Stevens takes a look into the backseat and sees my guitar. “So, you’re a musician?” he asks.
I nod. “That I am,” I say.
“What do you play?”
I flash him my entertainer’s smile and say, “I play anything I can get paid a nickel for.”
“Ah,” he says, smiling like it’s a good thing. “I used to play the guitar myself when I was young. Don’t play much anymore.”
I nod and we fall back into silence for a minute. Then I ask him, “So where in Tupelo you going?”
I watch the way he grinds his hairy country face, and I know that means his story is about to start changing. “Ah, yes, well,” he says, “it’s not actually Tupelo proper, but the crossroads just outside town.”
At that, my ears perk up. “The Crossroads? You mean Highway 61?”
“Why, yes, yes,” he says. “Highway 61. I was supposed to meet a man there at midnight.”
“Yes,” he says. “That’s when we agreed to meet. But like I told you, I’ve had a lot of problems and now I’m late.”
“The Crossroads at midnight?”
I can’t believe what I’m hearing. I’ve got to tell you, I’ve been a
street singer and traveling bluesman for some years now and I’ve
probably had a hundred different cats tell me the same tale about
meeting a man at midnight at the Highway 61 Crossroads. I let out a little chuckle. “So what were you planning on doing, Mister Stevens? Selling your soul to the Devil?”
Naturally, I expect him to laugh with me, but instead his jaw drops like he’s in shock.
“Whu, whu, what are you talking about?” he asks.
“Come on,” I say, “Devil at the Crossroads, that’s what you’re talking about, right? It’s only the oldest joke in the world.”
“Joke?” He looks genuinely astounded. “What on earth are you talking about?”
So, fool that I am, I tell it to him. “A musician meets the Devil at
the Crossroads at midnight, he hands over his guitar, the Devil fiddles
with the tuning and hands it back. From that moment on, the musician
plays better than anyone else, and money, women, whiskey, cars and fine
clothes all come his way, until the day the Devil comes for him and
takes him away.”
Stevens listens in horror. “They tell that story?”
“All the time.”
“But you said it’s a joke.”
“It is a joke,” I tell him.
“But jokes are supposed to be funny.”
“You might think it was funny if you heard how bad some of these guys
play,” I say and laugh again.
(Friend of the Devil, available on Kindle here)