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Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Blog 69: The Underground (I wrote this when I was still in high school, weird)

It was Saturday night. And just as always we were drinking spray painting, starting fires and most other things that generally aren’t legal.

The warehouse had been our hang out since Alex (a master pickpocket who prefers to be called Ghost) had broken into it back in secondary one. The warehouse was roughly three storeys in height with an additional maze of rooms below ground level. These were generally used for parties but Mark had been using one of the more out the way chambers as a bedroom. Although he denied it Mark had been chucked out of his mum’s for not getting a job. Although he now had a job delivering parcels for the local post office he refused to move back in with his’ mum. He spent most of his time in his’ room with his girlfriend who we all called Hex because she used to believe in witchcraft. The main room in the warehouse had, over the years, been equipped with stolen furniture and a power supply of car batteries (also stolen) which Spark, whose real name is Andrew, had wired to Mark’s old sound system and some lights (stolen). Spark had always been good with electrics. It was originally Spark who had taught Ryan, now known as Crash, to hotwire a car. Crash was famous amongst local youths for managing to evade the police completely after crashing a stolen Skoda into a police car parked at a set of traffic lights. Then there was Malcolm, my best friend, also known as Spray because he always carries a spray can. My nickname is Psy, short for Psycho because I always carry a lighter. I had been blamed when a row of cars blew up in a nearby car park. I was cleared when CCTV evidence showed I was setting fire to a paper bank near a supermarket at the time.

The sound system was blaring, almost everyone was drunk. Only Spray, myself and a girl called Lexie were still sober. Lexie, along with a few friends had come along to the party. All of Lexie’s friends, who had been talking to Crash, fell asleep on the floor next to him. I spent most of the night trying to convince Lexie I wasn’t as bad as most of the rumours made me look. Eventually I gave up and fell asleep on the couch next to her.

When I woke up Lexie was gone, she had however left me a note saying she was late for work and at the end of the end of the note she had left her number.

As I became more aware of things I noticed Spray’s latest piece. A gigantic, silvery blue Dragon sitting on the gang name, The Underground.

We had been called The Underground since the first parties we’d had back in secondary three. It was during the first party, when everyone was drunk; we started discussing what to call ourselves. I think it was Mark who first suggested the name. It was agreed on the fifteenth of April two thousand and two, six days before my fifteenth birthday. It was on the eighteenth that Spray, with his first can ever, first wrote the words The Underground in the largest of the vaulted chambers below ground. Ghost had stolen the can earlier that day.

Since then Spray has painted the local school, a garage, several empty houses and a multitude of cars. Few flat surfaces in the local area do not carry The Underground tag. Those that don’t are covered in the untidy mess of gang tags not done by Spray. There were The Crows - a bunch of moshers from the inner city, The Aces - a bunch of novice pickpockets, from the west end, who aspired to be as good as Ghost, The Renegades, most of whom we got on with and finally The Champs known to others as The Chumps. They were a large group from the same karate class. Put together they had as many brain cells as the Karate Kid from the films. The Champs were The Underground’s main rivals. The Champs were lead by Richard Nelson or Brick. He liked to think Brick referred to how tough he was. I liked to think it referred to how intelligent he was.

There was no one more violent than Brick apart from Con, short for convict, who is Crash’s big brother. Con was in a drug rehab centre in London. Con had a court order banning him from entering Glasgow after one night, whilst on a pub-crawl, he injured eleven different people in six different bars before being arrested.

Just as I was about to get up and leave Spray rushed in shouting franticly.
“What’s up?” I asked.
“It’s Crash,” he said panting.
“What about him?”
“They’ve put him in hospital.”
“Who have?”
“The Champs,” replied spay who had just regained his breath.
“The Champs put Crash in hospital!” said Mark, “what for?” he looked astonished.
“Crash stole Brick’s car.”
We asked if he was O.K to which Spray replied he was on the critical list.
“What do we do? We can’t let them get away with this,” said Mark.
“It’s all taken care of, I talked with The Renegades, they’re coming here at eight o’clock. Some others too.”
“What are you thinking of doing?” asked Mark.
“All the champs will be at karate tonight, we’ll get them then.”

The next few hours were mad; people were coming out of the woodwork. Some from The Renegades, Aces with a score to settle. Apart from The Crows no one got on with The Champs. Among The Renegades there were many sorry to hear about Crash, including Bass, Crash’s ex. She had been in his music class before he dropped out. At eight the last few turned up there were thirty-two of us in total. This would be a good match for the class of twenty-seven Champs.

