Lazorchack, who called him “V,” worried about him. But the next day, the old sunny “V” was back, ordering his favorite — chicken Caesar salad — from the kitchen. “No worries,” he said. “Today is the beginning of the rest of my life.”
And now, two days later, at about 6:30 on this Saturday evening, Nov. 3, 2007, during a cigarette break on the back staircase that descended to the alley, Djordjevic was offering some advice to Lazorchack, to chill out and not get so stressed about work.
“I’m not going to kill myself for this job,” he said.
Back inside, the music was pounding. A favorite song at the time was “Gasolina,” by Daddy Yankee. Colored lights washed over the skin of the dancers gyrating on three stages. Men tossed $1 bill offerings that swirled and piled like leaves around the dancers’ patent leather platform soles and sparkly high heels, their only attire for most of a 15-minute set.
The club on Wisconsin Avenue NW in Glover Park is long and narrow, like a super-size railroad car. At a table near the back, a customer was getting boisterous. He was a stranger, not a regular, and he had been drinking since a little past 4 p.m.
Suddenly, around 7:45 p.m., Gabriella, the dancer on the adjacent stage, became wide-eyed and indignant. She grabbed the man’s cellphone when she thought she saw him taking pictures. The managers deleted a photo of a naked woman, then told the man to leave. On his way out, the man cursed and smashed a glass onto the floor.
Djordjevic had been working since morning, and now his shift was over. His wife of three months, Gloria Anez, parked out front a little before 8 p.m. Djordjevic got in the car — then saw something out the window that made him frantic. He rushed back into the club.
A waitress was presenting a Good Guys T-shirt to a customer celebrating his bachelor party with Marine Corps buddies, when two struggling figures burst into view. Djordjevic was grappling with a man clutching a red gas can in his right hand and a lighter in his left. Gas splashed as they clenched and spun.
The man sparked the lighter. Nothing. He sparked it again. And with a hollow roar, a ball of flame erupted from floor to ceiling. Dancers leapt from the stages, feeling the heat on their backs as they fled. The man with the gas can disappeared out the front. Rolling black smoke chased customers, waitresses and dancers into a stampede to the rear.
Djordjevic ran with them. His entire body was on fire except for his face. He made it to the dishwashing sink, where the kitchen staff doused him with water. Marines from the bachelor party put out the flames by the entrance with an extinguisher they got from Sushi-Ko, the restaurant next door.