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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 (9 page)

BOOK: Dirt Bomb
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IT TOOK THEM only about ten minutes to get there. Frank pulled open the door. He didn’t say anything to me, so I didn’t say anything to him. He jerked his thumb at Robbie. ‘Get out. Now.’

Robbie blinked at him. I ran round to his door, opened it and tugged him out. He fell in a heap on the road and sat there holding his head. ‘Get up. Come
on
, Robbie, move it!’ I could almost see the fury sparking out from Frank. The sooner we got ourselves out of his space, the better for us. I kept tugging him, and eventually the message got through the haze in Robbie’s skull and he staggered upright. I hauled him over to Jan’s car and pushed him in.

Jan said nothing the entire way home. I had to wake Robbie and pull him out of the car when we got to his house. I propped him up and stuck my head back in the car. ‘Thanks Jan. I’ll walk home.’

She drove off without a word.

It was time to deal with the pathetic heap collapsed
on the footpath in front of me. I bent down and hauled him up by holding his arm over my shoulders. He took a few tottering steps along the path to his house.

‘Give us your key, bro,’ I said.

He didn’t answer, unless a spectacular spew into the roses was an answer. Glad it was the roses that copped it and not me. I couldn’t get any sense out of him about a key, and as far as I could tell he didn’t have one on him. I dumped him on the front step and kicked at his foot.

‘You are one useless prick.’

He stared up at me.

Hell. What now? I wished I’d taken him back to mine. I couldn’t leave him there. The idiot would do something wild, for certain. I considered sneaking through a window so I could open the door to let him in. Then I figured his olds would find out about the whole drama in the morning anyway, so before I could chicken out I rang the doorbell.

I had to ring it twice before I heard footsteps. Then his dad was calling out, ‘Who is it?’

‘Jake. I’ve brought Robbie home.’

He flung the door open, took one look at Robbie wavering where he was perched on the edge of the step, and yelled at me. ‘What have you done to him?’ He bent down to help Robbie up, then he shot upright again like he’d had an electric shock somewhere painful. ‘He’s
drunk
!’ He shook his fist in my face. ‘This is it, Jake Stringer. My son is banned from seeing you for the rest of the holidays. Forever,
if I have anything to do with it.’

‘Whatever,’ I said and walked off. How come it was my fault his son had drunk himself stupid? What an arsehole.

It got to me, though. The Trings thought I was scum of the earth, and as for Robbie’s old man — according to him I was Dracula mixed with the devil.

I plodded home without picking my bike up from 30 Ensign Street. All this just because Robbie chose a girlfriend with a weird accent.

To put the finishing touches to a perfect evening, Mum was waiting for me. She opened with, ‘Where have you been? I’ve been worried sick. What do you mean by sneaking out in the middle of the night?’

I pushed past her into the kitchen. All the angst of the night swamped me, so I yelled back at her. ‘I didn’t bloody sneak out. And what if I had? I’m not a kid.’

So she yelled again, then I yelled back, and out into the middle of it all came Gramps. I stormed off to my room and slammed the door shut.

I wondered which of them would follow me — whose turn it would be to bend my ear.

They left me alone.

I switched on the light. The traffic ticket was screwed up in my pocket. I straightened it out and stared at it. That couldn’t be right. It just couldn’t. But even looking sideways at it didn’t change the amount of the fine. Four hundred fecking dollars.

I collapsed back on the bed. Four hundred — and I didn’t even have four.

I WAS WOKEN in the morning by the bloody phone. I went to shut it off, but it stopped before I could find it. Mum must’ve picked up the kitchen phone. It didn’t take a mind-reader to work out that it’d be the Trings telling her the whole miserable story.

Four hundred. Mum would bust a gut. Gramps would march me into town for gumboots. I pulled the sheet over my head. Life sucked.

They left me in peace for another half hour or so, then the door opened. Mum said, ‘Get up please, Jake. We need to sort this out.’

I stayed where I was.

Gramps’s turn next, apparently. ‘Get up, lad. There’s bacon, sausages and spud out here.’

That got my attention. I discovered I was starving. I got my butt out of bed. It had to be a good sign that he’d cooked real food for me.

I hit the kitchen just as he put a plateful of food on the table. I ate and they talked. Every now and again I grunted.

Apparently I was irresponsible.

