Deep Into the Game
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8 chapter eigh
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Deep Into the Game
Author :Saul_Tanpepper
© Webnovel

8 chapter eigh

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Ashley pings me that evening. Thankfully, she waits until after dinner this time. Grandpa and Eric are at each other's throats again in the kitchen. At the moment, Eric's shouting and Grandpa's sitting there with his trademark military composure, which only seems to infuriate Eric all the more.

I close my bedroom door, muffling their voices.

"What's up?"

"Reggie wants us to meet at his place," Ashley says. "Can you come?"

"Right now? Um, I guess. What's this about?"

Stupid question, of course. There's only one thing it could be about.

"He's figured out how we can do it."

I snort. "Right."

"Just be there, okay?"

As soon as she disconnects, Kelly pings me. "You hear?"

"Just got off with Ash, but she didn't give any details, just told me to meet her at Reggie's."

"I guess they got equipment."

"What equipment? Scuba gear? How?"

I slip into my sweater and sneakers as Kelly explains.

"Apparently Ash knows this guy whose uncle owns a shop on the edge of town."

"A dive shop? Really? I don't remember any dive shops around here."

"Not so much a dive shop as a military surplus store."

I pause to think. "Are you talking about Eppy's over by the old hospital?"

"I guess. I stopped by Micah's on the way home. He said they were going to meet with this guy Ash knows. They invited me to go with them."

"Did you?"

"Reg was there."

I can tell by the way he says it that he still believes Reggie pushed him over the railing down in lower Manhattan.

"So?"

"Anyway, I had to get home and help out with Kyle. But Micah pinged me just over an hour ago and said they got everything we'd need, even wetsuits." He paused. "Apparently there's a catch, though."

"Yeah, money, that's the catch."

"Maybe. Micah didn't say, just told us to come to Reggie's tonight."

"Wait, you knew about this an hour ago and you didn't tell me?"

"Well… I didn't want to ping you during dinner."

I grumble, but I know he's right. The last thing he'd want to do is interrupt my supper for a second day in a row, especially if he and the others hope to get me to come out afterward.

"Stop by and pick me up?" he asks.

"Yeah, give me about ten minutes. I think Grandpa and Eric are still arguing downstairs, so I'll try and sneak out. Otherwise, I'll have to think of something. I can't just say I'm going over to Reggie's."

"Tell them you're going to Ashley's then."

"That's like two miles away. Eric'll offer to drive. Then what?"

"You'll figure it out."

"I always do, don't I?"

Eric is still ranting in the kitchen, going off about some plan to expand the duties of his department at work. He's standing at the sink and flinging soapy water around as he washes the dishes, his back facing the doorway. "As if I don't have enough paperwork to do already!"


Grandpa's sitting in his chair leaning back. He's got his hands laced behind his head and he isn't moving. Just as I'm about to turn the corner, his chair turns and he looks at me. He doesn't say anything, just looks.

"I'm, uh…" I point at the door. "I'm going over to Ash's. Me and Micah and Reggie and…Kelly. They're picking me up, so I don't need a ride."

He just sits there while I mess with the strap on my backpack. Finally he says, "Don't forget your medicine." Then he turns back around. Eric isn't even aware of what's happening behind him. He's still talking a mile a minute.

I slip out into the night and hurry over to Kelly's as fast as I can, afraid that if I turn around, I'll see my grandfather standing there watching me.

"That was quick," Kelly says.

"Yeah, well, things at my house are a bit explosive right now. Sounds like there's something going on down at the police station."

Kelly looks over. "Is everything all right?" He means did stealing a copy of Eric's inner zone permit cause any problems.

I shake my head and say, "It was something about having to do more work."

"Wonder if there's been another outbreak." He tilts his head like he's thinking.

I shrug. "I haven't heard anything about one."

My brother works in the Necrotics Crimes Division. Basically anything to do with offenses committed by or against the Undead is his responsibility. It's generally agreed that NCD is the suckiest job on the force, but it fits Eric's personality to a tee.

"Can we talk about something else?" I ask, and Kelly nods.

Ten minutes later we're standing on Reggie's front walk. We hear a low whistle and see Micah standing in the shadows beneath some tall bushes. He waves us over. "This way. We're in back."

"Why all the secrecy?"

"Reg's mom."

Kel and I both nod. Mrs. Casey is the nosiest woman on the face of the planet. If she got a whiff of what we were planning, she'd be on it like a bloodhound on the trail of a killer.

We circle around the house to the garage. Reggie's father had it converted years ago into a retro game room. There's a pinball machine and some ancient video arcade games, a pool table with worn felt and a ping pong table. It's totally lame, but the older generation seems to like it. That's why we hang out at Micah's instead, even though his basement is musty and the couch sags and smells like dogs and stinky feet and the downstairs bathroom should probably be condemned. Or at least fumigated.

"Hey guys," Reggie says, meeting us at the door. He's smiling. He hands me and Kel one of his father's beers and waves us in. I see that Micah's already got a bottle and that it's nearly empty. "I hope your weekend's clear, because we're shooting for Saturday. Whoever can make it, that is." He looks pointedly at Kel. "Right now there's four of us."

Kelly stops. "Four?" He looks over at me. I give him a quick shake of the head to indicate it doesn't include me. "Who's the extra?"

