It's 1:30 a.m., one week after the vicious murder of South Beach bouncer John Williams, who was stabbed in the heart and died outside Mansion nightclub while trying to break up a knife fight.
The club's main floor is packed with the usual throng of scantily clad young females toting Gucci bags, and deep-pocketed young men dancing to the sounds of DJ Irie, the official DJ of the Miami Heat. The display of hedonistic bliss makes it difficult to believe that a few hundred yards away, a 31-year-old newlywed lost his life a week before.
Perhaps it's because of the absence of those most directly affected by the deadly fight like Santi Sanz, a 27-year-old Miami Beach resident that the party rages on. Sanz and his friends Marco Gomez and Edwin Eshesimua left Mansion early on May 13 and became entangled in a brawl with some angry strangers over a fender bender. Sanz escaped unscathed, but his friends sustained injuries. He witnessed the fight and the death firsthand. "I went back once since that night, for about an hour. I got this sick feeling in my stomach and I had to leave," he says.
Bouncer John Williams stabbed outside Mansion
Tonight there's a muggy thickness to the crowd. After I enter the less claustrophobic VIP room directly across from the main doors, I feel a tug on my sleeve from behind. A short, chubby young woman, whose generous boobs are all but popping out of a tight haltertop, is trying to coax me into joining her atop the small table where she's nearly bouncing her portly little frame out of her clothes.
Being five feet eleven without my three-inch heels, I imagine this dancing duet can only end in disaster, but I indulge her request. We fall into an unlikely grinding session for less than a minute, until a male passerby's arm inadvertently throws my little friend off balance and she clumsily falls to the ground.
As she regains her footing, a thuggish beat pumping from the speakers brings to mind some of Sanz's comments about the murder. "You're all hyped up, you're drunk as shit, people are completely blasted out of their minds. It just makes you think of whose ass you're going to kick. Some coward pulls out a knife, and somebody dies and people act all surprised."
Surprise is what I feel when, back at the party, my fully recovered friend grins and grabs me by the waist. Soon I'm sandwiched by her and a brunet with long wavy hair and a wide-eyed, innocent expression. They tell me they are from Newark but aren't really interested in conversation.
Then a pale, skinny, short guy with dark hair and square glasses tries to squeeze in on the action. His eagerness is embarrassing, and I shoo him away and go on dancing with the girls, my tipsy new friend wedged in front of me, her amiga behind. We continue for a few minutes, until I improvise a coy whip-around and find that the shrimp with the specs has sneakily switched places with the brunet. He gives a look that says, "Yes, it was a desperate move, and I know that," and I slap him, scolding, "You tricked me!"
I escape to an empty spot behind a cushy couch near the bar. Michael Asher Ailey, a well-spoken medical student on vacation from New York, approaches. "What were they doing to you?" he jokes, gesturing to the crazy New Jerseyites.
He hands me a vodka-and-club-soda, and the conversation turns to the triple stabbing. He knows nothing of it.
The staff of Mansion had actually planned to have the club dark on Saturday, but instead, intuiting Williams's wishes and with a benefit to the bereaved in mind, opened its doors.
"Despite John's tragic death taking place after John's shift on his way home and off Mansion property, the owners met with John's family Saturday morning and offered to either close the venue that evening in John's memory, or to open the venue and donate the proceeds to John's family to assist in paying for their immediate needs," relates Vanessa Menkes, vice president of communications for the Opium Group, which owns and operates Opium Garden, Privé, and Mansion.
"John's family selected the latter, and many of Mansion's loyal customers turned out en masse to support the Williams family during this difficult time," Menkes continues. "Mansion's owners paid for John's wake, funeral, burial, and reception in full, as we considered him a beloved member of our family."
Before the club opened on May 24, Mansion's employees and the Williams family gathered for a candlelight memorial.
And not all clubgoers were oblivious to the tragedy that had taken place a week earlier.
"My name is Jared Thompson III," says a tall black man who appears to be waiting for a friend to return from the baño. "I'm here tonight mostly to show my respect for a close friend of mine, John Williams, and his family."
But going out to a party at the same spot Williams was murdered in order to show respect?
"No matter what, this place will always carry his spirit. I'm here to visit his spirit," he continues. "He worked here for about ten years, even before it was Mansion back when it was called Level. He was always trying to keep people safe. That's what he was doing when those five idiots broke out in a fight."
Thompson is also here to network. He is launching a record label, he explains, so artists from South Florida won't have to turn to cities like New York and L.A. to try to get a deal. "The problem is there's too much competition between us all now. We need less madness. We need to be working in one another's corner. We have to stop hating one another and start helping," he explains.
It is unclear whether he's still talking about record deals or if his thoughts might have drifted back to the death of his friend.
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
Sanz is definitely talking about the bouncer when he says, "There is no logic to it. He was breaking up the fight, and he wasn't even on the job." He pauses. "If he hadn't been there, at least two or three of us would have ended up in his same position."
When I leave a half-hour later, this time out the front doors, the usual milieu of staggering, glassy-eyed party people lingers on the other side. I pause to scan the sidewalk. There's no chalk line on the pavement; no jarring heap of flowers, keepsakes, or construction-paper collages barely a trace of the bloodshed that took place here.
The South Florida show must, and will, go on.