Sea of Tranquility

by Rick Beck

Chapter 1

© OLYMPIA50 2021 all rights reserved
Editor: Huw Jones

The City's Speedsters

Terry Brown is an athlete, a good student and he's always been a good son and the apple of his mother's eye.

His father, like most working fathers, is gone from the house most of each day. He's doing his best to cure the ills of man, while trying to keep the peace.

Mrs. Brown is a housewife. Most of her days are spent at the house. Emily was born in Shreveport, Louisiana. Her one claim to fame as a child, was when visitors to her house said, 'Your mama is, hands down, the best cook hereabouts.'

This opinion, according to the folks who sat at Elsie Johnson's table, received no argument. Folks receiving Elsie's jams, jellies and canned goods, that she put up each year felt lucky to receive them. Elsie's soups, casseroles and her cobblers, never failed to perk up someone under the weather.

Over the years, many folks - friends and strangers alike - found themselves sitting at Elsie's table, in good times and in bad. If a family fell on hard times and couldn't feed their own, they were sent to the Johnson house where they were met with smiles and an open door. Elsie didn't need to ask why they were there. It was understood, they'd be staying for dinner.

It didn't hurt a lick, Elsie's husband, Jubal Johnson, was a Louisiana farmer, father of Emily and he supplied the food for the table in his kitchen. He'd been heard calling the table his, more than once, but everyone knew whose table it was. Jubal might argue the point, if he wasn't busy eating and making certain everyone went away fat and sassy.

The Johnsons were wealthy in a way that didn't involve their bankbook. They believed in sharing that wealth and there was no greater joy for the Johnsons, than when they watched hungry folks eat their fill.

Elsie's daughter, Emily, was an eager student, learning the secrets of her mother's cooking. At six and seven, she stood on a chair, she pulled up next to the stove, to watch her mother add a pinch of this, a dash of that, to whatever was cooking for that evening's supper.

By ten and eleven, Emily was coming close to being able to capture the flavors her mother coaxed out of the food. By the time she was thirteen and fourteen, when a guest at their table complimented a dish, it wasn't unusual for Elsie to say, "Emily fixed that. She's becoming a wonderful cook."

The reply that followed, "Emily takes after her mama."

Now, twenty-five years later, Emily is said to be, one of the best cooks on the Southside of Chicago. She put to work all the secrets her mother showed her. There were often guests at Elsie's table too and word had gotten around.

Mr. Alvin Brown, husband of Emily, father of Terry, Al to his friends, was the son of a Baptist preacher. His father's church was in Batesville.

Victims of Chicago's suburban sprawl, Batesville and Alvin's father's church, were buried under that highway. Along the way, the idea parishioners had, Alvin is going to take his daddy's church once his daddy's gone, was buried too.

Al went to college in the South, LSU. He met Emily Johnson there and he had cause to sit at Emily's mother's table, because, when you court a Louisiana girl, you are forced to court her parents, too. It's not how it was done in Chicago, but Al made an exception, when it came to Emily.

Terry Brown was the result of his father courting his mother. There would be no brothers or sisters to join him in the well-kept house. He never regretted having been born. As children went, Terry was a happy child. He followed his parent's example and he didn't break too many of the family's rules. The one time he did stray a bit from the straight and narrow, earned him the name Moony.

It's how Terry was known to his friends and to the competition, much to the chagrin of his parents. While Terry could hit a baseball a country mile, his sport was track and field. His specialty, the hundred meters.

Some athletes called him a one event wonder. He was confined to the one event he excelled in, because of a physical problem that prevented him from running the longer sprints. He also started the four by one hundred relay.

The doctor advised Terry's father, "See to it he sticks to the hundred. I'm afraid if he runs the longer sprints, his career will be short lived. As I see it, running the hundred should be OK, but we'll see as time goes on."

Terry stuck to what his father told him. The hundred was his race and it was no hardship sticking to the race he was best at. Moony was the fastest schoolboy at that distance in Chicago, and all the sprinters knew his name.

Moony understood that no one wins them all. In the one race he lost his senior season, he blew the start, losing by half a step to Levi Cordoba. He vowed not to let it happen again, spending an hour each day practicing his starts.

Moony filled many an officials watch with 9.9. He was a gifted sprinter. When he stepped onto the track, every eye was on him. If someone wasn't watching for Moony, he got a nudge and a nod for him to look. Being the sprinter other sprinters wanted to beat didn't bother Moony Brown.

