“Tell me, Gabriel. Do you think underdogs can be heroes?”
Gab wondered where this was going but ignored the question. He sat on a chair, his back ramrod straight, and his arms at his sides. Across the table, Santo slouched in his seat, looking at him.
When he remained quiet, Santo shrugged and started whistling again.
Since they met five years ago, Gab noticed that Santo had what can only be called an obsession with the soundtrack of the movie The Replacements. Every time Santo was in the same room as him, he was always whistling a song from the movie. He never asked about it.
But today he will.
Today, Gab will do many things. Finally.
“Why The Replacements?”
Santo stopped mid-whistle. “What?”
“Why The Replacements?” Santo repeated. “You always whistle songs from that movie. I’ve always wondered why.”
Santo smiled, “It goes back to my previous question.” He leaned back in his seat. “Do you think underdogs can be heroes?”
Santo laughed. “Yeah, I thought you would. Pathetic.”
“Why, don’t you?” Gab asked.
“No, I don’t.”
Gab frowned. “You don’t, but you like The Replacements even though it’s a movie about the triumph of underdogs?”
“Triumph? What’s triumphant about it? That they won?” Santo tapped his fingers on the table, looking amusedly at Gab. “What happened after? They just left the stadium. No one got signed to the pros, no one got famous, no one’s life changed. Just as it should.”
“It’s unnatural for them to be heroes. They are underdogs for a reason. They’re not smart enough or strong enough or fast enough. If they were, they wouldn’t be underdogs.”
“There are those considered underdogs who excel over time,” Gab said.
Santo laughed. “No, there aren’t. Those are just talented people who have yet to discover their strengths. The real underdogs are those with no notable talents and no contribution to society. Losers. And losers would always be losers. They’re the ones left behind, the casualties of evolution. When they disappear, men become better, more superior.”
Gab grasped at the opening he was looking for. “So, you consider what you did…natural selection?”
“Let’s call it external support.” Santo grinned. “Mother Nature’s taking much too long.”
Gab looked at Santo. With stylishly messy hair framing his handsome face, Santo clearly isn’t an underdog in the looks department.
His deep set brown eyes gave the impression of sleepiness, but Gab knew that behind the sleepy eyes is a smart and calculating brain. The strong jaw line, prominent cheekbones, and aristocratic nose can almost be called pretty if not for the thin scar on his left cheek running from the chin up until just under the eye.
Gab decided the scar made him look distinguished and the calculating brain made him scary. And he’d always wondered: “How did you get that scar?”
Santo ran a finger down his cheek. “Eight years ago in Budapest. Chick got away. Got hold of my knife and would have slashed my neck if I hadn’t broken her arm.” He smiled at the memory. “That was fun.”
“Not an underdog then,” said Gab.
“Definitely one,” Santo chuckled. “If not me, someone else will. Because I always chose the underdogs. The desolate, the sick, the ugly, the unintelligent. The people that nature never intended to be in this world.”
Gab’s right hand grasped a handle under his chair. “And who are you to say what nature intended?”
“Like I said, Gabriel, I am only the external support. History shows that nature weeds out the weak. Even your namesake does that.”
That got his attention. “What do you mean?”
Santo leaned forward, “the angel Gabriel, known to many as the benevolent messenger. He is not. He’s a manipulative, conniving angel who delivered messages to humans and watched them fall as they act on their incorrectly interpreted messages.”
He laughed at the disbelieving expression on Gab’s face. “Do your research, love.”
“Nevermind that,” Gab muttered. Louder, he said “what does that have to do with what you did?”
“There are just too many people and too little plagues to handle them.” Santo smiled winningly. “So, I helped out.”
“Clearly, you enjoyed it.”
“Oh, very much so.” Santo caught the look on Gab’s face. “That bothers you?”
“Yes, it does.”
“If you decide to do something, you might as well enjoy it. It’s not any different from you deciding to and enjoying drawing caricatures of people.”
