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SOLID GOLD by Richard Bauer

I couldn’t pinpoint the exact emotion. I was still feeling ridiculous sporting this white-on-white, three-piece suit. It was a funeral, after all, and no one would have guessed it from the attire of the guests in attendance. We stood out like sore thumbs all gathered around the future grave of my younger brother. The scattered showers on this February afternoon ensured that every last white outfit worn that day was a one-off wearing. It was a quick ceremony. Per my brother’s request, we finished the proceedings by all dropping a single dime in his casket, to be buried with him. One after another in a single-file line. I was last to go. In the midst of this well-planned cluster fuck of an event, I found a minute to talk. To my younger brother.

“Fuck you. Couldn’t find someone else to take care of this circus? Mad that I made something of myself? Mad that the world didn’t come falling at your feet and hand you the blueprint? Even if it did, you would have fucked it up. Here’s your damn dime!”

No one heard my speech because it was just a screaming voice in my own head as I paused to reflect on forty-one years of misspent life. My younger brother could have had anything he wanted in life. He just seemed to float along, not attaching himself to anything or anyone. It was as if he was paying penance for a crime he never committed. Self-imposed exile. I could never really get a straight answer out of him. Maybe it was what we had done years ago that made this the inevitable ending. Just another unanswered question.

As I began to leave the cemetery, I was approached by an out-of-breath, tattered female. She was in an all-white pants suit that was now slightly brown thanks to the mud tracks kicked up behind her as she ran. She carried some white roses with her as well. She was slightly weathered. Underneath her long, light-brown hair was the most striking pair of grey eyes I’d ever gazed upon. I gave her a moment to settle.

“Can I help you, madam,” I asked as she gathered herself and the roses.

“Bertrick funeral,” she stammered as she repeated herself, “I’m looking for the Bertrick funeral.”

“You just missed it.”

“No, no, no,” she screamed as she threw the white roses to the ground.

“Calm down, miss. It’s not the end of the world or anything. It was my brother’s funeral, and I’m sure we can head right over and you can pay your respects.”

On the verge of tears and hysteria, the lady calmed down and walked with me as I took her to my younger brother’s grave. Being somewhat estranged from him, I had no idea he had any love interests in his life. Let alone a female one. Not wanting to pry, I didn’t bother to ask who she was or how she knew him. We just both walked and stood over the now lowered casket. A misty drizzle began to fall. I was stuck on stupid for a while as she silently took in the moment. The silence had to be broken.

“So, how did you know—” I was cut off by her question.

“How did it happen?”

I took that question to mean how did he die. I was somewhat taken aback by the query. One, I had assumed she knew him. Two, of all the things to ask at a funeral, that’s what she comes up with? That said, I had to answer.

“Coronary.”

My answer seemed to go right through her. She seemed a li’l glassy eyed as she stood over my younger brother’s grave. Perhaps this was a first for her. I attempted to console her.

“I’m sure, wherever he is, my brother appreciates that you came through to see him off. I’ve known plenty of people who couldn’t make themselves attend these types of things because it just irked ’em to be around death. You are being very brave just to be here.”

It was half-lie, half-truth. I felt the need to say something. She was a complete stranger and was obviously vulnerable in this place. I placed my left hand on her shoulder. She leaned her head towards my touch. I felt her shiver and tense.

“My name is Stephanie.”

There was one mystery solved. But one solved mystery led to another. The name sounded familiar.

“Did you say Stephanie?” I asked.

“Yes. My name is Stephanie.”

I took my hand off her shoulder and reached into my breast pocket. It was my last duty in carrying out my younger brother’s last wishes. It was a sealed envelope. There was one name written across it: Stephanie.

“I believe this is for you.”

As I handed over the envelope, I could feel even more questions coming to mind. But she beat me to the punch.

“How did you know this was for me? It could have been any girl named Stephanie at this event.”

A note came with the envelope. Directions for what to do with the sealed envelope and who to give it to. She would have a dozen white roses with her. Grey eyes. And she would likely be the last person to arrive.

“Let’s just say you fit the profile.”

Stephanie grabbed the envelope and put it away in her purse. I was left to wonder what the whole thing was about. I felt a freedom in our shared messenger/messengee relationship. I took that chance to dig for answers by opening up.

“You ever hear the story of the 1972 USA Olympic Men’s basketball team?”

Stephanie shook her head in bewilderment. I continued.

“Well, back in the day, the United States was hands-down the best basketball playing nation in the world. If there was a competition held anywhere in the world and the USA had a team participating, it was a virtual lock that they were going to win that event. That came to an end in 1972.”

“I wasn’t born for another ten years,” Stephanie chimed in.

