5. RON ROCCO
That same afternoon we were in Jodie’s bedroom. I was lying on the floor, a pillow behind my head. Jodie was on the bed face down, her head hanging forward near the floor. I asked Jodie when she thought her father would buy the swimming pool. They were getting a large above-ground pool after he sold their Ford Falcon.
‘The minute he sells the car. He advertised it in yesterday’s paper.’
‘And is everything ready for the pool?’
‘Yep. We’ve levelled the sand off. All we’ve got to do is wait for the money when he sells the car.’
‘Oh I hope it will be soon,’ I said. ‘This weather is so hot, day and night. I can’t remember when we ever had such a hot sticky summer. I can just imagine jumping into the pool and sinking down under the cool, delicious water. I’m going to swim around and around under water like a porpoise.’
‘Yes, but Dad said it sometimes takes weeks to sell a car advertised in the paper.’
‘Weeks! Oh no … we’ll melt by then, or we’ll be back at school. Hey, Jodie let’s go down to the shopping centre, at least it’s air-conditioned there. We can look at new swimming cossies.’
‘Sure. If we pick some out and Dad gets a lot of money for the car then it might be a good time to squeeze a few extra dollars out of him.’
I told her: ‘I’ll go next door, change, and tell Mum. What are you going to wear?’ Jodie was the almost the same height and weight as me, and since we were both blondes sometimes people thought we were twins. We sometimes wore matching clothes which further confused people. Yet for all that we had quite different personalities. Jodie saw things in a logical way, one fact at a time, adding things together to get answers. While I didn’t especially try to, my mind seemed to work in jumps; where nothing would happen for a long time then I would suddenly have the answer through what Mum called intuition. And we also had different coloured eyes, though hardly anybody noticed that.
‘Um what about pink bicycle pants and my purple T-shirt?’
‘Okay, see you in ten minutes.’ It is so handy having your best friend live next door.
Our house was not as nice as Jodie’s because my mother didn’t have as much money. My Dad and Mum had split up when I was six years old. My father married someone else and lived in Sydney, but sometimes when he was on his way to Brisbane he would stay with us.
‘Mum, do you think you could afford a new swimming cossie for me?’
‘I don’t think so. We’ve got to pay the electricity bill this month. I expect when Jodie gets her pool you’ll want a new pair?’
‘Jodie could be getting the pool in a couple of days. Her father has advertised the car.’
Mum looked rather disappointed. I guess she felt sad that we couldn’t even afford a new pair of cossies, let alone a pool. ‘I wish I could get a better paid job. Besides, I hate working at night.’
‘Or Dad could give us more money,’ I added.
‘He does what he can. He’s got his other family to support.’
‘I wish he’d leave them and come back here.’
‘That’s not likely to happen, Karen. So we will just have to make do.’
‘Make do with being poor?’
‘We are not poor! We are just not as well off as some other people.’
‘Yeah, I guess that’s right. Mum, is it okay if I go with Jodie to Suntown Shopping Centre?’
‘Sure. If you can find a pair on special for ten dollars, I might be able to afford that much.’
‘Okay, thanks Mum.’
I went into my bedroom and dressed in my lycra pink bicycle pants, a black skirt, a T-shirt with MOSTLY MOZART written on the front, and on the back it said BACK TO BEETHOVEN. I wore it because all the boys wore stuff like SAVAGE GARDEN and METTALICA on their T-shirts. I didn’t see why I couldn’t support the sort of music I liked. They thought they knew all about music because they wore a T-shirt with writing on it, yet most of them hadn’t even heard of Mozart. I took piano lessons twice a week and found that not only did I enjoy Smashing Pumpkins and Savage Garden but Mozart and Vivaldi as well.
The shops were crowded with people, including lots of kids from school. We saw Tom Wilsher as we reached the entrance of Sizzling Swimwear.
‘Hi Jodie, Karen. Watcha doin’?’
‘We’re just shopping for swimmers. We’re getting a pool in a few days.’
‘Great. Hey did you hear there’s a couple of vampires living in Darkson House?’
Jodie shook her head. ‘I heard it—I just don’t believe it. Who told you?’
