Freddy Lee Ain't Got No Horn

Updated on June 13, 2019
cam8510 profile image

Chris has written more than 200 flash fiction/short stories. Working Vacation was 21st out of 6,700 in the 2016 Writer's Digest competition.

Source

Author's Note

This story came to me as I considered anew the lifestyle known as the night shift? Right now I am working a contract job on...you guessed it, the night shift, classic midnight to 8:30 am. Let's think about the question. What if there was no night shift? No all-night diners is one thing that came to my mind. The bossy waitress and the cranky boss working temporarily as the prep cook wouldn’t exist. Cops sipping coffee at the counter are regulars at this time of night. If it’s near an interstate highway, strangers, drifters, truck drivers, people on the move for a host of reasons pull off to visit the diner. That's where this story begins, but it wanders far from that quaint, iconic setting. But to help you not to lose track of the 24 hour diner, here's Tom Waits singing about Nighthawks at the Diner. How about that album cover?

Tom Waits: Nighthawks at the Diner, Tracks One Through Nine

Freddy Lee Ain't Got No Horn

The waitress delivered apple pie to one patrolman and lemon to the other, refilled their coffee, more cream for the short one. Sallyanne they called her, all one word, just like she spelled it. Her hair was bleach blonde, platinum blonde, it didn’t matter. It all came out of the same bottle. A tall man stepped in, head down, hands in the pockets of his grimy, torn trousers. He looked up when Sallyanne asked him if he wanted coffee. He slid the hat off his head and told her yes, ma’am, he reckoned he would.

The taller cop motioned to the stool next to his, and freddy “The Blow” Lee sat down.

“Been playin’ that horn, Freddy Lee?”

“You know I ain’t got no horn no mo’. Don’t tease me. I miss it too much.”

“I know, but you’re too good to just let it go. You can’t just give up.”

“You want me to go out and buy a new horn, Sly? You know how I live. I ain’t got no money.”

Source

“You wait right here, Freddy Lee. I gotta run out to the patrol car and make sure that coke sniffin’, wife beatin’, son-of-a-bitch, ain’t killed himself by bashing his head against the window.”

“Go on now,” said Freddy Lee. “I just walked past your black-n-white an’ there ain’t nobody in there.”

“Damn.” The cop stood up from the red vinyl covered stool. “Guess he already got away. I’ll be right back.”

“What’s that no-good cop up to?” Freddy Lee asked the other officer.

“Like he told you, he’s gotta check up on our prisoner in the car.”

“Ain’t no damn prisoner out there, an’ you know it.”

The door swung open and the officer named Sly entered carrying an old case. It was smaller than a suitcase but built the same, more or less.

Freddy Lee looked at the cop, then at the case. His head swung back sharply, and he nursed his coffee as if trying to ignore the scene. “Don’t do that, Sly. Don’t do it.”

“I’m gonna do it. It’s mine to give, and I’m giving it to you.”

“That belonged to your son, before—”

“That’s right, and he can’t play it now. But you can, Freddy Lee. You can play this horn in memory of my son.”

Freddy took the case and held it by the ends. He looked at it as though he had never seen a trumpet case before. But Freddy Lee was more than just familiar with a trumpet. Even the best in the business had once come to the nearby city to hear Freddy play the club scene.

Source

Freddy Lee was up in lights all over town. People cheered him, tipped him, and some of the ladies let him know in no uncertain terms how much they wanted him.

That’s when somebody introduced Freddy Lee to cocaine and a high that went along with the fame, the money and the women. The craving grew and he practiced less. It was downhill from then on. The nickname, “The Blow” had nothing to do with his trumpet playing. It had everything to do with the drug and the end of his career.

Recording contracts came and went with no response. Gigs that were filled with excited fans emptied out as disillusioned people laughed him to scorn.

Freddy had eventually come to terms with his addiction, but none of the old friends in the music business wanted to gamble on his sobriety.

Source

He set the case on the counter and fumbled with the latches. It was a horn that had been rented several times to hopeful music students at the local public junior high school. The tarnished yellow brass did not change Freddy’s wonder. “I’ll take good care of it, Sly. You bet I will.”

“Play something, Freddy Lee,” said the short cop.

“Yeah, said Sallyanne, play somethin’ for us.”

“No, not now. I got to practice. My lips and fingers need lots of practice before I can play in public.” Freddy lay the horn back in its case with the tenderness of a mother placing her infant in a crib. “But when I’m ready to play, I’ll do it here. Maybe some of your friends and family would like to come too.” He walked to the door and spoke without turning. “I feel like I just got my soul back.”

