Frightful Weather Outside (A You Tube Video)
This story was originally published in Fjords Journal — Merry Christmas, and Please Share the Story everywhere.
Freddie Que dressed up as Santa Claus. Handing out small gifts to kids in one of the worst neighborhoods in the city. People around him passing by looking for a cocaine fix and there was Freddie barking “Ho Ho Ho” and “Merry Christmas” and smiling.
He even had on a fake beard that couldn’t hide the fact that he was Black.
I felt ill all of a sudden riding along seeing him on Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue in the heart of Washington D.C. after all these years. Usually, a lawyer has a client, you do work for them, and then they are gone, poof, forever. But there he was: Freddie Que, in all of his glory. Christmas Eve, quite chilly in the Capital of the World, Freddie outside Fat Claude’s Barbershop, and he had a grocery cart full of holiday gifts for those denied a material Christmas blessing.
Tonka trucks and dolls; footballs and make-up kits; cheap hats and puzzles. He was giving the goods out like they were mints and people were thanking him like he was the real Santa Claus.
Fuck Freddie Que. Fuck him.
And the kids, with their parents, many of them with little hope of any decent gift, were especially grateful to Freddie. Santa Claus had showed his face to them in the daytime and had given them a present personally and not to mention, Santa Claus was Black like them. They barely noticed.
“Hey Freddie,” I said when I walked up, “remember me?” He almost took off running. He grinned instead.
I didn’t. I pictured for a moment my hands wrapped around his throat. “Hey,” Freddie said surprised. “You that lawyer dude, right? Funk — -“ “Frazier,” I said.
“Right. Funk Frazier. I haven’t seen you in — — “Almost 8 years.”
Freddie stared at me and continued to pass out gifts but it was all coming back to him, the whole story.
“Yea. Now I remember… You got to admit now, I like… you know…I mean… I almost pulled it off, right? We could have been rich. Two black men.”
Freddie flashed a cheap smile like an embezzler who had stolen Monopoly money. He was a notch lower than the cheapest used car salesmen on earth and he knew it. Rich he says. If I were the gun slinging type I would be pointing it at him. I just stared at him and he kept giving out gifts, all the while keeping an eye on me. I could sense he was about to take off running. I was ready.
When I met with the lawyers for Connecticut Avenue LLC, I demanded $475,000 for Freddie. That was my opening bid. Freddie and I were sitting right there in their plush downtown Washington D.C. offices. This is what he wanted. I rolled the dice but it didn’t even feel like I was rolling the dice. I felt like I was the dice. I didn’t know why but you do this long enough you and risk becomes part of your DNA.
The crazy deal began way years ago when Freddie Que opened Rare Funk Records located uptown in Washington D.C. in a high rent district in the city. What he was thinking trying to establish a record store in an impossible business market is beside the point; it happened.
Rare Funk Records sold CDs and LPs, but mostly, it sold classic old vinyl, rare music for the soul. He was in the real expensive part of town, and when Freddie moved in, everyone wondered what the hell he was doing. This was the part of the city full of antique shops and old time grocery markets with fresh produce stands out front like in New York City. Old widows shopped on the block all day and they never came into Rare Funk Records. Freddie’s spot got the hardcore music junkies, retired musicians, and a few locals with nothing to do all day but drink coffee and smoke cigarettes. No way this group would keep the rhythm going.
Freddie paid his rent every month and people came inside to search the stacks for those classic Motown rarities, or for that last copy of Miles Davis’ “Sketches of Spain.” The cash didn’t flow like lava from an active rock out of Rare Funk Records; it was sporadic and people in the neighborhood and outside of it, the regulars who paraded through the place, just sat by and wondered when Freddie’s shop was going to close.
But Freddie didn’t shut down and didn’t go out of business. Freddie kept his lights on, the music playing on some old well kept turntable and those who wanted to come and browse the classic sounds from various magical eras of American music, kept coming to a shop that was way too hip for uppity uptown streets. Sometimes he would sit in the place alone at night, closed, drink some cold beer, and spin records. No one seemed to mind, though Freddie and his record shop did look out of place, useless like a tanning salon in the middle of the Congo.
The day Freddie’s business did come to a halt did not make the local papers or the radio stations or anything. It just ended one day quietly when a truck pulled up with six workers followed by a U.S. Marshal with some court papers. They knocked on the door and no one answered. They called Freddie on his phones — mobile and house — nothing. The U.S. Marshal taped the court papers to the door eventually, broke the lock off, and let in the movers to toss Freddie’s so called dream onto the streets.
