Sea of Tranquility

by Rick Beck

Chapter 4

Bus To Southside

Two days later and one week before the city track and field championships.

Levi never took a transit bus before. Had he asked a friend to drive him to Southside, he'd have gotten a ride, but he didn't ask a friend to take him to Southside. This was a journey he was taking alone. He carefully planned what he was going to do and then, he implemented his plan.

Levi could have had a car in his junior year, but he didn't want a car. He'd worked hard to get where he was and a car might have been nice. It would have saved him a lot of time, but Levi knew, a car would be a major distraction. He wanted to keep his grades up and work hard to be a major force on his school's track team. That way he'd get the scholarship he was after and be able to go to the school of his choice. His parents could buy him a car once he went to college.

No matter who he asked to drive him to Southside, there would be the inevitable question, 'Why in the world do you want to go there?'

It wasn't a question Levi was prepared to answer. He wasn't sure of the answer. Sid asked, 'Are you going to go see him?'

He didn't answer. He knew the answer to that question, but the why question had no answer. He needed to see Moony Brown. In some crazy, unexplainable way, his life as a sprinter, had somehow become entangled with Moony's life as a sprinter and he didn't know why.

He needed to see Moony. Once he talked to him, he'd be able to answer the question why. After visiting him, if he still didn't know, that would put an end to that. He could move on without the answer, even though, having the answer seemed important to him now.

It was the first time he'd been sidetracked, for as far back as his memory went. There was an answer to every question and life went in one continuous straight line. His life appeared to be as close to perfect as life gets. Nothing bothered Levi, up until now and the more he thought about Moony Brown, the more unsettled he became. Levi knew he was on the road to success. There was no doubt about it, but that road had suddenly swerved to the south.

It was an accident. There was no reason for it. There was no reason for Levi to let it bother him, but it did bother him. He was most likely going to sweep the hundred and two-hundred at the city championships and he needed to talk to the guy who should win the hundred at that meeting.

Did there have to be a reason?

Levi admired Moony Brown's style. He needed to tell him that. Their communicating was mostly done at a distance. Levi wanted to talk to Moony and not from across eight lanes of a track. He liked how Moony carried himself. He had the kind of confidence Levi didn't possess. If anything, Levi should have been the more confident of the two, but he wasn't and he didn't know why.

Levi had it made. If he hadn't been born with lightning speed, his road to success might not have been paved with gold, but he was smart, handsome and charming, which would have carried the day, if his number one asset, hadn't become the speed that had him winning most two hundred races he ran.

When all was said and done, if Levi hadn't been sought after by dozens of colleges, because of his speed, he'd have been sought after because of his grades and if all else had failed him, his parents were prosperous enough to send him to any college he pleased, even won that didn't dangle their scholarships in front of him.

According to Moony Brown's address, his family wasn't that prosperous. He lived on the other side of the tracks, according to polite company. Moony had one thing going for him that could secure his future until, in a moment of madness, his future dissolved on the asphalt street that ran in front of his house.

Levi assumed these things were true. He couldn't put himself in Moony's shoes. He hoped it wasn't true, but the address told him a lot. He'd heard heartbreaking stories of children who didn't make it home from school on the Southside. All children didn't get to grow up on the Southside. This was a reality he'd never given much thought to, until now.

Levi had no feeling for the guys he ran against. Once he stepped onto the track, he had only one thing on his mind. Winning whatever race he was running and he usually did that. Levi was on the fast track to a good life. Everyone took that for granted. He never saw it any other way.

Even guys on his team struggled to make the grades that opened a clear path to some kind of a future. Things went right for Levi. The wind was at his back. It was safe where he lived and all children made it home from school alive.

If he'd fallen down on his way to success, or if a faster boy moved into his school district, Levi would have been OK. If his grades hadn't been enough to make the Honor Society and there were no scholarship offers, he'd have been OK. His future would still be the same because his parents would see to it.

Moony Brown, the fastest sprinter in the city, had been gunned down on his way home from school. How could that be allowed to happen anywhere?

The fast track had led Levi to Southside. He was going to see the only boy who had beaten him that season. While Moony's life was in the toilet, Levi's senior year, became even better. His prospects had improved, because the fastest man in the city, couldn't even walk onto the track.