Since his junior year, Moony was the man in the hundred. College recruiters had been ringing his phone, since he ran his first 9.9 hundred meters. Ten flat was a very good time, but 9.9 separated the men from the boys.

Moony's future was all but assured halfway through his senior track season.

When Moony stopped showing up at track meets, most sprinters, were aware that he didn't step on the track, when the hundred meter was called.

His teammates knew but weren't talking.

Moony Brown's father spoke to Coach Moore, telling him, "I don't want this information spread around. It will only cause trouble."

Coach Moore told his troops, "Don't be spreading this around. If someone asks you, play dumb. That won't take much effort for most of you."

They'd been told before the next track meet, "Anyone asks you about Moony, shrug and say nothing. We aren't here to gossip. Run your events and stick with the rest of the team once you've run your event."

Everyone was clear on that. The most reliable performer on their team, was no longer on the team. He no longer stepped onto the track and his name was no longer announced. The points he routinely earned, now went to another hundred man on another team. He lost once that season, finishing second to Levi Cordoba. He'd won the rest of his races, until he stopped coming to track meets.

Without Moony starting the four by one hundred relay setting the pace, the relay team was an also-ran. They didn't always win with Moony, but now they didn't even place or show.

As dependable as Moony was to win the hundred, that's how dependable the coach was in keeping his word to Moony's father. His boys stayed silent.

If things were bad for Moony's track team, it was no picnic at the Brown house either. Terry's future was tied to his speed. Being the fastest hundred man in one of America's largest cities meant colleges, far and wide, were courting him for their school.

The phone had gone still at the Brown house. College recruiters knew what happened to Moony the morning after it happened. College recruiters were paid to know what was going on with boys they were recruiting and they'd moved on to recruiting other sprinters now.

The phone calls that interrupted dinner most nights, stopped. It hadn't been unusual for Terry to get off the phone with one recruiter and before he sat back down, the phone rang again. It was almost funny, but there was no humor at the Brown house these days. No one was sure how it might turn out.

A future that once had seemed to be written in stone, was now in doubt, as Chicago's fastest sprinter, sat in the front window of the family home, looking out on the world passing by the the front of the Brown house. There was no longer any joy at 1909 2nd Street, on Chicago's south side.

Levi Cordoba, one of the fastest sprinters in the city, wasn't accustomed to sulking around. He had things to do and places to go. But for several weeks, he'd felt as though he'd lost something. It hadn't been his speed. He'd swept the sprint events six straight weeks in a row. Levi was on a tear.

Cordoba was odds-on favorite to sweep the hundred and two hundred at the upcoming City Championship and college recruiters all wanted to be Levi's new best friend. Along with his speed, his grades would have any parents smiling.

As the track season was nearing its end, most athletes were looking for a college that would take them, but Levi had narrowed his choice down to the two dozen schools who were offering him full scholarships. They loved his speed, but his near perfect scholastic record was a bonus colleges didn't expect to come with every athlete. Levi offered the college he went to, the entire package and he was a recruiters dream to boot. He was polite, unassuming and easy to talk to.

Levi was ready to go. He'd never been in better shape. He'd lost weight in his first two years, as the track season progressed. With adding light weight-training to his routine, he'd stayed at one hundred sixty-five pounds on his six foot frame and since before mid-season, he'd won every sprint race he'd started.

Being ready for the city championship, two weeks away, he'd graduate from high school a week after that final track meet of the season, and he was looking forward to life as a college student at whatever college he decided to go to. He'd been too busy to pick one of the schools recruiting him. He'd been too busy to decide.

Levi had his entire future in front of him. He knew he was a lucky lad. Everything had gone just right for him, and he was ready to charge hard into whatever awaited him. He rarely gave thought to less fortunate kids. He got the breaks, and he planned to make the most of it.

Levi had a target on his back now, but that was nothing new. He hadn't lost a two-hundred-meter race, since halfway through his junior season. He didn't plan to lose one now, as his senior season was coming to an end. He'd been everyone's pick to be the city's fastest two hundred man, this season. Then, the man he finished second to in the hundred, stopped coming to track meets. When Levi stepped on the track to run these days, he finished second to no one. He'd become the city's fastest man. What wasn't to like about that.

High school and high school track were coming to an end. That could have been what was bothering Levi. He was well-known, popular at school, and he made the right friends, but he wasn't close to anyone. Making real friends took time Levi didn't have.

He greeted everyone with a warm smile. It's what people loved about him. He didn't mind smiling. You didn't get far if you frowned all the time. People assumed he was friendly because of his smile.

