A performer on Reality TV is fooling everyone until a woman makes a fool out of him. 3,972 words. Illustration by John Donald Carlucci.
Zoltan Zarkini stood just behind his assistant, Frieda Guenther, surrounded by thick burgundy curtains. Frieda leaned forward, her right eye against a peep hole peering out at the audience in the main showroom of Las Vegas’ newest luxury resort, The Black Crystal.
“Anyone interesting?” Zarkini casually asked.
“I see several women who might be good candidates,” Frieda said.
“Do any look like they have money?” he asked.
“Yes, one, a woman wearing a large diamond necklace and matching earrings. I’d say they’re worth at least thirty thousand dollars. Black sleeveless dress. Cleavage. Long auburn hair. In good shape. Age about forty. Quite striking.”
“Does she appear extroverted?”
“I can’t say. But something tells me she’ll make a worthy subject.”
Zarkini liked what he’d heard. “Let’s do her third, as usual.”
“What about the people from Bravo?”
“The three cameramen are filming the audience coming in. Mr. Newman is sitting in the front row. Mr. Decker is sitting next to him.”
Zarkini laughed harshly. Newman and Decker were executives at the Reality TV cable channel, here to film an upcoming episode of Bravo’s latest hit show Incredible People. Both were obviously very intelligent, but Zarkini knew they’d seemed skeptical of his powers.
Tonight, he thought, they’ll see my powers in person.
Zarkini began to walk away. Frieda hurried after him and took his hand. She was German but spoke perfect English, a thirty year old blue-eyed blonde in her stage costume, a revealing outfit that showed off her long legs and magnificent breasts. But it was Frieda’s intelligence that made her the perfect assistant to Zarkini, especially her ability to find suitable subjects from among the audience, time and time again. That woman Frieda had found, for instance. Even her husband looked the part. An elderly man, about seventy-five, elegantly dressed and very distinguished. The perfect well-to-do married couple.
Ten minutes later, the lights on stage dimmed. An announcer’s deep voice came over the PA system: “Ladies and gentlemen, now the moment you’ve all been waiting for. The Black Crystal is pleased to announce the greatest hypnotist in the world. The one and only — Zarkini!” The room exploded in thunderous applause. The curtains opened, a blue spotlight hit the stage and and smoke drifted over the entire room. Zarkini rose through the floor on a hydraulic lift as sparkling glitter fell from above and behind him.
Frieda made her entrance from stage left and ran to Zarkini’s side. Zarkini, dressed in a black tuxedo with tails, took Frieda’s hand, and both of them bowed to the audience. Zarkini looked directly at Newman and Decker and arched his right eyebrow in their direction. Zarkini wore a tiny wireless microphone affixed to his lapel. Frieda wore a similar mike attached to her outfit above her left breast, and she carried a hand-held wireless microphone.
“Good evening!” Zarkini’s voice boomed out into the room. “Thank you all for coming. We have a great show for you tonight.” He turned to Frieda. “And speaking of delights, this is my assistant, Frieda. As you know, I hypnotize people. That is my specialty. I can make you do anything I want. I can turn you into a raving lunatic. I can make you the happiest person in the world. I can put the power of subconscious suggestion into your mind and make you do things right here on this stage that you never thought possible. And I will!”
Zarkini paused, waiting for the audience’s applause to die down. He also checked to see that Bravo’s cameramen were filming his every move from three different angles. The executives, meanwhile, were stonefaced.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” he said, “tonight we have some special guests in our audience. Bravo TV is here to film me for their show, Incredible People. Mr. Newman and Mr. Decker, please stand up and take a bow.”
Zarkini gestured toward the front row. Newman and Decker stood up and waved as a spotlight hit them. They were loving the attention, just as Zarkini knew they would.
“So, my friends, don’t be alarmed as you see cameramen moving throughout the room. Who knows, you may see yourselves on national TV. And tonight, a few of you in the audience will be selected to come on stage and become part of the performance.”
Zarkini paused. “Are there any brave souls out there among you?”
