8.6: Contrasting Views

Vinnie started fixing dinner for himself and Heinrich, setting a big pot of water on to boil and grabbing a whole box of spaghetti for cooking (another thing he'd leaned in Ishimura; gargoyles had big appetites), while Heinrich conscientiously cleaned up the stone shards and gravel that had been scattered in the living room. Vinnie asked curiously why he hadn't roared upon awakening, like most gargoyles he knew did, and Heinrich explained that he and his brother and sister had done that as kids, but trained themselves not to; they'd been living in cities all their lives, and knew too much noise brought nosy neighbors.

After Heinrich cleaned up all the gravel, he took the tarp itself into the bathroom for scrubbing, saying he wanted to get some of those bloodstains out before it was returned to Vinnie's cousin Phil. Vinnie almost told him not to bother, because that tarp hadn't exactly been clean when Phil had loaned it to them; there's been plenty of grease and dirt stains already. But then he figured a little cleaning wouldn't hurt, and maybe if the tarp came back in better condition than when he'd loaned it, Phil would be more amenable to other favors in the future.

Heinrich started the water running in the bathtub, and Vinnie loaned him a scrub brush from under the kitchen sink, before digging a Tupperware container full of his mom's homemade meatballs out of the freezer. Between the sound of the microwave thawing out the meatballs and the sound of Heinrich scrubbing away at that tarp in the bathroom, Vinnie didn't notice the sound of a key turning in the lock… until Leon strode in, throwing his suitcase on the couch and calling out, "Hey, Vinnie!"

Crud, Leon was home early! Vinnie ran out of the kitchen, but Leon was already striding for the bathroom, with the look of a man on a mission to relieve himself. He strode through the open bathroom door—

--And backed out even faster than he'd gone in. "Vinnie?"

Vinnie figured the best thing to do was just keep calm. "Yeah, Leon?"

Leon was also trying to keep his cool, but it wasn't working so well for him. "There's a frickin' gargoyle in the bathroom!"

"Yeah? What's he doing in there?"

"Uh… scrubbing at something in the bathtub?"

Vinnie raised his voice. "Hey, Heinrich, leave the tarp to soak and come on out; Leon needs to use the john!"

Heinrich stepped out, wiping his hands on a towel and bowing his horned head to Leon while saying, "Sorry for mess; I clean up soon."

"Uh… yeah," Leon said, his eyes wide and face pale. Heinrich stood well to one side of the bathroom door while Leon edged inside, giving the gargoyle a wide berth and staring at him the whole while. Then he shut the door—and locked it.

Heinrich stared at the closed door worriedly. "Perhaps I should go now."

"Nah, not yet," Vinnie told him. "There's no phone in there, so he's not going to be calling the cops on you or anything. Now that he knows you're here, better to stick around and show him you're all civilized, so he doesn't start thinking you're gonna sneak back in later and eat him or something."

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It took a while to persuade Leon to come out of the bathroom, though. At first he wouldn't open the door even after Vinnie and Heinrich both reassured him that he wasn't going to get mauled or eaten or just "carried off into the night for God knows what purpose" (after the Quarrymen had stated getting air time on the local radio stations, that had become their favorite ominous accusation.) It hadn't helped that Heinrich hadn't finished scrubbing out the tarp, and Leon had noticed the bloodstains on the remaining section. He was sure that the bloodstains had come from Heinrich's latest victim instead of from Heinrich himself, until Vinnie told him to check the medicine cabinet and see for himself that the bandages had been all used up.

After Leon checked the medicine cabinet (and, being Leon, asked Vinnie through the door if he'd put bandages and rubbing alcohol on the shopping list), it still took another few minutes of reassurances before he opened the door and warily came out. Then they all sat down in the living room so Heinrich could explain just where he'd come from, why he was in New York and how he'd ended up in their living room last night.

For Leon, the turning point was when he happened to notice that the living room wastebasket was full of both used bandages and gravel. "Where'd all the gravel come from?" And after he'd been told about gargoyles shedding their stone skin, he said sardonically to Vinnie, "So that's what it takes to get you to clean up; having a gargoyle spend the night here?"

Vinnie shook his head. "Not me, man; Heinrich cleaned up after himself."

