Boone had just explained to Jessie nearly word for word what his brother, Reason, was sharing with Lucas three blocks away from the Emerald at his house in the suburb.
“So,” Jessie posed the question, “what does juvenile court have to do with the gaming world? I thought most video games were frowned upon by therapists, psychologists, and even a lot of parents. Grand Theft Mobile Killing Fields doesn’t inspire most kids to rise to become responsible adults. Why would Judge Sully be asked to condone, let alone issue a court order in regards to gaming here at the Emerald? Doesn’t make sense to me.”
Boone smiled. “Oh, says the private investigator who has been stealthily doing surveillance on the bad guys and rotten hombres from the sidelines. What do you really know about kids?”
Jessie’s laughter caused Lobo to stare curiously up at his master. “All I ever wanted to know about kids, I learned from trying to stay one step ahead of your troubled little brother back in the day when he ended up with that damned key. Other than that, I know little about what makes kids tick. Only that violent video games tend to make kids more violent. That was proven during the Columbine shooting.”
Nodding thoughtfully, Boone said, “All the things that plague at-risk kids is what Reason and I have been dealing with for the past ten years. Drug abuse. Teen suicide. Runaway and throw away kids. Sexual orientation. Anger and rage management. Truancy which leads to probation. Probation that leads to institutions. Institutions that lead to parole. Parole that leads to prison. These are all just endless Celtic hoops that many kids find themselves trapped in once they enroll in the juvenile court system.
“So, Reason proposed a new program, using one kid as a test pilot, to instigate a video program that not only curbs delinquent behavior, but builds self-esteem and character through leadership skills. Some-thing new in the field of youth work.”
Looking down the hallway to the oak door, Jessie’s eyes opened wide as he realized what Boone was now talking about. “Wait a sec,” he said, “Will Connors doesn’t even know what this secret chamber is all about, and yet he approved of Reason putting a kid in there? Not even knowing what plane of existence that kid would end up on?”
Boone said, “No kid is being sent to Middle Earth. But remember what I said about the screens? The effect is created by VR headsets consisting of a head-mounted screen, but can also be created through specially designed rooms with multiple screens. Evidently, inside the chamber are six windows, where images flash, depicting scenes from different locations of a Fantasy realm.”
Jessie leaned forward, his thick muscular arms resting on the table. “You’re telling me there’s an alternate dimension beyond this door?”
A silence permeated the pub.
Boone took another sip of his coffee.
Jessie continued to pet Lobo’s head.
Both men looked down the hallway to the oak door.
Boone finally said, “I’m not sure what lies beyond that door, but based on some far-fetched story Gramps shared with Reason, my little brother, being the writer that he is, created a game script that aligns with the scenes that appear on those windows. He submitted it to Game Wizards, and the Grand Techs there designed a virtual reality game that can be played with the use of a headset and hand controls, all connected to that room by a single connector cord. I guess the sword fighting is to die for, according to Reason. He’s still a kid at heart, so no wonder he came up with such an intense game for kids.”
Seated in Reason’s den, Lucas looked perplexed as Reason held up one finger, indicating he should just remain seated while he exited the room, talking even as he walked down the hallway of his house.
“Remember,” his words trailed behind him, “I told you I was once on probation in Judge Sully’s court? Sully and I have a long history. I think he was really pleased when I followed in Boone’s footsteps and got involved in youth work.”
Lucas sat there, still surrounded by three sleeping dogs, but Reason’s words continued to carry to him even as he slipped into another room: “In pitching my new program regarding this VR game designed to help delinquent kids, I presented all the costs involved in the programs to help troubled kids . . . ” His words grew softer as he traveled deeper inside the house: Scared Straight, medications, psychotherapy, DARE, foster care, Big Brothers and Big Sisters, group homes, drug treatment, confined institutions . . .”
Straining to hear him, Lucas sat forward in the chair he shared with Talon, the Husky, and suddenly Reason’s voice grew in strength as he began his return trip to the den: “The Juvenile Justice department spends millions each year with all of their combined programs, some that work and others that are worthless.”
He continued to walk toward the den.
“I just proposed to Sully a new method to boost a kid’s self-esteem through a role-playing medium that will build leadership skills and hopefully, if the kid wins at the game, to save and rescue an entire new realm. What kid wouldn’t be intrigued by that?”
Lucas suddenly sat back in his chair as Reason re-entered the den. The item he carried nearly sent the kid into convulsions. “What’s that?” he asked, gesturing at the baseball bat in Reason’s grasp.
Placing the bat down against the couch, Reason continued on the same track: “Sorry, Lucas, but you were already released from probation, so you were not a likely candidate to become my test pilot. Besides, during the time you lived here with me, I watched you play video games. You flipped out whenever you didn’t win, and if a challenge became too overwhelming, you ended up throwing your con-troller against the wall. You’re not the most patient gamer, right?”
Still focused on the bat, Lucas asked, “Is that mine?”
Purposely ignoring the ball bat, Reason said, “Alex Thorn is your best friend, so maybe you can encourage him to keep his cool when he sits down behind the console tomorrow afternoon.”
“Yes,” Lucas said, becoming annoyed over the presence of the baseball bat. “I can tell him not to have blow-ups like I do. But—”
“Good,” Reason said, purposely interrupting him as Lucas stared intently at the bat. “That would be a great help on your part. Alex will need a lot of support if I am going to make this gaming therapy a suc-cess. And yet, there is something else you could help with.”
“Me?” Lucas said, squirming uncomfortably in his chair.
Reason smiled at him. “You know I told my brother, Boone, that deep down you really had a heart. He did not believe me. But I tried to convince him that my dogs loved you. Always a good sign when a dog accepts you, isn’t it?”
Lucas glanced over at Bummer, the Doberman sleeping beside Reason. He looked down to the black Chow, Ghost, at his feet, and then over at Talon snoozing beside him in the chair. “Yeah. Dogs always know what’s roiling around inside a person.”
“That’s exactly,” Reason said, “what I told Boone.”
Lucas went into defense mode. He was well aware of Reason’s psychological Chess games he played. When living there in foster care, the long-haired youth worker was always three steps ahead of him. He couldn’t get by with anything the way he outsmarted him.
Reason zeroed in on him with an unrelenting stare. “I know you better than you know yourself. I was a conning, manipulator as a kid. I had defiance disorder coming out my ears. Why, I’m surprised I lived through all the tirades I put my brother through. I imagine he wanted to pummel me senseless. I was a major brat of the worst kind. So, don’t think you invented that mode to travel in, because I’m way ahead of you there, bud. You can’t bullshit a bullshitter.”
Lucas folded his skinny arms across his chest, shook back his shaggy, blond bangs with a quick flick of his head. “What is your brother accusing me of? Or should I just leave?”
“Leave?” Reason asked, feigning surprise. “Have I said something to offend you? We were just having a friendly convo about my new virtual reality game.”
Lucas said, “That’s to be played by Alex down at the Emerald, the pub owned by your grandpa, Billy Connors, who you know I hate with a mad-dog passion. So what’s your point?”
“Ah,” Reason said, forcing himself to maintain a smile, “there is that, isn’t there? Question is, how bad do you hate him? He’s been missing for two days.”
He picked up the baseball bat. “This is yours, right?”
Lucas went into full meltdown mode, a defensive move that Reason was prepared for, for he’d seen his performance many times while fostering the volatile kid. However, neither he or the dogs were prepared for Lucas exploding out of the chair, bounding across the room, and leaving the den in a major huff.
All three dogs peered curiously at Reason as the back door slammed loudly.
“Damn,” Reason said under his breath. “Temper, temper.”