Sea of Tranquility

by Rick Beck

Chapter 3

Every Body Smile

Emily Brown has remained cheerful in the face of adversity. Her son Terry is withdrawn and no longer communicates the way he once did. She worries about her son, who sits in a front window of the house most of each day. The best she can do is to keep him well fed and be as cheerful as she's able. In time, her hope is that her son will rebound.

"Terry, do you want your lunch?" his mother asked.

"No, Mama. I'm not hungry."

"I'll make us some tuna sandwiches. It's your favorite. You know you need to eat. The doctor said....."

"Mama, I was there. I know what the doctor said. I'm not hungry, you badgering me isn't going to give me an appetite," Terry said, more forcefully than he meant it to be. "I'm sorry, Mama. I know you mean well."

Terry had lost control of everything and now he was losing control of his mind. He'd always known he lived on mean streets, but it had never applied to him. Everyone knew him. Everyone rooted for him. Now, the entire universe had narrowed to one large window.

"Terry, do you want a piece of fruit?" she asked.

"No, ma'am. I'm not hungry, Mama," he tried more politely.

"You going to sit in there and sulk all day?"

"Yes, ma'am," Terry said, as his mom came to the door.

"You know what the doctor said? He knows best," she said.

"He don't live in here, Mama. I live in here. I want them damn braces and if you make me crawl over there to get them, I'll crawl, Mama, so you may as well let me have them."

"You heard the doctor as well as I did," his mom said.

"Where'd you put them, Mama? I'm going to walk again. I may as well get started."

"I put them up. I know you, young man. If I'd left them in plain view, you'd have had them on by now and you know as well as I do, you haven't healed yet and until you do, no braces. That's final."

Terry scooted as far out on the edge of his chair as he dare go. He wasn't suicidal, not yet anyway and he wouldn't do anything that did more damage than was already done. He knew what the doctor said. He'd been there. The doctor was taking about some damage to his spine, which could heal on its own. He called it a nick. Terry nicked himself shaving. It never stopped him from walking or running. This nick wouldn't stop him. He'd made up his mind. He would walk again. It didn't matter what doctors said.

The doctor said, "Your paralysis might be for good, but more likely, it's temporary. Your spine needs time to heal and we'll know more once it has healed. You need to be patient, Terrance. Give it time to heal and with a little good luck, this time next year, you might be walking again. If we take our time now, that outcome is more likely. We just don't know for sure right now."

He'd show the doctors. He'd show everyone. He wasn't a quitter; he'd been injured before. He healed fast and he would heal this time too. What he needed to do was get out of his chair to begin exercising, so he could heal.

A while was a long time to a high school kid. His life hung in the balance. If he couldn't get back what he'd lost, his life would suck big fat ones, forever and a day. He couldn't wait. He wasn't going to wait.

"Mama, I want those braces. They're mine and I want you to give them to me. I'll never walk again if I don't start walking soon."

"I heard you the first time, Terrance. You heard what I said. You think a responsible mother is going to let her son cripple himself for life, because he's too impatient to wait for his body to heal, before he starts making impossible demands on it again? If you ever hope to go back to what you like doing, you better learn to wait. The time will come for you to exert your will over your legs."

"Mama, it's been two months. I've been out of the hospital a month. I want my braces. I want to walk," her son insisted.

"I know you do, Baby. It's not time yet. When the doctor says it's time, then, I'll gladly help you put those braces on. I'll walk with you. I'll hold you up. I'll carry you home when you get too tired, but I will not give you the braces, until the doctor says you are ready for them."

"Mama!" Terry yelled, like when he was a little boy and he fell down, trying to walk and he skinned his knees.

Remembering her son trying to walk as a child, once brought a smile to her face. It was a typical memory for a mother. With Terry in a wheelchair, thinking about him learning to walk all over again wasn't going to generate many smiles this time. Learning to walk a second time wasn't how life should be,

Her son's demands subsided each day for the past week and they continued to subside. Terry went back to watching soap operas. She didn't know how he could stand watching those silly damn things, but they took his mind off his braces so she could return to the kitchen to caramelize onions and garlic for tonight's casserole.

If she couldn't cook, she'd have gone crazy over the last two months. Somehow, cooking took her away from the everyday, the mundane and the overwhelming sadness at the Brown house.

Emily Brown was certain the situation would gradually improve, but it wouldn't come soon enough for her.

Levi had his priorities straight. He wanted the full ride because he'd earned it. He was a member of the honor society, the journalism staff and he belonged to Mr. Rush's college prep club, which was by invitation only. Levi had been invited, but during track season he wasn't expected to attend events if they were scheduled after track practice. He had bigger fish to fry.

"Mr. Turner, how would I go about tracking down a guy from another school?" Levi asked.

"You know his name, of course," Mr. Turner said.

"Yeah, he's a track guy. I had a need to find out what happened to him. I know his name. I know his school, but that's all I know about him. How would I go about finding him?"

His journalism teacher leaned back in his chair, forming a tent under his chin with his two index fingers and his thumbs.

