An American Tragedy
Crime and Punishment in America’s Most Beautiful City
It’s a fall morning in a working class neighborhood on the edge of one of the most beautiful, wealthiest, and brightest little towns in America. Boulder, Colorado sits on the eastern slope of the Rocky Mountains overlooking the vast, oceanic High Plains like the fabled City on a Hill of legend and lore; it was once the capital of the Bohemian Republic of Boulder.
A Working Class Neighborhood
It’s just before sunrise and Demetrius, Demetrius Shankling, ‘Debo’ to his family and friends, is just coming out of the shower in his garage apartment. It’s a small affair, kitchen and living room as one open room, with the bedroom and shower separated by a pony wall. He towels off and picks up a pair of old jeans laying on the back of the sofa; his legs sliding into the leg holes like fingers into a loose glove, his lean, athletic body moving effortlessly at his thoughtless command.
He sits down, pulls a black T-shirt from a pile of rumpled clothes next to him on the couch, smells it, and pulls it over his head. He puts on his socks and work boots, then picks up his phone and keys, and is out the door. The door he goes out is the door to the garage apartment he’s been living in the past few years since he’s been going to university. He stays there because it’s cheap; as in being his parent’s garage apartment rent-free cheap. They’d made him an offer he couldn’t refuse.
He’s up so early because he’s hoping to get to his girlfriend’s place before she goes to work. But today being his birthday he knows his mother will have fixed his favorite breakfast, and will be waiting in the kitchen for a little conversation. He also knows that if he broke their little tradition, or any family tradition for that matter, he’d not hear the end of it until the following year, when he’d be expected to exercise it correctly. Family tradition was everything in the world to his mom; she was the keeper of the flame of family traditions, almost all of which she’d personally started herself, out of a desire to create a lace curtain family from her own hard work and imagination. He knew he had to go to the main house before he left, even if it cost him an extra twenty minutes. Nicole would have to wait for family tradition, for Momma.
It’s quiet in the neighborhood; none of the neighbors are out in the predawn darkness. There are no motor noises, or the sounds of the usual hustle and bustle on the street from students going to school, or contractors leaving for work in the tonier neighborhoods. He noted that the crickets were still sleeping and the birds were only chirping mutedly, clearing their throats sporadically; not territorially, because like the dogs in the neighborhood, they were cool with this part of the morning as a sort of ceasefire time for the yard dogs and cats on the block, before the neighborhood-wide backyard jungle racket woke everybody up.
The air is still and cool and crisp as the Earth turns silently into the sun, slowly lighting the shallow crevices of his part of the backyard jungle; the patio furniture and plants reveal themselves in degrees of color as a sea of grey is slowly drained from the land. There’s a golden hue on the horizon as the rays of the sun’s coming cresting pushes back the deep darkness of infinity, as the sky above him blushes blue, then white, as it awaits the sun’s arrival.
Demetrius quietly opens the back screen door, turns the antique brass doorknob on the stained glass door, and enters the main house stealthily. It was an old door with a stained-glass window he’d found on one of his construction cleanup jobs, and he’d installed it on the back instead of the front of the house because it fit that jam perfectly, and since that’s where the family really lived, out in the backyard, it would be seen more. It was all in an effort to please his mother’s lace-curtain tastes; and so for him it was a just another door into her heart that they both could use.
The house is quiet, only the humming of the furnace can be heard as the family dog silently greets him. The dog was cool, he knew how to be stealthy, he was simpatico with the early morning code of silence, and so, like on so many mornings before his birthday, the dog had kept his cool when Demetrius opened the back door. The dog knew that if he kept cool anything flying out of the refrigerator that was left over from the night before that Demetrius didn’t eat, was his alone, no cats involved. So he kept his mouth shut, as he silently followed Demetrius into the kitchen, waging his tail expectantly, noisily, annoyingly.
As Demetrius continued down the back hall to the kitchen he heard his mom humming an old tune, scurrying around the stove and slaving away no doubt at his birthday feast that would happen later that day.
“Momma, momma, I told you, no … no breakfast this morning. I’m in a hurry; I have to be at work in ten minutes.”
“Do you think that’s what I told the doctor that delivered you? ‘Please, hurry up Doctor, my son is impatient to get to work!’ ”
“Momma, I love you, but time isn’t on my side this morning!” was all he could say to her gentle chide as he smiled and kissed her on the forehead.
