“Tell me, Alexi. Do you think underdogs can be heroes?”
Alexi 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, Eric slouched on his seat, looking at him.
When he remained quiet, Eric shrugged and started whistling the song Heroes again.
Since they met five years ago, Alexi noticed that Eric had what can only be called an obsession with the soundtrack of the movie The Replacements. Every time Alexi saw him, he was always whistling a song from the movie. He never asked about it.
But today he will.
Today, Alexi will finally do what he should have done years ago. But first, he needs to know a couple of things.
“Why The Replacements?”
Eric stopped mid-whistle. “What?”
“Why The Replacements?” Alexi repeated. “You always whistle songs from that movie. I’ve always wondered why.”
Eric smiled, “It goes back to my previous question.” He leaned back in his seat. “Do you think underdogs can be heroes?”
Eric laughed. “Yeah, I thought you would. Thing is, I don’t.”
Alexi 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? Yes, they did, but after? They just left. No one got signed to the pros, no one got famous, no one’s life changed. Just as it should.” Eric tapped his fingers on the table. “It’s just 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,” Alexi said.
Eric 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.”
That gave Alexi the opening he was looking for. “So, you consider what you did…natural selection?”
“Let’s call it external support.” Eric grinned. “Mother Nature’s taking much too long.”
Alexi looked at Eric. With stylishly messy hair framing his handsome face, Eric clearly isn’t an underdog in the looks department. His deep set brown eyes gave the impression of sleepiness, but Alexi 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 chin up until just under the eye.
Alexi 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?”
Eric ran a finger down his cheek. “Seven years ago in Budapest. Chick almost 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 actually fun. And the scar usually becomes a talking point for the next one.”
“How did you choose the next one?” Alexi asked.
“Underdogs.” Eric grinned. “I always chose the underdogs. The desolate, the sick, the ugly, the unintelligent. The people that nature never intended to be in this world.”
Alexi’s right hand grasped a handle under his chair. “And who are you to say what nature intended?”
“Like I said, Alexi, I am only the external support. History shows that nature weeds out the weak. But now, there are just too many people and too little plagues to handle them.” Eric smiled winningly. “So, I helped out.”
“And you enjoyed it?”
“Oh, very much.” Eric caught the look on Alexi’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.”
Alexi’s grip tightened. “Of course, it is! I draw people and you, you…”
“Kill them.” Eric said. “I kill them, Alexi, because that’s how it should be. Letting them live will only slow the rest of us down.”
He saw Alexi’s right hand reaching down and his own, quick and strong, flashed out and grabbed it.
“My, my. What are we planning, Alexi.” Eric murmured, studying him over the blade of the knife he snatched from Alexi’s hand.
“You’re evil. You have to be stopped.”
“And you decided that you’re the one to do that.” Eric laughed. His rich, rolling laughter filled the room. “Kill me, huh? Have you forgotten that we’re the same?”
Alexi, 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.” Eric 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.” Eric leaned forward, gripping the knife. “If what I did was evil, then you’re evil too.”
Alexi 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.
Eric laughed again, his hard eyes glinting. “Is that what you tell yourself so you could sleep at night? We are the same, Alexi. 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?”
They stared at each other for a moment. Then, Alexi lunged, aiming his knife at Eric’s chest just as Eric did the same. One of the knives hit its mark while the other clattered to the floor.
“Leave me alone, Eric. You’re just in my head. You’re not real.”
Eric grinned mischievously. “Have you ever thought that maybe you’re the one who is not real?”
“So, how are you feeling today, Alexi?”
Alexi smiled, “I’m okay, doctor. I haven’t lost time and I haven’t seen Eric since after…” his smile faltered. “After the incident.”
“There’s no need for guilt, Alexi. You know you had to do that. Eric is the part of you that yearns to do evil. By killing him, you kill that part of you.”
“It doesn’t mean I would no longer be evil.”
“No, it doesn’t.” Dr. Harper said. “But you’re no more evil than the average human being.”
“But I’m still stuck here.”
“Only until we’re sure you’ll do fine. Now that Eric’s gone, I’m sure it won’t take long for them to see that it was not you, that the part of you that did those things is already destroyed.”
Alexi smiled. “Thank you, doctor. I’ll always be grateful for what you did the past five years. And what you’re doing now.”
“We still have some ways to go, Alexi. And I must commend you for handling this better than anyone ever has. You made this as fast and easy as these things could ever be.”
Dr. Harper 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.”
Alexi stood up and shook Dr. Harper’s hand. He stepped out to walk down the hallway between the two guards.
“Oh hey, is that David Bowie’s ‘Heroes?'” one of the guards asked.
Alexi stopped mid-whistle. “Yes, it is. A cover version was used in my favorite movie. The Replacements. Have you watched it?”
“Yeah, it was nice.”
Alexi grinned mischievously. “Tell me, officers. Do you think underdogs can be heroes?”