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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 (5 page)

BOOK: Dirt Bomb
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ROBBIE RODE BACK to town without me having to yell at him once. Impressive. He’d be gutted about what a useless driver he was, but somehow he kept his mind on the job of riding in a straight line.

‘See ya tomorrow,’ he said, heading off down his street.

I wasn’t that happy with my driving either. Too many graunches when I changed gear. Too much stalling when I tried a fast take-off. I definitely needed some tips. Maybe if Gramps was in a good mood he might take me out for a lesson.

He wasn’t home. No Gramps, no food cooking, nothing in the pantry. I had to make do with a pile of toast. He still wasn’t home when the toast was gone, so I jumped on the computer. When in doubt, Google for answers.

From the posts I read, it looked like I wasn’t synchronising the accelerator with the clutch when I tried to change out of first. One site said to watch the
rev counter. Our old girl didn’t have a rev counter. But what was clear from a couple of hours searching was that I should get the basics sorted before I tried the fancy moves. I watched a few You Tube clips of cars doing 360s, burn-outs and drifting. I was going to need to be a hell of a lot better at driving before I could do any of that.

Gramps came home. He was wearing his bowling whites, and I reckon if the cops sat outside that club when the ancients were tottering home, they’d catch about half of them for driving over the limit. Gramps was pretty happy, pretty relaxed. Time to ask a favour.

‘Gramps, will you take me out for a drive? Teach me, I mean?’

Unfortunately, he hadn’t had enough whisky to addle the brain. ‘No licence, no driving,’ he said. ‘Get the groceries out of the car for me, will you Jake?’

I went because sometimes there was edible food in those bags. I even unpacked them without being asked. A tin of baked beans! Score!

‘Put the rest away,’ said Gramps.

He sat watching me to make sure I did it before I fed my face.

‘You know, Jake — you don’t have to be the same as your dad.’

And what the hell was that supposed to mean? I didn’t even look much like the useless bugger. I started eating, my back to Gramps.

He didn’t get the message. ‘Your dad’s a fun person. Charming.’ Yeah, like father, like son. ‘But he’s got no sort of life. You don’t have to be the same.’

I got what this was about. I turned around to look him right in the eye. ‘I do not want to get a job. Understand?’

‘Never?’ Gramps asked.

I went back to my beans.

‘Your turn to cook,’ he said.

‘Only if it’s snarlers,’ I said.

‘It’s schnitzel. Easy. I’ll tell you what to do.’

Thanks a million. I wanted help with driving and he was giving me bloody cooking lessons.

‘You’ll be glad one day,’ he said.

Yeah, yeah.

In the morning, Robbie and I rode out of town and got to the bottom of paddock road just as Buzz was coming towards it. Who needed a mobile?

Buzz won paper scissors rock and got first go at the car. He roared off up the paddock, heading straight for the fence.

‘What the … Idiot!’

Then right at the last second, the car slammed sideways and stopped. Buzz started the motor and roared back, aiming for the two of us. We scattered. He did the same sideways move, coming to a stop exactly between us. Not funny.

‘You trying to kill us?’ I yelled.

Buzz swung out of the car. ‘Nah. I knew I’d stop. Been practising at home.’

We looked at him. How was he to know if the Commodore would behave the same as the ute or whatever the hell he’d been practising in?

‘It’s a handbrake turn,’ he said. ‘Dad showed me.’

And let him practise too. Some people had all the luck.

‘I’ll show you. If you like,’ he said.

‘Okay,’ said Robbie.

‘Might as well,’ I said.

He showed us, but either he was a rotten teacher or the two of us were dumb.

‘Speed’s about right,’ Buzz said, watching Robbie take the car safely up the middle of the paddock at around 30 k. ‘He’s started the turn …’

‘… and he’s stuffed it up!’ I said. The car shook, the engine revved and stalled. ‘I’d say that’s a forty-
five-degree
turn.’ I would do better. Sure of it.

Robbie drove back, grinning but shaking his head. ‘Harder than it looks, bro,’ he said as he swung himself out of the window.

I didn’t say anything. I was too busy trying to keep Buzz’s instructions in my head. I clipped the seatbelt in and started the motor. A nice smooth
take-off
. I took the speed up to 35 k still in first, engine whining, took my foot off the gas, turned the wheel with my right hand, grabbed the handbrake with my left, pulled it on. Forgot to press in the brake’s release button. Stalled it. I didn’t even make a 45-degree turn.

Robbie and Buzz were rolling around killing themselves laughing when I got back.

Buzz’s turn. Perfect.

I looked at Robbie. He looked back at me. Determined. Both of us. We’d get it or die.

Robbie roared up the paddock, started the turn, then spun out. My turn to crack my ribs laughing.

I had another go. This time I was so busy
concentrating
on remembering to hold down the release
button that I went into the corner too slowly and didn’t have enough grunt to get around the full 180.

