Chapter 3

Twelve Crew sat at the wooden tables in the Railway Arms. Two were even older than Stevie and the youngest was Andrea's age. Alot of the town's kids claimed to be Crew and that was fine. Those kids would probably kick Stevie's wrinkled old arse for him in time. The group in the pub were all diehards.

"So what's the score with Lingsy? I haven't seen him." Stevie began.

"I have." Terry spoke up. "He was in Tescos. It definitely was him."

"So ... we all get excited over a bloke doing his shopping?" Stevie rolled his eyes. "Look, I'm not saying he isn't back in town, I'm asking why he shouldn't be? Is he causing trouble? Bothering anyone? Paying for his beans in Lira or something?"

"Well no but no one's seen him for five years. He just vanished. The SBC is all made up of kids now because all the old timers left when Lingsy did. He could be going back to that lot. He'd walk in right on top too. They're only kids." Gaz said. The SBC was the South Bank Clan, another gang from the south of the town, by the river and Lingsy had ran the show alongside his kid brother.

"After five years? I can't see it, Gaz. He's nearly as old as I am and he went a bit mental in the head after his brother got knifed. Depressed and all that stuff. That's what I heard anyway." Stevie shrugged his shoulders. "So has anyone got any real reasons to say he's going to be a problem? We can't all panic just because the bloke's in Tescos."

"I think he's just moved back because he's from here." Tony said. "Liam saw him on Wood Street three weeks ago so if he was going to cause shit, he'd have done it by now."

"Yes he'd have gone for you Stevie. The Crew is the only old gang left now and you're the main target." Billy who was thirty four reminded him. "No disrespect Stevie, I know you're a hard bastard, but the Lingsys were harder."

"I know." Stevie agreed. "So I count my blessings that Lingsy's satisfied with Tescos and isn't interested in taking over The Crew. If you hear anything else, let me know. It's always good to know where blokes like Lingsy are. Right! I'm going home for my dinner and a sleep." One thing about Carol, wife three, was that she knew how to make a bloody good dinner. Stevie made eye contact with Tony and Tony nodded slightly his understanding to behave himself.

Andrea started to clean her flat. Luckily, none of her CDs were broken and only two of the boxes. The wall would need painted where the beer had left a stain and the carpet had to be scrubbed. The poor coffee table pitched at a forty five degree angle and swayed every time Andrea walked past it. She couldn't bring herself to throw it out so she set about it with the HardAzNailz. It was quite late by the time she'd finished and she was quite disappointed that no one had phoned. Stevie hadn't and neither had James. Thankfully, nor had Tony so that was a good thing. Andrea was putting away the cleaning things when her eyes fell on a box in the back of the cupboard. She smiled to herself then darted into the bathroom to shower and change.

James answered the door with a book in one hand and a sandwich in the other.

"Hello!" He smiled. "Recycle bins are that way."

"Do I meet you there or do you want these now?" Andrea laughed as James let her into the flat. "Curtains so you can take that bedsheet down."

"Fantastic! I'll give you something for them." James put his book down and went to put the kettle on. "Has everything been OK today? Tony?"

"Awful." Andrea said ruefully. "He's such a lying sack of crap. At least Stevie doesn't see him as golden boy anymore though so that's one good thing. He's on a warning."

"Lets hope he heeds it." James gave Andrea her coffee.

"He'll stay out of my face for while. Someone threatened to break his legs today so he has that to keep him occupied. Stevie reckons he's opened his big nasty mouth when he was drunk and upset someone. Sounds about right." Andrea said bitterly, then grimaced. "I'm sorry. Listen to me eh? Who cares about Tony? No bugger. I didn't come here to moan on like that."

"It's fine. I don't mind. I'm pleased you told me. Stops me worrying." James smiled at Andrea.

"Worried? You were worried about me today?" Andrea felt suddenly exhausted. Everything seemed to catch up to her and she felt like collapsing.

"Of course I was. I was worried last night, I told you that. That's why you ended up here. You think I just forgot about it after you left? I'd go and put Collins in his place myself if I didn't think it would come straight back at you."

