Nightingales

Neil Leadbeater

“Nightingales” was in one of those mean streets where everything is bland during the daytime but hots up after dark. That’s when the flashing lights come into their own, the fluorescent strip above the door, the strobe effect inside. It is where the young like to be among their trendy friends.

When asked, neither Mr Rocking nor Mr Rolling could remember how they had happened to hit upon the name except to say that they liked the idea of something slightly secretive. A nightingale was not, after all, open in all its habits. It hid itself in clumps of foliage even when full-throated, seductive in its song.

At first there was a rumble of opposition but when the local residents realised that it was another way of keeping the youth off the streets – that is, until the club closing time – they caved in and acquiesced in the hope of a quiet life. For some it was, after all, the most exciting place to be on a Saturday night in an industrial town that had long since gone to seed. This was especially so if you were over 18 and under 25 and tired of looking at rain.

The DJ’s spun all the latest discs for the chicks to strut their pride. Most of the time it was innocent enough; just a welcome relief to work off stress form the boredom of daily life. Mr Steady made sure of that. He had a knack of counting the drinks so that all the lads and all the lassies kept on the right side of being sober and went home without a fuss. It was, after all, in his interests to do so. He didn’t want Rocking and Rolling to lose their license. The pair of them were two sides of an equilibrium that kept the show on the road. They looked after each other’s backs.

Things took a turn for the worse though when Mr Steady left. Mr Reeling took over and he had other ideas. He thought that the place had lost its edge. Numbers were tailing off. The club had gained an aura of respectability. The bottom line was that it no longer had the pulling power that was once admired by the young.

It was time to turn up the volume, to let the lads loose at the bar and entice the girls to show a bit more beneath their skimpy dress. Rocking and Rolling were not too sure about this but they needed the money and, in order to get it, they had to move with the times. Whenever they were faced with an incident they tried to contain it inside. This was what Mr Steady would have done. The last thing they wanted was the noise of the law outside.

Reeling thought otherwise. To him, publicity of any kind would give the club an edge. In his book, a bit of notoriety could be a good thing, He welcomed the police with open arms and spoke to them with great civility. He was, he said, “on their side” and treated them with respect.

Rocking and Rolling were out of their depth. Reeling had taken over. He was too powerful for them, too manipulative by half. They only wanted a good time but he wanted the big adventure. He liked to ride on the pillion.

Rocking and Rolling sat on the fence while Reeling shook it from side to side. His downfall was that he never thought the time would come when he would one day tip the scales.

About a year later it happened. It was what every club owner feared. Two lads broke into an argument over a girl. Before long, fists and tankards began to fly. Rocking and Rolling couldn’t pull them apart. Girls started screaming and there was a general rush for the door. One of the lads hit the other so hard his head struck the bar and he fell concussed to the floor. There was broken glass everywhere. The police waded in to the maelstrom like Napoleon at Waterloo. This was no covert operation. It was not as if they had been watching the place for weeks on end. They just got a tip-off and blew the lights out seconds after the event.

This time the publicity was really bad. Nightingales was on the front page of the local. Inch-thick capitals spelt it all out. The premises were sealed off and the police were swarming everywhere. Reeling had let in the unacceptable. All year he’d been opening the door that little bit wider and now it had entered and taken possession and he was, for once in his life, powerless to do anything about it. Mr Steady would never have let things get to this. Mr Steady was a man of tradition. At the back of his mind he had known all along that every time a nightingale sings she does so with her soft breast pressed against a thorn.

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