Saturday, 8 November 2008

Chapter 1 : The Nest of the White Crane

Chapter 1
The Nest of the White Crane

“The Unsunned Heaps of Miser’s Treasure.”
(John Milton : Camus : 398)

“X rarely marks the spot.”

In those bygone days of 1976, before the genesis of such great technological achievements as fax machines, cellular telephones ( with their odious text messaging abilities ); and the ubiquitous, and invasive, computer - generated E - mail, there existed the precursor to these innovative advancements in global communications : the telegram. The Blessed Messenger of the Printed Word.
This particular transmission had arrived at my Penang hotel two days previously, while I’d been away on a week-end scuba diving safari along the Malaysian coast. Its point of origin : the Philippines, from O’Brien.
I stuffed the single sheet transmission into my shirt pocket, completed the checking-in formalities at the reception desk ; then, directing the clerk to have my luggage sent up to my room, headed for the hotel’s beach-front bar and a cold beer.

Gazing out across the Malacca Straits towards the Andamans Sea and the setting sun, I upended the frosted Tiger beer can and ordered one more of the same vintage. Being of similar ilk to the rest of humanity, I abhor being disturbed while on vacation, especially when the root essence of such disturbances bears a putrefying scent of “Return to work .”
However, the telegram was from O’Brien, and he rarely transgressed the unwritten rule without sound reasons. Plus the fact that he too was also on vacation. I drew on the fresh beer and spread the telegram open.
Dated three days previously, it was from the Otani Hotel in Manila : O’Brien’s usual stable of residence in the city.


The Otani’s telephone numbers were duly printed below the message . I shook my head, skulled down the remaining dregs of beer, and reordered. What the hell had the silly old bugger got himself involved in now? He normally spent vacations in the Philippines when he needed to find a new wife. After the previous edition had grown tired of his absences or extra-marital meandering, and absconded : usually with the family silver.

I re-read the short message. O”B and I were both engineers, specialising in underground excavations; with many of our past projects together involving tunnels or vertical shafts. I didn’t like the sound of the opening statement, as I was counting on another month of vacation time. The second sentence was ominous as the Marcos’ government had declared a state of martial law four years earlier, which was still imposed over the whole archipelago. Nobody wanted to do business with the dictator’s regime, mainly due the fact they rarely got paid for services rendered or goods delivered.


That was the stickler. In my own experience, once a tunnel was constructed it usually stayed put and didn’t wander too far. Nor, to my knowledge, had anyone in recorded memory ever lost one. Tunnels weren’t the types of things one misplaced or lost. Tunnels occasionally collapsed, due a variety of geological and engineering reasons, but never went on walk-about , got misplaced, stolen, or simply lost. How had the Marcos’ government “lost” a complex of tunnels? I re-pocketed the telex and, with feet propped on an adjacent chair, swigged at the fresh beer as the tropical sun set over a darkening sea. Tomorrow morning would be a suitable opportunity
to call O’Brien and clarify the details of his deal.

My call to the Otani in Manila the following morning went through on the first attempt. The hotel switchboard operator connected me to O’Brien’s room.
“Yo!” was the immediate answer, in classic American drawl.
“O’Brien, you old twat, what’s so important you have to disturb my bloody vacation?” I reproached him in jest.
“So, you got the telegram, eh. How soon can you be in Manila? Need you here, feller, to help put this deal together,” he replied.
“Not so fast, buddy. Better you give me a few details about the project first. Clarify a couple of grey areas for me before I commit to anything,” was my answer.
So, for the next half hour, clarify he did. All very hush-hush. Top secret. ‘Don’t tell more than a dozen’ type of situation. Obviously telegramming me in Penang and talking about the project over an open international trunk line didn’t transgress the ‘very hush-hush’ factor.

Apparently a branch of the Philippine military, under Marcos’ patronage, were searching for vast hordes of treasure, plundered from across Asia, and hidden in the Philippines by the Japanese army during World War II. Many different sites, all buried underground in tunnel systems and chambers; but the military couldn’t find the tunnels. They had possession of supposedly-genuine Japanese army maps of the areas where the burial sites were located, and drawings showing the location and structure of the tunnels also, but still the actual tunnels eluded them. Lots of digging, little achieved in the way of positive results.

O’Brien further related he had personal, civilian, Filipino friends working with the military on these projects; people he had known for donkeys years and had worked alongside in the past, and trusted implicitly. He wanted me in Manila alongside him to iron out the finer points of contractual agreements, including a positive method of guaranteed payment for our consultancy services; and to design an exploration system to locate the “missing” tunnels.
His closing statement that morning was one of “ Let’s give it our best shot, if they won’t come up with the money or the services and equipment we need, then we walk away from it. Amen.”
I told him to reserve me a room at the Otani for two days hence.

Via boats, planes and automobiles, I arrived at my apartment in Singapore late that same evening. The next day was taken up with banking, letters to attorneys, booking an air flight to Manila, and packing the required personal equipment I had at hand for the proposed project.

Landing at Manila International Airport was no joy back in those days, even when a traveller confined himself to carry-on luggage to eradicate the interminable delays at the baggage retrieval carousels. But after jostling with numerous touts, pimps, pick-pockets and general mendicants around the airport arrivals area, and suborning a pseudo-taxi driver to transport me uptown in his dilapidated vehicle, I eventually arrived at the Otani Hotel as the late afternoon sun was beginning its descent into the adjacent Manila Bay.