The audience suddenly became quiet. Zarkini stood there in complete command, his eyes scanning the room. “I must forewarn you. Not everyone makes a good subject. We must look at you, talk to you, and you must agree to come forward and participate. Don’t be disappointed if you are not selected. The timid need not apply. Oh, and one more thing — I do not fake it. I do not use stooges. I rely strictly on my ability and my skill as a professional hypnotist. The people we bring on stage are real, selected from among the audience. Therefore, what you see on stage is legitimate.”
He looked at Newman and Decker, again arching his right eyebrow.
“So, Frieda, let the show begin! Shall we find our first subject?”
Frieda began walking among the tables and booths as Bravo’s cameramen chased after them. This part of the act was staged. Frieda already had found two suitable male subjects.
“I see someone,” she innocently announced. Frieda pointed to a man sitting with a woman and another couple.Frieda turned to the audience. “He’s very handsome,” she said, and everyone laughed. “Sir, please stand so we can all get a good look at you.”
He stood up and Frieda took his hand. He smiled proudly. He had the face of a comedian.
“Bring him up on stage,” Zarkini commanded, then took him behind the curtains to a small table where an employee of The Black Crystal sat out of sight of the audience. The young woman handed him a release. “This is simply a minor formality,” she explained. “It basically says you have agreed to be hypnotized. Still want to do it?”
“Yes,” the man said eagerly.
Frieda led him out to a large recliner that had magically appeared at center stage. As Jack sat down, soft music began to play in the background. Debussy’s Rêverie.
"Silence please, while I take him under,” Zarkini commanded. Zarkini’s microphone was on. “I want you to completely relax. Your eyelids are becoming heavy. So heavy, you must close them and keep them closed. That’s it.” Then Zarkini turned off his mike because the next part of his act was a secret. He spoke quietly to his subject using an advanced method of induction, talking to the man in a rhythmic cadence, his voice a musical instrument. In two minutes, the man was hypnotized.
Satisfied his subject was deeply under, Zarkini turned his mike back on. “You are a monkey. And monkeys like to climb. When you wake up, you will have no memory of being hypnotized. But when I say the words ice cream, you will walk over to the jungle gym and climb to the top, because that’s what monkeys do..”
The man nodded. There was no jungle gym on stage, but suddenly a curtain backdrop gave way to a shiny steel jungle gym nearly thirty feet high. "On the count of three, you will open your eyes and stand up. One. Two. Three!”
The man rose from the recliner. He appeared dazed.
“What do you remember?” asked Frieda.
“Nothing. What happened?” He seemed perplexed.
“Oh, not much," interjected Zarkini. "I just hypnotized you and made you take your clothes off!”
The man quickly looked down at himself.
“Just kidding,” Zarkini said. “I think you deserve some ice cream.”
The man spotted the jungle gym. He ran to it and began to climb. Within seconds he was at the top, hanging upside down from a bar.
"What are you doing up there," Zarkini asked.
The audience howled.
“Okay, come down now," Zarkini said soothingly. Then he snapped his fingers in the man’s direction. “You are fully awake.”
The man suddenly became alert. His session was over.
Their second subject was another man Frieda had spotted earlier. It took an extra two minutes for Zarkini to bring him into a deep state of relaxation, and another two minutes to hypnotize him while Debussy’s music played in the background.
“Bob, you are a great vocalist. You can sing just like Elvis. I’m going to quickly teach you a song. You will listen to this song through headphones. You will memorize the lyrics. When you wake up and I say Elvis, you will become Elvis and sing the song you learned.”
The second man nodded.
“On my command on the count of three, you will open your eyes and stand up. One. Two. Three!”
Under the harsh stage lights, the second man seemed bewildered.
“You are in Las Vegas, a place where legends have been made; a place where we once saw and heard the King himself… Elvis.”
The second man immediately threw his head down and assumed an Elvis stance. Jailhouse Rock began to play over the PA system, and the man gyrated his body, grabbed his crotch, made wild moves. The audience went crazy. And then he sang the lyrics into the mike.
