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News & Features » October 2017 » “Twins” by Mike Toomey

“Twins” by Mike Toomey

Mondays Are Murder features brand-new noir fiction modeled after our award-winning Noir Series. Each story is an original one, and each takes place in a distinct location. Our web model for the series has one more restraint: a 750-word limit. Sound like murder? It is. But so are Mondays.

This week, a set of twins enact their yearly ritual.

Mike Toomey
Washington Mountain Valley, New Hampshire

You could tell by the way that they cleaned the guns that they’d been taught by the same person. They dissembled them like mirrors of each other—removing the pin, breaking the stock and barrel. They sat on opposite sides of the small table talking as they worked. They talked with the ease of two people who had shared a room for a long time but now spoke occasionally on the phone or at holidays.

The two guns lay in pieces on the table—an asymmetrical swarth cut between them as if to keep the parts of one out of the other when they were reassembled. Not that it would matter; the guns were identical. As long as all the parts were put back, both would function properly.

It had still been dark when they set out. A crisp, biting chill in the morning air. The day after Thanksgiving, two days before their shared birthday and perhaps the only time they would see each other this year. Cormac wore a heavy brown jacket, the kind of jacket a politician would wear to convince the populace he was one of them. Joad had on a grey hooded sweatshirt pilled from having been washed too often. It had an oversized M on the front representing a college to which he had no tenable connection.

“What ever happened to Maria?”

“She’s still around. Works at that place Jenk’s father used to run.”

“She married?”

“Yeah. She married Coughlin.”

“Not bad for a bald dude.”

“She probably don’t know he’s bald. I bet he sleeps with that hat on.”

“Probably the same hat from high school.”

They worked patiently. Methodically. Cleaning the guns was important and must be done the right way. Miscellaneous items piled up on the bare wood table—pipe-cleaners, bits of steel-wool, a tiny container of oil, faded red rags that were splotched black in places.  

Joad removed his hat and set it on his knee. Their presence, their labor and breathing were warming the inside of the old gun shack. Cormac removed his barn coat and pushed the thermal sleeves up over his thick forearms.

Joad was older but Cormac was bigger. Not by much. In either case. Joad was about three minutes older and Cormac was bigger in a way that you wouldn’t notice if they weren’t standing together.

Joad opened a cooler and removed a Thermos of coffee and three bacon sandwiches wrapped in wax paper. They shared the coffee and picked at the sandwiches as they worked.

The process had the feel of a ritual, without being strict. More habit than rote. If Joad was using a tool that Cormac needed, he would simply skip to the next step then double back when Joad was finished. It wasn’t the order of things but the fact that they got done that mattered. Their hands moved without thought as though second nature. They weren’t distracted, but not exactly focused either.

The guns were revolvers. .357s. Big guns and heavy; weathered but in good condition. They had received them as gifts from their father on their twelfth birthday. Before they had fired a single round, their father had taught them how to clean the guns properly.

“Treat them right and you’ll be able to give them to your sons one day,” he’d said.

Then their father sat down and showed them how to clean a gun. He went slowly through a progression of steps, talking his time. Explaining to the boys exactly how and why each step was important. How and why nothing was to be omitted. Joad and Cormac were enraptured.

Then he sat with them and watched them do it, still talking them through each step, asking questions, and forcing them to verbalize the process while nudging them along when they couldn’t figure out a mistake. Again and again, the process was repeated until the boys understood the guns. 

The process took about forty minutes. Maybe an hour. The guns hadn’t been cleaned or used in exactly a year. It was always the day after Thanksgiving now. It had been their birthday consistently for may years, but once Joad had left for college, it’d become increasingly difficult for them to keep that day sacrosanct.  

Now they were men. Both had children of their own. Still they came back to this house for Thanksgiving and lingered in their old bedrooms until Sunday, when both would pile their families back into their minivans and head off—Joad to the airport, Cormac just an hour down the highway.

No one else knew. The wives assumed what wives assume when brothers disappear into the woods with guns. Neither had ever uttered a word of it to their wives. Cormac had never told a soul. Joad had once, in a drunken fit of romanticism, told the girl he had dated through his junior year at college. She was apoplectic, and though she never spoke of it, Joad was sure it played a part in their breaking up.

“What did Wense call it?”


“When he brought his own beer to a party?”

“The just-in-case-case.”

“Yeah. Right.”

It was still dark when they finished. Joad reached into a box of shells, handed one to his brother and put one in the pocket of his jeans. There was a cigar box on the table. They wiped the guns down a final time with clean rags, and they almost glistened in the dull light of the gun shack.  

Cormac removed another shell from the box, loaded it into the chamber, and spun the cylinder with his thumb. It ticked around and stopped. Joad put the gun he had cleaned in the cigar box, and Cormac did the same. They looked identical. They were identical.

The door opened on the grey morning. Still dark. Still cold. They walked into the woods, talking casually. Their breath visible in the air. Dew was frosted to the grass, and in some spots had already turned to a fragile layer of ice. They left a damp trail in their wake.

They stopped at a tree.


Joad shrugged.

They set the cigar box down under the tree, nestled in the crook of its roots. Joad opened it and waved an open hand, indicating Cormac should select a gun. Cormac didn’t hesitate, knit his brow, or even consider the guns. He reached in and took one out. Joad took the other.

The grey was starting to bleed out of the morning. Weak colors, like a developing photograph, were beginning to take their place. The green of the grass. The reds and yellows of the late autumn leaves.

The brothers stood about apart from each other. Not so far that they had to shout, but far enough that they couldn’t reach each other. Each held a gun in his right hand. Neither had the gun yet raised.

“You ready?”


“Happy Birthday.”

“Happy Birthday.”

They raised the guns. Aimed at each other. And squeezed.


MIKE TOOMEY is a failed writer who lives outside of Boston with his wife and two sons. His work has been published in ThugLit and All Due Respect anthologies. He thinks this is the Red Sox’s year regardless of when you’re reading this. 


Would you like to submit a story to the Mondays Are Murder series? Here are the guidelines:

—We are not offering payment, and are asking for first digital rights. The rights to the story revert to the author immediately upon publication.
—Your story should be set in a distinct location of any neighborhood in any city, anywhere in the world, but it should be a story that could only be set in the neighborhood you chose.
—Include the neighborhood, city, state, and country next to your byline.
—Your story should be Noir. What is Noir? We’ll know it when we see it.
—Your story should not exceed 750 words.
—Accepted submissions are typically published 6–8 months after their notification date and will be edited for cohesion and to conform to our house style.
—E-mail your submission to info@akashicbooks.com. Please paste the story into the body of the email, and also attach it as a PDF file.

Posted: Oct 26, 2017

Category: Original Fiction, Mondays Are Murder | Tags: , , , , , , ,