She had ruminated about changing her name for the assignment
but decided her father and her husband would scrabble from their
graves if she weren’t Jez Legion. They worked so hard to make her
who she became. Besides no one in Tallapoosa County, Alabama
knew of her exploits as a Soviet operative in Europe. No one here
even knew her name. She hadn’t been back in the United States
since she decamped to Russia during the world war.
She stepped from her Packard convertible next to the single
Gulf Oil pump and waited for the station boy to drop his broom
and scurry to the pump. The chickens scattering before him as he
ran to help made her smile. Nowhere but Alabama, she thought.
“Afternoon, ma’am.” He greeted her with a broad grin. “How
much gas do you want?” He cranked the wheel on the pump to reset
the counter. The numbers spun and stopped at all zeroes with
a resounding ding.
“Fill it up.” She returned his smile as she closed the car door.
“What’s that you say?”
“Fill it up.”
The boy shook his head but inserted the nozzle and energized
“Is there a problem?”
2 • CHARLES DARNELL
“No, ma’am,” he shook his head again, “Don’t nobody fill up
they car round here…not even white folks.”
“Cause they ain’t got the money.”
She looked out over the fields, fallow for the season. Stubbles
of dead cotton stalks wore the colors of winter looking like yesterday’s
beard: brown, sienna, beige. Her nose stung a bit from the
air redolent of pine wood-fired chimneys, the unique turpentineladen
smoke wafting above the trees spreading out in a thin line
like stratus clouds. All rural sights and smells strange to her.
A chill ran her spine; it was a cold day. In the distance, she saw
the waters of the Tallapoosa River, from her briefings she knew
following its track would lead her to Tallapoosa County, the place
She leaned against the front fender and returned her gaze to the
boy pumping her gas. She caught him glancing sidelong to look at
her long red tresses blowing about her head in the strong breeze.
Behind her she heard what sounded like metal trash cans rolling
before the wind. She turned to see a battered pickup truck
sputter to a stop at the other side of the pump. The driver, a redfaced
man, the edges of his mouth stained with tobacco, stuck his
head out the window. With one eye closed, he squinted at her. He
wore overalls and a flannel undergarment as a shirt, neither had
been washed since the price tags came off. A sweat-stained, red
bandana decorated his neck.
“Well, lookie here, Otis, lookieee here, we got us a real city bitch,”
he said and launched a stream of tobacco into the dust at her feet.
Otis opened his door and stood on the running board craning
to look over the truck top at Jez. “Damn, Billy Bob, you got that
right.” He rolled his gaze over her from head to foot.
“The hussy even got on pants. Ain’t no woman round here gets
out in public looking like that.”
“Yeah, she don’t belong here,” said Billy Bob.
Jez rolled her eyes and looked away, willing herself to not react
to the duo of rednecks. The pair started around the truck when a
RED CLAY RISING • 3
pregnant black woman with a stripped rag tied around her head,
came from the store pulling a small girl by the hand. The girl, barefoot
in the cold air, was trying to eat an apple.
“Hey,” Otis shouted, “Stop right there, you Negro bitch...I saw
you steal that apple and give it to that picker ninny of yours.” He
snatched the apple and threw it in a high arc over the trees to
splash far out into a lake behind the store.
“Don’t....please,” the black woman raised her hands to try to
stop the redneck. “She ain’t had nothing to eat since day fore
The storekeep emerged from the store, he wore a white shirt
with a dirty, white apron over grey, pin-striped pants tucked into
the tops of his boots. “She come in here a begging for food.” He
scratched his sparse grey head. “Told her to get out of my store.”
Billy Bob rushed up to the black woman and shoved her down.
“I’m going to call the sheriff to lock your ass up.” The black woman
fell in the dust holding her arms above her head to fend off expected
blows. The child screamed and rushed to her mother’s side.
Jez stepped between the mother and Billy Bob blocking off the
sun rays, “Leave her alone.” She hasn’t done anything to you.”
“This city bitch’s a feisty heifer ain’t she?” He pulled a pearlhandled
knife from his pocket and snapped open the long blade.
“Come on over here you city hussy; I aim to carve up that pretty
“Yeah,” said Otis rounding the truck. “Then we going to cut off
that mop a red hair.”
“We’ll send your ass all the way back to the city where you belong.”
Billy Bob advanced on Jez with the knife glinting in the sun.
She crouched and, as he swung the blade, grabbed his wrist,
threw his body over her hip, and slammed him into the dirt. In a
split second, she had seized the knife, twisted his arm behind his
back, and held the knife at his throat.
He bellowed and struggled.
Otis advanced toward her.
“You damn bitch,” he yelled, “I’ll kick your ass.”
4 • CHARLES DARNELL
She tightened her hold on the Billy Bob’s arm twisting harder;
he squealed and squirmed trying to break the hold.
“Take one more step. I’ll cut his throat then run you down.”
