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Saturday, April 5, 2014

System D Light Bulb Chapter 10

Clive sat in the corner of the darkened FBI media forensics room as John Cranston hovered behind the tech who was manipulating the surveilance data they retrieved from the Al's Hardware Superstore in Henderson. "It's not a good angle," the tech complained as he scrubbed through a frame-by-frame of the less than ideal view of the lighting isle. 

"It's the only shot we have. Just clean it up enough to get a decent profile." John said.

"I dont think I can get anything that will hold up in court."

"I just want something that will tell me who I'm looking for so Clive can shut down his illegal light bulbs ring."

The blocky image cleared up only marginally as the tech applied a series of filters. The tech grumbled as he tinkered with a few subtle settings trying to bring out more detail, but there were no perfect results. "This is the best I can do."

"Its a little fuzzy," John complained.

"The camera is too far away and the image resolution was terrible to begin with."

"We have a description from Edward," Clive offered.

"Yeah, a middle-aged white guy with brown hair. We'll round up everyone who matches that description and lock them up in Cashman Field until we find our man."

"We have the customer records. The demographics of the shoppers at that store. We can narrow it down somehow."

"Clive, I think you watch too much goddamn television. There's no magic computer program thats going to read through tens of thousands of customer records and spit out a list of suspects," John snarked.

"Well, actually," the tech interrupted. "We do have limited access to the NSA's Deep Green analysis engine. I could set up a few simple search parameters and . . ."

"I dont think the NSA wants us to use their system to track down the light bulb mafia."

"Well, actually, we have a pretty wide open window and our search parameters would be relatively small compared to what Deep Green can handle. We could even feed it our still image and it could compare it to profile images it could easily extrapolate from DMV records and . . ."

"Lets do it," Clive said. He didnt want John Cranston to overrule the tech. He just didnt care anymore about John's authority. If saving the planet from climate change was the goal, following rules and regulations would sometimes have to be pushed aside for those ends.

It took the tech less than twenty minutes to establish criteria for the Deep Green system. The algorythm ran for less than ten minutes and was already providing results in the form of a local heat map. The system looked at everything from DMV records and purchase histories at local hardware stores to web searches and a list of other key demographics like political affiliations, age and gender. The heat map resolved slowly producing three bright regions within the Henderson area. "We have it narrowed to a few neighborhoods." The tech said. "This is about as close as we can get without being able to feed the system more specific information."

"We cant search every single house," John remarked.

"You really dont have to search every home. You can drill down into the heat maps and see probability results for each home in the hot zone."

"We go for the high probability homes first. We can surveil them somehow. Watch them," Clive offered, not caring what the procedure for such a thing might be.


"Yeah, we can do that Clive." John admitted reluctantly.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

System D Light Bulb Chapter 9

As Clive waited for the techs to analyze the computers recovered from the raid, he walked around the stack of coffee crates full of banned light bulbs. The stack was twenty feet long, eight feet wide and almost six feet high.This was his capture. He felt a sense of pride that he had thwarted such a major operation. He knew now that nobody in the greater Las Vegas area would be purchasing an incandescent light bulb in the near future. Clive tapped his hands on the crates as he circled them once again. 

As he turned the corner Clive could see John Cranston out of the corner of his eye as he stepped into the evidence room. He pretended not to see him winding his way towards the crates through shelves of evidence taken from drug busts, gun busts, and any number of other criminal busts the FBI had made over the past half decade or so. He didnt want to seem too eager for the news, but he knew John was coming to tell him about the information they recovered from the laptops they found at the scene. 

"Hey Clive, if ya want, I can have them set up a cot in here so you can sleep with your prize."

Clive faked a chuckle and said, "That would be great." He resisted asking about the laptops.

"Do you want to know what we found?"

"Yeah, lets hear it." 

"There is a contact list. Dozens of store owners across the state."

"That's great. Should we get them one at a time, or try for a larger sting so as not to scare them off?"

"Well, the information is not linked to specific individuals so easily. They are all using encrypted communication systems so we may need to extract some information from our suspect before we can begin mapping out the distribution network."

"What do you mean by 'extract'?" Clive asked, imagining some men in hoods unrolling a collection of stainless steel sharps in front of the suspect as he sits chained to a dentist chair.

