“Here you go, dear.”

Carson looked up to see another Stewardess gesturing to the empty aisle seat next to him. She made fleeting eye contact the way those in public service do when they want to be polite but not bothered, and though her smile seemed genuine there was none of it in her eyes for him.

The man she was smiling for stepped up and plopped in the empty seat, thanking her warmly. She moved on, leaving Carson holding his glass and examining his new seatmate. Small. Dark. Possibly Mexican. Young. Jeans, tee shirt. A sports coat that had seen better days folded neatly over one arm. Carson raised an eyebrow.

“Hey, hombre. What happened; wrong seat number printed on your first-class ticket?”

Now the man met his gaze, and Carson resented him immediately. He knew the man didn't have a first class ticket. The question was designed to make the man admit it, to feel sheepish about getting “bumped” for whatever reason, and to place Carson in the alpha position. When Sports Coat's brown eyes met Carson's green, however, there wasn't a hint of guilt, not a shadow of feeling out of place. Carson knew his type, and hated them.

“Nope,” Sports Coat said, smiling. “Flying on a companion pass and they had an empty seat up this way.”

Carson bristled. A companion pass; so this fellow knew someone who worked for the airline and was flying for free. The nearly thousand-dollar price of Carson's ticket counted against his travel vouchers for the year—as he kept whatever was left in January as a bonus, he saw it as his money. Here he paid a thousand bucks to fly first class, and some jerk with questionable citizenship wins the lotto of coach class.

“Well. Lucky you.”


Sports Coat was snoring lightly, oblivious to the noise Carson was making as he flicked the rim of his empty glass repeatedly. In the past thirty minutes Carson had watched the charity case enjoying his complimentary gourmet snack packs and cocktails while the Stewardesses doted on him. In the meantime Carson had to practically stamp his foot to get the refill he was after, and the one after that. Even the attention the chick across the aisle was trying to give him couldn't bring him up. Maybe if she was more than a Six.

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