After registering at the reception desk and securing an upper -floors room overlooking the bay, I showered then called O’Brien’s room. Typical, no answer, he was out. I called the hotel reception desk and inquired after Mr. O’Brien’s whereabouts. These were unknown. Any message from Mr. O’Brien for myself? Yes, message at the reception desk.

Riding down the ground floor in an elevator that wouldn’t have past muster or inspection in a 19th Century coal mine, I retrieved the message from O’B. No point in enquiring why it wasn’t presented to me a half-hour before, when I checked into the hotel, the answer would have been “Well, you never asked for it.” Removing the staple from the folded note, I read the message.
“Will be at the Army and Navy Club. You know where. Join me. 15:30 hours.”

It was then 18:00 hours by my watch, so I sauntered out of the hotel, and performed the obligatory madcap athletic stunt of traversing the dual-carriageway of Roxas Boulevard during rush hour without the aid of pedestrian crossings; and avoid being run down by speeding vehicles.
A couple of minutes walk brought me to the dingy and fading opulence of the once-exclusive Army and Navy Club.
I ordered a beer at the bar and, savouring the cold drink, cast my eyes around the club’s terraced gardens overlooking Manila Bay. O’Brien was seated at one of the outside tables with three Filipino companions. I leaned against the bar to observe for a brief moment. Lots of animated discussion by all parties. Gesticulations of the upper limbs, nodding and shakings of heads all around. Past experience led me to speculate that O’Brien was obviously in the midst of protracted negotiations concerning the proposed project.

I wandered out to the terrace to join the seated debating society. O’B was on his feet and shaking my hand as though he hadn’t seen me in years. The other three parties stood, and formal introductions were made. I pulled up a chair as O’B summoned a waiter to order fresh drinks. Luckily, none of the party were into heavy liquor as of that time : cold beers only. Hopefully common sense and discretion might prevail, and no in-depth discussion of the project take place in the public arena of a popular watering hole.
O’Brien related their topic of discussion prior to my arrival was the spectacular sunset of Manila Bay, which was currently taking place and casting the dark waters, and backdrop of the mountainous Bataan Peninsula, afire with the deep glow of a blast furnace. Was this diurnal manifestation a blessing of Heaven, or effects of the city’s polluting smog drifting across the bay? Good questions, probably a touch of both, complementing each other.

Our conversation turned to informal banter and soon it was past seven. Time to say ‘adios’, announced the squat, pudgy spokesman for the three parties. Dinner and families awaiting their presence. Meet again the next morning, O’Brien had all the details.
With the departure of our companions, I cast a questioning eye at O’B, and we made a tactical shift to the deserted far corner of the club’s terrace.

O’Brien commenced his monologue. Norman, the older party, with wire-framed spectacles, was a geodetic engineer. Had his own mineral exploration drilling company. An Illocano, a high school class-mate and personal friend of Marcos. Family were big land owners in Illocos Norte. Close ties with the political scene, with big business, and the military too. Lots of experience with mining. Good guy, trustworthy, well-versed in Western mining techniques and underground engineering methodology. O’B had worked on several projects with Norman years previously, in the Philippines and overseas. His younger brother was a colonel with the National Intelligence and Security Administration ( NISA ) : President Marcos’ personal Gestapo squad. This closing revelation did nothing to contribute to my peace of mind regarding the project.

Ernie, of the horn-rimmed spectacles, a first-rate geologist with vast experience in tunnelling operations for the Philippine underground mining industry. He and Norman were old pals, and fellow travellers in the study and exploration of Philippine geology. Both were mature guys and O’B seemed confident regarding their active participation in the project . We definitely would require experienced geologists and surveyors in any case.
So, I inquired, what was the provenance of the third party; the short dumpy Orly ? He was no mining engineer, not by the look of his precise manicure and general demeanour. Outwardly pleasant enough, but something inherently devious about Orly, I reflected, as I’d recounted my fingers after shaking hands with him. Oh, they were all present and correct, none missing; but it was that type of handshake, alike grasping a dead catfish or a partly-frozen pit adder. One couldn’t be too careful.

Colonel Orlando Dulay, of the Presidential Security Battalion, O’Brien disclosed, and probably worked for NISA too. He was our liaison with the Powers That Be, and the man we had to deal with. His immediate superior was General Fabian Ver, Marcos’ right-hand man and de facto head of all military and security forces. He answered only to Marcos himself.
I shook my head. From Day One there appeared to be more secret policemen involved in the project than engineers. The ominous dark thunderclouds building up over the South China Sea were manifesting themselves in my mind also. What are we doing here, and getting ourselves involved with, I questioned O’Brien? He invoked his customary adage concerning expatriates working in Asia. The Three M’s Philosophy : Mercenaries, Missionaries, and Misfits. I didn’t ask him to define which heading we fell under.

O’B related we had a meeting with the same group for breakfast at our hotel the following morning : 07:00 hours. After which we would convene in the privacy of O’B’s suite and get down to the nitty-gritty discussions of the project. What Dulay’s group required, and what we required.
After downing a couple of further orders of cold San Miguel beer apiece while discussing various aspects of the project, we decided to move out of the insipid mausoleum atmosphere of the Army and Navy Club and migrate to the warmth and neon ambience of the adjacent Ermita area, with its plethora of honky-tonk bars. Walking to the cash register O’B asked to settle our bill. No bill, all taken care of, was the bartender’s reply. Guests of Colonel Dulay. As we exited the club O’B informed me our hotel bills were being picked up by Dulay also. I hoped Dulay’s group would be as receptive and openly generous with our project requirements, for no part of it was going to come cheap.