"Relax Clive. We're just going to ask him some questions."

"Its not the asking of questions I worry about, its how you ask them."

"We ask nicely and then if that fails, we ask firmly." John replied.

"What do you mean by 'firmly'?" Clive asked.

"Jesus Christ Clive, do you or do you not want us to question the suspect?"

"Yes, question him. Please."

"Thank you for granting us permission to question our only goddamn suspect Clive. By the end of the week, we will double the size of your stack of light bulbs."

Clive wanted to smile at the success he felt was coming his way, but John somehow dampened his spirit despite offering positive news. John always seemed to go out of his way to belittle the EPA's efforts. It was just the way John said things, like "light bulbs" in that condescending way. It wasnt overt or anything, but it was definitely condescending. Clive simply shrugged it all off. He knew that his efforts have the force of law behind them. He knew that no matter how much John Cranston disagreed with the effort that he would still be compelled to support it. To not support the EPA's efforts would be insubordination. He wondered how John even became the FBI's liason to the EPA if he holds such disdain for the whole operation. But Clive trusted that mainstream acceptance of EPA mandates would take time and that detractors like John Cranston would be the slowest to respond. Despite his faith in the power of government to nudge society into the right frame of mind, he still wanted just one conversation with John to not end in condescention or sarcasm.

Three hours went by and all Clive knew was that men were in some interrogation room somwhere prodding the suspect for a list of distributors. The FBI was using its considerable interrogation and investigative abilities to map the illegal distribution network. All efforts lead to victory eventually. Clive felt his cell buzz in his pocket. It was John Cranston. "How's it going?" Clive asked anxiously.

"Good. We have a few leads, but nothing firm."

"Oh?"

"Yes. We're going to check one out shortly."

"Do you have the details?"

"Just a few hints. This guy is a bit cagey. I think he's intentionally feeding us bullshit, but we'll check it out all the same."

"What do you have?"

"Some new guy on the market. He seems to think this buyer is trying to horn in on his market."

"Have a name, or a location?"

"Joe, or something. Its probably an alias. Somewhere in Henderson. We're going to check out a few hardware stores in the area and see if anyone has come in looking for incandescent bulbs."

"A raid?"


"No Clive, we're just going to talk to people. You wont even need your body armor." John replied.

Friday, March 21, 2014

System D Light Bulb Chapter 8

Clive rode up-front the Liaison officer John Cranston as the FBI caravan rolled towards the desert warehouse. He was the only one without a gun, but they gave him full body armor even though he would not be going into the warehouse until it was clear. Really the only reason they brought him along was because it is part of the partnership between the FBI and EPA. Despite the body armor and the fact that he would not go in until well after anything dangerous has happened, Clive still felt nervous. He worried that there would be some kind of booby trap, or delayed reprisal attack or extended standoff and despite being in the background, he would get caught up in the fray. 

The armored SUV leading the FBI caravan pulled up to the front office entrance of the warehouse. They were much too close to the building for Clive to feel comfortable and the anxiety of the situation made his heart palpitate like a night club loud speaker. The FBI's urban assault vehicle, which looked like something from a post apocalypse movie, rolled up to the front of the pack stopping quickly causing a dust cloud to continue forward, enshrouding the combat vehicle in a haunting ghost of sand.

Men in armor filed out of the trucks like an invading army storming the beach. Hand gestures were thrown left and right as teams made their way to their planned entry points. They moved quickly, breaking down a cheap aluminum door with a battering ram designed to take down a castle wall. Stun grenades and flashers rolled into the warehouse from multiple locations. If there were any people in there, they were most certainly deaf and blind provided they were't wearing some kind of eye and ear protection. 

Clive watched the FBI breach the warehouse. Men with guns and armor ran into every entry in special formations he could not begin to appreciate. The overwhelming force of the FBI teams comforted him. He saw action that needed to be taken. At that moment, he saw the amazing power of the US government being put to work to save the Earth from climate disasters. He felt more certain than ever that his work and the work of so many others would not be in vain.

