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Authors: Fleur Beale

Tags: #Engineering & Transportation, #Automotive, #Racing, #Sports & Outdoors, #Miscellaneous, #Motor Sports, #Teen & Young Adult, #Literature & Fiction, #Action & Adventure

Dirt Bomb (10 page)

BOOK: Dirt Bomb
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NICK AND JESSIE’S place was up a long driveway. Gramps jerked the car to a stop on the tanker roundabout by the shed. I got out, swapped my jandals for gumboots, and waded forward into a life of poo and pong.

I followed Buzz into the shed. The place was empty — no cows, no shit, no stink. ‘So where are the cows?’

He gave a grin. ‘We’ve got to bring them up from the paddock.’

I walked across the yard to take a look out over the farm. The only cows I could see were miles away. ‘Those cows?’

‘Unless you want to milk the neighbour’s lot as well. Come and learn, bro. You might have to set up a shed all by your lonesome one of these days.’

Not if I could help it, but I went over and watched what he was doing. Even threw in an intelligent question or two, such as: ‘Why do you need to check the vat?’ Like, who cared if it was empty or still waiting
for the tanker to rock on up? What was I meant to do if it had milk in it — tip the stuff out?

Apparently not. ‘If it’s empty you have to put a wash through the vat,’ said Buzz-the-instructor. According to him, forgetting to do it would mean the end of my career as a cow cocky.

I asked another intelligent question. ‘Why don’t you know if the tanker’s already emptied the vat?’ If I was driving a tanker, I’d turn up at the same time every day.

But apparently tankers have mysterious habits. They could come at midnight. Or midday. The driver rinsed the vat when he’d emptied it, but it was up to me to push the button that would wash it out with hot water.

‘Doesn’t pay to forget,’ Buzz said.

‘Have you ever forgotten?’

He shook his head. ‘Not yet. Don’t intend to either.’

He started walking. ‘Come on. Time to bring the cows in.’

Make my day, why don’t you? I trudged after him. The inside of the boots felt torn, and my toes slithered on slime.

I was a bit surprised when Buzz didn’t leap over the gate and head off down the race to the paddock. What was he playing at? He told me to wait, and disappeared into a shed. I stayed out in the sun, wondering when he’d quit messing me round, when the sound of an engine set all my antennae on alert. What the …?

Buzz zapped out of the shed driving a quad bike. ‘Jump on!’

Yes! Things were looking up. I settled myself on the
seat behind him, but he stopped the bike at the kennel where the collie was just about turning himself inside out with wanting to get loose.

‘Let Pirate off, will you?’ Buzz asked.

I walked over to the kennel. ‘Easy, boy. How about a run, eh?’ I unclipped his chain, and he was off. By the time I’d turned to go back to the quad, there was Pirate sitting up behind Buzz, both of them grinning their heads off.

I nudged the dog. ‘Move back, old fulla. You’re taking up too much space.’ I managed to make enough room to climb back on, but then Buzz asked me to open the gate and I had to persuade Pirate to let me on board all over again.

Buzz sat in the driving seat, laughing and revving the motor. I’d hardly got settled before he took off, rocketing along the race, Pirate resting his head on my shoulder. His breath stank, but I forgave him the second he started rounding up the cows. As soon as I’d got the gate to the cow paddock open, Pirate was in there, working the whole herd till they were ambling off towards the shed.

I’d hoped Buzz would let me drive back, but he stayed where he was, issuing orders from the driving seat. ‘Shut that gate, Jake. Nick wants them over there.’ He pointed at the paddock across the race. I shut one gate and opened the other. A bloke could get sick of gates.

Buzz drove us back a lot more quietly. ‘Doesn’t pay to upset the old girls,’ he said. He sounded as though he liked them.

When we hit the shed, it was all go. He started off by chucking me a plastic apron to wear. I thought he was taking the piss, but he put one on too, then he started the machines and showed me how to put the cups on the first cow in the line. Then I had to do the next million while he watched to make sure I wasn’t going to stuff up.

‘Okay, you’re away,’ he said. ‘You do this end and I’ll do the other.’

