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FAST LANE to HEAVEN
A Life-after-Death Journey
By NED DOUGHERTY
Hampton Roads Publishing Company, Inc.Copyright © 2001 Ned Dougherty
All rights reserved.
Long Island, New York July 2, 1984 The evening
HE WHO DIES WITH THE MOST TOYS WINS!
—Popular Hamptons' bumper sticker
I spent the early evening drinking champagne with friends at a luxurious contemporary home in Remsenburg, a quiet hamlet at the western end of the Town of Southampton. Actually I only had several glasses, maybe three or four; I was pacing myself because I wanted to be sharp and alert for the evening. It was the July Fourth vacation week, and I owned Club Marakesh, the most successful nightclub in the Hamptons, probably in all of New York.
I was looking forward to another successful evening. Club Marakesh attracted a diverse crowd, mostly from New York City. Celebrities, sports personalities, models, Wall Street brokers looking for models, lawyers, fashion people, advertising people, film and record executives, WASP socialites, trust-fund brats, Europeans, drug dealers, and Mafia mobsters. Everyone and anyone who came to the Hamptons wanted to get into Club Marakesh.
Every weekend, long lines of patrons would form along the front of the building behind velvet ropes waiting for the privilege to pay twenty or twenty-five dollars just to walk in the door to the already-overcrowded club. Even though some would wait for hours to get inside, I would arrogantly pick the "chosen ones" who were given the privilege to pass beyond the velvet ropes. Even VIP patrons and celebrities stood patiently in front of the velvet ropes until the maître d' indicated with a wave of his arm that their tables were ready.
Attractive waitresses earning summer money for college would serve chilled champagne in frosted glasses. Dom Perignon, Perrier Jouet, and Cristal were the favorites. Individual patrons at the tables spent hundreds—sometimes thousands—of dollars a night on champagne. Some of them even challenged each other to see who could spend the most.
I had every right to feel confident and arrogant. At the age of thirty-seven, I was single and having an affair with a very attractive waitress—blonde, beautiful, and only nineteen, approximately half my age. I had successfully avoided marriage and children. I did not want to be tied down by any woman, and I considered children to be a nuisance. I had a succession of girls, all blonde and all beautiful. None of my relationships lasted very long, and I liked it that way.
I grew up in a modest, middle-class neighborhood in Hazleton, a small city in northeastern Pennsylvania. I left Hazleton after graduating from St. Gabriel's Catholic High School in 1964. I then attended St. John's University in New York City where I majored in parties and girls. Following a brief career on Wall Street, I moved to the Hamptons to party full-time after learning that I had successfully avoided military service and Vietnam. I became a real estate broker because I thought it was an easy way to make money and live independently in the Hamptons. Then I got into the nightclub business.
I opened Club Marakesh in the Hamptons in the summer of 1976 and created and built another Club Marakesh in West Palm Beach, Florida in 1978. Both clubs were enormously successful. I spent my summers in the Hamptons and my winters in Palm Beach. I had a luxurious contemporary home with a swimming pool in the Hamptons and apartments in both Palm Beach and Manhattan. I drove a Mercedes-Benz convertible and traveled by private jet, seaplane, helicopter, and limousine. I dined in the trendiest restaurants with celebrities and sports personalities, seated by maitre d's at the best tables.
I was part of the Baby Boomer generation that set its goals on material comfort and success. Despite my religious upbringing as a Roman Catholic, I had no interest in a spiritual life because I didn't believe in an afterlife. I believed that life was over when it was over. I was neither agnostic nor atheistic. I was too busy searching for a good time to be bothered with such things. My motto was "He who dies with the most toys, wins!" And I had accumulated my share of toys. Nothing else mattered.
Although I lived an exciting, fun-filled life and had all the money and toys the world had to offer, my life was not without stress. My lifestyle and notoriety and the fact that I was in a high-profile cash business had not gone unnoticed by the Internal Revenue Service. In fact, I was the subject of a three-year probe for income-tax evasion with accusations of money laundering in offshore banks.
The allegations that were being made by the treasury agents who were investigating the case were preposterous and were based largely on guilt by association. In both New York and Florida, I socialized with various disreputable characters at my nightclubs, many of whom may have been involved in various illegal activities, but I was not involved in their activities. Several federal agencies, including the IRS, the FBI, and the DEA, thought differently. In the collective eyes of these agencies, I was a typical nightclub owner, a fantasy role created by agents who watched too many Hollywood movies.