The whole warehouse was cleared in less than three minutes. One man was arrested, presumably he was the ring leader of the organization. Clive gave the perpetrator, one Edward Thomas, a sneer of disdain. He wanted the man to know that what he had done was not okay. That poisoning the Earth was and always will be shameful. Eddie just returned a scared look. He looked powerless, as if he could not even walk without begging permission to do so. Clive didnt care how powerless he felt. People who violate the law and the Earth should be forced to feel that way. 

John Cranston took charge as the raid shifted to evidence gathering. Clive was impressed with John's ability to shift from platoon leader to investigator so easily. He always imagined John as a bit of a hard-headed muscle-jerk. At least the muscle-jerk was playing for the same team, he thought.


Clive simply watched as the FBI loaded crates of illegal bulbs and computers and file cabinets into a van. He would help, but he is apparently unqualified to do so. He was alarmed that so many incandescent bulbs were being made available by just one operation and quietly pondered how many other operations there might be out there.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

System D Light Bulb Chapter 7

Eddie drove the van himself. He knew it was a risk, but if there was a chance that the client was interested in making future bulk purchases, he knew he had to make a personal appearance. This cannot be handled by some kid. He parked the van in front of the Perk and Poker lounge and sat down at an open table on the outdoor patio facing the van. It was quiet on the patio, it was the only place in the Perk and Poker that did not have the constant ring of video poker machines. The waitress wasted no time pouncing to take his order, but he told her to give him a few minutes as he was waiting for someone. She didnt even try to hide her annoyance as she walked away. Eddie just sat there, looking out at the traffic, watching the swing gate to the patio for his buyer.

John parked three blocks away from the Perk and Poker. This, he hoped was a safe distance for anybody looking to surveil the situation. And he was certainly on the lookout for surveillance. Every van with tinted windows or name on it that sounded made up was suspect. There was an exterminator truck on parked across from the Perk and Poker. It was orange and bright green with a huge rat painted on the side. It said "Lights Out Pest Control - What You Don't See is What We Kill Dead". He was sure that was some cheeky name some EPA official made up for their surveillance van. "Lights Out," just seemed too obvious. He eyed it wondering if there was a small tinted glass porthole in the rats eyes with some tele-photo lense pointed at the Perk and Poker. He stopped, scratched his head, then his arm and then his head again. He wanted to turn around, but some stubborn son-of-a-bitch inside him insisted on getting these bulbs. Think of the headachs! Nevermind that, its the principal of the thing.

He continued. He pushed the swing gate into the patio area and immediately saw the man in the corner, just as Nestor had explained. His heart beat faster as he approached the table. He knew that if anybody was watching, each step closer to the table was one more step towards incriminating himself in this whole ordeal. But he continued. Sweating. Palms wet, like he had just taken off a pair of mittens in summer time heat. 

"Please, sit down," Eddie said, calmly.

"Oh, ok," John replied, somehow taken aback by the notion that he would actually sit down at a cafe. It made perfect sense though, he thought, because if he were to stand up the whole time, it would look odd at a place where everyone else generally sits. He pulled the iron chair over the stone tiles, it scraped and squeeled so terribly that it echoed down the street. And then the leg caught on the edge of the stone and the chair flipped onto one leg, tipping sideways, rolling onto the side. His sweaty palms couldnt hold it, it just hit the stone with a heavy thud. "Oops, oh jeez," he mumbled as he tried to pick it up, but he could not seem to get the right balance with the chair on the lift up, so he just wobbled it back into place. Finally, he managed to line the chair up with the table so he could sit down. He sat down as confidently and calmly as he could, hoping to make up for his disasterous first impression. He didnt want to get taken by this guy. People who work in alleys, By there nature, he believed, could not be trusted. If they smell weakness, they will pounce.

"Are you having a coffee?" Eddie asked.

"I guess, um, yes."

"She'll be here in a minute. May I ask your name?"

"Well, you can call me Joe." John said.

"Ok Joe. How can I help you?"

"So did the kid tell you?"

"Yeah, but I want to make sure he got it right."

"Well, I need as many as I can get."

"As many what?"

"Well, I was thinking about the sixties, you know, peace, love and flower power and what have you. You know what I mean?"

"Nope."

"The sixties man. Groovy."