A 4.0 grade point average, attention to detail, speed and his friendliness, were what gave him the inside track on his future. They were all handy traits, but the friendliness did not extend to the track. When he stepped onto the track to prepare to race, Levi Cordoba was deadly serious.

There were no smiles or greetings for the competition, whether or not Levi recognized other sprinters. He wasn't there to socialize and no one mistakenly thought he was. He had come to win, and he usually did what he came to do. Except for a quick wave to the people in the stands after he won, he went directly back to where his team was.

Levi was doing what his parents expected him to do and leaving high school wasn't a big deal. High school was about preparing him for college and college would help to prepare him for a career and eventually independence from both parents and school days. Nothing about it bothered him.

There would be bigger fish to fry in college. His future would begin to take shape there. That had always been the plan. His last high school track season, while instrumental in getting him the scholarship he was after, was no big deal.

Until a few weeks ago, Levi was on the fast track. Everything was going as expected. There had been no surprises. As close as he was to graduating, he should have been pleased as punch, but he wasn't and he didn't know why. Something was definitely bothering him.

Levi was in the best shape he'd ever been in. His coach added weight training to his regimen. No muscle building, simply a way of keeping his muscles honed. Ready them for competition. Initially, Levi was indifferent to weightlifting. It was just part of his training.

Once he'd been at it for a couple of months, he liked the way it made him feel. It made him feel faster. The light weights were traded for heavier weights. His body lost any sign of being fleshy. He was tighter, leaner, harder and he liked the way he looked.

Levi stayed at one hundred sixty-five pounds all season. Each of the previous three seasons, he'd lost from five to ten pounds by season's end. He was sure, after weight training, he had no weight to lose.

Levi knew who Moony was and he knew Moony was faster than he was in the hundred. A sprinter has his bad days, just like any athlete. Sprinters also had very good days and Levi was waiting to put one of his best days, together with one of Moony's bad days and that's the day he might win a hundred race. It wasn't an obsession. It was simply on his list of things to do. He liked winning.

Remembering his junior year, Levi began beating some of the sprinters, who often finished in front of him. By the middle of his junior track season, Levi began winning the two-hundred-meter race. As a junior, he was beating seniors.

It gave him a good feeling and when he got on the track in the two-hundred, he began to expect to win.

One day, after he'd started winning, Tim Hammond pulled off what was called an upset of the city's top two-hundred-meter man. Levi made up his mind he'd lost his last two-hundred race. No one but Levi had finished first in the two-hundred, after he lost that race to Hammond. He knew the moral to the story. Be careful what you wish for, it might not end well.

Moony was in a different league and Levi knew it. For Levi, the hundred was his second event. The two hundred was the race he trained to win and Moony pulled off his first 9.9 as a junior. Ten flat was Levi's best hundred and he'd only run ten flat once. Everything had to go just right for him to run that fast.

Moony Brown ran ten flat on his bad day, beating Levi by two strides, while doing it. The one time Levi beat Moony, he didn't think he'd become the city's fastest sprinter, even when the winner of the hundred usually was given that title.

Levi didn't expect to win the hundred and he knew he was lucky to beat Moony once. Then, Levi started winning the hundred. He didn't mind winning, but the city's fastest hundred man wasn't in those races. Moony missed six track meets over two months.

Levi won the hundred, because of Moony's absence. He still won the two-hundred, and he was still the city's fastest two-hundred man. When you added the four by two-hundred relay, which usually won, because Amalgamated had four very good two-hundred men, Levi left most major track meets with three gold medals in his pocket.

No one could take home more gold medals. Participation was limited to three events, which included any combination of field and running events that added up to three.

Levi had been called the city's fastest high school sprinter more than once, in the past few weeks, This bothered him, because Levi knew it wasn't true. The fastest sprinter was the fastest hundred-meter man and that wasn't Levi Cordoba.

The week after Levi beat the city's fastest hundred man, Moony threw down the gauntlet. Once he stepped onto the track a week later, his icy stare told the whole story. He intended to erase any doubt about who the fastest hundred man was. Moony Brown ripped off a 9.9, leaving Levi Cordoba in the dust.

The man who beat Moony the week before, could do no better than a 10.1 and a second place. It wasn't a race. It was a rout. No one finished in the same zip code as Moony.

He'd done what he came to do. Few high school sprinters run a 9.9. Fewer yet disappeared after doing it. Moony Brown did both, with two thirds of the track season left ahead of the city's track teams.

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