This is a story based on a news account of a man who habitually played the same lottery numbers, bought at the same store, at approximately the same time for years. The numbers came in on a ticket sold at that store at that time. The man and the ticket were never seen again; a year later the winnings reverted back to the lottery.
Most writers look at this story as a mystery to be solved: Where'd he go? Why? Is he dead? That's the normal way, but as those who know me have already figured out, there is not a normal bone in my body. I wanted to know how the people around him felt.
I mentally outlined the main characters, used Google Maps to find a workable location, and then traveled via my very warped imagination to the Arkansas side of the Louisiana-Arkansas border to meet the people and get to know their attitudes and life styles.
My first encounter was an oldtimer sitting on a bench near a small square. I am glad I stopped to talk with him.
You Can't Lose What You Never Had
Jimmy's been gone a whole year now, last Thursday. Some people reckon he's dead. I don't reckon; I know. If he was alive, we'd have heard from him, or about him by now. You don't just disappear with a lottery ticket worth nearly fifty million dollars and not show up for the money. I don't know how or when or why, but he's dead. He ain't coming back. Yeah, he's dead.
If I’m going to tell you this story, you got to forgive me if it sounds a bit like gossip, but around here, everybody knows just about everything about everybody. It ain’t gossip; it’s only common knowledge.
There ain't a soul in the three county area that don't know all about Jimmy, 'cept ain't no one that knows where he is. We all knowed about Jimmy buying that ticket down at JT's. We all knowed about him fooling around with that woman Anita Jarvis. We all knowed she’s the one that gave him the money to pay for it. And we all knowed that with him gone, his wife and his boy are worse off than they was before. But what nobody seems to know, is what happened to Jimmy after he bought that ticket and why he ain’t never claimed his winnings.
Tain't no one I know ever tried to tie all of this story together end to end, but I figure since I know most of these people best, I'll try and tell y'all like it happened.
I first got to know Jimmy was back when he was playing ball over to Junction City High School. He was their tight-end, and a right fine one too. He had good hands. He wasn't no superstar-pro or nothing, but he did all right for the Titans. He had talked about maybe going to college and playing ball on a scholarship, but that wasn't about happen. Like I said, he wasn't no superstar.
His daddy is Bud Johnson. He's got a small dirt farm up north of Blanchard Springs. He don't work it though; not anymore. He leases it out to one of those cotton co-ops. Bud and I've been speaking friends for most of forty years, mostly down at the Agway and 'round the diner at breakfast time. I remember a few years back, Bud was skimping to put some money aside for Jimmy to go up to the community college, up near Little Rock. Football or not, he wanted his boy to be some kind of architect or engineer or something like that. You always want something more for your kids.
Well anyway, in his senior year, Jimmy started seeing that Margie girl. That's the one that’s his wife. Her folks having that place, Conner's Bar-B-Que up by New Caledonia. They might have met there, I don't know, but they started seeing each other regular. It wasn't long ‘fore she ended up pregnant, and she and Jimmy got hitched; that was the end of that whole college thing.
Well, let me see, it must a been four, maybe five years ago, no wait, it was before Hank died, had to be six years ago, Jimmy come over the mill looking for work. He'd been working in a tire shop up by Hillsboro and they was barely making ends meet. He and Margie had that kid, a bruiser of a boy. They call him Junior. Someone said he was near eleven pounds when he was born. It don't seem right, a baby that big, but Jimmy isn’t any sapling, and Margie's a big girl, if’n you know what I mean.
Jimmy said his Margie had put on a hundred pounds or so when she was pregnant, and a few more after that kid came. I didn't know her when she was young, but Jimmy swears she was a looker with a right smart body. Now, if you been up t' the Conner's, you've seen her folks; they big people. Maybe just ‘n Jimmy likes people to believe something nice ‘bout Margie that explains his knocking her up. Or maybe he likes his girls that way and don't like sayin’ why. I don’t wanna be contrary, but I doubt she was ever anything but a big girl.
But all-in-all, he didn't do so bad by hisself. She's a good country woman. Pleasant to talk to, if you’d go by my impression. Their place, as often as I seen it, was always a clean and tidy. So was she. Every time I ever saw her, 'cept that last time a few weeks ago, she was always the same, big as house, plain as oatmeal, but with a right pleasant smile. Margie ain’t never wore none o’ that drug store make-up, and her hair? That hair hain't never seen a beauty parlor but maybe for her wedding day. Most of the women are like that 'round here, and it don't make for much complaining among the men.