“Yeah, I always sound like an old man when I bring up the good old days. Anyways, the 1972 Summer Olympics came to a close with the headline event of the games: the USA vs. Russia in the Gold Medal Men’s Basketball game. It was a closely contested game. Due to some questionable officiating, the US team lost the game and the gold medal.”

I could feel Stephanie drifting into a world of “WTF” as I began my tale. I felt the need to edit my setup.

“As a way to protest the outcome of the game, the entire twelve-man roster of the USA men’s team decided to not accept the silver medals they had earned in defeat. The medals were locked away in a bank somewhere in Germany, which is where those Summer Olympics were held. For years, they went unclaimed. It was a decision that was solely in the hands of the twelve men that were on that US roster. To a man, not a one broke the bonded decision to leave those medals behind.”

The rain disappeared and we both settled into a couple of seats still remaining from the burial ceremony. Stephanie seemed in need of a relaxing few moments after her hurried arrival. I was still in full story mode, with the end-game hope of unraveling the secret behind the envelope and the mystery girl.

“Soooo, twenty years go by from those Olympic Games and those damn medals are still sitting in a bank in Germany waiting to be claimed. My brother and I were both in high school. I befriended this German foreign exchange student named Dressden. I usually just called him D. He came out for a year abroad and he also had an uncle who lived maybe ten minutes away from the high school. Now, his uncle had been living in the States for a few years. He had come here to retire. He was a high-end security agent who dealt with transportation and protection of German government properties.”

Maybe it was the release of years of emotional tension towards my brother that had me spilling my guts. I had never shared anything remotely related to D or his uncle since D went back to Köthel, his hometown in Germany, back in 1992. Maybe my brother’s death gave me pause to make sure I held on to nothing that would bind me in the future. Stephanie appeared to be pulled into my narrative at this point. I saw no reason to close the gates now.

“So, a few months into the school year, D and I take an extended lunch break and walk to his uncle’s house. Being of teenage minds and reckless spirit, we decided to drink any alcohol in sight. This, as we came to find out later, is not the best thing to do prior to a soccer practice later in the evening.”

I got the first smile out of Stephanie since her arrival. Much preferred to the tears she had dropped upon first glance at my brother.

“In our initial search for said alcohol, D and I went into his uncle’s office. It felt like I had walked into a museum display of what an office was supposed to look like. An artist’s rendering of the place couldn’t have done it justice. Two bookcases that went from the floor to the ceiling formed the background of a solid oak desk that appeared to have been built and carved into the very room it occupied. The bookcases were filled, and the books were in alphabetical order. There was not a speck of dust to be found as we came upon the sole oddity of the office: a solid, black file drawer. It was built into the wall to the right of the desk. It had a basic keypad in the center of it. We could find no creases or edges that would show any way of breaking into the container. It was more a shield covering a display case.”

“So, of course you had to pry to open it, right?” asked Stephanie.

“I didn’t have to say a word. D walked right over to it, punched in a 5-digit code, and up came the shield. D told me his uncle had unwittingly revealed the code to him one drunken evening. This was actually the first time he had taken the chance to use the code. D and I waited as the shield lifted and revealed the single item within its glass case: a round, silver medal. It was held up by two prongs that spun the medal around slowly. You could clearly see the moldings and inscriptions on the medal.”

“What did it say?”

“It had the Roman numerals XX for twenty, and in German it said Munich Olympiad, with the year 1972. There was some Greek goddess on it and what looked like part of the coliseum. The medal was also covered in a plastic package and a piece of tape was attached to that plastic bag. The tape had a name on it. Ed Dixon.”

“Who is Ed Dixon?” asked Stephanie.

“D and I had no idea. D’s uncle didn’t exactly go into detail on the back story of the medal being in his possession. This was the first we even knew he had something like this. We decided to not disturb the whole display and we closed it back up and left that office. Truth be told, it was a letdown for the both of us. Later that night, I was in the backyard of my house playing basketball with my brother.”

“Let me guess.”

“I had to tell someone, right?”

Stephanie nodded in approval.

“So, I go into the whole story and I tell my brother the name. He stops in his tracks and asked me to repeat the name. I do and he runs into the house. I chase him down and he is sliding in a VHS tape…”

“I remember those things.”

“Yeah, it was 1992. It’s what we had. Anyways, my brother starts playing the tape and it’s a recording of the recent 1992 Summer Olympics Men’s Basketball Gold medal game. Of course, Team USA is in the final and my brother fast forwards to a halftime segment. It details the entire 1972 Basketball final story. The controversy, the medals, the present-day update. It cuts to this shot of an old house in a German town called Köthel. A guy who was a security agent at the bank where the twelve Silver medals that Team USA never accepted back in 1972 reveals his secret. He has the medals. Had for close to ten years at that point. At least, some of the medals.”

“Some of the medals are missing? Guess they should have kept it in that bank.”

