Chapter 26

In the excitement of the moment, Huffy had made a dreadful mistake. The expectation of a meaningful payment, coupled with the constant pressure from Mr. Prickhead, had caused a lapse in judgment.

Not long after Wes stopped by with the promise of $50,000, Huffy marched into the big office and proudly informed his boss that the Paytons' debt was about to be reduced.

When he got the bad news two days later that it was not, he was too afraid to tell anyone.

After losing sleep for almost a week, he finally forced himself to confront the devil again. He stepped in front of the massive desk, swallowed hard, and said, "Some bad news, sir."

"Where's the money?" Mr. Kirkhead demanded.

"It's not going to happen, sir. Their settlement fell through."

Forgoing curse words, Mr. Prickhead said, "We're calling the loan. Do it now."


"You heard me."

"We can't do that. They've been paying two thousand a month."

"Super. That doesn't even cover the interest. Call the loan. Now."

"But why?"

"Just a couple of small reasons, Huffy. Number one, it's been in default for at least a year. Number two, it's grossly under-collateralized. As a banker, certainly you can understand these small problems."

"But they're trying."

"Call the loan. Do it now, and if you don't, then you'll be either reassigned or dismissed."

"That's obscene."

"I don't care what you think." Then he relented a bit and said, "It's not my decision, Huffy. We have new ownership, and I have been ordered to call the loan."

"But why?"

Kirkhead picked up the phone and offered it. "You want to call the man in Dallas?"

"This will bankrupt them."

"They've been bankrupt for a long time. Now they can make it official."

"Son of a bitch."

"Talking to me, son?"

Huffy glared at the fat hairless head, then said, "Not really. More to that son of a bitch in Dallas."

"We'll keep that here, okay?"

Huffy returned to his office, slammed the door, and watched the walls while an hour passed. Prickhead would stop by soon for the follow-up.

Wes was in a deposition downtown. Mary Grace was at her desk and took the call.

She admired Huffy for his bravery in extending much more credit than anyone had thought possible, but the sound of his voice always rattled her. "Good morning, Tom," she said pleasantly.

"It's not a good morning, Mary Grace," he began. "It's a bad morning, an awful morning, one of the worst ever."

A heavy pause. "I'm listening."

"The bank, not the bank you've been dealing with but another bank now, one owned by some people I've met only once and never care to see again, has decided that it can no longer wait to be paid. The bank, not me, is calling the loan."

Mary Grace emitted a strange guttural sound that could have passed for an expletive but really wasn't a word at all. Her first thought was of her father. Other than the Paytons' signatures, the only security for the loan was a two-hundred-acre tract of farmland her father had owned for many years. It was near Bowmore, and it did not include the forty acres and family home. The bank would foreclose on the property.

"Any particular reason, Huffy?" she asked coolly.

"None whatsoever. The decision was not made in Hattiesburg. Second State sold out to the devil, if you will recall."

"This doesn't make sense."

"I agree."

"You'll force us into bankruptcy, and the bank will get nothing."

"Except for the farm."

"So you'll foreclose on the farm?"

"Someone will. I hope not me."

"Smart move, Huffy, because when they foreclose on the courthouse steps in Bowmore there might be a killing."

"Maybe they'll get ole Prickhead."

"Are you in your office?"

"Yes, with the door locked."

"Wes is downtown. He'll be there in fifteen minutes. Unlock the door."


Fifteen minutes later, Wes charged into Huffy's office, his cheeks red with anger, his hands ready to strangle. "Where's Prickhead?" he demanded. Huffy jumped to his feet behind his desk and placed both hands in the air. "Be cool, Wes."

"Where's Prickhead?"

"Right now he's in his car, driving to an urgent meeting, one that suddenly materialized ten minutes ago. Sit down, Wes."

Wes took a deep breath, then slowly eased into a chair. Huffy watched him, then returned to his own chair. "It's not his fault, Wes," Huffy said. "Technically, the loan has been in default for almost two years. He could have done this months ago, but he didn't. I know you don't like him. I don't like him. His wife doesn't like him. But he's been very patient. This was a decision made in the home office."

