Disco died on June 21, 1981, 3:02 AM. I know. I saw it. It was probably one of the happiest events in my life, frankly.
During that time, I was working as DJ in this hellhole called Heights over in San Francisco. (No, it wasn’t a gay or leather club. Oddly enough there are straight people in that area.) It really wasn’t made like a hellhole. In fact, for most of the customers, it was quite posh. It had lovely satin booths and the best selection of liquor I’d seen anywhere to this day. The private booths in the back were these very intimate leather booths isolated from the rest of the space by thick velvet curtains. The floor, the bar, and even the bathroom were absolutely immaculate. Yes, on the surface I’d say it was fancifully luxurious, with my only complaint being that its overuse of pinks and purples made me feel like I was entering Jeanie’s bottle every time I came in for a set. The glamor started to wear off after I had been working for about two weeks. I’d been working nights for about ten years at that point, but now all of the sudden I just felt so drained. My legs became weighted as I would come in for work, and once there I just felt—separated from everything. I barely registered the music after a while, and by that point my memories of my time there were all but a mix of still shots blurring and mixing together into mush. Nowadays, people tell me it was cocaine, depression, etc., but none of it’s true. None of it really fits. I know what it was: that goddamn club, specifically that unholy Bastard in White.
No one really knew his name, but everyone who worked in or frequented the place all held the same disdain for him, hence the title. You could tell it was him from a sideways glance; if the stark, seemingly never dingy white jacket with matching pants didn’t do it, then brilliant thin gold chain draped around his neck that was inexplicably eye-catching despite it being hidden in the collar of his magenta under shirt would. You could tell he was a douche from just a sideways glance, too. You could just feel the smarmy egotism radiating off of him. One look at his face was all that was needed to make you want to punch him square in the mouth. Still, there was a certain charm about him. God knows what it was, but I could feel it, my female coworkers could feel, and the broads, oh man, they really felt it. He always had at least two of them hanging off of his arms, it seemed. That is, of course, when he wasn’t dancing.
That man, for all we thought of him, for all shit and pain he caused, could cut a rug. His gyrating and grinding were unworldly (divine, some even said) and utterly mesmerizing. On the floor, he embodied everything about the time, about the place, about the music. He was disco, and I doubt anyone was more heartbroken by that thought than me. Even I sometimes caught myself not breathing, just staring at him as he moved. I think that’s the secret to this, to all that happened and why my memories are so muddled. His dancing with that uncanny charm of his was hypnotizing. I mean that literally. It sucked you in and in turn sucked the life right out of you. Psychic vampirism, I’ve heard it called. I know. I know it sounds stupid, like some New Age bullshit, but that’s what it was. Every one of us who spent a lot of time in Heights felt drained, like me. You could see it in there faces. They weren’t really there; they were out of their own heads. Their eyes always looked drooped and glazed over, like everyone hadn’t slept in the past three days. I’m legitimately surprised that no one committed suicide. Hell, I’m a little surprised I never attempted. I sometimes wonder if that night hadn’t happened all those years ago, I would still be working there, or if I would have just wasted away and died one night, still standing at the DJ table.
Let me just say this up front. Most of this had to be told secondhand to me, so some of the details might not be entirely entirely there. There were some gaps I had to just fill with my own assumptions, but it all fits together, in the end.
One night a new girl came in. Her name was Nina, and supposedly she was a member of the San Francisco Ballet. She certainly looked the part, with her body stick-like in size yet sturdy and sinewy, taut from the hours upon hours of practice and performance. She was a quintessential Latin beauty, with her wavy black hair draped gracefully across the back of her shoulders and her eyes brilliantly lit with a repressed rage. She kept asking about this Natalia character, said she was her sister. Of course nobody remembered her or anyone who looked like her. Apparently she was really bitchy when tried getting the information out of these people (something I found completely justified later). It got to the point where she was actually throwing drinks on people and threatening them. She wasn’t kicked out, of course. I doubt anyone was capable of truly giving a damn by this point, or even really realizing what she was doing.
Her tune changed very quickly when the Bastard entered. Whether they spoke to each other or if he simply looked her way, I couldn’t really figure out. In either case she quickly stopped asking questions, and speaking in general. From what I understand she left quietly and hurriedly soon after that, rubbing her temples and keeping her eyes tightly shut like she felt a migraine coming on.