She glared at him.
Otis took one look at her face and backed down, holding his
arms in front of him as if to fend off a mad dog.
“Hold on now,” he said, backing away, “I ain’t done nothing to
you. Let him go. Don’t cut him.” He stared at her through rheumy
eyes, his body poised to take flight.
The storekeep advanced a few more feet from the store. “Here
now, Missy,” he pointed at Jez. “Let Billy Bob go, he ain’t done
nothing but stop a damn thief.”
“She’s hungry,” she spoke in a guttural voice, “go in there and
get her a whole sack of apples.” She looked at the woman gathering
herself from the dust. “And, a quart of milk, a loaf of bread,
and some bacon.”
“Ain’t got no bacon, I…”
“A slab of baloney…a tin of potted meat…something to eat. And
be quick…now.” She commanded him.
“I’ll call the sheriff. He’ll put your ass in jail,” he said.
She looked back at him in a jerk. “What sheriff? What’s his
When he didn’t answer immediately, she jerked Billy Bob up
to his feet but kept the hammer lock on his arm. “His name Pell?
“No. Our sheriff’s Oscar P. Hook. Pell’s the next county over.
He’d put your ass under the jail. Hook’ll only make you leave.”
“Pell that tough?”
“You ain’t seed tough till you run up against him.”
“Tough on Negros?”
“He’s tough on justice. You break the law? He don’t care about
your color. He’ll slam justice up your ass.” he said chuckling.
She paused and looked into the distance across the lake toward
“Get this woman some groceries and something for the little girl.”
RED CLAY RISING • 5
“I ain’t going to allow you to rob me in the name of charity for
nobody much less Negroes. I…”
“I’ll pay, go get it.” She looked at the struggling redneck. “On
second thought, Billy Bob here is going to pay.”
Billy Bob yelped, “Not me. Ain’t paying for no Negro. Ain’t got
no money, no how.”
“You’ve either got money or credit,” she said, tightening her
grip. The thin blade sliced skin-deep into his neck loosing a trickle
of blood. “Awoooha, you done cut me.” He struggled to get his
wallet from his pocket and tossed it on the ground. She released
him, he fell in the dirt thrashing to get to his feet and ran behind
She pulled two dollars from his wallet and more from her
pocket for the gas and handed them to the storekeep. She tossed
Billy Bob’s wallet into the dirt.
When the storekeep returned with the groceries, she put them
in her car and helped the two blacks in with her. She drove forward.
Otis ran out from behind the truck but maintained a safe
distance. He shook his fist in the air. “That’s right, you bitch, you
better get out of here before I get mad.”
The storekeep walked a few paces toward him. “Otis, you’d be
better advised to muffle your mouth. That woman’s something else.”
He shook his head, “And another thing, if she didn’t have on
them crazy pants and washed up her face a bit, she’d be the prettiest
woman I done ever seed.”
Jez drove off slinging a cloud of red dust from her wheels. She
looked back. The men stood motionless watching her disappear
over the hill.
• • •
Down the road thirty miles or so into Tallapoosa County, she
rendezvoused with her top comrades at a local landmark called
Herren’s Crossroads. She pulled into the graveled lot of a local
store. Waiting for her were “Lucky” Redding and Vern Belcher.
They stood beside a 1929 Ford X-cab pickup hitched to a trailer
6 • CHARLES DARNELL
loaded with a large white sailboat. She admired its sails stored in
red socks laced to the beams. The truck looked too small for the
boat. At the top of the mast, popping in the wind, flew two flags,
the stars and stripes and the flag of the state of Georgia.
She parked beside the boat. The two walked to her and leaned
over into the car, admiring the hand-tooled upholstery and wood
“Damn, you got nice wheels,” said Lucky.
“And you’ve got a nice sailboat there,” she said. “Bigger than I
“I’ve sailed a lot of boats but this here one beats them all,” said
“George King doesn’t do small. He’s the top lawyer in the
southeast. Longtime family friend of my father’s.”
“We got our stuff packed aboard and ready to go,” said Lucky.
“You two will be living aboard the boat, so no one will see you
in local hotels. You’ll put in at Lake Martin and move around a lot,
so you aren’t seen often at the same place. There’re sailboats all
over the lake. It’s a huge lake.”
“Did you bring the equipment I asked for?”
“Great. Use the maps and put in at the public ramp up around
Alexander City at Wind Park on Highway 14,” she said. “It’s on
the map I sent you. We’ll meet on the boat whenever we need to
talk. Use the radio for communication.”
“Where you going?”
“To find our fine sheriff.
“What’s the game?”
“The Honey Trap...of course.” She said and clicked her tongue,
flipped her hair.
“He won’t know what hit him,” said Vern, chuckling.
She backed around and took off in the direction of Dadeville,
the loose gravel flying from her tires. She waved as her big car
screeched and fish-tailed on the black top.