‘George Blare. Everyone’s talking about it. Ron Rocco saw them drinking buckets of blood, it was dripping from their mouths and stuff. And the witch has a black cat that talks to her in German, and she’s two thousand years old, and has wrinkles all over her face, they leave the lights on all night, and never go out into the sunlight, and there’s these spooky statues in the garden of dead people that walk around during the night, and millions of bats live all around the house and inside it and attack people when they’re asleep and suck their blood.’
Jodie looked sceptical. ‘The witch is Mrs Parsons. She used to be the cleaner at my dad’s office. She’s lived in our town for years.’
‘She’s not a witch. She’s only seventy-two, not two thousand years old. I met her three years ago, in fact lots of adults in our town have known her for years. And the cat doesn’t talk to her, she talks to the cat. And yes, it is a black cat, but it also has a white stomach and paws. It’s a very ordinary cat, called Snowball, that drinks milk.’
‘So you don’t believe in vampires?’
‘No,’ Jodie said firmly. ‘Especially since it was Ron Rocco who started all this. We’ve been to the Darkson House today. We didn’t meet Mr O’Brien because he’s an inventor who works at night. That’s why the lights are on.’
Tom looked disappointed. ‘Yeah well … I liked the vampire story better, it’s more interesting than Mrs Parsons just being an old woman. Are you sure the cat didn’t talk?’‘Oh it says miaow and stuff like most cats and rubs itself on your feet. Is that what you mean?’
‘Nah. We’ve got a cat that does all that stuff. Well, I’ve got to go. Hey why don’t you tell Ron Rocco all that? He’s in the shopping centre somewhere; I saw him ten minutes ago with George Blare.’
‘Sure, if we see him. Catch you later.’ I called out as he moved off.
We went into Sizzling Swimwear and started sorting through the swimming costumes. Jodie found a nice looking cossie but when she saw the stitching was faulty, she put it back. Then she found the most gorgeous Speedo swimmers. And when we looked they had them in different fluoro colours.
‘Oh yes Karen, this is what I want in the hot orange. Why don’t you get the green one to match? It’s your favourite colour.’
‘I’d love to Jodie, but Mum said she could only afford ten dollars. These are thirty dollars each.’
‘Hmm. Well, you did help with preparing the pool site, weeding and digging up rocks. Maybe if Dad gets a good price for the car he might pay you something.’
‘Twenty dollars? I doubt it.’
‘Well, I’m going to ask the shop to put both swimmers on hold, and then we’ll see how much we can get out of my dad.’
The sales assistant put them under the counter with our names on them. We wandered out to look in other shops. It was nice and cool in the shopping centre, no wonder all the kids were hanging out there.
‘How much is your father selling the car for?’
‘He’s asking for seven thousand two hundred dollars, but he said he’d be happy with seven thousand dollars.’
‘But the pool won’t cost that much,’ I said. We were walking side by side through the shopping centre mall.
‘No, of course not. But he has to spend some money fixing up the house, and paying off the new car. Hey! Over there, see? It’s Ron Rocco and George Blare. Don’t look, just stare in the window.’
‘Why? Don’t you want to speak to Rocco?’
‘Yeah … I guess I don’t mind. But I want to see if he’ll come over to—yes here he comes.’
‘Hi Jodie, hi Karen. Hey what’s with this Mozart?’ He was wearing an Puff Daddy T-shirt.
‘What do you mean?’
‘You a nerd or something?’
I looked right at his eyes, he seemed serious. I wasn’t sure how to handle this without it turning into one of those silly arguments. ‘Do you think that because I listen to Mozart I must be a nerd?’
‘You betcha. It’s sissy stuff.’
‘Rocco, everyone has their own tastes. Being different to you doesn’t make me a nerd.’ I was controlling my temper very well. Rocco always said things to start a fight. I don’t think he ever thought about what he said.
Jodie looked like she was getting ready to start an argument with Rocco. Her eyes were sort of glaring at him. Finally, staring at him, Jodie said quietly: ‘Nerds are afraid of vampires.’
At the mention of vampires, I could see Ron Rocco change, like a tremor going through his body. He really was scared.
