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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 (7 page)

BOOK: Dirt Bomb
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THE NEXT DAY when Buzz met us at the intersection, he looked like somebody’d stolen his toys.

‘What’s up?’ Robbie asked before I could.

Buzz didn’t answer, just swerved into Paddock Road and rode up it like his bike suddenly had an engine.

We looked at each other, then took off behind him.

‘I hope this isn’t the end of using the paddock,’ Robbie yelled over his shoulder.

‘Keep your eyes on the road,’ I yelled back.

Buzz was in the car and blatting up the paddock by the time we got there, so we had to wait till he’d done three handbrakeys and a couple of 360s before he’d cooled down enough to come back and tell us the news.

‘It’s gotta be bad,’ I said.

‘Haven’t seen him this mad before,’ Robbie said. ‘Not even when Bella’s bugged the hell out of him.’

Buzz did another handbrakey, right in front of us, but we didn’t scatter this time. ‘Bloody parents,’ he
said, swinging himself out of the car. ‘They’re making me go to some bloody wedding in Auckland. It’s some cousin I’ve seen twice in my life.’

‘When?’ I asked.

‘Tomorrow, would you believe.’

‘You didn’t know about this?’ Robbie asked. ‘Man, that stinks.’

Buzz kicked a tyre. ‘Yeah, I knew. Said I wasn’t going to go, but they’re coming down heavy.’

‘It’s not so bad,’ I said. ‘Auckland’s not far. Up and back in a day.’

He slumped back against the car. ‘Four useless days. We’re going to have a holiday, according to them.’

We said nothing for a few seconds, then Robbie said, ‘Cruel, bro.’

I said, ‘We won’t drive till you get back.’ I hoped Buzz’d say,
No, go for it.

But old Robbie chipped in with, ‘That’s right. If you can’t drive, then we don’t either.’

Buzz cheered up a fraction. ‘Thanks, guys.’ He did some deep breathing. ‘Let’s get driving now then. Thirty-seven seconds is the time to beat.’

We gave it everything. Four days without driving — I hoped I wouldn’t forget the stuff I’d learnt.

Buzz got his time down to 39.4 seconds. Robbie was still hovering around 50. I shaved mine down to 36.2. I so could have used those four days.

Just before we finished up, I tried a handbrakey. Nailed it on the second attempt.

We were stacking up the cones when Buzz said, ‘By the way — did you get the job?’

‘Nah. Too much competition. I saw Harriet and Jason there for starters.’

‘Tough,’ Robbie said.

‘Better luck next time,’ Buzz said. I could see him thinking about telling me to milk cows again, but he didn’t.

‘See ya Tuesday,’ I said when we got to the
intersection
. ‘Same place, same time.’

‘See ya.’ He rode off looking gloomy.

‘Four days hanging out with Bella,’ Robbie said. ‘He’s going to go mental.’

‘He’ll have to scrub up for the wedding too,’ I said. ‘You reckon they’ll make him wear a suit?’

‘Man, that would be harsh,’ Robbie said.

We rode home, glad we weren’t in Buzz’s shoes. We stopped at the intersection where Robbie went one

way and I went the other way. ‘Hit the beach tomorrow, bro?’ he asked.

‘Good idea. Meet you here at eleven?’ I could do with a sleep-in.

‘Now you’re thinking,’ he said.

I went home, wondering if Gramps would be waiting to ambush me again. Nope. Must be bowling his heart out. He’d been cooking, though. I cleaned up the kitchen and ate about a quarter of the cake he’d made. Chocolate.

No driving tomorrow — that was going to feel weird. I plonked down at the computer and searched for more info about driving. Read up about how to do a 360, which made me want to try it right then and there. I’d just have to wait.

IN THE MORNING, the two of us hit the beach. It felt wrong going without Buzz. We got there without diversions, even though Robbie had to lead the way. The old dreamy useless Robbie had gone — hard to get the head around.

We ran over the hot sand, jandals in our hands. ‘More fun here than at a wedding,’ Robbie said. He took the next step straight onto a shell and yelped, hopping about and rubbing his foot.

‘Heaps more fun,’ I said. ‘Swim between the flags or live dangerously?’

He stopped running, digging his feet into the sand in search of a cool layer. ‘That lifeguard looks like she could be worth checking out. We swim between the flags.’

I checked out the girl as we got closer. She was different from Melanie. This girl had short hair — shorter than mine. She was tall too, taller than Robbie but not as tall as me, I guessed. She was okay but she didn’t light my fire.

We did the sunblock thing, then stretched out on our towels. I liked getting really hot before I hit the waves. About ten minutes was all it took. I stood up. ‘You coming in, bro?’