"That's a nice thought, James. You're a fantastic man. You're right, he'd take it out on me, but that's nothing new. He'd take it out on you too. Can't you see that? He's an arsehole, James. Even without Stevie's backing, he's still capable of making things miserable for me and of hurting you." Andrea felt tears pricking her eyes. "I have to go. The hooks are in with the curtains."

"Andrea?" James stood up. "Andrea would it make a difference if you were with me ... properly? I mean would you feel safer if everyone, including Collins, knew you were going out with me?" Andrea stood there and just cried. "This isn't right. No one should be this bloody miserable." He sat Andrea on the couch and sat next to her. "You can't let The Crew run your life Andrea. You could trust me and give me a try?"

"You mean it?" Andrea snivelled and James nodded. "You have to let me talk to Stevie first." James let out a loud sigh. "Please James, I do have my reasons. If I can get Stevie to accept that I have a new boyfriend then he'll be there for when Tony has a tantrum. I know you want to try and have a go at him, and talk to Stevie, but you have to trust me, James. I know them better than you do."

"OK. I suppose so." James heaved a sigh. "Stevie's stuck up for Tony too long Andrea. Tony's rotten and he's going to drag Stevie into trouble one of these days."

"Isn't it pathetic? I despise the whole gang crap, I really do. My friend Sammi is married to a lovely man who's Stevie's age. Stevie looks like a complete retard next to him. Stevie's there playing gang raids with thirty year old men, then going home for his bloody dinner! Sammi's husband is on the dole, James. He can't get a job yet he trawls every paper and every advertisement in the town then he goes home like a man to Sammi. I don't want my brother to be embarrassing himself like this when he's fifty. It's bad enough now." Andrea exhaled loudly. "But that's a different thing completely. All I want is to be away from Tony and to be left alone."

"With me." James smiled.

"Yes with you. I've had enough. They either have it or I'll have Tony lifted if he comes near me."

"That'll go down well." James said ruefully. "It won't come to that. I won't let it. Talk to Stevie tomorrow and let me know how it goes. OK?" Andrea nodded then whimpered when James kissed her. "You can stay here if you like?"

"I like, but I can't just yet. Stevie will phone me because I was upset when I left the pub. He always phones my housephone rather than my mobile." Andrea explained.

"I understand. Unspoken gang law." James smiled and followed Andrea to the door.

"What is? Stevie caring for me?" Andrea asked in confusion.

"No the phone thing. Gang lads phone each other on mobile phones, they phone their girls at their home addresses. That way they know they're at home out of the way." James shrugged his shoulders.

"You what?" Andrea spluttered. "You think so?" James smiled at Andrea's outraged face and nodded. "I'll get the bugger disconnected. Just wait until I get Stevie about that, the big ape."

"Remember, just talk to Stevie. Stay away from Collins. Please?" James pushed her hair behind her ear. Andrea smiled and nodded and hovered about for another kiss. She wasn't disappointed.

Stevie woke Andrea up the next morning by hammering on the door.

"Bloody hell Stevie. Have you wet the bed? It's only half ten." Andrea let him into her flat then went to put the kettle on. She heard a loud crash and ran through to see her coffee table in a heap against the wall. Stevie had put his big booted feet on it.

"Coffee table's shite." Stevie observed.

"It is now, yes." Andrea said in dismay and went back to the kettle.

"You OK?" Stevie followed her.

"I'm fine." Andrea said quickly. "I have to talk to you Stevie." She nudged Stevie back into the sitting room with two full mugs of tea. "First off, I'm sorry there was a scene in the pub. I shouldn't have roared at shit-head. You shouldn't have to clean up after everyone." Andrea knew exactly how to talk to Stevie, she'd had plenty of practice.

"Well Tony's a tosser. He won't be hitting you again, sis. I'm not having that crap even from Tony." Stevie said flatly.

"That's great Stevie. Thanks." Andrea hugged her big brother. "There's something else I have to tell you. It's not related directly but it sort of is. I need you to help me."

"Oh?" Stevie was suspicious straight away. "Help how? What have you done?"