On the table were what she called ‘old country’ burritos; minced sausage and chopped eggs topped with cheese and sandwiched between potato pancakes; all of it wrapped in foil for his lunch. On the table were a glass of orange juice and a bowl of frosted flakes for his breakfast; his favorite birthday breakfast cereal since before he could ask for them by name.
“Please, my little Debo, sit with your momma and talk a little before you go.”
She’d called him Debo since he was born; it was a made-up magical name for a miracle baby. When he first appeared in the world he was sickly and she thought she’d lose him to the cold and damp; it was a bad New York winter when he was born, and the heat in the house had been cut off more than once. And then there was the lack of proper medicine too, which had added to her worry because they were so wretchedly poor back then they couldn’t even afford to go to the doctor regularly, much less afford the medicine he prescribed. But through it all they’d persevered as a family, on the old remedies of hard work and moral courage; and now it was his twenty-third birthday, and he was healthy and happy, and all was well with her world, so she wanted to take stock before he left that morning. He was her miracle gift to the world too, her world-beater. She gave him love, and he gave her a dream of a better world, a world with grandchildren.
“Please, spend some time with your mother before you rush off,” she pleaded.
He couldn’t deny her his affections, his love, so they sat and talked about the house in New York they’d lived in before moving to Bolder Boulder and how he used to bounce a tennis ball off the garage door and catch it on the fly and then run and slide and call the invisible man he was chasing ‘Safe!’ or ‘Out!’
And they talked about how hot and humid it’d been and how relieved they were when they knew for sure that they were moving to Boulder. And that made him think of everything that’d happened since they’d moved. Somehow he’d managed to get into CU right after they’d come and it was a first generation achievement for the family, which for him meant he was setting a new tradition, a new way forward, and he knew that was part of what made his mother so proud that day; he was one year away from both his, and her, graduation.
Since they’d moved he’d found that he loved the place. At first it was just him and the dog and Chautauqua Park with a soccer ball, but it didn’t take long for him to find new friends, because there was always a pick-up game at the park or the intramural fields on campus. And his new friends had girlfriends and they had friends.
That’s where he’d met his girlfriend, after a pick-up game on the intramural fields on campus. She’d been watching him and his friends play, and when the game was over she’d said, by way of introducing herself to him, “You must be David Beckham.” Which was a great conversation starter as far as he was concerned. They’d actually met a year earlier in one of his biology classes and she’d made an impression but it was a hurried introduction and there were a lot of other people around and he’d forgotten about her until the day he’d met her again on that playing field.
It was a beautiful fall day when they’d met, just like his birthday was shaping up to be. He remembered the leaves had been tawny and molting, falling from the trees and moving in swirls along the street, and then gathering in the gutters. He remembered it because he’d walked her home that day, and today smelled the same too.
It was serendipity when they’d run into each other on that field, and that it was in the evening, in what the photographers call the ‘golden hour’ which made her seem ethereal the second time they’d met. Or maybe there was an opening in his heart just her size and she’d fallen into it. But regardless of dreams and desires and mystical forces, from that time forward they became inseparable and had never, ever, in all their time together, spoken to each other in anything but trusting and kind terms. They were simpatico from the start.
Neither one of them could fight well enough to carry a grudge for more than a few minutes because they loved each other’s company too much. While they had a lot of friends and a good social circle, they lived in their own world; a world they’d cobbled together out of his garage apartment, and the dog, and skiing and sailing dates. So they did what they needed to do to achieve their own dreams, and that meant they stayed home a lot, and watched old movies to save money for such adventures.
He was just the kind of person she’d dreamed of one day meeting, athletic, smart and well-educated, which are different things; tall with broad shoulders, and from a very loving family. But most of all he was gentle in spirit. She on the other hand was beyond his wildest dreams; out of his league his friends had told him. So instead of making a big deal of it he’d told himself he’d just play along to see where it went, and that’s how he came to let his guard down and fall in love; after a month he was smitten.
Until only recently he’d thought of himself as younger than he was, because the shoes he had to fill were so big. The family responsibilities that were coming to him with graduation were so big that he didn’t really want to fill them too soon; so he played at life with her and the dog because he figured he still had one more year of real freedom before he had to decide any of the big questions, namely how he was now going to help his family, his mother, reach her dreams; it was his last year without man-sized responsibilities.
