Monday, September 3, 2012

Devil at the Crossroads? Boring!

As a bluesman wandering America in the 1930s, Herbert T. Barrow was one of the few white men to hear the story of meeting the Devil at the crossroads. But it wasn’t something he paid much mind to. The way he saw it, half the black cats he knew told that yarn about themselves and a lot weren’t all that hot guitar players. But the real reason was that Herbert Barrow was an atheist. He didn’t hold with God, the Devil, preachers, or spook-talking hoodoo men of any stripe.

But then one day, against his better judgment, Herbert gives a ride to a country preacher who it turns out happens to be on his way to those same crossroads. But he’s not there to sell his soul, he’s there to collect one. The problem is, he’s already ten hours late for his midnight meeting and needs Herbert to drive him fast as he can to get him there on time. Again, against his better judgment, Herbert obliges.

What he witnesses there at the crossroads and over the next few days would probably have convinced anyone else that God and the Devil were not only real, but also running extremely convoluted wagers with each other over how quickly virtuous men succumb to temptation. Anyone else might have been shocked to learn that, while the Devil was unmistakably evil, his opposite number was mostly uninvolved and distant. But of course, all this is missing on Herbert T. Barrow, whose refusal to believe is unwavering.

All Herbert wants is to get through Mississippi, Arkansas, and Texas and not stop until he reaches Del Rio, on the Mexican border. While the rest of America is caught in the grips of the Great Depression, Del Rio is an oasis of prosperity and hope. That is because Del Rio is home of the Brinkley Hospital, a world famous sexual rejuvenation clinic. Dr. JR Brinkley, its celebrated founder, has developed a revolutionary method of transplanting the testicles of goats onto those of well-heeled human patients, giving them new lease on virility. Or so he says. 

To get his message out, Brinkley has built the world’s most powerful radio station across the river in Mexico. Most of the time, its million watts are delivering his folksy lectures about sexual health. The rest of the time it’s being rented out to hucksters, preachers, clairvoyants and yodelers, all with their own messages of hope and transformation and all of them there for just one reason; money.  

Despite his background as a reefer-smoking, tea-shade-wearing, jazz-playing viper, Herbert’s plan is to enter their ranks as a singing cowboy. But besides God and the Devil, a couple other things stand in his way. First is his adoring younger cousin Clyde and second, Clyde's alley-cat girlfriend Bonnie. They’re young, hop-headed, crazy in love, meaner than snakes, and can’t be convinced that Herbert wouldn’t be the perfect third wheel to their criminal outfit. Then there’s Hamer, Captain Frank Hamer of the Texas Rangers, a natural-born killer and possibly the only honest lawman in Texas. He’s pledged to hunt down the Barrows and isn’t stopping till he has every last one of them dead. Unfortunately that includes Herbert.

In a series of battles that stretches across the South, the Midwest and onto the streets of Del Rio, Herbert finds himself up against God, the Devil, Frank Hamer and assorted bloodthirsty minions. Time and again, he manages to survive, only to see things get worse and worse. But just as his situation is looking hopeless, he finds a powerful, unexpected ally; a pregnant, underage, bible-reading radio clairvoyant named Rose Dawn.

Friendof the Devil is available as an ebook on Kindle.

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