Martin walked down the crowded street not really paying any attention to the other Winter Break shoppers as they scurried past each other on their self-absorbed mission of consumerism. He’d already spent far too many credits and pretty much burned up what was left of his salary advance for the month. Besides it just wasn’t the same any more for him, it was far too commercialized, too ho hum and meaningless and to most folks it was just an excuse for a week off from work, those that had work. He remembered that Christmas had always been a great time when he was a kid before it was banned. Well not the holiday part, not the buying part – as that supported the economy and was considered a good thing; however they had finally managed to take the Christ out of Christmas and just flat out banned what was considered the discriminatory part, the religious part.
What had once been a celebrated as the “alleged” birth of the “alleged” Christian Savior had been transmuted into what was now referred to as the Winter Solstice Celebration or simply...Winter Break. It was about the time when he became a teenager that the country had finally became completely secular and all open displays of religious symbols and thus religious holidays had been ultimately banned by the Supreme Court. The tax exemption for religious institutions soon followed and within a few years many of the physical properties that where once used for worship had been taken over by various city, state and federal agencies through the process of eminent domain and turned into homeless shelters, community centers or storage facilities. “A more productive use of these buildings….” The government folks had repeated their new mantra over and over and over again until most citizens actually believed it. Martin was really too young at the time to fully understand the changes that the system had forced upon them and while he sort of resented the loss of the jolly old guy in the red suit, if he represented a repressive component of a decrepit society maybe it was a good thing, but he didn’t really buy it for one second.
He pulled his coat collar up in a feeble attempt to block the light snow that had just started to fall from finding its way down the back of his neck as it always seemed to and he dodged another fellow shopper with an armful of presents in too much of a hurry to pay any attention to where they were actually going.
“One more stop and I’m done.” He mumbled to himself.
He ducked into the candy shop and was immediately hit with the overwhelming smell of warm caramel, chocolate and hot apple cider. He took in a big snoot full of the enchanting aromas that assaulted him….delicious.
“May I help you sir?” The matronly gray haired lady behind the glass counter cheerfully asked.
“Ah….I’d like something special for my mother. Something with very dark and rich…maybe one of those truffle things?”
“I know just the thing for you young man.” She gracefully moved down the counter and passed her hand over some lusciously dark colored orbs presenting them for his approval.
He stared through the glass and picked several out and watched as the salesperson deftly wrapped each one and placed them in their own little box sealed with a small miniature ribbon.
“Mom will love those.” He thought to himself.
“Here you go young man, that will be twenty-three fifty.” She said as she handed Martin the package.
He waved his multipass ID/Debit card over the scanning field and the register beeped. A metallic voice immediately responded.
“Martin Swartz. Purchase for twenty three and one half credits, do you accept?”
“Verified. Purchase of twenty-three and one half credits will be deducted from your account. Your remaining credits are….”
“Thank you.” He cut the machine voice off. He already knew the damage he had done to his account over the last week with his seasonal buying and not only didn’t want to be reminded, he didn’t want to be embarrassed by the meager amount remaining in his account to be announced to a store full of shoppers.
“Thank you Martin Swartz for shopping at See’s Candy.” The voice immediately replied.
“Young man, you look a little chilled. Would you like a cup of our hot cider?” The gray haired lady asked with a smile.
She offered a steamy hot service paper cup to him (Styrofoam had been outlawed for over twenty years) and the smell was too much to turn away. He sipped it cautiously until his mouth was ready for the warmth and then he took a small swig and allowed it to coat the entire inside of his palate before he swallowed the warm amber liquid.
“MMMMmmm. That is good!” He mumbled.
She leaned forward and in a whisper said to him. “You have a very happy holiday young man.”
He took another sip and then he leaned closer yet, mindful of the cameras up in the corners of the room with their voice recorders running somewhere in the bowels of the earth and in the slightest of whispers he replied to her.
