Andrea woke up among a maze of packing crates and it took her a while to remember where she was. Then the dread set in. How could she have done something as stupid as this? Computer boffin James would stand no chance against Tony so Stevie would completely obliterate the poor man, and it was all her fault. James himself came walking through the front door with a carton of milk and a newspaper.
"Tea? Coffee?" He asked, headed for the kitchen.
"Yes. I mean thank you." Andrea trotted after him. "I shouldn't be here James. I have to go."
"It's fine. Your flat is an arsehole free zone. I just saw Collins getting on the bus. Who's turned his face over? He has two shiners and split nose." James put the kettle on.
"Er ... I think I hit him with the coffee table." Andrea scratched her ear and James snorted a laugh. "I hate all this crap. I shouldn't have come here. I'd better go fix my flat."
"Have your tea first." James handed her a cup. "Just move the guitar off the chair and sit down."
"I wish I could play guitar." Andrea carefully moved the instrument.
"Well I'm only learning. That was my brother's guitar." James told her.
"So he's teaching you?"
"No. He died five years ago."
"Oh shit." Andrea almost burst into tears. "I'm sorry. What a big mouth I have."
"No need to apologise. It was five years ago. So how long have you lived here?" James changed the subject and Andrea was grateful for it.
"Since I was seventeen. Four years. I think my mum pulled a few strings after my dad moved another woman in the house." Andrea smiled. "It's a bit rough but it's mine."
"I've only been here two weeks, as you can see." James nudged a crate with his foot. "I got a job in the library in town four weeks ago and spent two weeks in the vilest bedsit in the universe."
"The council must have thrown this flat at you and hailed you a hero. A Paying tenant! I don't think there are any more of those on the estate." Andrea said and James started to laugh. "I've been on the dole since I left school. How pathetic is that?"
"Over half the population of this area is on the dole, Andrea. I'm from here so I know there are no jobs. I got lucky."
"You're clever too." Andrea nodded towards a stack of books. "I'm as thick as a plank. I didn't get the exam grades to go to college and definitely not to take A Levels. Stevie has three GCSEs and he's still only lugging boxes about in the docks warehouses. Waste of time around here."
"It's never a waste of time. We're all entitled to try the best for ourselves. Don't let anyone stop you." James told her. "Especially not Tony or even Stevie. The Crew doesn't own you despite how it feels."
"You know about The Crew?" Andrea wasn't really surprised. Everyone had.
"Well I know of them, everyone does." James shrugged his shoulders. "Don't look so frantic, Andrea. You're worried incase they catch up with the specky nerd who had the nerve to live next to a 'Crew Girl'."
"It isn't funny, James. You don't know what they're like." Andrea exhaled loudly. "I have to go. Tony will have gone pissing himself to our Stevie by now. Wait for the bang." She rolled her eyes and stood up. "Thanks for all this James, I really do appreciate it."
"I'm only a few houses away, Andrea. Don't worry about The Crew and me. I'm good at diffusing situations." James opened the door for Andrea and Andrea left him with his delusions.
Andrea felt like fleeing her flat and going back to the one she'd just left. There were beer cans everywhere and beer soaked into the carpets and up the walls. Her CD rack was over on it's side and her coffee table was in bits. She booted an empty beercan box and grabbed her mobile phone from her jeans pocket. It rang loudly while Andrea was fumbling with the buttons.
"Andrea!" Stevie barked down the phone.
"Oh good. I was just phoning you." Andrea snapped. "Get up here and see this. I won't touch anything, just come and see this place."
"Trust me Andrea, you don't want me up there." Stevie growled.
"Oh great. Tony gets to you first and fills you full of shit. I'm your sister Stevie!"
"OK! O ... bloody ... K! Christ I do not need all this shit and a hangover! It's like babysitting a pair of chimpanzees with that YMCA disorder!" Stevie ranted and Andrea snorted a laugh despite her rage. "What's bloody funny?"
"ADHD, not YMCA." Andrea smirked.
"Andrea I couldn't give a toss!" Stevie howled. "Look, can you come down to the Railway Arms? Something's come up and I need to be here but I also need you and bloody Dorothy here sorted out."