No one knew where Freddie had disappeared to on a day he would usually be open for business. Everything in the place was removed and set on the streets and then it was gone. Freddie’s world disappeared like waffles on a Sunday morning.
“But I paid my rent. And I paid my premiums on my insurance. They fucked me. I filed a claim with my insurance company and it was denied. I want fucking justice!”
I want fucking justice.
Freddie’s bitter cry rang in my head like a telephone in the old days before voice mail. Back then, phones would just ring and ring and ring. Freddie had a look on his face of unimaginable despair sitting in my office, like his parents had been killed in a house fire or something.
“Now, let me get this straight. You paid your rent for the record store, and you were current in your rent, yet you tell me they threw you out anyway, and you lost everything.”
“Yea,” he barked leaning towards my desk.
“And you had insurance coverage on your property and were up to date on that as well?”
Freddie nodded. His story never changed.
He had his receipts for the rent, and for his insurance coverage, and it was all in order like he was someone about to die and was getting his affairs straight. Amounts, dates, he had it all.
Freddie was at my office for hours that first day. We went over it again and again. I asked him the same question 50 different ways trying to find a problem, one little crack in the window.
“Are you sure you didn’t miss any payments?”
“What about the insurance payments? Maybe, you made a mistake?”
“No way. I didn’t.”
“Are you sure?”
“Have you ever made a mistake on any payment you have ever made in your entire life?”
I knew that question would fuck Freddie up. He was no more perfect than a lawn rake missing a prong. It still might rake leaves but that didn’t mean something wasn’t wrong with it.
But for the most part, I was satisfied. I still had concerns (what lawyer don’t) but I felt good enough to put my name and reputation on the line and try to make things right. If there was a problem here, it was buried like Jimmy Hoffa. And we all know, ain’t nobody ever going to find Jimmy Hoffa.
Hugh Sweeney I knew from law school. He used to come teach Property Law to First Year law students when I was passing through the law school mill. I met him in the halls and just stayed in touch over the years once I got out and started my own practice. He even gave me some good advice about process servers once.
“Use young guys,” he said. “Especially former police officers thrown off the force. They are fearless.”
I took him up on that advice and for years I used an ex-cop named Archie Birdsong who carried two snub nose ‘.38s every time he went to serve someone with a lawsuit. He usually knocked on the door with one of his pistols and then stepped back from the door with his loaded .38 in his right hand and court papers in the left. My lawsuits always got served.
That was just a small piece of the reason why I knew Hugh Sweeney was a lawyer’s lawyer. He would tell his clients to pay up if they were supposed to pay. If the claim was good, the claim was good. Case closed. Hugh Sweeney had respect because people knew he wasn’t about the personal; it was just business.
“That was some good music,” was the first thing I said to Hugh as he chomped down on some lamb chops slowly with a knife and fork in front of me at the Palm Restaurant downtown in the city.
The place was packed and was well known for hosting thousands of meetings like this every week: lawyers trying to close deals, reporters tracking a story, lobbyists trying to buy access. The Palm was that kind of place: a decadent, diseased cauldron of deal making and doubletalk though it looked beautiful. No one who spent a lot of time in there had any values left. The regulars were sure they were going to Hell.
Watching Hugh Sweeney eat his chops pretty I wanted to tell him to stop being so neat and pick up the chop and attack it. But it wasn’t my dime. Eat the chops like you want. Hugh ate his chops slow and methodical like he was a food critic for a newspaper.
I had no desire really to talk about the case much to Hugh. I wanted it over. If they were going to maintain they weren’t going to pay Freddie, just tell me. I had the lawsuit papers ready to go on my desk.
As much as what happened bothered me, Hugh Sweeney asking me to come meet him for lunch to talk about the case bothered me more. Some of it felt like a bribe, some veiled attempt to soften me up so I could soothe Freddie Que down a bit.
“Not sure what happened, Funk. I have been doing this for a long time and rarely have I heard of such a thing.” Hugh was always the same: as calm as a baseball manager whose team had a 10 run lead.
Yes, I kept saying in my head, trying not to even engage in talk about the case. I kept scanning the room and taking in the ambience of the place and all the fat cats in the room who had enough money to bail out everyone in the United States in prison.