The Escape Plan
He also had an escape plan if everything went sideways after graduation. The summer after he’d met Nicole they’d gotten into sailing and had begun to take lessons from an old man on Horse Tooth Lake. His dockside name was Captain Travis; but nobody knew his real name, not even him as it turned out. They took lessons from him every weekend on a twenty-two foot Catalina he rented them before they finally saved enough to settle into a twenty-seven foot Cat with a cabin below deck in the third year. It turns out that sailing isn’t for everybody, so they’d gotten it super cheap.
That’s when they both decided to go to the East Coast after graduation for a breather. They figured that by sailing the intercostals that summer, until they really got good at sailing, they’d be ready for the open ocean, and then they’d decide to either return to town or just sail away from all of it.
In those summers the old man and Demetrius had grown close. As close as you can get to an old man who thought he knew everything about sailing the open ocean you ever wanted to know, and claimed that he’d sailed the seven seas several times in fact; but also had bad breath, as well as no sense of social etiquette, and spit tobacco juice everywhere, including more than once inside the cockpit of their boat.
All of this flashed through his mind as he sat in the small alcove of the kitchen and ate his frosted flakes as his mom continued shuffling around the stove, humming old Greek songs.
“Dinner’s at six-thirty. You gonna be there, right? You have to be on time, you know. You know how much Aunt Ida and Uncle Henry want to see you. They came all the way from New York, and they’re only going to be here until Monday.”
She says this as she begins work on the big birthday bash by pulling the best china and flatware out of the cabinets and drawers.
“You’re gonna bring your girl too, right? Your aunt and uncle want to meet her, you know.” She looks at him sheepishly, and then makes a few promises she won’t keep.
“I know, I know, I won’t talk about marriage, I promise.”
She looks at him again and blushes mischievously, because they both knew that’s all she’d talk about with his aunt and uncle. He also knew it was impossible for her to do otherwise; and that conversation about who he was going to marry would be open to speculation by all in the family until he was actually married.
“And no talk about kids either, you understand?”
He knew she understood but would talk about everything anyway; she was a born blabbermouth. The family could be taxing for any girl who dared come too close, so he chose carefully when and where to expose Nicole to their interrogations, but the birthday after dinner inquisition was unavoidable.
“Oh never mind, Momma,” he chuckled defeatedly, as he tucked the burritos into his jacket pockets, kissed her on the check, and was out the back door before she could make any further demands or protestations. Just as he got outside he saw Nicole at the top of the stairs on the landing of the garage apartment, and was relieved that he didn’t have to spend time getting to her place.
The Unknowable Future
Once inside Nicole hesitated unnaturally before taking off her coat, and when she did he was transported to heaven, girlfriend heaven, to first love heaven, to a youthful athletic heaven, to a place beyond current cares and woes where everything is possible in an unknowable future with love alone.
His bed smelled like him, his body, and a little like his dog. She smelled like he thought the fragrance of heaven would smell like; like rain and baby kittens. They made love with their bodies and their minds and souls as they held each other and dreamed and planned and plotted where they’d be in a year, and what dockside marina life held in store for them.
The alarm went off in the middle of their dreaming and loving, and they both knew they had places to be and responsibilities to meet; so that after the second snooze alarm went off it was a long kiss and a short goodbye, and they were off to their destinies, she to her classes, then to work; and him to work, no classes. They’d both agreed that they’d meet up for the family dinner around six.
He arrived late to work, but since it was just him and few of his friends working a catch-as-catch-can construction operation, it didn’t matter much; but he still felt bad when he was late that morning, because it was just the responsible thing to do, to show up when you signed up for the work. Luckily the guy who was renting the dump truck was late too, so it was all good.
Steve was already there and Tim arrived with the truck soon after, so that work fell into a groove right away. They were in the middle of tearing down and hauling away an old wood barn for a client and they’d done most of the work in the previous two days. So all that was left of it was debris that needed to be hauled away, and by that third day they’d become a machine so that they didn’t speak much in the morning, and only really got warmed up once the lunchtime hacky sack game got underway.
They were all students in the crew. There were ten of them all together in the business that they’d formed together; and they signed up and worked whatever jobs they needed or could work according to their talents and class schedules. They had a business major do the books, but what was remarkable about their construction crew over others in the same business, what bound them together with an esprit de corps, was that they were all soccer players; most had been on high school teams and thus were really good, and some even came from the university team.
