Brighton Pier is an area of unrivalled artificial beauty by night. From down here the Ferris Wheel looks as though it could take you to the moon; the waltzer, lurid with bright lights and blurry faces, inflicts a pleasant vertigo. The little huts that sell doughnuts and slushies, the street entertainers, nodding gratefully every now and then at a coin tossed into their hat. There are some regulars of course; families, bored teenagers, people like you; but although the majority of the people change and move on, the foundations never do.
You take a deep breath, filling your lungs with air polluted by candy floss and hot dogs. It’s a smell you’ll never get tired of; it lulls you, soothes. Conjures the euphoria of childhood trips to the seaside, stowed away somewhere in many memories. Yours were slightly different to most; a bus, from Chichester, alone, usually, a three hour trip there, even longer back. Go early, leave early, that was the routine. But it was cheaper than the train. You had to be back before the sun went down, which was harder in the winter. But any time you got to spend on the pier was enough.
It’s raining tonight, though not in buckets. It’s that drizzly, cowardly sort of rain, as if the clouds couldn’t really be bothered. You don’t let it spoil your enjoyment; nothing ever does. You’ve been everywhere the last few years, settling in almost every big town in the country. Nowhere could ever keep you like this place can. You always come back.
Nearby the posh guy has been sticking out like a sore thumb in an expensive suit all evening. He’s still hovering near you, the type who legally lives in a semi-detached house, but technically his office. He’s the face of a nuclear family, complete with a sour wife, two or three boring little brats and a fat, smelly dog. He knows your type. Can sniff you out from a mile off the way you can him. Frankly he repulses you, with his beady eyes, pot belly, thinning hair and halitosis. Well, you aren’t sure about the last one. But there’s a 90% chance.
The greasy chips you consumed an hour ago, the best on the pier, feel more than ready to come straight back up. But you need a bed for the night and business prospects are not looking good this evening. As far as you can see, he is the only one around. He perches on the bench beside you, with a flicker of his lip meant as a polite smile. Nervous, you can tell. You lean back. Waiting. You know you’ve got him, but it could be half an hour before he musters the courage to ask…
He surprises you.