"Is this some kind of code? We can talk about light bulbs in public Joe."

"Oh. Ok. So um. Sixty watt bulbs. Clear ones."

"Yeah, I got three crates of them in that van over there. How many do you need?"

"All of them."

"Okay, fine. That's four hundred even."

"Dollars?"

"Yes. Cash."

"Cash?"

"I dont take credit cards. I hope the reasons are obvious to you, but I do take Bitcoin."

"I dont have that. I have cash. I have three hundred. I thought it would be less." 

"I cant give them all to you for three hundred. I'll give you two boxes for three hundred."

"How about two hundred sixty-six." John said as he did the math in his head.

"Fine."

John felt satisfied that he had not gotten burned, but he still had to complete the trasnaction and anything could happen. "So, how do we do this? I will give you the cash after taking the bulbs?"

"I'll take the cash now and then we can go to the van and I'll hand you the crates."

"Yes, but, um."

"What?" Eddie asked, coming to the conclusion that this man was not some whale that would be coming back for more. A whale doesnt sweat like that, but thankfully neither do federal officers.

"No, um, thats fine, cool, I guess."

"Okay." They sat silently staring at each other. "So, the cash?"

"Oh, yeah, here," John said as he pulled three hundred dollars in twenties out of his wallet.

Eddie took the money and began counting it at the table, counting by twenties under his breath as he made three piles. "Ok, its all here, come on, lets get your crates."

The crates were bulky, but not heavy, so it was awkward carrying them three blocks down the street. Thankfully, the crates were labeled as Jose Modena Coffee and not as light bulbs. He did feel a bit odd carrying what to most people would be a lifetime supply of coffee though and he got a few odd looks from passers by.


John stored his stash of illegal bulbs in the basement, under a heavy blanket. He took one bulb out of the crate and put it in his favorite lamp. He opened the newspaper and quietly enjoyed his moment of victory.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

System D Light Bulb Chapter 6

The truck just sat there on the highway, steam coming out of its hood while Clive watched from the drone's circling perspective. He was getting to think that the whole unverse had conspired against him. He got a second window from the FBI. He started his surveilance later in the trek so he wouldn't waste time watching a border crossing he knew would happen. He planned everything perfectly and then the truck blows its fucking radiator. He watched the driver sitting on the bumper waiting. He presumed he was waiting for a tow truck, but that truck was at least an hour away. He could safely assume the truck was headed for the Las Vegas area , which is only another hour away based on its route. By the time help arrives, he could have a one hour window for following the truck back to its destination. He was as anxious to see the repair truck as the driver.

An hour passed as Clive watched the steam flow from the panel truck's radiator like sand in an hour glass. He watched the tow-truck arrive. He watched them tinker with the radiator from a half-mile away. He wanted them to hurry up. He wanted to go there and fix it himself if he could. Just get going. 

The truck was on it's way. The drone was following it perfectly undetected as it made it's way into Henderson Nevada. And then, as if on a timer, Clive's phone buzzed in his pocket. He answered reluctantly and John Cranston answered. "Hello John," he said.

"Hi Clive. It's time."

"Oh for fuck sakes John."

"Didn't you start your tracking where you left off?"

"Yes, but they are not there yet."

"Where the fuck are they going Clive, Canada? Jesus!"

"Looks like Las Vegas somewhere."

"Well, now you know where to begin next time," John remarked sarcastically.

The truck stopped while John was still mocking Clive. It pulled into a warehouse at the edge of the desert. Clive took down the GPS coordinates and then said, "John, you can have your fucking bird, I got what I need."

"Well thats great Clive, its good to know that the EPA will have another successful lughtbulb bust thanks to your tenacity. I bet you could stand in front of the stacks of bulbs and pose for a picture with the President!"


"Fuck you John."

Sunday, March 16, 2014

System D Light Bulb Chapter 5

Eddie called the driver on his disposable cell phone, but there was no answer. That didn't automatically mean he was detained at the border, there are plenty of deadzones along the way, but the truck is certainly running late. As he was flipping through his phones menu, a message came through, it read as follows: "Hey dude. This guy wants a shit load of clear sixties."

