Greg was aware that all eyes (including Emma’s) were on him. There was nothing to do except run at the basket, jump as high as he could, and pray for the best. So that’s what he did.
The attempt could have gone worse. The clandestine leg exercises Greg had been doing at home had apparently imparted to his legs some measure of jumping ability, because he elevated just high enough to toss the ball into the hoop and slip his fingertips over the rim before falling back down to earth.
The rest of the dunk club members didn’t exactly burst into cheers at Greg’s weak almost-dunk, but there was some light clapping mixed with laughter. Greg, feeling exhilarated despite the unimpressive nature of his accomplishment, walked back to them and received his back-slaps and fist-bumps and yells of “that’s a layup! that’s a layup!”, taking the good-natured ribbing in stride. But in the back of his mind, unease lurked. Would his warning to the club be heeded? Would they increase their vigilance, having been informed that one of their own had attracted attention from The Authority, or would they continue to assume that their low-profile organization could never be the target of government enforcement?
His worry must have been apparent in his demeanor, because he found his gaze locked with Emma’s, and she wore a knowing expression on her face.
Nate approached Greg as the latter walked to the exit door on the far side of the gym. While Nate had appeared jovial after Greg’s semi-successful dunk, he was now completely serious. “We got Dragon on video?”
“Yeah,” Greg replied under his breath. “Virgil noticed it, but I took the case and entered the SPR.”
“Damn, that’s not good,” Nate said. “Just sit on it for a while, alright? I’ll lob some softballs your way and you can say your priorities shifted.”
Greg was grateful for this offer of assistance; he was known around the department for not being the most efficient worker, and having more cases piled on him, even easy ones, would just cause him to fall further behind in his workload.
“I’ll talk with Dragon again,” Nate continued. “No offense, but you’re the newbie here, and the guys won’t listen to you like they will to me. He’s gotta know that there might not be a dunk club anymore if he’s gonna draw attention to himself like that.”
Greg nodded, but didn’t say anything else; hearing somebody else vocalize his concerns made the situation seem much more real.
That night, lying in bed, Greg told himself to give it up. No more trips to the dunk club. Fake some follow-up with Dragon and get himself out. He liked watching the dunkers, and he still held onto the dream that he could be one of them someday, but the threat to his livelihood was too great, and he became any more entangled, he would never extricate himself.
That’s what he told himself as he tried to ignore the fact that, for the first time in his life, he had something to live for. Until Nate had introduced him to the dunk club in that abandoned gymnasium, Greg had simply been going through the motions of life, and while it had seemed fine or even fulfilling at the time, neither his job nor his nonexistent hobbies provided him fulfillment any longer. All his time spent wondering how he would make it to the next meeting, anticipating it with a mixture of anxiety and excitement.
Deciding he had no chance of falling asleep with all these things on his mind, he gently got up from bed and walked to the living room, intending to play a few games of NBA 2K free from the judgment of his wife. Nate had given him a cheat code that you could use to put dunks back into the game, but he rarely had a chance to play in that mode. Since most of the game’s audience didn’t had no concept of a slam dunk, Greg doubted that the easter egg saw much use, but the rumor was that the developer responsible got a life sentence for it, and Greg believed it.
As he executed endless lob plays which the AI had no ability to prevent, Greg couldn’t help but draw a comparison between his own situation and the situation of the anonymous game developer. Both of them were risking a lot for a little. Both of them were taking the proper precautions (presumably, in the case of the developer) but couldn’t eliminate entirely the risk of being uncovered. The main difference was, the game developer’s small act of subversion had reached a theoretically large audience, while Greg only had an audience of a dozen uncaring young men.
That wasn’t quite true though; there was Emma, and her book, if it ever got published. Maybe that could be his audience.
His phone, ever-present in his pocket, buzzed with a text message. Unsure who would be up at the same late hour that he was, he paused the game holding a commanding 58-32 lead, but when he read the text on his phone’s screen, the game and its unlocked dunking ability were entirely forgotten: “This is going to sound terribly cliche, but we should get coffee sometime.”