Thanks to Billby Jamie McKenzie
Sam could thank Bill Cosby for setting him straight.
Well, not Bill, himself, but the storm of publicity focused on Cosby’s alleged use of date drugs.
The morning after it happened, he had thought it was alcohol, but then he read a bunch of Bill Cosby news stories. The symptoms claimed by victims matched his own.
It took him three days to figure it out. If you’ve never been drugged, you won't know what hit you.
The drug erases your memory. It leaves you moving. But you are incapacitated. You have no judgment. You don’t know what you are doing. You are easily led around. Easily duped. Easily scammed.
He also found news stories about a ring of dancers in New York who had used drugs to lead men into limos and clubs so they could run up thousands of dollars in credit card charges. Much more than the $1500 they charged for two hours he could not remember. He should feel lucky?
Sam had always been good at handling alcohol. He drank slowly. He drank in a measured way. He was in control. He knew what he was doing. He never slipped over the edge into drunkenness. He never had memory problems the next day. He did not black out.
Thinking back about the night it all happened, he saw a pattern that could not be explained by alcohol. He was now sure someone had drugged his glass of wine. It was probably the second dancer.
In the first days, he was ashamed and embarrassed. Like many victims, he thought it was his own fault. But the more he read about date drugs, the more his shame turned into anger. Ketamine, a tranquilizer, methylone or "molly," and cocaine?
Should he file a complaint with the police? With the club? Would the Dallas police treat his complaint seriously? Would they leak the story to the press?
He could see his name splashed across the front page of the Dallas Morning News. “Dallas accountant victim of strippers' drugs?” The men in New York escaped the spotlight, but this was Dallas. Could he trust the police to protect him? He’d seen other victims’ names on the front page.
And how could he prove anything? He did not go to a doctor the next day or get a blood test. What evidence could he produce?
He thought over his options and decided to confront the club’s management. He took a cab in late afternoon to the back door and knocked. The front of the club was kind of classy in a neon flashy way at night, but in the light of day everything seemed pretty tawdry. It just added to his shame as he stood waiting for someone to come to the door.
No one came. So he knocked again. Waited. Knocked again. He could see a camera pointing down at his face from a corner of the roof, so he figured they were watching and ignoring him.
He pulled out his phone, found their number and gave it a ring.
No one answered. It just rang and rang and rang. There was no answering machine. And there was no way to file his complaint.
Sam stood smoking and thinking. He was usually resourceful and competent but on this day he felt like he was floundering. He was out of his element. He was good at numbers. He was good at books. He was even good at finding fraud when it was financial. He was what was known in the profession as a "forensic accountant.” But now he was stymied.
His mind wandered to the night he had been cheated.
It had been a nice evening. A couple of beers and then one dancer wanted some wine. Looking back, he knew that bottle of wine had been his undoing, not because he had so much to drink. It was the open wine glass that had made the crime possible.
“Natalia" had been fun and very sexy, so he agreed to go into a side room for three lap dances. They were fun but seemed very short, less than 11 minutes. He remembered checking his watch in and out. He could recall thinking this club played short versions of pop songs. At $40 a song, a short song was a rip-off. He had made a mental note of timing more songs after the dances.
“Get us another bottle of wine, ok, Honey? I’ll see you in a few minutes back at the bar.”
He had paid her the $120 and made his way back to the bar. He was feeling sharp and pleased with the evening. Back at the bar, he ordered a second bottle of wine. The bartender brought it forward and poured some more wine into the two glasses they had left behind. Since he had given the bartender his credit card and his driver’s license, he did not need to pay or sign anything.
Looking back later, he realized that had been a stupid mistake because they could run up his bill while drugged and get him to sign at the end while his mind was still fogged and not operating clearly.
He had sat sipping wine waiting for Natalia to reappear. He timed four songs, all less than three minutes. But she never came back. Then a different dancer came up to his corner. The next day, he had no memory of her face or her name, but he did remember her first words.