A country wife is got to be her man's partner. She keeps the house clean and tends to the children and garden and the cooking. And she makes her husband feel loved at the end of the day. None of that needs no makeup or beauty parlor hair. And most these women 'round here are happy like that. Maybe Margie wasn't too happy. Jimmy was always going on that she was a mean one. He said she was all the time complaining about everything from living out in the country, to not having no money, to the sweatin’ kinda heat in the summer and the bitin’ cold in the winter. I got pretty good reckon to believe Jimmy ‘bout her being mean and all, but I ain’t never seen it personally. She was always pleasant by me.
I guess you’d gotta know ‘bout Margie if’n you going to understand why Jimmy took up with Anita. Her folks is set pretty good with their Bar-B-Que place. They got a nice house, a good car and a truck that runs; they wear good clothes, and they don't appear to ever worry about paying the light bill, if you know what I mean. Jimmy, on the other hand, grew up on a dirt farm, living on credit till the crops come in, piecing two or three old Fords together just to keep one on the road. Hell, I doubt that Bud's ever had more than two pair 'o overalls at one time in his whole life. Them plus his church clothes is all he’s got. Don't need much more, living in the country, but I reckon Margie never understood that.
Well, when Jimmy and Margie got hitched, they rented a trailer up on the Thompson place. You might had heard about that widow lady that was married t' that black man from Florida; it's the place she used to stay in when he passed away. It was in good condition, the lot was dry and the well was still sweet. But they say that Margie weren’t happy right from the start. She didn’t want to live in no trailer-house. She wanted a proper-house as she call it and a piece of land. Guessin’ she figured that she and Jimmy was gonna be livin’ like her folks. But neither one of 'em had spit for talent, just out o' high school and already raising a kid.
Jimmy used to say she was all piss ‘n vinegar about not having no money and only ‘t one car. Said they was living like white-trash. Jimmy tried, you know. He was bouncing around between jobs always trying to do better for her and the boy. He worked on a couple of farms; he stocked shelves on the overnight shift down t' A&P. He learned to drive big equipment and got job working for the parish o'er the State line, but they busted him for sleeping on the job and he got fired. According to Jimmy, the whole time, Margie kept puttin' on weight and bitchin' 'bout the way they lived.
When Jimmy got fired down in Louisiana, he got another good job up in Hillsboro at the tire shop out on the highway. He did all right for himself up there. I didn’t see him much around then, but from what I hear, he was working all kind of hours: weekends, evenings, whenever they'd let him. He never said so, but it was probably a combination of needing the extra money and not wanting t’ be round Margie. Anyway, he ended up pretty good ‘n got t' be manager. “Cordin’ t’ him, he was making pretty good money. He told me that they was paying him hourly plus commissions on his sales.
It got them out of that trailer and they rented a regular apartment up off US 82 somewhere. I was never there, I hear the rent’s really high in those places. They only stayed up there for 'bout a year or so before they rented that tenant house over t’ Pleasant Grove. That's the place they're in now, well I guess, Margie's still in there, when she ain't dodging the landlord over back rent. I ain’t sure how she’s making it right now.
Do you know the Baskin's boy, Aaron? Drives that loud, black Camero? Always barreling up the road like he's late for his own funeral? He's pretty good friends with Jimmy and was back then too. He told Bud that Margie was the one that got Jimmy to start playing the lottery. Aaron said she was always writing out a plan on how they were going to spend the money. They were going buy a big farm with a two story house; build their own Bar-B-Que place o'er 't Junction City to make money off’n those longhaul truckers. And she wanted them to own a Cadillac car. I wonder what she'd do now if she had all those millions.
Aaron told me himself that Margie wasn't having wifely relations with Jimmy. Hadn't for years, he said. She told Jimmy that she couldn’t feel sexy cause they were so poor, and besides they couldn't afford it if she got pregnant again. So here's poor Jimmy working 'round the clock to make money, and his wife not sleepin’ with him cause he ain't got enough. If I'd a been him, I would’ve left. That ain't right for a wife to act that way. Don't know why he didn't leave her and get hisself a new wife.
