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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 (6 page)

BOOK: Dirt Bomb
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I shoved the flyers right back at him. ‘No way.’ I glared at him. ‘And don’t you put them up either. How’d you like it if your face was plastered all over town?’

He took a look at the page like he’d never seen it before. ‘You could have a point there, Jake. No problem. Just cut it off.’

Hell, he just didn’t get it. ‘No. No leaflet drop. No flyer. Final.’

I had a look at the newspaper he’d left spread out on the table. ‘There’s nothing there,’ he said. ‘That’s why you need to advertise.’

‘No,’ I said.

He shrugged. ‘Suit yourself.’

I fired up the computer. There was an article about driving a slalom. I wondered if Buzz and Robbie would read up how to drive one. But no, they wouldn’t have time — too busy earning money.

The next day when we were setting up the cones, I said, ‘Let’s put them closer together. It got too easy yesterday.’

‘Suits me,’ Buzz said.

He won the first run. He was much slower than when the cones had been wide apart and he wasn’t as tidy.

‘I reckon he’ll knock seven down,’ Robbie said.

Wrong. Buzz only left seven standing.

My turn. I decided not to follow the advice from the article, not yet. I needed to get the feel of the
course first, but I went at the same speed as the day before, swinging so wide to get through the first gap that I missed it completely, along with gap number two. I slowed down enough to get me through gap four, stepped on the gas and missed the next three, slowed to a crawl to finish the run. And drove back to my mates who were slow clapping.

Robbie climbed on board next. ‘Watch and learn, my friend. Watch and learn.’

‘How not to drive a slalom,’ Buzz said as Robbie skittled just about every cone.

I decided I’d try what the article said to do. One thing was for sure — I’d be better than Robbie, whatever I did. But I wanted to be better than Buzz. So I tried it on my next turn, which meant I had to slow right down. And when I came back, Buzz and Robbie were on their knees crawling along the grass.

Fair enough. I had driven at a crawl. But it was hard, trying to watch where I wanted to go instead of directly in front of me.

I thought about what to do — stick with the instructions or just go for it. It was more fun just going for it. I did that for an hour or so, but it got boring when there was no challenge in it. Any idiot could knock over road cones. I went back to trying to look ahead of where I was driving, back to trying to keep my eyes on where I wanted to go, trying to keep my head upright instead of leaning into the corners. That was meant to help. It didn’t seem to, any more than the other rules did. I nearly gave up. Run after run, I sent cones flying, and not
just one or two either. I slowed right down to a crawl. Got right through, but — hold the champagne — you could do it with eyes shut at that speed. Robbie and Buzz were lying on the ground when I got back from that one. I kept trying. Nothing felt different, and concentrating like hell was no fun.

Buzz climbed into the car after a run where I’d only hit three cones. ‘Good work, Jake my man. You went faster than a crawl that time.’

He took off, belting up the paddock. He jammed on the brakes, slid smack into the first corner, went wide so that he left the next eight cones standing because he zapped past them on the outside. Right at the end, he barreled back into the course and flattened the final cone.

Robbie shook his head. ‘Fast but not tidy.’

Buzz wasn’t worried. ‘We’re here to have fun, my men. Fast is fun.’ He sat on the car door and swung his legs over. ‘Try it, Jake. It’s a blast.’

What the hell. I floored the gas and took off with a roar of exhaust. Yes! I was laughing, fighting the car, turning into the bends with brakes screeching. I sent cones flying at every turn.

Robbie and Buzz were cheering when I got back. ‘Told you,’ Buzz said.

Robbie jumped in, fired up the engine, crunched into first gear, blipped the gas, spun the wheels, then powered off.

Buzz shook his head. ‘Mate, we could be needing a new gear box.’

We heard every single gear change. I pictured little
pieces of metal flying off the cogs every time Robbie messed up a change. I drove so much better than he did — almost as good as Buzz did, I reckon. It just proved what a bit of practice could do.

Which led me right round to thinking about whether or not I wanted to beat Buzz at the slalom. I didn’t have to think long and hard about that one: yes I did, I so absolutely did.

I watched him carefully when he did his next run. Robbie was yabbering away beside me about how good Buzz was and how he was going to practise so he could beat him. I said
yeah
and
good on yo
u
to make him think I was listening. My mind was on Buzz. He was getting slightly faster, but he never did a run without knocking over at least half the cones. I tuned into what Robbie was saying and clapped him on the shoulder. ‘Me too, bro. Tell you what, though — I’m going to beat the both of you.’