But I was also a good friend.

I was stupid.

I’d done the right thing.

I’d done the wrong thing.

I scraped my plate. ‘I got a fine. Four hundred bucks.’

That shut them up — although it didn’t take Mum long to get her breath back. ‘I’m sorry, Jake.’

I stared at her. ‘You’re not mad …’ Then it dawned on me.
I’m sorry
meant:
Jake, you’re going to have to pay this off all by yourself.

But Mum seemed to have calmed down since yelling at me last night. ‘Jake, I’m really proud of you for not drinking. You did well.’

I didn’t tell her I would have if I’d had the chance. Why wreck the vibe? Gramps gave me a sideways look, but thank Christ he kept his trap shut.

They left me alone for the rest of the day, which meant I had nothing to do. There was a big fat deafening silence from Robbie and Buzz. They’d probably been banned from talking to the Bad Influence.

After lunch I couldn’t take any more of just hanging around home. I decided to hit the beach — it wouldn’t be much different from going there with Robbie while he stayed glued to Jayna.

Jayna. Oh shit, that’s right — my bike was at her house. I made a point of finding Mum first. ‘I’m going to the beach. But first I’m going to pick up my bike from Robbie’s girlfriend’s house. I’m not sneaking anywhere.’

She stood up, dropping the garden trowel so she could hug me. ‘Of course you’re not, darling. I’m sorry I shouted at you last night. I was so worried.’

I detached myself. Yeah, but she wasn’t sorry enough to pay the bloody fine for me.

I jogged to 30 Ensign Street, hoping I wouldn’t have to talk to anybody. I couldn’t see the bike, so I had to knock on the door. A woman about the same vintage as Gramps opened it. Her face lit up when she saw
me. ‘Oh, you must be Jake! Come in — you’re a real hero round here, I can tell you.’

Well! That made a pleasant change. I smiled right back at her. ‘I’ve just come for my bike, thanks all the same.’

She bustled around getting a key then opening the garage. All the time she nattered on about Robbie. ‘We thought he was such a nice young man. Such lovely manners.’ She shook her head. ‘So disappointing. We were shocked. Really shocked.’

It took all my heroic charm to get away from her. How on earth did Jayna stand it? Then again, what was Jayna thinking about her nice young man? I decided not to look for her to find out. I didn’t want to get mixed up in a stoush between her and Robbie.

It wasn’t much fun at the beach by myself. There were plenty of babes hanging out, and a fair few kids from school I could have hooked up with. I didn’t have the heart for any of it. Jayna was standing in her usual spot, staring out at the swimmers. I stayed well clear of her.

Four hundred dollars. It wasn’t fair. The guys had had all the fun, but I’d got stuck with the fine. Buzz should pay it. He could be dead now if I hadn’t stopped him. I bet Frank and Jan didn’t think of that.

I went home, my mind churning over the same old ground, and what it dug up was that I really would have to face up to milking bloody cows if I ever wanted to get my licence, because I was willing to bet there was some stupid law about paying off your fines before they’d give you one.

I searched the web when I got home but all I found
was that the cop wasn’t kidding about the $400.

Robbie rang up about five. He talked fast. ‘The olds have banned me from talking to you.’ His voice dribbled off to nothing. He sounded rotten. Served him right.

‘Yeah, your dad told me last night. He probably woke the neighbours.’

Robbie said, ‘Sorry bro. Trouble is, I can’t remember what happened. Did you get wasted? Can you remember?’

It took me a couple of seconds to absorb that. He couldn’t remember, so he wouldn’t be telling his father that I was the great hero. ‘I can remember, bro, because I was stone cold sober. Thanks to your girl’s posh accent, I couldn’t find the party.’ I filled him in on the rest of it, not forgetting the part about the $400 fine.

That silenced him for a moment, then he said, ‘Shit. That’s bad. That’s really bad.’ More silence. ‘Jake?’

‘Yeah, I’m still here. Going nowhere fast.’

‘I’ll tell Dad.’

I sighed. ‘Thanks bro. Don’t think it’ll make him love me any better though.’

‘I’ll talk to Buzz too. We should pay the fine. It’s not fair. It was our fault.’

I cheered up a fraction. ‘Appreciate it. Thanks.’

He promised to call me after he’d talked to Buzz and broken the news to his father that I wasn’t the bad guy in last night’s movie after all.

