‘HOLD IT THERE GENTS!’ A huge hand reached from out of nowhere and stopped the first of the five young men from entering the theatre. The boy stopped, mostly because the power in the hand that halted him was probably greater than the power that he had in his whole body to continue.
He looked up at the large man who owned the hand. He was dressed in a full, black three-piece suit, complete with white shirt and black tie. His thick neck and face were covered in a dark beard that had more than its fair share of grey flecks hiding in it.
‘I hope we’re not going to have any trouble tonight,’ he continued in a thick accent that was more than just a little baritone.
The young lad turned back towards his four companions, and raised his eyebrows mockingly, before smiling a, less than sincere smile, up towards the doorman.
‘Us?’ He asked, feigning hurt at the implication. ‘Not from us, sir, we’re just here to partake in the festivities and the convivial atmosphere that your fair city offers. We’re on a rare night off from protecting His Majesty’s seas from invasions and pirates.’
The doorman narrowed his eyes suspiciously; he had only understood probably every other word of what the boy had just said. This was not just because he was a little bit dim and had trouble understanding the longer words, but also because the lad’s accent was strange. These boys were not from anywhere in Liverpool that he knew about.
‘So, where’re you boys from then?’ He asked, eyeing up the uniforms that they were all wearing.
‘From the HMS Belfast. She’s in port for a few nights. We’re just here sampling the famed Liverpudlian night life and hospitality,’ one of the others, a taller boy who was stood behind the first sailor piped up.
‘Oh yeah? Well, just to let you know, we’ll be keeping an eye on you in there, so no funny business… you got that?’
The first lad nodded, smiling a sly smile to his mates behind him. ‘No funny business? We’ve got that, right lads?’
All four of the others nodded their agreement; each of them smiling a similar smile - the kind that dripped with mischief.
‘Well, OK then, but only because you’re servicemen and you probably saw some action in the war. You can go in.’ He pointed at each of them individually; the point had an implied threat attached to it. ‘But heed my words gents, no messing about. OK?’
All five of the lads snapped to attention and saluted the big man.
‘Ron, I’m letting these five lads in because they’ve been on His Majesty’s service. Although to look at them, they don’t look too far out of short trousers.’ He began to laugh at his own little joke and the ‘huk-huk’ sound that emitted from him made him sound nearly as dim as he looked.
The five sailors were ushered through, much to the annoyance of the punters who were still waiting in line, into the grand foyer of the theatre. Inside, there were two small staircases; one was leading left and the other right. In the centre stood a small glass booth, and inside that booth sat a woman. She looked old, yet, in a certain light, she could also look terribly ancient. The woman didn’t like to smile much; it was her job to demanded the entrance money from the partygoers, stamp their hands with ink they would be trying to get off for a week, before ushering them in with a wave of her hand. She didn’t believe in trying to be nice to them. Patricia had been with The Rialto for years, and was almost part of the furniture.
‘These three are gratis, Pat.’ Ron said as he led the five lads passed the booth and towards the left-hand staircase.
‘How come?’ Pat asked with a scowl, a deeper one than she normally had.
‘Seamus outside said so.’
Patricia turned her scowled on them and the five sailors all shied away from her. Her face was nasty looking when she was happy, but when she scowled she was almost bad enough to scare a ghost. ‘Just because they’re wearing sailor’s uniforms, doesn’t necessarily mean they’re sailors.’ She rolled her eyes and sighed. ‘Oh, go on then… let them through. I’ll let Red deal with Seamus later.’
Michael led the five lads up the left-hand staircase. They all followed him like ducklings following their mother, all on their very best behaviour.
Michael stopped before he got to the small door at the top of the staircase, the one that led into the main ballroom. All five of the sailors stopped behind him, almost banging into each other in their eagerness to get inside. He put one hand on the small door and turned to face them. His features were stern and the boys instinctively knew that, although this doorman was dim, he was a whole lot brighter than the one outside who had let them in. ‘Now listen to me and listen good,’ the deep rumble of his thick Irish brogue working to full effect on each of them. They all fell silent and looked at him as if he was about to say something spectacular. ‘We won’t be dealing with any trouble here tonight will we lads?’ He paused expecting an answer. When none was forthcoming, he continued. ‘This place is a respectable theatre and we don’t want any scallywags coming in and ruining it. We don’t sell gin, we don’t sell beer, and we don’t sit lightly with drugs either. So, play nice and play safe, eh boys?’
The five young sailors all nodded, their eyes open wide in anticipation of entering the club.
‘Good, then all that’s left is to wish you boys a great night. In you go fellas, and remember… behave!’
He pushed upon the door, and as it opened the heat, the noise and the smell from the room beyond hit them all full in the face.