Zarkini stood to one side, smiling knowingly, fully understanding the absolute power of hypnotic suggestion, witnessing it once again. When the song was over, the audience spontaneously rose almost as one and gave the second man a standing ovation.
Zarkini looked directly at him and snapped his fingers. “You are fully awake!” the hypnotist announced. “Frieda, we have time for one more subject. Let’s have a woman this time.”
Frieda wandered slowly around the room, eventually making her way to the auburn beauty in the black sleeveless evening dress.
“I think I have a likely subject,” she said. But the woman was shaking her head no. Frieda ignored her protestation. “May I have your first name?”
“Claudette,” the woman barely whispered.
“And are you staying here at The Black Crystal?”
“Yes,” she said weakly.
Zarkini interrupted. “Have you ever been hypnotized?” he asked, his voice carrying over the PA system.
“No, never,” she replied. “I can’t!” She cupped her hands over her mouth. Zarkini gestured for her to come forward.
“Of course you can. Frieda, ask her to come up on stage.”
Zarkini took the woman by the arm. “So, you say you can’t be hypnotized. Well, we’ll see about that,” he said, turning toward the audience and smiling conspiratorially.
Frieda and Zarkini made direct eye contact, holding the connection for just a few seconds. They both realized that Claudette was holding something back. Zarkini chose to ignore it. He guided her to the recliner. When she was seated, he said into the mike, “I want you to relax. Completely relax. Your eyelids are so heavy, you must close them. Close your eyes, Claudette."
Then Zarkini turned off his mike, leaned forward and spoke quietly to Claudette, using his advanced method of induction. Debussy’s Rêverie played softly. In just half a minute, Claudette went into a deep trance. Surprised, Zarkini proceeded to take her even deeper. She was an easy subject, possibly the easiest ever.
Then he leaned close to her face and whispered into her right ear. with his mike still off, "You will not remember being hypnotized. At exactly eleven o’clock, you will go to the front lobby of the hotel. You will walk out into the street. A white limousine will be waiting for you. You will get into this limo alone. Without your husband. You will not tell anyone. Do you know what you must do?”
She nodded, almost imperceptibly.
“You will be driven to my estate. When you arrive there, I will be waiting for you. When I say the word drive, you will immediately fall into deep hypnosis. Remember, Claudette. Eleven o’clock. A white limousine will be waiting for you.”
She nodded, her eyes closed.
Zarkini stood over her, looking for any sign she might be faking. Satisfied she was really under, he turned his mike back on.
“Claudette, you will not remember being hypnotized. You are a dancer. You are the greatest dancer in the world. You can do Swan Lake. You can do the Mamba. You can do the Shake. You can Twist-n-Shout. You can do any dance. When I say the word baby and the music begins, you will dance to the music. On the count of three, you will open your eyes and stand up. One. Two. Three!”
Claudette opened her eyes, blinking. “What happened?” she asked.
“You did very well. You fell asleep. In fact, you slept like," Zarkini paused for full effect, "… a baby.”
In the background, Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake score began to play. Claudette stood up on her toes and began to twirl like a ballerina. The audience laughed. Then the music changed to a waltz. Zarkini stepped forward and took Claudette in his arms. They waltzed around the entire stage. The audience was spellbound. The music changed again, this time to ’60s rock, and Zarkini continued to dance with her, holding both her hands in his. It was obvious to all that Claudette was having the time of her life in Zarkini’s arms.
“Claudette,” he said, “that was fantastic. Let’s hear it for Claudette.” The audience rose to their feet, clapping hands and cheering. Claudette smiled out at them graciously. Frieda came over and put her arm around Claudette’s waist. Zarkini did the same, and the three of them bowed. It was a stellar performance.
Then Zarkini turned to Claudette and snapped his fingers. “You are fully awake,” he announced.
“Where am I?” Claudette asked.
“Thank you, Claudette. You were marvelous!”
