A large rectangle of cardboard hangs from a duct-taped tarp that reads "MEDIA MUSEUM" in black paint. The tarp covers rows and rows of tables packed with crates of merchandise. The shade of the tarp darkens the space drastically and from the outside and it looks like the tables go on forever back there. As we step inside, we pass by a camera and through a tall plastic gate with a sensor which beeps twice for each of us. It looks like an old-fashioned theft prevention sensor, but Dial has bragged to us about how he had it hacked to detect personal surveillance devices- the kind that police are obliged to wear. This way he knows when an undercover cop or two slinks in and pretends to buy some book or old album. Then he can revert back to his canned response that "This is a museum, sir. These items are artifacts of the past to be admired and not to be bought or sold!"
The shade under the tarps is a relief. Cords of Christmas lights run back and forth under the tarp with the occasional unlit lightbulb hanging down over the tables. The tables are covered in crates packed with merchandise. They are old formats long forgotten my most folks, but loved by collectors and those unafraid of media police. Pieces of cardboard stick out of the crates with black ink reading "DVDs", "CDs", "Vinyl", "Magazines", "Zines".
"Honey! Oh sugar sugar!" Dial sings, wiggling his arms out towards me.
"Ew! Put those grabbers down!" Lime scowls. She's never liked Dial and for good reason. He's a creep. Sometimes I feel like Lime taught me how to hate creeps. She's like, the creep expert. So why the hell is she living with one?
"It's a song by the fictional band The Archies from the 1969 children's animated television program The Archie Show, and it's not my fault that you don't know anything about our culture," Dial spits out, crossing his arms over his chest, defensively. Lime rolls her eyes and crosses her own arms.
"My historical expertise is in turn-of-the-millennium film and music and I couldn't care less for some creepy children's cartoons from the mid-20th century," she says before spinning around to look into a crate. Her fingers whip through a stack of thin plastic boxes. All the merchandise in here is illegal but Dial stays above ground with a "museum" license. And since he isn't moving any registered money through the shop for the goods, it's hard to prove he is doing anything other than letting people look. He does take registered donations which he files for taxes, as does the donor. But these kinds of exchanges are pretty rare since most buyers want to pay with CASH anyway. He's got cameras to monitor his own thieves and gets an expert to doctor his footage if any reporting needs to be done.
"Why can't you just organize everything by year?" Lime complains.
"Most people are only interested in one format. They only got drives to play laser discs, so they don't care about analog discs. They want print but only stuff they can frame, or only stuff that wasn't copyrighted... Not everyone is a pure historian like you and I, my darling. And I have to cater to my clientele."
"I-" Lime starts to sneer, but stops herself. Lime knows it's better to hold your tongue with guys like Dial. Or else they take any statement as encouragement. That's probably why he says such outrageous things in the first place. "Probably couldn't date everything properly anyway..." she mumbles.
Dial watches her. I hate seeing his eyes follow her.
"I hear you have something for me!" I spit as quickly as I can, trying to distract him.
"Ah! Of course. I've been in contact with a buyer who requested a very curious item..." He reaches down and unlocks a drawer in his metal desk and pulls it open. He rustles around for a moment before pulling out a small plastic box. It is clear plastic with a black and white photo inside. "It's a cassette tape. Very rare. I only have a few dozen. I got it in maybe a month or so with a few others like it and a few CDs. The seller didn't know what they were but he was smart enough to bring them to me." He smiles, tapping the box against his temple. "Then I got a transmission from a buyer looking for a list of old albums and I actually had one. I think he had an inflated idea of what could be gotten ahold of, you know. I think he really thought I'd just be like "Oh yessir! I got your order, here are all the albums you wanted! Like I was a steam bun bakery." Dial looks over to his monitor and summons the message. "Listen to this, 'I suppose it was too much to hope for. I know that these are very rare. Could you at least send that one that you have? I'll be willing to pay you the full price for the lot if you can keep your eye out.'" Dial's eyes move back over to me. "Like I'm gonna do that, come on." He laughs. "If I 'kept an eye out' for everything that everyone asked for, I wouldn't have enough eyes to watch my cameras!" At that, he shouts back to Lime, "Hey! Why don't you come over here with that stuff! I don't like that I can't see you!"