Source

No one saw Freddy Lee for weeks. Sly was ready to go out to the shack that was hidden away on state land until one night, while eating pie in the diner, Freddy had walked through the door.

“I can still play, Sly. I always thought my talent would probably just run off like a beat dog.” Freddy wore the same tattered rags, but somehow, he looked younger, healthier. His smile beamed across the room. “I’m gonna play a whole concert right here on Friday night. I got some old friends to join me. It took some talkin’, but when they heard me play, they was up for it.”

“Who’d you get to join you, Freddy?” Officer Sly stood up from the red vinyl stool.

“I got Curly on the drums, Lightnin’ on the piano. He’s got one of them ‘lectric keyboards. I got Wheezer on the sax, an’ Bubba on the bull fiddle.”

“That’s quite a lineup, Freddy. If the recording companies get wind of this, they might just show up too.”

“I don’t care ‘bout recordin’. I’m just happy to be playin’ the horn again.”

#

Source

The first thing the diner owner did on Friday was to move the concert outside. His establishment wasn’t large enough to hold even a quarter of the crowd that had gathered, and people were still arriving.

Someone pulled a flatbed truck in front of the crowd to be used as a stage. Another person ran an electric cord for the keyboard from the diner. But where were Freddy Lee and the band? A few skeptics chanted, “Blow—Blow—Blow”, but few joined in.

The music was subtle, mixing with the ambient sounds of the crowd and the nearby freeway. At first it was a low plunking, with rhythm. A drum beat joined in, and the two mesmerized the crowd. A keyboard picked up and jazz filled the air when the saxophone began to moan and whine.

People were dancing in the parking lot.

The music paused.

The trumpet sounded, crisp, shrill, a high note that made the crowd go wild. Then the band joined in. They finished the first piece on the ground, mixing with the people. After that, they climbed up on the flatbed and proceeded to thrill everyone with a sound that most had thought was gone forever.

The band played for an hour without anyone saying a word. Finally, Freddy stepped forward and raised his hand to quiet the crowd. Everyone waited. Many had seen Freddy in his glory days. They had also witnessed his fall. The man that stood before them was like the resurrected friend of Jesus named Lazarus.

“You all know my friend, and yours too, unless you’re speedin’ through town when he’s on duty...Officer, Sly Richardson.”

The crowd applauded politely.

“Many of you also knew Sly’s wife, Jamika.” Freddy held the horn high. “This horn belonged to their seven year old son, Jamere. Mother and son died in a tragic mass shooting in the city three years ago today. This song is for them, the whole family.”

The sad jazz ballad swept the crowd away in emotion and wonder. At the end, when the people had quieted down, Freddy and the band were gone.

#

Source

Officer Sly sat at the diner’s counter sipping his coffee. His partner sat next to him.

“Sly, you gotta go out there and see what’s going on. I know you want to respect his privacy, but he may need help.”

Sly drove alone out to the state land where Freddy lived. The shack was dark. He picked up his flashlight and climbed out of the car. He called several times, but there was no answer. He didn’t want to enter, but duty and his love for this man drove him through the dirty curtains that served as a door.

The place looked and smelled cleaner than when he had last been here. It looked like Freddy had begun to care more about things.

There was a mattress in the corner, and Sly could see, even in the darkness, that it was occupied. He moved closer. “Freddy,” he called. “Freddy, it’s me, Sly.” The form did not move. Finally, Sly raised the flashlight.

The smile on Freddy’s face spoke of joy and peace. His hands and arms clutched and held the trumpet close to his chest. His eyes were open, and did not blink.

Freddy had gotten his soul back just in time to use it.

Questions & Answers

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      • cam8510 profile imageAUTHOR

        Chris Mills 

        8 weeks ago from Dallas, Texas through August 23, 2019.

        Yves, thank you. I enjoyed creating these characters. I'm glad you enjoyed them as well.

      • savvydating profile image

        Yves 

        8 weeks ago

        Chris....A beautiful story about second chances, healing and redemption. I loved it. It kept my attention from beginning to end. Each character was believable. Well done.

      • cam8510 profile imageAUTHOR

        Chris Mills 

        3 months ago from Dallas, Texas through August 23, 2019.

        Shauna, I have to learn how to finsh a story in a way that provides satisfaction without killing off my characters. There can never be a Freddy II. Thanks for reading and for speaking up.

      • bravewarrior profile image

        Shauna L Bowling 

        3 months ago from Central Florida

        Chris, this story gave me goosebumps! I enjoyed every minute of it. I imagined myself at the concert. What a good time!

        It was sad to learn of Blow's death, but he died in peace and had made peace with himself.

        Love, love, love this story!