We walked a short distance south along the boulevard, the traffic now slight, and crossed over into Plaza Ferguson, and through to the famous M.H. del Pilar, hosting more male chauvinist-orientated bars than one could shake a proverbial stick at. Entering one of our old favourite watering holes, we retired to a quiet corner booth and discussed our game plan for the next morning’s meeting. Once strategy and tactics were mutually agreed upon, O’Brien further endowed me with the facts he had garnered from Norman regarding the military group’s treasure-hunting activities.

Apparently they had scored some successes, but no major recoveries. The biggest recovery to date had been thirty tons of gold bullion . Two furthers sites had rendered just over twenty tons each. Several other sites had seen only a few tons of bullion recovered from each, plus an assortment of museum-piece bibelots.
The sites they wanted us to concentrate on were supposedly the main hoards, buried in mountainous locations around north Luzon. They had maps of the sites, but the tunnel portals couldn’t be unearthed. A shadowy, covert group of Japanese had been advising, and ostensibly interpreted the maps, and indicated the general locations of the sites, but were unable to pinpoint the whereabouts of the tunnel entrances.
Norman had related to O’B of being present at one of these excursions and considered the Japanese not to be engineers nor the ones who had actually buried the treasure, nor able to decipher some enigmatic attachments to the maps.
Further, Dulay had informed Norman that some of the sites were booby-trapped with explosives, and the back-filled tunnels and shafts with sand and rock fall traps. I looked at O’Brien and shook my head yet again. If the project wasn’t going to be complicated enough with adverse engineering factors alone, dealing with thirty-plus year old unmaintained tunnels; we had the Philippine Gestapo funding and overseeing the operation, and now yet another delightful problem to contend with.

I was ready to head back to Penang and my diving vacation. O’Brien ordered more beer and consoled me with one of his favourite ‘No problems, old son, we can crack it’ statements. He was correct, even at that juncture. We normally did. Given time and money, we could ‘crack’ anything. No problems : only solutions. Sometimes equalled, but never beaten. Nothing was ever a failure, until you walked away from it. Those were our joint working philosophies.

O’B continued with his account of the group’s activities. Norman had been brought in by President Marcos to advise on location and recovery methodology . He had inspected several sites and the relevant maps, and observed the unsuccessful random and haphazard excavation procedures employed by the military to locate the tunnels. Unimpressed, he had informed the elite group’s hierarchy of their shortcomings, and what was required to pinpoint the tunnel complexes. Shaft and tunnel specialists, working in conjunction with expert geologists and geodetic surveyors.
He had recently presented them with a breakdown of what he primarily considered was required per average site, in the form of location schedule through outright mass excavations. Costs and duration. Equipment and manpower. Messing and logistics support.
General Ver didn’t like the report, it was going to cost money. His military could do it cheaper. Obviously the military ‘could’ do it cheaper, but weren’t attaining the expected, or required rate, of success.
However, Norman’s report and proposal were forwarded on up to the top echelon of power, from where the command to establish a truly professional and trusted opinion regarding the real reasons for the non-detection of the main treasure sites had originated. Norman had been duly summoned to Malacanang Palace, the seat of the Presidency. In a protracted meeting with Marcos, plus General Ver, Colonel Dulay, and Norman’s NISA -colonel sibling in attendance, the revised rules of the game were expounded by the head of state. This was not a man to argue with, or contradict, once his mind was set on a course of action. Unbeknown to the others present, for Marcos the hands of an unseen clock were turning. His long-established, resolute agenda was not running to schedule.

General Ver would still be in overall command of the recovery projects, but each treasure site project chief would report to Marcos personally on the status of their operations. Norman’s proposal would be adopted and expedited forthwith. General Ver, ever the loyal and obedient retainer, had no choice but to comply with his Master’s stern edict. The man who had made him could break him with cruel ease and ruthless efficiency. In Marcos’ omnipotent presence, Ver was virtually emasculated.

Colonel Dulay was that day tasked by Marcos to liaise with Norman’s project team and report directly back to personal Presidential scrutiny.
Norman was directed to report to Marcos on any issues he considered were being ignored or not expedited by Dulay. The charade of pseudo, half-hearted, amateur treasure hunting had gone on long enough. Now everyone clearly understood his position in the pecking order of command and performance responsibilities. A necessary system of Montesquieu checks and balances was being imposed. Marcos’ word was the law.

Later that day Norman had burned up the international telephone lines, tracked down O’Brien, at home in the States, and put the proposition to him. O’B cut his vacation short and flew to Manila a couple of days later : four days prior to my arrival.
I swigged at the beer and checked my watch. Time for one more, we agreed, then back to the hotel for a night-cap. We had a meeting with the principals arranged for breakfast the following morning, and several weeks of hectic field activity to follow, if all proceeded as we had planned.

