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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 (4 page)

BOOK: Dirt Bomb
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IT WAS A helluva lot easier putting the distributor in than it had been finding it. We slid it in, lined it up and did up the bolt at the side, then it was just a matter of attaching the leads to the spark plugs.

‘Does it matter where they go?’ I asked.

Buzz said, ‘Yeah, but I think we’ve got it right.’

‘All done and dusted,’ Robbie said. We stood about, grins on our ugly faces.

‘So let’s fire her up,’ I said.

We let Buzz have the honour, because we needed petrol that he could ask his dad for. Frank had a tank of the stuff and maybe he’d let us have some but maybe he wouldn’t. He did. We had to put it in a can, then pour it into the Commodore.

‘Okay!’ Buzz swung himself into the car. ‘Time to hit the paddocks!’

He started the car. The engine roared and backfired. We laughed and waited for him to take off. The gears graunched, Buzz swore and revved the motor, but
that only produced some more loud backfires. The car stayed right where it was. He tried second, then every other gear. Same horrible graunching, but again no movement.

‘Dad!’

Frank ambled over. ‘Busted gear box. And your timing’s out on the dizzy.’

He ambled back. No help there.

We were gutted. So near, so much work and the bloody thing wasn’t going anywhere.

‘Back to the wrecker then,’ Robbie said at last.

‘I guess,’ Buzz said. ‘Can’t do it today though. The place’ll be shut by the time we get there.’

‘We could fix the timing,’ I said. ‘Might as well get that right.’

We hauled up the bonnet and bent over the engine bay. Buzz undid the bolt on the distributor. ‘We must’ve lined it up wrong.’ We took it out, figured out which way it should go in and set it up all over again.

Frank stirred himself enough to shout, ‘Stand back when you start the motor.’

Buzz jumped back in the car, while Robbie and I stood up straight enough to make Frank think we’d taken his advice. The engine roared, flames leapt up at us, and we fell back, swiping at our eyebrows. As the flames died down, we poked our heads back into the engine bay.

‘Get out, Buzz,’ I yelled.

‘The engine’s on fire!’ Robbie hollered.

Buzz hauled himself out at the same time as Frank ambled over, a rag in his hand. He squashed it over
the flame, damping it down. He kept his face straight and said, ‘Thought that might happen. You’ve got the dizzy out by a hundred and eighty degrees.’

It took us another half hour of taking the dizzy out, adjusting it, putting it back and trying the engine before we got things running sweetly, with no flames and no backfiring.

We stood around, looking at the car. ‘A good day’s work,’ I said.

Robbie picked up his bike. ‘Speaking of work, I gotta go.’

Buzz leapt as if a bee had got him in a tender spot. ‘Shit! What’s the time?’ He took off for the house.

‘See ya tomorrow,’ I shouted. He waved a hand.

I didn’t want to ride to Tauranga again. I thought about it all the way home, and I had room for thinking, because old ditzy Robbie was riding straight and true. The age of miracles and all that. But no miracle slipped into my head.

Speck came to meet me. Gramps was home, but the kitchen wasn’t looking like an army had gone through it. ‘Where’s the old guy?’ I asked Speck. I took a look through the window. Sure enough he was out in the back garden, doing something fancy with a wheelbarrow and the compost heap. ‘Doing his bit,’ I told Speck.

I made food for me and her. Damn it. I so didn’t want to spend another day on the bike. And we could get all the way out there and the wrecker mightn’t have a fecking gear box anyway. Or we could get one and the thing could be a box of bones and how the
hell were we meant to know? Speck was no help.

I wandered out to Gramps. ‘Know anything about gear boxes?’ I asked.

He straightened up. ‘I might. But I’m too dry to talk. Cuppa could help.’

The old blackmailer. I went back inside to put the kettle on. Brought him his cuppa and a pile of yesterday’s biscuits, which I ate most of.

‘What you want to know?’

‘How you can tell if one’s any good if it’s in a wrecked car,’ I said.

‘Don’t think you can,’ he said. ‘Luck of the draw.’

Shit. If that was right, we could definitely have a long bike ride for nothing.

‘Tell you what,’ he said after he’d chewed through two biscuits and downed his cuppa without saying a word. ‘You clean my car. Inside and out. And I’ll take the three of you to the wrecker tomorrow.’

I thought about that. The pain of riding, versus the pain of Gramps crowing like a rooster because he’d got some work out of me, plus I’d have to clean that car like he was going to get married in the old heap. Pain today, gain tomorrow?

‘Okay,’ I said.

He went back to the wheelbarrow, cackling like a chook.

I cleaned the car. Vacuumed it. Cleaned the windows inside. It took me nearly two hours — less than the time it took to ride one way to the wrecker. Halfway through, Gramps took himself into the kitchen and watched me through the window.