Frieda led Claudette off stage, and Zarkini bid farewell to his audience with a dramatic exit into a cloud of smoke.
Employees of The Black Crystal quickly rounded up the two male subjects and Claudette so they could be interviewed by the Bravo team. But Claudette declined. She and her husband hurriedly left.
"Unbelievable,” Decker said to Newman after they had finished questioning the two men. “Zarkini really is incredible. This is going to be a great episode, maybe the best we’ve had all season.”
Newman shook his head. “I don’t know. There’s something about him that doesn’t feel right. Still, I have to admit it’ll make for great TV.”
Two hours later, Zarkini stood on the third floor balcony just off the library of his spacious home. It was a clear winter evening, and he could see the glow of the Las Vegas lights to the southeast. He pulled a cigar from his breast pocket and lit it, inhaling lightly. He was thinking about Claudette, the beauty he was soon going to have sex with. He smiled and smoked his cigar.
His stage name was Zoltan Zarkini, but what the world didn’t know was that his real name was Alan Parks and he was from New York, not Eastern Europe. If people knew about his background, his high flying career would be ruined. His father had been a notorious thief doing time in Sing Sing, his mother a high-priced Manhattan call girl. Parks was an only child who was left alone evening after evening to entertain himself with magic tricks, ventriloquism, and eventually hypnotism. He learned from his mother how to control others, to take risks and to make bold moves, even if it meant breaking the law. Take the world, she had told him, and bend it to your will. She lectured him about the ways of the world.
Claudette reminded him of his mother, who was a goddess. He’d worshipped her. Before she went out the door each night, she would hug him and kiss him on his lips, and he would become fully aroused. As soon as she left, he’d go to his room and fantasize about her. Throughout his teen years, he never dated, never even went out with a girl his own age. One morning, he came across a newspaper article about a school in Hungary that guaranteed it could turn out master hypnotists. He immediately told his mother he wanted to enroll. She agreed. He was only eighteen but six feet tall, with magnetic good looks, a strong chin and cobalt eyes. At their airport farewell, they hugged and his mother kissed him on the lips. He never saw her again.
After two years of intense study under the strict tutelage of Professor Viktor Blasko, he learned the art of hypnotism. He was Blasko’s prized student for induction techniques so advanced that only a few knew how to utilize them. When he graduated, he changed his identity and became Zoltan Zarkini. He stayed in Europe for eight years honing his skills and developing his act. One evening he hypnotized a woman he found particularly attractive and, when she was completely under, he impulsively suggested they meet later and make love. Not only was she eager to please him, but afterward she had no memory of the event. After this revelation, he made love to other women using the same technique. Occasionally he would steal jewels from the rich ones.
Eventually, he grew tired of touring Europe — especially after he heard rumors that Interpol had become interested in him. He moved back to America and chose Las Vegas where he knew he could earn a fortune with his hypnosis act. Within six months he was headlining at The Black Crystal.
Now, as he looked around the grounds of his estate, he could only marvel at the circumstances that had brought him here.
A white limousine pulled slowly into his circular driveway. His chauffeur and accomplice, Ronald, went to the rear of the limo and opened the door so he could lead Claudette into the house. Zarkini descended a wide spiral staircase to find Claudette standing in the foyer, Ronald at her side. The driver smiled and walked out.
“Well, my dear. I’m so glad you came. Would you like something to drink? Please, right this way,” he said, gesturing toward an adjoining room. He went to his bar for an expensive vintage bottle of wine and poured two glasses. Claudette took a modest sip. “Why don’t we sit over here?” he pointed to the sofa. “I’m so glad you’re here tonight. We’re going to fun, I’m sure.”
Claudette nervously sipped her wine. When her head started to fall back, he had to grab her glass before it spilled. He leaned toward her and whispered into her ear, his lips brushing against her cheek.
“You are in a deep trance,” he said. “You cannot move. You cannot open your eyes. You are relaxed. So relaxed.”
She nodded, her lips quivering slightly.
