The Expert: Older; early 70s. Successful. Intelligent. He’s a historian. Specifically, he is a Dion Waiters expert.
The Woman: Early 40s. A police cryptographer. The granddaughter of a well-known museum curator. Same as the expert, she is successful and intelligent.
The Man: Early 50s. A Harvard University professor. Same as the expert and the woman, successful and intelligent, but his hair is ridiculous, which means he’s the smartest of all three.
“My dear,” the expert says to the woman, motioning toward a spot on the floor, “if you would close your eyes.” They are in a building of some sort; old, but distinguished and obviously important. A painting of Dion Waiters at the 2012 NBA draft hangs on the wall. It’s what the man and the woman have come to see.
“Oh, save us the parlor tricks,” says the man behind them, semifrustrated. The expert turns toward him. “You asked for my help, I recall. Allow an old man his indulgences.” The man looks at the expert, the woman looks at the man, then the man looks at the woman. He knows he’s in no position to demand expediency. He walks away and sits down. The woman closes her eyes.
“Now, mademoiselle,” says the expert, “who is the man in the painting?”
“Dion Waiters,” she says.
“Good,” he responds. “What else is in the painting?”
“There’s the table he’s sitting at. There are a couple of glasses on the table. There’s a place card with his name on it. There are a couple of other people in the background.”
“One final question,” says the expert. “Can you spell the first name written on the place card?”
“D-i-o-n,” she says, her eyes still closed. “Open your eyes,” the expert says. She opens them. She turns toward the painting. She examines it.
“No single ‘n,’” says the expert, obviously pleased with himself. He allows the moment to sit for a beat. “That’s a bit strange, isn’t it,” he continues, “considering both his Wikipedia page and standard NBA legend celebrate this moment as the definitive arrival of Dion Waiters?” She looks closer. “I don’t understand,” she says. “I see an ’n’ right there after the ‘o.’” And she’s right. There’s an “n” there.
Except she’s wrong. There’s no “n” there.
“You see what you’ve been trained to see,” the expert says. “More to the point: You see what you’ve been tricked to see. Look closely at the name ‘Dion.’ There’s a message hidden in there. Do you see it? It’s the ‘n’ that holds the secret. A secret so powerful that, if revealed, would devastate the very foundations of the National Basketball Association.”
He walks over to a large whiteboard and writes a “D” and an “i” and an “o” and an “n” on it. Like this:
“It was hundreds of years before anyone noticed it,” he says, tapping at the board. “A woodworker in a village in Jerusalem noticed it first, and ever since then the forces in charge have worked to cover it up.”
“Cover what up?” the woman asks. The expert smirks.
“Take the ‘n’ and turn it on its side,” he says. “Make it so that the open end faces right.” He erases the original “n” and draws a new one, this time leaning on its side the way he described. “Do you see it now?”
“It looks weird, right? Like it’s not an ‘n’ anymore. It looks like a piece of something else, doesn’t it? Like it’s part of … a different letter.” The woman stares at it, waiting for whatever the expert is talking about to reveal itself. “I suppose so,” she says, only halfway telling the truth. “That’s because it is,” the expert says.
“Thousands of years ago,” he begins, and the woman can tell he’s about to tell a longish story so she sits down, “a child was born. But the child was no ordinary child, no. The child was the offspring of Aphrodite, goddess of love, and Basketballus, god of the game.”
“This already sounds fake,” interjects the woman.
The expert continues: “The governing council of the gods and goddesses, upon seeing the baby, who was so beautiful and perfect that it was almost frightening, decided that he could not be allowed to live in the heavens with the others for fear of inspiring jealousy, so he was cast down to earth. As a matter of precaution, though, and as a matter of ordinance, the baby was stripped of all his godly powers, save for one: getting buckets.”
“Yeah, this is definitely fake,” interjects the woman again.
“Aphrodite and Basketballus were devastated by the council’s decision, as were many others, and thus began the War of the Gods, an eons-long fight between the gods who wanted the baby to stay, and those who wanted the baby to go,” the expert said. “Entire cities were obliterated from history with single blows. When you hear thunder — that’s Basketballus calling out for his son. When you see tornadoes — that’s Aphrodite, falling to the floor in grief, the energy from her robes transforming into devastating winds. Global warming, tidal waves, Joakim Noah free throws: All those disasters tie back to the fight between the gods, somehow. The story of a meteor hitting earth and filling the atmosphere with enough debris to block out the sun, killing the dinosaurs — false. It wasn’t a meteor that hit earth that day. It was Apollo body-slamming Ares into the firmament that did it.
“The war mattered not, though. The baby was banished by Zeus, sent to live in America, in Pennsylvania, in Philadelphia. And his life was not easy. He faced many challenges, as one would, the unwanted son of the gods. Historians speak of a particularly difficult stretch, one where he fought all manner of earth’s deadliest beasts: lions, bears, gorillas, and so on. But he would not die. He could not die. His heart would simply not allow itself to stop beating. Aphrodite and Basketballus would whisper to him from across the realms. ‘You’re destined for greatness,’ they’d say. ‘You’re the greatest of all time,’ they’d say. ‘Shooters shoot,’ they’d say, and so he shot every chance he got, and even chances he didn’t get.”
“Hold on,” says the woman. “There aren’t giant lions in Philadelphia. There aren’t even regular lions there.”
The expert continued, again: “There were many pitfalls as the baby fought his way into manhood, and then eventually into the NBA. There were many lesser gods who hoped to cast him into darkness, forever underneath their massive shadows. There was the Cleveland deity, LeBronicus, the one with the shoulders as wide as a gulch and the hairline that moved back and forth like the tides. There was undeniable greatness there, but LeBronicus could feel the difference between him and the man, the difference between great and godly, and so he forced him away. And there were the dueling deities of Oklahoma City, Durantes and Russelles, one ice and the other fire. Together they conspired to suppress him, to demean him, to destroy him. And they would have, were he a normal man. But he was not, and is not, and so he left from there, too.”
“And now?” asks the woman.
“Now, he is in South Beach, and he is flexing. In recent times, 11 have tried to slice his head off, and 11 have failed. He even bested an entire city of Golden Warriors, and so it is becoming more and more obvious what he is.”
“And what’s that?” asks the woman.
The expert stared at her a long while, and with an intensity unknown by most. He took a big breath. He exhaled. It felt like days were passing.
“The Lost God,” he says, and the woman nearly passed out, and so too nearly did the man, whom the woman and the expert had forgotten about entirely.
“It’s been there along,” the expert says. “All hidden in the name; hidden in the ‘n.’ Because there’s a piece missing there; the bottom piece, to be specific. See? Because it’s not supposed to be an ‘n.’ It’s supposed to be …” The expert doesn’t finish his sentence, he simply draws in the rest of the letter.
“Do you see it now?”
“Oh my God,” she says, and she is shocked. “It’s an ‘s.’”
“His name is Dios?” The woman looks at the man, then at the expert. She’s in disbelief. All these years, all these highlights; it’s been right there in front of her, waiting to be seen, hoping to be seen, begging to be seen. And yet, it’s remained hidden. She can hardly breathe.
“That’s right. His name isn’t Dion. It’s never been Dion. It’s Dios. His name is Dios Waiters. ‘Dios’ is Spanish for ‘God.’”
The expert ceases speaking. The silence is massive. The woman knows not what to do. Nor the man. Frankly, neither does the expert. Until, finally, he speaks:
“He is, quite literally, a god, waiting. And he’s done waiting.”