The first time I ever thought a girl was cute was when Cindy Parks moved to town in the third grade, already wearing her red hair in the pageboy cut she never changed. Every other girl in the class had hair at least to her shoulder blades. Cindy got teased for that, but never by me.
Twenty years later, we were two years into a marriage that I kept telling myself was working. The jokes I made about wearing her down into finally accepting one of my proposals were starting to sound a little bitter, even to me.
One night she came home and told me about a cop she’d helped depose that day. Detective Cassie Evans, just hired away from Dallas. “Fucking robot,” Cindy said. She was sitting on the kitchen counter, swinging her legs, drinking wine from a tumbler. “Real stick up her ass. I mean, she’s good looking, seems smart, but she just looks right through you. Never cracked a smile. What an uptight bitch.”
“Well,” I said. “Any luck, you’ll never have to see her again.”
I didn’t know that was the day I started to lose her.
By then I was managing a bar my family owned in Hillsboro, about an hour outside Cincinnati. It was the closest I was allowed to the real family business. Cindy was commuting into the city and doing office work for the DA. Some of my relatives found that amusing. I tried to keep us away from the ones who didn’t.
Family legend says the Flynns turned up in northern Kentucky around 1850, a sprawling, brawling band of a dozen hard-drinking siblings and uncountable cousins fleeing Christ knows what kind of trouble back east. We’ve been here ever since. All through the Civil War the Flynns made the Ohio River valley our personal playground, smuggling arms and supplies to both armies, hijacking payrolls, alternately transporting and hunting escaped slaves. During Prohibition nobody could move liquor on the river or across it without paying us tribute. Even when the Feds cleaned house in the big cities, they had no appetite for tangling with a band of red-headed lunatics scattered through five states, half Corleone and half Hatfield.
By Flynn standards my father was practically a civilian. He only did one stint inside, three years on an armed robbery, then settled into construction, running union jobs where he could quietly and safely make money disappear. Maybe his lack of legendary ass-kicking exploits was why I was regarded as the family weakling, or maybe it was the fact that I was the only Flynn boy who wasn’t a callous bully in school. Lacking the family zest for felonies and violence, I spent my days behind the bar at the Clover, running the till straight and ignoring the uncles and cousins visiting the basement storeroom. I didn’t go down there. As long as I had Cindy I was too happy to resent being marginalized by my clan.
And after Cassie Evans took her away, I didn’t care either way.
It was about ten on a crisp October Tuesday night when Tim Rafferty came in. Cops are a rare sight in the Clover, especially in uniform, and while we’d been cordial in high school I rarely talked to him after graduation. He walked straight to the empty end of the bar and stood rigidly, ignoring the dozen or so people staring.
I drifted over and leaned against the counter. “Drink, Tim?”
“People been trying to call you, Sean,” he said. When he’d first come in, his back ramrod straight and his face pulled tight, I’d thought he was enraged, but now he seemed more scared. “You don’t answer your damn phone?”
I hate cell phones. Because of my family I had to change the damn things constantly, and I was always losing them or having them go dead on me. “I think it’s charging,” I said. “Why, what’s up?”
He blew out air and looked at the dollar bills stapled to the ceiling. “I wish I wasn’t the one to tell you. Cindy’s been shot.”
The world jerked under my feet.
“She was airlifted to Cincy,” he said. “They’ve got her on the table. Sean, people have been trying to call.”
You could say October’s never been good to me.
Two years before she was shot, Cindy and I went to a corn maze the next county over, one of the biggest in the Midwest. We got there at dusk. A circle of food trucks and games surrounded the entrance to the maze, which covered a couple of acres. Floodlights on poles cast deepening shadows. Kids were running wild, parents chasing them.