The Kind Worth Killing

The Kind Worth Killing by Peter Swanson


For my mother, Elizabeth Ellis Swanson


The Rules of Airport Bars



“Hello, there,” she said.

I looked at the pale, freckled hand on the back of the empty bar seat next to me in the business class lounge at Heathrow Airport, then up into the stranger’s face.

“Do I know you?” I asked. She didn’t look particularly familiar, but her American accent, her crisp white shirt, her sculpted jeans tucked into knee-high boots, all made her look like one of my wife’s awful friends.

“No, sorry. I was just admiring your drink. Do you mind?” She folded her long, slender frame onto the leather-padded swivel stool, and set her purse on the bar. “Is that gin?” she asked about the martini in front of me.

“Hendrick’s,” I said.

She gestured toward the bartender, a teenager with spiky hair and a shiny chin, and asked for a Hendrick’s martini with two olives. When her drink came she raised it in my direction. I had one sip left, and said, “Here’s to inoculation against international travel.”

“I’ll drink to that.”

I finished my drink, and ordered another. She introduced herself, a name I instantly forgot. And I gave her mine—just Ted, and not Ted Severson, at least not right then. We sat, in the overly padded and overly lit Heathrow lounge, drinking our drinks, exchanging a few remarks, and confirming that we were both waiting to board the same direct flight to Logan Airport in Boston. She removed a slim paperback novel from her purse and began to read it. It gave me an opportunity to really look at her. She was beautiful—long red hair, eyes a lucid greenish blue like tropical waters, and skin so pale it was the almost bluish white of skim milk. If a woman like that sits down next to you at your neighborhood bar and compliments your drink order, you think your life is about to change. But the rules are different in airport bars, where your fellow drinkers are about to hurtle away from you in opposite directions. And even though this woman was on her way toward Boston, I was still filled with sick rage at the situation with my wife back home. It was all I had been able to think about during my week in England. I’d barely eaten, barely slept.

An announcement came over the loudspeaker in which the two discernible words were Boston and delayed. I glanced at the board above the rows of backlit top-shelf liquor and watched as our departure time was moved back an hour.

“Time for another,” I said. “My treat.”

“Why not,” she said, and closed her book, placing it faceup on the bar by her purse. The Two Faces of January. By Patricia Highsmith.

“How’s your book?”

“Not one of her best.”

“Nothing worse than a bad book and a long flight delay.”

“What are you reading?” she asked.

“The newspaper. I don’t really like books.”

“So what do you do on flights?”

“Drink gin. Plot murders.”

“Interesting.” She smiled at me, the first I’d seen. It was a wide smile that caused a crease between her upper lip and nose, and that showed perfect teeth, and a sliver of pink gums. I wondered how old she was. When she first sat down I’d thought she was in her midthirties, closer to my age, but her smile, and the spray of faded freckles across the bridge of her nose made her look younger. Twenty-eight maybe. My wife’s age.

“And I work, of course, when I fly,” I added.

“What do you do?”

I gave her the short story version, how I funded and advised Internet start-up companies. I didn’t tell her how I’d made most of my money—by selling those companies off as soon as they looked promising. And I didn’t tell her that I never really needed to work again in this lifetime, that I was one of the few dot-commers from the late 1990s that managed to pull up my stakes (and cash out my stocks) right before the bubble burst. I only hid these facts because I didn’t feel like talking about them, not because I thought my new companion might find them offensive, or lose interest in talking with me. I had never felt the need to apologize for the money I had made.

“What about you? What do you do?” I asked.

“I work at Winslow College. I’m an archivist.”

Winslow was a women’s college in a leafy suburb about twenty miles west of Boston. I asked her what an archivist does, and she gave me what I suspect was her own short story version of her work, how she collected and preserved college documents. “And you live in Winslow?” I asked.

“I do.”


“I’m not. You?”

Even as she said it, I caught the subtle flick of her eyes as she looked for a ring on my left hand. “Yes, unfortunately,” I said. Then I held up my hand for her to see my empty ring finger. “And, no, I don’t remove my wedding ring in airport bars in case a woman like you sits down next to me. I’ve never had a ring. I can’t stand the feel of them.”

“Why unfortunate?” she asked.

“It’s a long story.”

“It’s a flight delay.”

“You really want to hear about my sordid life?”

“How can I say no to that?”

“If I’m going to tell you I’m going to need another one of these.” I held up my empty glass. “You?”

“No, thank you. Two is my limit.” She slid one of the olives off the toothpick with her teeth and bit down on it. I caught a brief glimpse of the pink tip of her tongue.

“I always say that two martinis are too many, and three is not enough.”

“That’s funny. Didn’t James Thurber also say that?”

“Never heard of him,” I said and smirked, although I felt a little sheepish trying to pass off a famous quote as my own. The bartender was suddenly in front of me and I ordered another drink. The skin around my mouth had taken on that pleasurable numb feeling one gets from gin, and I knew that I was in danger of being too drunk and saying too much, but it was airport rules, after all, and even though my fellow traveler lived only twenty miles from me, I had already forgotten her name, and knew there was very little chance of ever seeing her again in my lifetime. And it felt good to be talking and drinking with a stranger. Just speaking words out loud was causing some of my rage to dissipate.

So I told her the story. I told her how my wife and I had been married for three years, and that we lived in Boston. I told her about the week in September at the Kennewick Inn along the south coast of Maine, and how we’d fallen in love with the area, and bought some ridiculously overpriced shorefront property. I told her how my wife, because she had a master’s degree in something called Arts and Social Action, decided she was qualified to codesign the house with an architecture firm, and had been spending the majority of her recent time in Kennewick, working with a contractor named Brad Daggett.

“And she and Brad . . . ?” she asked after sliding the second olive into her mouth.


“Are you positive?”

previous 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 ..62 next