I rose and showered at six the next morning. Sitting at the hotel suite desk, with a view of the early morning calm of Manila Bay through the opened windows, I drank coffee and compiled notes in my weather-proof field book. Issues to be discussed and ratified at our scheduled meeting. I picked up the phone and dialled O’Brien’s room. The normal answer : “Yo?” Yes, he was out of bed. No, he didn’t have a hang-over, or not much of one, anyway. No, he didn’t need a doctor. Yes, he’d be downstairs in the coffee shop by seven a.m. , and could I kindly desist from annoying him with further sarcasm. Actually, I seem to recall he told me to “f...k off”.
Good as his word, O’Brien graced the coffee shop by 07:00 and joined me at my table. We ordered coffee only, until our expected companions arrived.

The inherent Filipino concept of punctuality manifested itself only slightly, and we had a full table of five by 07:30 hours.
Appetites satisfied, we adjourned to O’Brien’s hotel suite, and in an informal, friendly atmosphere, brewed coffee at the built-in kitchenette alcove. Retiring to the suite’s sitting room, where we could stretch out and distract ourselves by glancing out over the bay, and the comings and goings of the ships vying for dock space in the busy port, we attended to the project in hand.

Norman and Dulay commenced, first stressing strict compliance with the confidentiality requirements regarding the matter in hand, then giving me a generalised verbal presentation on the history behind the project, their current situation and the overall project goals. Most of this had been related to me by O’B the previous evening, but I paid respectful and compliant attention to their dialogue. Ernie was new to the project also, and had little to say at this stage; O’B had heard it all two days previously, from the same parties.

When both were finished with their delivery, O’B and I fired questions at them for a good forty-five minutes. I primarily doubted the provenance of the amounts of gold involved. Thousands of tons of 99:9% purity gold bullion ingots stashed in scores of burial sites around Luzon, totalling over two hundred throughout the archipelago. It was all there Dulay assured me, buried in tunnels and pits by the Japanese Imperial Army during their occupation of the Philippines during World War II. Looted from China and the Asian countries during their conquering drive southwards. By General Yamashita. I knew very little of Yamashita in those years, so took the latter statement at face value.

As to details regarding the project’s physics and mechanics, which we required clarification on, Norman was the main source of answers in this regard; to the best of his abilities and experience of the project to date. Again, I was playing the sceptic, but with sound reasons.
Untold scores of tunnel complexes, driven into the fracturous underground geology of the Philippines, took considerable time and effort, using the drill and blast methods of that period , especially if the tunnels required support bracing and lining. If the Japanese had only maintained a military presence in the Philippines from the end of 1941 to mid-1945, how did they manage to excavate hundreds of tunnels to store this hoard of treasure.
Dulay maintained the Japanese military had fully-complement engineering regiments specifically assigned to the projects, with the actual burial sites pre-determined, and ground studies carried out by fifth columnist surveyors and geologists in the years preceding the Japanese invasion.

I asked Norman his opinion. He, likewise, was initially sceptical of hundreds of tunnel systems being driven and excavated in that time frame, but countered that we hadn’t yet established if they had driven the tunnels in from a double heading , or via extra construction adits. Ernie and O’Brien wholeheartedly agreed with this statement. Even Dulay, basking in the bliss of engineering ignorance, thought it a sound observation. Christ, I thought, they had gold fever already. However, Norman continued, if the tunnels were constructed by single-heading methods, without construction adits, then it was doubtful they could have achieved what was being purported in the time they held control of the Philippines.

I asked Norman if he had examined the maps. Some of them, he informed me. Do the maps show a single or double portal, or evidence of construction adits, or ventilation or access shafts? No, they all showed a single access portal. On some of the maps he had examined, ventilation or access shafts were indicated. Were the tunnel diameters and lengths indicated on the maps? Were they lined or unlined? What bracing or support systems had the Japanese used? No clear or definite answers provided by the maps.

I further questioned him as to the contacts he had with the Japanese contingent he had met at one site. What did they have to offer in ways of alternate access to the tunnels if they couldn’t pinpoint the original entrance portal, or it had collapsed? Nothing, was the reply; they weren’t engineers.

It seemed obvious that the Japanese either didn’t know, or weren’t telling; if they could only distinguish one point of entry from their interpretation of the maps.
I informed Dulay we needed to inspect the primary site they wished us to locate and retrieve, and perhaps other sites also, to get a feel for the terrain and geology, and how the Japanese engineers had worked. We also required several copies of the map and engineering drawings relevant to the primary site. O’B and I further requested access to the complete collection of maps and engineering drawings in their possession, so our group could gain comparative knowledge from studying their inherent singular detailing. Talk about an allergic reaction, Dulay almost succumbed to apoplexy. Paranoia personified. This was out of his decision-making arena. Superiors to be consulted, etc.
We explained to him in very plain and simple language that the more information we gained, the easier and more certain would be our chances of initial success, and future successes with other site locations. Dulay looked worried, until Norman informed him he would personally consult
“Andy” ( Marcos ) with the proposal.

But Dulay wasn’t off the hook just yet . My next request caused a similar reaction. I asked that our group have access to the tunnels the military group had already located and retrieved. Again, he replied it wasn’t possible. Then thought for a brief moment, and asked why I wished to have access to these tunnels. I duly informed him of the knowledge we could glean from inspecting and examining their construction methodology.
Norman stated he didn’t know the whereabouts or details of the located tunnels, but would take the matter up with Marcos later. Dulay definitely didn’t look at all happy now. Things were getting out of hand, out of his control. He tried to assure Norman, and all present, that he would take up the matter with General Ver later. Norman was obviously his own man, and shook off the suggestion as an utter waste of time. Ver would procrastinate forever more. Andy was the man to talk to, he would make the decision. Yes, or no : there and then. No double-talk or delays. A simple yea, or nay, on the matter.
Dulay half-heartedly acquiesced to Norman’s decision, further stating that all these undue requests were going to draw trouble for him from Ver’s quarter, and perhaps from Marcos too. Our liaison officer was turning out to be a wimp in the face of authority, he was obviously terrified of General Ver.