They were all top players, and to rank them would have been absurd because at that level of play it was just a matter of whether you were ‘hot’ on a given day, because being hot was the only edge you could get over any of them.
These noonday hacky sack games were just practice for them, and what they practiced was sporting style. It’s one thing to beat your opponent in any sport, but quite another to beat them with style. It’s called sportsmanship, and that’s really what they were practicing, because over the years, on countless fields, they’d taught themselves this one truth about their game, that it’s not whether you win, it’s how you play to win; and in this way they found they were always winners, even when the scoreboard was against them.
They finished the work early that day, but not soon enough to beat it to the dump on the last run, so they took the rental truck with them as they moved their never-ending game of one-upmanship to the intramural fields, grabbing a few beers along the way. They parked in an empty lot, empty except for the no truck tow-away zone signs everywhere, and popped the tops. Soon enough they all felt bulletproof as they sat on the tailgate, and the fact that no one was hassling them about parking the truck where they had, emboldened them to go on to play soccer with the gods; they felt crazily lucky.
It was a glorious day, and running in the cool breeze in the late afternoon sun made it seem to him like he was literally riding the wind; he felt shoulder to shoulder with the gods that celebrated life itself through athletic competition. The beer buzz brought all the elements of the day into one dream-like state of consciousness; the hard work, the brilliant sun, the gentle breeze, the ultra-green grass, his body, his life, his love; his whole being celebrated being young and thoughtlessly graceful and strong and beautiful in spirit, as he got on one of the hottest streaks of his life, scoring three unassisted goals that afternoon.
After the game they returned to the truck to find a hundred dollar ticket waiting for them.
The Birthday Dinner
Debo got back to the house a little after six and went to the garage apartment and showered. He was late, again, but that didn’t hold up the family get together in the main house. Nicole arrived shortly thereafter and they both went into the house to meet the family, some of them for her for the first time.
Sometimes being late works out okay, because for him and her being late that day had spared them from a pre-dinner inquisition. Aunt Ida and Uncle Henry would’ve demanded answers and wouldn’t have been deterred in their pointed bluntness from taking a pound of flesh back home for further consumption. So that being late for his own party was in this case the best of all possible worlds for Nicole.
There was the dinner of course where everyone spoke Greek and he did the translations for her. Then there were the after dinner birthday rituals which involved baby pictures being passed around with accompanying embarrassing stories told by people that couldn’t tell a story straight, much less remember the pertinent parts. So that his whispered interpretations followed a better narrative of his younger years, along with a running description of what it was to be born into a family with no good storytellers; which made her laugh at the wrong parts almost uncontrollably, embarrassingly.
But when he received the new snow skis from his mother, and the skipper’s cap and nautical sunglasses from Nicole, he got choked-up, which surprised him. Since he couldn’t say the words that were stuck in his throat, he just kissed them both tenderly and blushed. After an hour and a half Nicole and the birthday boy slipped out the back door and sat outside on a patio glider under the star-filled sky and talked about nothing in particular, and everything that you didn’t need to say with words. It was getting cooler so they snuggled under a large blanket against the cold, her on the edge of shivering, him sheltering her with the warmth of his body.
They fell asleep nestled in each other’s arms under that blanket of stars and when they awoke it was already after ten and Nicole had to get back to her life; but not before she produced a first mate’s cap of her own, and then insisted on showing him the rest of her new sailor’s uniform. She left him an hour later, in his bed peacefully asleep as she slipped out of the garage apartment, down the steps and back to her place.
Time Marches On
About a half hour after she left he got a call from Steve asking him if he was going to meet up with the rest of the crew as planned to celebrate his birthday. Him being one of the key players on the team, both the construction and soccer teams, he felt he had to go to his own party because for one it would be a lost opportunity to celebrate the good life, his good life with his friends; and two, he felt it wouldn’t be sporting to live his life with unexplored opportunities. So he got out of bed for the second time that day, this time much more tired than before.
He slipped on his jeans, slipped a T-shirt over his head, slipped his feet into some loafers, sans socks, then grabbed his phone and keys, and was out the door, the door of the garage apartment he got to stay in for free while he was in college.