"No. I have a flat to fix. I'll fix the Dorothy problem. Tell him he's dumped." Andrea said, knowing damn fine that meant absolutely nothing.
"OK so rest of them will believe him. See you la ..."
"What's he said? Usual crap? I trashed my own flat I suppose? I split my own head open? Oh yes, how did he explain that? Did I fall? Open a cupboard into it? Lame Stevie, lame. Let the rest of them think that." Andrea said angrily.
"Oh shut up!" Stevie bellowed. "Tony said you slagged off with someone else. OK?" Andrea almost had hysterics. James? Surely not. Not already.
"Railway Arms. I'm coming down there. I have not slagged off with anyone and Tony needs a bloody good kicking for saying that." Andrea hung up, grabbed her jacket and ran out of her flat.
Tony looked terrible with his black eyes and cut nose and Andrea felt her mood improving at the sight. Stevie held up a ten pound note as a sign for Andrea to get the drinks in before she sat down. She got herself and Stevie one and ignored Tony.
"Where were you after you left here Andrea?" Stevie asked.
"In the taxi. You ordered it, Stevie." Andrea said flatly.
"Who else was in it?" Stevie looked at Andrea.
"Huh? No one. This lot had already gone. You sorted it out Stevie for shit's sake. What have you said Tony?" Andrea snarled at him.
"I'm telling you Stevie it took her two hours to get home. Two pissing hours! There's not alot else she could be doing without me and at that time of night." Tony snapped and glared at Andrea.
"Eh?" Andrea blinked in shock. "Two hours? Where the hell did that come from? I got home twenty minutes after you and you'd turned my flat into a frigging nightclub! Where did two hours come from?"
"You were slagging about Andrea, admit it. Stevie knows. OK? Stop with the lies." Tony pointed in Andrea's face.
"Have you asked him?" Andrea pointed to where Gaz was playing pool with one of the barstaff. Stevie rubbed his eyes and then looked at Andrea. "Well? Ask Gaz! He was there when this arsehole trashed my bloody flat, AGAIN!"
"Gaz says it wasn't that bad, Andrea." Stevie scowled. Andrea flung up her arms in despair. "As for trashing stuff? What the shit did you hit him with? You can't tell me you were completely asleep during all that shite!"
"No, I brained him with the coffee table. I was not slagging about! Stop trying to get away from the accusation. I was not missing for two hours." Andrea said stubbornly. She certainly wasn't going to make this easy for Tony. She hated the man.
"Collins!" The pub landlord waved the phone in their direction.
"I bet the old girl's told the old man I've been brawling. You can look out if I get bollocked, Andrea." Tony went to answer the phone. Stevie threw a beermat at Gaz and Gaz looked like he'd rather walk over hot coals than walk over to Stevie.
"Right Gaz." Stevie glared at the other man. "No crap. OK? I'm fed up of it, I have a hangover, and I have people telling me Lingsy re-emerged and is sniffing around. I do not need shit Gaz. Understand? Now did it take two hours for her to get home?"
"Hell I'm not sure Stevie. I was drunk man." Gaz rubbed his eyes. "Maybe not that long." He glance at Andrea and Andrea looked back in disgust. These were fully grown, adult men, all covering for each other like a bunch of naughty five year olds.
"What did you do to your chin Gaz?" Andrea asked and pointed to a curved purple bruise on the side of Gaz's chin. Gaz just shrugged. "Weird shaped bruise eh Stevie? It's beer can sized. Now who would clout you with a beer can?" Andrea pointed to her own scabbed forehead.
"Tony!" Stevie roared over the pub. Tony was on his way back from the end of the bar and he looked even worse than he had earlier. "I want a word with you in private."
"Stevie that's not important. I've just been threatened down the phone!" Tony dropped onto his seat.
"Huh? Who by?" Stevie asked.
"How do I know! He told be to step off if I liked my legs unbroken. I asked who it was and he laughed and said he would be around. What does that mean?" Tony's hands were shaking, probably due to the drink wearing off.
"So who have you pissed off? You're a gobshite when you're drunk." Stevie preached.
"No one! I haven't been anywhere except with Crew. I get told if I'm being gobby by our own. Step off what?" Tony sounded very rattled indeed.