Now much, much later on, I got around to doing some digging on Natalia. I’ve never felt so much like a piece of shit.
Natalia had visited Heights shortly before her sister. Twenty-first birthday bash, I think. She came in with a whole group of friends, and they all get pretty tipsy, to say the least. Then he comes in. Now, most of the time, he didn’t have a partner. No one could keep up with him, and he certainly wasn’t the kind of guy to purposefully hold back for anybody. That night, though, was an exception. I don’t know if she just kept throwing herself at him in a drunken stupor or if she simply caught his eye. (From the pictures I’ve seen of her, I’m inclined to believe the latter.) Whatever the case, he took her by the hand, gave her the kind of smile that makes you think he’s about to pull out a glass slipper from his pocket, and they stepped onto the floor.
The entire crowd instinctively knew to clear the floor when he walked on. I’m sure the girl must’ve felt besides herself with flattery and social anxiety, seeing all eyes on her. I’m also sure she must’ve looked at her impromptu date’s face for reassurance. I’m not sure what she found there, thought I’m certain she had no idea what was about to happen.
They began, slowly, normally. It was nothing bad, but also nothing special. Then a tipping point was reached. They started going faster, faster, almost exponentially so. Poor Natalia had no chance. She was being dragged, literally dragged and thrown around like a crash test dummy. She tried to break away, but his grip was too tight and his moves too quick. She soon looked nauseous and flushed. Then they spun, and spun and spun and spun around at an alarming speed, an inhuman speed. Everyone got up against a wall out of fear for their own safety, staring wide eyed in awe and terror at the whole thing. It went on for I don’t know—a few seconds?—a few minutes? It doesn’t matter, because when it stopped, it stopped with a snap from the girl’s neck when he whipped her out like a goddamn yoyo. She died immediately, though possibly not before cracking her head open on a nearby table. Police treated it like an accident. Of course it was an accident. Just how and why do you murder a stranger by dancing? No one was arrested; I highly doubt the Bastard was even taken in for questioning. He was flamboyant, yet insidious. If he wanted you to think the sky was green, you’d be wondering what was wrong with everyone else’s eyes.
Now here’s the part where I really, truly, feel like an asshole. After everything was said and done, when I was about to leave the place, I noticed a weird, dark brown stain on my table. So I got really close to the thing, close enough to scratch it with my fingernails. I didn’t want to believe at first, but sure enough, it was blood, dried blood. At the time, I though someone just had tuberculosis or something stupid like that. But after I went through everything I could get—police file copies, newspapers, all that, I found out something that made my stomach drop. Natalia, that poor, poor girl, died right in front of me. She broke her neck and smacked her head right into my table, and I didn’t even notice. Worse still, no matter how long and hard I think of it, I can’t remember any of it. I witness a girl fucking die in front of me, and all I know about it is from pieces of paper with my own imagination filling in the blanks.
So back to Nina. She kept coming back over the next couple of weeks, just hanging out by the bar, drinking and people watching. Rather, person watching. Soon enough, she started up the questions again, a little nicer this time, about the Bastard, all about that asshole, particularly about his outfit. No idea what she found out, but evidently it was satisfactory, as she stopped showing up for about a week. Of course she came back, all dolled up and glittering doing the full peacock strut. She had his attention almost as soon as she walked through the doors.
Supposedly she walked up to me and requested this particular record she brought with her to be played. Her sister’s favorite, I suppose. (Maybe that’s just wishful thinking.) I have no idea what it was or even who artists were, but presumably I accepted. She turned towards the Bastard, giving him the bedroom eyes and the come hither finger. Obviously he fell for it, walking up and amping up the gentlemanliness about him. Just when he was about to embrace her for a close dance, she backed away, wagging her fingering and still sporting a coy smile.
“No need to be shy there, darling,” he said. “Just follow my lead.”
“Nah,” she shook her head, “Not my style. Not tonight, anyways.”
“Really? Then what is?”
Just then her record started, something uncanny. It was unlike anything at the time, operatic and oddly sublime.
“Want to find out?” she asked, her voice cold and taunting.
“That sounds like a challenge.”