The bar wasn’t far from his place and since he was still a little sleepy and groggy from the dinner wine he decided to walk. When he got to the bar most of the crew was already celebrating and had been for some time. They’d secured their favorite pool table in the corner of the room, meaning that they could see every girl in the place without looking obvious about it. Debo had taken to calling it the crow’s nest, and playing pool at that bar had become one of their weekly rituals precisely because it lent itself to girl watching; which was another game they participated in at every opportunity.
For Demetrius the day had been long and exhausting; but at the end of it he was glad to be among friends, friends that he’d met and been friends with almost from the first day he got to Boulder. These were friends that he’d met after leaving New York, after leaving high school, and thus were a world apart from where he’d grown up, which was mostly around his New York cousins.
They’d all come-of-age together in the study halls and sports fields of the university, and by working together they’d miraculously, not by design, formed a small, tight group that had their own chivalric round table, him and the crew. Most of them were going on to graduate in a year, and then they’d be scattered to the winds on their own quests; so they all knew this year, this next year of school, and its untroubled lifestyle, was theirs to enjoy perhaps for the last time in their lives. They’d mastered the scholarly tasks set before each of them and it was heady, and the future was bright, and so they made a lot of plans and promises of lifelong fidelity to each other that night, and in the meantime promised to do as many things together as they could squeeze into their schedules, knowing this last year was going to be their signature year.
Debo poured a beer from the crew’s pitcher and put some quarters on the pool table when he arrived. It was a pairs’ competition so the games were long and drawn-out and there seemed to be no groove for him to slide into as he began to play and then got caught up in side conversations and occasional girl watching. One of the most remarkable things of that day was that from the time his quarters came up on the table until he left, he got on one of the hottest shooting streaks anyone in the bar had ever seen. It was slow to take hold at first, but from the beginning he was on his game and he never let up.
Above all else that night, the object for the crew was to hold the crow’s nest as long as they could, so that as long as one of the crew was playing the table, beating all comers, or even losing, they could still hold the crow’s nest if they had enough quarters on the table. Holding the table was the game inside their game, and that meant that they had to be on the watch for sidewinders, rapscallions, and usurpers, but that night no one was on watch; they were untroubled.
Their strategy was simple; they put their quarters down several places ahead so that even if they lost a game or two they’d have several attempts to take it back without giving up the best seats in the house. As Demetrius shot and won time after time the crowd in the bar started noticing, and the more drunk he got, the more he won. But on the inside of his brain he could see his aim was getting worse and worse.
Yet his luck was such that day, his twenty-third birthday day, that in that final game, even when he didn’t aim, he still won the table.
The Game of a Lifetime
That game, for the crew’s bar bragging rights, for the history books, went something like this; some off-duty policemen had just arrived at the bar, body-building types with buzz cuts, and they’d somehow managed to put their quarters on the table without anybody in the crew noticing.
In addition, and because his winning streak had begun over an hour before when his beer high had just begun, and because it took so long between shots being a pairs’ game, and thus more drinks between shots, his powers of focusing on the ball he was to shoot had completely left him by the time the greatest pool game of his life had begun. Consequently they, Demetrius and his pool partner Tim, were initially savaged.
Every time Tim, Debo’s partner, took a shot he had a roughly fifty-fifty chance of making the pocket because he’d arrived late and hadn’t drunk as much as the rest and was thereby chosen; whereas the other team, both being sober, probably had a seventy-thirty chance, and Demetrius who was drunk by then, had about a zero chance of making the pocket because his hot steak was petering out into a death spiral. Then it happened; just when all hope was lost, and there were five balls on the crew’s side, and only the eight ball was left on the police squad side, Debo made the singular greatest move that has since gone down as legend in that bar; he outgunned the keystone cops with style.
He cleared the table, smiling a drunken, slaphappy smile the whole way.
The off-duty cops were trying to spook him the whole while, standing over a pocket and grabbing their nuts when he lined up the shot, as a way to intimidate him, or coughing loudly at the last second to distract him, or talking trash. But none of it had worked; and when he was down to the eight ball he called the pocket on a bank shot and did it thoughtlessly, effortlessly, mercilessly, as the bar erupted with cheers.
The off-duty cops, who’d taken Debo’s drunken, slaphappy smile to be a smirk, claimed that he’d cheated, and that they’d been set-up by a shark, and demanded a rematch. Which was very unsporting and absolutely not in keeping with the rules of the table; much less the crew’s chivalric code, so the losers were booted.
