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Red Tide
A Night At Frida's
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"No.  This can't be true," Jennifer Roberts thought to herself yet again.  Even in the air conditioned comfort of the Georgetown theater she sat in Jennifer was sweating.  It was a cold sweat.  Had the lights been on in the theater then someone else in the audience would have also noticed that Jennifer was also looking very pale and like she was about to be sick.  Anyone who did notice now however, might just assume the poor girl had a weak stomach and was upset from seeing what was then showing on the big screen.  It was nothing new, really.  At least not these days.  It was just another newsreel showing the latest from the front.  This one happened to be in Technicolor so it was more vivid than the usual black and whites were.  This one also happened to have a bit about the latest "Gulag" the US Army had liberated over there in Siberia.  That would definitely explain things for the images were much more graphic than usual.

With the news from Europe being pretty bleak the War Department had made it a point to showcase America's successes against the Reds in Siberia and the liberation of these prison camps that the Soviets called their "Gulags" was given a lot of news coverage.  No one had ever heard of these things before but there seemed no end to the number of camps scattered about the Siberian emptiness.  One report in the Post said that there were so many of these camps that the Soviets themselves could only keep track of them by issuing them numbers and not names.  Apparently though, the camps were easy enough for the US forces to find.  Jennifer guessed that with nothing else out there but wilderness any settlement was likely to stand out.

At first these camps weren't much to speak of.  The US Army troops that reached the first one reported just a few people were held there and Jennifer didn't think look too badly off.  The tales those people told were pretty bad but Jennifer had consoled herself that those were just tales told by convicts to make their jailers look bad.  And besides these tales were being printed in capitalist newspapers so of course they'd do everything they could to make the Soviets look bad.

But then the Army began liberating other Gulags and they also began having newsreel camera crews with them as they did so.  Some of these other camps were pretty much like the first ones in that the people there didn't look so bad.  Thin perhaps, but the Soviets had had it tough for a long while now and their first priority was survival not keeping these criminals well fed.  But then there were the other camps and the people in those didn't look well off at all.

Jennifer was too stunned to react when she saw one of those camps.  It had been a Gulag for women only.  It had some sort of factory there where they made uniforms for the soldiers fighting against the Fascists.  Well, that's what the women had been doing.  The camera footage was awful to watch.  The announcer said the same thing she'd read in the papers when this story first was carried the previous week.  She didn't believe it then but the images she saw now were just too much.  According to the announcer these women, aside from being worked to death, literally, were also raped routinely by their camp guards.  That was something Jennifer still refused to believe as the Soviets wouldn't do that to their own people even if they were all criminals in those prison camps.  Sure, some Soviet troops might have raped some German women as the Red Army advanced in the heart of the Nazi empire – but then who could blame those few for that after the horrors of Stalingrad and the Ukraine and everything else those Nazis had done.  But, rape their own people?  No, Jennifer could not believe that.  What else they did though was something she could not deny.

The public reaction to the tales told by the people in those first few camps was bad enough.  It really didn't cast the Soviets in a good light at all.  Now the Soviets apparently were making sure there was no one left in those camps to tell any tales.  The Army units liberating the camps began finding nothing but corpses there as they did so.  That women's Gulag had been one such camp to receive that treatment.  The newsreel footage was graphic in the extreme.

It was also amazing to watch.  It was taken by a combat cameraman who had one of the newer portable color film cameras.  He was right up there with the troops as they fought there way into the camp.  It was pretty rare for the War Department to authorize the release of such footage but the generals and admirals over in the Pentagon, where Jennifer also worked, had deemed this worthwhile.  The audience was stunned to see not just the bodies of dead Americans - they'd first seen that years ago with the footage back from Tarawa - but to now also see several of them actually die in the fighting.  They also saw Red Army troops fighting and dying as well.  The cameraman must have had ice water in his veins for he kept filming even as those Red Army troopers were shooting all around him and even as the American in front of him got most of his head shot off.  That cameraman kept it up though and the film was continuous as he went into the camp with the rest of the Army unit.  That's where Jennifer went numb.  There were bodies there.  Lots of bodies.  Bodies of women all laying in heaps on the ground.  Dead.  Shot dead.  And shot dead very recently.