“Unfortunately, that bank shut down and the medals had no real home. The International Olympic Committee was in a transition period during the ’80s and its leadership allowed a few things to slip through the cracks. This guy in the featurette explained that he was initially in charge of housing all twelve medals once the bank shut down. No one was to be told that this bank had shut down or the medals had been moved. Through the years and the extreme lack of high security around the medals, the guy had managed to only hold on to eleven of the medals. At the end of the featurette, the news reporter covering the story displayed the remaining eleven silver medals. The IOC had reclaimed them and was now conducting an investigation on the missing medal. The display clearly showed the name tags attached to each medal. As the news reporter went through the twelve men on the 1972 Team USA basketball roster, I got a closer look at the medals. It was a perfect match to what I had seen earlier that day. Then her last words—”

“Ed Dixon,” concluded Stephanie.

“And the final missing medal was meant for Ed Dixon. My hands were on my head as my brother and I digested the story that was now in our laps.”

Stephanie was all in on the story. I had her waiting on every last word. I was zoned out as to any duties I still had that day. I just felt a rush of freedom hitting me repeatedly as I dug deeper into my memory banks. That wasn’t even the half of it. She had questions now.

“What did you and your brother do after piecing the story together?”

“Honestly, we didn’t really have much. I knew what I had seen, but I was an untrained eye. It seemed a perfect match. But how did D’s uncle come to be an owner of such a rare item?”

“What did you do the next day?”

“We went to school. We had no real sense of urgency. D had a family emergency back in Germany. He flew out that morning, and my brother and I had no way of gaining access to his uncle’s house. It felt like a daydream after we realized D was not going to be coming back. He stayed in Germany and we were left to wonder about our secret discovery.”

“You never even tried to go back to the uncle’s house? Like, even just to lie and say you left something there and needed to get it?”

“D’s uncle never knew I had been over to his house. D and I only ever went over in the middle of the day when it was empty.”

“Did you ever ask D about the medal or his uncle?”

“I kept in touch with him, but anytime I made any mention to the medal or his uncle, the subject was quickly changed. We were conversing internationally, so it wasn’t exactly easy to have long chats about the whole thing, ya know?”

Stephanie seemed at a loss for words. While the back story of how the medal came to be famous was of little interest to her, the conspiratorial manner as to its whereabouts had her intrigued. The trail seemed to run dry. Until…

“It was the one thing my brother and I never really discussed after it happened. Like I said before, it was as if we had daydreamed it. Till the ghost of that day came rolling back around. It was only a few years later. My brother had just finished high school. I was diving into the beginnings of my personal trainer career. He had managed to get a summer gig at a local funeral home. So began the summer of 1996 and the week that changed our lives.”

“Are we okay to just sit out here? I mean, don’t you have anything else to take care of as far as your brother goes?”

Stephanie made a valid point, but I really didn’t care. Anyone could handle the rest of the loose ends.

“Not like it’s a matter of life or death, right? I’m sure someone will take care of the rest. Shall I continue?

“Go on.”

“It must have been August of ’96. My brother was at the tail end of his summer gig before he took off for college. He had one foot out the door and the other on a beach in Hawaii. Then he came rolling in. Literally.”

“No!”

“D’s uncle. Cancer. He had been fighting it for years. It was partially the reason he had come to live in the States. To recover or die in peace.”

“How did you find that out?”

“OH! So, yeah, the call. D’s uncle was solo out here. While his family back in Germany was well aware of his illness, they had no updates other than the ones he gave them himself. Now that he was dead, someone had to let them know. I called back to his nephew in Germany. It was the first time I had talked to D in years.”

“How did he take the news?”

“Smoothly. I guess the years of his uncle fighting cancer had prepared him for the inevitable. D and I reminisced a li’l and I told him I was sorry his stay in the U.S. was cut short by the family emergency. That’s when he laid it all out for me.”

“Oh no, here we go again.”

“D’s uncle found out what we had done that day in his office. He couldn’t stand the thought of anyone revealing his secret and he shipped D back home. He sent D home with specific instructions. He was to tell no one of what he saw that day. And when the time came, he wanted to be buried with the medal.”

I could see the realization flash across the face of Stephanie as I emphasized that last statement. The medal was real. And he wanted the story and its history to go with him.

“But, wait! How did D’s uncle even come to own the medal?”

“D could never really pry the story out of him over the last few years leading up to his death. D could only assume it had something to do with his old job and location. You remember the featurette video I mentioned earlier? D’s Uncle worked a security detail that helped transport the twelve medals from that bank in Germany to the house in Köthel. Being one of only a few men who knew the location of those twelve silver medals was privileged information. We could only assume he took advantage of that info to get his hands on one of them.”

“Okay, so now the funeral and the call?”