Well, then again, maybe he did. Maybe that’s what he did; took his chances and headed out. But that still don't explain why he didn't take the lottery money, unless, like I said, he's dead afterall. With all a’that money jus waitin’ fer him, yeah, he’s gotta be dead.
Right after Louisiana started selling them Power Ball tickets, Aaron said Margie started in on him. She figured the lottery was going to be the answer to all her troubles. Now, I don't subscribe to that kind of foolishness, getting millions of dollars off a dollar bet, but I guess if I needed the money bad enough, I'd give it a try.
From what that Baskin’s boy tells me, the numbers that Jimmy played was Margie's pickings. She got them out of a National Inquirer piece on what the winningest lottery numbers were. Seems kind of stupid, don't you think. If they knew what the winning numbers were going to be, why would they still be writing in the newspaper? But that's where them numbers came from. She wrote ‘em down: three sets of numbers on a piece of paper. And every week for as long as Louisiana's been selling tickets, Jimmy's drove down south 'o Junction City to JT's and bought his tickets.
Now. like I said, a few years back Jimmy come over to the plant looking for work. The tire store got bought out by Firestone. We needed help ‘cause some of the boys that work there had run into trouble with the law and got themselves thrown in jail. So they started Jimmy right off on the fork lift, seeing as how he had experience with equipment. He fitted in right away, even with all of the new-boy pranks everybody pulls. He gave it back as soon as he got it. We all had some good laughs and Jimmy ended up being a real go-to boy. There wasn't nothing that the boss wanted that Jimmy couldn't do.
Things were going along pretty good. Jimmy liked the work and all us boys liked Jimmy. He seemed real happy until it was time to knock off and go home. Jimmy used to tell me that he wished they'd let him work sixteen hours a day. Mostly he said that it was he needed the money, but once he had some beers in him, he would start going on about how miserable it was at home with his wife.
It was a Friday afternoon when we was all at Pete's Place, that Jimmy first met Anita. I guess you could say we all met her at the same time. I had seen her that week up at the offices. I had to turn in a maintenance report and noticed her right away. It's easy to spot new faces, but Anita is the kind of woman that most men would notice anyway.
She come into the bar with that tie that runs the payroll department. I think his name is Barker or Bunker. I don't know him and its right unusual for a tie to be stopping at Pete's. They mostly keep to themselves over at one of the motel lounges. Anyway, Mr. Barker or Bunker introduces Anita 'round to the boys. He didn't know any of our names, so we mostly just introduced ourselves. When it came ‘round to Jimmy, I could tell right off that he was sorta struck.
Anita is a fine looking woman. She's a might tall for my taste, probably five-ten, maybe five-eleven. She has thick dark hair that makes her skin seem almost like sweet cream. She ain’t never going be considered skinny, but she’s proportioned. She got all the right kind of curves, if you know what I mean. For a country boy like Jimmy, or like me even, she's the closest thing to glamorous that we is likely to meet, face-to-face.
After we all said our hellos and how-ya-doin’s, she went off with the tie and sat at the bar. I couldn't help but notice that Jimmy had shifted his chair so that he had a better view of her sittin’ there. I could tell Anita had noticed too, and she adjusted her bar stool to make the view a little better for Jimmy.
After about twenty minutes or so, the tie and Anita stopped by our table and said their good-byes before leaving. The way she looked at Jimmy and shook his hand, I'd swear that she was already planning on something with him. He told me once that he knew he was going to sleep with her the first time he saw her. I'd bet if she were honest, she'd say it was the same for her too.
Now I can't say when it was that those two first got together or who made the first move, but it wasn't long before they were a carrying on. It was pretty damn obvious to everybody. They was always findin’ excuses to be where the other one was, always gigglin’ ’n smiling at one another, and always sneaking some way t’ touch. Jimmy stopped hanging around Pete's, but I hear he weren’t getting home no earlier. Half the time they stayed late at the plant and half the time they was seen o’er to her house t’ Spearsville Road. Can’t say as whether Margie knew what was going on back then or not. Those two weren't hiding anything, facts is, they ‘bout as noticeable as an iceberg floating in the Mississippi.