Regardless of Dulay’s personal problems with Ver, it was essential we inspected the maps and engineering drawings; and, if remotely possible, gained access to the discovered tunnels. The latter could provide a wealth of information on the tunnelling techniques employed by the Japanese, and save us time and money during our operations.
Dulay still appeared disturbed, so we broke off our discussions for coffee.
We needed Dulay on our team, in mind and spirit, and not split between two shores. O’B and I gently emphasised the importance of inspecting the maps and drawings, and the discovered tunnels. How it would contribute to our overall success with the project. How good he would look in his superior’s eyes with a prompt location and recovery at our first site. Succeed where others had failed. Be the first to bring in the purported motherlode.

Obviously our patronisation worked as he visibly cheered up and stated he’d accompany Norman to broach the subjects with Marcos. Things were moving along nicely.
Our discussions continued through the morning, and we broke for lunch, utilising the hotel’s restaurant to eat. There, the conversation drifted off on tangents, with Norman and I discussing what equipment his own mineral exploration company had at hand, and what I considered we would require.
Specifics would have to wait until we had inspected our first site. Basically, Norman had access to the majority of equipment we could confidently forecast as required. He also had experienced manpower, if the tunnels had to be re-excavated; and could obtain explosives and permits if we needed to blast our way in. The present state of any of the tunnels was a very grey area at this stage. Thirty-plus years since their construction, and devoid of maintenance and repairs.
Were they originally lined or braced, or left as bare rock? How had they survived over three decades of the frequent earthquakes the Philippines experienced, or weathered due natural ground water seepage? How much accumulated overburden now covered them?

I casually observed to Norman that we would be a great deal smarter after studying the engineering drawings for the tunnel of the primary site. Then he dropped a bombshell : there were no engineering drawings for the first site. Nor had he seen any drawings for any of the sites. Maps, yes, but actual engineering drawings, no. Once more, before the project actually got underway, I shook my head in dismay. This was going to more of a game of blind man’s bluff than scientific engineering.
Yes, Norman agreed with me, under normal circumstances all underground excavations were accompanied by the requisite engineering drawings and plans: complete with all technical details, measurements, etceteras , et al. But while the Marcos group had obtained the maps to the location of the sites, no engineering drawings were provided, or included; if any, at all, ever existed. Adopting O’Brien’s philosophy, I spread my palms and said “Regardless, we shall prevail”.

After lunch we returned to O’B’s suite and our in-depth discussions. Next on O’Brien’s personal agenda was remuneration for our services. Money. Our fees. Obviously Dulay hadn’t given this matter much thought to date. Norman, as an outside contractor, and his connections to Marcos,
was setting a bead on a percentage of the recovered bullion. Ernie was employed by Norman, so his fees were assured. Dulay thought it would be a good idea if O’B and I signed up for the same deal as Norman: a percentage of the recovered treasure. O’B and I thought it would be a good idea if Colonel Dulay came up with another idea. Unfortunately, that was the best idea Dulay currently had.
So we gave him our idea, which almost caused another apoplectic stroke. U.S.$ 25,000 per site located and recovered, each; with a bonus payment of U.S.$ 10,000 per site, each, where the treasure was intact . If the site had already been plundered of its treasure by parties unknown, the initial payment was still due. Payments to be made promptly, in U. S. dollars, to an overseas bank, designated by ourselves, at the successful completion of each site. We would take a one month of vacation at the conclusion of each site. No percentages of the bullion or treasure recovered. A simple contractual fee per site accomplished. All living and accommodation expenses provided, with a monthly field fund of Pesos 20,000 available on site to facilitate local purchases and any incurred personal expenses.

Dulay was fidgeting and looking uncomfortable again, as though he was suffering from ingrowing haemorrhoids. While the first couple of points were causing him some consternation, the latter struck home as an admirable concept, as he too would be able to draw off this for his booze and whores. But the fees were too high, in his opinion. One site could take us months of work, we countered; and if unsuccessful at locating the tunnels, we were paid nothing. All a matter of speculation for accumulation, we explained. Specialist technical consultants didn’t come cheap, and were not the forecast returns of the venture highly remunerative?

Colonel Dulay has his doubts of Marcos agreeing to our proposed fees, but Norman interjected that Marcos wouldn’t pay them personally anyway, nor from government funds. He would select a patron, a sponsor; under the guise of ‘investor’ in the project. Some unlucky wealthy Chinese-Filipino businessman would be designated to fund the operation : with the promise of high returns from future government projects. This was how Marcos operated, and the business community had no choice but to comply, or suffer the consequences of his wrath.

Norman considered our proposal fair, as it was on a paid by results basis. He would facilitate it through Marcos at their scheduled meeting that evening. Dulay was once again all smiles, the worries of high finance lifted from his shoulders.