Reggie gestures with his beer behind us.

We turn just as someone says, "I am."

Stepping out from behind Ashley is a boy. I recognize him immediately. His name is out of my mouth before I realize it: "Jake?"

Kelly does a double take.

"The kid from this morning?" he says. "This is the guy who was hitting on you at karate?"

Jake raises his hands. "Whoa, wait a minute. I wasn't—"

"What are you doing here?" I exclaim.

"Wait," Kelly says. His face is starting to turn red. "Let him finish what he was going to say. I want to hear this."

I frown my displeasure, silently willing him to drop it.

"You two know each other?" Ashley asks, as she swings around Jacob to stand between him and Kelly. I can tell she's amused by this unexpected development.

"No, they don't," I say. "Not really. And I just met Jake this morning."

Ashley turns to him, raising her eyebrows. "You didn't tell me—"

"Jessie gave me really good a workout," Jake says, glaring back at Kelly.

Kelly takes a threatening step forward. I pull him back. "It was nothing," I say. "We sparred. At the dojang. There weren't any other students around so I—"

"No one else was around, Jess? You didn't tell me that."

"We weren't alone, Kel! Rupert was there." I turn to Ashley, eager to change the subject. "I don't understand, Ash. How did Jake get involved in our little…outing?"

"He knows about LI. Everything. And Jake was my lab partner last year, so…"

I narrow my eyes. Ash always hated science. And yet I seem to remember she got an A in the class, though. "Just your lab partner?"

She shrugs and doesn't take the bait. "Look, guys, we needed equipment. I got it for us. That's all. There's no conspiracy, no quid pro quo here."

"Fancy words," Kelly grumbles.

"So your uncle owns Eppy's?" I say. "You're that Jacob Esposito? Little Jacob?"

Jake nods. "Nobody's called me 'Little' in a while."

"I remember you!" Kelly says. "Little punk on the playground, always picking on the smaller kids. What'd you, like, grow a foot over the summer?"

"Something like that."

Reggie comes over and manages to get between us all, somehow spreading us all apart to a safe distance. Kelly's still glaring, but the look in his eyes is not as hateful as it was a moment ago. Now it's filled with distrust.

"It actually works out having Jake join us," Reggie says. "He's a rescue diver and his uncle has all kinds of scuba gear. He's agreed to let us borrow it."

"Well, actually, it won't be scuba gear. And Uncle Joe doesn't know."

"In exchange for what?" I ask.

Jake looks around at the rest of us. "For inclusion in your little party, of course. I thought that was clear. I want to be included."

I narrow my eyes. "Why the hell would you want to break into Long Island? Don't you know it's illegal?"

"I do. And why would you?"

"Because we're hackers," I say. "Mostly anyway. Isn't that what you called us this morning? Jackers? That's what we do."

"Maybe. But hacking isn't the same as physically breaking into a Forbidden Zone." He shrugs. "That's where I can help. I've done all sorts of survival training. What can I say? I'm more of an outdoorsy type." He pauses. "Computers, on the other hand, well, that's just not my thing."

"And now there's an even number," Reggie says, giving Kelly a look.

"Why is that so important?" he asks.

"The first thing they drill into your brain in survival training is that you partner up," Jake answers. "You can do threes, but it's best to have twosomes, especially in a dive group. You both watch each other's back." He glances at me, and I don't know if it's just my impression, but that hungry, animal-like look is back in his eyes. I feel Kelly tense up next to me, even though we're not physically touching.

"And anyway," Micah quickly adds, "once we told him we needed the equipment, it's not like we could exclude him."

"You'd squeal on us?" I ask.

Jake pauses just long enough before shaking his head. There's little doubt what he'd do.

I sigh and throw my hands up in the air. "Fine."

"I'm not fine with it!" Kelly shouts. "I don't trust this guy as far as I could throw him."

"Don't go then," Jake counters. There's just a hint of a grin at the corners of his mouth.

"If Kelly doesn't go, then I don't go."

Jake's grin falters.

"Guys," Ashley says. "Don't be like that. Jake can partner up with Micah." She gives Micah a wink.

Suddenly I'm not thinking about Jake and Kelly, but Micah. This new question enters my mind. In the year or so that I've known him, have I ever seen him with a girl? I mean, other than just hanging out with me and Ash. Micah's always been the spare tire of our group, though it never felt like that big of a deal. There was never any jealousy at all.

Reggie raises his bottle for a toast. "Tomorrow, Jake's going to give us a quick lesson on diving using this special gear he's getting for us. Tonight, we plan. We need to figure out what to take. I'll look at the tide charts, all that stuff. Then, assuming the currents are right, we'll shoot for Saturday morning."

"Tides are on a roughly six-hour cycle," Jake adds, "so that'll give us a few hours to hang out before we need to come back." It bothers me how much he's inserted himself into the plan. And into our group. It doesn't feel right.

"Don't worry, Jess," Reggie says, misreading the concern on my face. "We'll have you back home long before dinnertime."

Micah and Ash clink bottles with him. I raise mine too, but don't drink. I notice that two other bottles are missing: Jake's and Kelly's.

I sigh unhappily, feeling as if my pent up excitement and worry are at war with each other. We're really going to do this. Or at least try.

But I'm not so sure I want to anymore.
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