about it and shakes his head. "I've no idea. But right now, it seems like all we can do."
Murphy nods. "As long we stick together."
Connor takes his glass in hand and clinks it against his brother's. "Always, mi hermano."