For most of a year, ‘cause we were still short handed, everyone that wanted was getting good overtime hours. This helped out Jimmy at home. The extra money in his paycheck was keeping Margie quiet and since he was getting some on the side, Jimmy was happy. Then some of the plant's orders got canceled and word came down that there wasn’t going to be no more overtime for anybody at all. Well, straight time forty hours wasn't gonna to cut it with Margie. She started yakking ‘bout either his getting t’ overtime back or they was gonna have to give him a raise t’ make up the difference. He told me that he wasn't goin’ t’ work all week long for to have to listen to Margie all weekend long. After about two weeks with nothing different, he a told the foreman he’d had enough, and off he went; storming up the steps to the offices, hotter than a welder’s wand.
Anita must have seen him coming. She caught him out in the hall before he could make a fool of himself and end up fired or something. He told me later that she had it all planned out ahead of time how he was going to keep making the same money. He said she was busy putting her plans together the whole time he was griping to us. She had it figured out so that he could make even more money than he’d been making with overtime and he wouldn't have to tell Margie about all of it. That way, he'd have some money leftover that they could spend together.
I don't pretend to understand exactly how she did it, but Anita had changed around the plant's whole finance department. She split all of the shifts into sections and each section had its own expenses, including payroll. This way, the suits and ties could figure out which sections were making money and which ones weren’t. We all still worked together, but we were paid like we worked for different companies. Like, I am in the assembly section, John over there, is in shipping and receiving, and Jimmy was in material handling. We all have different bosses.
At first I didn't get what she was doing. We all just figured it was some new, fancy, college way of doing things. She set up all the sections and then had a different tie put in charge of each one. And not one of 'em knew who was in any other section, or what they was supposed to be doing. All they were supposed to do is supervise their own section and ignore everything else.
Well, I don't know if Anita set this whole thing up just for Jimmy or whether he just fit into her plan by accident. She got Jimmy hired for part time work for in two other sections. Now here's her little catch. She got him three employee numbers had each section pay him like he was only working for them. He was getting three different paychecks. This way he was making more than with his overtime, but he didn't have to give all the money to Margie. He was still working his eight hours in material handling. At the end of his shift, he punched in as housekeeping, and he was on call the whole second and third shift for engineering and maintenance. The engineering part was on account that he had worked in a mechanic shop and could repair the forklifts and some of the other equipment. And since he was on call, Anita had him issued a company cell phone. That way while he was on call, she could talk to him at home whenever she wanted, and he always had a good excuse to run out and meet with her.
Jimmy kept things going rather smooth for a couple of years. Everyone knew pretty much what was going on. He kept the housekeeping check as play money fer hisself and Anita. He had Pete cash it behind the bar so there was no bank records. Them other two checks he gave to Margie to keep her happy. For all that sinful living, Jimmy had it pretty good. I imagine that there was times when it got a little sticky, juggling two women and a boy who is old enough to start asking questions, but Jimmy never let on that any of that was getting to him. He was about as happy as I ever knew him to be, 'cept maybe when he was young and still playing ball.
Well, as you know from the papers, Jimmy hit the lottery; forty-six million dollars. And you also know he never claimed it. Last Wednesday that money just went back in the kitty and nobody’s gonna to get a dime of it; not Jimmy, not Anita, not Margie. I guess they'll use it for the schools or something.
Now this part of the story is pretty much pieced together from the talk around town, and maybe a little from Margie. Anita ain't talked to none of us boys since it happened, but we can read about her and all her lawsuits and testimony in the paper.
Seems Jimmy and Anita had had a little tiff about going or not going to some party with the suits from the office. Jimmy was feeling bad ‘bout getting Anita mad at him, so when he finished up work, he went by some flower shop and bought her carnations as a makeup gift. He spent the last ten dollars he had on them flowers. The secret money was all gone until the next payday. Being flat broke is hard at any time, but when you are keeping two women, it can also be dangerous. But it was Wednesday and he would’ve been paid ag’in on Friday. It should've been all right. He had called home and told Margie that he was going to be busy for a couple of hours fixing some machine, and he wouldn't be home until after supper. So with only his time and some fresh flowers, Jimmy went to Anita's house to smooth things out and do whatever else those two did when they were alone.