"How did he know you were in here?" Stevie asked, automatically looking out of the window. "Someone follow you?"
"I didn't see anyone. I don't know why anyone would be after me! You'll sort it Stevie, won't you? I haven't done a thing, I swear." Tony also looked out of the window.
"You touch her again and I'll be sorting you. You got that?" Stevie glowered at Tony and Andrea felt like crying in relief.
"Stevie! Come on man." Tony tried to laugh. "We're Crew! No woman is going to cause shit between Crew. Me and her scream and yell alot, that's all. I didn't ... hang on." Tony frowned and grabbed Andrea's arm. "So you were slagging off! You slut Andrea! You slag off with god knows who, then you get him to threaten me! Are you really that stupid? Him threaten me? I'm Crew, you stupid bitch!" He pushed Andrea away and Stevie looked a bit astonished and rather hysterical.
"I was not slagging off! I'm not surprised someone's after you, you shitbag!" Andrea moved closer to Stevie.
"I woke up at five this morning with a bouncing head and churning guts. You were not in that flat! I threw up and went back to sleep. I woke up at ten and you still weren't in it. Explain that one, you whore." Tony snarled.
"I was at Sammi's. Sammi is a girl, Tony, don't wee yourself. Stevie knows her and her husband. You'd just battered me with a full can of Export and split my head open, you arsehole. I had to leave my own house in the middle of the night because of you and the rest of the scumbos. I went to Sammi's flat rather than sleep on the pavement. Stay away from me Tony. Stevie just keep him away from me." Andrea stood up and ran out of the Railway Arms before the tears started.
"Bad work, Tony. I mean it." Stevie said darkly. "Don't argue, it's gone. You and our Andrea are over, OK? If you weren't Crew, I'd have ripped your head off for belting my sister. Don't you forget that."
"It wasn't all one sided Stevie." Tony shook his head and Stevie glared horribly at him. "OK it's gone, like you said. Over." He looked at his shaking hands. "I feel like shit."
"So who's going to break your legs? Everyone knows The Crew so whoever it is, is either very hard or very stupid. It hasn't got anything to do with Andrea before you start, Tony. That was just you being an arsehole." Stevie sighed heavily. "Why does everything come at once eh? OK you keep your head down. You hear me? If you think of anyone who might have it in for you, tell me. I'll send the feelers out."
"Good. I knew you would. Straight up Stevie, I haven't aggravated anyone. I'd tell you if I had." Tony went and bought himself and Stevie a pint. "So what's the story with Lingsy?"
"Oh so we can address that now can we?" Stevie said sarcastically. "You sure? You don't need your arse wiped and a bedtime story? Go get the others from the games room. We need to talk." Stevie frowned out of the window and saw Andrea getting on the bus. He wanted nothing more than to follow her and tell her how sorry he was for not listening to her. He'd always looked after Andrea since she was a toddler with scabby knees and a snotty nose. A good hiding still wasn't out of the question for Tony yet. Stevie decided to hold it over him as 'persuasion' to lay off his sister. He watched old Charlie totter in through the door on his sticks. You could set your watch by Charlie. Same time, every single day of every single year for decades. Same two glasses of stout, same read of the racing page, same time for leaving. Stevie was thirty one now. Would he still be Crew in his seventies? Of course not. Would he quit while he was on top? If so, how? Or would he just sit there in middle age and wait for the embarrassing beltings from kids twenty years younger than him? Stevie was rapidly growing tired of the whole, life consuming thing. He'd done absolutely nothing else since he was fifteen. Even his girlfriend was Crew and only there as some sort of status symbol. That's how Andrea had felt and Stevie knew this. She was far better than the gang scene, she was far more intelligent and had more sense. Andrea was head and shoulders above the rest of the crap in the town, in Stevie's opinion. He felt like screaming his lungs raw every time the crap dragged her back down. What the hell had ever made him think that Tony Collins deserved his sister. He didn't, end of story. That sorted out, what the hell made the others think that Stevie could tell Lingsy where and where not to go?! Why had they all come running to him? Stevie got another pint and waited to hear half a dozen hairy arsed blokes twittering and getting agitated over one ex-thug, Lingsy.
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