The newsreel announcer said that the US Army unit hadn't been in the proper position to take that camp but when they began hearing machine gun fire from within the camp and hearing the screams along with it that they knew they had to do something about it.  Twenty seven Americans died in liberating that Gulag.  There had been over three hundred women in that camp.  Only forty three survived being massacred at the hands of their Soviet guards.  Most of those women were wounded and all of them who had survived did so by playing dead amongst the corpses of the other women.  Several of those survivors told the GI's that they would have been killed as well for their guards were methodically going through the piles of women they'd just shot to make sure they'd gotten all of them and when they found any woman who was still breathing they shot her again until she wasn't.  Had the GI's not burst into the camp and shot the guards when they did, then there wouldn't have been any survivors.

That combat cameraman even got some footage of some US Army soldiers crying at the inhumanity they'd just found while other GI's were so sick from it they were throwing up.  All captured on color film.  Thankfully, there was no sound to that footage, just the announcer droning on.  Jennifer stayed away from the movie theater for three weeks after that.  She missed her contact twice in doing so.

The only reason she was even in the theater now was that her contact was even more adamant that they meet and had even gone so far as to call her at her apartment.  Oh, he'd made sure to make it sound like he'd dialed the wrong number but he'd said enough for her to know it was him.  He'd used those words they'd come up with back when she started at the War Department in '42.  She'd thought it all so exciting then.  It was about the only thing which kept her at her typist's job.  Now she was cursing herself for being so stupid.  Today was it though.  She had nothing more to give John Wilcox - or whatever his actual name was.  She was through giving him any information what so ever.  She'd tell him that she was being transferred, she was actually, and that they'd instituted new security procedures at the Pentagon, they had actually, which made it harder for her to sneak out any more documents.  She really just wanted to tell him off, period.  But she knew that wouldn't be the best choice.

Watching this latest footage in the newsreel though made her doubt she could even stick around for their meeting.  The Gulag footage had already ended when this new bit came on.  It was a piece about Communist spies being arrested here in Washington, DC.  The G-men had just broken a major Commie spy network and were hauling in one Red agent after another.  Since the word of this first broke last week Jennifer got sick to her stomach every time the phone rang or there was a knock on her apartment door.  Even her roommate noticed how jumpy she was and that was no small thing.  That dumb brunette didn't usually pay Jennifer any attention at all.  Jennifer's hair could be on fire and she'd only notice if the smoke got in her eyes.  So for her to ask Jennifer why she was so damn jumpy all of a sudden meant she was jumpy indeed.  At work it was worse.  There were always these MP's running around and all sorts of men coming into her department that looked just like the G-men she saw in the newsreels.  For days now she expected any one of them to walk right up to her desk and tell her she was under arrest.

Jennifer was a long, long way from the Pennsylvania coal mines where her family lived and worked.  She'd thought she'd seen it all.  Or at least seen enough of things to know who the enemy was.  Even with the images of those Gulags pounding in her mind every time she closed her eyes she still knew who the truly evil ones were, namely, those rich bastards who owned the mines, and owned the factories, and the shipyards, and the banks and anything else in which they could sit back and squeeze the workers until they popped.  She'd seen that enough firsthand.  She'd had her eyes opened early on and had them opened hard when her dad and her older brother joined the rest of the miners when they went on strike.  Up until then Jennifer never really knew what hate was.  She did after that.  Those rich bastards who owned the mines decided it was cheaper to bring in their strike breaking goons than it was to even listen to what the miners rightfully asked.  The results were worse than bad.  Those thugs busted up the Union rally outside the mine entrance and then they came back.  It wasn't enough for them to have chased away the miners - these goons wanted more.  So they began beating on the strikers they'd already knocked down.  There was no point to this aside from just being evil.  Jennifer and her mom could only watch from down the street as they saw those thugs methodically work over one man after the next.  That's when Jennifer lost her dad.  Whether those bastards had killed him at the start of it, when one them hit him in the head with that baseball bat, or when they went back to work him over later it didn't make much difference for he wound up just as dead.  That's also when Jennifer's older brother got himself crippled.  He ran off to dad before her momma could stop him.  He had a lot spirit Jessie did, he even managed to bowl over one of those thugs.  Jennifer guessed the only thing that save his life was he was just a kid.  Still though, when those thugs were done there wasn't a whole lot left to his jaw and his left arm was all bent up like a rope of licorice her dad used to give her on Sundays after church. 

