I’ve never been a party guy. The club scene simply doesn’t interest me. Loud noises, mindlessly flashing lights, sweaty crowds, the smell of people so drunk that fumes seep from their pores—God, I’m miserable and bored just thinking about it.
My friends learned this about me back in college. They’d come into my dorm each clutching a six-pack of PBR, hyped as hell for the adventures of the night, and I was already curled up with Dostoevsky and a glass of wine. They didn’t understand it, but they respected it—and that’s why they’re my friends.
I hope I don’t come across as pompous, because that’s really not me. I don’t consider myself superior or begrudge anybody a good time however they’d like to pursue it. For many people, that includes dance music and raves and glow sticks and cheap beer. For me, it doesn’t. Those things just don’t appeal to me, and frankly, I’d rather appear a little snooty than waste my limited time on this planet doing things I don’t like.
Over time, most of my friends have come and gone, but Dennis Judo has remained constant. (Yes, that’s really his name.) He’s certainly more of a party guy than I am, but he’s also able to appreciate a quiet night, good conversation, and the intelligent exchange of ideas. Truth be told, we spend most of our time together simply talking—and whether the subject matter be politics, religion, or sports, there’s scarcely a dull moment.
So a couple years back, when Dennis suggested we visit The Blue Spot, a popular jazz club in the city, I readily agreed. Jazz isn’t my first genre of choice, but I can appreciate certain aspects of it. Most of all, the subdued, smoky atmosphere of a jazz club seemed much preferable to a deafening sound system. If only I had known…
We first showed up to The Blue Spot on a Wednesday night. The house wasn’t quite full, but the crowd was far from sparse. A band was playing as we walked in, a smooth, slow tune, and I realized I’d never heard real jazz music in person. There’s only one way to say this: it was damn good.
I was right about the atmosphere, too. Some people had conversations at their tables, others simply moved their bodies lightly along with the beat, but the noise and surroundings were far from overwhelming. Rather, it all seemed to be consciousness-enhancing. You walked into The Blue Spot; you felt alive.
I ordered an old-fashioned—one of the few cocktails I can stomach—and leaned back in my chair. Dennis and I sat, sipping from our glasses and taking in the environment, becoming more awake and aware with every fleeting second. We occasionally exchanged a passing remark, but for the most part just silently absorbed.
In the midst of this fantastic display of culture and emotion, the music tapered to a graceful stop. A gray-haired man with a suit and cane limped to the microphone. A small hiss, barely perceptible, emanated from somewhere in the room, and it took me a moment to realize that he probably had one of those hard-to-see oxygen tubes feeding him the stuff of life. His voice was deep and gravelly, and he spoke deliberately. I had no idea who he was, but I liked him already—he carried himself with dignity and class, a regular Don Corleone. I put away my other thoughts and listened intently:
“Ladies, gentlemen, dear friends, valued patrons, thank you for coming out tonight. The Blue Spot welcomes you as always.”
He thanked the band, who were preparing new, smaller instruments for use. It seemed they would now take a backseat.
“It’s time now to hear from someone very special, a most talented woman. If you’ve heard her before, you’d probably do anything to hear her again—(he acknowledged wolf whistles from a rowdier, ecstatic-looking crowd of gentlemen near the front). If, on the other hand, this visit to our establishment is your first, you won’t soon forget the night you became acquainted with the indescribably lovely…Scarlett Graves. Miss Scarlett, your crowd awaits.”
He extended his arm and ushered a woman, clad appropriately in a dress of deepest red, from backstage. I’ve never been one to ogle, but as she stepped to the microphone, my eyes widened a bit. I couldn’t help it—everything about this woman oozed sensuality. Thick brown hair falling just past her plunging neckline; prominent cheekbones and a femininely angular jawline, shapely breasts and a sultry gaze from enormous eyes…she was such the picture of perfection that I found it hard to believe she wasn’t created in a laboratory.
