Willie McGee was the worst Blues man in the history of blues. His skill with the guitar easily rivaled Eric Clapton’s, but when ever he strummed or plucked a string, it sounded as though he was tickling it. In any other hands, his sleek, black Gibson would wail like a dying whore, but in his hands, it cooed like a baby. When he performed, a joy welled up inside of him despite his every effort. A smile would push itself from between his lips, sharpening every note he tried to sing.
Willie stayed up late at night, wondering what was wrong. Sure, his life wasn’t one of abject poverty, but he had his share of fiscal woes. His luck with women wasn’t terrible, but his heart had been broken at least once. In the dark, with his wife sleeping beside him, he could feel the emotions stirring inside of him. Yet, no matter how hard he tried, once he stepped on the stage, the lights would shine on him and the joy would rise in his belly like a cake baking
“Maybe it just ain’t meant to be,” announced his wife, Nell one morning as she fried an egg in a cast iron skillet, cursing under her breath as the yoke broke. “Some things are what they are, and nothing is what it isn’t meant to be.”
“I can’t just let it all go. Not after all the work I’ve done; the time, the money, the effort.” Willie felt the blues stirring in him like a thousand snakes in a pit. He had spent the last five years pursuing a career as a musician, and it had cost him much more than it made him.
“What about that trio, The Star Seekers? They were high on you. I never saw anyone love your playing as much as them.” Nell slid the dilapidated egg onto Willie’s plate and served it to him with cold toast and crunchy bacon. She was beautiful, like a princess right out of Egypt, dark and slender, but with sensuousness about her curves. Willie, whose stomach rested on his lap while peeking out from under his white T-shirt, found himself wondering what he ever did to deserve her.
“No.” he answered resolutely. “I won’t play that sugar-pop crap. Not now, not ever.” He contemplated stamping his foot to get his point across, but he knew that Nell all ready knew that would be his answer.
“Well, if music is what makes you happy, and that’s what you want to do for a living, you might as well make money doing it. No sense in being a fool about it. Take what you can get, or get out of the business. Your bank job pays well enough; if you applied yourself, you’d get a promotion. You’re smart, educated, and able.” Nell rubbed Willie’s shoulders as she stroked his ego. She kissed him on his high forehead and sat across from him, where her mug of cooling coffee waited.
“Give it one more try, but if you bomb again, please, just take the gig with The Star Seekers or quit the music business. I hate to see you beating yourself up like this. It ain’t healthy.” Sympathy filled Nell’s eyes, and guilt grew inside of Willie. He hung is head and pouted, disappointedly pushing at the solid yellow yolk on his plate. “I just want what’s best for you, Big Bear,” said Nell, drawing a lingering smile from Willie; he always smiled when she called him by his pet name.
After breakfast, Nell left for work, leaving Willie with a list of chores a mile long. He had taken all of his vacation time at once, hoping that he’d be able to set up a slew of gigs. However, he found himself at home more than on a stage. He plugged his Ipod into the stereo and put it on shuffle. He listened to Muddy Waters while he washed the windows, and B.B. King while plunging the toilet. However, when Charlie Daniels came on, singing about the Devil in Georgia, it set Willie’s mind rolling down a perilous decline.
He remembered hearing about men going to the crossroads at midnight to make deals with the Devil. It was a passing fancy, but it took root at the back of his brain. Through the day, the idea’s roots twisted through the wrinkles of his brain, digging deep into his consciousness. By dinnertime, he found himself wondering if any old crossroads would do, or if a road trip was in order. Through the night, he was quiet as he pondered these questions and more. Nelly let him be, thinking that he was feeling moody from the morning’s row. She went to bed before he did, and she was sound asleep before he crept out into the night.
The small suburb where they lived was silent; the earth seemed to rise and fall softly in time with all the dreamers snug in their beds. Willie started to question his sanity as he walked to the intersection of Pine and Gorvell. Somewhere, a dog barked and all around air conditioners hummed quietly. Gazing back and forth, Willie shook his head. He felt like an idiot standing out on the corner at three in the morning. As he turned to go back home, a sulfurous smell assaulted his nose. He felt a ponderous hand clench his shoulder.
