It was the cuff link that caught my eye.

He was the last passenger to board Flight 537 from Baltimore to Houston, and, in retrospect, I realize that the plane was probably held a few extra minutes for him. The seat next to me was the only one empty, and he gave me a small, courteous nod as he sat down, putting a thick briefcase at his feet.

The sun was only a glimmer in the west as Flight 537 took off and gained altitude. When we rose into the clouds, the man in 22-B reached up with his left hand and pushed the button on the overhead light. It clicked and, like a small, perfectly aimed spotlight, illuminated his cuff link. Set into the round, black onyx was a single, gold word: “Guilty.”

It’s hard to surreptitiously look at someone sitting close to you, so I leaned forward slightly, as if I was looking across the aisle and out the window at the far end. The man in 22-B was in his mid-50s, wearing a button-down shirt and striped tie. He had the clean-shaven appearance of a businessman, but there was no hurry or worry about him.

I usually avoid in-flight conversations, but there are a few you’ve got to have.

“Excuse me,” I said, and pointed at his left sleeve. “What did you do?”

He gave me a questioning look.

“’Guilty?’” I asked.

He raised his right hand. The right cuff link, identical in color and shape, had two gold words: “Not Guilty.”

(End of excerpt)