Agent Cooper lay on his back, blood leaking from his chest wounds. In his delirium, he had a vision of a tall, angular man with a bony head appearing at his side. Speaking in a gritty, Middle European accent, the tall man promised agent Cooper that everything he said would come true. To prove it, he foretold of three signs agent Cooper would receive in the near future: "You will see a man in a smiling bag. On his toe will be a luggage tag. His wife will drive by in a brand new Jag. Burma Shave. Now, give me your ring. I will return it back to you when all these things come to pass. Do you understand?"

Agent Cooper looked up serenely. "I understand," he said.

The tall man began to fade from sight.

"Wait!" agent Cooper called out. "Can you tell me just one thing?"

The tall man nodded stonily.

"Where is John Williams?"

How tough should this be? We're talking about a man who stands 6 feet 9 and probably weighs between 265 and 290 pounds. This isn't the kind of person who'd get lost in a crowd. He's larger than some single-family homes. All of a sudden he's invisible? Yet he sends word through pals that he's working out. Who is he working out with, Harvey the rabbit?

A few months ago, Williams wouldn't have been very hard to find. The Bullets heard he weighed more than 300 pounds in July. All they would've had to do was hire a detective to stake out the all-night Fatburgers in L.A. and wait for him to do a drive-thru.

The Bullets were so concerned about Williams's weight and his absences from scheduled physical rehabilitation sessions, they dropped him off their payroll. Now, they have no idea where he is. They haven't actually heard his voice since Aug. 3. (Sources say he was ordering room service at the time.) Williams hasn't returned their telephone calls. Neither has his agent, Fred Slaughter, who, for all the Bullets know, is really D.B. Cooper.

Whhheeerrrrre's Johnny?

Jerry Glanville hasn't left tickets for him yet. That's a good sign Williams is alive. (Hey, you never know. One day you're Jimmy Hoffa, the next you're the 20-yard-line.)

But where is he?

Where would a person go to disappear, other than "The Rick Dees Show?"

Williams is too large to put on the side of a milk carton; they'll have to spread him across the side of a milk truck.

You've heard of MIA; missing in action. Williams is MIE; Mired In Entrees.

If you build it, he will come.

Build what, a buffet?

One school of thought holds that Williams is so embarrassed by the stories written about his abundant adipose that he's on a crash diet -- he's drinking five Ultra Slim Fast milkshakes a day to lose weight even faster.

"We're afraid he may show up looking like Chuck Knox," a source said.

The source revealed the Bullets were told Williams has been sleeping inside a sauna the last six weeks, struggling to shrink down. "The bad news is, we may no longer have a basketball player. But the good news is, we get a sublet for Tiny's dog house."

The Bullets ought to take advantage of this by holding contests. People can write in, guessing when John Williams will show up and how much he will weigh. The winner will be awarded dinner for six -- you, a date and John.

Williams's agent occasionally has advised the Bullets that Williams was on his way. This pleased the Bullets, who dispatched people to pick up Williams at the airport. How silly of them. Why would Williams fly if the most he could get was a meal and a snack? He's probably driving. John "Meals On Wheels" Williams. He's got the car with the bumper sticker -- I Brake For Carvel.

Some folks think Williams is doing this to get traded. But it's unlikely the Bullets could get reasonable compensation from anyone other than Sealtest.

Williams isn't the only Bullet not in camp. Ledell Eackles is holding out. Agent Eddie Sapir, who apparently has Ledell confused with Joe Dumars, solicited a bid of $8 million for four years. The Bullets countered with $5.2 million under that. If the gulf was any wider, we'd have ships there.

Bernard King and Darrell Walker, the Bullets' best returning veterans, also are unhappy, although they are in camp, diligent as always. The Bullets have thus far declined their requests: King, nearly 34, wants his contract extended; Walker wants his renegotiated. The Bullets prefer to wait and take a close look at what else they have, which isn't exactly 12 lords a'leaping. The playoffs? Les Boulez may not win as many as Bob Welch.

John Williams can't make a bad team good. But he could help make a bad team competitive. At his best, GM John Nash says, he is one of the top 20 players in the NBA. His teammates have been sympathetic. They've said they'll welcome him back with open arms. You'll often hear players say they bear no grudges against no-shows; it's all business, you do what you can to get your best deal. But you have to wonder if John Williams, by this strange behavior, hasn't crossed some line, and made it unwise for everyone else to rely on him. Eventually, the light in the window burns out.