‘What do you mean? Those creatures at Darkson House are vampires! I’ve been inside, I know! I spent a whole day in the grounds mowing. I saw things that would scare you two to death. I’ve seen him drinking blood! I’ve seen thousands of bats under the trees, I’ve seen the graves and the buried statues in the garden. And I’ve seen that witch talking to the black cat.’
‘Oh,’ Jodie smiled, ‘are you trying to say Mrs Parsons is a witch?’
‘I-I she must be if she lives with that … Satan … that ghoul!’
‘Oh Rocco. You’ve got quite an imagination. We went over to Darkson House a few hours ago and spoke to Mrs Parsons, she used to be the cleaner at Dad’s office three years ago. Lots of people know her. She’s just an ordinary mortal,’ Jodie smiled.
‘Cleaner? I don’t believe it. And what about her face—all those wrinkles. She must be two hundred years old!’
‘Would you believe seventy-two? Besides she smokes and that dries her skin up.’
‘But she talks with her cat!’
‘Not with her cat; she talks to her cat. That’s quite different, isn’t it?’
George said: ‘Yeah Rocco, you were talking to your dog an hour ago. I heard you. And the dog understood you. You told him to get lost, and he went outside.’
‘Perhaps,’ I said, ‘Rocco is a warlock and turns into a werewolf when there’s a full moon and that’s why the dog understands him.’ Everyone except Rocco laughed.
‘Oh you all think it’s funny, but I saw Mr O’Brien drinking blood!’
‘How? Was it in a bucket or what?’
‘You don’t believe me! I was in the room. That old witch—‘
‘—said to Mr O’Brien, here’s your blood.’
‘Certain! My father was with me. Then I saw him pick up the glass, ugh it looked horrible, and he took a mouthful. I swear it. I would never ever go back there by myself. I know he’s a vampire!’
‘Did you see him drink all of it?’
‘No … just a few mouthfuls. And then he put the glass down, as if he were drinking a cup of coffee. He was grinning and licking his lips.’
‘What did your father say?’
‘Nothing. I was too scared to even talk about it. I reckon my dad was pretty scared too. Not only that, I saw a guillotine. It was in a box and the writing on the outside said: ALL STEEL GUILLOTINE. I said to Dad, “What is that thing for? I thought they would have been banned.” And Dad said Mr O’Brien used it to cut the heads off chooks and turkeys down in the basement.’
‘We had a look in the basement window today.’
‘Yeah, of course even nerds would be game to look in the window in daylight when vampires are asleep in their coffins. I went to the house at eight o’clock at night!’
‘With your father.’
‘So what? It was still after sunset.’
‘You really believe this vampire stuff don’t you Rocco?’
‘It’s true! I saw him drinking blood! I’ll never forget it. He picked the glass up, took a mouthful and swallowed it. He looked satisfied. You girls think you’re so tough talking to the housekeeper, well maybe she isn’t a witch. But you’d be scared little kids wetting your pants with fear after sunset I can tell you.’
‘Oh, I don’t think we’ll be scared at all,’ I said. ‘You see, Rocco, we’re going back at midnight to look through the basement window.’
‘You wouldn’t have the guts!’ But Rocco had gone white just thinking about it.
Jodie said: ‘Rocco, you’re scared, so you expect us to be scared like you. But we are not superstitious. We aren’t afraid of black cats, and wrinkled old ladies who smoke. Karen is right. We will go back at midnight, when vampires come crawling out of their coffins. And we’re going to look through the window and watch Mr O’Brien drink bats’ blood and turn into a werewolf. It should be quite amusing.’
‘Huh! You wimps would never dare. You’re just girls. No one would ever do that, because there are thousands of bats guarding the outside of the house waiting to suck your blood. And the statues and ghosts moved about between the trees looking for trespassers.’
I could see we had Rocco; we were going to do something that he was too scared to do. I said: ‘Oh, Rocco none of that scares us.’
Then I saw Jodie get a tiny smile on her lips and I knew she was about to tease him even more. ‘Karen, we’d better get going. I want to buy some garlic and a sharpened wooden stake before we go home.’
Rocco swallowed the bait. ‘W-what for?’
‘Oh, just in case we have to kill any vampires tonight.’