But not before Demetrius saluted them and their nonsense by making a drunken fart sound with flappy lips and then said, “I fart in your general direction!” which didn’t set well with any of them. At this point Steve and Tim, Demetrius’ oldest and best friends in Boulder, grabbed him under his arms and carried him outside to get some fresh air.
The Real Cops
Outside the bar they ran into another set of cops, except these were on-duty cops and they had guns and uniforms and cudgels; and that’s where Demetrius’ hot streak, his youthful good fortune, and one of the most glorious days of his life became a death spiral in the back of a police van.
As soon as they got outside and Demetrius stood on his own feet, he fell into some bushes. His friends pulled him up and were leaving the bar with him in tow when the commotion in the bushes attracted the attention of two city police officers that were stationed on the street outside the bar; they came over and started interrogating the three of them.
Assessing that Demetrius was intoxicated, they proceeded to arrest him for public intoxication, a misdemeanor, and called for a transport van to take Debo to a special detox facility that had been set up specifically for students returning to university who’d celebrated their return too much; a catch and release program.
Demetrius had seen enough of the cops for the day, uniform or not, so he began speaking his peace, drunkenly; so of course they didn’t understand him, except to note that he took a belligerent exception to his arrest. His friends offered to get him home safely, but the offer was refused; and the more the young men protested, and as Demetrius added more sense to his original two-cents, the more adamant the on-duty cops became; to the point of threatening the two friends with arrest if they didn’t move on.
Soon after this, after his friends had indeed moved on as ordered, Demetrius was trundled into the transport van by four rather burly men; between the four of them they couldn’t have gotten his transport more wrong.
He was already handcuffed, drunk, and tired. And although he was mouthy, which was to be expected given that the best hot streak he’d ever been on had just come crashing to an ignoble end, he was in their charge physically, and in his own mind mentally aware enough to know what was happening to him and his body, even if his responses had become delayed and a bit out of order.
The Deputies Double-down on the Street Justice
The four of them, cops and deputies all, city and county employees all, four of them watching and participating, managed to put him in the van, head first, lying on his stomach. Not buckled on the bench as is mandated by law, not on his back, not sideways or even fully laid-out on an open (un-partitioned) floor. They’d shoved him into the van head first, on his stomach, into the smaller of the two sides of the divided compartment.
Demetrius was over six foot; the compartment floor is four foot seven, a difference of about a foot and a half. To accommodate this difference one of the four men who were seeing to his safe transport bent Demetrius’s leg at the knee and shut the door on it; thereby pinning it between the metal partition of the compartment and the door itself. He then said to his partners, the cops who’d made the arrest, “Another satisfied customer!”
As Demetrius lay in the van he began to sober up pretty fast, not legally sober but in his mind sober, because the danger was real. He felt the cold steel on his face, his hands cuffed behind his back, and his leg pinned. His head was turned at ninety degrees and pressed against the steel wall of the passenger compartment, and his shoulders lay flat against the floor. He was sober now as he began to gasp for air. The alcohol wasn’t working against him now; it was giving him extra strength. He used that extra strength to try to unwedge his leg from between the partition and door, but it was pinned too tightly.
Surprisingly, he even thought about how ironic it was that it was the same leg he’d just made three unassisted goals with, and then he mused that if he had to he’d break it, if it meant he could breath. He was thinking that clearly, at first.
He struggled to curl his body so he could lift himself out of the position of having his face pressed against the wall, so he could breathe; but with his hands being cuffed behind him he found it impossible. He then tried to turn onto his side, but the half compartment was too narrow to move. Finally, in desperation, he tried to break his own leg, but couldn’t because he could get no angle on it. He languished in terror for his life for a good nine minutes before his brain became so deprived of oxygen that he began to blackout, and the real world drifted in and out of focus.
Sheriff Pella’s thugs, Lunn and O’Brian, put him in that way as a rough joke among their colleagues, and laughed and talked sports in the passenger compartment on their way to the detox center. They talked about the women they’d meet at the upcoming Police Union’s annual barbecue as Debo called out several times the best he could, then he screamed and gasped wildly, and then finally fell silent, as they carried on blathering about more important things.
They’d had one job to do, get him the center safely, and they’d failed.
At that moment, at that very moment, when councilman Yates was saying goodnight to his cat, and councilman Weaver was cooking some popcorn because he couldn’t sleep, and former Mayor Jones was dreaming of what a beautiful city Bolder Boulder is and how wonderful it had all been being mayor of the most beautiful city in America, Demetrius was fighting for his life in the back of a van they’d been driving for years.