‘Finished!’ I bellowed.

He came out, inspected it like it was the latest Lamborghini instead of an old Honda. ‘Not bad. Not bad at all.’ He nodded. ‘Okay, you’ve earned yourself a ride tomorrow.’

‘Thanks Gramps.’ I ignored the lesson-for-Jake.

I rang Robbie. ‘Awesome. Didn’t want to do that ride again.’

I rang Buzz. ‘Brilliant. What did you have to do to score that?’

‘Clean his car. Turns out it’s not brown. It’s red.’

Buzz laughed. ‘See you tomorrow. Good one, Jake.’

More Brownie points. They were mounting up.

GRAMPS STAYED IN the car with his paper while we hit the wrecker’s yard. Buzz asked the guy in the office if he knew whether any of the Commodores had working gear boxes. The man wasn’t helpful. ‘Just pick your car, sonny. You might be lucky. You might not be.’

I bet a thousand that he hoped we’d be dead unlucky.

‘So do we choose a really smashed-up car or one that’s not so bent and busted?’ Robbie asked.

We didn’t know. We walked down the row, looking at all the wrecks and not getting any nearer to reaching a decision. After a few minutes of that, Buzz said, ‘I say we don’t get one from a smash. The drive shaft could be bent and the whole thing completely munted.’

True. In the end we settled on the car we’d taken
the starter motor from. Buzz said, ‘Okay, who wants to slide under and undo the bolts?’

Robbie looked at me. I looked at Robbie.

‘Um, I don’t actually know what a gear box looks like,’ I said, feeling really stupid.

Robbie said, ‘Same.’

But did Buzz quietly get himself under the car and sort it all? No. ‘Come on, guys. Time to learn. Stick your heads under and watch.’

All three of us lay on the ground so that the car had legs sticking out from the front and both sides. ‘Drive shaft first,’ Buzz said.

There were four bolts to undo. None of them gave him any problems, which was lucky because we’d left the spray lube at his place. He slid the shaft out.

‘Okay, bros — who’s going to take the clutch cable off?’

‘Robbie can,’ I said.

‘Jake will,’ he said.

Buzz said, ‘Morons.’ He showed us where it was. It actually wasn’t too complicated, and by the time I’d undone a heap more bolts I knew what a bell housing was and would know a cross-member if one ever hit me on the head.

Buzz wriggled out from under the car.

‘Hey! Where are you going?’ Robbie yelled. ‘The bloody thing’s still stuck in the bloody wreck.’

‘Come and get your mind expanded, my friend,’ Buzz said.

I wasn’t sorry to get vertical again. Buzz was leaning into the car and tugging at the console round the gear
stick. ‘It’s much easier to get it out if we take the gear stick out first.’ He tugged at the console around it. ‘Damn it! These things are buggers to get off.’

Not if you’ve got brains, bro.
I pulled my head out of the car and went fishing in the bag of tools.

Buzz looked up when I came back waving the eight-inch crescent. ‘Wake up, Jake. That’s no use.’

‘Stand back,’ I ordered. ‘Watch and learn.’ I took an almighty swing at the plastic console and smashed the head of the spanner into it. A crack line shot across it.

‘He could have a brain in his head after all,’ Robbie said.

‘Classy,’ Buzz said. ‘And tidy.’

I didn’t care, just kept on bashing. After a few more thumps, Robbie got stuck in with the smaller crescent. It wasn’t as good, but he did enough damage to make him happy. Buzz watched, nodding his head every time another chunk of plastic bit the dust.

It didn’t take long to demolish the console. ‘Look at that,’ Robbie said. ‘One perfect gear stick.’

No dramas getting it out either, then it was back under the car where we discovered exactly how heavy a gear box was. We had quite a struggle to lift the fecker.

‘It had better work after all this,’ Buzz grunted.

We lugged it to the office, paid our money, and headed for Gramps and his chariot, mighty glad we didn’t have to try to carry the gear box and drive shaft on our bikes.

Frank wasn’t around when we got back, but he’d left us a very loud note. USE THE BIG JACK TO
LIFT THE CAR. PUT AXLE STANDS UNDER IT. IF I GET BACK AND FIND YOU SQUASHED YOU’RE DEAD.

We got the picture.

Robbie and I got the honour of taking the gear box out of the Commodore while Buzz kept a sharp eye on us. No sweat. It wasn’t too hard getting the new one back in. No dramas.

We lowered the car. Now for the big test — had we got a good one or a lemon?

