With the rain lashing out its fears and disappointments upon the ground below, a lone figure darts from door to door, with his coat pulled up over his head in a vain attempt to keep as dry as possible.
Eventually he arrives at the door he knows so well.
Deep in the heart of Brighton City, deep in the lanes which are so enjoyed by tourists and shoppers alike, resides the Crowley private members club.
Named after the notorious Aleister Crowley, an influential English occultist, astrologer, mystic and ceremonial magician, not to mention a bisexual, recreational drug experimenter and a social critic, whose motto in life was ’Do What Thou Wilt.’
The club is renowned to attract a certain type of person unique to Brighton society, a type of person who couldn’t care less for law and order, but everything for chaos and rebellion.
The lone figure pants out of breathe and shivers. He looks up at the sign above the door with a tinge of disappointment.
‘Arh you ‘R’, I hate yer,’ he thinks to himself.
“A far better role model for the community,” he’s argued more than once, “is to have our club named after Harry Cowley, a renowned Brightonian political activist who devoted his life to helping the poor and fighting fascism. Isn’t it better to remember a true hero rather than a man credited with being the wickedest man in the world?”
Many people agreed but the most vocal opposition came from Pete Moon, his best friend, and as a consequence the Crowley Club remains the Crowley Club.
An old hunch-backed Chinese woman owns the freehold, and whose name is on the publican licence. Legend says she won it from an English Gentleman over a game of poker in an opium den in Hong Kong during the 1960’s. She came to England on the back of it.
Her daughter runs the business side, she’s in every night to clear out the tills, a manageress called Victoria is employed to run the day to day affairs, but other than that the members are left to their own devices.
The front door is like any other front door to the world. The building’s windows are painted over with black paint. It looks like a private house on a street of shops. It’s sufficiently sounded proofed, to dampen the noise of the bands and performers which take to its stage. There’s nothing from its outward appearance to give the passer-by the impression of a popular private members club in full swing. On entering, the bar is on the left and chairs and couches are on the right. The right wall is covered with books, free to use by all members. Walking further in, alongside the bar, you come to a large open space where the entertainment is provided. Beyond the stage area are stairs down to the toilets and garden, upstairs to the office and further upstairs to a two bedroom flat, which coincidently, Victoria and Pete share.
With a rap on the door, a small box slides to the left. Someone peers through to take a look. Four bolts are heard being unlocked and within moments you’re inside.
“Hey Bingo, just in time, Scrabble’s up.”
Bingo also known as Leonardo Ashman, sometimes called Leon or Leo, but more often than not just Bingo, is a regular at the club. A popular member, he’s an important player in the political activist group which has based itself at the Crowley Club for the past decade.
With a trademark red beret on his head, and when it isn’t, rolled up and stuck in his trousers belt loops, black hair hidden underneath, standing at an average height of 5'9", average figure neither too fat nor too thin, wearing black jeans, a red tee-shirt with the logo ’Keep Calm and Carry On,’ red scarf, a collection of bangles on his wrist and Nike trainers, Bingo is as average as any other guy in Brighton you’ll hope to meet.
“Alright? Shit weather out there tonight, but it should clear up by morning,” Bingo said to the half a dozen people hanging around the bar.
Stacy’s behind the bar, the barmaid for the evening. At five-foot-tall she’s a Kylie Minogue look-alike, and the club’s sexy vixen. Even though her pop star body stays hidden under layer and layer of Oxfam leftovers, her cute and friendly face brings a smile to all who meet her.
Then there’s Pete, Dave, Richie, Toadstool and Larry.
Stacy, Dave and Richie have a scrabble bar in front of them and another reserved for Bingo.
It would be hard to imagine a game of Scrabble being played in the Crowley Club without Bingo. He loves the game with a passion and everyone knows it. He usually wins, but more often than not, he doesn’t. He isn’t a great user of long words, but comes to win the games with clever protection of the red squares and strategic use of double and triple letter scores.
A game between Bingo and Pete many years ago is still talked about with great fanfare and reverence. They were neck to neck with their scores. Pete had pulled away in the lead with a magnificent eight letter word using all his letters giving him 150 bonus points, but Bingo had slowly but surely levelled the score with his trade-mark triple and double scoring strategies. Pete’s magnificent eight letter word is all but forgotten, expect by Pete of-course, because it was a three letter word that Bingo put down that everyone remembers.
“No way,” Pete said shaking his head, “U.F.O is an abbreviation.”
“I beg to differ mate, ufo is a word, pronounced you-foe,” Bingo countered.
The Oxford Dictionary only inflamed the situation. Everyone was tired. As with many games, it starts off with four players and usually lasts for a couple of hours. But on this fateful night, it went on much longer.
“The dictionary says it’s a noun Pete,” someone says, only for Pete to reiterate, “it’s an abbreviation for fucks sake. U.F.O stands for unidentified flying object, you morons. It’s not allowed,” leaning over to flick the letters of the board.
Bingo slapped his hand away.
“If the dictionary says it’s a noun, then it’s a noun, OK. I’m having the score, leave them alone,” said Bingo with a glint in his eye saying he’s willing to go all the way.
Pete then changes the whole dynamics by slamming his fist on the bar, making all the letters jump from their positions and making everyone else jump too.
Pete, as the leader of Brighton’s SMASH HELL political activist group from its conception, way back when New Labour came to power, is a successful leader, as much as Tony Blair is a successful leader, for being a tolerate bloke.
A bloke who doesn’t get hot under the collar and who certainly doesn’t lose his rag in front of the troops.
So it was this display of aggression that made everyone stop what they were doing and pay extra special attention.
“Oh for fucks sake Pete. Calm down. It’s in the dictionary as a noun. You have no more tiles and with these points I win. So yes mate, I am having it OK,” said Bingo eye to eye.
You could hear the collective intake of breathe. An affront to Pete’s leadership. What Pete says goes and God help anyone who says otherwise, let alone his best friend. Reality drama at it’s very best, made all the better when Pete slaps Bingo full across the face.
Bingo reeled back in either pain, of more likely shook, because it wasn’t a punch, more like a very loud slap which left a blazing red mark on his cheek. It was more laughable than serious, but everyone waited to see Bingo’s response, and Bingo didn’t let them down.
He waited, one, two, three, four, five and then launched himself. With his hands clutching Pete’s throat, Bingo literally lifted him off the ground, slamming him onto the wooden floor on his back.
“UFO is a word,” said Bingo, face to face before letting go and running out of the club.
Everyone remained silent for the at least ten seconds as Pete stood up and dusted himself down.
They all wondered why he left so fast, but truth be told, Bingo was on the verge of crying and didn’t want anyone to see.
After-all he's a gentle soul, and fighting his best friend, and being slapped like a girl in full view, was too much for his gentle character to take.
Pete and Bingo never talk about the events of that night, but after a few drinks, and when there is nothing else to talk about, people would often bring the story up and laugh to their hearts delight over Bingo’s look on his face at getting slapped, and then Pete’s look on his face at getting slammed to the ground and being told “ufo is a word.”