The following day the Tracy brothers were in their seats at the Thorpe Stadium well before the time of Gordon's race. The men's relay was the last item on the programme, and they watched as the teams assembled. "There's Gordon!" exclaimed Alan, as his brother's copper-coloured hair stood out amongst the group of competitors, "looks like he'll be going last."
"Which is the German team?" said Scott. "Gordon said they were the favourites for this event."
"There they are, in lane four. OK, here they all go!"
The race started, and immediately the German swimmer surged ahead. The crowd roared, everyone shouting for their own team. The boys watched as lap by lap the Germans forged ahead, until it was clear that the competition was going to be for second place.
As Gordon entered the water in a clean dive the American team was lying fourth. By the time he was halfway down the first length he had overtaken the French swimmer who had been in third place, but there was still a good distance between him and the Russian, lying second.
"Come on, Coppertop!" "Go, Gordon, go!" his brothers yelled.
The gap between Gordon and the Russian narrowed, but so did the gap between them both and the finish line. The noise in the arena increased to a deafening pitch as the two hands seemed to touch the barrier simultaneously.
"Did he do it? Did he?" the boys held their breath until the results appeared on the electronic scoreboard. "Yes!". The times showed Gordon had touched the barrier 2/100ths of a second before the Russian.
Down at the poolside, Gordon was being hoisted onto his team-mates shoulders. He looked up to where he knew his brothers were sitting and waved triumphantly.
That evening Gordon arranged for his brothers to come to the Olympic Village. He had wanted to see them, but his team-mates were also in a celebratory mood, and this seemed the best way to satisfy all parties. He was waiting for them at the security desk when they arrived, accompanied by a young girl with dark curly hair and the slim build of a runner. He introduced her. "This is Cassie. I can only sign in two visitors, so she's come to sign the other two in for me."
Drew Meredith's interview had been in that morning's paper, so Cassie looked at the boys with interest. She smiled at John. "Are you the one who's the racing driver?"
John shook his head and pointed to Alan, "No, the paper got the caption the wrong way round. He's the racing driver – I'm the astronaut."
In the dining hall the boys helped themselves from the buffet and joined a table with Cassie and the rest of the swim team, who were still in a jubilant mood, with Gordon the hero of the day. The newspaper article had been passed around and was causing a bit of good-natured teasing. (Another article, with photos of both the hydrofoil crash and Gordon holding his medal, captioned 'From this to this - How Olympic swimmer came back from the dead to win gold' was also doing the rounds. Gordon did his best to ignore it: they had got most of the details wrong anyway.) One of his team-mates asked when Gordon had learned to swim.
Scott smiled as he ruffled his younger brother's hair. "This kid's been swimming since he learned to walk. 'Swim' was practically his first word."
"Heck," interjected John, "at one time it seemed like his only word. He was always pestering us to take him swimming." He turned to Gordon, "Do you remember that time you got me out of bed at five o'clock in the morning to take you down to the pool – and Dad tore strips off me when he found us?"
"Hey, guys," protested Gordon, "leave me a little dignity, will you?"
That caused snorts of derision all round. "Dignity? After the pranks you've pulled on us over the years?" replied Virgil.
"It's no good, Gordon," said the girl sitting opposite him, "You may be a hero to us, but to your brothers you'll always be just that – their kid brother."
Gordon rolled his eyes, "Don't I know it!" He looked around. " Well, it looks like we've all finished eating. Are we going to party?"
"You forget, Gordon," said another girl, "the juke-box is broken – someone spilt Coke over it the other night."
"Yes," said Gordon, "but there's a piano over there, and a microphone – and we've got a secret weapon." He looked at Virgil. "Feel up to it, Virg?" Virgil grinned and nodded.
"Great!" said John, "Can any of you girls dance?"
Gordon looked scathingly at his older brother. "John, these are athletes. Of course they can dance!"
The craze for jive dancing had undergone yet another revival in the past few years, and the Tracy boys had taken to it like the proverbial ducks to water. "Who's your best dancer?" drawled one of the girls. Four fingers pointed to John.
Virgil went over to the piano, while John rigged up the microphone. The others started to push back the tables, and were soon helped by willing volunteers who realised that something was going on. Once Virgil started pounding out old rock and roll classics the party was soon in full swing.
Cassie had stuck like glue to Gordon's side for most of the evening, but after several dances, Scott went up and tapped him on the shoulder. "Come on, kid. It's time for me to show this young lady how a real man can dance."
Gordon looked at him. "Are you pulling rank on me, bro'?"
"Looks that way, Lieutenant. Don't worry, I'll bring her back!"
As they moved onto the dance floor Cassie said "Do you outrank him?"
"Well, I'm a captain and he's a lieutenant, though air force and WASP ranks aren't really compatible – but I'm his eldest brother, so I certainly outrank him at home."