“You have a Merry Christmas Ma’am.” And he winked.
Her face suddenly lit up. “And you too Sir, and you too.”
ll too soon he was back out in the dark and snowy night making his way to the tram station three blocks away, crunching his way through the freshly fallen snow with an arm full of gifts. That was a stupid thing for him to say to that old lady but he knew that it made her day. Oh well, it would probably cost him twenty or thirty credits for the “Intolerance fine”. Silly name for a fine anyways, after all just who was being intolerant? How harmful could a few little words like Merry Christmas be? Seemed kind of silly to ban such simple and harmless words, but the New Bill of Rights didn’t allow for such Hate Speech and if those microphones had picked up anything he’d know by morning.
“Oh well….nothing from nothing…is pretty much nothing!”
He chuckled to himself as he walked through the circle of light from the street lamp and glanced up at one of the ever-present cameras that monitored the community.
“Now this has to be a pretty boring sector to monitor for someone.” He thought to himself.
Even through he knew perfectly well that most of the cameras were not actually manned by a living and breathing person, just computer programs that looked for anomalies, anything that was out of the ordinary.
The tram station was moderately packed as people scurried about on their way to and fore, their shopping over, or work done for the day, some going home, some going out. He walked through the inspection scanners oblivious to the myriad of computer functions that were taking place at that very moment. The RFID nano chips in each package told the sensors what they were attached to, the origin of manufacture, wholesaler, retail outlet and buyers identity, in addition to confirming to the monitoring systems that they were indeed harmless. At the same time the RFID chip embedded in the back of Martin’s right hand verified his identity, where he lived, worked, was born, any relationships or relatives that might be of interest to the state, his purchases that evening and automatically deducted the charges from his dwindling account for entering into the transportation system. In addition highly sensitive chemical sniffers and whole body scanners determined that he had not come into contact with nor was he carrying any that even resembled a weapon or bomb. In the five seconds it took Martin to walk through the security corridor he was determined to be of no threat to society or to the transportation system. He was just another mundane worker that had been out shopping and was headed home.
Martin plopped himself down on the plastic bench seat that ran along the wall and sat his bags on the floor between his legs as the coach filled up and he leaned back exhausted from his shopping. A soft bell rang twice then a gentle woman’s voice filled the passenger cabin.
“Stanford Station, next stop. Bong-Bong” And the tram slightly jerked and began to move forward.
Martin stared off in to space not particularly paying attention to anything or anyone as he glanced over the constantly changing advertisements on the curved ad screens mounted up in the corners of the coach ceiling. Nothing there he wanted, needed or could afford right now…if ever. A tropical vacation scene popped up in the next ad.
“Now there would be a nice place to be right about now” he thought to himself as his eyes dropped down and looked through the cabin windows at the snow rapidly flying past outside the speeding tram.
It had been a long day at work and what seemed like a longer day shopping when he arrived at the dimly lit entrance to his complex. The buildings security scanners recognized him as he stood in front of the buildings main entrance door. They scanned the immediate area around Martin, finding no one else the door opened and he stepped through. Across the dark lobby and up the stairs he started. Eight flights to his landing, the elevators and escalators had long since succumbed to abysmal maintenance so that by the time he finally walked up the last few steps to his landing and approached his front door now both his arms and legs were tired. His apartment door much like the outer complex door failed to recognize him and he had to set down some of his packages in order to open the antique key locks he has installed after numerous attempts to get the landlord to affect the needed repairs. He finally managed to get the manual locks open and stepped into the cramped hallway entrance to his apartment, he was finally home.
His apartment was dark and he used his elbow to flip the toggle on an antique light switch. A row of small low energy LED’s that were carefully strung up in the corner of the wall and ceiling where they met, came on and illuminated his way into “his cave” as he often referred to it. He dropped the shopping bags on the coffee table, kicked off his shoes and walked into the kitchenette. Martin reached over on the wall and dialed up the kitchen LED lights that slowly increased to a level he could see by and yet still remained quite subdued. It was not as bright as he would have liked it, but it did save on the wear and tear to his guerrilla photo-voltaic system and the meager golf cart batteries that he used to store the days gathered energy.
