"What's it going to be then, eh?" That's how the book opens, and you'll find this question dispersed throughout; it will even close with it, coming full circle. The significance, you ask? Well, we like to think of it as a "marker" of some significance. See if you can figure it out before we tell you.
Our narrator and protagonist, Alex, along with his "droogs" (that would be "friends"), Pete, Georgie, and Dim, are sitting in the Korova Milkbar contemplating what trouble to get into on this particularly dark and chilly winter evening.
Alex and his entourage are drinking "milk-plus," which means milk laced with some type of hallucinogen or other drug. Alex describes the milk-plus experience as one that either gives you a nice fireworks-in-the-sky kind of buzz, or a lot of courage and strength.
The entourage has a lot of "deng," or money, so there's no real need to get "ultra-violent" with an old guy or gal in the alley for the dough. After all, as they say, money isn't everything.
Alex describes his entourage as dressed in the "heighth of fashion," which, at the time, means a pair of black tights, a big belt, a cropped jacket without lapels but with big, built-up shoulders, a hat, and great boots for kicking.
Alex observes three girls at the bar also dressed in the "heighth of fashion," what with expensive colorful wigs on, makeup to match, and long black dresses with badges displaying the names of men they've had sex with before they turned fourteen attached. That's right, you heard him, age fourteen.
The man sitting next to Alex is quite drunk and talking gibberish about Aristotle. Not amused at all, Alex finds it rather cowardly that this grown dude next to him could get so wasted.
The milk-plus starts to kick in for our boys. How do we know? Well, when you start to hear voices moving from one part of the bar to another, "flying up to the ceiling and then swooping down again and whizzing from wall to wall," and when you "feel the knives in the old moloko starting to prick," you just know.
"Out out out out!" Alex shouts, and the entourage leaves the bar for Marghanita Boulevard.
They turn down Boothby Avenue, looking for trouble.
AHA! The first victim of the night has been identified as an old, bespectacled, schoolmaster type guy who is hurrying down the street from the public library, with books tucked under one arm and a crappy umbrella hanging on the other.
Alex approaches him, calling him "brother," but otherwise speaking in proper English instead of the nadsat we've been exposed to since the second line of the book.
Pete confiscates the old man's books and passes them around: Elementary Crystallography, The Miracle of the Snowflake, and The Rhombohedral System. Flipping through one of them, Alex insinuates that it's a book of pornography, and teases the man about it.
The man tries to grab his books back with futility.
Alex decides that the gesture warrants teaching him a little lesson.
The boys hold the man back, and each takes a turn beating him about the head. They then rip off his glasses, tear out his false teeth, and kick him about until "out comes the blood… real beautiful." They strip him of his clothes. A final kick in the stomach, and they let the man stagger off.
The boys now go through his trousers for money, also finding a few old handwritten letters.
The boys are off to the Duke of New York bar on Amis Avenue to spend what money they have robbed the from the old teacher.
They come upon three or four old ladies at the bar – really drunk – and buy them drinks and snacks in exchange for an alibi. The "baboochkas" seem very happy about the exchange.
The boys leave the bar for this cigs and sweets shop on the corner of Attlee Avenue. Apparently, this shop was a regular "job" for these boys, and the fact that it's been left alone for three months now means that some money is due.
The boys put on their high-quality, life-like masks, each one the face of a historical personality: Alex has Disraeli, Pete has Elvis Presley, Georgie has Henry VIII, and Dim wears P. B. Shelley, the poet.
Barging inside the store, the boys go for Slouse, the shopkeeper, before he has time to ring the police or grab his gun. Alex beats up Mother Slouse, the wife of the shopkeeper, kicking her, ripping her clothes, staring at her naked breasts, even contemplating sex until resolving that this is for later on in the evening.
The boys clean the register, grab a few packs of the very best cigarettes (they call them "cancers"), and jet back to the Duke of New York in less than ten minutes altogether.
The boys buy the alibi ladies more drinks.
Half an hour passes before the police come to question the patrons of the bar for potential information. Apparently, the Slouses have needed hospitalization.
The boys sneer at the police, all the while the ladies provide them with their purchased alibi.