Robbie climbed out after his fifth attempt. He kicked the dirt. ‘Man, I’m useless.’

He was right about that. If he’d been heading for the fence, there’d be five bloody great gaps in it by now. But I wasn’t any better.

We kept at it all day. I figured it all came down to bloody synchronisation again.

At the end of the day we parked the car under the tree in the corner where the two hedges met. When I got on my bike, it felt small, light and underpowered. Buzz headed up the road to his house, Robbie and I rode back to town.

Before we parted company, he said, ‘We’re as useless as tits on a bull.’

‘I reckon we’re trying to run before we can walk, sort of thing,’ I said.

‘Yeah? We should get the basics sorted before we try the fancy manoeuvres?’

‘Judging by today,’ I said, ‘I’d have to say yes.’

‘Bugger.’ He stared off into space or somewhere inside his own head, which was about the same as space. ‘I want to be as good as Buzz.’ He thought for a second. ‘Or better.’

‘Yeah. Me too. There’s a lot to learn though. I checked out some websites. Some of them were useful but a lot were about the advanced stuff.’

He looked interested, but he was still doing the space thing. ‘I’m gunna get my learner’s. Dad’ll give me lessons if I do, and then I can practise.’

Well lucky old Robbie. ‘Your olds’ll pay for it?’ I asked. Damn, I should have kept my mouth shut.

‘I’ll pay for it. I’ve got the cash.’ He got on his bike. ‘See ya.’

Yeah. See ya.

Gramps was sitting on the deck when I cruised in the drive. ‘What’s biting you, young fella?’ he asked.

I shrugged. ‘Nothing.’ Nothing that a big injection of cash couldn’t cure. But what the hell, I’d ask him for the licence money. He could only say no. ‘Gramps, would you pay for me to get my learner’s?’

He said no, but of course he didn’t stop at a nice short no. He did the whole lecture about getting a job, standing on my own two feet, couldn’t I see that my mother was worried sick about money? I got the when-I-was-your-age riff. He finished up with, ‘I’ll teach you when you get the licence. Be happy to.’

Thanks. For nothing. And I just might not want lessons from the old bugger anyway.

I got me a feed, then hit the computer again. I’d show them. I’d show the lot of them.
How did you learn to be such a skilful driver, Jake? Taught myself from the web.

About six o’clock, when I figured he’d be home, I rang Dad. ‘Dad, I want to get my learner’s. Will you give me the cash?’

I held my breath. I hadn’t asked him for anything since he’d given me the hundred.

‘Well now, son — good for you for getting your licence …’

‘I haven’t got it, Dad. That’s the point. You need
money to get it, and I haven’t got any.’ Couldn’t put it much plainer than that. I wasn’t liking his tone. It wasn’t sounding like a tone with money behind it.

‘Well son,’ he said, ‘I really feel this is something you need to do for yourself.’ He went on — probably could have kept it up all night, but I didn’t have to listen. I put the phone down. Loser.

I even asked Mum for the cash. Then I wished I hadn’t, because she got tears in her eyes. ‘I’m so sorry, Jake, but I just can’t afford it. I have to get new tyres on the Mitsubishi and god knows how I’m going to pay for them.’

I got out of there quick because Gramps jumped in with, ‘I’ve got enough money, Lizzie. You only have to ask, you know that.’

A father/daughter bonding scene I could do without.

Back to the same old question: get a job or stay happy and unemployed? I consulted Speck. She went with happy and unemployed, but she would, she was a cat. People fed her when she got hungry. ‘What do you know about being a human?’ I asked.

I WENT TO have a session with my driving instructor, aka Mr Google. Read everything I could find about learning the art of driving, but there wasn’t much different from what I’d found last time. Then I had a breakthrough. An article about smooth driving — nearly didn’t look at it, thought it would be for geriatrics.

What it said was: if you want to drive fast you need to drive smooth or you’ll end up in the ditch. And probably dead.

I sat back and thought about how I was driving. I had this vision of racing at Manfeild or Pukekohe, leaving everyone else in my dust. But if the article was right I was going about it all the wrong way. Aggression isn’t the same as speed, it said. Was I driving aggressively? I shut my eyes, trying to see what the car would look like when I was behind the wheel.

Aggressive? I kept the jury out on that one, but what I did see was how rough my driving was. Roaring
along the straights, slamming into the corners any old how, graunching the gears to get out of them. Braking in the middle of the corner wasn’t the best way of getting round, according to the article, and I’d been doing that every time.

But! That was how Gramps drove. And Mum. So, forget about lessons from them. Did Buzz drive like Gramps? What about Frank? I shook my head. Nah, they were both pretty smooth drivers. Frank might give me lessons. Like in my dreams. Frank wouldn’t give me anything until I got myself a job.