Electricity was just too expensive to buy in any large quantities and the excise taxes placed on use of the local system grid was staggering. A friend of his, Seth, a supreme scrounger, worked for the local transportation system and had come across a small stash of road sign solar panels long forgotten in an out of the way warehouse and managed to “recycle” several for himself and Martin. While he couldn’t completely drop off the “grid” the panels hidden on his enclosed balcony managed to gather in enough juice daily to supplement his measly state authorized energy allowance and actually saved him a decent amount of credits each month. If he was ever caught “stealing” energy from the sun with his gorillia power set up at worst he would pay some hefty fines and probably be forced to pay back for all the stolen energy that he hadn’t purchased from the authorized grid. Oh well, he wasn’t too concerned about getting caught. Eight floors up and in a dilapidated forgotten apartment complex in a less than desirable section of the city that no one ever came out to inspect and no one really cared about. Who would know? Besides which his system was so small and his energy foot print so tiny that no one would pay any attention to it. So what, that from time to time he could watch a DVD or surf the Internet and even play a video game without his pocket book being too dinged. It was all part of living in the modern era. Everyone cheated to some degree.
Martin opened the small high efficiency apartment refrigerator that stood under the kitchen counter, grabbed the pint of orange juice and drank right from the container.
“Sorry Mom.” He thought.
Suddenly something brushed up against his lower leg.
“Evening Caesar.” Martin reached down and scratched the Tabby's head.
Caesar was the one luxury that Martin felt that he couldn’t live without, “Companions” were not cheap. They were not cheap to buy, to care for, to feed and especially not cheap to pay the Companion Tax on, but it was one of the few concessions that Martin allowed for himself. Though the monthly visits from the local Animal Rights Ombudsperson was a pain at first, they eventually faded off to once a quarter and then once a year and now it had been some time since Martin had had a visit. Besides which Caesar was a lot cheaper than getting a girl friend and dealing with all the lawyers’ fees and contract negotiations required by law in case he should actuall have sexual desires towards that person. He could totally forget even thinking about getting married, only rich people could afford that and he was certainly not rich or ever likely to be, and he wasn’t high enough on the genetic food chain to ever be granted procreation rights. So for now, he had a cat, or rather…Caesar had his human.
“Hey guy, it’s Friday night!” Martin began to move around the cramped kitchenette gathering up the necessities of making dinner. “How about we celebrate with a little meat tonight!”
Caesar’s ears perked up and he meowed and rubbed himself up against Martin’s leg.
“Yes we’ve been good all week. We deserve some real meat tonight….well....as real as we can get.”
Martin opened up his storage cupboard and scanned a few cans trying to read the labels in the dim light until he found the one he was looking for.
“Let’s see. Free range pseudo organic transgenic chicken protein flaked. MMMMMMmmmm, imported, now that sounds pretty awesome there doesn’t it guy.”
Within minutes Caesar was hard at work trying to get every last drop of flavor out of the now empty can as Martin fired up his little homemade alcohol cook stove on the kitchen counter and heated the freshly filtered rain water for the ramen noodles, dehydrated vegetables and pseudo chicken with reconstituted powdered cheese sauce. Friday was always meat night in the Swartz' household and Martin could even dimly remember back when meat was on the menu almost every night as a kid, real meat that is. But those days were long gone and all Martin had was a memory of what genuine meat tasted like. The Animal Rights people had seen to the demise of that.