When that dance was over Scott brought Cassie back to Gordon. "Here she is, as promised." He shot Gordon an incomprehensible look. "Now, I think I'll go and see if Virgil needs a hand."
"Are you two going to set the piano on fire again?"
A grin spread across Scott's face. "Why not? We haven't done that for a while."
Gordon whistled to catch John and Alan's attention, and pointed to where Virgil and Scott were pushing away the piano stool and were now standing side by side. "Right," said John with glee. "Who are your long-distance runners?"
"What's going on?" asked Cassie, puzzled.
"This is their party piece. Last time they did it was at Virgil's graduation party – they went on for nearly seven minutes." Gordon looked at her. "You're racing tomorrow, so you'd better not dance, but you might find it fun to watch." They moved over to stand near the piano, just as Scott and Virgil launched into the opening bars of 'Great balls of fire'. They played the first verse as a duet, but then started to take turns. Cassie watched, fascinated as they took over from each other, seemingly at random, but without missing a beat. By now they were producing variations on the original, and Gordon was providing a running commentary, "Oh, change of tempo there – very sneaky." " Watch out Scott, he's changing key!"
"Whose side are you on?" muttered Virgil.
Eventually Alan arrived by the piano, panting and pushing the damp hair off his forehead. "How long have they been going?" he asked.
Gordon glanced at his watch. "Just over five minutes. Anyone still dancing out there?"
"Just John and a couple of others."
Gordon touched both his elder brothers on the shoulder. "OK, guys, time to wrap it up."
Scott, in the middle of a complicated arpeggio at the treble end of the scale, nodded to show that he had heard, then started to count "5-6-7-8". On the next beat Virgil joined him to repeat the first verse, and they finished to applause from all the dancers.
Gordon's coach, who had been watching the whole performance in growing awe, slapped them both on the back. "Well, boys, piano playing isn't an Olympic event, but if it was, I'm sure that would win the gold!"
The crowd dispersed. Scott pulled up the piano stool and sat down. "I'll take over now, Virg. You go have a few dances."
As Scott sat down, Gordon leaned over and whispered, "Could you slip in a couple of slow numbers?"
Scott looked at his younger brother. "Whatever you say, champ." He wasn't in Virgil's class when it came to the piano – few people were – but he could pound out the odd tune, even if his style was more jazz and swing than rock & roll. He thought for a minute then started to play a piece he had heard in an old Fred Astaire film that his grandmother liked.
As the notes of The way you look tonight echoed around the room, Gordon took Cassie in his arms and started to move slowly around the floor.
John watched Gordon dancing with Cassie. He couldn't quite put his finger on it, but something about her made him uneasy. He went and sat down on the piano seat next to Scott. "Have you seen the kid?" he asked, indicating Gordon with a jerk of his head.
Scott nodded, then, keeping his voice low so as not to be picked up by the microphone, asked "What do you think?"
"I'm not sure. I get a bad feeling about her."
"Me too." Scott had been a bit taken aback at the way Cassie seemed to be making a play for him, once she had found out he was the eldest. You didn't go round poaching your brothers' girlfriends, and you didn't expect them to go for you either. "Do you think we should have a word with him?"
"I think we're a bit late for that."
"Oh?" Scott raised an eyebrow expressively. "It's not just in the water that he moves fast, then."
"Come off it, Scott, for the past five years he's thought of little else beside this medal – what with that and spending most of last year recovering from his crash, he's hardly had time for girls. It's not surprising he's – " John hesitated.
"Making up for lost time?" Scott finished. "So what do you think we should do?"
"Nothing much we can do, that I can see, apart from be there to pick up the pieces if it does go wrong." John stood and turned away as the song finished and Scott started on something with a faster pace.
However, he and Scott were not the only ones to have been observing Gordon. Another figure watched as Gordon excused himself from his partner and headed for the corridor that led to the rest rooms.
A few minutes later the stranger caught up with Gordon in the corridor. "Hey, Tracy, great party you've got going for us."
"Thanks," said Gordon, "glad you're enjoying it" and made to go past, but the other seemed to want to talk.
The young man stuck out his hand. "Carl Peterson, athletics squad. Look, I know this is none of my business, but you seem to be getting pretty friendly with Cassie Myles."
"Yes," said Gordon defensively, wondering if this was some jealous ex-boyfriend, "So?"
"Has she asked you for your medal yet? If she does, don't feel you have to give it to her. She's already got my brother Brad's."
It took a moment for this to sink in, then Gordon reacted angrily. "Are you accusing Cassie of stealing Brad Peterson's gold medal?"
"No, she didn't steal it – he gave it to her for 'services rendered'. Then he panicked and made up a story about having his pocket picked. They gave him a copy, but I've seen the way he looks at it – it doesn't mean the same. When I won my place on the team he told me what really happened." He paused, looking at Gordon. "She's a collector, Tracy. She's had my brother's medal, and now she's after yours. All the athletics team know about her. I'd have warned you earlier, but I hadn't realised until tonight quite how far she'd widened her search. Well, now you know."