Robbie said, ‘Yeah, right! Slow and sure never won a slalom, bro.’

No, but fast and furious when you didn’t know what the hell you were doing wasn’t getting us far either.

I went back to following the rules. They went back to mocking me. I so wanted to floor it, to screech into the turns, to feel the car judder as the wheels lost traction, but I didn’t. The only way to get better than Buzz was to learn how to do it properly. I just hoped that bloody article was right, because I was going to look a proper wally if I kept up my granny-driving and never got any better.

Then, suddenly, things changed. I stopped feeling like I was fighting the car. The gear changes flowed better, the turns felt smoother. I was still hitting more cones than I missed but, yes! I was getting somewhere.

After about ten more attempts, I did a run where I only hit one cone. The next time I got through with every cone untouched. I wasn’t going the speed the others were driving at, but I wasn’t crawling either. The guys watched me come back, hands on their hips, thinking-type looks on their faces.

‘Okay,’ Robbie said, ‘so what’s the secret?’

‘Well, it’s like this. You have to …’

Buzz turned to Robbie. ‘Any shit, and we deck him. Okay?’

Robbie flexed his biceps. ‘Absolutely.’

I got myself out of the car before I said anything. ‘This article I read … it said you have to focus on the bend you’re coming up to. Forget the rest of the course. Just take each corner in turn.’

They squinted at me, faces all intense and thoughtful. Then they looked at each other and shook their heads. I took off before they did, racing up the paddock, swerving, snatching up a road cone before turning to face them. Couldn’t run any further because I was laughing too hard. I held the cone in front of me like a shield. ‘Okay, cool it! Here’s the real deal.’

I told them as we walked back to the car. ‘Is that all?’ Buzz asked, and I got the picture that if it wasn’t I’d be toast.

‘Honest, that’s all,’ I said. ‘It felt really boring and dumb to start with. You’ve got to keep at it.’

They both had a go, keeping their eyes on the course ahead of them. They stuffed up big time. When it was my turn again, they didn’t wait at the start. Trusting buggers — Buzz stood halfway along the course and Robbie went up to near the final cone. They’d be watching to see where I was looking. If I could have worked out a way to fool them, I would have, but I figured that’d take a lot more skill than I had, so I just drove the best I could. I didn’t miss a gap, didn’t hit a cone either. Yes!

They didn’t say anything when I got out of the car. Buzz just got in and took off. We watched him send the first five cones flying.

‘What you said — it’s no shit?’ Robbie asked.

‘Try it and see,’ I said. He’d been watching every single thing I did with my head. He’d looked so hard, he’d probably seen when I blinked.

It was nearly time to leave. Buzz and Robbie didn’t get any better, but I could tell I was getting faster. When they nailed it some time in the next day or two, that would be when I’d suggest timing our runs. Nothing like a bit of competition to spice things up.

I GOT HOME to find Gramps all hyped up and waiting for me. He didn’t even let me put a foot in the door before he started yapping.

‘There’s a job at the supermarket. You’ve got an appointment at 4.15, so you’ll have to step on it.’

I stopped dead. What? I didn’t want to work in a bloody supermarket.

Gramps stomped forward, grabbed me and towed me into the house. ‘Get a move on, lad! Jump in the shower and make sure you wash your hair. That’s what the shampoo is for.’

Funny. Not. I just stood, gaping at the kitchen. My Christmas jeans lay over the back of one chair, the too small green tee-shirt he’d given me was on another one. He’d ironed them both.

He took a long breath, let it out slowly, then gulped in another one. ‘Look, Jake, you’re either serious about getting a job. Or you’re not. Which is it?’

I went to the pantry. He’d cooked cheese scones.
I ate a couple of them without saying a word, but there was plenty going on in my head. I didn’t want a job. I wanted money. Saying I was looking had got everyone off my back.

The supermarket. Hell on wheels.

Gramps looked like he was on the verge of exploding. ‘You’ve got half an hour to get cleaned up and get down there. I’ll take you. Move it.’

I moved it. At least taking a shower would give me time to think.

‘Don’t forget the shampoo!’ he yelled through the door.

I decided several things while the water cascaded over me. The obvious one was that it would be a good idea to act like I was doing my best to impress the supermarket boss. The next was that I hadn’t ever believed I’d have to actually get a job — that I’d have to work. Whatever way I looked at it, I just couldn’t see myself behind the check-out or stacking the shelves.

