Devon Watkins was a tired man. He had been all over the world at one time or another and thought he might have played in every run-down dive in the country at least once. He was starting to feel his oats. He had
carried his guitar and case across the United States numerous times
by thumb, train, plane, train, bus or walking, which was what he was
He had a gig tomorrow tonight in Fayetteville, North Carolina and his sorry-ass manager had picked the Dog-Days of August in the hottest part of summer in the south, to book him into some country palace that probably didn't even have air conditioning. He could only pray they had some chicken wire strung across the stage to stop the drunks from throwing beer bottles at him when he refused to
play "Freebird" for the 10th fuckin' time.
His hands, once able to fly up and down the frets of a guitar in a
blur of speed where you could barely see his fingers move, had now
slowed to a pace where he now played a lot of slower, sadder songs
than he did in his hay-day. Once he had a few beers and a few shots of
Tequila in his empty stomach, the arthritis often loosened up his
fingers and he could still play some decent sets, until he was too
drunk and then it was closing time.
He would at times argue with agrue with the customers and wake-up in
the storage room with black eyes and a bloody nose or some cracked ribs
on occasion. Other times, he would just pass out. Sometime he got paid,
others he didn't, but he knew nothing else.
He had been playing the guitar since his daddy took the family to see
a Merle Haggard concert and he begged his daddy for a guitar for
Christmas. The guitar fit his hands like familiar gloves and he had
played a guitar everyday since. The guitar he now owned was a 1972
Martin that he had bought at a pawn shop over 30 years ago.
It had outlasted 3 marriages and a couple of kids he had not seen since
forever. When he awoke most mornings, the arthritis made his fingers
curl-up into the same shape as the guitar chords. It took six
Tylenol and a dozen cups of coffee to limber up his fingers and get
the rest of his abused and arthritic body moving. Devon Watkins was a
When a man is walking down a southern road at 3 a.m in the middle of
nowhere with a hangover from hell, he thinks of a lot of things and
on this hot August night, Devon was dead-set on quitting. Of course,
he had quit many, many times before, but this time was different. His
cowboy boots had holes in the sole, but his real soul had a hole in it
the size of Texas.
He didn't know what he believed in anymore. He was
raised a Holy Roller and had even talked in tongues as a child. His
mama always predicted he was going to be a preacher someday
because he had that special something that all spiritual people have.
She swore he had been touched by God's hands and told
everyone her Devon would one day be famous. He thought to himself
as he walked, she damn sure wasn't much much of a fortune teller.
He had not seen a car go by in over an hour. The moon was as full
as he had ever seen it and the stars were so beautiful and bright they
lit up the night. The only thing he could hear were the millions of crickets
screeching their mating calls, along with the sound of his own boots
hitting the highway and making an echo sound through out the forest.
When he heard someone behind him say something, he almost had a
heart-attack. When a Black man suddenly said, "Excuse me Sir", he almost needed a clean pair of underwear. He brought his guitar case up to
keep from being struck as he muddled through his pocket for his
ancient Old Timer knife, the only thing his daddy had left him when he
"Excuse me Boss, I didn't means ta' scares ya'. I was just wondering
if'n you knew if thar was a crossin' round here somewhere?" Devon
was as white as a sheet and it took a minute before he could get his
He then yelled, "Cuz, I don't know who the hell you are, but didn't your
mama teach you about sneaking up on people? I almost shot you with
my pistol. Where in the hell did you come from? I ain't heard nothing but
fuckin' crickets for hours and now here you are, almost in my back
pocket. Where'd you come from son?"
"I cut through that thar marsh, sir. I live about 15 miles that way,
as the crow fly". The man was pointing east, as if Devon gave a shit,
but he was still as nervous as ever. "What kind of crossing you
talking about man, I ain't seen nothing but straight road since some
shithead kicked me out of his car and left me on this God-forsaken road.
The idiot left me out in the boonies and I ain't seen a car in hours."
He looked at the man, or really just a young boy, for a moment.
He could tell he was muscled and sturdy from growing up working on the
local farms. He also noticed he was carrying an old, raggedy guitar
case with what he presumed had a guitar in it. "You play that guitar
boy, or just carry it around?" The man/boy smiled and said, "I'sa
plays it boss. Although I ain't that good yet. How 'bout yaself?"
"Well son, I've played with some of the best guitarists in the world, all
over the world in my lifetime, until this goddamn arthritis got hold of me.
Now I'm a nothing and a nobody and I'm fixing to hang it up. I just ain't
got it in me anymore, son".
"Well sir" the boy said, "I mights be able to helps ya' with that there. I'm supposed to met a man up yonder somewhere, at a crossroads, and I'ma gonna trade my soul to be the best guitar playa' in da world. Maybe's if ya' comes along with me, he'll cut ya' a deal too". Devon looked at him like he was as crazy as a rabid fox and was waiting for him to start foaming around the mouth.