That bothered Levi.

Watching out the window, the bus slowly moving south, Levi had time to give some thought to the races he ran. Whenever his mind was considering the things that could go wrong, Levi thought of the four by two-hundred relay race.

The relay races were the most intense part of Levi's schedule, on the day of a track meet. The hand-off is what made the outcome of a relay race uncertain. If something was going to happen, if something was going to go wrong, it went wrong in the relays. Many a dream team ended up finishing last, as one of their number, stands dumbstruck, looking at the little metal baton lying on the track. Once you dropped one, there was no reason to pick it up. You'd been disqualified. Dropping the baton, every sprinter's nightmare, was only a little worse than muffing the hand-off, but not dropping it. Failure to make a good crisp hand-off, caused more than one relay team to finish out of the money. The art of the hand-off needed to be perfected. If you didn't know the moves of the guy handing off to you, or the guy you were handing off to, the results could be disastrous, even for a dream team made up of the world's fastest men or women. The hand-off was the key in every relay race.

Running the open sprints was a piece of cake. The most difficult part, coming out of the starting block. Once you were out, you kicked it into high gear, running for all you were worth, until the race was run. If you were a sprinter running the hundred or two-hundred, it was always the same. Running the relays was never the same twice because everyone knew how unpredictable the hand-off could be.

Levi ran the anchor leg of the team's four by two hundred relay. Because Amalgamated High had four solid two-hundred men, Levi almost always had the lead, once the baton had passed to him. Being the fastest two-hundred-meter man meant no one was going to catch him and, if by some quirk of fate like a bad hand-off, Levi was the man you wanted to have the baton if you needed to make up yardage. Because his team spent hours practicing the hand-off, Levi rarely needed to make up yardage.

As Levi thought about the relay he ran, he thought about the relay Moony ran. Moony started the four by one hundred relay. His job, get as far out ahead of the competition, as he could and hand-off the baton with his team leading. The fastest hundred man in the city, always had a lead, once the baton exchange was made. With smooth hand-offs, a really good team expanded the lead. The four by one hundred relay was electric if the exchanges were crisp and clean and backbreaking if they weren't.


Today, Levi was on his way to a part of town, where he rarely went and then, only with the track team. He didn't remember driving through Southside in a car. He'd checked teacher's addresses and Mr. Tilton lived in Southside. Levi had Mr. Tilton in chemistry a year ago. He figured the man would remember him.

He went to see him after the last bell rang. His teacher did remember him and he drew him a map to where he was going, listing the number of the two buses he'd need to take and where he would need to transfer to the second bus. Mr. Tilton took the same two buses every day.

Levi told his coach that he'd be missing practice for the second time that week. It wasn't like he was going to get in any better shape than he was in. It wasn't like he'd made a habit of missing practice. He hadn't missed practice before. It was one of those things he did after school every day, during track season. He liked practice. He liked being on the track team. It was a big part of who he was.

As Mr. Tilton handed him the map with the instructions, he'd held onto it, when Levi tried to take it from him.

"You sure you know where you're going, son? Are you sure you know what you're doing? I've lived in Southside for twenty years. I've never had a minute of trouble and this may not come as a news flash, but you're white. While Southside isn't much more dangerous than most places, there are things that will attract attention. You being a white boy is one of those things."

"I'm just going to visit a friend," Levi said, folding the map and putting it in his pocket. "I'll be fine."

"Uh huh!" Mr. Tilton said, shaking his head. "You want me to go with you, son? I don't leave school until after five, but I'll go with you, if you want me to."

"No, sir," Levi said. "I'll be OK."

Mr. Tilton hoped he was right.


As the buses' brakes hissed, Levi saw the driver's eyes in the big mirror next to his seat, "This is where you want to get off, son. 2 Nd Street is right at the next corner and it's one block over."

"Thanks," Levi said, as the door of the bus opened to let him out.

Levi saw the street sign that Mr. Tilton marked on the map and he made the right turn, going one block and he turned right on 2 nd Street. The street was nearly empty. Only one other person got off the bus when he did, but he turned the other way. Levi checked the number on each house.