Judging from the expression on Dennis’s face, similar (though perhaps slightly more lecherous) thoughts were rushing through his head. In fact, as I wrenched my eyes from Scarlett Graves and looked around at the other patrons, I noticed that all of the gentlemen—and even a few of the ladies—were staring at this seemingly inhuman woman in awe. Feeling inexplicably tingly, almost high with excitement, I returned my attention to her gladly and she began to sing.
The band played lightly behind her, but they were practically invisible. All eyes and ears were on Scarlett Graves and her beautiful voice. I’ll never hear anything like it again, of that I feel sure. My drink—and everyone else’s, it seemed—remained untouched for the rest of the evening. We were all simply enchanted by this woman. I knew what the old man had meant: I’d probably do anything to hear her play again.
Eventually, her set wound down, and it became clear that the next song would be her last. Before she began, though, a very peculiar thing happened. She pointed at four men—each one individually, deliberately—and called them by name. They looked up at her with lustful devotion, apparently awaiting instruction. Then she spoke once more:
“It’s time for you boys to go.”
Obediently, each one stood, and practically marched out of The Blue Spot in a single file. It was truly a bizarre occurrence, but I didn’t think much of it until I had left, so great was the spell I felt myself under in this place. A strange sensation was overwhelming my body—I felt as though I were very nearly floating, and I began to suspect that Scarlett Graves had hypnotized me. I didn’t care in the least.
The next morning, Dennis called me up.
“Hey, how do you feel today?”
I answered honestly.
“Pretty terrible, actually. How about you?”
“Worse than hung-over,” he responded. “What the fuck happened last night? We didn’t even drink that much.”
I had just been thinking the same thing. I tried to force it out, but a thought arose in my mind, one which plagued me as I fell asleep the night before.
“I think maybe—” I paused, unsure how to word my theory. “What if we were drugged?”
“What, you mean, somebody spiked our drinks?”
“Maybe,” I said. “Or…maybe it was something else. How often do you think Scarlett Graves performs at The Blue Spot?”
“I don’t know, they made it seem like a pretty regular thing. Let me check their website.”
I heard the clacking of laptop keys, and after a brief pause, Dennis said, “Looks like she’s not on their schedule. According to the calendar on the website, as best as I can tell Scarlett Graves isn’t on here once.”
“Huh. Weird. Should we go back tonight and check it out?”
“Yeah. Let’s go back,” he said, a bit too eagerly.
We went back to The Blue Spot that night, and the night after, and the night after that one too. It was an enjoyable visit each time, but there was no trace of Scarlett. Nothing out of the ordinary happened at all.
Each night, we began to become familiar with some of the faces in the crowd. Many people were new every evening, but there were also a throng of regulars. A very young man with a shaved head, another with a distinctive birthmark on his face, another who must have weighed 350 pounds. On one occasion I approached a regular, a balding man of about 45 with a wedding ring on his finger. I asked him if he knew when Scarlett Graves next performed.
“Ain’t nobody knows, man. She comes when she comes. A lot of us show up here as often as we can, you know, just in case. Nobody wants to miss her. She’s somethin’ else, ain’t she?”
I nodded in distracted agreement and walked away.
Scarlett Graves took the stage again about ten days later. Dennis and I had gone every night in between. Once more, the crowd was filled with excited looks and wolf whistles as the old man made his announcement, and once more a small hissing noise filled the room. Almost by accident, I discovered its source immediately this time—a thin, barely visible steam began to pour in through the vents near the ceiling. Frantically, I nudged Dennis and motioned upward.
“I told you. Dude, we’re being drugged. We need to get out of here.”
Dennis looked up in alarm. He and I immediately rose and began to walk toward the exits—the other patrons glanced at us in disbelief before returning their attention to the stage. We were more than halfway to the door when a sultry, smoky voice rose up behind us.
“Where you headed, boys?”
Without waiting for an answer, Scarlett Graves began to sing. We stopped in our tracks, exchanged a look, then reluctantly returned to our seats.
We simply couldn’t help it.
Months passed. Dennis and I frequented The Blue Spot—not every night, but damn near. We heard Scarlett perform eight times in that span. Each time the steam would flood through the vents, and each time she would direct men from the audience (and once, a woman) to leave as her set concluded. And each time, of course, these men would stand like a trained dog and march from the venue to God only knew where.