So on I went, feeling cack-handed and useless. He soon caught up with me, even though I’d had a head start. He did my last cow. Jeez! Nailing the handbrakey was easier than this, not that this was hard to learn. It was just full on. I got to the end of the line, ran back to where I started, only on the opposite side of the pit, whipped the cups off the first old girl, then on to the next, blah blah blah. Buzz had the music playing and I was running so hard I didn’t notice the time. I got a shock when I ran back to the start and the bail was empty.

‘Nearly done,’ Buzz said. ‘Not so bad, was it?’

‘I survived,’ I said. But it wasn’t time to celebrate freedom yet. We still had to clean up and wash down the yard. Buzz gave me the yard to do. I had visions of a broom and bucket, but these days it’s done with a pressure hose. I cleaned that yard till not a millimetre of crap was left on it.

We took off our aprons — I was surprised to see there was crap on mine. I’d been too busy to notice before. We washed them down along with our boots. But we still hadn’t finished.

‘We need to shut the cows in,’ Buzz said.

We hopped back on the quad, with Buzz in the driver’s seat. There were no cows on the race — they’d gone back faster than they came in. It’d be the thought of all that fresh grass to eat — such a boring diet.

I closed the gate, shutting the old girls in for the night.

‘Want to drive?’ Buzz asked.

I didn’t bother replying, just hopped on board. Pirate took off through the paddocks, stretching his legs.

Milking could have its advantages.

Gramps was waiting when we got back. I tied Pirate up and fed him while Gramps gave Buzz the third degree. ‘Think you’ll make a farmer of him, Buzz? How did he do? What about tomorrow?’

Buzz said, ‘He’s a natural-born farmer, Gramps. No problem to Jake. Picked it up quick as.’

Yeah yeah. Pile it on.

We went into the shed to wash our boots again, and Buzz took a couple of envelopes down from a shelf. ‘Your pay.’

He watched as I ripped the envelope open.
Thirty-five
dollars in cash. I couldn’t help myself. ‘Yahoo!’

Buzz laughed, but said, ‘You’ve earned it. You did okay. For a beginner.’ Not quite the Excellent grade he’d told Gramps, but a pass all the same.

On the way home I forgot about Gramps’s driving habits, I was too busy floating in happy-land. I’d earned money. Real hard cash. Even the thought that it would have to go straight into paying off the fine
didn’t do much to dent how I felt.

In the morning we filled the can with gas. While Buzz was pouring it into the car, I looked at him with new respect. ‘You get up at five this morning?’

‘Sure did. But why wouldn’t I? I’m now seventy bucks richer.’

I gaped at him. ‘You got that? For helping. Like I did?’

‘Nah. This was a solo job. Sixteen-aside shed, so I was busy enough.’

I couldn’t concentrate on my first couple of runs for thinking about that. Robbie wasn’t chatty either.

Buzz came back to base and hauled himself out of the car. ‘Let’s set up the slalom again. Only this time we do it in reverse.’

Robbie looked gloomy, but I jogged over to the cones. Reversing. No sweat. I had the knack of it, thanks to Gramps and Mum. But Robbie had possibly never got acquainted with R on the gear stick.

We set up the course. It was Robbie’s luck to have first go at it. He crept through the first two cones, jerking the wheel to get round, but then he must have got fed up, because he floored it and shot away backwards at forty-five degrees to the course. He grinned when he saw us busting our guts laughing.

I got in, fired the engine, slipped it into reverse and moved backwards at a reasonable pace in the direction of the first cone. I was about halfway through, with three cones skittled, when I realised I was keeping my eyes on the one I was coming up to. So I tried watching ahead to where I wanted to go. But was it
best to watch via the rear-vision mirror or by turning my head? By the time I’d tried both, I was at the finish with one cone standing.

I watched Buzz. He drove with one hand on the wheel so that he could twist right around to see where he was going, but he’d forgotten about looking ahead too and knocked out six cones.

We kept practising, with the odd blat around the paddock thrown in just to liven things up. Turned out looking over the shoulder was best.

Robbie wasn’t his usual chatty self during the downtime when we watched Buzz getting smarter and smoother.

At last I said, ‘What’s up? The parents still after your guts?’

He kicked the grass and shook his head. ‘It’s not that. It’s Jayna. I haven’t heard from her since … Well, since that night.’