They’d had one job to do above all else, to protect the citizens of Boulder, and they’d failed, and failed, and failed.
Debo watched from above after the last blackout. He watched as the van sped through the streets of Bolder Boulder. He watched as they arrived at the detox center and realized he was not in the van; that he’d left his body and escaped. He watched as they worked on him, his body, and then called an ambulance. He watched as he was transported to the hospital, and as the doctors intubated him in the emergency room. He watched as he was wheeled upstairs to the ICU unit, in a coma.
He watched the nurses and doctors work on him, his body, as he noticed time pass without measure. He watched as his body was being washed, and as the attendant pulled him forward and washed his back, he felt the lukewarm cloth against his skin. It felt glorious, like warm water and cloth and skin; his skin, and his body, and his soul, and his mind lay in that state, in that hospital bed, for twenty-nine days as he felt both attached to it, and very much outside of it.
In the in-between times he watched as his parents and Nicole came and went, and when they came he was in his body and could hear them but couldn’t speak, and when they left he would once again watch everything the medical staff was doing to his body from a corner of the room near the ceiling.
In the final days, when he’d go into his body to sleep, he dreamed of his family and Nicole, and their future. He dreamed of Boulder a lot too, of soccer and school. He dreamed of the move west with his family, of losing old friends, and then finding new ones on the intramural fields. He dreamed of his getting into CU and how hard that’d been. He dreamed of his classes and even some of the professors, and how he’d actually made it to his last year, which surprised him most of all.
Mostly though, he dreamed of sailing his twenty-seven-foot Cat up the inter-coastal with Nicole. Near the end, he started dreaming of Travis, the old man he’d met when he started sailing some years earlier. In his final dream he saw the old man as clear as day. He was sleeping hard when he got near to death, the drugs he was on kept him in a coma so his body could heal, but his mind and heart and soul had already left, he’d only stayed around to comfort those he loved … and they were not comforted … he could no longer talk, could no longer tell them how much he loved them; he was helpless to help them.
In his final dream, in which the drugs had finally taken him under, he dreamed of Nicole again, but not her exactly, directly. He dreamed of her smile and smell. The air was filled with her smell, like rain and baby kittens, and he drifted off and soon found himself flying above a sailboat that was fully underway, coming out of a secluded bay just at sunrise. The boat was unfamiliar, and maybe a thirty-three-footer he guessed, the bay was isolated and beautiful, and the water was crystal clear.
Next he felt himself descending, still flying but getting closer to the ketch until he was just a few feet above the deck and closing fast like a sea bird. As he came abeam of the cockpit he saw that the old man, Travis himself, was captaining the vessel, and forward he could see there was a couple sitting on the raised deck of the cabin below, arms around each other as they basked in the light of the breaking dawn. As he flew closer still, he saw that the girl was Nicole, and that he was sitting beside her.
Just then, in a flash, as things often happen in dreams, he was captaining the vessel and Nicole was in the cockpit too, and the old man had vanished and nothing but the open ocean lay in front of them.
Demetrius Roy Shankling, Debo to his family and friends, spent the rest of that month in the county hospital in a coma; and died without ever regaining consciousness.
To this day, almost two years later, Tim and Steve have survivor’s remorse and are at times racked with guilt over what happened to their friend; one of the best of the crew. The crew didn’t survive that night; none of them could come to terms with the horror of his death at the hands of the police, or the guilt, so they just drifted apart and didn’t speak of it as they waited for justice from the Courts in Bolder Boulder.
Demetrius was failed by the entire system of governmental checks and balances meant to disallow the emergence of personal pathologies in social vectors that could potentially promote it. Most especially where the state has a monopoly of power and violence, the City Council, the DA’s office, the City Attorney Tom Carr, and Judges like John F. Stavley, all failed this beautiful young man that night when he was caught defenseless in front of a couple of low-level thugs; they were his only defense, and they were home thinking of themselves and their good governance.
The city council has continually failed to protect its citizens for years, probably since City Attorney Tom Carr and former DA Stan Garnett had come on the scene; what more proof do you need of their malfeasance? How many body bags before we learn the Vietnam War is over, and we no longer kill our kids in the name of the status quo?
Robert Augustus Gerard