"Let's back up a step or two. Ask yourself the questions that are most pertinent to your investigation," Mr. Turner said.

"Who, what, where, why, when?" Levi said.

"Very good. Who is it you are looking for, Mr. Cordoba?"

"His name is Moony Brown. We ran against each other in the hundred, which means he's another sprinter. He goes to Southside. He is the fastest hundred man in the city. For the last six track meets, he hasn't shown up. I need to know what happened to him."

Mr. Turner could see the angst on Levi's face. This other runner had left some kind of impression on him and being the fastest hundred man in the city meant, Levi lost to the boy he wanted to find. Mr. Turner thought that it was very strange for Levi to go looking for his nemesis.

"Who is the city's fastest hundred man, when your competitor doesn't compete?" Mr. Turner asked.

He saw the discomfort in Levi's face, once the question was asked.

"I am," Levi said.

This made his inquiry that much more curious. The boy who could beat Levi in the hundred, stopped coming to track meets and so races he would have lost to that boy, he now won. A very curious inquiry indeed.

"The boy who could beat you, doesn't race any longer," Mr. Turner said, sitting back up in his chair. "That could bode well for you, Mr. Cordoba."

"It could, but my winning those races means something has happened to Moony Brown. He's a tough kid. He didn't decide he was tired of running, Mr. Turner. Something had to happen to him. I want to know what."

Mr. Turner stood up, looking at Levi and turning to look out at the teacher's parking lot. He stood silent for several minutes."

"And going over to his school and asking what happened to this Moony Brown, isn't the way you want to go, I suspect."

"No, I wouldn't feel comfortable doing that. I've asked a couple of his teammates. They aren't talking. Whatever happened to him, has his teammates clamming up over it. That's why I thought you'd have some idea about it."

Mr. Turner turned from the window and he sat back at his desk, pulling a note pad over in front of him and picking up his ink pen.

"I'll give you a note. This is for a guy I know at the City News. Go down there when you have time and ask for Sid Cleaver. Hand him the note and he'll help you out," Mr. Turner said, finishing the note and handing it to Levi.

The following day, telling the track coach he had some school business to take care of, Levi took the number 9 bus that went within a block of the City News building. He went in the main entrance and he was directed to go to the third floor. Sid was in his office.

Levi said hello, introduced himself and handed Sid the note.

"OK, let's start with the name," he said.

"Moony Brown," Levi said.

"That shouldn't be hard. If we have anything on him in our files, the computer should spit it right out. Oh, yes. It appears he is the city's speed in the hundred. I don't follow track that closely. There are mentions of him all through the sports section. Always in the spring. Always about the hundred. The races he won and one feature on him and Southside's track program," Sid said. "And you being Mr. Cordoba. Levi according to the small print. Are listed as the two hundred victor. Every week it seems. Here you are listed as the winner of the hundred and two hundred. That was late in March. It seems you've consistently won both races, almost every week. Ops! This doesn't look so good. "Slow Field Wins Hundred in 10.1". You won. I thought 10.1 and 10.0 were the gold standard. Enlighten me. When did 10.1 become a slow field?"

"Moony ran a 9.9 the last time he competed. If he didn't run 9.9, he ran ten flat. I only beat him once, I ran my best time ever, 10.0. He beat me every other time we ran against each other, until late March. He hasn't appeared at another track meet. No one is talking. Mr. Turner sent me to you. He said you'd find out what happened to him and why it hasn't been all over the sports pages."

"I'm having difficulty wrapping my mind around this. You are the beneficiary of Mr. Moony's largesse and you want to know why? I'd have thought you'd be delighted."

"There was anonymity in being the two-hundred champion. I'm not used to standing out, except after winning a race. It was short lived. I win both races each week, now and no one has asked me once, 'Didn't Moony Brown use to win the hundred, like way faster than you?"

"It bothers me not having any idea what happened to him. He's a real guy. I used to run against him. People just don't disappear," Levi said.

"Everything was nice and neat. He won the hundred. You won the two-hundred. Then, everything changed in late March. I can run a check on local stories on Moony Brown, around that time. I can see you are adamant about finding out what happened to him. Once I begin running that check, I can't guarantee that you'll like what I find, Mr. Cordoba. You do understand that," Sid said, "I'm not doing a search, if you aren't prepared to find out what actually happened to your friend. Are we clear on that?"

"Do the search. I need to know," Levi said.

"There is no guarantee we covered the story, even if there is a story connected to his withdrawal from athletics. We get a hundred stories a day about bad things happening to good people. There is only so much space in a newspaper," he said, starting to run his search.

"How to find a misplaced sprinter," Sid said, typing away.

Screens kept changing images faster than Levi could follow.

"All I'm getting is what's on the sports pages. I can copy articles that mention him. Do you want that? His name stops appearing in March. That might indicate he's moved. Father could be military. Kids move all the time."

"No, I know about him winning. I run against him," Levi said.