Martin sat on the couch and leaned forward over his small coffee table eating his bowl of pseudo-chicken and cheesy noodles and caught the last few minutes of the late night news. It was pretty much the same old banter emanating from the talking heads with plastic smiles filled with blazingly bright teeth, perfectly coiffed hair and the latest fashion look that had probably been recycled every twenty years since the style had actually originated. They always rattled on about how great things were going in the war on terrorism. How great the economy was doing. How great all the sports teams were….everything was just great, Great, GREAT, GREAT!
Martin leaned back and looked slowly around his dimly lit tiny apartment and surveyed his little kingdom. It was basically just one big room; actually it had been an “executive hotel suite” in the dim distant past. It had a small kitchenette, so small only one person…and a cat could work in there at one time. His main room consisted of a hide a bed couch, a computer table, a wall of books on cobbled together bookshelves and a battery box over by the balcony sliding glass door and a small coffee table that served also as his dinning table, workbench and general catch all. He did have a private bathroom with a commode and a tiny shower that worked periodically and a small closet stuffed full of his few personal possessions and barely held the plastic storage boxes stacked along one side. Yep…it was seriously palatial…for a cat.
“Great…huh?” He muttered as he looked over at his cat, now sprawled out on his back like a drunken sailor lying beside Martin.
“What kind of cat sleeps like that?” He wondered.
The weekend was uneventful. Martin woke up early as he always did just as the sun was starting to chase away the dark of night and made a cup of imitation chicory coffee. It tasted like crap but with enough powdered creamer and with a little black market sugar it was passable for hot brown water. Real coffee was far too expensive for his budget although once or twice a quarter he would indulge himself with a small cup of the “real stuff” from an old street vendor that hung out near his work. He then tidied up his little flat and began his checking all the little support systems he had incorporated into his mundane boring life.
He checked the fluid levels and acid water ratios of his solar storage batteries. By meticulously caring for these third hand batteries he had managed to extend their function for over five years beyond their normal life span. He charted the findings and measured each ones electrolyte level. One of them was starting to show signs of finally giving up the ghost and he knew that he’d have to start looking right away for replacements. This current set had taken him nearly two years to locate and replacing them was not going to be easy or cheap. These hadn’t been rebuilt yet so there was still hope that he might not have to find replacements, but even rebuilding was not cheap and finding someone to do it was almost as difficult as finding new batteries. He would have to run by Seth’s place next week and see what his scrounger friend could come up with. Such conversations would be considered “shopping below the sidewalk” was best done face to face as all modern communication systems were closely monitored to prevent possible “terrorist traffic”.
He checked the output of his homemade still that produced his fuel alcohol for his cooking stove and a little barter on the side. It was hidden beneath the bathroom sink and plumbed into the toilet’s water storage tank where the condenser coils wound through the tank’s cool water and then dripped out its precious product into an old glass jug. To the unskilled eye it was just a jug catching a small leak from the back of the tank. It was just about time to start a new batch.
Martin cleaned Caesar’s cat box and took the refuse out to the small compost bin on the balcony. He had constructed the balcony greenhouse using recycled glass and Plexiglas panels, which created a small greenhouse that was packed full with a jungle of plants. He dumped Caesar’s contribution into the bin along with a few kitchen scraps and some contributions from the lunchroom at work. Along with chicory grounds and a few weeds he would pick along the walk home, Martin had managed to actually make a little soil periodically and keep a small family of earthworms happy. He then checked and preened his micro garden that survived eight stories up from dead soil below them at street level. He knew that he was breaking several proprietary laws by growing his little collection of plants. It seemed that someone, somewhere, usually a corporation, owned all the seed rights to all the plants on the planet, but Martin didn’t care. He was a small part of a vast network of rogue gardeners that swapped open pollinated seeds and plants. He wasn’t licensed to grow vegetables and that was another violation somewhere, but his tiny effort had no real impact on the world at large and was mostly overlooked by his landlord in exchange for a few ripe cherry tomatoes, a real carrot, and a pot of string beans every now and then.