He shook his head. ‘Not yet.’

‘Suit yourself.’ I ran down the sand, and through the shallows, making sure I splashed a couple of girls inching their way in. Their squeals followed me as I
dived through a wave. Getting in slowly was for wimps.

I swam out till I was tired, flipped over and lay on my back for a bit, enjoying riding the swell of the waves. I swam back more slowly. The sea and the car — what a brilliant life.

Robbie was still on the beach and still dry when I jogged back to base. He wasn’t lounging about in the sun, though — he was very busy chatting up the lifeguard. He didn’t notice me until I picked up my towel and flicked the sand off it. Some of it just might have hit him. He jumped — his mind had been totally focused on the girl. I got a grin though — he was all lit up like a Christmas tree. ‘Jayna this is Jake.’

‘Hi,’ I said.

‘Nice to meet you, Jake,’ she said.

‘You from England?’ I asked.

Robbie broke in. ‘She’s over here on a lifeguard exchange. Just for the summer.’

She smiled. ‘It’s grand getting away from the snow at home.’

Poor old Robbie. Trust him to pick a girl who lived about 20,000 kilometres away.

She stood up. ‘I’m going to swim now or my break will be over.’ She didn’t invite him to swim too, but I had to hand it to him, he didn’t muck about.

‘Mind if I come with you?’

And off they both ran, skippity hop down to the waves. I watched her, wondering if she’d be a squealer, but she dived in flat and low, then powered off through the water. I laughed. Robbie was going to have to improve his speed if he wanted to keep up with her.

I lay face down on my towel, letting the sun dry my back, thinking about Robbie. He’d seen the girl — I’d forgotten her name already — and he’d just dived into getting to know her. No tiptoeing squealing into the water for him. When I’d seen Melanie, I’d blundered about with my face on fire, stumbling over my words. Yeah, she was older than me and no way would she be interested, but if I could have had a sensible conversation with her it would have been a start.

I wondered if Buzz would hook up with a babe at the wedding. Again I had the feeling of my mates changing and leaving me in their dust. I flipped over, sheltering my eyes with my arm. It’d be cool to have a girlfriend. I started dreaming about holding her hand, going to the beach with her, going to the movies, kissing her. Strange how she looked like Melanie.

But the dream ended with a crash of gears. I’d need money. Even if I got a girl who paid for herself, no way would I ask her to pay for me too. I wasn’t that much of a deadbeat. I bet Dad was, though. I knew he dated women and he’d smarm his way out of paying. He called it charm. Useless bugger.

Just face the facts, Jake. Jump right in. Just Nike it.
I would really have to get a job. In a supermarket if I had to.

Depressing.

The girl and Robbie ran out of the water. They were laughing. She went into the clubhouse and he plonked down beside me.

‘What a babe,’ he said.

‘You going to see her again?’ I asked. ‘She lives in England.’

He rubbed the towel over his head, although why he bothered when his hair was practically shaved off was a mystery. ‘A holiday romance, bro. Seize the day and all that.’

I thought about that. It had appeal. No strings, no chance of things getting heavy. I slapped my hand down on his sorry excuse for abs. ‘Best of luck, bro.’

But his eyes were on the clubhouse, watching for the girl. She ran back to us. Correction — she ran back to him.

‘Five minutes more, then I’m on duty again,’ she said. She waved a phone. ‘Look, do you want to give me your number? I don’t know many people here yet.’ She was looking at Robbie. I didn’t count.

Robbie said, ‘I’ve lost my phone.’ Yeah, like a year ago. ‘Getting a new one today actually. How about I take your number, then I’ll text you.’

She hurried back to the clubhouse.

‘Getting a phone today?’ I said. ‘Man, that’s a coincidence. Lucky you decided to do that, bro.’

And all he said was, ‘Yep. Excellent timing.’

When she came back she didn’t have a pen and paper. She had just the pen, and she wrote on Robbie’s arm. ‘Don’t wash it off in the sea.’ She laughed, then he laughed, and I felt like a loser.

He was back in dreamland for the next couple of hours, not swimming much either in case he lost her number. I hassled him for a bit, but gave it away when I realised he wasn’t really taking in what I was saying.

Jayna — that was her name.

He hung about waiting for her to have another break. I went into the sea. There’s only so much girl/boy stuff a guy can take when the girl isn’t interested in him. The fun had leaked out of the day. I could see exactly how the next three days were going to turn out. Old Robbie sitting glued to the beach, waiting for Jayna to have her break, then the two of them would skip off into the waves.