To which Eddie replied, "Yeah, tell him to go to our normal spot. Don't mention my name or what I look like or anything. Are you sure he isnt FBI or something?" Eddie wanted to put the last part first, or even just put the last part period, but he already hit send. 

The reply said, "If he is FBI, he sure is nervous about getting caught. You cant fake this kind of nervous. I thought he was going to have some kind of anxiety episode."

Eddie didnt reply, he just shoved his phone back into his pocket. He always felt like a fraud when arranging any kind of business like that. He always felt like he was fucking up the protocol somehow. He knew there was a risk to every transaction, but his entire protocol is based on things he saw in movies. He hated that he had to do everything in secret, like it was somehow shameful to sell a goddamn lightbulb. 

He began gathering up every clear sixty he could find, but most of them he knew would be on the truck that was somehow late. He briefly toyed with the idea of installing GPS trackers in his trucks, but the tinfoil hat guy that lives in his head smacked him hard between the eyes and killed that idea immediately. He couldnt understand why anybody would want so many goddamn bulbs. All the same. So he called Nestor back.

"Yeah?" Nestor answered.

"Why does he want so many?"

"Who?"

"The guy."

"Oh. I dont know dude. He just got really nervous when a cop rolled by the ally and then suddenly he wanted to order more. He's a fucking nut. Thats the best answer I can give dude."

"Great. Thanks for arranging my meeting with a nut."

"No problem broseph."

"Dont call me that, you sound like an idiot."

"Ok dude, if you say so."


"I just did. Bye."

Saturday, March 15, 2014

System D Light Bulb Chapter 4

John Quin Stayed up past one o'clock in the morning scouring the internet for incandescent bulbs. He was convinced there had to be some kind of loophole or option available, but he only ended up with suspect websites promising to sell all sorts of illicit items from drugs to unregistered guns. John was not eager to dive into any of these sites. He was not eager to have anything at all to do with them, but he knew just by the fact that these sites existed that there must be a demand for incandescent bulbs. John understood the basic economics of it. There is no reason to make such a website if there is no such demand. And because there is demand, he could assume that at least some of these sites are actually capable of delivering these bulbs, otherwise they simply could not effectively capitalize on the demand for any long period of time. He assumed that some of the sites were probably fake, that they would probably take his payment and then never deliver, or worse, use his data for other more nefarious deeds. John decided to discontinue his online search. 

Despite going to bed late, John woke up at the normal time, made the normal extra sweet, extra light cup of coffee and read the paper by the ever more irritating glow of the florescent bulb in his favorite lamp. No matter how much time he spent with this new light, it never felt right to him. He stood up, threw the paper into the chair and headed briskly for the garage. "I'm going to Al's Hardware," he shouted as the door to the garage closed behind him. 

He had been to Al's before in his prior efforts to purchase incandescents, but it was a complete dead end. This time would be different. This time, he would be more persistent, more forceful. He's tired of being passive. Tired of accepting circumstances the way they are. He is going to assert. He is going to win no matter what. He is going to be a shark and he is going to get his prey.

Al's Hardware is a local chain. There is one in north Vegas and a "superstore" in Henderson. John decided he would go to the superstore first since its closer, but also because they have a larger inventory, so if there is even one incandescent bulb still left over from before the ban, he might be able to find it lost in the never-ending rows of the superstore. 

John hiked through the parking lot towards the entrance, which seemed deceptively close to where he parked, but the two minute hike definitely deflated any sense that he had parked close to the store. With so many contractors coming in early to pick up supplies, its nearly impossible to park close to the store. Once inside, John headed for the lighting section.

Surrounded by lamps and ceiling fans and spots and sconces and every kind of lighting fixture anyone might ever want and quite a few John supposed nobody might ever want, he started his search for the hidden bulbs. He dug deep, reaching to the back of the shelves of bulbs. He moved boxes left and right and stacked a few on the ground just to get a better look in the dark recesses of the aluminum shelving that seemed to go on forever.
"Can I help you find something sir?" 

John pulled himself from the shelf and felt slightly embarrassed about the mess he had made when he saw the store "associate" named Nestor standing behind him. He was sure that Nestor had spent the better part of his morning organizing these shelves and now he has come in and upended all of his work. "I'm looking for incandescent light bulbs. Sixty watts. The clear ones, not those damn white ones, but I will take whatever is available."

