Keith Murrell and Charles Freeman talked a good game when they vowed to arrive in Chicago Thursday night with revelations that would rock the R. Kelly trial.
Friday night they played a good game, making monkeys out of the media, including this reporter.
All week the Kansas City pair have expertly played competing reporters off against each other in the same way a cheating lothario strings along a bevy of smitten lovers, calling us at 3 a.m., not returning our calls, then promising us favors and urgently summoning us to meetings, only to stand us up.
But their elaborate choreography of the trial's press corps reached an impressive crescendo tonight.
Murrell is the man star prosecution witness Lisa Van Allen says was paid $20,000 by Kelly's business manager Derrel McDavid to return a second R. Kelly sex tape. That tape, if it exists, allegedly shows Van Allen, Kelly and the alleged victim in this case having three-way sex.
Freeman is the man who sued Kelly in 2002, alleging Kelly had not paid him in full for retrieving a stolen video tape he'd been contracted to retrieve.
The defense has alleged that two men, "Keith and Chuck," are behind an elaborate scheme to fake the notorious tape at the center of the trial.
Neither has been called as a witness.
Clearly, these are two men that reporters covering the case would want to interview. And when Kelly's attorney, Sam Adam Sr., told Van Allen to reveal Murrell's phone number in court on Monday (ostensibly so that Murrell could be tracked down and questioned about Van Allen's story) the media's courtship began.
Every reporter worth their salt called Murrell as soon as Van Allen got off the stand. A man identifying himself as Chuck called those reporters back later that night, saying he had spoken with Keith. He later acknowledged that his full name was Charles Freeman and that he was the man who had sued Kelly.
Over the course of this week, both Murrell and Freeman have given coy "no comment" answers whenever asked about the alleged missing second tape, suggesting that all would only finally be revealed when they arrived in Chicago Thursday night.
Thursday night came and Thursday night went, and though Chuck called several times over a course of hours to say he was in town and would meet up with the eager reporters in a matter of minutes, each time something seemed to come up at the last moment to prevent him. Eventually he promised that Friday would be the day.
More out of a sense of duty than expectation, this reporter arranged to meet Chuck alone at a Chipotle restaurant downtown tonight. Sure enough, Chuck didn't show, calling to claim he'd been followed from his hotel and was canceling the appointment. Several other reporters, who I won't name, had the exact same experience, but were told to meet Chuck at different restaurants at the same time, it seems.
It's still not entirely clear at this stage whether the Kansas duo are simply a pair of jokers with nothing better to do than wind-up the media, or whether they might, despite the fun they're evidently having, have something meaningful to say.
Either way, you have to admire the work.
But Chuck, Keith, if you've got something to say, you'll have to come find me from now on. I'm easy to get hold of. It's the press room under the stairs on the first floor of the criminal courts building - the one with no windows and the moldy bacon smell.
I'll be there any minute now, honest. Any minute...