When I came out, Robbie was eating a pie. Buzz would have got me one too. I was starving.

‘Don’t sit on yours.’ He flipped back the edge of my towel. ‘I stuck it under here to keep warm.’

‘Thanks, bro.’ That felt weird, Robbie buying me lunch. It was okay when we both scrounged off Buzz, but not okay when it was just me.

About the middle of the afternoon, Robbie decided it was time to hit the road. ‘Want to come and help me buy a phone?’ he asked.

I shrugged. ‘Might as well.’ I didn’t have any other urgent things to do, like find a job. Or a girlfriend.

I thought he’d ride like he was back in la-la land, but he didn’t. A man on a mission, that was Robbie.

He didn’t need help to buy his phone and made up his mind pretty quick. It wasn’t exactly bog standard, but it was close enough.

‘Well, at least it won’t cost too much to replace when you lose it,’ I said. I sounded sour. I felt sour. He didn’t notice, just headed off home to charge it, while I went back to my phoneless, girlfriendless, jobless life.

GRAMPS WAS HOME, so I asked him for the money to buy a paper.

‘I’ve checked it out already,’ he said. ‘No jobs. Saturday’s a better bet.’

Just to depress myself, I looked for relief milking on the net. That was an education. It looked like the pay rates were anywhere between $40 and $70 a milking. How long did a milking take? Pictures flooded into my head, and they weren’t pretty — mostly cow-shit green in colour. I swear I could smell it too. But I kept thinking about it. Say it took two hours to milk, and I got paid $40, that would be twenty bucks an hour.

I’d almost convince myself it was a good idea. I wouldn’t have to get dressed up. I could take days off when I wanted to. But somehow I just couldn’t see myself doing it. The stink, the shit — I’d be squealing like those girls going into the sea.

I went searching for driving tips instead, and lucked onto a discussion thread that interested me a lot. The
posting that deeply appealed was about playing tricks on your mates. I read it through several times, shut my eyes and pictured it. I liked what I saw. Robbie and Buzz getting into the car, firing up the engine, then squealing like dying pigs. It was genius having no windscreen in the Commodore — I wouldn’t have to do all the mucking around that the thread went on about.

No, all I’d have to do was run a wire from the window washer to the ignition. The only thing I’d have to make sure of was that I didn’t get first go at the car on Tuesday when Buzz got out of parent custody.

I went out to the garage to see if Gramps and Mum between them had the tools I needed. I thought I should be able to get away with just a pair of pliers, a spanner and a length of wire. The wire took the longest to find and I wasn’t sure it would do the job, but it was the best I could do.

I thought about letting Robbie in on the plan but I couldn’t see him tearing himself away from the beach. That meant if he wasn’t going to be in on it, I’d need to find an excuse for not going to the beach. It’d be dead easy to tell him
You’re no fun now, stuff you, go by yourself.
But that was the sort of thing Bella would do, and Robbie might point out that I was jealous — which would be right, damn it. Or he mightn’t even hear and not wake up to the fact that I wasn’t there until he got hungry, bought a couple of pies, then wondered if I’d drowned when I didn’t turn up to eat mine.

After I’d strained my brain for an hour or two, the obvious and totally believable answer came to me. I rang Robbie. ‘Bro, I’ll catch up with you later tomorrow. I’m doing the job search in the morning.’

He said, ‘Good luck, bro. It’s not so bad, having a job. Good to have the cash.’

‘Yeah. You going to take Jayna to a movie or something?’ Damn. I hadn’t meant to mention her name.

‘Tomorrow night. We’re having takeaways at hers first.’

‘Tomorrow! Fast work, bro. See ya.’ I hung up. And the evening stretched out ahead of me, full to busting with boredom and loneliness.

Gramps gave me a yell. ‘Give me a hand with dinner, Jake.’

It would help pass the time, so I went. Hell, I was going to turn into a Gordon Ramsay at this rate. Such a pity Gramps didn’t drive as well as he cooked.

We made lasagne, but Gramps made me create the tomato sauce with fresh tomatoes straight out of the garden. What was wrong with opening a tin? I didn’t say it, though, because I could tell the old bugger was just waiting to go into high gear about exactly what was wrong with it.

I made the salad too, but that was because Gramps didn’t seem to worry about slugs in the lettuce.

Mum got home at six and fell into a chair. We ate outside on the deck. The lasagne was top class. Mum relaxed and told us how wonderful we were. Gramps smirked. I had another helping of lasagne. Speck licked my plate.

The next morning I got up at fake heart attack time, asked Gramps for money for a paper and took myself off to buy it.