If a sponsor, or investment partner, was going to be designated, and coerced into funding the project, then O’B and I considered all Norman’s manpower salaries, equipment rentals and purchases, fuel supplies and general operating expenses should be duly invoiced to this benefactor also. Provide Norman with some financial breathing space, especially if he was relying solely on a cut of the treasure recovered to reimburse his expenditures.
We were forming ourselves into a team, and the team had to look after each other. At this juncture Norman seemed genuinely, and favourably, disposed to push through our requirements with the principal involved, so we were trying to reciprocate. Dulay agreed, as it wasn’t going to cost him anything, nor bring him into conflict with General Ver. His eyes were fixing on another possible cream-bearing cash cow, manifesting itself in the form of our unfortunate ‘sponsor’.

The remainder of our afternoon discussions were spent clarifying details of the items of equipment on the two extensive lists I had compiled and photocopied, for Norman to source and supply. One, for equipment which would definitely be required on the project : ranging from a comprehensive medical kit to trucks and four-wheeled drive vehicles. The other, for equipment that might be required; dependent on the results of our survey of the first site : so it could be sourced and its availability status calculated. Norman and Ernie both raised eyebrows at some of the listed items, not from an expense point of view, but their exotic nature. Norman handed copies to Ernie, sourcing the equipment was to be his task the following day.

We discussed at length our first planned site, in Nueva Vizcaya province, several hours drive north of Manila; in the outlands of the Palali Mountain range. The location was remote, Norman disclosed, with access to the site via abandoned logging roads. Very rough terrain. Luckily, the monsoon season was drawing to a close for the year; with the prospect of fine weather an operational bonus. We jointly agreed to provisionally plan our site inspection trip for two days hence. Norman would cater for vehicles and accommodation requirements, Dulay for the security end of things: to facilitate our unrestricted access to the site.

Closing our meeting for the day, we scheduled our next for the following morning. Breakfast, once again, 07:00 hours., at the Otani Hotel.
Norman, Ernie and Dulay listed down their contact telephone numbers, should O’B or I require them. Norman would raise our points of contention with the Supreme Leader at their meeting that evening, and hopefully have positive answers for us the following day. He would bring copies of the Nueva Vizcaya primary site Japanese treasure map for us to study also, and the Bureau of Coastal and Geodetic Survey-issued ordinance survey maps of the area; for comparison and reference.
With their departure, and the afternoon rapidly veering towards early evening, I returned to my room to shower and shave. I met O’Brien in the lobby a half-hour later and we headed out into the city. Time to drink a few cold beers and pursue our usual favourite topic of conversation : tunnels we had known and loved.

Norman and Dulay were bright and chirpy at breakfast the following morning, Dulay conspicuously so. Obviously something must have gone right at their previous evening’s meeting, or Dulay’s ingrowing haemorrhoids were causing him less grief. We ate heartily, then once again decamped to O’Brien’s hotel suite. First, coffee was brewed, then we got down to the business at hand.

Good news so far, they jointly informed us. Marcos would “assign” an investor / patron to finance the project and pay our fees. This arrangement would be finalised within the week. They had secured permission to inspect two sets of excavated tunnels, one at a military camp on the outskirts of Manila itself; the other at military camp in Tarlac province, a couple of hours drive north of Manila. Arrangements were being made to facilitate these inspections, but they would be possible in the next few days. As to the maps, we could inspect and study copies of selected samples from the total collection. The copies would remain in the custody of Colonel Dulay; no further copies, or sketches thereof, would be permitted. These would be made available to us in the coming week.

Our planned trip to Nueva Vizcaya, to inspect the primary site area, was confirmed for the next day. At this point Norman opened his document case and presented us with copies of the singular map for the Nueva Vizcaya treasure site, and the supplementing government ordinance survey maps for the area. The Japanese treasure site map copies were only some diminutive thirty-five by twenty-five centimetres in size. I questioned Norman on the size of the originals. Had he examined any of these? Yes, he related, they too were the same size as the copies. All drawn in black ink, and coated with an oily-waxy layer; probably as a preservative, he hypothesised.
Furthermore, he related, while at the palace the previous evening for their meeting, he had spoken with the parties charged with the custody of the treasure maps and they clarified the fact that no engineering drawings were attached to the maps. To their executive, privileged knowledge no such drawings existed. Dulay seemed to agree with their statement as he had been present when the military group’s engineers had worked on previous sites, and they had only copies of the maps at their disposal. No engineering drawings were available.
We quizzed Dulay on his knowledge of the sites and tunnels he had so far been involved with, and of the Japanese group who had advised on the sites. As I mentioned earlier, Dulay was no engineer, so made speculative replies, but, according to his conversations with the Japanese group, some of the tunnel complexes were driven into existing limestone formations and caverns; many large enough to drive a truck into. It was a possibility to keep in mind, the Philippines had vast areas of mountainous limestone formations of tremendous geological age.

Japanese P.O.W.’s had dug the tunnels and pits, Dulay further advised us. Scores of them employed on each site, then they were killed and buried in the workings once their labours were completed. O’Brien and I were sceptical on this point, not towards the Japanese being less than admirable employers with their prisoners; but the fact that an inexperienced labour force
couldn’t be utilised for specialised tunnelling and construction projects.

So who dug the tunnels, he countered? The Japanese, we replied. Why not, Japanese drive tunnels in Japan; from the design engineering level, to the labourers who load and cart the excavated spoil. Wasn’t he the one who had related earlier the Japanese had tasked specialised engineering regiments to the job?

