You can buy anything if you can find the seller. The black market will always find opportunity.
God knows where black market gas came from. But you could buy it, no questions asked. As long as you provided your volumes, FemCad didn’t ask questions. I won’t say FemCad didn’t care but as long as people were meeting quotas they weren’t alarmed. At first.
There were rumors FemCad was working on testing. Testing to see if it’s your methane—like a DNA stamp. They would have to test it to find out if it was bovine or swine or synthetic or whatever; you couldn’t just fill the canister with methane. The gas would have to be a combination of methane and nitrogen and oxygen and carbon dioxide and so on.
But for now it just needs to resemble human gas. And in the case of black market gas, it was probably some human’s gas, smuggled in across the border, in which case it would still be human and so no red flags would come up. No knowing where it came from.
But FemCad hadn’t gone to testing yet. Perhaps because the bureaucracy would swell well beyond its already bloated state. But I knew FemCad and if there were rumors there was probably activity. FemCad had shown willingness to do most anything to meet the government quotas.
One day, I got my chance to reach into the resistance. I was collecting from a guy named Johannsen.
“Anyone ever get caught faking it?” he asked
“Faking what?” I asked.
“Faking the gas in the canister,” he said.
“In what way?” I asked. “By filling it with air or something?”
“Or something,” he said.
“Well, I am sure it has happened. They do test it to see what it is,” I said.
“Anyone every not get caught?” he asked.
“That would be hard to know, now wouldn’t it?” I said.
“But you might know someone who has tried, perhaps?”
“Perhaps,” I said.
“Might be worth it to know such things,” he said.
I said I would see what I could find out. Since he offered me money, I saw some reward in the risk of finding out what I wanted to know anyway.
I didn’t really have any contacts on the street so I went to my contacts at FemCad. I figured I could get the names of a few people who had been arrested or suspected of black market involvement and seek them out.
Now, if I was going to approach someone on a FemCad watch list, I needed a story. Unfortunately my plan would probably cost me all the money Johannsen had promised me. Pay for play, though. I figured as a bona fide methane collector I could run an operation putting Black Gas customers in touch with Black Gas providers. In fact, I could be the perfect distribution channel. In plain sight.
So I concocted my story, which really didn’t have to be a story at all since I could really set up shop distributing to needy customers.
I approached James Garafo, repeat black gas distributor. I knew he was on probation and probably under careful watch so I wasn’t sure how cooperative he would be. I gambled that FemCad couldn’t watch everyone all the time. I had Garafo’s address so I followed him from his apartment complex. Made a reasonable attempt to avoid security cameras and then just physically bumped into him and we were off.
“Garafo. James Garafo?”
“Yeah. What of it?”
“I don’t know you and you don’t know me. But I know of you. Just keep walking. We both know you might be under surveillance.” I tried to act natural. “Anyway I’m looking for a supplier of Black Gas.”
“I don’t do that anymore,” said Garafo. “Get lost.”
“I don’t want you to supply me with any. I want you to give me a name. Just hear me out. Believe it or not I’m a methane collector. Seriously. I’m a methane collector.”
“Why would you want Black Gas?”
“I want to deal it. I have the perfect distribution channel for needy customers. I can do it right under FemCad’s nose. But it has to be good stuff. Real stuff. If they test it, it has to pass.”
“I don’t want to do jail time again.”
“I can make it worth your while. Some cash up front and you get a cut of my profit. Cash on the barrel head. No one will ever know how you got it. I just need a name.”
Garafo was reluctant but his desire for money and his dislike of FemCad were stronger than his fear. So I got a name. Per Garafo this guy had the best product, imported it from Mexico. He didn’t mess around with synthetics or bovine or swine.
His name was Alverez. He had family in Mexico. Used these connections to smuggle in Black Gas.
I didn’t know anything about the drug trade, but I figured it was a lot like this. I met Alverez in a Wammomart parking lot. He appeared alone though I doubt he was. He did all of the talking.
“You will do exactly as I say in all things. No questions. I do not trust you. But you will trust me and work solely on that trust. I know that you work for methane collection. This can be a very lucrative business. It is also very dangerous. I am sure that is very clear to you.”
I nodded as he went on. I don’t know I could have spoken even given the chance. He made it clear this was life and death, my life and death.
“You’ll be provided with product in a large canister. You’ll be provided with ten authentic FemCad canisters. You will be able to fill these from the large canister. As you swap these out to customers you will have a circular supply of canisters. If your distribution becomes large enough you will be provided with more.”
He turned to walk away. I didn’t want to speak but I needed to know about the money. So I called after him.
“What do I charge and what is your cut?” He turned. I expected a frown or a rebuke but he smiled instead.
“Each large canister will have a price. The price will vary based on how hard it was to obtain. You’ll be able to fill approximately 100 customer canisters. You will pay me double what I paid for the large canister. Price your deliveries accordingly. It is very simple.”
He was right. It was simple. Frightening, but simple. Next morning, I found a large canister and ten small FemCad canisters in my living room. No idea how they appeared. A short note instructing me to leave $1,000 at some address. Well, now I could try to price it.
Incorporating this service into my rounds was easy. People hinted. I hinted. I didn’t ask for explanations but I got them. Everyone who wanted Black Gas wanted to justify their desire to thwart the system. I tried to tell them I was agnostic. I did not care why. At least not in the beginning. I made money. Of course, if I was caught I would go to jail. FemCad would have no mercy. As an insider I would get the book thrown at me at least a couple times.
It’s probably not fair to say I began to care about the people who wanted Black Gas or even care about their stories. That would imply the wrong kind of empathy. What I did was begin to care about their desire to be free. I am not even sure what was being done to them. The emotional violation, the physical violation, the political violation.
I’m no great politician or advocate so I didn’t see myself rallying against this or taking the fight to Washington. But I was willing to sell people a bit of freedom on the side.
Business was booming. I thought about trying to recruit other methane collectors to distribute Black Gas. More distributors, more freedom. The lure of easy money might draw some in despite the risk. Make enough money and you can hope to escape across the border if you get caught.
I was getting close to making overtures when I heard through the departmental grapevine that FemCad was hoping to change up compliance rules. They didn’t have a reliable test yet, but they were hoping to basically DNA stamp gas. They knew people were cheating. But just like with security measures, you were a step ahead and then a step behind.
It was a cat and mouse game. It meant peddling Black Gas was going to become much more risky for everyone involved. But more risk means more money. I wasn’t in it for the money but more money meant easier escape. When you were willing to choose the heightened risk of going to jail in order to continue to sell people a little bit of freedom, that’s when you stopped being a methane dealer and became a freedom fighter.
At this point a pair of avenues appeared before me. The first was to walk away. Take my money and run. Join the Underground and go off the grid. The idea was that if FemCad didn’t know you existed or couldn’t find you, they couldn’t collect from you.
You didn’t have to join a gang or pay dues. You just had to be able to stay under the radar. I could do it.
Then there was the other avenue.