But I always came back to the tricky part: I needed money.

Gramps banged on the door. ‘Hurry up, Jake. Time’s moving on. And make sure you have a shave.’

Take over my life, why don’t you?

I followed his orders, though, and what I was thinking now was that if I wasn’t careful I’d have to go through the hair and face routine every day.

I came out of the bathroom, towel round me and my hair dripping.

‘I’ve put your clothes in your bedroom,’ he said
after taking a hard look at my hair and face.

All right, you old bastard — you can force me into this interview but thank Christ you won’t be coming in with me.

I pulled on the jeans and the tee-shirt. My school shoes were on the floor and polished. They’d probably died of shock.

I towelled off my hair and dragged a comb through it. Lucky there wasn’t time for Gramps to haul me off to a barber for a short back and sides.

I took a look at myself in the mirror. What a wanker. I never wore tee-shirts this tight. Or jeans this skinny, for that matter. The hair was a disaster too — stuck flat to my head.

Gramps, though, was ecstatic. ‘That’s more like it, Jake. You look like a man of the world.’

His world, not mine.

I got in the car, and he drove me — jerkily — to the supermarket.

‘Good luck, son. I always knew you had it in you.’

He told me where to go and who to ask for. I walked in with my mind spinning in 360s.

I’d mess up the interview.

No, I’d do my best.

They wouldn’t want me anyway.

No way could I stand working here.

I needed money, needed this job.

Didn’t want this job.

I was there, and a girl behind a desk was smiling at me. ‘You’ve come for the interview?’

She was a babe — huge dark eyes, shining hair down past her shoulders, and a smile that went straight into
my blood. ‘Um, yeah. I mean — yes, thanks. That’s what I’m here for.’ Felt like a total loser.

That smile again. ‘Take a seat. Mrs Pere won’t be long.’

I wanted to keep her talking. ‘So what exactly is the job?’ Then I felt stupid all over again.

‘You don’t know?’ She sounded puzzled, but she wasn’t mean about it.

My face was on fire — one way to dry my hair, I guess. I kept falling over my words as I told her about Gramps, but she didn’t seem to mind.

‘Mrs P wants check-out chicks for after school Thursdays and Fridays. Four till eight.’

I slouched back in the chair. ‘That lets me out then.’ I held out a piece of my hair. ‘It might be long, but I’m not a chick.’

She laughed and said, ‘She’s okay with check-out roosters too.’

The door behind her opened, and Harriet Jacobson from school walked out, followed by a woman who said, ‘We’ll let you know tomorrow, Harriet.’ Then she looked at me. ‘Jake Stringer? Come in, please.’

I hauled myself to my feet, smiled at the girl, gave Harriet a grin and walked into the den of doom.

The interview didn’t get off to the best of starts.

‘Can I see your CV please, Jake.’

Ha! Gramps hadn’t thought of that one. ‘Um, I haven’t got one,’ I said.

It didn’t faze her. ‘I see. Just tell me your age, what qualifications you’ve got and what jobs you’ve done before.’

Telling her about the quals didn’t take long. NCEA
Level 1 for maths, English and science. I was glad Level 2 results weren’t out yet. I knew they weren’t going to be good. ‘I’m sixteen — nearly seventeen. I haven’t had a job before.’

‘Hmm,’ she said. ‘Why do you want one now?’

I shrugged. ‘I need the money.’

She narrowed her eyes at me and I could see her thinking,
Chuck him out now or give him one more chance?
She went for the one more chance, damn it. ‘Why do you suddenly need money? Why now? Why not a year ago?’

I told her about the car, about wanting my licence and Mum not having the money to pay for it. I could have added that it was time I pulled my weight, but the image of me standing behind a check-out looking all scrubbed and polished stopped me. I so did not want this job.

She stood up. ‘Thank you, Jake. Let Melanie have your mobile number. We’ll text you tomorrow and let you know.’

‘I don’t have a mobile,’ I said and grinned at her. ‘No money.’

I walked out of the office to find Jason Katene from school waiting for his turn and chatting up Melanie like a pro. I nodded, he nodded back, then when he’d gone I gave Melanie my land line. ‘No mobile?’ she asked.

I shook my head. ‘They cost money.’

‘Well, good luck,’ she said, smiling that killer smile again.

I couldn’t think of anything more to say, so I said,
‘See ya round.’ In my dreams. She was a top girl. She wouldn’t want anything to do with a loser like me.

