But Morton had other plans.
"Excuse me, son. Would you mind opening my air vent?" The old man asked. "My arms don't reach up like they used to."
Steve forced a smile and twisted the knob above, releasing a stream of cool air onto his neighbor.
"Sure." Steve went to readjust his headphones when-
"Are you a lawyer or something?" Morton stared at the briefcase at Steve's feet.
"No, I'm in marketing." Steve grunted. "Finally getting back to the office from a company seminar."
"You know, you remind me a lot of my son, Richard. He was always busy with work. Too busy to call his old man, the ungrateful smuck." Morton smacked his knee and shook his head. "You know his mother and I sent him to one of those fancy pedigree schools... Dayle, Hayle. What was it?"
An exhausted Steve replied, "Yale. It's Yale."
He shifted in his seat impatiently. A flight attendant came by to take their drink orders and Steve ordered whiskey on ice. Morton asked for water.
"Six years sober. Been that way since my sweet angel LeeAnne returned to heaven." The old man's eyes glassed over with unfallen tears. "Not a woman on earth could compare to her, no sir."
"My condolences." Steve threw back the alcohol and placed a neck pillow behind his head, closing his eyes.
"You know, its funny how life turns out sometimes." Morton dug into his shirt pocket and pulled out his wallet, unsteady hands maneuvering the folds to bring out a tattered photo. "I always thought I'd be the first to go, but I guess the good Lord had other plans."
Steve was inches from sleep when-
"Son, could you turn my air down please? My arms don't work like they once did."
Steve's eyes popped open, a vein pulsing at his left temple. He reached up and closed the vent, then flopped back into his chair. "Anything else, Mr..."
"Morton Barton. But please, call me Morty."
"Morty, I don't mean to be rude," Steve began. "But I'm trying to get some rest. I have a meeting with my supervisor as soon as we land and its been a long day."
Morton chuckled as he returned the photo to his wallet. "Wow, you even sound like him. Rich was always the light sleeper. Had to pad all the windows and doors when he was a baby. Just the slightest noise would set him off. LeeAnne and I had to wear padded socks just to walk around the house during nap time."
Steve endured story after story, palms red from digging his nails into them.
"One year on Christmas, Rich ate an entire chocolate cake!"
"He had a dog named Sam. Those two were partners in crime, they were."
"I remember his first date. Never seen so much sweat in my life, ha ha!"
At last the plane landed and Steve couldn't wait to be rid of the annoying old coot.
"Well young man, it was a pleasure talking to you." Morton said, extending his hand to him. "I've got to catch a cab to go meet my son. God bless ya."
Steve nodded, unbuckling his seat belt.
"Could you do me one last favor and pull down my things?" Morton grinned, rubbing his shoulders.
Resisting the urge to strangle the old man, Steve stood and reached into the overhead compartment. What he found was a neatly folded American flag and a soldier's portrait in a plaque that read:
Richard D. Barton
Loyal Soldier and Beloved Son
Killed In The Line Of Duty