Gordon stood and watched him go, then slumped back against the wall. The conversation echoed in his head, along with snatches of an earlier one.
"That looks better on you than it does on me."
"Would you like me to look after it for you?"
He felt sick in his stomach. Was that all he had meant to her? He felt used, dirty.. The idea of returning to the hall, of dancing with Cassie again, made his skin crawl. He wanted to creep away like an injured animal, find somewhere to hide and lick his wounds.
He straightened his shoulders. No, he wasn't going to slink away. He'd survived worse than this. Last year he'd been to hell and back – he'd come through that, he could get through this. But there was something he should do first. He headed for the elevator to his room, returning to the hall a few minutes later.
Gordon went up to Scott, who was just relinquishing his place on the piano to Virgil, and handed him a small bundle wrapped in a handkerchief. "Scott, will you look after this for me please?" Scott gave his younger brother a look of surprise, but took the bundle and stuffed it in his pocket.
Gordon spent the last half hour of the dance, before Coach called curfew, sitting next to Virgil on the piano stool, accompanying him on the harmonica. He had been playing for just over a year now, and there were quite of few tunes – mainly old Beatles numbers – that he could play along with. At least it gave him the excuse not to dance with Cassie, or even talk to her. He wanted to have that conversation in private.
Later on he stood in his room, his arms folded across his chest. As he expected, he heard a tap on the door. "It's open," he called.
Cassie slipped in and came towards him, putting her hands round his neck. "I've brought my medal," she said, looking up at him with a smile. "Now we've got a full set between us."
Gordon took hold of her hands, unhooked them from his neck and let them drop. "No, Cassie," he said simply.
"What do you mean, 'no'?"
"It's over. I'm not playing any more. Medals aren't toys. Besides I haven't got mine any more – I gave them to Scott to look after, until I can take them home."
"Your father could buy you a hundred gold medals!"
"I know he could, but he doesn't have to. I've got one of my own, and I'm going to keep it, so you can forget trying to get your hands on it"
"Has Carl been talking to you? That fool brother of his! I would have given him his medal back, but he had already made up that story about it being stolen, so I couldn't say anything."
"I'd like to believe you, Cassie, but I'm not sure I can. You've got your race tomorrow – maybe you'll come by one then honestly."
She moved so fast that he didn't even see the slap coming. He rubbed his cheek. "OK, I deserved that, but that's all your getting from me. I'll be at the track tomorrow because I promised I would, and I keep my promises, but apart from that, it's over."
He watched as she turned without a word and stormed out of the room.
If his brothers noticed the bruise on his cheek the next morning when they met up, they made no comment on it. "Where are we going?" Gordon asked, as they walked down towards the harbour.
Alan grinned. "This is Virgil's idea of a treat. We're going up there." He pointed to the Sydney Harbour Bridge. "He found out that you can do a tour that takes you across the top of the bridge."
Gordon grinned to himself. Yes, climbing all over some big piece of engineering genius sounded like Virgil's idea of a good day out.
As they walked along, their progress was marked by other passers-by who would look at Gordon, then nudge each other and whisper. Twice they were stopped by someone saying "Aren't you 'Coppertop' Tracy?" and asking Gordon for his autograph. The fact that these were mainly teenage girls was not lost on the other boys. When this happened for the third time, Scott muttered, "I'm getting fed up with this" and disappeared into a nearby shop. He emerged a few minutes later with three floppy hats of assorted colours, which he proceeded to ram on the heads of his three youngest brothers.
"How come you two haven't got silly hats, too?" objected Virgil.
"Because we're the oldest."
"And because we don't look like brothers," added John, who had realised Scott's intentions.
"Hey," protested Gordon, "I must look like a dolt in this."
"True" said Scott, "but at least you're an unrecognisable dolt. Without the hair, maybe 'Coppertop' Tracy won't be so noticeable."
"You know, I think we're going to have to drop this 'Coppertop' tag," John said thoughtfully, "it's too memorable. Suppose one of us uses it once we start the rescue business, and someone remembers 'Coppertop Tracy' in the '64 Games?"
"OK, no more 'Coppertop'." The boys all looked at each other and nodded.
The group set off again. Virgil and Alan were in the lead. Scott and John dropped back so they were either side of Gordon. "Anything going on that you want to talk to us about?" said John, quietly.
"No," said Gordon, fingering his cheek, "there's nothing going on."
"Well, if you do want to talk, you know we're here."
"Yes," said Scott, " and you don't need to feel bad about it. You're not the first Tracy boy to have his legs kicked out from under him by some little gold-digger. And no" he continued, looking at Gordon's expression, "I'm not going to tell you who else it's happened to – you'll just have to work that out for yourself!"
The two older boys walked off, leaving Gordon staring after them in amazement. He shook his head, then yelling, "Wait for me, guys," ran to catch up with his brothers.