“Hi, Honey. What are you doing here all by yourself?”
He had explained how he was waiting for Natalia but she had disappeared.
“Shall I keep you company?”
The last thing he remembered was her ordering a vodka drink, which seemed strange to him at the time. He also thought maybe he left the bar to hit the men’s room.
Two and a half hours later, they had put him in a cab and sent him home. They retuned his credit card and license but no receipt for his charges. It was only when he looked on the computer the next day that he saw $1565 charged to his card and another $135 for the bar bill.
What happened during those two hours? He had almost no memory of what transpired in that back room. He could not recall walking back. He could not remember agreeing to anything. He did not know how he got there.
He had a vague sense of someone asking if he wanted more time – and a fogged sense of agreeing. He had a vague sense of someone telling him it was customary to tip 25 per cent and a slip of paper being shoved under his face. But his brain was not really working, and he was compliant rather than lucid. He did not remember much at all.
At one point, he saw a glass of champagne in the model’s hand.
“Where did that come from?” he had asked. But he could not remember her answer.
He wished he knew her name. Wished he had an image of her face. He’d like to ask her questions.
But he remembered Natalia and knew he would recognize her if he saw her again. It was another strategy worth trying.
Just then a very large red Jeep Cherokee roared into the parking lot where he stood and came to a gravel-spraying stop to his left. Two men swung open doors and made their way to the club’s back door. They looked to Sam like minor managers.
He blocked their path, even though they were larger men. Being a victim was over for him.
“Hey, Dude, you mind getting out of our way?”
Sam stood with his arms crossed and refused to move.
“I am here to report a crime,” he said, his face very serious.
When men confront each other like this, the equations get complicated. Usually the large men will scare the smaller man. Usually the smaller man quakes and moves. But every once in a while a small man is so angry about something that the big men smell a danger that has nothing to do with size or normal conflicts.
The two managers stopped and looked at each other, then back at Sam. One of them stuck out his hand, a bit awkwardly.
“I am Frank and this is Eddie,” he said. “We’re managers, and we’d like to hear your story.”
This came as a huge surprise to Sam, but it was a very good one.
They took him into a small office in the basement of the club and Frank sat him down in an old stuffed arm chair.
“Start from the beginning,” he said, “and tell me exactly what happened.”
Which Sam did. Step by step by step. Frank sat across from him on a desk chair, his face a closed book. He was not taking notes.
“And how do you know you were drugged?” asked Frank when he was done. “Did you have a drug test?”
Sam shook his head. “No. It took me three days to figure out what happened.”
He did not like the look of suspicion and doubt that creased Frank’s face.
“We get lots of guys who suffer ‘buyer’s remorse,’” he said. “Next day they complain they were scammed or cheated. But we are very careful. If a guy seems drunk, we will not let him go to the back room. We read him the charges and explain them in advance. We make him sign the credit card slip in advance.”
Sam shook his head. “That didn’t happen with me.”
“But you said you have no memory.”
“Until the very end when they made me sign and stuffed me in a taxi.”
Frank seemed unconvinced. “The best we can do is speak with the dancers and the bartenders and see what they remember,” he said, “but I wouldn’t hold out much hope. Chances are slim that we’ll turn up anything that will erase what happened.” Sam watched skeptically as Frank delivered this speech, knowing now that he would do little to investigate. His doubt was evident in his face and body language.
“But I will tell you what,” Frank said. “As a gesture of good will, I’ll give you a half dozen free entrance coupons.” Sam stifled a laugh at this, since he saw little reason to return to the scene of his crime, but he took the coupons, anyway, suddenly thinking he might use them to touch base with Natalia.
“Can you give me your number, so I can let you know what I learn?”
Sam handed him his card and then followed him upstairs to the bar.
“Drinks on us tonight,” announced Frank.
Sam ordered a bottle of beer. No more open glasses for him.
