Barry had originally thought—hoped—that Marvin Hayes would join the other players on the court. He had some ideas regarding how he might get close to him under those circumstances.
But if he never left the immediate vicinity of Kim Jong-un, it would be a hopeless task. Barry knew that he would never be allowed to get anywhere near the North Korean head of state.
As the exhibition seemed to be drawing to a logical close, Barry was on the verge of giving up hope. His thoughts had already turned—to ways of destroying the note in his pocket. The note was nothing but a liability if he never got the chance to give it to Hayes.
Then something happened. The North Korean Harlem Globetrotters stopped playing. They stood in the middle of the basketball court, and faced Kim Jong-un and his guest of honor in the reviewing stand.
The stands went silent. Whatever this moment was, Barry had the sense that it had been planned, choreographed in advance.
A lackey in a military uniform brought a microphone to Kim Jong-un. The Supreme Leader smiled benevolently at his famous American guest.
Then he spoke into the microphone.
“What?” Barry asked in a whisper, as he listened to the inscrutable Korean.
Jung-Ho looked back at him irritably. “The Supreme Leader has invited Marvin Hayes to take the floor. To demonstrate his basketball skills.”
Up in the reviewing stand, Kim’s words were translated for Marvin Hayes. Had Hayes known this was coming? Barry didn’t know and he didn’t care.
Hayes wasn’t wearing a three-piece suit; but he wasn’t exactly wearing basketball clothes, either. The ex-NBA star was dressed in what must be the normal street attire of a man in his position: a white shirt silk shirt open at the collar, and khaki pants.
Nevertheless, when a bloodthirsty dictator invites you to play basketball, what else can you say—but yes?
Marvin Hayes made a show of refusing out of modesty. But Kim kept smiling and motioning for him to take the floor. Out on the floor, meanwhile, the North Korean basketball players gazed up their leader and his guest, in joyful anticipation of Hayes joining them.
At length Hayes stood, and descended the short staircase of the reviewing stand. He stepped out onto the basketball court.
There was a cheer from the grandstands, just short of a standing ovation, as Hayes took the court.
Hayes was past his prime, not dressed for the occasion, and not warmed up. Nevertheless, he made an admirable presentation on the hardwood, shooting, dribbling, and passing the ball with the North Korean players.
Barry wondered how this display would be received by the rest of the world. Surely CNN and other international media outlets were aware of Hayes’s presence here. What would the spin be: that Marvin Hayes was coddling a dictator with blood on his hands, going so far as to perform for him on command? Or would the media portray Hayes an aspiring peacemaker?
Barry didn’t know, and he had other, more immediate concerns.
The exhibition once again appeared to be drawing to a close—for real this time. The action on the court stopped. Hayes and the Korean players stood in a line in the middle of the basketball court, and bowed in unison to Kim Jong-un, who acknowledged them with a smug grin and a wave.
Now Marvin Hayes followed the Korean players off the basketball court, through the doorway by which they had entered.
Just as Barry had hoped. Hayes, Barry surmised, was going into the locker room—to freshen up, maybe even to take a shower.
This was his chance, if he had a chance at all.
Barry stood up from his seat on the metal bench.
Jung-Ho looked up from the screen of his phone and said, “Where do you think you’re going?”