I took myself out to the kitchen to examine the fridge. A packet of mince could be useful. I cooked up
spag bol, using sauce out of a tin. Gramps and Mum came in from the garden, both of them blathering on about what a top guy I was. A hero, that was me.

‘You’ve cheered up,’ Gramps said, aiming his eyebrows at me.

Mum didn’t say anything, but I could tell from the way she kept her mouth shut tight that later on she’d come at me for a Serious Talk.

The spag bol wasn’t too bad. ‘Good sauce, eh Gramps?’ I said.

He smirked. ‘If there’s one thing I’ve taught you, Jake, it’s how to make a decent tomato sauce. Better than that tinned muck any day.’

I smirked back, but kept the joke to myself. He’d find the tin when he did the dishes.

I finished eating, got up from the table and told him, ‘I cooked, you clean.’

In the end he didn’t say anything about the sauce, but the fact that the Trings and the Wallaces turned up with Buzz and Robbie in tow could have had something to do with it.

Mum brought more chairs out onto the deck so that the olds could arrange themselves in a handy huddle. You need a handy huddle when you’re dealing with three serious law-breakers. Buzz and Robbie settled themselves on the floor where they could lean against the wall. They both looked rough. Buzz rolled his eyes at me, then looked like he wished he hadn’t.

Old man Wallace kicked things off. He swivelled round till he had me in his sights. ‘I owe you an apology, Jake. I over-reacted a little last night.’

You think?
Still, in the interests of future relations I said, ‘S’okay. Ta.’

Then Frank started. ‘We jumped to the wrong conclusion last night too, Jake.’

I waited for his apology, but by the look of things I’d be waiting for decades.

He said, ‘We’ve all talked it over. This fine you got.’

‘Four hundred,’ I said, just in case they needed reminding.

‘What we’ve decided,’ said Frank the executioner, ‘is that the three of you were idiots. Buzz and Robbie for drinking themselves stupid, and you for driving when you knew bloody well you weren’t allowed to.’

That wasn’t the spin I’d put on it, but I kept my mouth shut. He was still steaming mad.

He let the axe fall right across my neck. ‘The boys said they’d pay, but what is going to happen is that the three of you will pay. A hundred and thirty-three dollars each.’

They stood up then, and marched off.

Buzz said, ‘Sorry mate. We really tried.’ Robbie said, ‘Bloody parents.’

I watched them drive away, Robbie and Buzz both relegated to the back seats where they sat slumped down.

I wanted to kick things, punch something. Or, better still, someone.

Mum said, ‘I wish they’d talked to me about all this. It was rude, storming in like that and throwing their weight around.’ She put an arm around me. ‘I’m sorry you’ve got mixed up in this mess, Jake.’

‘Thanks, Mum.’ It was good having her on my side, but I noticed she didn’t say she disagreed with me having to pay a third of the fine.

Life was back to being a bucketful of cow shit. No, make that a third of a bucketful.

I WAS BACK to facing up to the job question. I checked the paper and, as usual, there was a big fat nothing unless I wanted to be an Avon lady.

I thought about ringing Buzz to ask how to become a relief milker. He’d laugh his head off. No, he wouldn’t. Not today. His head was too sore, judging by how he’d looked during the Great Parent Rant.

I lay on my bed to think about it. I thought back to driving the ute. Being on the open road, taking the corners smoothly, flicking up and down through the gears. Yeah, if I could get my own car it could be worth milking a few cows. I spent a fair few minutes dreaming about driving, about what car I’d get. Not a boy-racer type, no way. I’d like an Escort — a two door. I could drive in a rally if I dropped a roll cage into it. One of the guys could co-drive for me and the other one could be support crew. They could take it in turns.

Mum pulled me back into the real world. She
knocked on the door. ‘Jake? I’m worried about this fine …’ She came and sat on the edge of the bed. ‘Gramps said you’ve been talking about doing milking?’ She looked at me, all hopeful. Funny that, I was looking at her all hopeful too, waiting for her to say she’d pay it.

But even if she did, I’d be in the same old swamp without a cent.

‘Yeah,’ I said. ‘I’ll give Buzz a shout.’

Her face relaxed and smiles broke out all over the place. ‘Good for you, darling. I’m proud of you.’