      • cam8510 profile imageAUTHOR

        Chris Mills 

        3 months ago from Dallas, Texas through August 23, 2019.

        Genna, Tom is the best. He's my go-to songwriter when I need a boost. Thank you for your thoughts about the story. I'm glad you enjoyed it.

      • cam8510 profile imageAUTHOR

        Chris Mills 

        3 months ago from Dallas, Texas through August 23, 2019.

        Ann, I appreciate that feedback. I don't like to redo stories except to do some editing to make it read better. Substantially changing a story I've written, especially giving it a completely new ending makes me feel sad about the story, as if it wasn't right. I'm not saying I wouldn't rewrite, but I am hesitant. I just have to be thoughtful when I write endings so I'm not taking a predictable way out by killing off the character.

      • Genna East profile image

        Genna East 

        3 months ago from Massachusetts, USA

        Ohhhh...Tom Waits. I was first introduced to his gravelly voice decades ago by a writer who was a fan of the late Jack Kerouac. There's no one else like him.

        What a compelling story, Chris. I'm misty-eyed, wishing I could have been there to hear Freddie play -- from his resurrection, to the dedication to Sly and his family. We need more beautifully written stories like this.

      • annart profile image

        Ann Carr 

        3 months ago from SW England

        An alternative ending is often a good idea though I did think they were going to find him 'at rest'. I think it rounds off the story well, kind of a peaceful and, for him, satisfactory ending. Perhaps he could've gone on to greater things but then would he have followed the old path to destruction again? I think probably not!

        I think that when we enjoy writing a story, our enthusiasm shows through and makes the story all the better.

        Anyway, it's a great story.

        Ann

      • cam8510 profile imageAUTHOR

        Chris Mills 

        3 months ago from Dallas, Texas through August 23, 2019.

        Ann, thank you for finding this story. I always appreciate your enthusiasm and feedback. I have to say, I regret killing off my character in this one. I've considered an alternate ending. What do you think? One way or the other, I enjoyed writing this story.

      • annart profile image

        Ann Carr 

        3 months ago from SW England

        What a wonderful story, Chris! Brought a tear to my eye too. I could feel the air and hear the music - great!

        Ann

      • cam8510 profile imageAUTHOR

        Chris Mills 

        4 months ago from Dallas, Texas through August 23, 2019.

        Pamela, Thank you. I'm thinking it is a little too sad, so I may write an alternate ending and tag it on. Drop by if you see the title say something about "With alternate ending."

      • cam8510 profile imageAUTHOR

        Chris Mills 

        4 months ago from Dallas, Texas through August 23, 2019.

        Ruby, for ten more weeks I'll be dragging myself around on the night shift. I appreciate your words about the story.

      • cam8510 profile imageAUTHOR

        Chris Mills 

        4 months ago from Dallas, Texas through August 23, 2019.

        Eric, I'll see what I can do about a "live longer ending."

      • cam8510 profile imageAUTHOR

        Chris Mills 

        4 months ago from Dallas, Texas through August 23, 2019.

        John, sorry it's been three days since you commented. The night shift has me a bit unfocused. I'm still considering a rewrite of this one. There was no clear reason for Freddy to die.

      • Pamela99 profile image

        Pamela Oglesby 

        4 months ago from Sunny Florida

        What a sad, but toching story! It is so sweet, and I felt like I was there. You are an excellent sory writer when can touch someone's heart in the way you dd with this story.

      • always exploring profile image

        Ruby Jean Richert 

        4 months ago from Southern Illinois

        I'm sitting here crying like a baby. This sweet story got to me, and soo well written. The words you used to showcase Freddy Lee made him seem so real. I used to work the night shift and about 4 AM I was needing coffee bad. More please...

      • Ericdierker profile image

        Eric Dierker 

        4 months ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

        Had me whimpering from the first. I am about ready to get my reed horn back. Perfect timing. Although I would like that live longer ending.

      • Jodah profile image

        John Hansen 

        4 months ago from Queensland Australia

        Having alternative endings is not a bad idea. There is an author called Mark Tufo who has a series of books (Indian Hill is one) that all start off the same with three friends being involved in a car crash. But from that moment on there are different outcome scenarios, one or two may die, or they may all survive etc....but what happens from there on has limitless possibilities.

      • cam8510 profile imageAUTHOR

        Chris Mills 

        4 months ago from Dallas, Texas through August 23, 2019.

        Thank you, John. I should write a few alternative endings for this one. It could have gone in at least a couple of different directions.

      • Jodah profile image

        John Hansen 

        4 months ago from Queensland Australia

        What a sad but beautiful story, Chris. You did an excellent job capturing the emotions with this one. Loved it.

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