He was right where he wanted to be. The first address was 1901 2 nd Street. It was on the opposite side of the street and in the middle of the block was 1909 2 nd Street. He crossed over to the other side, standing in front of Moony Brown's house, according to the news articles Sid copied for him.

There were yellow flowers on either side of the sidewalk that led to the steps at the front door. Shrubs grew up across the front of the house. Levi took a step onto the walkway, stopping to look at the house. It wasn't a big house, but it looked neat and a small patch of grass was at the right of the walk and a fence was to the left. He hesitated, looking at the address again. It hadn't changed.

He would need to force himself forward because his feet weren't that anxious to go. He began to wonder if this was such a good idea. Why was he here? How would he explain his presence at Moony's house?

A fine time to figure out what he was doing there. He contemplated taking a step backward, so he wasn't inside the house's property line, while he thought.

As Levi stood there, waiting to be motivated, the front door swung opened. A middle-aged woman, maybe his mother's age, stood staring at him.

"You lost, boy? You look lost."

It wasn't a particularly friendly welcome. Levi could hear what the woman wanted to say. 'What the hell you doin' in my yard,' but she was more polite than Levi's subconscious was.

"I...," was the best he could do at the moment.

"Cat got your tongue? What do you want? You're standing in my yard. I'd like to know why," she said, becoming more aggressive, but she didn't come out to shoo him away, yet.

Levi felt out of place for a good reason. He was in-town, and he never went to town. There was always a friend ready to take him anywhere he wanted to go, but he'd come here alone, and he was on his own. He'd come to see Moony, because they had something in common, sprinting. They'd talk about that. How long would that take?

"Well? What you want?" she said, sounding irritated about him being there.

"I'm Levi... Levi Cordoba," Levi said, becoming tongue tied again. "I... I...."

"Is we on Candid Camera. I bet we is," she suddenly said, sounding overjoyed.

"What's Candid Camera," Levi said, as the woman smiled at him.

"You aren't from Candid Camera, are you?"

"I...."

"Spit it out, honey child. I'm well fed. I don't bite and if you is my long lost nephew, I ain't got no brothers or sisters. Are you sure you're in the right place?"

"Moony. I want to see Moony," Levi managed to say clearly.

"Moony who? You is in the wrong spot. Ain't no Moony here?"

"Mama, cut it out, someone yelled from far away from the door. What's he want? Let him in the house if he came to see me? Who is he?"

"Levi, Levi Cordoba," Levi yelled loud enough to be heard.

"Levi Cordoba? You sure you want Moony Brown?" the invisible voice asked.

"Track. I know you from track," Levi yelled louder.

"That Levi Cordoba? What you want with me? Do you know where you are? Mama, let him in the house before the neighbors see him."

"I guess you better come on in," she said, pushing the screen open, looking both ways, as Levi scurried into the house.

It was an old house, but it was neat. The house smelled of fresh cut flowers and there was a long entryway with most of the house on the right side of the hallway. The stairs were straight ahead of him and the disembodied voice was coming from the left.

"Come on. Don't want you getting lost. He's back here. He can't do the stairs. His father's study is where he sleeps now and his name is Terrance. We do not call him by that other name. I'd appreciate it if you remember that."

"Mama, you didn't need to escort him," Terry said. "If he found his way to Southside, I doubt he'd get lost on his way to my room."

"I ain't letting no white boy roam around my house. No telling what they might pick up by mistake," she said, more cynical than she intended.

"Mama, I'll see to it he don't steal nothing. Go on and fix lunch. He ain't here to see you," Terry said, not sounding like he was thrilled with Levi being there.

"Don't you be stealing nothing. I'd never hear the end of it," Moony said.

"I'll try to resist the temptation, but those are nice flowers," Levi said, playing along with his host.

"Terrance, no telling what this is going to do to our reputation. Cut it short. Let this white boy go back to where he belongs," she said.

"Don't mind her, some gypsies left her off here, one time. on their way to somewhere else. We kept her out of kindness," Terry said.

"I bet I make you fix your own lunch, Terry Brown," the woman said, sticking her head back around the doorjamb. "Well sit yourself down. He ain't et, but he don't bite."

