“The Olympics?” Hollie asked, looking across the table at her fiancée. “We’re going to the Olympics?”
“Uh, not exactly,” Paul replied, pouring cereal into his bowl.
“So, what exactly?”
“Before the athletes head off to the Games,” Paul explained, adding milk to the bowl, “the committee throws them a going away bash. Entertainers from all over the country come to perform. And this year, we’ve been asked to participate.” He popped a spoonful of cereal into his mouth and smiled at her while he chewed.
Hollie took a moment to let that sink in. “So, this is a pretty big deal?”
“Maybe,” Paul admitted. “There will be a lot of insider people there, so I guess we’ll have the chance to make a few connections here and there. Personally, though,” he went on, “I just want to go for the fun of it.”
“The fun of it?” Hollie repeated with a cocked eyebrow. “Sounds like you’ve got something specific in mind.”
“Actually,” he told her, sitting his spoon down and leaning closer, “there is this new idea I’d like to try.”
Hollie leaned closer, too. “Do tell.”
“Well, we start off with a race...”
----- ----- -----
“And we have our winner!” Paul announced as his assistants climbed back up onto the low stage that had been set up at one end of the gymnasium. The athletes from the U.S. Olympic Team occupied the bleachers on either side of the gym, while chairs had been set up on the floor for coaches, staff and visiting dignitaries.
The girls were all dressed in track-and-field outfits and had just finished a race around the gym. “First place goes to Hollie,” Paul said as his lead assistant came to the front, “followed closely by Tiffany.”
“Very closely,” Tiffany said softly, the comment too quiet to be heard by the crowd. Beside her, Hollie smiled. Tiff was still ticked about having to throw the race to her.
“Next, we have Crystal,” Paul went on. “And, finally, Michelle. Let’s give them a hand, shall we?” The audience complied, and Paul waited for the applause to die down before turning to his assistants. “Now, unfortunately, I have some bad news, ladies. Your medals aren’t ready yet. But I’ve been assured they’re on the way. So, in the meantime, why don’t you hit the showers?”
As he spoke, he gestured to a group of three joined cabinets made out of frosted glass. Piping ran above each cabinet, capped with a showerhead. A series of wolf whistles came from the men in the audience.
“We only have the three, I’m afraid,” Paul explained, “but that’s okay, since I’ll be needing Hollie’s help getting ready for the awards ceremony. So, ladies...”
As a group, Tiffany, Crystal, and Michelle turned and went to the stalls. Each opened a door and got inside, pulling the door closed behind them. You could still just barely see each girl through the frosted glass. Water began to fall from the showerheads, and the shadows began to go through the motions of bathing.
“Okay, Hollie,” Paul continued. “If you’ll get what we need, I’ll see about those medals.” Hollie gave him a thumbs-up and headed for a table near the back of the stage. Meanwhile, Paul turned to face the audience, his back to the shower stalls. “Okay, we’re going to need bronze...”
As he said it, the water coming from the showerhead over Michelle’s stall changed color, turning a deep bronze. “Hey!” she shouted, her silhouette reacting to the change. A second later, her outline froze in position, and the flow of liquid from her shower stopped.
Paul ignored the outburst. “...and silver...”
This time, it was Crystal’s water that changed. And likewise, her shadow reacted to the change. However, instead of an outraged shout, what came from her stall was more like a contented moan. Then, she was seen to freeze, and her shower cut off.
“...and, of course, gold.”
On cue, Tiffany’s shower changed, dousing her in gold. The only sound she managed was a startled “eep” before she was frozen and the flow of metal ended.
“That should do it, right?” Paul asked the audience, getting an enthusiastic response. “Great. Then, on to the ceremony.”
With that, he turned back to the stalls. As he did, cables attached to them lifted the outer shell up and away from the girls inside. Or rather, the metallic statues that the girls had become. A disappointed moan came from the guys in the audience, as each was still dressed in their track attire. Paul stopped and turned back over his shoulder. “Sorry, guys, but it’s not that type of show. Maybe next time.”