I turn around. Lime sighs and hauls a crate of magazines over to the desk and slams them down.
"I'm not going to steal anything. I've got CASH," she spits.
"Oh yeah, how much CASH you got? I could give you a good price on those Cosmos. Think of all the sex secrets of the past you could learn. Impress your historian friends at the Turn of the Millenium Orgy you host." He giggles. She closes her eyes and takes a deep breath. Her need to correct him beats her self-control.
"The fact that you assume everyone who shares an interest is having sex with each other is just really telling of your..." Lime waves her hand around the upper-body aura of Dial. "...situation."
I reach forward and snatch the tape out of his hand. This is why I prefer to work by myself. I don't know how people can get along with each other enough to get any work done. They are all so confrontational.
"So where is this buyer meeting me?" I ask, shoving it into my backpack.
"Here, I'll write down the instructions." Great, more instructions.
"I hope these are decent. The last list of directions I got from a pickup was a disaster. Now I'm just praying that the pickup contacts the Directory to cancel the order so they don't think I stole the merchandise." I sigh.
"You have a failure-to-deliver?" Lime asks.
"It wasn't my fault, the pickup wasn't at the address and the person who was there was like "Why arent you a drone?" and wanted to write down all my information to hand over to who knows what."
Lime shakes her head. "That's why I never deliver to real addresses like that."
"I mean technically it wasn't an address it was like, "the door behind the dumpster in this alley."
"Still not like, in public," Lime says. "This was today?"
"Yeah this morning." I feel really embarassed about the whole thing. When I replay the facts in my mind, I know it wasn't my fault, but I still feel guilty for not remembering the directions. Speaking of forgetting, I had something I was going to ask Dial. I look around the shop, trying to remember what it was. Magazines, Films, Albums, Books. Books.
"I have a couple paperbacks that need to get moved to the valley," I tell him. "I don't have them on me, but I want to get rid of them quick. Do you know anyone that buys and sells in the valley that I might be able to drop in on?" I ask.
"What are they? How old? Are they yellow?" Dial asks, still scribbling on a piece of paper.
"Oh yeah. They're yellow. Pretty old. Like 300 years old, I'd guess," I say. Dial looks up from his notes to look at me.
"How the hell did you get some 300-year-old paperbacks that haven't turned to dust?" Dial scoffs.
"They have this like... protective cover thingy..." I explain.
"Library books?!" Dial exclaims. "Did you steal library books?! You little thief! What sweet hack job helped you do that?!"
"I didn't steal anything!" I exclaim. "My client has connections... to a library, yes... but they weren't stolen."
"You mean your client works in a library," Dial says, nodding with his eyes closed.
"Anyone could get ahold of an old library book, Dial," I try, though I'm wondering if there is any reason to lie to him anyway.
"Shows what you know. Ever since the Purge, it's been impossible to move a library book off the premises of any public library. Those librarians got real territorial after they went to all that work on the digitization projects and then were betrayed by the publishing companies." Dial leans back in his chair. "But it seems you found a crack in the wall."
I know he isn't going to drop it. He's going to keep squeezing until he knows Daicy's name, home address, and CASH number. People in the underground always want to know everything that's going on, even if it doesn't have anything to do with them. It keeps folks honest, but I feel a need to keep Daicy's identity private. For one thing, Dial is a sleazeball and Daicy is in a powerful position. If she gets busted, then the entire Library will get raided, ReChron will get busted along with his exchange records. I'm sure he covers his tracks but that info student did see me and young people starting off a registered career get real nervous and start snitching- and I have my own ass to protect, after all.