We set off at nine. The procession worked its way through the streets in silence. It was pitch black apart from the street lamps, a few of which were broken. Within fifteen minutes we were standing outside the hall where the karate classes were held. Spray went to work on the wall while I doused Brick’s car I petrol. It still showed signs of theft. The door was warped and the dash was missing where Crash had hotwired it. Everyone stood well back as I threw a match into the car. Flames soared up. Amazing. It crackled for a few seconds before the petrol tank caught fire and it exploded. The windows blew out showering the area with glass. Funny how the plastic coating doesn’t work under such conditions. There were murmurs from behind me and shouting could be heard from within the karate class. A few minutes later a haphazardly dressed bunch of morons emerged from the building. Some were carrying weapons. A knife, knuckle-dusters and a length of chain.

Both sides stared for a minute or two in complete silence. Then one of The Champs started to swing his chain. Then there was chaos. The Renegades threw a volley of stones, spray fired a shot from a paintball gun and both sides charged.

Though outnumbered The Champs had the advantage of being trained in unarmed combat. I missed a lot of the action because I was rolling around on the ground punching and kicking a boy twice my size. This was not my thing, I was no fighter, I was an anarchist. I did catch a glimpse of Spray holding two Champs at bay by shooting them in the face. Spray had convinced Spark to modify the gun so it worked much like an Uzi. Then the boy I was fighting with was wrenched off me by Louis Spencer, the leader of The Renegades. His nose was bleeding heavily and a black eye was forming. His fist flew past my face and the other boy fell, unconscious, to the ground.

Just as we seemed to be winning there were shouts from the end of the street. Seven or eight Crows were running towards us lead by …
“Joseph, what are you doing?”

“You never liked me, none of you, you wouldn’t let me join your gang.”
“We told you to go and calm down after that fight with Crash. We thought you hadn’t come back because you didn’t want to,” shouted Mark before being hit by a Crow.
“Liar, it was me who tried to get you into trouble all those times but you always wormed your way out. I set fire to those flats, stole the Police car, it was me who blew up the cars, me.”

There he was moaning like a spoilt child. His tantrum had meant The Underground being accused of multiple crimes not of our own doing. He had caused a full on war between the gangs and presumably had something to do with Crash being put in hospital.

The rest of the fight is a blur. Two crows set to work knocking the stuffing out of me. They did a good job. Then we heard the sirens. Most of the Crows bolted off down the street. I crawled over to Spray. He was out cold and drenched in blood. I looked around. The car was still on fire, the road was scattered with moaning or unconscious. Some of the Renegades managed to crawl, limp or run away. Then the police arrived. It was soon clear a convoy of ambulances would have been more appropriate than a squad of police in body armour. They took three Crows away in the back of a car. The rest of us were taken away in ambulances.

I spent three days in casualty before being hauled off by the police. I spent several months in prison. This did nothing to convince Lexie I was not a habitual criminal. Spray spent most of his time in hospital, which I think got him the sympathy vote, not that that’s much consolation. He never fully recovered.

Joseph didn’t get away with his part in the fight. Someone phoned Con in London. Later the same week Joseph was found beaten to pulp outside a café. Con was charged with GBH. We explained the circumstances very carefully to a few members of the jury and some generous bribes meant he got off. He still attends anger management classes and now runs a boxing class in the hall where the karate was once held.

The Champs no longer exist. Their karate teacher was too scared to continue. He now runs a yoga class. Brick left Glasgow as soon as he was released. There are no Renegades anymore either. They all joined The Underground, which now boasts some forty odd members.

Lewis Spencer, Crash and myself moved into rooms in the warehouse. Several others moved into rooms under the other warehouses which, collectively, The Underground managed to buy from Glasgow council to assure they were not demolished as The Renegades empty flats had been. The Underground is now more of a criminal organisation than a gang. We own two cafés, a garage, a small indoor climbing centre and Crash, Spark, myself and Spray dabble in stolen cars. Crash steals the cars, Spark removes distinguishing features, Spray paints them. I then forge the paperwork and sell them on.

Mark is engaged to Hex who moved in with him after being chucked out by her dad. Things are going well for us in general, apart from Spray who still has problems breathing. Even though Mark still lives in the warehouse he made up with his mum. We still feel the consequences of that Sunday night. A scar, a twinge, nightmares or the thoughts of those we hurt. We are The Underground, although we try not to hurt people we can’t change who we are. I still start fires, Spray still paints tags, Ghost still picks pockets and Crash still steals cars. Although it gets us in trouble the crime is like a drug we are addicted to, it’s part of who we are. That doesn’t mean we’re proud of it. Far from it.

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