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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

BOOK: Dirt Bomb
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DIRT BOMB

FLEUR BEALE

To my nephew Tim Corney, with a tank full of thanks

‘TIME TO HIT the road,’ Buzz said.

Not for me, it wasn’t. The sun was still shining, the water was still warm and the sand was hot. But if Buzz had to leave, Robbie and I would go with him. We stuck together. We were mates.

It was 13 kilometres back home and too many of them were up gut-busting hills. I said what I always said at this stage of the day: ‘We need wheels.’

‘We’ve got wheels. Two each last time I looked,’ Robbie said, same answer as always.

‘We need wheels with an engine.’

‘You got the money, bro?’ Robbie asked.

‘No bro. Not even one lousy dollar.’ Same old conversation.

I sat up and looked at Buzz. Robbie looked at Buzz too. Because Buzz did have the cash. Buzz was loaded. He could buy a car no sweat.

Buzz started off up the beach, heading for the bikes. He didn’t say a thing — same old silence.

Robbie scuffed through the sand beside me. ‘Can’t blame him, I guess.’

Buzz yelled at us from the road. ‘Get a move on, can’t you.’

‘No rush,’ I said. Which was a stupid thing to say, because it gave Buzz the chance to do his
I work for my money
thing. Not that he ever said it outright. What he said was some variation on
I’ve got four hundred cows to milk.

But this afternoon he just kept his mouth shut, jumped on his bike and left.

‘What’s biting his butt?’ I asked.

‘Sick of paying for us, at a rough guess,’ Robbie said.

Tough. He didn’t have to hang out with us. ‘A couple of bloody ice creams won’t bankrupt him.’

‘And the chips,’ Robbie said.

I hunched a shoulder. ‘So what? He’s never bitched about it before.’

Robbie gave me the look. ‘So maybe he’s had a gutsful.’

I stood on the pedals. ‘So I won’t eat next time he offers.’

Robbie didn’t say
yeah right,
but I felt it. Hell, I must be getting sensitive. Robbie was the sensitive one — we didn’t need two of us. ‘Let’s catch him,’ I said.

Robbie put on a burst of speed. I followed him. We always rode that way — Buzz in front, Robbie in the middle and me last, because dozy old Robbie wasn’t safe on the road, he was too much of a dreamer. He needed an electronic gizmo of some sort to keep him riding in a straight line. Or a couple of minders, one leading and one following.

Buzz had the jump on us, but for once Robbie kept his mind on what he was doing and we caught up just after the turn onto the main road.

‘Took you long enough,’ Buzz yelled over his shoulder.

Sweet. He’d got over it. Situation back to normal.

We bent into it, belting along the highway, me with an eye on Robbie, Buzz keeping up the pace on the theory that if we went fast then Robbie would have to keep his mind where it oughta be. But just as I thought that, I let out a yell. ‘Robbie! Left! You moron!’

Buzz glanced behind just as Robbie swerved back onto the shoulder. A van roared past, the driver blasting the horn and giving the fingers. We so needed our own car. Then we could padlock Robbie into the back seat. That was too damn close for comfort.

I was still getting my heart rate down when Robbie jammed on the brakes and stopped dead in front of me. Only long practice at riding third meant I avoided going straight into the back of him.

‘Buzz!’ I hollered. I shook my head at Robbie. ‘You really do have the death wish today, bro.’

Buzz came back. ‘What?’ He gave us the look that said,
Some of us have work to do.

Robbie said, ‘That car back there …’

‘The one that nearly hit you?’ I said. ‘That was a van. Would’ve crunched you to hell.’

Buzz looked like climbing back in the saddle. Robbie spat the next words out in a garble. ‘Back there. In the ditch.’

‘So?’ Why get excited about it now? That car was a
wreck, and had been nose down in the ditch for the past couple of weeks.

Buzz just shook his head and started riding.

Robbie yelled after him, ‘We could get it going. Thrash it round a paddock.’

Well, that stopped Buzz dead. He came back. ‘A paddock basher? It’s an idea.’

‘A bloody good one,’ I said. Just now and then, Robbie could come up with something brilliant.

