Boone was disturbed by a rather large, heavily panting pit bull that came bounding into the Emerald. It was a beautiful dog, with black fur masking his face, and the same black fur trailing down his back, blending with his broad white chest. All four of his paws were black, as well. The dog gave him a gentle head-butt and proceeded to slobber and drool all over his pant leg as its head came to rest on his leg.
“Well,” he said, rubbing behind the pit’s thick neck, “nice to see you, too, Lobo. Is your master with you?”
Lobo let out an excited whine as Jessie Colton came through the front door of the pub. The bearded man sporting a long, braided pony-tail, carried something in his hand. He approached the booth and placed the item on the table in front of Boone, then thought better of it as Lobo tried to snag it out from under his fingers, and he simply handed it to Boone.
“You were right,” Jessie said, taking a seat across from him, grunting slightly as the rambunctious pit bull tried to scramble up into the booth and join him. “Manners, Lobo. Remember your manners.”
Boone peered down at the black bandana in his hand. Jessie proceeded to pet Lobo as he settled down beside him on the floor. “Lobo’s nose-work led me straight to Stone Holland’s place. How did you figure that bandana belonged to Lucas?”
“Reason,” Boone said. “I showed him the bandana and the baseball bat, and he put two and two together. Lucas lived with him for two months as a foster kid while Stone was in jail after being set up by the Apaches. Reason told me the kid had quite a temper.”
He paused, took another sip of his coffee, then said, “Evidently, Lucas came here for payback.”
Jessie asked, “Payback? Ah, this had to do with the foiled dog fight? Something to do with your grandfather, Billy, involving your dad? I heard your dad, Rain, put Stone and Nate Holland in their place. That he involved the Outlaws, and walked in on the Elder’s Den church to shut this dog fight down. So, you think the kid came here seeking revenge?”
Boone nodded. “He brought a baseball bat with him for some reason, and I don’t think during the wee hours, he was playing ball.”
He grimaced as he said, “Granddad has been missing for two days now, and tonight I learned that he deeded the Emerald over to me.”
He slid the deed across the table. Jessie studied it a moment, then said, “But that doesn’t answer any questions.” He looked past Boone to the oak door at the end of the hallway running back to it. “You don’t think Billy went in there, do you?”
Boone turned in his seat, his gaze lingering on the doorway leading to the chamber beyond. “After all the preaching Gramps did about never opening that door? I doubt very much if he would ignore his own advice. Whatever lies beyond the ‘dragon door,’ I don’t think Billy would seriously consider using it under any circumstances.”
When Jessie spoke, Boone turned back around to face him. “Even if he used it to escape a beating by the Holland clan?”
“It had crossed my mind,” Boone said, solemnly.
“So,” Jessie said, “do you want me to track the kid down, get him alone somewhere and ask him what he was doing breaking in here, or should I involve Rain to put the same question to Stone and Nate?”
Boone shrugged. “Frankly, I don’t know what course to take. I know Stone and his Den are a troublesome lot, but I can’t see him doing anything this serious . . . or severe. If the other clubs ever found out he’d harmed Grandpa in any way, they would shut the Den down in a rapid heartbeat. They all love and respect that old Irishman. But I could see the kid coming in here to cause mischief. Reason doesn’t want to believe it, having him in his care when he fostered him, but I don’t have the same feeling about this little hot-head, Lucas.”
At the mention of Lucas’s name, Lobo sat up straighter and gave a low whine. Jessie nodded as if the dog had silently communicated with him. “Lobo, it seems, has the same opinion of the kid as Reason. After all, it was Lucas who rescued my dog from his uncle Nate when he tranqued him and stole him from my yard. El Lobo thinks pretty highly of the temperamental kid.”
The two sat in silence for long moments. Boone sipped at his coffee. Jessie gently stroked the large head of his dog, his eyes continuing to drift down the nearby hallway to the door beyond it.
Finally, Jessie spoke. “Maybe he’s in there, Boone. Maybe, against his own advice, he discovered a reason to enter the second chamber. Has he never said anything to you about what lies beyond?”
Shaking his head, Boone ran a hand through his dark, collar-length hair. “No, why would he allow
Reason access to the place?”
A furrow appeared in Jessie’s brow. “I thought all this time, he kept it locked, barring access to both chambers beyond that door.”
Boone frowned. “It’s a complicated story, Jess.”
Jessie said, “If you want me to use my investigative resources and Lobo to find him, any information you might add may be critical to finding Will Connors. Share away, nephew.”
Jessie drew a blank look when Boone asked, “Ever heard of virtual reality, Uncle Jess?”
Virtual, what?” Lucas asked Reason Nelson as they sat there in his den, surrounded by his three dogs, Bummer, Talon, and Ghost. The Doberman lay beside Reason, stretched out on the couch. The Husky was curled up beside Lucas in the lumpy chair they shared, and the Chow lay snoozing beneath the kid’s bare feet he had propped up on the black furry dog.
Reason repeated himself: “Virtual reality. Alternative realms. All the video games you played, and you’ve never heard of Virtual gaming? It’s the computer-generated simulation of a three-dimensional image or environment that can be interacted with in a real or physical way by a person using special electronic equipment, such as a helmet with a screen inside or gloves fitted with sensors.”
“Oh,” Lucas said. “Yeah, my sister, Celeste, once got so into the game she was hooked up to, she pulled a muscle in her butt. She couldn’t sit down for nearly a week. Never done it myself. Guess I’m old school with Guild Wars and even Legend of Zelda.”
Reason said, “The immersive environment is similar to the real world or a Fantasy realm, creating an experience that’s not possible in physical reality. Augmented reality systems are considered a form of VR that layers virtual information over a live camera feed into a headset or through a smart phone or tablet device giving the user the ability to view three-dimensional images.
“Current VR tech commonly use headsets, sometimes in combination with physical environments, to generate images, sounds, and other sensations that simulate a player’s physical presence in a virtual environment. A person using VR equipment is able to look around the artificial world, move around in it, and interact with virtual features. The effect is commonly created by VR headsets consisting of a head-mounted display with a small screen in front of the eyes, but can also be created through specially designed rooms with multiple large screens. VR systems that include sensations to the user through a game controller are known as haptic systems. This tactile information is generally known as force feedback in medical, video gaming, and military training applications.”
Lucas thought about what he said for several seconds, then asked, “So, the old fart at the Emerald set up a rad gaming system, is that what you are telling me?”
“Yes,” Reason said. “My grandfather discovered a way to be involved in my youth work that has just been approved by Judge Sully at juvenile court. It took a lot of legal wrangling, and case studies offered by therapists and several psychologists, as proof that it might succeed.”
“Succeed?” Lucas asked, his nose scrunched up, one eye showing beneath his shaggy blond bangs. “What does Sully have to do with gaming at the Emerald?”