“Willie McGee. You are the worst Blues man in the world, and you came to the Devil for help,” said a voice as slippery as a slug’s trail yet as coarse as a rasp. Willie didn’t want to turn. He didn’t want to see the Devil. The hand kept him from running, and it guided Willie’s body in a turn. The Devil, goat-headed and two-faced (three if you counted the one on his belly), stood in his diabolic glory, resplendent in a shimmering cloak made from the skin of slain angels. Willie felt himself cowed into a groveling bow.
“I’m sorry, Mr. Devil. I didn’t think this would really work,” said Willie apologetically, ready to debase himself.
“Well, I’m here, and nothing’s going to change the fact that you are here to make a deal. It is in your heart and mind: you want to be a great Blues singer, adored by the whole world as a treasure.” The Devil’s goat lips curled in a mocking smile. “Too bad no one listens to the Blues anymore.” Willie looked at The Devil with a dumb-founded expression. “Rap is where it is now, son. That or maybe pop. Why do you want to sing the Blues anyways?”
“The reasons are my own,” said Willie, unwilling to give The Devil an inch. He knew he was stuck in negotiations, and that anything he said would be used against him somehow. He was disinclined to say anything, fearful that he would say the wrong thing.
“Not that there’s anything I could really do anyway. Your gift is God-given. You know you are talented, and you talent can’t get any better. Usually, when humans come to me to make a deal, they just need the confidence that only The Devil can provide. I’m like the mouse in that story about the flying elephant; it’s all psychosomatic. They sell their souls, then they think that they’re more than they were; in truth, they’re just the same, just afraid to die. There’s little and less that I can do for you, Willie McGee. You are the greatest you will ever be, but you are cursed with joy. It is your lot in life to love playing that guitar and singing the blues.”
Downtrodden and feeling insulted, Willie burst out, “What do you know, Devil? What do you know what I can and can’t do? What do you know?” Willie’s blood was boiling and rage was tearing through his guts. He wanted to bash The Devil in all his faces and kick in his balls. “All my life I’ve worked and worked, got better and better, but never became what I wanted, needed, to be! And now that I go to The Devil, you say there is nothing you can do? “Willie spit at the ground where The Devil stood and the spit sizzled away.
“I’m not a miracle worker. You went the wrong way for that, boy,” said The Devil provokingly.
“What kind of Devil are you? Damn it!” swore Willie as he turned to walk away. “I just wish I could play the Blues, that’s all. And be able to sing ’em.” he said under his breath. The Devil’s ears perked up.
“Could?” asked The Devil, his eyes narrowing. “Could implies the capability, but doesn’t imply that you actually have the ability. That is something I can work with.” The Devil laughed and Willie cried out. The Devil’s hands clamped down on Willie’s hands like hot irons. “Willie McGee, you came to the Crossroads to sell your soul and I came. By fulfilling your wish, your soul is mine.” With fiendish strength, The Devil crushed Willie’s hands. Willie wailed in pain. The Devil left him maimed at the crossroads, unable to play the Blues, but able to sing them well enough.
Willie “No-Hands” McGee became the greatest Blues singer of his generation, and arguably the greatest Blues singer of all time. Nell took care of Willie as best as she could, but their marriage was never the same. When Willie left the world, he left behind Nell, who lived (in the comfort that can be provided by a successful musician who was also a banker by trade) to be over one-hundred years old. The Devil smiled when Willie came to Hell and offered him a seat at his table.
“You gave a lot to give the world the gift of fine music. You cared for your wife, never raised a hand to her.” said The Devil, tucking a napkin into Willie’s stained T-shirt. “You belong here, no doubt, but never say that The Devil ain’t just.” Willie’s eternal soul stared at a plate of eggs, each with broken and cooked yolks. “That’s the way you like them, right?” The Devil stared curiously at Willie’s eternal soul as it cried crystal tears.