Federal agents regularly patronized my nightclubs following the characters who were under surveillance. This was very good for business. Even agents had to pay the cover charges as well as pay for their drinks. Whenever I was observed sitting at a table in one of my clubs with suspected characters, I would be presumed to be involved in their illegal activities. In reality, my nightclub businesses were managed like banks, and I kept meticulous business records. I believed there was no reason to compromise my legitimate business activities. Certainly I would have relished the adrenaline rush of being involved in dangerous pursuits, but I didn't want to jeopardize what I already had.
Unfortunately, one of my business associates in the late 1970s had made the mistake of talking to members of a Mafia organized crime family about investing in a large nightclub that we intended to open in Times Square. This guilt by association triggered a federal focus on my business interests that was still ongoing in 1984.
After a series of threats and intimidation from this crime family, we walked away from the Times Square deal with a considerable loss of money. It was the first time I had ever lost in a business deal. Adding insult to injury, my associate and I developed the reputation, as a result of rumors and speculation, of being mobbed-up, meaning that we were owned or controlled by the Mafia. I never forgave this business associate and blamed him for our losses and for courting a relationship with Mafia wiseguys in the first place. Although this incident had taken place five years earlier, I continued to have resentments toward this business associate.
As I sat talking and drinking champagne with my friends Bill and Mary Lou at their home, those old resentments started to surface again because of an incident that had happened early that morning. The same business associate had been arrested for possession of a substantial amount of cocaine.
It didn't bother me that he had the cocaine; it bothered me that he got caught with it. Cocaine was a very important part of the nightclub scene; cocaine and champagne went together. Almost everyone I knew from the Hamptons to Manhattan to Palm Beach used cocaine, regardless of their profession or occupation. They were all part of an elite and wealthy nightclub sub-culture.
It didn't help matters that Bill and Mary Lou were openly expressing their concern that the arrest of this business associate could have enormous repercussions on my business interests. None of my business associates had ever been arrested before, and the nature of these charges was certain to have an impact with the current federal investigation. As I sat listening to my friends' concerns, I was already projecting a number of unfortunate scenarios as a result of this arrest. Although I tried to maintain my composure, years of resentment were seething inside me.
My friends and I decided to go to dinner at a restaurant across the street from Club Marakesh before going to the club. As we drove the several miles from Remsenburg to the village, I had time to reflect on the situation, and the more I thought about it, the angrier I became. Although I had had a bad temper as a kid, I had learned to control it over the years. I tried to relax as we drove back to the village, but I felt strong surges of adrenaline pumping into my system. These surges of adrenaline were stronger than I had ever felt before, but the adrenaline rush was certainly not warranted, despite the rage I was feeling. Perhaps I was being prepared for the worst possible scenario.
Holiday weekends in the Hamptons meant even less sleep than usual, and I had been running in overdrive physically for three days and nights. As I continued to feel more uneasy, I recognized that I was operating on a lot of nervous energy. When I allowed myself to get this stressed out, I would usually burn out and crash for a day or so. But it was evening—Show Time—and another opening night at Marakesh. Despite my inner turmoil, I thought I would get through the night at the club and try to get some serious sleep in the morning.
As we drove onto Main Street in the village, I became more energized and felt more in control of myself when I saw how crowded the village was. The village's Main Street consisted of three short blocks of restaurants, boutiques, art galleries, ice cream stores, and real estate offices. The Club Marakesh building was, by far, the most prominent building on the street. The charming tree-lined street was jam-packed with holiday traffic, and throngs of people were crowding the sidewalks, guaranteeing yet another busy night at Marakesh.
I agreed to meet my friends at the restaurant after doing a walk-through tour of Marakesh and checking up on the employees who were preparing the club for opening. I thought that the business associate, who had already been released on bail, would have enough sense to lie low for a couple of days after his arrest. Knowing that I would not have to deal with him personally, I started feeling even better as I approached the club.
Several of the club's security personnel were setting up the stanchions and velvet ropes on the sidewalk in preparation for the night's crowd. I walked into the front lobby and climbed the stairwell that led to the private VIP lounge that overlooked the main level and dance floor of the club. From my vantage point in the VIP room, I could look out over the rest of the club and decide how the staff was performing. Although the VIP room was relatively dark and quiet, I sensed that someone else was in the room. It was the business associate who was the focus of my rage. He began shouting as he walked toward me with a drink in one hand, while pointing a finger at me with the other. I didn't even listen to what he was saying. I just exploded; I leapt at him with a volley of fists, knocking him backwards. As he stumbled and fell, I lunged at him with both hands in a death-like grip around his neck. My instincts, fueled by rage, were murderous. As he grasped for breath, I squeezed harder, recognizing that I could easily resolve this business association by pressing my thumb further into the vulnerable spot at the center of his throat. As I seriously contemplated actually murdering him, something happened inside me that I didn't expect. I couldn't force my thumb to sink further into his neck to cause more severe or even fatal damage.