The flowers must have worked because Anita said in the papers that she and Jimmy were in bed when Margie called on the cell phone. Margie wanted him to buy milk and cereal for Junior's breakfast. She knew he was going down to JT's for the lottery tickets after work, and told him to buy the milk and stuff right there.
I guess old Jimmy probably panicked when he realized that he didn't have no money. Margie said he that he tried several excuses before he told her he didn't have any money. She said she got pissed off and told him to use the ten that was hidden under the flap in his wallet. She had checked to make sure it was still there before he had left that morning. Jimmy was trapped. He agreed to buy the milk even though the ten wasn't there anymore. Margie threw him one last curve ball. She told Jimmy to leave the lottery tickets at home in the morning. Because the jackpot was so high, she wanted to check the numbers herself. Jimmy needed the tickets; he needed some milk and cereal; and he didn't have a dime in his pocket.
Anita said in court that Jimmy hadn't asked for the money until after they were done makin’ it and he was getting dressed to leave. She said she wasn't very happy about having to give her man money, but she gave him a twenty anyway.
A clerk named Jerome was on the counter that night at JT's. He don't know Jimmy, but he did tell police that he remembered a man fitting Jimmy's description coming in and buying some lottery tickets and a few other things. Now, you have to understand that Jimmy always played those same three sets of numbers and he always bought them at JT's. The lottery people say that the only ticket that had all the winning numbers was sold at JT's. And the winning numbers was Jimmy's numbers. That's why everybody knows that Jimmy won that jackpot. But Jimmy ain't never been seen again and ain't nobody ever tried to cash that winning ticket.
For the first couple of days, we all just figured he was off getting a good drunk. Margie was calling everybody she knew and every place she could think of. Anita was playing it cool. She didn't even talk about it. It wasn't till the police got involved that everyone started talking. Most people figured that either Margie or Anita had killed him for the money, and maybe they did, but if so, they sure put up a good show. And neither one of them ever claimed the ticket either.
It wasn't long before those two women started calling each other in the open about Jimmy's disappearance. It got pretty ugly. I could never tell whether they were more upset about the missing ticket or the missing man. Both of them got lawyers, the kind that takes part of the winnings. Anita quit her job, and Margie about starved to death for not eating.
I never did have much to do with Anita. Most of what I know I read in the papers. They say she’s down in Baton Rouge somewhere looking for another lawyer. She wants someone to prove that even though she hain't got that ticket, since it won and was bought with her money, she's entitled to the winnings. I doubt she's ever given one thought of poor old Jimmy that wasn't a curse since the day they discovered him missing.
Now Margie, she still lives over in Pleasant Grove although she’s mostly been staying up at her parent's place, seeing as how she hasn't got the money for the rent. Her and the boy stop around every bar and diner in the area still looking for Jimmy. She came in here not but a couple of weeks ago. She was all slimmed down, had her hair done up nice, and was even wearing makeup. She looked pretty good, t’ be honest. We chatted awhile ‘bout her and Jimmy and some ‘bout Jimmy and Anita. She told me that she didn't care at all about the money anymore. She said if they found that ticket, Anita could keep it all. The only thing she wanted was for her Jimmy to come home and love her again. Ya know, I really think she meant it.
I run into her boy Junior last week down at JT's. He was fixing to play his daddy's numbers. I asked him how he got down across the state line; I didn't see his momma's car. He told me his girlfriend drove him. She was standing behind him. A might pretty girl with her youth and all, but already righteously pregnant. And ain't neither one of them seventeen yet.
Seems everybody today is looking for some way to make their life easy. Then when it don't work out that way, they feel like they’ve been cheated. People think some fancy car and a fat wallet or maybe a pretty woman is what’ll make ‘em happy, but living out here you learn happiness comes from the way you live, not how you live. It comes from the inside; from the soul. It don’t got nothin’ to do with no money. These kids these days are forgetting the good country way of living. You work hard, love your family, and ya make the best of what you got. Enjoy the good Lord’s blessings.
These young people, they’s all tryin’ to grow up fast and t’ get rich quick. They shoot for the moon and when they miss, they act like they've lost something important. Nobody ever told them that you can't lose what you never had.
These young people, they’s all tryin’ to grow up fast and t’ get rich quick. They shoot for the moon and when they miss, they act like they've lost something important. Nobody ever told them that you can't lose what you never had.