The look that meant his head was still in a land far away stayed on Robbie’s face. He flicked his bike around to head back the way we’d come. ‘Let’s see what’s left on it.’

Buzz checked his phone for the time, then grinned. ‘Okay, but we’ll have to hurry.’

I let out a breath. Great. If Buzz was keen, we’d be able to do it, because he was the one who was going to have to bankroll it.

We rode the 50 metres back down the road. The thing was munted, all bashed up, and there wasn’t a single window left in it.

‘Been rolled, I reckon,’ Buzz said.

‘All the wheels are still there, though,’ I said. We kicked the tyres. Soft but not flat.

Robbie shimmied down into the ditch, with Buzz and me skidding after him.

‘How about that,’ Buzz said, ‘the key’s still in the ignition.’ He leaned in through the window. ‘We’ll take it just to be safe.’

It took the three of us to wrench the bonnet up. The engine was still there too.

‘Bros,’ said Robbie, ‘we’re in business.’

Buzz said, ‘No battery, but everything else looks okay.’

I said to Buzz, ‘Let’s go and ask your dad if he’ll help us get it back to yours.’ Buzz’s old man had a contracting business and a huge shed that was going to be perfect for working in.

Buzz looked at his phone again. ‘All right. We’ll have to push it though.’

The second his back was turned, Robbie winked at me. Sweet — a few days and we’d be driving that sucker.

Off we went, Buzz in front, Robbie in the middle and me as tail-end Charlie. I kept half my mind on the bike ahead of me and let the other half imagine me blatting full out round a paddock — on four petrol-powered wheels.

We turned off the main road, heading for Buzz’s place, but he stopped before we got there, so we stopped too.

‘What?’ I asked.

‘You changed your mind?’ Robbie sounded like Christmas had been snatched away.

Buzz shook his head. ‘No way. But I’ve been thinking …’

Ouch. It was never good news when Buzz started thinking. He was the kind of guy who shouldn’t think.

‘… this is going to need the dollars. We’ll have to buy the parts.’

Well, obviously.

Buzz hauled in some air. ‘I’ll put in a hundred,’ he said.

He stopped and looked at us, but we just looked back. If he didn’t know by now that Robbie and I didn’t have a dollar between us, then he was dumber than I took him for.

‘And you guys,’ Buzz said, ‘can do the same.’

‘Each?’ said Robbie.

I kept my gob shut. I didn’t like the way this was headed.

‘Each,’ said Buzz.

I gave my bike a thump. ‘That’s it then. No paddock basher. A pity. Would’ve been a blast.’ Pile on the guilt and watch him cave. He always did. He was a good mate, slow to get excited about stuff, but solid.

Robbie just came right out and said it like it was. ‘But we haven’t got the cash. You’re the only one with a bank balance.’

Buzz shrugged. ‘That’s the deal. We share the expenses or we don’t do it.’

He rode off.

WE WATCHED HIM go. ‘It wouldn’t kill him to part with some of his money,’ I said. ‘He’s gotta be loaded.’

Robbie didn’t answer. Probably didn’t even hear. Uh-oh, another idea brewing. Well, I wasn’t staying around. I’d had it with his ideas. Disappointment, that’s where his brainstorms took you. Hopes up, hopes in the dust. Who needed it.

‘Let’s go.’

Robbie didn’t move, except to look hard at me and come out with the dumbest idea yet: ‘Jake — if we got jobs we could do it.’

‘No,’ I said. ‘On your bike, bro. I’m off.’

He took hold of my handlebars. ‘Wait! Don’t you want the paddock basher?’

I gave him a look that said,
What are you — stupid
?

‘So we get jobs. Unless you’ve got a better idea?’

Possibilities rattled through my brain. Ask Mum. Jake,
I’d love to help but we’ve barely got enough for groceries as it is.

Ask Dad. Have to find him first and he’d say,
Hi
son, got any money? It’s been a bad week.
Note to self: next time, get born to a millionaire father who won’`Gramps. Tempting, but Mum would kill me when she found out, which she would do, and she’d make me pay back every stinking cent.

‘No job. No way,’ I said. Life was sweet the way it was. I sure didn’t want to muck it up by chaining myself to a boss.
Yes sir, no sir. Kick my butt sir.