Hollie came back over, taking in the statues as she did. Michelle had been caught in an expression of anger. Crystal’s expression, on the other hand was anything but. In fact, with her fingers edging into the top of her running shorts, she had come very close to making it “that type of show”.
Tiffany, however, was Hollie’s favorite. Her best friend was captured with her arms tight by her side, her hands spread wide and her face was stuck in the most darling surprised expression. The stage lights reflected off her metallic coating. Well, girlfriend, Hollie mused as she went by her, you may not have won the race, but at least you got the gold.
“Let’s get started, shall we?” Paul said, taking something from Hollie. He held it up so that the audience could see. It was the type of ribbon that usually would have had a medal attached to it. This one, though, was unadorned.
Turning to the bronze statue, Paul went on. “Okay, Michelle. You came in last, so no medal for you.” He slipped the empty ribbon over her head, eliciting a few laughs from the crowd. “That doesn’t mean you can’t take part in the ceremony, though.”
He turned back to Hollie and took a folded sheet from her. Shaking it out, he draped it over Michelle’s bronze form. After making a show of getting the sheet just so, he stepped back. Turning to the audience, he held up his hand. With a slightly evil smile, he snapped his fingers.
From beneath the sheet, a bright flash was seen. A second later, it dropped empty onto the top of the raised platform the statue had been standing on. The audience instantly grew quiet, clearly caught off guard by the sudden disappearance.
Paul’s smile grew as he turned and grabbed up the sheet, handing it off to his only mobile assistant. As Hollie took it, he reached down and picked up something else off the platform. Holding it up, he showed the audience that it was the ribbon he had put around Michelle’s neck. Only now, hanging from the previously empty clip, was a round bronze medallion. Those in the front row, if they looked hard enough, could have made out the now missing girl’s angry face on the front of the medal.
The crowd erupted in applause. Paul let it go on a bit before he turned to the second statue in the line. “Now, Crystal,” he said, the audience taking their cue to quiet down, “you were third, and that does earn a medal.” He slipped the ribbon holding the bronze medallion over her head. He stepped back to allow the audience to see the awarded silver statue. A few people clapped to congratulate Crystal on her prize.
Paul held his hand out and Hollie handed him the sheet. Like he’d done with Michelle, he draped it over Crystal. As before, he stepped aside and snapped his fingers. Another flash and the sheet fell flat to the stage.
This time, the audience knew what was coming, and the applause started even as Paul bent to pick up the sheet. As Hollie took it from him, he turned back and grabbed the ribbon up. He held it up so that the crowd could see that the medal had changed. The bronze metal had been displaced, now circling around a silver medallion. In the center, Crystal’s slightly erotic expression could be seen.
Paul gave the audience a chance to finish their applause before turning to the final statue. “Tiffany,” he began, “you ran a good race. But a close second, is still just second.” He took a second to wink at Hollie, who bit her lip to keep from laughing. “And for that, you get the silver,” Paul went on, slipping the medal over the girl’s golden head.
By now, Paul knew that the audience was a step ahead of him, so he didn’t waste a lot of time putting the sheet over Tiffany. With a quick snap, the sheet was on the floor. He snatched it up and handed it off to Hollie. As she turned to carry it back to the table, Paul retrieved the medal from the platform and showed it to the crowd, who were already clapping loudly.
Again, the medal had changed. Now, there were two outer rings, one of bronze, the other silver, around a golden center. The center medallion showed Tiffany’s startled face. As Paul held it up, the applause grew louder, some people coming to their feet.
Paul basked in the acclaim for a bit, while Hollie came back over to stand next to him. Then, he held up his hand to signal for quiet. “Thank you all so much,” he said, “but we’re not quite finished here.” He turned to his lead assistant. “We still have to award our winner. And while I’m sure the other girls might not be happy about it... Well, to the winner goes the spoil, right?”
As the audience again erupted into applause, Paul slipped the ribbon over Hollie’s head. The girl turned to the crowd and raised her hand in a two-finger victory salute. As she did, Paul pulled a small digital camera from his pocket and stepped around in front of her. “Let’s capture this moment for prosperity, shall we?”