She gave me the motherly hug and left.

Before I could chicken out, I rang Buzz. Jan answered. She sounded friendly. ‘He’s still feeling sorry for himself. I’ll put him on.’ She gave a yell that didn’t do much for my eardrums and would definitely be killing Buzz’s head.

‘Bro,’ he said.

I jumped straight in. ‘I’ve been thinking about it. Milking, I mean.’ I felt sick. I so didn’t want to do it. I waited for him to mock me.

But he said, ‘Better money than Robbie gets. I’m milking at Nick and Jessie’s tomorrow. I’ll give them a ring. Ask them if they’ll mind if you come along. I can show you the ropes.’ He’d perked up wonderfully. Must be the thought of me getting covered in green stuff.

‘Okay.’ I had a freaking great hollow where my gut was meant to be. ‘I mean, thanks.’

He managed a careful laugh. ‘Hey man, it’s not so bad. Cows are okay. You’ll like them.’

‘I guess.’ But I’d never get to like the stink and the shit.

‘See you in the morning,’ Buzz said. ‘I’ll pick you up at five.’

‘Five? As in a.m.? You’re kidding! Right?’

He was laughing again. ‘Unfortunately not.’

I snatched at a couple of cast-iron excuses. ‘Not tomorrow. Gramps said he’ll buy me some boots. And anyway, you can’t pick me up. You haven’t got your full.’

But he wasn’t having any of it. ‘I won’t tell the olds. And I’ll bring you some gear. We’ve got enough hanging about.’

I breathed a silent sigh of relief. ‘Buzz, the alcohol’s clouding your brain. How long d’you reckon it’ll take for this Nick dude to happen to mention to Frank about you teaching your mate to milk?’ I didn’t fill in the blanks — even his alcohol-impaired reasoning ought to be able to work it out.

‘Oh,’ he said. ‘True.’ He thought some more. ‘How about tomorrow night then? Would your mum drive you?’

‘If she can’t, Gramps will.’ Like a shot. He’d probably rub his hands together all the time he did it too.

‘Great. Be at mine at 3.30. You can follow me.’

I hung up. It was done. I was destined for the cowshed, for shits, kicks and stink. Welcome to the world of employment, Jake.

I took myself out to the lounge. Gramps and Mum had their eyes fixed on some dumb programme — there were coconut palms and tanned people bitching at each other. ‘Buzz is going to teach me to milk tomorrow,’ I said.

That was more interesting than the telly, apparently. Mum snapped it off. She smiled at me. ‘That’s great, darling.’

Gramps said, ‘I’ll get you the gear, but it’ll have to be Monday. You want decent boots, not some cheap rip-offs.’

‘Thanks,’ I said and told him Buzz would lend me boots for tomorrow. ‘I need to get there, though. If Buzz takes me, Frank will kill the both of us.’

‘No problem,’ said Gramps, rubbing his hands. ‘I’ll take you. What time?’

I couldn’t resist it. ‘Five,’ I said. ‘In the morning. Gotta be at Buzz’s by then.’

Gramps looked horrified and took a couple of breaths, and Mum tried not to laugh.

‘All right,’ Gramps said, without rubbing his hands together, ‘I used to get up that early. Nothing to it. Once you make up your mind.’

I patted his shoulder. ‘Just having you on. It’s the evening milking, 3.30.’

Gramps, though, was all for seizing the day. ‘Might as well start as you mean to go on, lad. I’ll get you to Buzz’s by five. You tell him.’

Hell. I should’ve known not to mess with Gramps.

‘No, tomorrow afternoon is good. Buzz is going to make sure it’s okay with the owners.’

That settled him down.

TOMORROW. IT DIDN’T look pretty and it didn’t smell pretty. I only hoped the boys would be up to some paddock driving before then. If they weren’t, I’d go anyway. They owed me.

In the morning I turned up at Robbie’s corner at the usual time. He wasn’t there. I waited for about five minutes. No show. Okay, if that’s how it was I’d take myself off and drive my heart out on private land where a guy didn’t need a scrappy bit of plastic to say yes, you’re allowed to get behind the wheel.

I was on my way when I heard Robbie yell, ‘Jake! Wait up!’

I stopped and turned round. ‘Took you long enough.’

He looked gloomy. ‘I was lucky to get away when I did.’