"Yes, you do. 'Levi Cordoba wins the hundred and two-hundred again. He'll be the favorite to win both races in the city championships'. You're getting better write ups than he did, son," Sid said, looking all of twenty-five or twenty-six. "You want to see if he'll be running in the city championships maybe?"

"No, he won't be running. He didn't qualify," Levi said.

"I figured you wanted to make sure he wasn't going to pop up. Brown is a common name. I can go back, how long ago should I look back in our local section? Could be something newsworthy there. Give me the last date you saw him. I'll work forward from there. I'll search the name Brown, but there has to be a ton of Browns in Chicago."

"Try six to eight weeks ago. That's when he stopped coming to track meets. His team comes to the meets, Moony isn't with them."

"You know his proper name. Jim, Bob, George?"

"Moony is all I know," Levi said.

"I'll go back two months and work our way forward," Sid said, as things kept flashing across the computer screen. "Pulled hamstring is my guess. Maybe hurt himself in practice. That wouldn't necessarily make the papers. I doubt we'd cover it. Sprinters often pull muscles. Distance men can run and run and run and they don't pull muscles that often. With sprinters, pulled hamstring goes with the territory. It's like the elbow of a pitcher. Sooner or later, they all need that Tommy John surgery to repair their elbow. Sprinters pull hamstrings and there might be a few lines about it in an article that isn't about this kid or his school. You'd be surprised how little is said about routine events."

Levi sat watching the computer monitor changing screens, while looking over Sid's shoulder. Even if there was a story, How would they see it.

"Go back," Levi yelped. "No. No. Go back. Back one more page. Yeah, there it is. It's the right time frame."

"Promising city sprinter shot on his way home from track practice," Sid read.

"How did you spot that. I would never thought to search for the word promising," Sid said.

"Sprinter. Promising City Sprinter. I saw the word sprinter," Levi said.

"No news man I know would have caught that," Sid said. "After a while, I realized Moony would be a nickname. Your man is Terrance Brown. Gives no information on his condition. There are so many shootings in the city."

"That's it. Nothing on his condition?"

"Here it is again. Promising sprinter goes home to 1909 2nd Street, from local hospital. There's that damn word promising again. Says he is paralyzed from the waist down. There is no guarantee that Terrance Brown will ever walk again. Couldn't ask for more. I'll print this out. It has his address in the article, but someone has put the fix in on this story. It should have run on the sports page. That's where the most interest would be, but it is just a few lines in the local section. Someone had to arrange to keep the shooting as low key as possible. His school? His parents? Parents wouldn't have that kind of sway, unless his old man's a politician. No wonder you didn't hear about this. You know now."

"Damn!" Levi said. "Paralyzed! I'd rather be dead than paralyzed."

"Death is greatly overrated. I'd take the paralysis," Sid said.

"Here's another story. 'Terrance Brown, well-known local sprinter and odds on favorite in any hundred-meter race held in the city, was gunned down last night, while on his way home from track practice. He was a block from his home at 1909 2nd Street.' There's his address again. I'll print this article out too. 'Only one shot was fired and police indicate that Terry might have been mistaken for someone else, as he had no enemies and was a popular athlete in his neighborhood. Doctors said, 'He remains paralyzed from the waist down and it's impossible to say if Mr. Brown will walk again. He is in serious but stable condition'. This article appeared before the article about him going home."

"Shot. Is there a picture? His name is Moony," Levi said. "It might not be the same guy. There are a lot of Browns in Chicago."

"Promising sprinter, who has been missing from track meets, since the date of this shooting. It's the same guy," Sid said. "What are the odds of two promising sprinters with the same last name disappearing? It's your guy all right, but how'd they keep it out of the sports pages. An editor could have made that decision. Saw it as a local news story. Everything done in a newsroom doesn't always make sense," Sid said. "Don't tell anyone I said that."

"Why would I talk to anyone in the newsroom?" Levi asked.

"That's true. Here's your picture. Article from two days after he was shot. It's a good facial shot. School picture I'd guess. Terrance Brown, seventeen, was gunned down two nights ago as he walked home from school, a half mile from his house. Doctors say that Mr. Brown is out of danger, but the young man faces the possibility of being paralyzed for the rest of his life, but it's too soon to tell."

"Man, what a bad break for a guy who has one thing going for him. He's a fast as hell sprinter. This is your man?" Sid asked, moving back from the screen.

"That's Moony Brown," Levi said, standing to get a good look at the picture.

"Moony is a nickname your guy earned somewhere along the line. His name is Terrance Brown and I think my work here is done. Are you going to go see him? He'd probably be shocked to see you. I'm shocked that you came here looking for him."

They turned to look at each other's face.

"That's it. You've got what you came for," Sid said. "You don't look very happy about it. You're the guy who wins the hundred now."

"Yeah, I'm the guy," Levi said. "Look, thanks for helping me."

"Not a problem. When you get back to school, ask Mr. Turner if anyone has put a bull frog in his desk lately," Sid said. "He never knew it was me. He probably suspected me though. I thought that kind of thing was funny, way back when."

"I'll do that," Levi said, unable to hide a smile.

Sid was a prankster.

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