When I got home I spread it out on the table. Speck jumped up and sat on it. ‘Not helpful, Speck.’ I scooped her up and settled her on my knee.

The paper wasn’t helpful either. The only ad anywhere close was for a child-minder required by a family with three kids, aged five, seven and nine. If it came to a toss-up between something like that and milking, I’d take the cows.

‘Nothing?’ Mum asked.

I pointed at a different ad. ‘How about that? You reckon I could do it?’

She gave me a hug. ‘Course you could, darling.’

I looked up at her. ‘Better put your glasses on, Mum.’ I handed them to her.

This time, she actually read the ad. It was for a topless dancer. She exploded with laughter. ‘You’d be fabulous, sweetie!’ She pulled my hair back into a ponytail.

Okay. I walked right into that one.

I collected the booby-trap gear from the garage, tidied myself up, which meant I put on a clean
tee-shirt
and a halfway decent pair of shorts, and had a shave. Combed my hair. It was when I turned on the tap to clean my teeth that my brain made another connection. My booby-trap was going to require water. I didn’t recall ever seeing anything under the bonnet that looked like it was full of water. There wasn’t a water supply at the paddock either, so I filled Mum’s ecologically sound water bottle up just in case.

I watched the clean, clear water gush from the tap into the metal bottle. Too tame. I ratted around in the pantry. Gramps must have food colouring somewhere. Blue would be good. Or green. I found a half full bottle of red on a high shelf. Next to it was an unopened bottle of peppermint essence. I added them both to the water bottle, then squeezed in a dash of detergent.

I dumped everything in my backpack, then headed for my bike.

‘Where are you off to?’ Gramps asked.

‘Going to look around town to see if anybody’s got a sign up about wanting part-time staff.’

He looked impressed. ‘Good for you, lad. Good for you.’

He and Mum smiled me off the property. Jeez.

I did bike around town. I was serious about looking, but all I found was an ad for a shop manager and seeing it was a shop full of bras I didn’t think they’d want me. Tempting though.

I rode out of town to the paddock. Life pretty much sucked. My friends had disappeared, I had no funds and nobody was handing out jobs that I could see.

Sure, Buzz would be back on Monday night. Things would be back to normal on Tuesday. But both the guys would get a little surprise first thing when we hit the paddock Tuesday morning. That was, if I could wire up the car properly.

The bonnet didn’t want to open. I had a hell of a struggle with it before it finally gave way. ‘Bastard,’ I said.

I leaned over the engine bay, hoping I’d find the
window-washer motor and the bottle for the water. The water container was there and easy to find. Once I had that, all I had to do was follow wires back to the motor. Yes! This was going to work.

Then I fixed my own wire from the washer motor to the starter-motor wiring, and I was in business. I poured the water mix into the washer container. It foamed, it stank and it was a very bright red.

I was walking away when it occurred to me that I’d better make sure the whole thing was going to work. I’d feel really dumb if it didn’t. I went back, stood there thinking it through before I started the engine. I didn’t want to leave any evidence that would make the bros suspicious — and they would be if there was red splashed everywhere. And how long did the smell of peppermint take to evaporate?

Time for a spot of cunning. I blocked off the nozzle for the passenger’s side with a smear of dirt. I held the empty drink bottle over the other nozzle, then fired up the engine.

It’s a beautiful noise, the sound of a jet of water hitting the bottom of a metal bottle. I made sure there were no tell-tale drops of peppermint-flavoured red anywhere, screwed the cap tight on the bottle and took myself off. I would wash that bottle clean at the first water tap I found.

Time to hit the beach. I rode there full of the joy of summer — which evaporated the second I caught sight of Robbie in a cosy huddle with whats-
her-name
. That girl seemed to have far too many breaks. Why couldn’t she keep her eyes on the sea?

I dropped my gear beside them and sat down.

‘Hello Jake,’ she said, all happy and welcoming.

‘Hi,’ I said, not doing too good a job on sounding happy back. I tried again. ‘How’s the water today?’

She smiled — she had a nice smile. ‘There was a slight rip earlier. It’s good now. Warm too.’

Robbie said, ‘I’ll come in with you as soon as Jayna’s break’s over.’

I grunted and stretched out on my towel. They went back into their huddle.

I’d got nicely hot by the time Robbie had to stop the cosy chat session. ‘You coming in, bro?’ he asked.

I got up and jogged after him down to the water, which is how I noticed he still had something in his pocket. ‘Robbie! Would that be your shiny new phone in your pocket by any chance?’

He screeched to a stop, clapped a hand to his pocket and said, ‘Shit! Thanks, bro.’