Buzz climbed in via the window and started the motor without any flames or backfiring. The three of us held our breaths as he slipped the gear stick into first and eased down on the gas. ‘Yes!’ Buzz had a huge grin on his face while Robbie and I leapt up and down, high-fiving and yahooing. Frank drove up in time to watch Buzz do a lap of the yard.

‘Can’t believe it,’ Robbie said. ‘We’ve got the old girl going.’

Frank got out of the ute. ‘Well done, you lot. Good work. We’ll put it on the trailer and take it to the paddock. Which is where, by the way?’ He looked at us, head on one side.

‘Um,’ said Robbie.

‘Er,’ I said.

‘We haven’t actually thought about that,’ said Buzz.

Frank did the slight grin and headed into the shed. ‘Let me know when you’ve got it sorted.’

‘Hot bloody damn,’ Buzz said.

‘Never thought about getting a paddock,’ Robbie
said. He looked at Buzz. ‘Could you ask some of your farmers?’

Buzz shrugged. ‘I guess. They’ll say no, though. They won’t want a whole paddock wrecked.’ He rubbed his hands through his hair. I guess grease could be good for hair. ‘It’ll be sweet after the maize is harvested.’

‘When’s that?’ I asked. Soon? Like tomorrow?

Buzz pulled his mouth down. ‘Starts in March.’

We kicked round a few ideas. Came up with sweet nothing. Went home.

GRAMPS WAS COOKING again. Preparing a feast for the barbie. Sausages and steak soaking in
something
. Speck didn’t come and say hi — too busy with pieces of steak in her dish.

‘End of the world on the way, is it?’ Gramps asked.

Very funny. I stuck my head in the fridge. Tried the pantry. Nothing. It would have to be toast.

‘Gear box no good?’ he asked. He sounded faintly interested, so I told him the sad story and waited for him to laugh his socks off.

He did do a bit of a grin, but he looked like he was thinking too, so I kept my trap shut, squatted down and had a chat to Speck.

But nothing doing. Gramps shook his head. ‘If I think of anywhere, I’ll let you know.’ He put his hand on my shoulder. ‘If I had a paddock, I’d let you use it.’

Easy to say, but coming from him that was like saying a big fat
sorry about that old chum.
So I just said, ‘Ta.’

Mum came home looking about as cheerful as I felt. She flopped into a deck chair. Gramps brought her out a cold one. Didn’t offer me one, so I got it myself. He grabbed it off me. ‘You don’t drink till you can buy your own.’ I didn’t bother pointing out that the rate the law was heading that would be when I was about the same age as him.

‘I need a new job,’ Mum said. She said that on average once a month. Apparently receptionist at a land agent’s wasn’t the job of her dreams. She looked at me. ‘You’d better do some work at school this year, Jake. Get some qualifications behind you.’

Yeah, yeah.

Gramps fired up the barbie. People started arriving. He must’ve invited the entire bowling club, median age ninety not out. The phone went just when they were starting to sing. I raced inside to answer it on the off-chance it was Buzz saying his dad had found us a paddock.

In my dreams.

‘Yeah?’

‘Dad’s found us a paddock!’

I nearly dropped the phone. Nearly fell through the floor. Gasped a couple of times till I found some breath. ‘For real? Honest to god and you’re not kidding?’ I’d kill him if he was.

Buzz laughed. ‘Honest. It’s not far from town. The owner is going to develop it, starting in February. He says we’ll help keep the grass down.’

I almost didn’t want to ask, but I had to know. ‘Is he going to charge us rent?’

He laughed again. ‘Nope. Says it’s only for a month. Not worth it.’

‘Bloody brilliant.’ I had a grin from left ear to right ear. ‘I guess we can’t start right now?’ I wasn’t serious, but if he’d said yes I’d have been at his in a flash.

‘Tomorrow morning,’ Buzz said. ‘Dad says he can take us at eight or eleven.’

Eight o’clock. That was frighteningly early. Robbie and I would have to leave town at just after seven. ‘Eight,’ I said. ‘Can’t wait till eleven.’

‘That’s what Robbie said too,’ Buzz said. ‘See you in the morning at sparrow’s fart.’

Yes! I was so pleased I wandered out into the middle of geriatric sing-along hour, but it wasn’t all bad — there was one sausage left on the barbie.

In the morning, Gramps forgot to do the fake heart attack but I thought Mum might have one for real. ‘Got a paddock then?’ Gramps asked after a hard look at my face.

‘All sorted. Frank found us one,’ I said.

‘That was quick.’ He thought for a moment, then he laughed. ‘Bet you Frank had it arranged way before last night.’

The spoonful of weet-bix only made it halfway to my mouth. But I had a horrible suspicion he was right, the old bugger.

I put the possibility to Robbie as we left town, then realised I shouldn’t have when he went back to his old habits and rode out into the traffic lane. ‘Robbie!’