Over time, we stopped feeling so hung over after our visits, but we still felt a bit guilty. We were addicted to whatever crazy shit they were pumping through the vents, and we both knew it, but we weren’t really seeing any negative side effects anymore. We loved going to The Blue Spot even on nights when Scarlett didn’t perform, and those rare occasions when she did—well, it’s hard to describe the euphoria. A life without her face, her body, her voice—to be honest, it hardly seemed like a life worth living at all. Scarlett became a necessity, on par with oxygen and sleep and crab cakes.
Only one frightening thought plagued us: we had no idea where the men she sent off went, nor did we know why they were selected. We felt jealous of them, to be sure—to have Scarlett look at you, to say your name!—but also a bit apprehensive. What if she selected us next? What would we do?
We already knew the answer: whatever she wanted us to.
It was a little after six o’clock, and Dennis was on his way to my place. We would, of course, be spending our evening in The Blue Spot. I thumbed my way through a local newspaper, reclined in my favorite armchair. A horn honked outside, indicating Dennis’s arrival. I set the newspaper down, but my attention was grabbed by a headline: SUSPECT APPREHENDED IN ECKSTEIN MURDER CASE. Amidst the text of the article was a photo of a man, around 50, with a distinctive birthmark on his face. I recognized him instantly—he was a regular patron at our favorite jazz club. But I hadn’t seen him since Scarlett Graves had sent him somewhere, to do something, a couple weeks before.
Dennis and I had already taken our seats in The Blue Spot by the time I told him about the newspaper headline. I didn’t think it was a big deal, but Dennis had been getting more apprehensive about the place lately. Part of me feared he wouldn’t want to go if he knew.
When I told him, I could see the gears in his mind turning—but he didn’t say much. He and I sat in relative silence, until a nasally, rushed voice rang out through the venue.
“Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for coming tonight.”
I looked up in surprise. The old man with the cane was not at the microphone tonight. In his place stood a much younger man, bald on the top of his head with dark tufts of hair at the sides. He wore eyeglasses and a pinstripe suit much too big for him—though he was not thin by any measure. As he spoke, a familiar hiss began to fill the room, barely noticeable unless you had very good ears or were already listening for it. Dennis and I exchanged a worried look.
“As some of you already know, this night is a sad one for us at The Blue Spot.” The man stepped back from the microphone, composing himself briefly. “Carl Corallo—Papa Carl—our beloved founder and father and friend, passed away this morning. Here to sing a tribute to his memory tonight is Carl’s lovely granddaughter, Miss Scarlett Graves.”
I barely had time to register my surprise at Scarlett’s relation to the old man before I began to feel high. Scarlett stepped out onto the stage wearing the red dress with the plunging neckline—as always. And as always, I leaned back in my chair, dopamine neurons firing through my brain, and watched her in ecstasy.
Her set, sweet and shorter than usual, began to wind down. I had for some time begun to think that I would never be selected myself, so I listened with a calm, bemused interest as she pointed to a man in the front row and said his name. Then she moved her finger past a chunk of the crowd, and landed it directly at my table.
My heart dropped. Dennis had been selected—but for what? I could scarcely wonder or feel jealous before her finger moved slightly to the left and found me. She said my name. Scarlett Graves said my name.
She paused a moment, then repeated the line we’d heard directed at others so many nights before: “It’s time for you boys to go.”
As she spoke, a vision entered my mind—clear and distinct as reality. Perhaps more so. Scarlett and I were together in a dimly lit hotel room. She shed her red dress, underneath which she wore not a thing, onto the floor. She came to me and began to wrap herself around me, pulling me gently toward the bed as the vision ended.
“What would I do for that?” came the thought.
Anything. Anything at all.
Dennis, myself, and the third man named William stepped out of The Blue Spot and into the brisk night air. I had left my jacket on my chair and cared not in the least for it. My purpose was now clear.