"I dont think we sell anything like that. How do you spell that? In can dess. . ."

"Incandescent, you know, regular light bulbs. Not these damn curly things," John replied impatiently waiving a thirty-two dollar florescent bulb around.

"I can look in the computer," Nestor replied dutifully ignoring John's impatience per customer service guidelines.

"Please. Thank you," John replied as he dove back into the shelving.

"I cant find it in here. I'm not sure I'm spelling it right though."

"I as in igloo, N as in north, C as in cat, A as in apple, N as in numb, D as in drive, E as in eagle, S as in sun, C as in cow, E as in elephant, N as in nine, T as in trombone." John yelled from under the shelving.

"Well, it says we don't have any of those sir."

"Did it look on any of these shelves?" John replied sarcastically. He felt bad immediately after his reply, but he always hated how people would simply take the computer at its word without taking the time to figure out whether the information is accurate. Just because a computer spits out information, doesn't mean its accurate. Garbage in equals garbage out and with so many high-school aged "associates" using these computers on a daily basis, there is a good chance that plenty of garbage has gone in.

"I can help you look," Nestor said patiently.

"Thank you Nestor."

Nestor dug into the shelving with just as much zeal as John. He shifted display boxes, removed signage that got in his way and reached back into the dark depths. Nestor pulled a flashlight from his bandolier of "associates" tools and began sweeping the light across the shelving. They went down the entire row of bulbs, but found nothing. 

"Do you have any in the back room?" John asked.

"What, in the break room?"

"No, the warehouse in the back. You know, where you keep all of the stuff thats not on the shelves."

"Everything is on the shelves. It comes from the truck directly to these shelves. I should know, I offload the truck every Tuesday morning. Maybe you should come back on Tuesday. There might be some on the next truck!" Nestor offered, seemingly unaware that the bulbs were no longer being sold in the United States per order of congress.

"I doubt it, but thank you anyway."

"You're welcome sir. Is there anything else I can help you with?"

"Is Al here?"

"Big Al?"

"I don't know if he's big. I'm just looking for Al, the guy that owns the store."

"Oh, yeah, that's Big Al all right. He's in his office, probably doing paperwork or something."

"Can I see him?"

"I'll ask I guess," Nestor replied nervously.

"I promise to nominate you for employee of the month Nestor."

"Ok. Give me a sec. I'll call him up."

"Thank you," John said.

Nestor walked towards the intercom phone hanging on the concrete pillar at the end of the aisle. John couldn't hear the conversation, but he could see Nestor trying to spell out the first few letters of "incandescent" then just nodding agreeably as if Al had understood the problem even before Nestor could finish his explanation.

"Al is on his way down sir," Nestor shouted from the pillar.

"Thank you Nestor, You've been a tremendous help."

Al waddled towards John. He was easily well over three hundred pounds. Despite his extremely rotund frame, Al carried himself well. He seemed more nimble than he should be as he moved a few stray crates of brackets back into their appropriate place on the shelf. "Hello sir. Are you enjoying your visit to my little hardware store today?"

"Yes, Nestor is great. You should promote him."

"I only hire the best. You wont find service like that anywhere else," Al said proudly.

"I'm sure you are right. Its hard to find good help these days. Kids today, ya know," John replied, practically adopting Al's easy going speech cadence.

"Yup. They all think they have it figured out. They all want to be goddamn rock stars or something and then they are miserable when reality hits them." Al shuffled his weight, leaning against the shelving to take pressure off his feet. "When they come to work for me, I tell them that if they do well, they will be rewarded. I tell them, you might not become a rock star here, but I'll do everything I can to ensure that you have a good job here as long as you are doing your job well. If you don't do your job well, then you will never be happy here."

"That's a good way of putting it. I bet that weeds out the lazy ones quickly."

"It sure does my friend. The lazy ones work for about a week and when I see them being lazy, I call them out on it. I give them the look. You know." Al gave the look. His eyes furrowed and his lips pursed tight as if to say, 'I see you standing around you lazy little fucker, don't waste my time and money.'