As I recognized that some invisible force was holding me back, I realized that some other, evil force had overwhelmed me only moments before to the point that I was actually contemplating murdering someone and, in a moment of madness, had assumed that the murder would somehow be justified. For someone who took pride in maintaining control and being patient, my explosive reaction in this situation was as much a surprise to me as it was to the employees who overheard the commotion.
At that moment, when my uncontrolled and violent attempt to commit murder was abated by an inner voice, another force in the form of a security guard grabbed me in a body-hold from behind and pulled me away from the object of my rage. I was as startled by the inner voice that had stopped me from committing murder as I was by the security guard's intervention. For several seconds, as I was being pulled back from my intended prey, I realized that only a few seconds and an unforeseen force had kept me from committing murder and possibly spending the rest of my life in prison.
The security guard, probably as startled by his own response as he was to the unreality of the situation, persuaded me to go back downstairs. As I stumbled down the stairs to the front lobby, I concentrated on calming myself. I was gasping for air and trying to control my breathing. I soon realized that my lungs were hyperventilating out of control. My chest seemed to be expanding and contracting more and more rapidly, but with each expansion and contraction, less oxygen was reaching my lungs. I could hear my heart pounding heavily in my chest.
As I walked out of the front lobby onto the sidewalk, I passed the security guards and employees at the entrance who were unaware of the explosive incident that had just taken place in the VIP room. I was walking alone now, still trying desperately to catch my breath as I stumbled into an alleyway. I spotted my friend Bill and suddenly realized that something was seriously wrong. Alarms were going off inside my head, but just as suddenly I felt surrounded by a warm and secure feeling, despite the fact that I felt that I was no longer in control of what was physically happening to me. For the first time in many years, I shot a glance up into the dark sky above me as if I was reaching to heaven to come to my aid. The warm and secure feeling that I was experiencing must have been coming from someplace other than from inside because what was going on physically within my body was creating terror and trauma in my mind.
As Bill met me, I tried to tell him I needed help, but it was too late. Although my uncontrolled hyperventilating had ceased, so did my breathing. Time and space stood still. My sense of hearing turned inward, and I was listening for sounds from my now-silent lungs, which seemed to have collapsed. Just seconds ago my heart had been pounding loudly and now, suddenly, the pounding stopped. For a long pregnant moment, everything before me stood still. I was dying and I knew it. In a split second, I thought: This is it! This is how it all ends! Suddenly, I felt what seemed like an electrical explosion in my head, and my body collapsed to the sidewalk.CHAPTER 2
July 2, 1984, 10:20 P.M.
As my lifeless body hit the sidewalk, I consciously continued to fall without my physical body. It felt as if I had fallen through the sidewalk, or that the sidewalk had opened up below me, and I was consciously falling into an abandoned well without my body. I was looking up toward a beam of light that I perceived to be the hole in the sidewalk. As I continued to fall more and more rapidly, the beam of light became smaller and smaller until it was only a pin dot. Like a distant star, it diminished, and then it was gone as I continued to fall into total blackness.
It was like falling down an elevator shaft or into a cavern, but it was totally dark. As I continued to fall, I realized that it was not my physical body that was falling into this black void. I was fully conscious and mentally alert. I recognized that I was actually in a state of consciousness, devoid of any physical reality or form. It was not me in a physical body or in any form of physical state that was falling; it was me as a conscious being. It did not upset me that I no longer had a physical form or that I was out of my body, but I was upset, even terrorized, by the condition of my falling.
Then my descent began to decelerate, and I found myself slowing down and then floating, suspended in a black, bottomless pit, in a dark and heavy void. I was alone, without physical form, in darkness, suspended in complete and dark nothingness. Despite being fully awake and alert, I had no way of groping in the darkness since I had no physical form. I was trapped in a conscious state with no ability to extricate myself from this darkness. If I had my body, I could possibly feel the bottom of this pit with my arms and legs, or maybe crawl to a side wall and pull myself back up. But to where? From where? In what form?
Excerpted from FAST LANE to HEAVEN by NED DOUGHERTY. Copyright © 2001 Ned Dougherty. Excerpted by permission of Hampton Roads Publishing Company, Inc..
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