“How is business, Hugh?” I asked changing the subject. “Are you busy?”
Hugh smiled, set down his knife and fork and then sipped his drink. Bourbon on the rocks.
“Good, I guess. I know, I know you don’t want to talk. Name your price. But no need. Funk. We’ve got this one. I still cannot make sense of it but we will put some cash on the table soon. We can wrap up this claim unless we find something. Investigator will be calling me any day now. Go ahead, order a steak. On me. Palm got some good Porter House.”
There was something genuine about what Hugh Sweeney said as he sat there eating. But there was also something foreboding, something sinister that I didn’t pick up at the time. I probably felt a bit of both because I didn’t order the steak; I just drank sparkling water. I had already told Freddie to meet me later that day after my meeting with Hugh Sweeney and I would tell him what would happen next.
When I got back to my office before Freddie arrived, a two page fax was waiting for me. It was from Hugh Sweeney. It was quick and to the point. I was thinking that was way too quick and this feeling came over me like I was about to be run over by a truck.
Good to see you today. I think you are one of the better young lawyers in the city. Very impressed with how you built your practice. However, be careful with your clients. One bad one could drag you into the legal swamp. Then you might be doing traffic cases all day long. See attached records for your review. I think this case is over. I won’t mention it ever to anyone. Call me sometimes for lunch. We can do the Palm again. I also got some extra cases you can work.
All the Best, Hugh
I really didn’t have to actually read the documents he sent to me. Everyone with any common sense knows when a lawyer writes a letter like that it means, your case has just had a massive heart attack and the defibrillator malfunctioned. In my case, there was no defibrillator. Freddie Que. Trying to ruin my name in this town. What a madman.
It seems that Freddie did, in fact, pay his insurance premiums and the main reason he paid it was because he was setting up the mother of all scams. Freddie would always walk his payments into the office and pay and get a receipt but one time, the clerk for the landlord had written the wrong date. Instead of recording August 1998; she had recorded August 1999 on Freddie’s receipts.
Who knows why the clerk did it. Maybe she was depressed. Maybe she was thinking about the pop tune by the singer-songwriter, Prince called “1999.” No one will ever know. And just to make matters worse, she made the same mistake in September as well. Two months in a row, she recorded the receipt wrong when Freddie paid. Freddie didn’t even notice until months later when looking through his records that he had receipts for two months that hadn’t even happened yet.
When Freddie saw the mistakes, he probably felt like a running back that finally broke one and was in the clear heading for the end zone. He could keep selling records and barely make it and live on nice comments from people telling him how cool the shop was uptown like this. Or he could go get a job and shut the place down and live on the memories.
Freddie was uptown and he knew he would never make any serious cash at that spot or any other spot around there. Who was buying vinyl anyway but some teenagers trying to go retro and imagine the bebop era again? The better choice was Freddie could hatch a beautiful scheme where he deliberately didn’t pay rent for the place for two months, let himself get kicked out, lose everything and then sue to enforce his insurance policy. Funny that in January 1999, Freddie increased his coverage by paying a little more on his premium for a few months. Instead of $100,000 in coverage, he could get up to $500,000 if he lost his goods through no fault of his own.
Hugh Sweeney almost wrote a check. I stared at the documents that exposed Freddie for about 10 minutes and then heard Freddie ring the bell to be let in for his appointment. I didn’t answer or buzz him in. Hugh had tracked the truth down like it was an escaped convict. Maybe he had done me a favor. Imagine if he had paid the money and then found out Freddie was taking us both for a ride. Things would be mucked up.
Let it die I said to myself back then. Fuck Freddie Que.
You Tube (uploaded December 23, 2006)
The You Tube video of me chasing Santa Claus was up the day after I saw Freddie on the street. By Christmas, it had 120,000 hits and was climbing fast. It was close to being declared viral. A lawyer in an expensive suit chasing a Black Santa Claus with a stick down the middle of Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue in Washington D.C.? That was entertainment. A few of my friends called me and left voice mails back then and asked was it me? I never responded.
Freddie Que was fast in that Santa Claus suit. He had told me when he first came to my office he ran track in high school. He wasn’t lying. I wasn’t slow. I ran track once as well. I didn’t catch him though. The video was only 33 seconds long.
I am glad I never owned a gun.
Check the Bonus Clip from Bad Santa Merry X-Mas.
- Copyright 2020 © brian g gilmore