Robbie got back on his bike. He rode slowly, which meant I had my work cut out keeping him on track. After a couple of kilometres, I yelled at him, ‘You’re going to get yourself killed. Keep your mind on the freaking road.’

He stopped, so of course, I had to stop too. We’d never get anywhere except to hell at this rate. ‘What now?’

‘I’ve been thinking …’

So tell me something I don’t know.

‘… and I reckon it’s time we started pulling our weight.’ He looked at me like he’d just come up with the statement of the century.

‘What the hell does that mean?’ I had a pretty fair idea what it meant, but if he was bent on sticking his head in a noose, I didn’t have to help him put it there.

‘Buzz is a good mate,’ he said. ‘He pays for us all the time. Never moans.’

‘That’s what friends are for,’ I said. ‘He’s okay with it. We’re okay with it. If it ain’t broke don’t fix it.’

Robbie was like a foxy after a rat when he got something stuck in his head, and he wouldn’t let it alone. ‘I’d say it’s broke now. I think it’s been broke for a while.’

I shook my head. ‘Nah. He’s okay with it. We’re not expensive.’

But he wouldn’t let it go. ‘We are, you know. Think about it. What did he buy today?’

I waited, but it seemed like he reckoned it was my turn to say something. ‘Nothing much. Just ice cream. Chips.’

‘And coke.’

I kicked at the road. ‘So what? That’s not much.’

‘Not much change out of twenty, I’d say. And I tell you, Jake, he’s just about had a gutsful.’

‘So I’ll cadge some dough. Buy him a pie
and
a coke. What’s the prob?’

At last! He let go of my bike. ‘I’m going to get a job,’ he said. ‘I want the paddock basher. You do what you want, but it’s like Buzz said — we share the cost if we want to share the fun. I’m getting a job.’

I let him go off all by himself. Serve him right if he got mown down.
I’
m getting a job.
Teacher’s pet. Mummy’s little helper. Buzz’s right-hand man.

I went home and, just to make myself miserable, looked up car parts on Trade Me. Yep, if we had to buy parts it was going to cost us to turn that old wreck into a paddock basher.

I raided the fridge. I always thought better when I was eating. The cat came in, so I fed her too, then I picked her up. ‘Life’s a bitch, Speck. You know that?’ She purred, butting me with her head. I flipped her upside down and stroked her tummy. So easy to make a cat happy.

I flopped in front of the telly but didn’t turn it on. Speck settled herself on my knee and went into
cleaning mode. What moron had dumped that wreck in the ditch where Robbie could see it anyway? We could have cruised on right through the summer just like always, but no — he had to come up with the idea of the century. And whichever way I looked at it, it wasn’t going to be good.

‘This could be the end of us,’ I told Speck. ‘The end of Jake, Buzz and Robbie who’ve been mates since forever. Longer than you’ve been alive, anyway.’

Because deep down I thought Robbie was right about Buzz getting fed up with the money situation — or the lack of money situation. Actually, I’d suspected that for a week or two now — ever since school broke up for the holidays. But I figured we’d have fun, do our usual stuff and he’d get over it.

Which he would’ve done, except for brainy old Robbie throwing a fecking great spanner in the
setup
. Traitor. Saying he’d get a job too. Huh! Who’d have him? He’d go off into a dream. I could just see him being a burger boy in Maccas.
Double cheese with fries please.
And the dream man would hand over a fistful of money instead.

‘He’ll be lucky to last a day,’ I told Speck. She agreed with me. But I slumped down in the chair. What was I going to do all holidays while they were busy having fun with a car they’d stolen from a ditch?

Stolen?

I sat up.

‘Speck, I might just have found the answer to my problems.’

I laughed. They’d be gutted if they spent a load of
cash, got the thing going and then the cops came nosing around. Serve them bloody right too.

But what if somehow I swung things so that I was part of the whole deal? Robbie would feel sorry for me. He might make Buzz let me in. It would be a real downer to get it going and have the owner take it back.

‘I’m going to ring the cops,’ I told Speck. She looked astonished.