"You know," I say to Dial, "my library friend goes to some pretty extreme lengths to cover their tracks when it comes to acquisition and it got me wondering- what do you do when the police want your inventory records? I mean, don't they want to check to make sure nothing is missing to confirm you aren't selling?" The easiest way to distract a nosey person is to sound interested in their work. Especially because nosey people want other people to be nosey like them.
"Hah! They wish!" Dial laughs, taking the bait. "They did demand I produce an inventory when I registered as a museum but they've only asked for an updated list once. I replied with my application to hire 8 employees to do the inventory, all at doctor-level pay rates. I told them I can't do the inventory and work the basic security needs of the museum on my own so either they would need to pay up or fuck off." He twists his mouth in what I assume people mean when they say "shit-eating."
"And they chose 'fuck off,' then?" Lime sighs, flipping through a 200-year-old magazine.
"Damn right they did," he nods.
Dial seems to feel like he's "beaten" the cops. Everyone that works the black market thinks they've "outsmarted" the police somehow. But I wonder if it really comes down to lack of motivation to actually bust anyone. If the police really wanted to bust Dial, it would be so easy. He's barely registered. His filing as a museum has to be out of date- they could raid the place and find the hacked sensors, any video hacker could explain how Dial, and everyone else in The Flea Market doctors their surveillance footage. Not to mention having the hardware and software needed to run CASH.
"Nice," I say. "Can I have those directions?" I ask.
"He wants to get it today before some people in his building get home from work tonight," he says, handing over the piece of paper, folded up.
"He didn't say what he looks like?" I ask. I should ask that every time, really. I wish it was a part of the requirements for an order.
"No, but I'm pretty sure that's his apartment."https://neocities.org/dashboard
"HIS APARTMENT?!" Lime exclaims. Sometimes I'm glad that she can get upset so that I don't have to. We were just talking about how it's not safe to make a delivery to a private home, he was standing right there while we were talking about it.
"Yeah, that doesn't sound great to me, Dial," I say, opening the paper and reading the directions. They are an address with an explanation on how to get into the "back door." Sounds like the alley all over again.
"Back door?" I ask. "What's this? Why would you hire me for a job like this, Dial?"
"This guy is fine. He's not familiar with how we do things. He doesn't want to be seen. I tried to tell him but he was too nervous. He wanted to call it off."
"How much are you paying her to sneak into some creep's back door?" Lime asks. Honestly, I don't care how much he was going to pay me, I don't want to make a personal delivery. It's just not worth it. But I would be lying if I said I wasn't curious what kind of bonus I could get out of him.
"It's the standard fee, 20CASH."
"Oh no it isn't!" Lime laughs. "This is not a standard delivery, so you aren't paying a standard fee!"
"Well how much would YOU charge, Miss I'm afraid to go to a guys back door unless, of course, there is enough CASH involved!" Dial scoffs.
"100, minimum. And it's a rush job, so 150."
"Hah! You've GOT to be kidding me! I could hire any runner in the city for half that!" Dial laughs.
"I'll take 75!" I say quickly and send out my hand. I've never gotten paid that much before for a delivery.
"Sugar, put your hand back!" Lime demands. They continue to haggle and I lose any control I may have had over my fee. I'm not even sure why Dial is bothering to argue with Lime about it. He's right, he could easily call in another runner if we refuse. There are countless young runners who don't know any better and would go along with this job without complaint, just glad to get the job and gain some reputations. Since reputation is the only reason why anyone gets a job. Sellers request runners by name and it's not like there is a directory.
The next thing I know, Dial has authorized the pick up, and Lime is pulling me out of the tent by the arm, with a big crate of magazines under the other arm.
Out in the sun again, we move through a small crowd of people and back to the tea shack.
"So did I just get paid or...?" I ask.
"Yeah, don't expect much of a bonus when you check your balance tonight, but I got some sweet CDs stashed under these crappy magazines," Lime explains, pulling out a few shiny silver discs.
"He's going to know it was you." I sigh. He's never going to hire me again.
"He'd have to do inventory first!" Lime laughs.