I couldn’t believe it. ‘Bro, I thought she’d dumped you. Thought that’s why you were giving the beach a miss.’

He kept on giving the grass a hard time. ‘She’ll just be waiting for me to turn up and then she’ll dump me.’

I gave him a hefty shove. ‘Come on, man. Where’s your mojo? Go and see her. What have you got to lose?’

Buzz came back, and it was my turn, but I needed speed. What an idiot! Just sitting around waiting for his girl to make the first move.

I DIDN’T GET much better at the reverse slalom that day, and I had to leave early. Gramps was on a
boot-buying
mission.

‘See you and the new boots at 3.30,’ Buzz said. ‘Different farm from yesterday. More cows, bigger shed. Can Gramps bring you? It’s further than Nick and Jessie’s.’

Gramps would definitely take me.

I collected my bike, but Robbie said, ‘I’ve had enough for today. Might go to the beach.’

Buzz didn’t want to stay by himself, so we parked the car, stacked up the cones and left.

‘Good luck,’ I said to Robbie when we got to his road.

He lifted a hand and rode off. I went home to find a lasagne fresh from the oven waiting for me to demolish it. I wondered how long Gramps would keep up the good work of encouraging me into becoming a member of the rat-race. Possibly not long, so best make the most of it while it lasted.

He drove me into town. I could have driven much better, but I had the sense to keep my mouth shut. He bought me real farm boots. I had a stomp around the store in them. ‘Thanks Gramps. No slime inside these fellas.’

He tut-tutted and bought a bundle of thick socks as well.

At 3.15 he drove me and my new boots to Buzz’s
place. The farm we were working on, Buzz told me, belonged to the Kereopa family, their dog was called Gyp, they had a motorbike instead of a quad, and the shed was twenty-four a side.

We were busy but I didn’t feel such a klutz as before — kind of got into the rhythm of it too, which got broken when Buzz let out a yelp, then a string of curses. I whipped around to see what had bitten him. I let out a bellow of laughter. He was standing there shaking shit out from where it had gone down between the front of his apron and his tee-shirt. With his other hand he was grabbing for the tit-washing hose and squirting it at the pile of green stuff. He looked at me and grinned. ‘You wait, bro. You’ll cop it at some stage.’

But not today. We finished up with Buzz minus his tee-shirt. He let me drive the bike back when we’d put the cows to bed. Gyp decided to stretch her legs. I collected my pay, thirty-five lovely dollars. Two more milkings and the bloody fine would be paid.

I TRIED TO ring Robbie after dinner that night, but his mother said he wasn’t there. She still sounded like I was number one on her list of bad influences, so I didn’t hang about to chat.

The next day when we met up at his corner, he was grinning his face in half. ‘She didn’t dump you then?’ I asked.

He shook his head. ‘Nah. She thought I was mad at her for supplying the alcohol.’

‘How did she get hold of it?’ This could be a useful piece of info for future occasions.

He shrugged. ‘Just went and bought it from a bottle store. No probs.’ He set off along the road. ‘We’re going to a movie tonight.’

And I had a hot date with a cowshed.

That day, Buzz decided we were good enough to time our reverse slaloms. Robbie wasn’t keen and I knew I hadn’t had enough practice to beat Buzz, but it always put an edge on things when you were
aiming for a time to beat. As usual, Buzz was the only one to make it through without collecting a cone.

‘That’s going to be a hard time to beat,’ Robbie said. ‘Man, you aced it. Fifty-two seconds — how did you do it?’

Buzz just laughed at him. ‘You can mock, bro. I’m on the board. Don’t see your name up there in lights.’

About the middle of the day, Buzz said, ‘Okay, that’s it for me. See you at mine at 3.30, Jake.’

Robbie checked his phone for the time. ‘Hey man, what’s with packing it in now? It’s not even twelve.’

Buzz beat his fists on his chest. ‘Got an appointment. After today, my friends, I will be a fully licensed individual.’

‘You’re going for your full?’ I asked. ‘Hey man, that’s awesome. I won’t need Gramps to drive me tonight.’

But Robbie said, ‘You haven’t had your restricted for long enough, bro.’

‘Twelve months and a bit,’ Buzz said. ‘Plenty long enough with an advanced driving course done and dusted.’

