Carter’s life turned upside down when he was five years old. While he was out at a soccer game, his parents were lying dead in a crushed car on the side of the road. There was no warning; no chills up the spine, no sense of foreboding. It was sudden, and it left Carter Hawke all alone in the world. He was an orphan, and from then on, he had no one.
Carter struggled with being alone. Gone was the cheerful young soccer star with a cheeky grin on his face. In his place was a silent, brooding teenager, trapped in a child’s body. Carter had been forced to grow up faster than the other children his age.
It wasn’t until he was fourteen that things began to change. A new boy arrived at Carter’s foster home. His name was Arthur Harris, and he took a special interest in Carter.
Arthur had no parents either. He’d been raised by his grandmother, but she had just died, so Child, Youth and Protection Services removed him from the household and placed him into foster care. Arthur was fifteen years old, and he had a big secret. His cousin was a street racer.
One night, Arthur and Carter decided to sneak out of their foster home, and they went to a street race that Arthur’s cousin was competing in. Arthur and Carter sat in the backseat while Arthur’s cousin raced. The high speeds and the loud rumbling of the engines gave the boys one huge adrenaline rush, and from then on, Carter was hooked.
So that was how Carter ended up sitting in the driver’s seat of a borrowed car, in the derelict streets of South Auckland. He was lined up with four other cars, each as tricked out as the one next to it. Some cars had lights underneath, some had smoke, but all except for Carter’s had Nitrus Oxide, the street racers best weapon. Together, these five cars made up the participants of the annual Newcomer’s Street Race. Arthur’s cousin was the marshal, and Carter was borrowing his car.
Arthur – or T-Man, as he was now known – leaned in through the open window of the car and held his fist out to Carter. “You ready, bro?”
Carter raised his own fist and bumped it with T-Man’s. “I’m ready.”
T-Man nodded and withdrew from the window. “Good man.” He clapped Carter on the shoulder and walked off, leaving Carter alone with his thoughts.
Carter sucked in a deep breath through gritted teeth. He twisted his hands nervously on the steering wheel. He’d been training for this race for nearly two months, and there was a lot at stake here. For once in his life, he felt like he mattered. He was good at street racing, he knew he was. It was the one thing that made him think he wouldn’t turn out to be such a loser. He knew the way a car worked. He knew how to watch out for hazards. He knew what could go wrong if he stopped paying attention to the road. But right now, he felt like he’d forgotten everything.
Carter let out the breath he was holding and clenched the steering wheel beneath his hands. He watched as T-Man’s cousin walked in front of the cars with a large green cloth in his hands and a whistle hanging around his neck. Carter knew what would happen – he and T-Man had been having pretend start line procedure practices at their foster home, only without the car and the whistle.
The shrill scream rang through the air, as Carter had anticipated, and the small crowd – mostly friends of the competitors – fell silent.
“All right!” T-Man’s cousin yelled. “All you newbies listen up! When the cloth drops is when you take off. Anyone who moves before I drop it will get disqualified, and they’ll go home with nothing. Understood?”
Carter nodded. He twisted his hands on the steering wheel again. He watched the marshal raise the green cloth and placed his left hand on the gearstick. He moved his left foot onto the clutch and changed into first gear. There was a moment’s pause, and Carter saw the marshal grin.
Then the cloth dropped. Carter acted instinctively, doing just as he had done while practicing with T-Man’s cousin. He let go of the clutch, pressing down on the accelerator simultaneously. The car shot forward, and Carter pressed down on the clutch again, shifting into second gear.
He shifted upwards, gaining speed by the second. Adrenaline coursed through his body. Every nerve was on high alert.
Just one unseen bump or dip in the road could send him off course and careening into a ditch or a shop window.
Carter was doing eighty when he came up to the first turn. His foot left the accelerator. He started turning and ripped up the handbrake. He continued spinning the steering wheel until the tail of the car flicked out. He turned the steering wheel the opposite way, straightening up the car, and released the handbrake. He planted his foot and the car shot forward.
He made the tiniest glance in his rear-view mirror. One racer had failed to make the sharp turn, and his car had ended up wrapped around a lamppost. Carter couldn’t bring himself to feel sorry for the guy though. One thing that living in foster care had taught him – only the best can survive.
It was only a short race tonight, just to test the driver’s skills. Luckily for Carter, he had the skills. As he came up to the second turn, he manoeuvred the car around the wide arc, landing on another straight. The finish line was in his sights. Just a few more kilometres to the end.
His speed began creeping up again. Ninety, one hundred, one hundred and ten…
He crossed the line at one hundred and twenty. He slammed on the brakes, but his wheels seized up. The rubber screeched on the tar. Carter was flung forward against his seatbelt and it cut into his chest. He didn’t know what was happening, only that it was all a blur. He grabbed the steering wheel and forced it to the right.