Part of the legal problem was that when the major seed corporations created transgenic or Genetically Modified Organisms and were allowed to patent the various DNA sequences of their new plants. No one accounted for the fact that pollen from these now patented organisms could and would spread to non-patented varieties. Since these patented gene sequences were someone’s property a kind of piracy began to take place when the patented pollen drifted on the wind or was carried by insects to unpatented species. By law the specific gene sequences belonged to the corporations that owned the patent on them, not the hapless farmers whose corps became accidentally polluted by the patented pollen. Soon there were no truly open pollinated seeds left and corporations controlled all the food production plants in the world.
With the exception of rogue gardeners like Martin every food item on the planet was controlled, regulated, licensed, and taxed. Even the water that he captured from the roof run off to feed his tiny garden belonged to someone. His gray water and even his black water belonged to the city, or state, or someone. His worm bed was a violation of at least ten community ordinances and laws and if PETA found out about it he would surely serve some sort of detention on top of cruelty fines for feeding them feces from another species and despite his felonious activities his worms seemed quite content. His garden was green and happy. Caesar was definitely spoiled, the batteries would last at least another six months, the water filters were cleaned and reinstalled, his fifty-five gallon rain water barrel was full, there was at least a months worth of food in the apartment, he had plenty of toilet paper and a couple of gallons of “trading whiskey” ready to go. That was his life in a nutshell. Boring, mundane, but at least survivable…and he had a job.
It wasn’t much of a job, but it was a job. Martin was a research specialist. Despite all the search engines, all the various computer programs that gathered up vast amounts of trivial information. Someone, somewhere still had to sort through all those search hits and decide what was truly valuable and what was absolute trash. One of the major problems of the computer age was too much information. Sometimes you had to think outside the box using convoluted logic, something that a human brain does best, in order to find the answers that someone, somewhere else is demanding to know. The down side is that it is incredibly boring work most of the time. The up side is that occasionally Martin would come across a bit of information that was personally valuable and he would then download it for later study at home.
That is how he learned about vermiculture (growing worms), micro gardening, brewing, water harvesting and treatment, and the photovoltaic systems that now powered his little flat and many other areas of interest and potential use. Yet all that he had learned and all that he had applied was illegal and owned by someone else. It was forbidden to be found thinking outside the framework of the system. Like little drones citizens were expected to support and obey the decisions of the operators of the system. Thinking and especially acting independently was strictly forbidden.
Later that Saturday afternoon Martin began to work on his side job which was repairing and reconditioning older personal computer systems and small electrical devices. Up in a storage attic several floors above his little flat, behind long forgotten boxes belonging to forgotten tenants he had created a little workshop in a back corner. He worked for little old ladies, gents, poor neighbors and folks that couldn’t afford the expense or for whatever reason didn’t desire to send their machines back to the original manufactures as required by law for repairs, modifications and mandatory upgrades.
Folks that couldn’t afford the latest and greatest along with the excessive taxes of buying new. So Martin worked a small shadow business on the side that brought in a little extra income from time to time. Since all monetary transactions were accounted for on the international banking system and such transactions would quickly identify to corporate watch dogs and local, community, country, state and federal tax bureaus that Martin was engaged in some sort of taxable enterprise he most always worked for trade or barter value. A hair cut, a can of fruit, cat food, a homemade pie or whatever odd thing that he could use. He even accepted the ancient Federal Reserve Notes that still circulated below the proper lines of exchange.
There was even the odd time that someone would offer his “real money” Precious metals that had been outlawed for personal use. Old silver coines and once in a great while even bits of gold. The universal currency since the dawn of time
That is how he acquired his first vegetable seeds, the pots that he grew them in, his worms and even his strings of LED lights, little things here and there that made his life just a tad more comfortable and a little more tolerable. Besides it was fun to beat the system, even in such a harmless way there was still a slight risk involved by flying below the radar; despite that most everyone was doing it.