While our morning meeting was taking place we received two separate telephone calls from Ernie, who was currently based in Norman’s Manila office, busy sourcing the equipment on the lists I had furnished the previous day. Each time he wished to speak to me, to clarify some point or detail regarding the listed items. During his second call he mentioned our trip to Nueva Vizcaya the next day, and the fact he was arranging our transport.
Anything he should load into the vehicles, in the way of required equipment, he inquired? Yes, a comprehensive set of survey equipment and his rock hammer, I replied; plus a couple of sharp jungle bolos ( machetes ).
Dulay picked up the phone after my call, and winking, explained he had to ring his “kabit”, ( extra-marital girlfriend ) to arrange an assignation for later that day. Quite the ladies man was our Colonel Dulay, or so he was getting into the habit of informing me, at every available opportunity.
Norman and O’Brien had meanwhile spread the Japanese map and the ordinance survey sheets out on the sitting room floor, and were busy interpolating facts and figures. I joined them in their assessments. Norman indicated several topographical factors that tied the Japanese map
to the relevant ordinance survey sheets, and we turned our attentions to the actual treasure map itself. It was composed of two projections, on the same sheet. One was a side elevation, while the other was a plan, or downward view, showing the heading of the tunnel. All script was in Japanese ideographs and Norman had a translation of each column, or block, of characters.

The Northing was easily apparent, but didn’t justify with the Northing on the ordinance survey sheets, by several degrees. The specified lat’ and long’ figures coincided with the O/S sheets though. I suggested to Norman that he source a civil engineer, preferably with tunnelling experience, who had worked either in Japan, or with the Japanese construction companies, in the Philippines or overseas; and possessed the ability to read Japanese ideograms on engineering drawings. It would be a sound addition to our group.

The cryptic factors on the map were the inclusions of a dial on each of the projections. These were marked by pointers, alike a clock’s fingers, on the inside of the dial, corresponding to a number on the outer edge of each dial.
No indications as to whether the numericals represented degrees of angle, metres, yards, Japanese cubits, or Fukienese furlongs. Nor whether they should be added to, or subtracted from, a given quantity on the map.
Norman began to explain the enigma encountered by the previous military group tasked with the excavation of the site. To look at the map, it was pretty obvious it was meant to be of the “ X marks the spot “ variety. And that was where the military group had commenced their excavations : precisely at where “X” did mark the spot, or rather where the tunnel’s portal was indicated as being located. But excavate they did, for weeks on end, and
discovered nothing.
We questioned Norman and Dulay on the Japanese group’s reaction to this factor, and the significance of the dials and numericals on the map. Norm’ explained that the Japanese had no solution, upon which the hierarchy determined their usefulness had just expired, and purged their presence from the operations. Their departing statement concerning the dials and numericals was that a code book was required to decipher their enigma, and this requisite piece of documentation they did not possess.
Norman further stated that all the maps he had studied were marked by similar inclusions of dials and numbers. I stood up and stretched my legs, and resorted to head-shaking mode once again. O’Brien looked at me, one of his “Got any good ideas” looks. “ Why don’t we give Sherlock Holmes a call, and tell Dr. Watson to bring his spade”, was my sarcastic suggestion.
Although my remark did make one idea spring to mind. I asked Norman and
Dulay if the treasure maps relevant to the sites already successfully excavated had inclusions of dials and numbers. Yes, all of them had, Dulay responded. Thus began a systematic exchange of Q. and A. to exhaust all details regarding this point.
Basically it came down to the facts that on each map “X” had marked the spot, but nothing was discovered. Excavations had continued in the general surrounding areas, and serendipity, or chance, had provided the discovery of a tunnel or pit. Treasure hunting by a system of pinning the tail on the proverbial donkey while blindfolded is far from being an exact science.
I gave O’Brien a long, hard stare and slowly clapped my hands together as my mind engaged a different gear. I turned to Norman and Dulay. We now had another request, and if granted, could perhaps solve the riddle of the dials and numericals on the maps. We needed to see the maps for the sites successfully excavated, and the corresponding ordinance survey sheet for each site, with an actual plotting of where the original excavations were commenced, and where the actual tunnels were located.
Fully surveyed angles, measurements and dimensions for each site. Norman grasped my method instantly, but Dulay appeared slightly out of sync’. I asked him if anyone had come up with this approach previously. No, he replied, but thought it might be a good idea. God bless his little heart, hopefully his mother loved him.
Norman committed himself to initiating this matter during the afternoon.
He was confident he could obtain the required map copies and the relevant, corresponding ordinance survey sheets correctly designating where the targets had been located. It would take a couple of days, at least, but it could be expedited. At that point we decided to call a draw to the meeting. Lunch time was drawing close, and both Dulay and Norman had other matters to attend to; as did O’Brien and myself.

Our trip to Nueva Vizcaya was scheduled for the crack of dawn the next morning, Norman would have his driver collect us at the hotel at 05:00 hours.
We had estimated a couple of days on the site, carrying out our preliminary surveys, and deciding whether or not the military group had left any mountainside for us to eventually excavate. All was moving forward at a satisfactory rate. Positive progress was being made.
I spent the afternoon browsing the city’s sparse bookstores, tracking down a couple of comprehensive Japanese - English dictionaries that gave a word definition of the Japanese translation in Romanization and ideogram forms.

