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The Kind Worth Killing
Peter 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?”

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