Gramps leapt out of the car when he saw me coming. ‘Well? How did it go?’

I waited till I got myself sat down. ‘Okay. Should have had a CV, though. She’s going to let me know tomorrow.’ Then I told him about the two other kids from school. ‘Looks like quite a few people are applying.’

‘Don’t worry, Jake. You’re as good as any of them,’ said old cheerful-chops.

Funny really: he was worried I wouldn’t get it and I was worried I would.

Mum was thrilled when Gramps blabbered on about it. ‘You asked what the pay rate is, Jake?’ he said.

I hadn’t even given it a thought, which probably said something about how badly I wanted it.

‘Never mind,’ he said. ‘Jump on the computer. Look at the Department of Labour website. That should give you an idea.’

Anything to shut him up. From what I could work out when I searched the site, I’d get at least $10.20 an hour before tax. Next I went back to the site about getting your licence. To get my full was going to cost roughly $300. I did the maths. At ten bucks an hour (and hell knew how much tax the bloodsuckers would take out of that), it would take me thirty hours to earn enough. Eight hours a week. I stopped to work it out. Three and a half weeks. I hadn’t asked when the start date was. If it was when school started, it could be halfway through February before I had the money to sit my learner’s.

I went to bed that night with my mind back on the spin cycle. Looking at it one way, I wanted that job. Look at it a different way, and all I felt was sick.

IT WAS A relief to get back to the paddock the next day. I told the others about the job, just so they’d know I was trying. I’d had my eye on the fuel gauge. It was heading towards empty fast. We had Frank’s tin of gas, then only enough cash to fill the car up once, if that. The guys needed to know I was serious about the job, even if I didn’t know myself if I was or if I wasn’t.

They gave me a hard time. ‘You’ll have to wear a hello-my-name-is-Jake badge,’ Robbie said.

‘Great uniform,’ Buzz said. ‘It’ll match your eyes.’ The uniform was red.

Time to distract them. ‘How about we do timed slaloms?’

Buzz shook his head. ‘Not yet. Robbie and me need more practice first.’

Robbie said, ‘I found that article you read.’ He said to Buzz, ‘He’s not kidding us. You do have to look ahead.’

So they slowed down and practised, but I practised too and I was speeding up. I was going to make mince on toast out of them or bust a gut trying.

The sun was belting down, and we changed the course so that we could sit under the tree when we weren’t driving.

It was getting on in the afternoon by the time they decided they were expert enough to make a competition of it. Fine by me. Buzz had got the hang of it pretty quickly and I was busting to see if I could beat him. They made me go first. I took off, not going hard out. I wanted something to pull out if they got too close. It was a good run, nice and tidy, and all the cones still standing.

‘Thirty-nine seconds,’ Buzz said, checking the stopwatch on his phone.

He handed it over and slid into the car, his face all concentration. He had me worried — snaked through the first four cones like he was chasing the end of the world. Then it all turned to custard.

Robbie yelled, ‘Way to go!’

I yelled, ‘Good one!’

Buzz finished with the last four cones scattered over the paddock. He leaned out the window, picking them up and repositioning them on the way back.

‘Time?’ he asked.

‘A hundred years,’ I said. I held out the phone: 38.7.

‘I guess it doesn’t count if you knock over the cones,’ he said.

‘I guess it doesn’t,’ Robbie said, getting into the car.

He didn’t hit one cone and came back. ‘How did I do? I reckon I would have knocked a second off your time, Jake.’

Buzz held out the phone. We didn’t say anything, just watched Robbie’s face.

‘Fifty-five point one! You’re kidding me!’

‘Sorry old man,’ I said.

‘Can’t argue with the technology,’ Buzz said.

We got in a few more runs before Buzz’s alarm told him it was time to hit the road. His best time was 40.8 and Robbie got down to 51.2. My best time was an even 37. Go, Jake!

We got on our non-motorised transport and rode home.

I’d forgotten all about the job, which was weird because I hadn’t forgotten about Melanie. Her face kept popping up at odd times during the day. But it was Gramps’s mile-long face that greeted me when I got home, not hers.

‘Bad news, Jake,’ he said. ‘They rang about the job. No go, I’m afraid.’

‘Oh.’ That was all I could think of to say. It wouldn’t have been tactical to tell him I was one very relieved guy. No supermarket job for me. But no pay either. Back in the same old bind.

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