"Help with Tony." Andrea sighed wearily and sat down. "Stevie there's a really nice man I'd like to start seeing. He's ..."

"Stop!" Stevie held up his hand. "Crew?"

"I said nice. No not Crew. I really could do with your support here Stevie. Tony will never let it go, you know he won't." Andrea hung her head.

"Honest answer here, Andrea. You didn't cheat on Tony, did you? I know he was an arsehole but you said you didn't so that would be a lie to me too." Stevie asked.

"No of course I didn't. I didn't want away from Tony to be with this man either. I wanted away from Tony because he's a bully and a turd. He has nothing to do with any gangs at all. He's nice and quiet. You'd like him, Stevie." Andrea nodded eagerly.

"OK don't go overboard." Stevie tutted. "Just keep him away from the lads, Andrea. Deal? Tony is a turd, I know, but flaunting a new fella infront of him would just be bitchful." Stevie preached.

"Bitchful isn't a word." Andrea smiled. "I'd never parade him infront of any of you. All I want is to be left alone, Stevie. He won't hurt me, but if he ever did, I'd be straight for you. That's a little sister thing, not a Crew thing."

"Soppy tart. Get off." Stevie grumbled and answered his buzzing phone. "Tony. How nice."

"Stevie! Christ Stevie I think it's Lingsy who's after my balls!" Tony howled so loud that Andrea heard him too.

"What? It better bloody not be, Tony! Shit! What the hell have you done?" Stevie had to sit down.

"Nothing! I keep telling you that! Stevie I saw him in the newsagents this morning. He was handing something over the counter. He came out and didn't see me, he went in the other direction ..."

"Tony get the shit on with it!" Stevie shouted. "Hell's teeth man you do talk shite!"

"The newsagent went straight to the window and put a notice up. 'For Sale, ticket for Tony Collins. Unwanted gift, ready to punch.' What have I ever done to him? Stevie why is Lingsy after me?" Tony shrieked.

"How the hell do I know? Just stay calm, Tony. Are you sure it was him?"

"Yes! He's a bit older now but it's still him! Where should I meet you?"

"Well I'm at Andrea's just now. I'll ..."

"I'll get the next bus." Tony hung up and left Stevie hanging.

"Don't shout!" Stevie said to Andrea, who was not happy. "He didn't let me finish. Can he stay for a bit Andrea? I'll be here too, I promise. It is serious, actually. Lingsy, for shit's sake."

"Is he that bad? Why would he want Tony?" Andrea settled down a bit.

"I don't know why he wants Tony. Tony just isn't important enough to have the likes of Lingsy on his case." Stevie exhaled loudly. "I'm going to have to go and see Lingsy myself. He'll pulverise Tony if he starts with him."

"He sounds bloody awful. What a nut case! Tony isn't my favourite person just now, but I don't want him battered, you either." Andrea said.

"This is weird. He does sound like a nutter but he isn't. That's the strange thing. He's incredibly hard. People used to actually pay him to go and belt folk. Lingsy did it too but only if the reasons were right. He ran the SBC and at that time and because of him and his brother, the SBC covered just about all the area. According to talk, he's lucky to be alive. He's had his house fire-bombed, his motorbike booby-trapped, and he was once ran down and chucked in the river. He's been stabbed and shot and he's still here." Stevie told Andrea and she was revolted. "Rumour has it that the knife that killed his brother was meant for him. It was during a brawl with a gang from the coast. Both Lingsys looked alike, basically and the younger one got stuck through the heart. Lingsy just jacked the lot in and vanished. Some say he went off the deep end with depression and what not. Some say he went and joined another gang. The SBC just fell apart without them. This lot now are just pissy kids. This is the first time anyone's ever seen Lingsy for five years. No way in hell will I believe that he came back just to batter Tony. Just no."

"Do you want me out of the way. I could go upstairs, or I could even go out somewhere." Andrea was quite scared.

"Don't be daft. It's your flat. We'll just give his a cup of tea and I'll cart him off. I need this sorted." Stevie rubbed his temples and Andrea went to hide in the kitchen.

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