"Hey Andy, did you hear what happened to Cal yesterday?"
The sixteen year old boy spoke excitedly as he caught up to his friend outside the school. The bell had sounded only minutes before thus signaling the end of the school day.
"Yeah," answered the lean, dark haired seventeen year old. His face showed he was just as incredulous as his friend Mike was over the news.
"I can't believe Cal actually stole that car! I mean what was he thinking?"
"He probably did it just to prove to himself that he had the nerve to do it. Anyway, I doubt he was going to drive it more than a few blocks."
Mike thought a moment before answering. "You're probably right. He might have gotten away with it too if that cop car hadn't come around the corner just as he was taking off."
"Or if he'd driven more carefully," added Andy, with a smirk. "The dumb ass should have learned to drive a car before trying to take one!"
Meanwhile, the fifteen year old Cal was downtown seeing a lawyer with his Dad about the charges against him.
"At least up until now he had a clean record," stated the lawyer, with a sigh. "That will help, and with a little luck we can work something out without him having to go to court."
The trouble was, the scene has been repeated nearly a dozen times over the past month, and that was a lot for a city the size of Syracuse. Not all were auto thefts though. Some were breaking and entering, there were two cases of muggings, a few instances of shoplifting and one case of purse snatching.
Nearly all the crimes were committed by kids with no prior arrests, and most were in their teens. Only a few perpetrators were in their twenties and most were boys.
"So what do ya wanna do now?" asked Mike.
"I gotta go do my homework before I can hang out with anyone. My grades haven't been too good lately, and my Dad's been on my ass about it."
"Yeah, I know the feeling. Remember last month when my Mom took both my video games and computer away from me?" The memory was all too vivid in Mike's mind as he looked down at his feet.
Andy thought this was a good time to change the subject, and putting a smile on his face said, "Hey, speaking of video games, why don't you come over in an hour. I got a new one that's totally awesome!"
"What about your Dad and your homework?"
Andy grinned before answering. "It won't take me long. I don't have to do it all right away you know. I just need my Mom to see me working on it for a while. She doesn't know how much homework I have, and I can do the rest later. I have all weekend to do it you know."
"Cool, maybe while you're doing your thing I'll make some calls and see if Jen and Rob can come over too as long as your Mom doesn't mind."
"Nah, she won't care. You know she never says anything about you guys coming over. Hey, no mooching though! You know the deal. Bring your own munchies."
Andy's bedroom was in the attic of a large house, and all of his friends liked it best because no one bothered them up there, and as long as they remembered not to pound on the floor the noise they made didn't bother anyone else either.
Mike was already there when Jen arrived, and though Rob couldn't make it, Sandy did. Jen had asked her if she wanted to come even before they found out Rob couldn't. The seventeen year old didn't mind being the only girl among the boys. She just liked it better if Sandy or one of the other girls was around also.
Jen knew the boys in their circle of friends were cool, and would never think of trying anything nasty with her. She simply wanted Sandy there if only to even the odds so to speak.
"I heard Cal's lawyer said he's only going to get some probation!" exclaimed Sandy, as she came into the bedroom.
Jen's straight brown hair flew about her face as she quickly turned towards the heavyset blonde. "I still can't believe he was that stupid."
"Well, who knows what he was thinking," put in Andy, hoping the tone of his voice would put an end to the topic. After all, they weren't there to discuss Cal's dilemma.
"Anyway, I got this cool video game off the computer. The graphics are awesome. It's like watching a regular movie with real people in it only better because it actually puts you into the game itself."
"Oooh, let's see!" exclaimed Mike excitedly.
Sandy and Jen just looked at each other with that, "Here we go again!" look.
Once the video games get started, the boys are lost to everything else around them. The girls didn't mind too much though. Sometimes they played the games themselves but that was usually just to humor the boys. Even so, the girls still had fun hanging out with them. Sometimes watching them competing with each other was entertainment in itself the way the boys carried on with one another once they got into it.
"What do you have to do?" asked Mike, in anticipation as soon as the screen came alive with the game's logo.
"Different stuff. You get points for everything from robbing an old lady to killing cops and assassinations. The tougher the deed, the more points you get."
"Aw that's nothing," said Jen, wrinkling her nose to show her disappointment. "There's already a bunch of games out there like that."
"Yes, but this one's different," answered Andy, a little indignantly. "In this one, you have to plan your actions, and if you get caught your character goes to prison, and you can't continue to use him until he gets out. One minute equals one day in jail but you can take your time and be careful since there's no time limit to do the deed.
"Besides that, there's a red strobe light that flashes after each action, and you can almost feel what's happening, and if your character gets killed you get this sense of loss and you can never use that character again."
"Hey that sounds cool! Where did you get it from?"
"I'm not sure. It just appeared on my computer Saturday morning. I must have downloaded it from one of those free game sights with some others I was messing with or maybe someone sent it to me by mistake.
