To the Death


Logan International Airport, which sits atop a zillion-ton concrete promontory, hemmed in by runways, tunnels, and the harbor, was heaving with travelers. Thousands of them, packed into lines for tickets, lines for check-in, lines for security, lines for coffee, coke, donuts. They even had lines for cheeseburgers, and it was not yet 8 A.M. on a gloomy, freezing January morning.

South. South. The demand was always south. South to Florida. South to Antigua, Barbuda, St. Barts, south to the islands, any island, anywhere to get the hell out of this cold, snow, sleet, and ice. It was the peak of the season. High fares. Ruinous hotel bills. Nobody cared. This was the ice-bound airport of the winter-grim northeastern city of Boston, Massachusetts. Beyond the departure terminals, a bitter easterly wind howled straight off the slate-gray waters of Massachusetts Bay. A mile to the west stood the frozen granite towers of the downtown area.

All this had once been home to a battle-hardened race of New En-glanders who accepted the cold, fought it, and shrugged it off. Not any more. Modern prosperity, air travel, and a sense of indignation and entitlement pervaded. Goddammit, I don’t need this tundra crap. Get me out of here.

Thus the eager vacationers collided in a tidal surge with the already-irritated business crowd, which was, en masse, fed up with late takeoffs. As Monday mornings go, this one was up and running.

“This is totally fucking crazy,” muttered Officer Pete Mackay, adjusting his gloved hands on his light machine gun as he moved through the crowd.

“Tell me about it,” said his teammate, Officer Danny Kearns. “Osama bin Asshole could vanish without a trace in the freakin’ donut queue.”

Mackay and Kearns were buddies beyond the confines of the Boston Police Department. Each of them brought a missionary zeal to the fan base of the New England Patriots. For almost eleven months of every year, and sometimes for twelve, they believed to the depths of their souls that this year was theirs, that the glorious years of Super Bowl victories would stand before them again.

They lived football. They ate and slept football. Each of them would awake in the night, leading the blitz as the Patriots surged forward; the big, bullnecked Pete Mackay, in his dreams the greatest defensive lineman who ever lived; Danny, more modestly, the fastest running back on earth. Whenever they could, they went to the games together, taking turns bringing the kids, Pete’s Patrick and Sean, Danny’s Mikey and Ray.

Both cops were fifth-generation Boston Irish; they both lived on the south side of the city, across the water from the airport. And their great-great-grandparents had emigrated from Ireland around the same time, right after the famine. No one could remember when the Mackays and the Kearnses did not know each other. Both Pete’s and Danny’s fathers had been Boston cops.

The whole lot of them had attended the same grade school in Southie, played football together, played baseball together in the streets, got in fights with their neighbors, and endured a cheerful scrappy childhood. Pete and Danny both made it to Boston University, and both played football—though not at the highest level, however much effort they put in.

Subsequently, both men viewed the Patriots with a kind of stricken pride, a complicated self-irony that burst into an unreasoning, inflamed passion when the Barbarians were at the gate—that is, when any other team from any other city in the United States challenged the boys from Foxborough.

As a cop, the 34-year-old Pete Mackay was scheduled to go right to the top. He was ambitious, tough, and cynical, though not unreasonably. In action,