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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
A group of young men and women at Cal Berkeley have observed a very old runner for over six months. A couple of them have classes in geriatrics and the amazing feats of the very old.
So they follow him; sometimes all night.
Now they want to know how and why he's running--all night at times.
They elect Penny Hamilton to approach 'the man'; TM; and invite him to LeVals for pizza and beer where they hope to gather material for their courses and some insight into the 'transitions, flash-points and switches' of life.

Submitted: July 23, 2016

A A A | A A A

Submitted: July 23, 2016





A Short Story in Chapters

Nicholas Cochran

Chapter Three

Nicholas Cochran

Chapter Three

Penelope Hamilton was relieved when Janice Dern asked to come along with her on the cold call of TM.

Janice knew that TM was not her father; could not be her father; simply because TM was about thirty to forty years older than her father; at least that’s what her mother had told her the last time the matter had been discussed.

Also at that meeting, Mary Dern had assured Janice that her father couldn’t run a bock if his fat-ass life depended on it. This was cold comfort for Janice.

“Penny, I really appreciate this; I mean, like it’s not really my gig and . . .”

“Well it ‘s not really mine either, Jan,” Penny popped in, “you know the guys are just shoving me out front because I appeal to them physically and think that TM, as old as he is, would welcome a pretty face; and now he’ll have two.”
Jan smiled appreciatively. She thought Penny to be the absolute greatest.

However, Penny was not shining her on. Janice, with a better haircut and a better bra along with some boss make-up, would be, well . . . glamorous.

She carried her height of five ten very gracefully; no awkward (or ugly) duckling here; and her movement bore an arresting elegance. Her raven hair and pouty lips were provocative.

Penny Hamilton was well beyond homecoming queen of Piedmont High, in a wholesome Midwestern way; flawless skin, five nine, and good bone structure; and her figure was both real and spectacular.

So someone said.

Both women were nineteen and just starting their sophomore year; Penny in pre-med and Janice in History and Modern Languages; she was already fluent in both French and Spanish and was wrestling Russian with the will of a Cal Russian bear.

“Hey Jan,” Penny waved from her 1964 Austin-Healy MK III convertible, her father’s prize classic car.

Penny’s father believed that great cars were to be driven, not squirreled away somewhere under a tarp. 

He encouraged his daughter to drive the hundred thousand dollar classic car, if only to spite his old college buddy who had three Ferraris that he kept under weatherproof and fireproof wraps in a special garage with a security guard as well as a top of the line alarm system.

Her dad, Michael, the unanimous choice for Dad of the Century in Piedmont, would let Penny listen in on the calls he made to his dearest friend, Sherman Lane, while Mike would tease the hell out of him for not driving the prancing horses, and tell Sherm how Penny was driving the bejesus out of the Healy.

Christ, Sherm, what the hell are they for, if not to drive ?

Then her dad would hold the phone away from his ear while Sherm cursed on about values and assets and net worth and loans and on and on.

Penny could scarcely keep from laughing loud enough to be heard by her dad’s best friend.


“Hop in.”

Jan stepped up and over and dropped onto the seat, and laughed with her friend about her graceless ‘arrival’.

“Okay; well, here we go,” and Penny burned a little rubber as they took off for the hills of North Berkeley and specifically, upper Euclid Avenue.

There was a parking spot directly in front of the building—three stories of green and grey frame and stucco—with a partially enclosed wood and pane glass porch on the second level.

Huge bay windows thrust out toward the stunning vista of the San Francisco Bay Area; views of West Berkeley, the Bay Bridge and a straight view to the Golden Gate.

“Is this all one house?”  Penny, setting the emergency brake.

”I don’t know, Pen; I just saw the guy—TM, go up to the upper level. There’s the porch; let’s go there first and ask.”


The two women walked up a couple of steps along a narrow concrete path between the driveway and an overflowing garden of several varieties of roses and a neighborly hedge.

“What are you going to say, Pen; I mean, to whoever opens the door?”

“Well, I guess I’ll just ask whoever answers if we can talk to the guy who runs all the time; there can’t be more than one,” and she laughed the laugh of the intrepid adventurer.

She quickly discovered that she wasn’t nervous at all, and in fact, she was very excited about getting to know TM and asking him a bunch of questions that she had written out the night before.

She had the list in her purse but was seized by an urge to just wing it and see what happened.

“Yeah, Jan; we’ll just wing it . . . or do you have some idea of how to start?”
They were now climbing switch-back stairs to the porch.

They paused at the landing and saw that the garden was continued on the other side of the driveway next to the hedge on the northern property line. They exchanged oohs and ahhs and pointed out numerous colors and shapes to each other.

Then, with purpose, Penny marched up the last steps to the porch, walked across the concrete floor and rang the bell.

Several moments went by and no one appeared.

Jan noticed another bell on the other side of the door and pushed it.

After a minute or so—just as the two women were turning to cross the porch floor and leave—Penny spoke. “Hey, wait Jan, I heard a door open on the inside,” peering through the beveled glass on the side of the door and, with her nose flattened against the glass, “I see someone coming down some steps in there.”

Jan was about to press her face onto the glass on the other side of the door, when the door opened.

A very old woman, still maintaining a commanding carriage, tall and perfectly made-up, with streaked  auburn hair, smiled at them while her dancing eyes exuded a palpable warmth. She wore a long white blouse with epaulets and thee quarter sleeves over beige pants. On her feet were open-toed sandals with red and white wrapped fabric thongs.