"Give me a name at the home office."

Huffy slid across a letter he'd received by fax. It was addressed to the Paytons, on New Vista Bank letterhead, and signed by a Mr. F. Patterson Duvall, vice president.

"This arrived thirty minutes ago," Huffy said. "I don't know Mr. Duvall. I've called his office twice, but he's in a very important meeting, one that I'm sure will last until we stop calling. It's a waste of time, Wes."

The letter demanded payment in full of $414,656.22, with daily interest kicking in at $83.50. Pursuant to the terms of the loan agreement, the Paytons had forty-eight hours to pay, or collection and foreclosure proceedings would commence. Of course, the resulting attorneys' fees and court costs would also be tacked on to the amount due.

Wes read it slowly as he continued to cool down. He placed it back on the desk. "Mary Grace and I talk about this loan every day, Huffy. It's a part of our marriage. We talk about the kids, the office, the debt to the bank, what's for dinner. It's always there, and we've busted our asses to pay off all other obligations so we can bust our asses to pay off the bank. We came very close to giving you fifty thousand last week. We vowed to work ourselves ragged until this bank is out of our lives. Now this stunt. Now some moron in Dallas has decided he's tired of seeing this past-due loan on his daily rap sheet, and he wants to get rid of it. You know what, Huffy-"


"The bank just screwed itself. We'll file for bankruptcy, and when you try to foreclose on my father-in-law's property, I'll put him in bankruptcy And when we work our way out of bankruptcy, and we're back on our feet, guess who ain't getting paid."

"The moron in Dallas?"

"You got it. The bank gets nothing. It'll be wonderful. We can keep the $400,000 when we earn it."

Late that afternoon, Wes and Mary Grace called a firm meeting in The Pit. Other than the humiliation of filing for bankruptcy, which seemed to bother no one, there was little to worry about. In fact, the bank's actions would give the firm some breathing room. The $2,000 monthly payments would cease, and the cash could certainly be used elsewhere.

The concern, of course, was the land owned by Mr. Shelby, Mary Grace's father. Wes had a plan. He would find a friendly buyer who would appear at the foreclosure and write a check. Title would pass, and it would be held in "a handshake trust" until the Paytons could buy it back, hopefully within a year. Neither Wes nor Mary Grace could stomach the idea of asking her father to join them at the bankruptcy court.

Forty-eight hours passed with no payment. Sticking to its word, the bank filed suit.

Its lawyer, a local gentleman the Paytons knew well, called ahead of time and apologized.

He'd represented the bank for years and could not afford to lose it as a client.

Mary Grace accepted his apology and gave him her blessing to sue them.

The next day the Paytons filed for bankruptcy, both individually and as Payton amp; Payton, Attorneys-at-Law. They listed combined assets of $35,000-two old cars, furniture, office equipment-all of which was protected. They listed debts of $420,000. The filing effectively stayed the lawsuit, and would eventually render it useless. The Hattiesburg American reported it on its second page the following day.

Carl Trudeau read about it online and laughed out loud. "Sue me again," he said with great satisfaction.

Within a week, three Hattiesburg law firms informed ole Prickhead that they were withdrawing their funds, closing their accounts, and moving their business down the street. There were at least eight other banks in town.

A wealthy trial lawyer named Jim McMay called Wes and offered assistance. The two had been friends for many years and had collaborated twice on product liability cases.

McMay represented four Bowmore families in the Krane litigation, but had not pushed the cases aggressively. Like the other trial lawyers suing Krane, he was waiting for the outcome of Baker and hoping to hit the jackpot if and when there was a settlement.

They met for breakfast at Nanny's, and over biscuits and country ham McMay readily agreed to rescue the two hundred acres at foreclosure and keep the title until the Paytons could buy it back. Farmland in Cancer County wasn't exactly selling at a premium, and Wes speculated that the Shelby property would fetch around $100,000, the only money the bank would collect from its foolish maneuver.