‘Coming down heavy, are they?’

He shook his head. ‘According to them I’m on a slippery slope straight to drugs and jail.’

‘Serves you right for being such a goody-good all your life till now. Come on, let’s hit the paddock.’

Buzz was waiting for us in his usual spot. He gave us a wave and took off, leaving us trying to catch up. Damn! He’d get first drive.

We weren’t in the mood for careful and smooth. We hurled that car around the paddock. I slammed into three handbrakeys in one run. Buzz waltzed around the paddock, jerking the car to the right, then having a go at flicking it to the left. He got about halfway round each time. To start with, Robbie just drove with his foot flat to the floor, standing on the brakes to get himself around the corners.

‘If he flips it, we’re in deep shit,’ Buzz said, not sounding worried.

Neither was I. ‘It’s where we are now, so who cares?’

It took old Robbie around six turns before he cooled it enough to try a handbrakey. By then, I was onto 360s. Buzz was perfecting wheel spins. The first time he did it, he revved the engine, winding it right up.

‘What the hell’s he doing?’ I asked.

Robbie shook his head, opened his mouth to answer — and we found out. Buzz released the clutch and took off, wheels spinning, spitting out dirt and grass. We fell back a step or two. I was rubbing the crap off my face but Robbie was gagging on a lump of something that had got propelled into his gullet. I thumped him a couple of times. He wasn’t grateful.

Buzz went right round the paddock, stopping by using a handbrakey, then taking off again with the engine howling and crap shooting out from under the spinning wheels.

By the time we’d all had a go, we were low on gas again.

Buzz pulled cash out of a pocket. ‘Thought that might happen. Can you guys fill the can in town?’ Then he looked at me. ‘See you at mine, 3.30.’

The fun of the day evaporated. ‘Yeah. Okay.’ I’d clean forgotten about the milking. ‘What’s the time now?’

Half past two. One hour to execution time. I breathed in fresh, sweet air while I still could.

We pushed the car under the tree and rode off in our usual formation. I had the petrol can — didn’t trust Robbie to keep his mind on the road if he had
to ride one-handed. ‘We’ll fill it in the morning,’ I told him when we got back to town. ‘We’re going to need to shove it in a backpack to get it back.’

He raised a hand and headed off to his house. I watched him go. He hadn’t mentioned Jayna, and it looked like he wasn’t going to the beach to hang out with her. I wondered if she’d sent him a text saying something like:
u r history u drunk oaf.
I went home. Poor old Robbie, what a stuff-up way to end a romance.

Gramps and Mum were both home and, by the look of it, both were waiting to make sure I got myself to my first ever attempt at bringing in the money.

Mum said, ‘There’s pizza in the fridge. You’d better eat something before you go.’

The kitchen was wrecked. I tracked down the tray of biscuits that had caused the mess. For once, I wouldn’t have to scrub the place clean. I ate and watched the clock, which is apparently meant to slow time down — but no. Time just kept on jumping onwards mighty fast. Quarter past.

‘Okay,’ I told Gramps. ‘Let’s hit the road.’

He looked me up and down. ‘Well, you won’t notice shit on those clothes.’

Funny ha ha. Still, he had a point. I scrabbled through the pile of stuff in the bottom of my wardrobe and changed into shorts and a tee-shirt that should have made the rubbish dump a couple of years ago.

‘Okay. I’m ready,’ I said.

He let out an evil laugh. ‘It’s not that bad, Jake. You’ll get used to it.’

And Mum chipped in with, ‘I’m so proud of you, darling.’

Gramps kept a grin pasted across his face all the way to Buzz’s. Buzz came out of the house, carrying an extra pair of boots. Gramps leaned out the window. ‘Jump in with us, Buzz. No point in taking two vehicles.’

So in Buzz jumped. Gramps fired questions at him about who he milked for, how often and did he like it? I counted the times he hammered the brakes instead of easing into a corner. I gave up at nineteen because Buzz was busy telling Gramps how pleased Nick and Jessie were that I’d be helping tonight.

‘Why?’ I asked. This sounded like more work.

Buzz said, ‘The shed’s too big for one person. Usually one of them would have to milk as well, but seeing you’re here they’re off to the beach.’

The picture I’d had in my head of just standing around watching exploded.

BOOK: Dirt Bomb
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