We stared at him. Finally I asked, ‘And just when would you have done that?’

Buzz looked smug. ‘The olds sprang it on me when we were up in Auckland. They’d booked it for a surprise.’

‘You didn’t tell us,’ I said. He should have. It was plain wrong to keep something like that to yourself.

‘Nah, I didn’t. You didn’t tell us how you got that hundred either.’

And I for sure wasn’t going to now.

But Robbie laughed. ‘Don’t be thick — his old man gave it to him.’

Light dawned in Buzz’s face, so I jumped in quick with, ‘Good luck with the test. You’ll ace it.’

‘Do my best,’ Buzz said, but it would be sweet. He was a damn good driver.

He went off on his mission to become a real driver, Robbie sped off down to the beach, and I went home to break the news to Gramps that he was a free man.

He just nodded and served us both massive plates full of yesterday’s lasagne. ‘You could start learning the road code,’ he said. ‘Get your learner’s, then I can take you out and start teaching you the finer points of driving.’

‘You’re not just a pretty face,’ I said. ‘That’s a really good idea.’ Not the teaching me, though. I didn’t want to end up driving the way he did.

That afternoon I jumped on the computer, and found the road code plus a whole series of the questions you get asked.

Gramps came in after about an hour. ‘Jake, leave that thing alone. Come on, I’ll take you into town and you can pick up a copy of the road code.’

I swivelled around. ‘Thanks Gramps, appreciate the offer. But take a look at this.’

He bent down to squint at the screen, then stood up, shaking his head. ‘Amazing. Who’d have thought it.’ He frowned, thinking hard enough to send the gears graunching. ‘How about we do a swap, lad. I’ll teach you to drive. You teach me to drive that thing.’ He stabbed a fist in the direction of the computer.

‘Suits me,’ I said. It would give me more leverage when I wanted to borrow his car.

Buzz rang around two. ‘Got it,’ he said.

‘Excellent,’ I said. ‘See you at yours, usual time.’

‘Better make it 3.15,’ he said. ‘Dad wants to bend our ears.’

It didn’t take a genius to work out what that was going to be about — being a responsible driver/passenger etc etc, blah blah blah.

I was right, but I kept a listening expression on my face and nodded when it seemed like a good idea. Frank finished up with the clincher. ‘I trust you to keep to the rules and drive safely.’ He looked at me. ‘Both of you.’

‘We will, Dad.’

‘Yeah. We’ll be good.’

That earned me a scorcher of a look.

When we’d finally escaped and were on the road, Buzz let out a huge breath. ‘Jeez. You wouldn’t read about it.’

‘Parents,’ I said. ‘Can’t help themselves. Hey bro, what was the test like today?’

He looked pleased with himself. ‘It was a breeze. This cyclist came barrelling out of a driveway right across my path, but I’d seen him and was already braking. Missed him by a millimetre.’ He laughed. ‘You should have heard the test guy. He yells,
stop
! Jumps out and bawls out the cyclist for about five minutes. Poor guy was a jittering wreck by the time he’d finished.’

‘I guess it wouldn’t have been a good look if you’d
flattened him,’ I said. ‘Lightning reactions. The test guy would have been impressed.’ Buzz deserved his full. I couldn’t wait to get mine too. What a performance, though — learner’s, restricted, then full. I’d be a hundred years old. And I had to pay off the bloody fine before I could get started.

We were milking for Nick and Jessie again. No dramas, I got to drive the quad, and I collected another pay packet. One more to go and I’d be a free man.

Buzz drove home carefully and responsibly. I was a model passenger. ‘Driving the Holden’s a lot more fun,’ he said.

‘Yeah. But what do we do next?’ I told him about my dream. ‘I was thinking an Escort would be the way to go. I want a rally car.’

He said, ‘Me too. Or dirt racing. Track racing. I don’t really care. I just want somewhere I can drive without being careful and responsible.’

We didn’t say much the rest of the way back. I went home to fire up the computer for another road code session. Speck sat on my lap. Gramps left me alone. Mum came home, ruff ed my hair, told me she was proud of me and then delivered a nasty shock. ‘You’ll be needing to enrol for school soon, Jake.’

I shrugged the ugly thought away. It was still holidays. I never thought about school till I had to.