From that day on Jennifer knew what hate was.  That hate burned in her every time she saw that rich pig who owned that mine as he went by in his big Packard.  She watched as he rode from his big fancy office at the mine straight to the big fancy office of his pals at the bank.  She'd wanted to wait outside that bank and throw herself at him and do to him what he and his thugs had done to her dad and her brother.  But she was too young then, too little and just a girl.  Still though she wanted to do what she could.  So, she started hanging out down at the Union Hall.  It took the men there a while to get used to her and to figure out something for her to do.  Eventually one of them gave her some pamphlets to read.  He'd probably done that just to get her out of their hair.  Soon though, she was devouring anything they had to read.  Eventually she became pretty good at spouting it back and they'd put her to work helping out with the local's newsletter.  She was in her teens by then and was a regular at the Union meetings.  The rest of the miners there treated her like their mascot so she was perfectly safe no matter what her mom worried.  But then, these were Union men and Jennifer knew such men could always be trusted to do what was right.

It was at one of those meetings that she caught the eye of a union organizer, Larry Philips, who also was a member of the CPUSA (Communist Party of the United States of America) although he didn't talk much about that at the general meetings.  He saw that Jennifer was already too far along to have found the Young Communist League to be of much use but still too young to have a CPUSA membership - this was a happenstance which later served her quite well in applying for that War Department job.  Mr. Philips saw to it that Jennifer became well supplied not only with the rest of the Union's pamphlets and other writings but also that she began receiving the more advanced essays and works that the CPUSA put out.  In short order Jennifer saw just how dark and evil the world actually was and she realized that her hatred of the mine owners and the bankers wasn't misplaced but too narrowly focused.

The end of the 1930's was a turbulent time for Jennifer.  She'd felt frustrated at not being able to do anything to help the Republicans in Spain.  She was still too young, she was still just a girl, and she was also too damn poor.  Then that whole "Non-Aggression Pact" with the Fascists threw her for a real loop.  Jennifer really began to question herself and her commitments at that time.  She was also finishing high school by then and was wondering what she would do with herself.  The war changed all that.  At first she got a job helping out in the Accounting department at mine.  That's where she really learned her office skills and learned how to really type and not just hunt and peck like back at the Union Hall.  Her hatred for the mining company still burned deep even as she worked in its offices.  So she was only too happy to help when Larry reappeared and asked her to help the Union out by providing them with certain information from the company's books.  Mostly this was profit rates and forecasts and other such financial stuff that Jennifer hadn't ever heard of.  She made her copies dutifully though and Larry always seemed satisfied when she gave him the reports.  When he began talking to her about moving on and getting a job where she could really help out though, well, Jennifer was more than ready.  Not only would she be earning more, a lot more he told her, but she'd truly be helping the cause by providing information not just about one little Podunk mining outfit but about the heart of the Capitalist Beast itself.  This was pretty heady stuff for a girl from the coal mines of Pennsylvania to hear.  She was still pretty amazed she'd actually gotten hired into that War Department office.  How they'd managed that she didn't know but her being there just proved how strong and efficient they were.  She dedicated herself to her tasks. 