Gab’s fist tightened. “Of course, it is!”
“We’re great partners, Gabriel.” Santo said, slowly drawing out Gab’s name. “You capture the human essence and I release them.”
“I draw people and you, you…”
“Kill them.” Santo said. “I kill them, Gabriel, because that’s how it should be. Letting them live will only slow the rest of us down.”
He saw Gab’s right hand reaching down and his own, quick and strong, flashed out and grabbed it.
“My, my. What are we planning, angel.” Santo murmured, studying Gab over the blade of the knife he snatched away.
“You’re evil. You have to be stopped.”
“And you decided that you’re the one to do that.” Santo laughed. His rich, rolling laughter filled the room. “Kill me, huh? You can’t. Have you forgotten that we’re the same?”
Gab, sitting very still, carefully reached down and felt the handle of the other knife attached under the table. “We’re not the same.”
“Of course, we are.” Santo twirled the knife between his fingers. “What I’ve done, you’ve done. You think I’m evil because of the things I’ve done? You’ve done them too.”
“I didn’t know about them. I only knew about you five years ago.”
“Yes, but you know what they say about ignorance and the law.” Santo leaned forward, gripping the knife. “If what I did was evil, then you’re evil too.”
Gab felt cold. Really cold. “No. It was all you. I’m not evil.” He carefully detached the knife from under the table, closing his fist around the cold metal handle.
Santo laughed again, his hard eyes glinting. “Is that what you tell yourself so you could sleep at night? We are the same, Gabriel. The only difference is that you don’t want to admit it. You hid behind your ignorance because you didn’t want to see. You’re a coward. A loser. A true underdog. What makes you think you can stop me?”
He stood up, put both hands on the table between them. “What are you going to do, angel? Kill me? But that makes you evil, does it not?”
They stared at each other for a moment. Then, Gab lunged, his knife aiming at Santo’s chest just as Santo slashed down hid arm. One of the knives hit its mark while the other clattered to the floor.
“You’re just in my head. You’re not real.”
Santo grinned mischievously. “Am I really? Or is it the other way around?”
— — — — — — — — — —
“So, how are you feeling today, Gab?”
Gab smiled, “I’m better, doctor. I haven’t lost time and I haven’t seen him since after…” his smile faltered. “After.”
The doctor looked at the young man sitting in front of him. As one of the top psychiatrists in the country, Dr. Nali Lang prides himself on being able to anticipate his clients’ thoughts and reactions.
Clearly, there is guilt here.
“There’s no need for guilt, Gab. You know you had to do that. Santo was born out of your pain. We’ve worked on that the past five years and letting go of Santo is the last step to help you become whole again.”
“Letting go,” Gab scoffed. “I killed him.
“Yes, you did.” Dr. Lang said firmly. “But it is something that you had to do. Every case is different. And while there are those whose personalities would willingly merge, there are some who will not. Santo would not go because you asked.”
Gab sighed. “I guess I know that, it’s just that..”
“You need time to process and accept it,” Dr. Lang said. “That’s why we’re here. You have all the time you need.”
Gab smiled. “Thank you, doctor. Getting caught was the best thing that every happened to me. I’ll always be grateful for what you’re doing to heal me.”
“We still have some ways to go, Gab. But I do commend you for handling this better than anyone ever has. You made this as fast and as easy as these things could ever be.”
Dr. Lang stood up. “Now, go and rest.” He nodded at the two guards standing outside the clear glass door. “I’ll see you in two days.”
Gab stood up and shook Dr. Lang’s hand. He smiled as he stepped out to walk down the hallway, the guards flanking him.
“That sounds familiar,” one of the guards said.
Gab stopped mid-whistle. “Heroes by Bowie. I loved the version used in my favourite movie, The Replacement. Have you watched it?”
“Yeah, it was nice.”
Gab grinned mischievously. “Tell me, officers. Do you think underdogs can be heroes?”