I rang the local station and got told to ring the council. I explained what I wanted to three different people before I got one who knew what she was talking about. ‘Hmm, yes,’ she said. ‘I know the car. Somebody else was asking about it earlier.’

Brilliant! ‘So we can’t take it then?’ I tried to sound disappointed.

‘Hang on while I check where things are up to.’ I heard mouse-clicks and I wanted to tell her not to look too hard. ‘Ah, here we are. No, the interested party changed their mind, so it’s all yours.’

Bugger.

WE WENT TO the beach as usual the next day. The wreck was still in the ditch. I didn’t have to yell at Robbie once. Good. He’d given away the whole idea.

When we were settled on the sand, I asked Buzz, ‘You going to turn that wreck into a paddock basher?’

Buzz gave me the look. ‘No. No fun by myself.’

So. He was playing hard ass.

‘I’m going to get a job,’ Robbie-the-traitor said. ‘There’ll be two of us.’

Buzz flopped backwards onto the sand and kicked his feet in the air, looking like a total dork. ‘Yay! Wow! Awesome!’ Then he sat up and looked at me, his face all happy-happy. ‘What about you, Jake?’

I shook my head. ‘I don’t work.’

There was a silence. I waited for one of them to say,
Oh well, that’s it then. All for one and one for all. That’s us.

Turned out I’d be waiting forever, because Robbie piped up with, ‘Suit yourself.’

Buzz said, ‘I guess that leaves the two of us then.’

I got up, brushed the sand off me and left them alone in their cosy twosome. They caught me up. ‘We’re going to ask Dad to help us get the wreck home,’ Buzz said.

It was an invitation of sorts, so I tagged along, my brain in overdrive. I could hang about while they worked on it. I could do my share. They’d find it hard to ban me from driving after that. Life was looking up.

When we got to Buzz’s place, we found his dad lying flat out under a big tractor.

‘Dad!’ Buzz yelled.

Frank Tring slid out, rubbing his head. ‘Holy hell, Buzz. Don’t scare me like that.’

‘Dad, listen,’ Buzz said, and the words were just spilling out of him. ‘There’s a dumped car down the road …’

‘An old Commodore,’ Frank said. ‘Been there a while.’

‘Can you help us bring it home?’ Buzz squatted down beside him. ‘We’re going to turn it into a paddock basher.’

Frank looked interested. ‘Cost you,’ he said.

I suddenly got fascinated by something out the door. Robbie said, ‘We know that. I’m looking for a job.’

‘Well, good for you,’ Frank said. He looked at me. I kept looking out the door. ‘Hmmm,’ he said. ‘Okay. Tell you what. I’ll store it here for, say, a couple of weeks. That’ll give Robbie a chance to find work. And Jake time to change his mind.’

Hell will freeze over first. Pigs will take to the air. Mum will win Lotto.

‘Fair enough,’ said Robbie.

‘Thanks Dad,’ said Buzz, a fat grin all over his dumb face. ‘I’ll get the ute and can we borrow a battery to chuck in the Commodore?’

‘Hang on!’ Frank said. ‘You’d better find out if you can take it first.’

I almost laughed. My two traitorous friends looked like Frank had snatched their ice creams.

‘But it’s been there forever,’ Robbie said. Buzz just kicked at the floor.

I didn’t mean to say anything. I wanted them to sweat but the words just came out anyway. ‘I rang the council last night. It’s all yours. If you want it.’

Robbie high-fived me; Buzz yelled, ‘You beauty!’ But Frank gave me the sort of stare that’s packed full of suspicion, so I smiled at him.

Buzz ran for the ute. Robbie headed for the trailer,
yelling for me to come and give him a hand. The two of us jumped onto the back of the ute, and when Frank swung himself up into the cab we were off with Buzz driving.

Robbie and I lay down, watching the sky. It was going to be sweet. They’d let me in on the car even if I didn’t get a job. We were mates.

‘You could milk cows,’ I said.

Robbie grunted. ‘They shit, they stink, they kick.’ He turned his head to look at me. ‘How ’bout you? You could milk cows.’

‘They shit, they stink, they kick.’

We laughed. He’d never get a job, and if some fluke happened and he did, he’d never keep it. Not long enough to earn a hundred miserable dollars.

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