It was a strange day when Larry introduced her to the man who would be her "contact" in Washington.  His name was John Wilcox and he was the one who explained to her how necessary it was that they keep things secret.  He'd explained everything she needed to know to do her job for the cause.  "Dead Drops," secret code words, how to signal each other secretly, and all that other stuff were all part of the things he told her.  It was a lot to take in but Jennifer knew in her heart that she was doing the right thing.  The more she saw of the goings on at the Pentagon the more certain she was of this.

Her job in one of the typist pools was a good one to see a lot of information pass through.  She couldn't make much sense of it at first and really didn't understand why reporting on the number of helmets being shipped to Fairbanks or the number of tires a division in Sicily used each month would be of importance but she made sure to pass it all along as requested.  Throughout the war Jennifer burned inside with every passing day that the Soviets bore the burden alone.  Of course this was all planned by those fat cats on Wall Street and in Congress.  If it were left to them they'd let the Fascists kill off every good Communist on the planet. 

Jennifer was certain the much professed alliance was just sham and that all those shipments of supplies to the Soviet Union were nowhere near what the Allies were capable of sending on.  Mr. Wilcox told her to be careful though.  Voicing such opinions, no matter how correct, might get her noticed by the wrong people at the Pentagon and that would cost her that job and then she wouldn't be able to help in the fight any longer.  So she simply burned in silence when the newsreels gave such short shrift to the real fighting going on in Russia while fawning over what America was doing in China or Africa or Italy.  That they weren't striking at the heart of the Fascist beast was what the real story was.  Jennifer knew the Allies were just holding back and letting the Russians take the brunt of the job so that they could step in later, when the Soviets were at their weakest, and then make their demands of the Russian people.

So it was no surprise when the Allies started warring against the Soviets.  Jennifer knew that was how it actually was no matter what the newspapers said.  There was no way the Soviets would have actually started this new fighting.  There was no way they would have been the ones to have attacked the American troops who had just so recently done their part in crushing the Fascist monster.  There was no way this could be true.

Things began to change though that first time she met with Mr. Wilcox in the theater after the fighting had started.  Jennifer was very confused at that moment.  The newspapers were full of horrible news about the losses the Allies were enduring in Europe.  Everyone was talking about how the Soviets were actually worse than the Japs for having made such a sneak attack.  As bad as the Japs were they at least weren't our allies before they stabbed us in the back.  That day in the theater the first of the newsreels about the Soviet attack began showing.  It was pretty grim stuff.  Mr. Wilcox had a helluva time getting Jennifer to pay attention to him and not what was being shown on the screen.  It got so bad that he had her go with him outside of the theater to get some pop at the soda stand down the block.  Mr. Wilcox never did that for he'd told her from the outset that the two of them should never even acknowledge each other if they crossed paths in public.

What he told her then really rocked her world.  Mr. Wilcox didn't deny that the Soviets had been the ones who made the first move - but it was only to prevent the Allies from making their attack.  An attack they'd been planning all along.  That the Soviets were knocking the Allies aside so easily just proved how corrupt and evil the Allied generals were and showed how little they cared for what were their "workers" - the common troops.  He told her that the Red Army was pained at having to do this but that it was necessary to keep Russia secure and to keep any hope for the Revolution succeeding.  If Russia didn't survive then the Revolution would die with it - and the capitalist pigs would have won.  Men like the mine owner who killed her father and crippled her brother.  Did Jennifer really want that?  Jennifer didn't know what to think.  She was too numb from it all.

The week that followed at work was even worse.  The big brass at the Pentagon made a point of getting everyone together so they could lecture them on what was going on over in Europe.  Jennifer had heard such speechifying before so she could pretty much tune it out.  When they then began posting the daily casualty lists again though, well, that really got to her.  Especially when a couple of girls in the typing pool found the names of their husbands on those lists.  Sure, there'd been such deaths to deal with before but those were at the hands of the Fascists or the Japs.  Now these were Americans who were being killed by Red Army troops.  Troops of the Soviet Union.  The country where she knew her information eventually wound up.  That was a long week for Jennifer.  She still went through the motions but they became increasingly difficult.  It didn't help that Mr. Wilcox began demanding more reports from Jennifer.  The Soviet Union was now in peril he told her and they needed all the information about the capitalist armies as they could get.  But what Mr. Wilcox wanted was just too much.  Especially now.