I sat back and thought about working, about why I was so dead against it. But why the hell should I look for work? I was still at school, still filling my head with useless facts which wouldn’t help me get a job anyway. It just didn’t feel like me. I didn’t make waves, didn’t stick my head up where it’d get shot off. I was like a glider — I coasted through life. Like father like son, Gramps would say.

Yeah right! I was nothing like my loser father. He was a gambler for starters. I got up and raided the kitchen.

But what if I did get a job? I’d have to be looking for real this time next year anyway. Unless I went to uni, which wasn’t going to happen. I’d had a gutsful of school already.

I found a tin of spag deep in the pantry. Heated it up and ate it. Speck stared at me.

‘You don’t like spag.’

She kept staring.

‘Looks like you think I should sell my soul,’ I said

She jumped up on my knee.

I shovelled in the spag without tasting it. I needed money. It wouldn’t kill me to get a job. Probably.

‘But,’ I told Speck, ‘if I do, I’m not going to do a Dad with my pay.’

I went back to the computer and looked for jobs for five minutes. All I found was babysitting. Not for me. I’d kill the little bastards.

‘I could babysit animals, Speck. Know of anyone in need of a cat-sitter?’ Somebody who would pay fifty bucks an hour?

I heard Gramps turn into the drive. Not a smooth stop. I bet the fifty I didn’t have that the front of the car would have dipped down. Apparently that happened if you jammed on the brakes because you got a sudden weight transfer.

‘G’day Jake. How’s the car going? Come and give me a hand with dinner, will you?’

I can recognise an order when I hear one. ‘I’m busy, Gramps.’

‘You want to eat, you come and help.’

‘I’m looking for a job.’

Silence. Then he came into the lounge with a big fat smile on his face. ‘Good for you, lad. Good for you. I knew you had it in you.’

‘Don’t get excited,’ I said. ‘I haven’t found anything.’ I frowned. ‘You reckon I’d be any good as an exotic dancer? Good money, apparently.’

He cracked up. ‘Tell you what — I’ll buy you the feathers and spangles.’ He bent down to peer at the screen. ‘You’ll have more luck with the paper.’ He
fished in a pocket. ‘Take this. Go and buy one.’

I walked down to the dairy. It was official? Jake Stringer was looking for work? It felt stink, like I’d been cornered and the whole world was yapping at me,
Get a job get a job.
And here I was just caving in, joining the rat-race.

I sat on a stone wall to think. It was nice in the sun. People who slaved their lives away doing jobs they hated didn’t have time to sit in the sun.

But there was no way out of it. I needed the cash.

I bought the paper.

Not even a sniff of a job.

I helped Gramps cook dinner. Stir fry with too many vegetables.

Mum came home. Gramps opened his big mouth and told her I was looking for a job. She hugged me. Tears in her eyes again. Talk about over-reacting — I didn’t even have anything to apply for yet.

I DECIDED NOT to say anything to the guys. But when Robbie yabbered on about how he’d made the appointment to sit his learner’s next week, out it came. ‘I’m looking for a job.’

Buzz stared at me. ‘What brought this on?’

Robbie put a hand on my forehead. ‘You got a fever, bro?’

‘Very funny.’ I shrugged. ‘I want my licence. Gotta pay for it myself. Need a job.’

‘People always need relief milkers,’ Buzz said.

‘I’m not that desperate,’ I said. ‘I’d rather clean offices. Come on, let’s get this show on the road.’

I won paper scissors rock. Yes! Things were looking up.

I started the car, listened for the revs, tried to synch them with the gear changes. Didn’t worry about going fast. Didn’t try a handbrake turn. Tried to get round the corners without jerking the steering wheel and without braking in the middle. Practised changing gear and braking before I got to the corner. Practised powering out of it. Then I tried cornering without braking. Sent the car rocking on its wheels a few times.

Robbie was all determination when he slid in for his go. We watched him try yet another handbrake turn.

Buzz said, ‘Almost! Nearly nailed it that time!’ Then he looked at me. ‘You given up on the handbrakeys?’

I told him what I was doing. He looked impressed. Then he looked thoughtful. I could see him wondering if he was a rough and aggressive driver.

It can’t have bothered him too much, though. He went right on perfecting the doughnut.

Towards home time I decided I’d worked hard enough to deserve a foot-to-the-floor blat around the paddock. I wound up the engine, put my foot down and took off with a shower of wheel spin that sent the bros ducking for cover. I chose a different line round the paddock and the reverse direction from how we’d been driving it. I had my eye on a slight hump in the terrain. I aimed for it, floored the gas and hurtled over it. The car left the ground. I was
flying, but had no time even to yell — I was too busy getting the wheels lined up so that I didn’t flip it on landing. The old girl rocked left, right, then left again, before she decided to stay upright. I cruised back to base, the adrenalin still pulsing.