“Oh, ah, hello; my name is Penny Hamilton and this is Janice Dern. We’re both students at Cal; I’m a pre-med and Janice is an historian and linguist; and we were wondering if there is an older man who lives here; who runs a lot.”

The occupant gave a warm laugh and her eyes danced with delight.

“Yes there is; my husband; Conrad Cox; I’m Veronica; what can I do for you?”

The two young women were so taken by the entire presentation of this older woman that they were silent for a few moments. Both women had barely dressed up beyond camp clothes and suddenly felt embarrassed in the presence of this AARP fashion plate.

“Well,” Penny trying to look clever; and sound brilliant, “we have watched your husband run along Oxford for . . .oh, what, Jan . . . about the last six months. And we; Jan and I, as well as some other students; particularly Nick and Jan here, who are taking a course in the abilities of older people to stay in shape; well, we wondered if he would allow us to treat him to beer and pizza at LeVals some day; or evening, and we could ask him some questions.”

Penny felt as though she had just flunked Communications 101, but she shoved up her best smile and waited for Janice to jump in and continue the pitch.

Janice did.

“I have a class with Nick where we are studying the endurance of older people and the amazing things that they are able to do, even into heir eighties and . . . ”

“Well, Conrad; Connie, is ninety-two; so you’ve certainly come to the right place for your research,” and Veronica produced a knowing smile; a smile of the worldly woman; the smile of experience; of travel; of learning, “but I don’t think he’ll want to talk to you—unfortunately.” Her smile retreated between her magnificent cheekbones but her eyes remained gracious, polite, and apologetic. “You see, he has had so much publicity for one thing or another in his very long life that he simply wants to be left alone, to run, and then come home and write . . . and read.”

Penny looked from Veronica to Janice and pulled in her breath.

“Well . . . is there any way that you think he might change his mind?”

Her tone was extremely polite—almost apologetic, but her chin thrust out under her perfect lips.

Now Mrs. Cox drew in a breath before answering, “I don’t really know, gir . . . ladies—young women—but I can ask him; or, instead—why don’t you come up and ask him yourself.”

“Oh that would be just perfect.’ Penny gushed, drowning out Janice’s "Oh, super!”

Mrs. Cox opened the door and waved the two young women ahead of her while she pointed up some steps to another door on a higher level.

“We live on the top floor; the view, you know; as well as the sun room; this floor is rented and there is a ‘students’ apartment on the ground floor. So, here; up you go.”

She closed the front door and followed the two young women up the carpeted stairs of dark red and black diamonds to a floor with a banister and four doorways.

“Go to your left, Penny, and then the first left after that; that’ll take you into the dining room and across to the living room; you can tell by the view.”

These last words were delivered with a sincere awe of the thrilling view that now transfixed Penny and Janice. The prospect was riveting; stunning; overwhelming. The entire Bar Area, it seemed, lay before them punctuated with the burnt orange of the Gate and all about, the water of the Pacific and San Francisco Bay.

“Oh my god,” Penny gaped, and shook her head. Beside her, Janice stood speechless.

“It is rather amazing, isn’t it,” Veronica speaking softly behind them, “I’m afraid we tend to take it for granted; until we have guests, who very thoughtfully remind us of our visual treasures. Instead of a Turner or even a Van Gogh, we have ‘The Bay’.”

She moved to her left past tall built-in oak  bookcases and tapped gently on the closed door,

“Connie . . .Connie . . .,” turning to Penny and Janice, “ he wears industrial ear muffs when he writes and sometimes I have to hammer; but usually he can hear a middle tapping and . . .”

The door was thrown open as though it was a wooden matchbox, and filling the entire doorway with his head almost brushing the lintel, stood TM. He was holding a pair of red industrial earmuffs in one hand.

‘Hi; visitors?”

Penny and Janice gulped.

Conrad T. Cox was even taller than he looked when he ran, and broader in the shoulders; and even appeared to be more muscular under his dark blue Nautica polo shirt.

Just the movement of his arms in his gesture of greeting set off ripples of various muscles.

He wore Chaps tan shorts, the ever present knee high Ames Walker compression socks and his faded blue and yellow ASICS.

“Yes, sweetheart, the young women are from Cal and would like to talk to you,”Connie pursed his lips, as his wife continued, “they have papers to write about the daring do of old geezers like you; and, well,” turning to the two women, “why don’t you tell him yourselves.”

Penny could only manage to stand stock still and stare. Janice took the baton.

“Yes . . . sir, we have been seeing you run by; along Oxford and; well . . . all over the place and we were wondering if you would like us to have pizza and beer with you at LeVal’s and talk over . . . well—your activities; your . . . .running, why you run so much and, well, like that.” Janice lowered her eyes and realized that she had sounded like a foolish young schoolgirl; and buggered up any hopes of ever getting Mr. Cox to talk to them anywhere . . . anytime.

Penny felt Janice’s dejection, but found a new resolve.

“Mr. Cox, sir . . ah, we have been observing you over a period of months and several of us have courses about the amazing abilities of older people and we believe that you are way beyond amazing . . . even unique; and we’d really like to have a talk with you . . .if we may.”

Penny dropped her eyes and waited for the polite but firm refusal.



End of Chapter Three

© Copyright 2018 Nicholas Cochran. All rights reserved.

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