“Right. So, D tells me he has to fly out to take care of the final details for his uncle. D was the only one who would know how to locate the medal and be able to fulfill his uncle’s last wish. It would be a few days before he could get out there, so my brother and I couldn’t help but revisit our daydream the very next day.”

I began to describe to Stephanie the scene of my brother and me lifting weights together at the gym I was working for at the time. I told her how I described to my brother how I got solid confirmation that the silver medal was an authentic from the original twelve made for that 1972 Olympics. Then I shared with her the inception of our plan.

“My brother and I are standing near the front desk when a client of mine comes walking by. He was one of those dorky, stock broker types who had cashed out early and in a big way. He had nothing but time to kill and money to burn. On that particular day, my client was wearing a replica 1992 USA men’s basketball jersey. My brother couldn’t help but notice and he asked my client if he was a big basketball fan. My client says yes and begins on a diatribe about his collection of memorabilia that would blow anyone away.”

“Where is all this going?” Stephanie asked sternly.

“I’m getting there. So, my client reveals to my brother and I his most treasured possession. A team photo of the 1972 USA men’s Olympic Basketball team signed by all twelve members. Says it cost him a quarter million dollars just for the photo alone. He takes off for his workout and my brother and I laugh. We both know something that he would really like to add to his collection, but it’s not exactly on the market. That’s when my brother said what we both were thinking.”

“What?”

“I wonder how much he would pay for that silver medal?”

It didn’t take Stephanie long to once again put some of the pieces together. I was a broke trainer and my brother had college to pay for. We had motive and opportunity. And most of all, we had very few eyes on the whole heist. I cornered my rich client and showed him the video of the missing silver medals and asked him point blank if he would be interested in owning one of those medals. He was reluctant as to its authenticity. My brother and I were worried about exposure if it ever got out in a free market. The client agreed to never sell it if it was the real deal. We wanted a one-time pay day that would ensure both our futures. We came to find a middle ground.

That taken care of, we had arrived at our moral crossroads. Not to mention, how do we actually get our hands on the medal? That’s when D arrived in the States and handed it to us on a silver platter, so to speak. Per the request of his uncle, D was to acquire the medal and hold on to it till his funeral. Once there, D would place the medal in his uncle’s coat pocket. My brother was the final man in charge of closing the casket on its way to being buried. He pulled a simple switch of the real medal and a fake, rip-off toy medal. Sure, the switch wasn’t entirely necessary. It just seemed like a funny “F-you” if anyone went digging up the past. Stephanie basically finished all my lines for me as I described the rest of the plot.

My brother and I saw D off at the airport as he left for Germany. He was our final loose end before we could make a break to sell our lottery ticket. My brother had the medal in his pocket as he shook D’s hand. We were arrogant and ignorant and about to be rich. We drove immediately to my client’s house. He had already prepared a display case for the medal. We presented it to him and we once again matched it up against that video as well as several other pictures of the twelve silver medals the IOC owned. He smiled at my brother and me. He pushed a silver briefcase over to me. I opened it and it was full of cash.

“How much?” asked Stephanie.

“One million dollars. Clean bills. My brother and I split it and agreed to make every attempt to never bring any attention to the fact that we had that amount of money on us. We were both basically teenagers. If we flashed too much, it just would have brought attention to us and could lead to the wrong eyes looking at us. It was so hard at times. My client really kept up his end of the deal because I never heard him even mention to anyone at the gym of the medal being in his possession. And he loved to brag.”

I could sense that this was my moment to search for the answers to questions I’d had since Stephanie arrived.

“So, how did you come to know my brother?”

“He was my best friend. He helped me get through a lot of tough times. And he never asked one thing from me. He even made sure my son was taken care of when I had to spend a li’l time in prison. I honestly don’t know how or why he did it. He lived in that ancient house forever and drove around in beater cars. Yet, whenever I needed an assist, he was always there. I guess I was the closest thing to a family he ever had.”

It felt vague and detailed. I knew the man she was talking about, but was unaware of the person she described. I knew he kept his half of the money pretty close to the vest. The only exception was the college tuition and the initial set up for where he would live out the majority of his life. Maybe 100k all told. I felt unsatisfied. And, there was still the matter of the envelope.

“You gonna open that now, Stephanie?”

“I guess now is as good a time as it gets.”

She sliced through the seal with her finger and pulled out the single item within the envelope. It was a check.

“How much is the check for, Stephanie?”

“Four hundred thousand dollars.”

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AUTHOR BIO:

Richard Bauer is a writer of fiction. He is based out of Sacramento, California.

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WHY WE CHOSE TO PUBLISH “Solid Gold”

A real historical event with unanswered questions plus a writer’s imagination can be a recipe for a successful story. That’s precisely what author Richard Bauer has accomplished. The result is a well-composed and satisfying piece of writing.