I could see Buzz and Robbie bouncing around on their toes, just about pulling me back they were so keen to have a go.

Robbie graunched the gears all the way round. He managed to get the car a massive ten centimetres in the air, but he couldn’t get any more out of it. He came back shaking his head and muttering.

Buzz took off with his usual smooth gear changes. ‘He’ll do it, no sweat,’ Robbie said. He sounded gloomy.

We watched Buzz roar up to the hillock and yelled, ‘Way to go!’ as the car floated through the air and landed with barely a wobble.

I did the perfect run my second time out, but the third time I don’t know what happened. There was one hell of a thump somewhere round the rear of the car as I landed, and next thing the exhaust was dragging along the ground. I drove back grinning — the motor sounded real grunty without the exhaust.

‘Good one, bro,’ Robbie said.

‘I vote we don’t fix it,’ Buzz said.

I pulled myself out of the car. ‘Suits me.’

But we decided to wait until the morning to undo the remaining bolt. That was after I’d stretched out a hand to grab hold of it, yelled and dropped it in a hurry. ‘Too hot to handle.’

THE NEXT DAY when we got to the paddock, we found a stack of road cones dumped inside the gate.

Robbie’s mouth dropped open. ‘Bastards! They’re going to start ripping this up. We haven’t even been here a week!’

‘Unknot your nightie,’ Buzz said. ‘Dad said he’d drop them off if he had time.’

I got it. ‘A slalom!’

First, though, we dealt to the exhaust pipe. Then we set up the cones — twenty of them — in a line the length of the paddock. The trick was to put them far enough apart to let us get through the spaces but close enough to make it interesting. Seeing it was all Buzz’s idea, we let him have first go.

‘Bet he knocks six of them over,’ Robbie said.

‘Nah,’ I said. ‘He’ll get right through and make us feel really stink when we knock them all over.’

He clipped the first one, sending it spinning. Flattened the next one so that it spat out from under the car. Got round the third one. Took the fourth with no problem and totalled the next three. After that, he sped up, driving a weaving line that looked okay, except that he took out every one of the remaining thirteen cones, with the final one teetering, tipping, then falling.

Robbie said, ‘He sucks bad.’

Buzz, laughing his head off, came back on the outside of the carnage. We put the cones back, and as
I chased after the ones that had got away I promised myself that no way was I going to be as bad as Buzz.

It was my turn next. I slid in through the window, revved the motor and took off. I must have been going slightly too fast, because I had to stand on the brakes to slow down enough to get through the space between the first two cones. The brakes squealed, the tyres spun, but through I went.

I wrenched the wheel back to attack the next gap — and ran over cone number three. Floored the accelerator to power out of the bend. Swung wide and missed cone five. Damn it! We had the things much too close together … Well, that was easy fixed. I’d just aim for every second gap.

That was better. I liked the feel of the car swinging out of one bend, then back the other way to attack the next gap. I spoiled the run by clipping the final cone, but I was pleased. Counting the last cone, I’d only taken out two.

‘Eat my dust,’ I said as I hauled myself out of the car.

But Buzz had already raced away to reposition the cones so they were further apart.

Robbie went at it like the world was ending, and even with the wide gaps left only four out of the twenty cones standing.

Buzz nailed it on his next go.

It took me a couple of turns before I managed it, but we lost count of how many runs Robbie did before he came back happy and with twenty cones standing in a line behind him.

Then Buzz did a run that made me and Robbie
think he’d lost his marbles. He clipped every single cone —
and
he came back looking pleased with himself.

‘Beat that,’ he said to me as we swapped over. ‘You’ve got to clip each one of the suckers with the back of the car. See how far you can fire it.’

That kept us busy, and it was harder than it looked — but then I was finding out that most of this stuff was. Like handbrakeys, for starters. Just to prove it, I tried one at the end of the run, missing the final cone in the process.

I’d kind of given up expecting it to work but the whole thing came together and just flowed. Foot off the gas, turn the wheel with right hand, pull on the handbrake, foot on clutch, release handbrake — and I was round. I drove back to the others, waving through the window and punching the air.

Robbie climbed in for his turn. ‘I’ll nail the bastard,’ he muttered, and he didn’t mean the slalom, which he ignored.

He nearly did nail the handbrakey, but the car didn’t quite make it right round.

Buzz’s phone started playing some dumb song. Time for him to go to his stink cows. Time for Robbie to head for his broom. Time for me to sit in the sun.

Except that when I got home, Gramps had other ideas.

‘Here, Jake. Take these and put them up at the dairy, any café you can think of, and drop a few off round the neighbours.’ He shoved a bundle of paper at me.

‘What the …’ I couldn’t believe my eyes. The old
bugger had done a flyer with a photo saying what a hard worker I was and how I needed a job I could do round school hours.

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