"Oh well. I guess it's someone else's loss. Besides, that makes it even better. Not only is it a cool game but it was free too. Here, go ahead and try it but you should start out with something easy 'cause it's a lot harder than it looks."
"Can two people play?" Mike was beginning to worry they'd have to split their time gaming.
"Oh yeah," came Andy's quick answer. "In fact, I think it would be better if two people were playing. The screen splits in half, and you each do your own thing and see who can score the most points."
Mike grabbed one of the controls and pushed the start button. He skipped over the instruction page, and quickly made up a character naming it Joe. Next, a list of categories came up on the screen, and after looking it over he chose the one marked robberies.
After scanning over the various types of robberies that could be committed, Mike decided it best to take Andy's advice, and try something easy like the old lady in the supermarket parking lot. It only took a few quick flicks of the button to get his character next to her. "This should be an easy couple of points," he thought.
His character grabbed the old woman's arm, but before he could make another move she'd spun around and slapped his face! A red strobe light flashed on the screen a few times, and he could almost feel the sting of the slap on his cheek. In the next instant, a nearby man had dropped his groceries, and ran over to his character punching it in the head. His character fell to the ground and a few seconds later, a police car came.
The red light flashed again and he felt the sensation of being scared as well as disappointed ... and a smarting jaw. Next there was some deep laughter, and a voice said, "Your character Joe is sentenced to ninety days of incarceration and will be out of play for the next hour and a half."
"Well that was quick," laughed Jen, with Sandy smirking behind her.
"Not as easy as you thought is it!" chided Andy. "I told you. You have to plan your actions out as if you were going to do it for real. If you'd looked around before charging into it, you would have seen the guy with the groceries, and waited until it was clear. You gotta be careful how you approach your victims too."
"That's cool," answered Mike, not bothered by the laughter. It was all in fun and that's how they acted with each other while playing video games. "All of these start out hard you know. Figuring them out is the fun part."
"Hey, want me to send the game to you so you have a chance to practice it before we get together again?" offered Andy.
"Yeah, that would be way cool!"
Hey, let me try one," said Sandy, walking over to the computer.
Mike gladly handed the control over to her. He was relieved to be out of it until he's had a chance to figure out the game a little more.
A few minutes later, Sandy scored two points stealing a magazine from a store. The red light flashed and she got a feeling of triumph beyond what she would have simply gotten by showing up Mike.
Later that night, Mike was up practicing the new game on his own computer. He'd made a show of going to bed, and waited until he was certain his Mom was asleep. Then placing his dirty shirt across the bottom of his door so the light wouldn't show should she get up, he began to practice.
Twenty one characters later, it was four thirty in the morning, and since he had to get up in a couple of hours he reluctantly closed the window and went to bed. Andy was right. The game was sensational.
The following Friday saw the kids gathered at Mike's house, and naturally the game was the topic of the day. It seemed it was making its rounds among the kids of the high school, and everyone was talking about it.
"Whoever designed the game is a genius, and is probably a millionaire by now," said Sandy.
"They should put it out on disc or at least make it compatible with X-box or Game Cube. Then they'd really make some money on it," added Andy. "I looked for it but couldn't find it anywhere. It seems the only way to get it is to download it onto your computer."
"And it's free," put in Mike.
"Well, I don't think it's supposed to be free," answered Andy. "We just got lucky."
This time when they played, Mike was pretty much able to keep up with Andy's score, and even the girls were getting into it.
"It's too bad Rob got himself grounded," laughed Andy, as his character swiped a motorcycle giving him a twenty five point lead over his friend.
"Yeah, he got caught shoplifting a Playboy calendar. Can you believe it? What a dufuss!" exclaimed Mike, disapprovingly as he vigorously worked the controls.
"He should have at least practiced on this game first," laughed Jen, causing Sandy to giggle.
The Playboy calendar gave Mike an idea. He'd never tried a crime from the sexual category yet and after scanning the list of situations, he decided he could score a few quick points by having his character streak through the mall.
It took him a couple of extra minutes more than he'd planned and Andy was already well on his way into a new task of his own as Mike's character was exiting the mall. He'd almost gotten caught by the mall security but made it to the exit just in time. The feat would close the gap in their scores by ten points, and at the last moment Mike had an idea and had his character pull down a woman's tube top just as he reached the curb outside the mall, and the computer gave him another five points!
Andy laughed at him when the screen flashed, and pointing to his friend's crotch said "Look, it gave you a hardon!"
He said it softly but not softly enough, and Sandy hit Mike on the back of his head with a notebook.
Andy laughed again, and in his best John Wayne voice said, "Don't you worry yerself 'bout it none little lady. The boy gets a hardon over any ol' thing these days!"
This time, it was Jen who playfully slapped Andy on the back of his head with an exaggerated," Shuuut uuup will you?"
Sandy was laughing hard and Mike retorted saying, "And you don't?"