So Javon Walker wanted diamonds. And he never stopped paying for them. He paid at Florida State, when he gave up the life of a normal fun-loving student for an existence that involved little more than sleep, classes, workouts and football practice. He paid during the NFL season, when he abstained from alcohol, went to bed at 9 p.m., added or dropped eight pounds in a given week to maximize his competitive advantage against the cornerback he would face that Sunday. He paid in relationships, in the loss of common ground with some of the people he'd known the longest. He paid at restaurants, because others assumed he would, and if he could help out with the mortgage and electric bill, too, that would be much appreciated. He paid at home, when contractors charged him double the normal rate, and at work, where fans and sportswriters tore into him for every mistake. And of course he paid in Las Vegas, where he asked the hustlers not to tear his earlobes when they took the diamonds from his ears. Then he paid again, in public shame.
Today some people see Walker's misadventure in Las Vegas as a direct consequence of the terrible night in Denver—as a symbol of everything that went wrong for him after Darrent Williams bled to death in his arms. True, his promising football career disintegrated soon after the shooting: He caught 30 touchdown passes before that night and only one thereafter. But he says this is a coincidence. His right knee failed early in the 2007 season, as knees often do in the NFL, and his window of opportunity closed.
Walker's mother believes he went drinking that night to drown his sorrow. But Walker insists he just went out to have a good time. Even now he sees no mistake in walking around in public with a heavy load of diamonds. If this proves anything, it's the insidious nature of the curse. It seems no loss will be great enough to keep Walker from the lifestyle he has earned with his sweat and blood.
Walker made a full recovery in time to testify against one of the hustlers. During the trial he faced cross-examination by defense attorney Betsy Allen. "There was an incident in Denver," she said, "where you had sprayed champagne at a nightclub."
"No," Walker said. "No. No incident in Denver. That was nothing to do with me."
The prosecutor objected, and the judge intervened. "The incident in Denver is irrelevant," he told Allen, "and you'll move on, please."
The incident in Denver remained mysterious to the public for more than three years. In October 2008 a grand jury indicted a local gangster named "Little" Willie Clark for the murder of Darrent Williams. The indictment said Clark fired the bullet that killed Williams, but it didn't fully explain why. And the full explanation didn't come until February and March 2010, over the 14 days of Little Willie's trial.
By then it was possible to see New Year's Eve 2006 as a turning point in many lives. In almost every case, the change was for the worse. Nicole Reindl, the young woman saved by her ringing cellphone, still had part of a bullet lodged next to her skull. Brandon Flowers of the Billion Dolla Scholars still had his bullet, too; he could feel it in his leg whenever he climbed the stairs. Rosalind Williams could no longer enjoy New Year's Eve, or Mother's Day, because without Darrent she had no children. When the trial began, Darrent's eight-year-old daughter, a competitive runner named Jaelyn, had only recently recovered from her fear of the starter's pistol. Her 10-year-old brother, Darius, wouldn't stop playing an old copy of a football video game that let him use the avatar of his father.
And then there was Brandon Marshall, the Broncos' receiver, whose fortune turned the other way. On the night of the shooting he was a fourth-round draft pick who had just finished an uneventful rookie season. Over the next three years he made 307 catches. Defenders called him the Beast because his chiseled 6'4", 230-pound frame was so hard to bring down. Now, taking the stand as a crucial prosecution witness in Little Willie's trial, he'd become one of the best players in the NFL. He raised his large right hand and swore to tell the truth.
PROSECUTOR TIMOTHY TWINING: New Year's Eve, December 31, 2006, in the early morning hours of January 1, '07. Do you remember that night?