Hollie was taken a bit by surprise by the camera, since Paul had never mentioned it in rehearsal. But ever the professional, she quickly adapted and turned to him, again striking the victory pose. A moment later, the camera flashed in her face and she blinked her eyes.
Or she tried to.
Try as she might, Hollie couldn’t close her eyes. In fact, she soon discovered, she couldn’t move at all. She was completely frozen, stuck in her victory pose before the wildly applauding crowd. What are you up to, Paul?
The audience remained unaware of Hollie’s predicament for a bit longer, until Paul stepped forward and waved his hand in front of her face. Slowly, the crowd realized that the girl had given no response to his actions, and began to quiet down.
Satisfied, Paul turned back to the audience. “Now,” he began, “we all know that medals are the ultimate goal of all Olympians. And there’s nothing wrong with that.” As he talked he moved around his immobilized assistant. “However, there are other benefits of winning a gold medal. And before the show, our lovely second place finisher, Tiffany, reminded me of one of those.”
Oh, she did, did she?
Paul walked to the back of the stage and retrieved the sheet that Hollie had placed back on the table. “Now,” he said, coming back to the front, “Hollie here clearly won the gold, right?” The audience cheered their agreement. “So, it’s only right that she enjoys all the benefits that go with that, correct?” More cheering. “Right, and so...”
Without another word, he draped the sheet over Hollie in the same manner as he had the statues before. The audience remained quiet, waiting to see where this was going. Paul took a little extra time to get the sheet just right to build anticipation. Then, he stepped to one side, holding his hand above his head.
“How about we do this one together?” he said to the crowd. As he’d hope, most of them raised their hands up. “Okay, on three,” he told them. “One. Two. And three.” On cue, the sound of hundreds of fingers snapping rang through the gymnasium.
With a flash brighter than any of the statues had produced, the sheet dropped to the stage. Unlike with the statues, however, it didn’t end up flat on the stage, but instead was draped over something square in shape.
Paul looked down at the sheet, and then cut his eyes back to the audience, giving them a wink. Then, with a quick pull, he snatched the sheet up from the stage, slinging it carelessly over his head. It floated back over to where the shower stalls had been and fell harmlessly over the platforms. Paul ignored it. Instead, he used his hands to gesture to what had replaced Hollie on the stage, guiding the audience’s eyes in that direction.
Sitting on the stage, was a simple cardboard box. It took the crowd a few seconds to recognize it as belonging to a popular brand of breakfast cereal. And smiling out at them from the front of the box was Hollie, still in her victory pose. Around her neck could be seen the three metal medal she had won.
As a mixture of laughter and applause went up from the crowd, Paul bent and took the box into his hand. As he stood up, he tossed the box upward. It spun a few times in the air before he caught it and held it out so that the crowd could get a better look at it. “So, what do you think?” he asked them. “Does Hollie deserve this honor?”
The audience indicated with applause that they thought she did. Though they couldn’t tell it from the picture, Hollie had her own opinions about her “honor”. You just wait, Mr. Magic. I’ll show you who deserves what when we ... Ooh!
As the applause died down a bit, Paul pulled the box to his side. “I’m sure Hollie will appreciate your support,” he smiled. “And let me assure you that she returns it a thousand fold to each and every one of you. You’ve worked long and hard for this day. You absolutely deserve the honor, and me ... and the girls ... all hope you bring home many medals of your own.”
Nice speech, Hollie thought. She wondered, though, if anyone in the audience noticed exactly how Paul was holding the cereal box as he gave it. Or just where his middle finger was rubbing back and forth on the picture on the front of it, for that matter.
“As for me...” Paul went on. He cut his eyes down to the box in his hand. “I think I’m going to go back to my hotel and get me something to eat.” His innuendo was rewarded with more wolf calls from the audience. “Good night, and good luck to you all.”
As the crowd came to its feet, he turned and left the stage, taking the box with him. On the front of the box, Hollie continued to smile her victory smile, wondering if the other girls would be upset about spending the rest of the night in her suitcase. If they were, oh well. After all, to the winner...