“Are you killing time?” she asked.
“Yes,” I said, “and I’ve got the bar tab to prove it.”
“Would you like some company?” She sat down on the stool to my right without waiting for an answer.
She was not what you would call a pretty woman, but sitting in the bar at O’Hare, two hours to kill until boarding, she was pretty enough. “What are you drinking?’ I asked.
I don’t normally drink martinis, but what the hell, I figured, how often does a middle-aged man, balding and slightly overweight, get a chance to sip martinis at an airport bar with a strange woman. So I ordered two.
And then two more.
And then.. well, to be honest, at that point, things start to get a little fuzzy. At some point, I do remember excusing myself to use the men’s room and then staggering through the terminal, making my way to the gate. I was relieved, finally, to board the plane and sink into my window seat. It had been a long day.
Not twelve hours earlier I had been sitting at another window seat, on another plane, making the flight in the other direction, from my home in New Jersey, to Chicago. My workshop on developing characters that readers care about had gone well. I sold a few books and made a few new friends. It had been a good day. But I was tired and grateful to be on my way home.
The crew was preparing the plane for departure when the Air Marshals came on board. In this day and age, that’s not a good sign. Still, I was kind of curious; I think we all were. Was our flight about to become the lead in tomorrow’s news? Who were they looking for? I felt a vicarious thrill when they came up the aisle. Apparently, I was sitting next to the woman they were after.
No. Evidently she was sitting next to the man they were after. I would not make it home that night. Without an explanation, the Air Marshals led me off the plane. Did you know there’s a jail, of sorts, in the bowels of O’Hare International Airport? I didn’t, either. But there is. And it was only after we’d entered the secure facility that the reason for my detention became clear.
“A woman has been found dead in the men’s room,” the Air Marshal said. In her hand, she clutched a bookmark promoting one of my books. It’s Beginning to Look a Lot like Murder, it said. And it was. A helluva lot like murder. My name, of course, was printed on the bookmark. And my phone number, in lipstick, was scribbled on the back.
It had been a long day. It promised to get a lot longer.