The three of us walked down an alleyway together, not consciously knowing where we were going but subconsciously understanding all. I could see clearly a face in my mind—a young, thin man, dark scruff shading his acne scars, and I knew: this was the man who killed Papa Carl.
It’s difficult to describe the sensation to you now, but in the moment everything felt perfectly rational. This man we were hunting was somewhere. I didn’t know where, yet I turned down alleys and roads with confidence—something was leading us right to him. When we found him, we’d cut his dirty head off and take out his eyeballs. Then we’d leave a gruesome package on the doorstep of his people, the people who ordered the takedown of Papa Carl. Then, and only then, would my fantasy with Scarlett Graves become every bit as real as I could ever hope for.
An intense feeling of righteous rage overcast the entire episode. I felt as though Papa Carl was actually my friend, my leader, and I would have gone to the ends of the earth to avenge him. Again—I know how strange this all sounds in retrospect. But it’s how I felt. It’s what they did to me.
We walked for at least an hour, slinking in the shadows, blending in as best we could. Finally, Dennis pointed inside a second-floor window from across the street, where a young, Italian-looking man sat at a dining-room table, absentmindedly reading the day’s newspaper.
“That’s him,” I muttered.
William made his way over to the remnants of a construction site—they were just finishing up work, it looked like—and picked his way through the equipment. Finally, he held up a hacksaw with a triumphant grin. “This’ll work,” he said, his voice upbeat, as though he planned to use the saw to take care of some chores in the yard.
The three of us stepped into the street, our feet hitting the cracked asphalt in time, ready to carry out our deed. All at once we were blinded by flashing lights. Chaos surrounded us—sirens, red and blue strobes, police officers rushing to us with their weapons drawn, demanding that William drop the hacksaw. He wasn’t going to. He looked like Dennis and I felt: ready to fight. He took one step toward an officer before a string of wires shot him square in the back and he fell, convulsing, onto the ground.
The taser worked better than the officers expected, apparently. Whatever spell, or drug, or hypnotic power William had been victim of dissipated instantly. His eyes looked different now—awake—and he shuddered as he struggled to get back on his feet.
“Stay down!” an officer shrieked at him. But William just pointed at us.
“Shock them,” he said weakly. “Shock them too or you’ll have to kill them.”
My mind flashed briefly on the vision of the hotel room, just Scarlett Graves and I, as the wires hit my back. The shock coursed through me, collapsing me to the pavement and cleansing me of the lust that would never, could never be fulfilled.
That night was The Blue Spot’s last. There were many days, long days, trapped in a courtroom, sitting and testifying and answering the seemingly endless questions of the prosecution. Months later, the defense won out: I, Dennis, and the rest of the drugged patrons were acquitted of charges. We had simply not been ourselves.
Before this all started, I’d heard rumors of The Blue Spot having some mob connections—but I never realized that the Corallo family, organized crime’s best-kept secret, was at its helm. Turns out, they’d been drugging and hypnotizing their customers for over a year, sending dozens out to do their dirty work for them. You’d think every brother, sister, aunt, uncle and baby nephew would be locked up for life—but you’d be amazed how many got away, or even worse, got off scot-free.
Scarlett didn’t, though. Her real name, Elizabeth Corallo, lacked the mystic grace of her stage persona—and dressed in loose orange scrubs, free of makeup, testifying tearfully against her deceased grandfather, she didn’t look beautiful in the least. She won’t get out of prison in the 2020s, or the decade after.
Dennis and I to this day aren’t quite sure how they did it. A lot was kept secret—even from us. All we know is that the police had been tracking the movements to and from The Blue Spot for weeks before we were sent to “send a message” to Papa Carl’s killers. The entanglements between the crime families remain as unknown to us as the mechanism behind our hypnotism.
I still don’t like the party scene—and now, after all this, neither does Dennis. We mostly spend our time like we used to before The Blue Spot, talking and exchanging ideas about politics, religion, and anything else that interests us. It’s a subtler, mellower lifestyle, less electrifying, to be sure—but maybe that’s for the best.
Oh, and I don’t care for jazz music anymore. Not one bit.