‘Sorry.’ He stopped riding. ‘I bet that’s right, though. Trust Frank to let us sweat it out.’

We got back on the road and Robbie kept his mind on the job. ‘You going to say anything?’ he asked when we got to the Trings’ driveway.

I shook my head. ‘Nah. We’ve got the paddock. Who cares?’

Buzz had the trailer hitched up and the basher waiting ready for somebody to drive it on. ‘Want to do it?’ he asked, looking from Robbie to me.

‘Paper scissors rock?’ Robbie asked.

Let
me win!
Frank wasn’t around, but even if he turned up to watch I didn’t care. I just wanted to get behind the wheel.

Robbie won.

He let out a war cry and slid in through the window. He got the motor going with a roar that rattled the windows and sent the dog crazy. Put it in gear. Stalled it.

‘Don’t wreck the gear box before we’ve even got started,’ I said.

Robbie shook his head like it had cobwebs he wanted rid of. He tried again, got the front wheels on the ramps. Stalled.

‘Give it more power,’ Buzz said. ‘You’re driving like a granny.’

So the next time he over-revved it and stalled again.

It took him four more goes before he had the car on the trailer. I could have done it in one, I’d put money on it.

Frank came out of the shed, carrying a coil of rope in one hand and a petrol can in the other. ‘After you’ve gone through this, you’re going to have to buy your own.’

Great. We only had about fifty left. That wouldn’t see us through the holidays. Oh well, no use worrying about it till I had to. We helped tie the car down, chucked the bikes on the back of the ute, Robbie and I climbed on after them and we were off.

THE PADDOCK WAS close to town but back from the main road, which was good because we didn’t want our party crashed by boy-racer wannabes. It was about the size of a couple of football fields, not steep but not dead flat either. Fences on two sides with hedges round the others, and a tree in one corner. And, best of all, not a house in sight.

I got to drive the car off the trailer. Crunched the gears getting it into reverse, but apart from that no problem. As soon as the car was on the level, I slipped the gear stick into first and I was away, ignoring the yells behind me. Second gear, third, top. Put my foot down, felt the wheels spin, eased off. Hell! Fence dead ahead. Yanked hard on the steering wheel, the car wobbled and a screeching noise rose above the roar of the exhaust. Bloody hell! I was drifting along the wires. I pulled on the steering wheel again, got free of the fence and decided it was about time to get back to the others.

Buzz and Robbie raced up to me, shouting, ‘Wicked! Did you hear the screech? Great timing, Jake! Thought you were going to total the fence for sure.’

Frank wasn’t smiling. ‘Just so you know,’ he said.
‘Any damage to the fencing has to be made good.’ He looked at me. ‘You break it, you pay for it.’ He got back in the ute and took himself off.

‘Probably lucky you didn’t go through it then,’ Buzz said.

Yeah. I’d be up the creek without a carburettor if I’d put a hole in it. I hoisted myself out of the car to let the others have a go.

We concentrated on driving round the paddock to begin with. Buzz started doing wheel spins, but he already knew the finer points of driving. Robbie and me were pretty green. The only driving I ever got to do was taking Mum’s car out of the garage or shifting Gramps’s when he wanted it out of the drive. That meant I’d never used a gear higher than first before, though I was pretty handy with reverse.

I knew I’d be better than Robbie, though. Dreamy old Robbie who couldn’t ride in a straight line — until a week ago. I was right. Talk about cow-handed. The poor old car bunny-hopped, it stalled, the engine hit high revs, then he’d graunch the gears and stall it.

‘We’re going to need another gear box at this rate,’ Buzz said.

‘The clutch probably isn’t doing too well either,’ I said.

‘We could give him a hand,’ Buzz said. ‘Give him a hint or two.’

But when Robbie juddered to a stop beside us and climbed out, his face was a rock of determination. ‘I’ll work it out. I’ll beat the bastard.’

We kept our mouths shut. No pain, no gain —
although we could do without the car suffering too much pain.

We chucked that car around the paddock till the sun warned Buzz it might be coming up to cow time. Robbie had to take himself off to his fun job too. I thought about staying, about having the car all to myself. But, one, I was starving and, two, I didn’t think it’d be a good idea to use up more than my share of gas.

‘What time tomorrow?’ Robbie asked.

Buzz said, ‘Why the hell can’t you two get yourselves a mobile?’

I shrugged. ‘Don’t need one.’ And I can’t pay for one either.

Robbie said, ‘Why? You guys are here. I can just talk to you.’ He lost phones quicker than he could swap TV channels.

We decided to meet up at the bottom of the road to the paddock at nine in the morning.

BOOK: Dirt Bomb
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