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Beside the Seaside

By Tom Harrop

Jack Fountain gazed at the black violence of the sea from the cold comfort of Brighton’s pier. Heavy rain swept over the wooden peninsula as it creaked from the force of the water below. Jack dragged deeply on his cigarette. He sighed as the rain ran down his head and neck, permeating his collar.

‘Not long now,’ he thought to himself.

Stafford wandered across the salt blasted slats of the walkway to join Jack. His eyes painted the picture of melancholy on his face. As his Doc Martens thudded to a halt besides Jack’s, their eyes met.

‘Are you ready?’ said Jack.

‘Always have been... always will be,’ Stafford barked.

‘Then let’s go to work,’ Jack exhaled, casting his cigarette into the waves.

Climbing aboard his scooter, Jack gestured towards a group of Skinheads waiting for his signal on the beach below. Whilst they scuttled across the pebbles, he gripped the handles of his bike and squeezed, looking upwards into the grey abyss above him. Brighton’s seafront hadn’t ever seemed so alien and uninviting until now. When the Mods and Rockers had their little clash in ’64, the streets were alive and wild. Now those lonely lanes, having seen so much, wept for times to change. Back in those days it was about the glory of a scrape – just a few drunken fools giving one another a good kicking. Nothing more would come of it. Nowadays you couldn’t look a person in the eye twice without taking a blade in the back out of spite.

Stafford started his moped and wheeled over to Jack.

‘Shall we?’ he grinned through glistening golden teeth, which, juxtaposed with his teardrop tattoos, embellished a maniacal composure that Jack thought better not to dwell on. Had he pushed this man too far? Despite his gut screaming this grim reality to him, Jack twisted the cold metal ignition and pushed on.

The roaring of a hundred Vespas filled the silence that icy wind left behind. Shaven heads and a converged blur of plaid shirts and Levi’s spattered across the seafront. As the army of engines plagued the roads of Brighton, Jack, at the forefront, felt a distorted sense of pride. He knew their cause was doomed. He knew his days were numbered. Nothing in his miserable existence had provided him with any emotion above remote excitement, yet to be leading these impressionable young men into battle filled him with awe and wonder.

The boys were to meet Limbo’s posse down by Shoreham. It meant their dispute could be settled without the interruption of higher powers. Police presence had only been more prevalent since the violence of the sixties, and the last thing both parties needed was that kind of attention. The past few weeks had dragged the two outfits into a desperately relentless power struggle - a collage of violence and paranoia. The police were well aware of this heightened tension and were naturally eager to quell the situation before it spiralled out of control. The irony in all of this was that in order to extinguish the violence, the police had to exercise it. Jack was fully aware of the scenario laid before him. If he was caught publicly brawling again, he would be looking at a stint inside. But that wasn’t what concerned him. He was a well known face, and the police were only too eager to make an example out of him. Even if he survived long enough to see trial, he knew he wouldn’t be walking up those marble steps to the courtroom. He’d be getting wheeled up them.

As the squad of scooters came to a skidding halt on the soaking tarmac, Jack dismounted. Squinting into the horizon through the horrendous downpour he could see a large group of Skinheads assembled on the beach. He paused, recoiling slightly. What cut away at him was to see that, from a distance, Limbo’s crew looked exactly like his own. Skinhead on Skinhead violence seemed so pointlessly irrelevant compared to the prior years of bifurcation in gang culture. It highlighted only one thing. There were no real victors – no champions in these trivial feuds.

And yet, he would always go back to it. He was far too deep to paddle out of the world he’d created for himself. Brighton’s streets were cruel. But they were also fair. If he wanted out, he’d have to earn his freedom. That or he would have to live forever looking over his shoulder.

He lit another cigarette and inhaled heavily, filling himself with the hot fumes.

‘Time to shine,’ He thought.


This page was amended on 09/04/2014
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