And that was the most exciting incident of the day.

The next day was the same, except that Robbie looked after his phone without needing any reminders.

Monday I told him I’d be at the beach late again. He thought I was going to job hunt. I thought about saying,
Nah, it’s because you’re more boring than school
, but I kept my mouth shut because I didn’t want to sound as sour as a green grape. Buzz couldn’t get back soon enough. It’d be so good to hit the paddock again.

I said, ‘You going to do the beach or the car tomorrow, bro?’

He didn’t even hear me — too busy staring at Jayna. She was down at the edge of the water with some
other lifeguards. There must be a rip out there. Or a shark. That would be cool.

I jabbed his arm and asked him again.

‘Tomorrow?’ he said, keeping his eyes glued on Jayna. ‘Yeah. I’ll be there. Going to leave early, though, so I can hang out with Jayna before I go to work.’

He kept on looking at his girl. Did he expect me to say we wouldn’t drive after he left? Because he’d be waiting till sometime next century. Then I had a horrible thought. What if Buzz said,
If you don’t drive we don’t drive?
I’d be up the creek without a petrol can, that’s what.

It all came back to bloody cash. If I could pay for gas myself, the others couldn’t bitch too much if I drove when they didn’t.

I stood up, collected my gear and said, ‘See ya. I’m off.’

He actually dragged his eyes away from his girl for a split mini-second. ‘You’re leaving? Already?’

‘The job hunt continues,’ I said.

‘Good luck,’ he said.

Off I trotted all by my loser self. I rode around town. I even went into a couple of cafés to ask if they needed a kitchen hand. They weren’t interested when they heard I was still at school. Full time or nothing, they both said.

I rode home so slowly the bike wobbled.

Gramps was home and busting with good advice. Why didn’t I ask the neighbours if I could mow their lawns? Why didn’t I do babysitting? People would pay to get their windows cleaned. Or their cars.

In the end I yelled, ‘Just give it a rest, will you?’

He got all huffy. ‘No need to yell, lad. I’m only trying to help.’

‘Don’t bother. I’m going to milk cows,’ I said. When did I decide that? My brain must’ve got fried in the sun. I did not want to milk cows.

But Gramps was all lit up with his headlights on full beam. ‘Good for you, Jake. Good for you. Your mum will be so proud.’

I escaped to the computer. Would they both be all over me when I came home covered in cow shit? I sat watching a blank screen. It felt like my future — all black.

Gramps came bustling in. ‘Get in the car, lad. We’re going to outfit you for the job.’

I opened my mouth, but he flapped a hand in my face. ‘My shout. Gumboots and overalls. That’ll do for a start.’

This time I managed to slide a word or two in. ‘I don’t even know if anybody will want me. I don’t know how to milk.’

He rubbed his hands together, then smoothed them over his bald skull. ‘Course they will. And you’ll need them while you’re learning. Can’t go into a shed wearing shorts and jandals.’

I was caught like a cow in a bail. There’d be no turning back if he bought me the gear. I wished I’d kept my big mouth shut. I tried for the casual approach. ‘I’m going to talk to Buzz first. He’ll know if farmers are still needing relief milkers.’

Gramps pulled up a chair so he could sit beside me. I braced myself. I hated it when he got all understanding and caring.

‘Listen Jake.’

Like I had a choice?

‘You’re a good lad.’

So far so normal. I was always a good lad when he wanted me to do something I didn’t want to do.

He leaned back so he could take in my entire good self. ‘I don’t blame you for hating the idea of milking. It won’t be so bad. You’ll get used to it.’

‘Yeah? What would you know about it?’ I asked. He’d been a carpet layer. You didn’t get too many cows wanting carpets laid.

‘I’ve milked a few thousand cows in my time,’ he said. ‘Different then, of course. Now they’ve all got those herringbone sheds. Much easier.’

Yeah yeah — things were always harder in his day. Still, I had to admit to being surprised. He’d kept his cow career under wraps my whole life. ‘I need to talk to Buzz,’ I said. ‘He’ll have to show me what to do. The farmers he milks for — they mightn’t want a learner in their sheds.’

Gramps got even more understanding. I got the caring-hand-on-the-knee trick. ‘Jake, lad — you’re going to get nowhere fast if you’re all talk and no action.’

I stood up. ‘Thanks Gramps, but no gear. Not yet. I am going to do it, but I want to do it my way. Okay?’

He went off, shaking his head.

I wished Buzz would get home. Tail-gating that thought was another one: when Buzz got home I’d have to face up to the milking idea. I went looking for Speck. She was an excellent listener and I needed to have a grandfather of a moan.

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