At last the newsreel was finally over.  Jennifer had been so wrapped up in her own turmoil that at first she didn't notice the man who sat down in her row one seat over from her.  So it was with something of a start that she finally did see that he was there.  And upon recognizing Mr. Wilcox's familiar face she became even more depressed.  She'd hoped he'd never appear again, that maybe the earth had simply opened and swallowed him up.  No such luck.

She looked over at him and saw he had his big box of popcorn, as usual, and she could also see him scowling back at her because she had nothing in her lap.  That was how they made the drops in this theater.  She'd put whatever documents she had into her box of popcorn and set it down on the empty seat in between them.  Then Mr. Wilcox would casually set down his popcorn box next hers but wind up leaving it there as he picked up hers instead.  Now he was left holding the bag alone.  Well, holding the box actually, and he wasn't happy about that.

He sat there, brooding, and when there was a moment of darkness up on the screen he quickly shifted over so he was sitting right next to Jennifer.  She stiffened at that and seemed to recoil from him.  He leaned over, as casually as he could, and quietly hissed at her "What's with you?  Why don't you have your drop?  Do you have any idea how much risk I took in getting here?  Why haven't you made your other drops?  What's with you?"

That was it.  Jennifer had had enough.  She couldn't take this anymore.  And she certainly wasn't going to take it from some bastard who was only concerned with the risks he was taking.  So, she immediately got up from here seat, squeezed past him and walked on up the aisle toward the exit.  Unfortunately, Wilcox turned up right on her heels.  Before she could give him the brush off he'd grabbed hold of her hand and pulled her to him like he was her girl.  Then he marched her out of the theater.  As he did so he was speaking in nice comforting tones like she was his girl and was just upset with some lover's quarrel.  Once they were safely out of earshot of anyone in the lobby and then out onto the street he steered her into the alley by the theater.

"Look goddammit!  Pull yourself together!  Do you think this was some kind of game you were playing?  This is war.  Men are dying.  We need your help Jennifer.  You're in too deep to back out now.”  At this, Jennifer began to quietly sob.  She was in too deep.  She was lost and she knew it.  She stopped listening to what Wilcox was saying for it just didn't matter any more.

It didn't take him very long to realize this either.  He knew he was talking to stone.  Stone that was bleeding but stone none the less.  This was another one of his operatives who failed him.  Things were going from bad to worse here in DC and today was bad enough.  He was debating his next move when the light hit him square in the face.  It was from a police car's spotlight.  At first John Wilcox had some hope that it was just a dumb beat cop wanting to be sure the young lady wasn't being bothered.  That hope died the moment the man behind the spotlight began talking.

"FBI!  Don't move.  You're under arrest."

Wilcox quickly looked down at the other end of the alley just as two more cops stepped out into it.  One had his service revolver drawn and the other casually racked his shotgun.  They had him boxed in and he was screwed.  There was no way he could get to the .22 in its back holster before he'd be plugged from both sides and even if he did, what could he do with it?  That little gun was fine for "breaking contact" as his instructors had put it but they'd told him that was only useful if you'd some place to run away.  And that was something he didn't have at all.  John Wilcox let go of Jennifer and slowly raised his hands.

Jennifer, if anything, was relieved by the G-men finally showing up.  At least she no longer had to fear getting caught.  Later, as she was sitting in the back of one of the Fed's sedans, she wondered if she too would wind up in a newsreel.  Wouldn't that be ironic she thought to herself.  Wouldn't that be ironic.

# # #

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This page was last updated on: 31 March 2004