“It is. Of endurance and beauty. What do you say?”
“Okay, then you won’t mind giving me something if I win.”
“I’m weary of gambling,” he answered with a playful grin, “but shoot.”
“What you took from my sister, Natalia Valdez.”
“If you’re thinking of who I’m thinking of, then you know that’s impossible.”
Nina’s fist clenched tightly as she struggled to keep her forced smile and said, “Then you give back what you took from everyone else here. And if you win, I’m yours for a week.”
“Make it a month.”
And that was it before they started moving. We all stopped whatever they were doing and just stared, completely dazed. The Bastard was wild and feverish as ever, grooving and twisting about himself as if a coordinated horde of pagan spirits had entered and taken control. Natalia was much more subdued, exerting expert painstaking control over ever muscle fiber in her tiny, slender body. Still, she was swift and vibrant with a kind of divine concentration, an almost trancelike quality you could only get in the zone.
The sheer sight of it all held us all enraptured. My perception faded to the point where I was only barely conscious that I was even still there. All I knew was the spectacle of the pair fighting in front of me in heated battle. Time literally slipped away from me; in what felt like five minutes three days had actually passed. I’m not kidding. Me, my coworkers, the customers, every single person there had stood in place, slack-jawed and lobotomized for three whole days. Through it all, the warring couple kept dancing. To this day I have no idea how Nina was able to do it. Of course, all that time was beginning to take a toll on her. She was almost drowning in her own sweat, her eyes bloodshot and glazed with fatigue. She could hardly kick her legs more than six inches off the ground anymore. Meanwhile, that Bastard kept leaping and bounding with a sadistic smile on his face. He could taste the blood in the water, and he wanted it all.
As if to both gloat and deliver the finishing blow, he went into an set of flips and mid-air somersaults that would give most Olympic gymnasts a run for their money. He became an indistinguishable blur for everyone except for Nina, who just stared at him as if she was waiting for something. That something happened when the end of his chain slipped out from under his shirt.
This is when I “woke up”. I got my mind back right at that moment, and I remember it all very clearly. Particularly I remember that golden pendant. First off, it was enormous, about the size of my fist. It was an exuberantly shiny gold, molded into the shape of a man with goat horns spew some kind of substance into a goblet, all inscribed in a circle of leaves. (I feel like it was supposed to be wine, but it’s just a guess.) What stuck out to me the most, both now and then, were the eyes. They were set with emeralds, raw and uncut. Despite the roughness, they shown beautifully, chillingly, and I can’t convince myself that couldn’t see me staring at them.
That thing float for what felt like a good few minutes, but what must’ve be only a second, a second Nina didn’t waste. She lunged. Her hand grabbed the pendant tightly while her foot struck flat and hard right in the middle of the Bastard’s chest. The spaghetti thin gold of the chain snapped, and he stumbling back but quickly regained his balance. It took a moment for him to fully process what had just happened, but when he did his eyes grew wide and furious.
He reared back like he was about to charge at Nina, but he only took one step before collapsing onto the floor. His legs began twitching and quiver like there were bugs crawling up and down underneath his pants, and a slew of crunching, snapping sounds starting coming from them. It was as if all the damage, all the cumulative abuse his legs went through for however many years, had suddenly caught up with him. You could see the pain in his face, but the rage still shone through as he gritted his teeth and drug himself towards Nina, standing with his precious charm in her hand and staring as dumbly as everyone else. Eventually, though, it all became too much for him and he just broke down into this awful, strained wheezing. His legs continued to crumple and crack until they just started melting. Honest to God, they melted, and in less than a minute they were just a pile of gelatinous red goo. Then he lit up—literally lit up and started sparking like a fucking Roman candle. It quickly erupted into a blinding light, and when everyone was able to see again, he was just gone.
For a good minute, no one did anything but stare at the now bloodless spot where he had been. Then Nina looked at the pendant she still clasped in her hand, shrugged as she stuck in in her purse, and sashayed out of there. I never saw her again except this one time I went to a show she was in not too long ago. Let me tell you, all of her movements were otherworldly, absolutely divine. I couldn’t keep my eyes on her. I don’t think any there could, but I doubt anyone else that odd bulge she had under her leotard along with the thin gold chain shining under the spotlights.