"But that Nestor is a good kid. I feel bad that I gave him a bit of a hard time," John said.

"Yeah, he is a good kid. He's a bit slow sometimes, ya know, but he is a hard worker. I'm sure he will be a supervisor in no time at all. No time at all."

"I'm sure of it too."

"So, incandescent bulbs huh. Sixty watters, huh."

"Yes. I know they are banned, but if you have them, I'd sure like to talk about getting some. Maybe there is some kind of loophole in the law or something. I have terrible eye strain from these damn curly bulbs. Maybe if I get a doctors note or something?"

"Medical use bulbs?"

"Yes, something like that maybe?"

"Well, unfortunately, there is no such thing as a medical use bulb. That should save you time and money going to find a doctor that will write a prescription for incandescent bulbs."

"Yeah," John replied with a polite chuckle.

"I'm sorry, I never asked for your name," Al said, extending his hand.

"Name's John." He hesitated to offer his last name. He didn't know if he could get into any kind of trouble for asking around about banned bulbs, but he didn't want his full name associated with that situation if and when the authorities should go around asking.

"Al," Al replied as he gripped John's hand aggressively. John was immediately impressed by the handshake. It was a firm, confident handshake. It was a man's handshake. "I'll tell you what. I know for a fact that there is not one single incandescent bulb in this store. I am fully compliant. I have to be, or they will put me out of business. But its not like they don't exist anymore. Just because something gets banned, doesn't mean it doesn't exist."

"What do you mean?" John asked eagerly.

"I mean, given enough patience and effort, you could find what you are looking for."

"I haven't the slightest idea where to begin. I was on the internet last night and . . ." 

"I'll stop you right there John. The internet is good for watching cute cat videos and sending emails and that kind of stuff, but if you dont know what you are doing and you go hunting for illegal stuff like bulbs or what have you, you will probably find yourself in some kind of trouble, or worse."

"I agree completely, which is why I came here."

"Smart move John. I can see that you have a good head on your shoulders." Al shuffled his weight again, spreading his stance out as he adjusted the waistband of his oversized jeans. "I don't condone breaking the law. Ya know?"

"I know. I wouldn't picture you as the type." John said.

"Right. Absolutely. We are a nation of laws after all."

"Yes."

"But that being said, not all laws are equal. I would say this light bulb ban is probably a bit less equal than some others. Wouldn't you say?"

"Sure. It's silly really." John replied, nodding eagerly.

"Yes. That's a good way to say it. Its just plain silly." Al shuffled again and then rubbed his sweaty brow. "You know why it's silly John. It's silly because I used to sell those damn things in here. Right here. Hundreds of them and now I cant. Now, some kid is selling them out of the trunk of his car in the ally behind my store. Can you believe it? They didn't even get rid of the damn bulbs, they just made it so that I can't sell them here in my store. I mean, if there is ever a place to sell them, it would be here, where you buy your lamps and power outlets and what not. Now, if you want bulbs, you have to talk to some pimply kid in an ally. The whole world has gone to shit. Pardon my language John."

"No need to apologize Al, I agree. Its gone to shit. Completely to shit."

"Well, It's been a pleasure talking to you John. I have a payroll to complete so I hope you find what you are looking for."

"Thank you Al. And don't forget to nominate Nestor for employee of the month. He's a good kid and I promised I'd put in the good word."

"Consider it done John. Take care."

John made his way to the front of the store. He walked towards the over-sized contractor entrance where they loaded large orders of lumber and what not because it was closer to the ally. No sense in drawing attention to himself by traversing the entire front of the building to go into an ally. That always looks suspicious even if your not doing anything wrong at all. He looked both ways for cop cars and anybody that might notice his weird trek into the back ally. Nobody was watching. He stepped around the corner and immediately entered a new zone of strangeness. The back of the store was not kept up well at all. Large weeds grew out of cracks in the pavement. Wooden pallets and rusted dumpsters littered dark corners and there were strange truck fluid stains trailing off from the various loading docks. 

He could see an old beat up car that was probably dark blue at one point, but was now mostly rust colored with a few spots of what he thought might be house paint covering the hood and roof. He couldn't tell the make of the car as all of the ornaments and labels had been removed, or more likely had fallen off. He walked towards the car carefully surveilling the area for unwelcome surprises and cops as he moved. 