"Son, I don't know what you been drinking, or snorting or shooting up
for that matter, hell I've done them all myself, but I ain't never
been high enough to shake hands with the Devil. Now, I've got a gig
tomorrow night and I don't even know where the hell I'm at. I'm going
to walk and you're welcome to come, but if you mention the fucking
Devil again, I'll shoot you, you hear me, boy?" "Yes Sir", said the
young Black man, "I wouldn't talk anyone inta doin' what I'sa gonna
Devon and the Black man began walking down the road and in an instant
in time, the damndest thing happened. In the blink of an eye he was
looking dead at a cross in the middle of the road, not a quarter-mile
down the road! The Black man's crossroads.
Both men stopped so fast they bumped into one another. Devon said "I
know damn well that crossroad wasn't there a minute ago. The moon is
full and I been staring down this damn road for miles and I would have
seen it a mile back. Hell, on this straight road, with the moon and
stars so bright, I know I would have saw it, I just know it."
The Black man said only, "Well, I was told thar was one round he'ar
somewhere." "Bullshit" said Devon, "I know my eyes ain't as good as
they once where, but I can still see far off and I tell ya' there
weren't no crossroads there a minute ago, ya' hear?
"Well sir" said the stranger "thay's damn sure one thar now, ain't
thay?" Devon could only shake his head. The two men, with two guitars,
looked at each other, nodded, and started walking. Devon slowed
from his usual pace. He had a damn bad feeling that there was
something pure evil waiting up ahead.
After walking a few more minutes, they saw a car that was parked beside
the road, but had been hidden by a growth of trees. As they got closer,
Devon said, "Man, that car's an antique. It looks like a Cadillac I saw
at a car show one time." "It sure is a purty one, ain't it?" said the Black
As they arrived at the crossing, they saw a man dressed in a solid
white suit wearing a white Fedora hat and as they got closer, they saw
he was wearing black and white, two-tone shoes. Whoever he was,
thought Devon, he's one dandy dresser. As they walked over to man, he
held out his hand to the Black man.
As they shook hands, the man in white said "Mr. Johnson, Robert Johnson, I presume". Robert Johnson said, "Why yes sir, I didn't knows ya's knowed my name". The man said only, "I know everything about you Robert, everything. But I didn't know you were bringing company".
He turned and stared at Devon and stuck his hand out. "Hello Mr. Devon
Watkins, how are you on this fine summer night?" Devon, who had
began to shake his hand, held up when he mentioned his name because
there was no way in hell this man could have possibly known his name.
But before he could take his hand back, the man grabbed both of
Devon's hands and shook them both vigorously.
The man smiled and said "My name is Smith, John Smith, and
it's a pleasure to finally meet you in person. I saw you play about
ten years ago at a concert in Dallas, Texas and you blew the crowd
away playing that guitar. I see you're still playing. It must be hard
with all that arthritis in your hands?"
Devon was speechless. The moon and stars that were so full and bright
just moments ago, were now dimmer and a misty fog was slowly moving
in. Mr. Smith, who could have been white or black or green, looked
back at Robert Johnson and said "Well, Robert, I know you're riding
with me, so we better get a move on. It won't be long before dawn and
I have a great deal to do."
The man in the white suit looked at Devon with eyes that were as red
as the hottest coals Devon had ever witnessed and said, "Do you need a
lift Mr. Watkins. As you can see, there is plenty of room and you are
more than welcome."
Devon Watkins, who had played in front of thousands of people
in huge stadiums once upon a time, was frozen in time. He could not
speak, or even mumble, but he could shake his head and slowly, very
slowly, he shook his head, no.
He didn't know what would happen next, but Mr. Smith said only,
"Your choice, Mr. Watkins, your choice, of course. It was a pleasure
meeting you and I hope that terrible arthritis doesn't stop you from
playing that fine guitar. You were very good. Have a good day". He
tipped his hat and both men rode off and left Devon standing in one place,
Devon stood frozen, not knowing whether to shit or go blind. As the
taillights from the Cadillac disappeared, the moon and stars
re-emerged and all he knew to do was to walk. He decided to keep walking
the straight road, because somehow that had some kind of poetic
justice to it. As he walked, he went to switch his guitar to the other
hand and stopped dead in his tracks.
He sat the guitar down and stared at his hands. They were as straight as
they were when he was 21 years old and he could open and close them
just as well. Damn! He wasn't a religious man before, and still didn't
know if he was one now, but he couldn't help but think how taking the
straight and narrow road had somehow paid off. Devon Watkins started
walking and whistling, something he and his daddy had often done when
he was a child. As he walked off to play his next gig, he had a feeling
he was going to blow the fuckin' place away.