"Yeah! Yeah! Tuna fish ready yet, Mama?" Terry asked, ignoring Levi.

"A minute ago, you wasn't hungry," she said from farther away.

Levi felt like he'd just walked into a Three Stooges skit. He didn't know what to take seriously. He stood just inside the door, looking at Moony Brown. He didn't recognize him out of his uniform. He couldn't have picked him out of a crowd.

"Well, what you want? What the hell you doing here, Cordoba? Do you have any idea where you are? I got shot a block from here. Those boys see your white ass, they'll shoot first and ask questions later. What are you doing here anyway?" Moony Brown asked. "Sit down, will you. My neck's getting sore."

"I... I...," was the best Levi could do.

"Sit down. Maybe you'll think better off your feet. You do know that my getting shot was an accident. Those boys down the block get a gander of you coming into my house, they'll be gunning for my ass," Terry said.

Levi wasn't certain he was being put on, but it crossed his mind.

"I...," Levi said. "How are you? I came to see how you are."

"How am I? My ass got shot, which means, I ain't none too good at the moment and how are you, Cordoba? What the hell's your first name?"

"Levi. Levi Cordoba. My friends call me Cord," Levi said.

"You come down to make sure I'm out of it for good? Well, the doctors say, I'll be lucky to walk again. Run, they get hysterical when I ask if I'll ever run the hundred again?"

"I'm sorry," Levi said, a great deal of remorse in his voice.

"Sorry for what? You didn't shoot me, or did you have something to do with it? Has worked out nice for you. If I didn't know who shot me, I'd put my money on you. What you want?" Terry asked, speaking rapidly.

"I know how good I have it. I heard about what happened. I just wanted to let you know that it bothered me a lot. I'm not the hundred man you are, Moony. I beat you once in all the times we've run against each other."

"Everyone has a bad day now and then. I had a bad day. You beat me once. I got over it."

"I'm a two hundred-meter-dash man. That's my event. I run the hundred because it's a sprint. I'm the fastest guy on the team."

"Excuse me for not standing up and applauding, but I been shot recently. As I recall, I only beat you by a step or two. You're pretty fast, for a white boy."

"You're fast as greased lightning," Levi said.

"A sprinter is a sprinter. You got nothing to be sorry about. You're good and now that I'm out of it, you've got even better," Terry said.

"You still follow track?" Levi asked, not being sure he would, under similar circumstances.

"I don't want to. I try not to, but I always end up turning to the sports page, looking at the results of city track meets. Even if I can't run any more, I'm still a sprinter at heart. Why are you here?"

"I had to come. I don't know why. Once I knew what happened to you, I had to come to find out how you are. Took a while to get my courage up to face you. I figured, last thing you need is a reminder of what you've lost. I mean, I can't imagine it. You're so fast and…," Levi said.

"But you came anyway," Moony said softly. "My guys don't even come here."

"Really?"

"I told them not to. Last thing a guy wants to see is a cripple. I ain't saying I'll always be cripple, but, well, I am now. I got to live with that," Terry said.

"When we raced and they're announcing our names. I watched you when they were announcing, Moony Brown, lane 4. You'd lock eyes with me and give me that nod, like you respected me. The way you carried yourself. I liked that. I was sure I'd like you. Deep in those eyes, I saw a real person and I can honestly say, everyone else on that track, doesn't even register on me. Maybe because you beat me, but even after beating me, you showed me respect. You never left the track until you locked eyes with me. That's why I'm here. Things might have been easy for me this year if you hadn't been there to keep me honest. You do own the hundred, Terry. You keep a lot of sprinters honest."

"I felt invincible. Then, I let you beat me. Look at me now," Terry said, looking Levi over, as he sat across from him.

Moony wiped moisture out of his eyes. He hadn't talked track with anyone. That part of his life had been out of his mind, until a sprinter from another school came to remind Terry who he was and how he impacted the boys he raced.

While he was running track, he gave little thought to other sprinters. When he went to a track meet, he went to win the hundred and hopefully to have a good four by one-hundred relay race. They did well at some track meets and they didn't do as well at others. Relays were like that.

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