“Now listen carefully. You are my wife. I am your husband. You are madly in love with me. You can’t wait to go to bed with me. You want to tear off my clothes and make love to me. You will do anything I want you to do. We love to experiment in the bedroom. Afterwards, you will go back to your hotel. You will not remember being hypnotized. When I count to three you will open your eyes. One. Two. Three!”
Claudette opened her eyes. She looked at Zarkini, her eyes full of lust. “I want to make love to you,” she said. “Right now.”
He led her upstairs to the master bedroom. Zarkini went to his stereo system and turned on music. Once again, it was Debussy’s Rêverie. He set the volume and turned towards Claudette, only to find her approaching like a stalking tigress. She began grabbing at his shirt, then his zipper and belt, while frantically disrobing.
In a matter of a few seconds, both of them were naked. They embraced, and then began to make love while she moaned softly.
Zarkini, fully erect, thrust himself into her. She was an expert lover. For nearly half an hour they went at each other nonstop. Twice, they almost fell off the bed in a heap. After they both climaxed, he rolled over and they lay on their backs.
“Honey, I love you so much,” Claudette said, smiling contentedly, kissing his cheek.
“I love you, too,” Zarkini said. “My dear, I need to put your jewelry in the safe. I’ll be right back.” He picked up her diamond necklace and matching earrings and walked toward his closet.
Suddenly, she was by his side. “I want to watch,” she said. This caught him by surprise. But he went to his safe, hidden behind a secret compartment, and began to open it. “What’s the combination?” Claudette asked.
This, too, surprised him. She was his wife, after all. How could he not tell her? “Right three times to thirty-six, left three times to eighteen, right three times to four.”
“Thirty-six, eighteen, four,” she repeated.
The safe was filled with precious stones he had accumulated since beginning his Las Vegas act. He didn’t really need the money. He did it for the thrill. He put her jewelry inside and closed the door.
“Mind if I try it?” she asked. “I want to see if I can open it as easily as you.” She stepped forward and spun the dial. She opened the safe on the first try. Zarkini wondered if he should put her back under and make her forget the combination.
“Why don’t we get dressed and finish our drinks?” Claudette suggested.
They went back downstairs. Zarkini went to the bar to freshen her glass but didn’t see the quick move she made when she dropped a vial of liquid into his wine glass. He was already bored and anxious for her to leave. He took a long sip of wine. Then another.
“It’s been a wonderful evening,” Claudette said.
“And now you must be going,” he responded.
“Going? But I live here with you,” she replied. “We’re married.”
“Yes, but you must go back to the hotel."
“I live here with you,” she insisted. “I’m your wife.”
Zarkini frowned. This wasn’t going as planned, and he realized she’d have to be put under again. Somehow, he had lost control. He took another sip of wine, his final sip.
Without warning, he felt his heart race incontrollably and his vision blur. He realized, too late, that she had poisoned him. He tried to talk but his speech slurred. The lights in the room pulsated. His breathing was almost impossible.
“Why?” he gasped.
“For the insurance money.”
“Insurance money? What insurance money?” Zarkini sagged forward, nearly collapsing, trying to hold his head up.
“My love,” she said, “I brought you to Las Vegas to kill you. That was my plan all along."
“But I’m not your husband.” Zarkini barely got the words out before he grabbed for his heart and slumped to the floor.
“Of course you are! And your death makes husband number five," the black widow replied.
Claudette stood up and looked down at the body. She shrugged, then went back upstairs and opened the safe and filled her purse with the finest stones she could find. She went downstairs and out to the waiting limo. "Take me back to my hotel.”
“My pleasure, madam,” said Ronald.
When the limo door was closed, Claudette said to herself in a soft sweet voice, “The pleasure is all mine."
After the facts became known, Bravo expanded "The Hypnotist" episode into a special, The Black Widow Murder At The Black Crystal. Ratings were huge. A jury found Claudette not guilty, but the verdict was controversial. She and the female jury foreman and Frieda became the first cast members on Bravo’s The Real Housewives Of Las Vegas.