Heinrich nodded in agreement, then glanced at the bathroom door as if he'd just remembered what he'd left in there. "Excuse me, please; I finish cleaning tarp now," as he got up and went back in.

Leon stared after him, then back at Vinnie. "I'll be damned… he's more civilized than you are!" Then he got up and went into the bathroom after Heinrich, and after a few seconds Vinnie heard him advising the gargoyle about which cleaner they had on hand would work best on the grease stains as well as the bloodstains.

Vinnie just shook his head before going into the kitchen. Must be some neatnik bonding ritual or something…

Leon finally came into the kitchen and got the plates and forks for setting the table, just as Vinnie was taking the pot off the burner and pouring the cooked spaghetti into the strainer. Leon asked, "So, all those monster stories you've been telling for the last couple of years… they were real?"

"Yeah. Pass me the butter, will you?"

As Vinnie melted a hunk of butter over the noodles and stirred it in to keep them from sticking together, Leon went on, "And you really used that—that contraption in the closet to shoot a gargoyle with a cream pie? A genuine cream pie?"

Vinnie nodded and said as an aside, "Banana cream; I got it for half-price at the grocer's 'cause it was day-old and going stale."

"Dude" as Leon shook his head, then looked at him with something like awe. "You're still a wacko, but you got stones."

"Damn right! Grab the meatballs and sauce in the microwave, will you?" Vinnie said cheerfully as he brought the bowl of spaghetti to the table. "Okay, dudes, dinner's ready!"

And while they were eating, Heinrich actually got Leon to smile, though not intentionally. But when a guy, even a guy with fangs and horns, slurps up a long strand of spaghetti and it swings up and thwaps him on the nose, leaving a streak of tomato sauce… how could anyone not smile?

After dinner, they celebrated Heinrich's recovery and Leon's enlightenment with beers from the fridge. Or at least, Vinnie and Leon celebrated that way. Heinrich popped open the can of Budweiser that Vinnie had handed him, took a big swallow… then nearly spat it out, and eyed the bottle incredulously as he said "Bier?! Bah, da könnte ich ja genauso gut Spühlwasser trinken! Da gibts keinen Unterschied."

"What was that, dude?"

"Er…" Heinrich looked embarrassed, then said, "German beer is much different. Stronger." He wagged a talon at Vinnie as he said, "Someday, I bring you from home a case of Berliner Weiss. Or Pilsner. Now that is beer!"

"Sounds like a deal to me," Vinnie said agreeably. Who was he to turn down free beer?

Heinrich left soon after, to resume his search for the other gargoyles still in town. As he stepped out onto the fire escape, Vinnie said, "When you meet Goliath, tell him I said hi. And if I meet any of them first--" which was pretty likely, given the way his luck had been running—"I'll tell 'em to swing by the clocktower and leave a message for you, okay?"

After thanking him once more for saving his life and promising to keep in touch, Heinrich left, gliding out into the night. Leon stared after him in awe. "Dude… we just had a gargoyle over for dinner. The guys are never gonna believe this!"

"Dude, welcome to my world," Vinnie said wryly.

Leon sat down on the couch, still staring out the window. "So weird…"

"Oh yeah, gargoyles are weird! But they're not monsters."

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"Y-you're monsters," the man accused, his face filled with both rage and horror. "I hadn't wanted to believe it, but you gargoyles are monsters!"

The figure perched above him laughed, as if he'd heard a delightful joke. "Why, of course we are! So are you willing to deal, for your son's life?" His question was accompanied by muffled weeping coming from the sack tied up and lying on the ledge next to him.

"Of course I am, for Christ's sake! But what do I have that you could possibly want? I'm just a mechanic, not a millionaire!"

"You're a mechanic for a millionaire—actually, a billionaire," the gargoyle reminded him. "You work on the cars in his company's motor pool. And if you ever want to see and hold your son again, here's what you're going to do…"

NOT THE END

P.S. For those who are curious as to what Heinrich was muttering in German, it translates to "Beer? Bah, I could as well drink dishwasher water! There is no difference." I'm not a drinker myself, but I know that serious beer connoisseurs and/or people used to the beers brewed in various regions of Germany just don't think much of America's most popular mass-produced beers. Though I'm told there are some microbreweries out there that produce good stuff.