And he sat for a long time wondering if Natalia would show her face. After three beers and two hours, he was about to give up. All of sudden he felt a hand on his shoulder.
“Sam! How are you?”
And it was Natalia standing alongside him. She was tall, blond, Russian and gorgeous, just as he remembered her. There was nothing wrong with his memory of the first part of that night.
“Terrible,” he said. “I was drugged that night I saw you.”
Her face flashed surprise. “You were drugged, too? I was so sick I went home early and I have no memory of what happened.” Sam nodded his head. “Exactly,” he said. “That’s what happened to me, but not until they dragged me into the back room and ran up a $1500 credit card charge.”
“No! That’s outrageous." She reached out a hand to touch his shoulder.
“What are you going to do?”
“I’m thinking of going to the police.”
“Are you sure that’s a good idea?”
He frowned. “I don’t know what else I can do.”
“Well, maybe I can help.”
“How?” he asked.
“Just sit here and I’ll be right back,"
When she returned, she handed him a small slip of paper with a name and telephone number on it.
“Maybe this will help you. It is the name of one of the national managers who stopped by to speak with us a few months back. He said we could call him if anything ever went wrong or smelled bad.”
“Oh,” said Sam, folding the paper and sticking it into his shirt pocket. “That’s really nice of you.”
When he called the Ohio number the next day, he held out very little hope, but two weeks later he was sitting in a downtown law office signing a non-disclosure form.
The attorney took the form from his hand and extended a bank check for $5,000.
“You understand that the company is accepting no responsibility for what happened to you and expects you to remain silent?” Sam nodded his head as he took the check in hand.
“We have already refunded the $1565 to your credit card.”
At this point Sam stood up and nodded his agreement.
“I appreciate this gesture, Mr. Marshall. It was a very bad experience, but I hope the club will take steps to punish those involved.”
The attorney also stood and extended his hand. “I promise you we will treat this very seriously,” he said.
At first, when he called the Ohio number, he was met with skepticism. The manager did not speak to him, but his executive assistant had a regional manager give him a call. This man promised a thorough investigation and asked for a detailed account of what had happened, but a week later he reported that he could not prove anything wrong had happened. He also claimed in his email that the signatures on the credit card slips would "pass the smell test in the event of a dispute.” When Sam asked to see them, he received a batch that were crazy scrawls. Foul play was quite evident.
It was at this point that Sam decided to go to the police and challenge the credit card bill. It was seeing the credit card slips that sent him over the edge.
In a final gesture, Sam called the national manager one more time and left an angry message on voice mail. It was New Year’s Eve, so he was not surprised when no one answered the phone.
“Your man in Texas was cordial,” he said, “but he has done nothing to help me. It is clear to me that a crime was committed in your club. I was drugged and I was scammed. The credit card slips are clear evidence of foul play."
"Because you will do nothing to help me, I will challenge the credit card charges today and on January 2, I will meet with the Dallas Police to file a report of this crime.”
It was early on the morning of January 2 that he received a call from the executive assistant.
“Good morning, Mr. Hunter. My boss would like to speak with you if you have a few minutes.” Her boss wasted very few words.
“We’re prepared to take care of this matter, Mr. Hunter. We will refund the charges and offer a sum to make up for the inconvenience you experienced. But we will want you to sign a non-disclosure form and not visit the police.”
Sam had mixed feelings about the check. In some ways, it was a victory. But it left a sour taste in his mouth. He deposited the check in his bank account, but he let the funds sit there for weeks. If he took money to keep his mouth shut – “hush money” as it was called in the case of Bill Cosby — was he still a victim? Was he in some ways complicit?
In February, he made out a check for $5,000 and sent it to the Dallas Area Rape Crisis Center. As he slipped the envelope into a mail slot, he felt a heavy burden slide from his shoulders.
He was no longer a victim.
Written materials, art work and photography on this site are copyrighted by Jamie McKenzie and FNO Press.
From Now On is published by FNO Press