Perhaps most of all it was these little intrigues made Martin feel like he was useful somehow and not just another cog in some giant ineffectual system. People came to him through word of mouth to fix their broken items and most of the time he could. He would never get rich, but that was all right because at least he would feel useful and that was more than many folks felt in the world today.
Sunday morning was a gray overcast beginning that threatened to provide more snow according the weather report. Martin sipped on his morning cup of mud and looked out through the hazy greenhouse glazing to the gray/brown buildings that surrounded his little world.
“What an ugly day.” He thought to himself.
An hour later Martin was trudging along through the chilly morning air on dirty frozen sidewalks to a nearby dilapidated complex to make his deliveries. The filthy brown buildings stood like cold mausoleums to man and contained mostly older residents trying to survive on pensions and minuscule hand outs from the government. Like a peasant version of the outlawed Santa Claus he carried small laptop computers and electronic gadgets in a well worn repaired back pack slung over his shoulder. His first stop was an old widow lady that always had a little tea, the real stuff, to share with him and would somehow have a plate full of warm chocolate chip cookies or another homemade snack waiting for him when he arrived. Today was no different. She opened the door just as he made the top of the landing.
“Good morning Martin.” She greeted him with a frail voice and the smell of fresh baked cookies wafting out the door.
“Good morning Mrs. D.” He replied slightly out of breath.
She held the door for him as he slid in around her and entered the kitchen.
“Mrs. Dean I’ve told you a hundred times that you should wait until the sensors say it’s safe before opening up the door to anyone.” He mockingly scolded her.
“Now Martin hush up. I knew it was you as you came up the stairs and besides the sensors haven’t worked for over a year.”
“Do you want me to look at…”
“Nope, just leave them be. I like them broke.”
Martin raised an eyebrow.
“Son I remember before we had all this nonsense and we were just as safe then if not more so, besides I’m too old to change now.”
She set down a cup in front of him and began to pour some tea into it. The cookies were under a tea towel in the center of the small round table. Mrs. D’s apartment was just a little bigger than his own flat but had one luxury that he lacked; an actual bedroom. Mr. Dean had passed some time back he guessed, yet somehow she had managed to hold on to her apartment rather than be forced to down size as was usually the case.
Their conversation was light and mostly about the weather, news or lack of it. It was difficult to really converse about daily events what with all the propaganda and happy news that was offered in the government controlled media. Freedom of speech was also a thing of the past especially if it offended anyone, or criticized something, so most folks were left with nothing to talk about except the weather.
Martin pulled out an old battered laptop and a small rolled up flexible solar panel from his back pack.
“Here you go Mrs. “D”. I’ve rebuilt the batteries and matched up a small portable solar panel so you won’t have to plug it into the grid. I had a heck of a time cleaning up your hard drive from that latest viral attack, but you’re up and running now. Please keep your firewalls up and that will help to defend against that sort of thing. I’ve also upgraded your software as much as I could, but I’m afraid your system is pretty much on its last legs. There’s just no more that I can do to work around its limitations.”
She gingerly picked up the laptop and held it to her chest.
“Thank you so much Martin. I do so appreciate all you’ve done for me. This is my only link to the outside world and the few friends that I have left. I don’t know how to repay you for all you’ve done for me.”
Martin was embarrassed as he replied. “Oh don’t worry about that Mrs. “D”, it was no big deal, really. I had the extra parts lying around and the rest was pretty easy stuff. Besides…” He took a big bite of a cookie and savored the rich flavor that took him back to his childhood. “…where would I ever get such delicious cookies?”
She left the kitchen and placed the repaired laptop on a small writing desk in the living room and disappeared into the bedroom. A few minutes later she returned with a plain wooden box and placed it on the table before him.
“It was my husband’s humidor.” She said with her hand resting on the box.
“Oh Mrs. “D” I can’t take something like that from you.” He said shaking his head. “No you keep your husband’s box. Really, these cookies are more than payment enough!”