He felt a need to walk confidently. Or at least pretend to seem confident, like this is the sort of thing he does every weekend. He didn't want to be perceived as a black market novice. He could smell the stench of rotting food and old cooking oil as he passed behind the Finnigan's Pub and Slots chain restaurant that is in the building on the other side of Al's. A dirty looking guy with a long apron that was probably white a long time ago, but now looked like it was covered in vomit stepped out of the back door of Finnigans. He lit a cigarette, took a drag and said, "Hey dude," as John walked by still trying hard to look self assured. 

"Hey." He replied. "Hey dude," he added trying to sound more confident the second time. The dirty man took another drag as John passed by.

He approached the rusty station wagon looking into the dirty windows to see if there was anybody in there. Then he saw Nestor coming around the corner still dressed in his yellow and blue Al's Hardware uniform. "Hey dude," Nestor said casually.

"Hey dude," John replied.

"Sorry I didn't just tell you to come out back for your bulbs, but Al wants me to be careful about who I sell to and I wasn't sure about you. Ya know?"

"Sure. I understand. So. . ."

"So you want a sixty watt bulb huh. I have a few here I think. Most people get the hundred watters though." He started going through his crate of bulbs. "I have some of those colored bulbs. Red. Green. Yellow. They are sixties, but they are colored, ya know, for like parties and shit."

"I just want the clear kind if you have them."

"I think I might have one." Nestor looked up at the dirty man smoking and then said, "Act normal ok. There's a cop checking the ally. He'll leave us alone as long as we don't look like we're doing anything stupid."

"What? A what? A cop?"

"Yeah man. Just stand there and don't look so much like you just bought a nuclear weapon for an Iranian terrorist for fuck sakes."

John felt a surge of panic racing through him. He could visualize being pinned to the hood of a police car like some kind of hood. Even if he was let off easy, or acquitted, he would have to spend a certain amount of time in a holding cell or worse. He would miss work and it would be counted against him as a no-call-no-show, which in itself could lead to his termination depending on how long he is missing. And not to mention that he would have to explain himself to his family. His wife would probably become despondent, she might call a lawyer to discuss divorce and hopefully thats as far as it goes, but they will probably have a lot of awkward dinners. And that is the best case scenario. Worst case, he could go to prison. His whole life could be up-ended in just a few quick minutes. The cop drove by, looked down the ally for about three seconds and then kept moving. "Ok dude, lets find those clear sixties. I'm sure I have one in here man."

John was getting impatient waiting for Nestor to sort through his inventory, which seemed to have no useful organization to it whatsoever. "I will definitely want more than one."

"More than one?"

"Yes. As many as possible." John did not want to have to come down the ally every time he needed a bulb. He didn't want to put himself and his family at risk every time he needed a light bulb. If he could just get a lifetime supply, he could avoid the risk of dealing with kids like Nestor in dark allies as much as possible. It's basic risk prevention planning.

"Well dude, I'm not even sure I have even one of the kind you want."

"Well who does?"

"I can get a few, maybe."

"A few?"

"Yeah, like three or four. I have a connection, but they just give me what they have, they don't take requests."

"Who does take requests?"

"Well, it depends man."

"Depends on what," John asked impatiently.

"On how many."

"Dozens."

"Ha! yeah. You're fucked dude."

"Who can get that for me?"

"The main guy man. The supplier, ya know."

"Who's that?"

"I cant tell you."

"Why not?"

"Because he's a very private guy man, thats why. He doesn't like having his name in everybody's contact list. Ya know what I mean?"

"Yes. I understand. But I am looking to do a major purchase. Surely you can give me a name. Someone has access. Someone can broker the transaction."

"Yeah, I'll just call Thomas Edison up and he can make them in your fucking basement," Nestor replied.

"Try something. Please."

"Yeah. I'll try. Stop by the store in a few days okay. And don't come in asking for me. I'll find you. And loosen up man. Have a few shots of something or smoke a joint or both. You walk like the fucking FBI for christ sake."

"Okay. Thank you Nestor."


"Yeah dude. See ya."