Mum said, ‘Don’t waste this year, darling. That’s all I ask.’

I grunted but that seemed to satisfy her. If I could see the point to school, it’d be different. I wasn’t dumb.

I finished the practice test I was doing. Aced it.

After dinner (roast chicken and slug salad), Buzz rang. ‘Want to milk in the morning? Nick and Jessie’s again. I’ll pick you up.’

Five a fecking clock in the morning? ‘Okay,’ I heard myself saying. Shit.

Mum looked amazed, then proud. Gramps smirked but kept his mouth shut.

WE DIDN’T TALK much on the way there or when we were in the shed. The beats coming from the radio sometimes synched with the sound of the machines, sometimes not. The cows didn’t seem to mind the sparrow’s fart hour. I was starting to recognise some of them. Number 82 hated being first in the line, but Buzz said the trick was to leave the previous cow in first spot so that 82 didn’t freak out and wreck the shed. Number 15 always waited till last, and 239 would make a break for it by following out the milked cows if you didn’t watch her.

‘How many times has she got away on you?’ I asked.

Buzz laughed. ‘Only once. She’s a cunning old devil though.’

We finished up, put the cows away, cleaned up and tied up the dog. I jumped into the ute, waving my pay packet. ‘How about we rock into town and pay the bloodsuckers?’

‘Okay,’ Buzz said, sighing. ‘Best get it out of the way, I guess.’ He shoved his phone at me. ‘Text Robbie.’

He must have been awake, because he texted back
straight away.
Where we pay
?

Buzz didn’t know and I hadn’t looked hard enough at the ticket to find out. I sent another text:
look on net. C u @ 9.

Buzz dropped me off, but before he could leave Gramps ran out waving a fish slice. ‘Wait! Breakfast’s on the table.’

I said, ‘Come and chow down. He cooks a helluva lot better than he drives.’

We sat down to a feast of sausages, bacon, fried spud and scrambled eggs. I wasn’t going to complain if Gramps thought he had to encourage me with food. Bring it on.

It turned out we could pay the stupid fine at the bank. That was a nifty touch — take your money out and get it sucked from your hand in one easy motion.

We were walking into the place when Robbie said, ‘Who gets to pay the extra dollar?’

It took Buzz and me a second to work that out. But 133 x 3 = 399, not 400. ‘You think they’ll accept $399.99?’ Buzz asked.

‘Yeah, and then charge interest on the last cent,’ I said. ‘I’ll pay it. I’ve got enough.’ And possibly I owed them for feeding me when I was an unemployed slob.

The girl behind the counter took the money. ‘Ouch,’ she said. ‘That must have hurt.’

She didn’t know the half of it.

We headed out of town in our usual formation, Buzz leading and me bringing up the rear. At the paddock, we didn’t bother with the cones. It was a day for going f at tack, for putting the car in the air
over the jump. Until, that is, Robbie rolled it.

Buzz was closest, but both of us tore up the paddock. Robbie’s olds would kill us if he was hurt. Or dead.

The car was end on to us and we couldn’t see Robbie. All we could see were the spinning wheels. It was a relief when we heard him. He was swearing up a storm and cussing everything in sight, but mostly the seatbelt which he was hanging from and couldn’t get undone.

Buzz and I slowed to a walk. ‘Impressive fluency,’ Buzz said, leaning down to leer at Robbie.

‘He’s a smooth talker all right,’ I said. ‘Let’s tip the old girl up the right way.’

We started rocking the car while Robbie upped the volume on the swearing. ‘Hold tight,’ I yelled. ‘You’re going over!’

We gave an almighty heave, the car tipped slowly onto two wheels, and we shoved it to help it decide to land on all four wheels and not back on the roof.

Robbie climbed out while we jeered and mocked him. A trickle of blood ran down one side of his face.

‘You’ll be banned from driving if your olds see that,’ Buzz said.

Robbie wiped the blood away with his tee-shirt — just as well it was black. ‘That was awesome,’ he said. ‘A total blast.’

We stayed in the paddock until Robbie left to hang out with Jayna, but Buzz had to leave soon after that too. He was doing a solo job and nobody had put their hand up to say they needed me. I wasn’t sorry. It takes it out of a man getting up that early.

BOOK: Dirt Bomb
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