Page 33 of Ford County

"And in three days?" the lawyer asked.

"I seriously doubt it."

"Have you talked to the casino?"

"Yes, several times."

An hour later, Sidney and his lawyer walked into the Ford County Courthouse, to the office of the chancery clerk, and filed a petition for a temporary restraining order seeking an immediate closing of the Lucky Jack and the payment of the debt. The judge, the Honorable Willis Bradshaw, set an emergency hearing for 9:00 the following morning.

Bobby Carl jumped ship in Puerto Rico and scrambled to find flights back to Memphis. He arrived in Ford County late that evening and drove, in a rented Hertz, subcompact, straight to the casino, where he found few gamblers, and even fewer employees "who knew anything about what had happened the previous night. The manager had quit and could not be found. One of the pit bosses who'd dealt with Sidney was likewise rumored to have fled the county. Bobby Carl threatened to fire everyone else, except for Chief Larry, who was overwhelmed by the chaos. At midnight, Bobby Carl was meeting with the bank president and a team of lawyers, and the anxiety level was through the roof.

Stella was still on the cruise ship, but unable to enjoy her-self. In the midst of the chaos, when Bobby Carl was screaming into the phones and throwing things, she had heard him yell, "Sidney Lewis! Who the hell is Sidney Lewis?"

She said nothing, at least nothing about the Sidney Lewis she knew, and found it impossible to believe that her ex-husband had been capable of breaking a casino. Still, she was very uncomfortable, and when the ship docked at George Town on Grand Cayman, she took a cab to the airport and headed home.

Judge Bradshaw welcomed the throng of spectators to his courtroom. He thanked them for coming and invited them back in the future. Then he asked if the lawyers were ready to proceed.

Bobby Carl, red eyed and haggard and unshaven, was seated at one table with three of his lawyers and Chief Larry, who'd never been near a courtroom and was so nervous that he simply closed his eyes and appeared to be meditating. Bobby Carl, who'd seen many courtrooms, was nonetheless just as stressed. Everything he owned had been mortgaged for the bank loan, and now the future of his casino, as well as all his other assets, was in great jeopardy.

One of his lawyers stood quickly and said, "Yes, Judge, we are ready, but we have filed a motion to dismiss this proceeding because of a lack of jurisdiction. This matter belongs in federal court, not state."

"I've read your motion," Judge Bradshaw said, and it was obvious he did not like what he had read. "I'm keeping jurisdiction."

"Then we'll file in federal court later this morning," the lawyer shot back.

"I can't stop you from filing anything."

Judge Bradshaw had spent most of his career trying to sort out ugly disputes between feuding couples, and over the years he had developed an intense dislike for the causes of divorce. Alcohol, drugs, adultery, gambling - his involvement with the major vices was never ending. He taught Sunday school in the Methodist church and had strict beliefs about right and wrong. Gambling was an abomination, in his opinion, and he was de-lighted to have a crack at it.

Sidney's lawyer argued loud and hard that the casino was undercapitalized and maintained insufficient cash reserves; thus, it was an ongoing threat to other gamblers. He announced he was filing a full-blown lawsuit at 5:00 that afternoon if the casino did not honor its debt to his client. In the meantime, though, the casino should be closed.

Judge Bradshaw seemed to favor this idea. And so did the crowd. The spectators included quite a few preachers and their followers, all good registered voters who had always supported Judge Bradshaw, and all bright-eyed and happy at the possibility of shutting down the casino. This was the miracle they had been praying for. And though they silently condemned Sidney Lewis for his sinful ways, they couldn't help but admire the guy - a local boy - for breaking the casino. Go, Sidney.

As the hearing dragged on, it came to light that the Lucky Jack had cash on hand of about $400,000, and in addition to this there was a $500,000 reserve fund secured with a bond. Also, Bobby Carl admitted on the witness stand that the casino had averaged about $80,000 a month in profits for the first seven months, and that this number was rising steadily.

After a grueling five-hour hearing, Judge Bradshaw ordered the casino to pay the entire $945,000, immediately, and closed its doors until the debt was satisfied. He also instructed the sheriff to block the entrance off the state highway and to arrest any gambler who tried to enter. Lawyers for the Lucky Jack ran to federal court in Oxford and filed papers to reopen. A hearing would take several days to organize. As promised, Sidney filed suit in both state and federal courts.

Over the next few days, more lawsuits flew back and forth. Sidney sued the insurance company that issued the bond, then sued the bank as •well. The bank, suddenly nervous about the $2 million it had loaned the Lucky Jack, soured on the once-exciting gaming business. It called the loan and sued the Yazoo Nation, Chief Larry, and Bobby Carl Leach. They countersued, alleging all sorts of unfair practices. The burst of litigation electrified the local lawyers, most of whom jockeyed for a piece of the action.

When Bobby Carl learned that Stella's recently divorced husband was in fact Sidney, he accused her of conspiring with him and fired her. She sued. Days passed and the Lucky Jack remained closed. Two dozen unpaid employees filed suit. Federal regulators issued subpoenas. The federal judge "wanted no part of the mess, and dismissed the casino's efforts to reopen.

After a month of frantic legal maneuvering, reality settled in. The casino's future looked dire. Bobby Carl convinced Chief Larry that they had no choice but to file for bankruptcy protection. Two days later, Bobby Carl reluctantly did the same. After two decades of wheeling and dealing and operating on the edge, he was finally bankrupt.

Sidney was in Las Vegas when he received a call from his lawyer with the great news that the insurance company would settle for the full amount of its bond -  $500,000. In addition, the frozen accounts of the Lucky Jack would be thawed just enough so that another check for $400,000 would be issued in his favor. He immediately hopped in his RV and made a leisurely and triumphant journey back to Ford County, but not before hitting three Indian casinos along the way.

Bobby Carl's favorite arsonists were a husband-and-wife duo from Arkansas. Contact was made, cash changed hands. A set of building plans and keys were passed along. The nighttime security guards at the casino were fired. Its water supply was cut off. The building had no sprinkler system because no building code required one.

By the time the Springdale Volunteer Fire Brigade arrived on the scene at 3:00 a.m., the Lucky Jack was fully ablaze. Its metal-framed structures were melting. Inspectors later suspected arson but found no trace of gasoline or other incendiaries. A natural gas leak and explosion had started the fire, they decided. During the ensuing litigation, investigators for the insurance company would produce records which revealed that the casino's natural gas tanks had been mysteriously filled only a week before the fire.

Chief Larry returned to his store and fell into a state of severe depression. Once again, his tribe had been demolished by the white man's greed. His Yazoo Nation scattered, never to be seen again.

Sidney hung around Karraway for a while, but grew weary of the attention and gossip. Since he'd quit his job and busted the casino, folks quite naturally referred to him as a professional gambler, a rarity indeed for rural Mississippi. And though Sidney didn't fit the mold of a high-rolling rogue, the topic of his new lifestyle was irresistible. It was well-known that he was the only man in town with $1 million, and this caused problems. Old friends materialized. Single women of all ages schemed of ways to meet him. All the charities wrote letters and pleaded for money. His daughter in Texas became more involved in his life and was quick to apologize for taking sides during the divorce. When he put a For Sale sign in his front yard, Karraway talked of little else. The heartiest rumor was that he was moving to Las Vegas.