“Martin, you’ve been like a son to me, always there when I needed you, checking in on me and enjoying my cookies. I don’t have much longer on this world and I really want you to have this. It would mean a lot to me, so please don’t refuse an old women’s request. Plus there are a few other things I want you to have before the vultures descend.”
Martin was dumbfounded. “Mrs. “D” do you need to go to the doctors? Are you feeling alright?”
He started to stand up but she put her hand on his shoulder and gently pushed him back down into the chair.
“I’m fine for right now. But…” She took a breath. “I’ve just been notified that my medical benefits expire in a month and after than I’m on my own, and…and… I have to give up my apartment and move to a retirement home. They won’t let me live here on my own any more.”
Martin’s jaw dropped. He knew that his elderly friend was a diabetic and without her insulin it would just be a matter of time before her condition caught up with her. Essentially the state had just handed her a death sentence. There was no way she could afford her medication and there was no way for her survive such a move. He looked down at the ground.
“I’m so sorry Mrs. “D”.”
“Well…” She began as she sat down. “It was only a matter of time. They’ve been slowly clearing out this complex of us old people and I’m an old lady that has lived long past her usefulness in the world today.”
Martin just sat there in silence not sure what to say.
“So I have a few things that I want to pass on to you. Things I can’t keep any longer and things I want to go to someone that might find them useful.” She patted his hand.
“Can you come by some time this coming week and bring a hand cart?”
“Mrs. “D”, I’m so sorry. Isn’t there anyone you can appeal this to?”
“I’ve already tried that young man this is now what I have to deal with.” She looked at him in the eye. “So will you please take this box for me?”
He nodded his answer.
“Oh and by the way…there’s some real cigars in there.” There was a glint of mischief in her eyes.
Tobacco had long been outlawed and smoking condemned. Martin had never smoked in his life and really had no interest in it, but this was some extremely excellent barter material he was sure. If he was right Mrs. “D” had just handed him a small gold mine. He immediately thought that he just might be able to do some hard core barter and get his battered battery bank replaced and perhaps even upgraded. Yet, the realization that Mrs. “D” was going to be forced out of her home weighed heavily on his mind and during the rest of his rounds that day his mood was as gray as the clouds overhead.
It was just before lunch as he was making his way back home that it began to snow again. Up in his gloomy attic workroom he sat the backpack down on the workbench and carefully extracted the wooden humidor. It was heavier and larger than he realized. He opened the top and his jaw hit the ground. It was full of large finely rolled cigars…she had handed him a FORTUNE! Well a fortune if he could find the right buyer. There were instructions pasted to the top of the humidor lid which he carefully read. He very gently lifted out and inspected each of the individually wrapped cigars.
The box was modestly decorated with several types of inlayed dark woods in a simple but elegant pattern. It was a rather stout box to be sure and then he noticed something very peculiar. The depth of the inner box where the cigars were stored was not as deep as the overall box itself and it seemed to be considerably heavier than he would have expected a wooden box to weigh with all the contents removed. He was sure that there was a hidden compartment in the bottom of the box but could find no way to access it without damaging the box. Frustrated he sat the box back down and then decided to refill the water reservoir. It was when he lifted out the water container that he noticed what appeared to be a small button at the bottom of the space reserved for the humidifier. He put finger back into the box and pushed down on the recessed button. It took a little more pressure than he had thought would have been necessary but he felt the soft click and slowly lifted up the upper section of the box. That was when his jaw literally hit the floor. Nestled in the base of the humidor was a small pistol!
Martin nearly fell out of his chair as he stared at the small absolutely illegal weapon. All privately owned firearms had been completely outlawed for over twenty years. His discovery could easily land him in prison camp for the rest of his natural life. He quickly snapped the hidden chamber closed and piled the cigars into the upper half, closed up the humidor, turned out the light, locked the door to his little attic shop and rushed back to his apartment.
“What the hell am I going to do now?” He felt the panic flood over him.