Later, returning to our hotel, I called my attorney in Singapore; to bring him up to speed on our current whereabouts and activities. If we were working for the secret policeman’s society here, I wanted to leave nothing to chance. They might, at some future date, decide O’Brien and I knew too much concerning their treasure hunts; or that our usefulness had worn threadbare. If that eventuality transpired, and we were incarcerated in some military camp’s mouldering dungeon, then Amnesty International might prove our singular lifeline to salvation. If it came down to shallow graves and a pistol round in the back of the head, we were screwed for sure. But better
an empty gun to wave around than no gun at all. At least someone outside the Philippines knew our purpose for being there.

Norman’s driver had arrived, and was awaiting us in the hotel lobby, when O’B and I exited the mechanical nightmare posing as an elevator, at a quarter to five that morning. Leaving details of our travel plans with the hotel night manager, we boarded the long wheel-base Land Rover and were soon transiting the empty, damp streets towards Norman’s city home in north Manila. High security walls enclosed his residence, but the guard swung open the driveway gates when Norm’s driver blasted on the vehicle’s horn, and we were admitted.
A second Land Rover and a Land Cruiser were already parked beside the house, and we were swiftly invited in for coffee, politely declining offers of breakfast at that time of the morning. Norman was seated on the marble-floored patio, donning his hiking boots. He informed me with a smile that my suggestion regarding the maps and survey sheets for the discovered treasure sites had been well received, and the request was being complied with. We would have copies to study in a few days.
Ernie was all present and correct, but no sign of Dulay yet. However, before we had finished coffee, his car pulled into the driveway and disgorged Dulay himself and two companions, both of whom were carrying M16 Armalite rifles. Must be having a duck hunt while we’re in the provinces too, I speculated to O’B.
We gathered outside the house, with Dulay introducing his companions as Bong and Sonny. Both were apparently assigned to the Presidential Security Command, and would accompany out group to provide security. Many N.P.A. rebels (the communist-insurgent New People’s Army) around Nueva Vizcaya, Dulay informed us. Whatever. In my experience of life, I’d always found communism ran counter to human nature.

Our party split up between the two Land Rovers, with the second vehicle carrying its driver and the two P.S.C. troopers. Ernie ended up riding shotgun with them. We were soon out of the city and heading north. The light night-time rains had now dissipated and the sun attempting to break through the grey-streaked clouds. The further north we headed, the more bumpy the
highway surfacing became. Not too uncomfortable, but annoying. The driver would speed up, then slam on the brakes as he fast approached the next series of potholes. The open fields on either side of the road were all planted to rice as we passed through Bulacan province, but further on, gave way to interminable hectares of sugar cane; as far as the eye could see. Later, the terrain became a series of rolling contours, blending into hills, with the Cordillera Mountains in the distant north.

We made a stop at San Jose, in Nueva Ecija , to empty bladders and take “merienda”, around 08 : 30 hours. O’Brien and I grabbed coffee and pandesal ( small native bread rolls), but the boys went all-out with the merienda routine. Merienda, to the Filipinos, is usually a snack taken between regular meals and can consist of anything from pandesal to cookies to a sandwich to a bowl of noodles to a three-course meal. The latter is the preferred type of merienda, whenever possible.
Dulay had complained of a hangover at the start of our trip, apparently too much brandy the previous evening; but now seemed to be recovering nicely, filling his face with beef tapa , fried eggs and rice : both elbows firmly in the proverbial trough.

A further hour’s drive brought us to Bayombong, in Nueva Vizcaya province. This is where we would be staying overnight. Norman had made prior arrangements for our sojourn there, and we pulled over on the town’s outskirts while he conferred with the property owner. He returned to the parked vehicles and brief introductions were made to the mistress of the residence. Nice house, more of a mansion really. Norm’ asked if anyone wished to drop off their overnight baggage. Dulay and his boys did, and Ernie too. These guys had come packed for a month, by the look of their luggage. O’Brien and I had compact rucksacks only, the bare necessities
for our site inspection and an overnight stay.
We were on our way north again after a minimal delay, and within half an hour turned off themain highway and crossed the Magat River, heading into the foothills of the Palali Mountains. Well, to be correct, we didn’t actually “cross” the Magat River, we drove through it. Quite simple, no bridges. Welcome to the Third World.
Now we really started getting thrown about in the vehicle due the dirt road’s poor surface condition; and our progress slowed proportionately. Eventually we turned off the main track and down a narrower version for some several hundred meters before coming to a set of rough-hewn timber gates covered with rusting galvanised corrugated iron sheeting. The vehicles were halted and Dulay and his accompanying troopers alighted and opened the gates for us to pass through. We drove along the track a couple of hundred meters further and came into an open area at the foot of a hillside; dominated by a long bamboo barracks with a raised floor and cogon grass thatched roof. This was it : our destination.

Dulay assumed charge and quickly stirred the sleeping inhabitants of the barracks into action : four fatigues-clad army troopers. Norman issued a statement to them and they quickly produced a rough timber dining table from inside the barracks, positioning it in the centre of the raised verandah. They then got totally carried away with the presence of their esteemed visitors and commenced carrying out onto the verandah every chair and stool the barracks building contained. Dulay barked a couple of orders, and Bong and Sonny seconded the four guards for porterage duties, unloading the equipment from the two Land Rovers. The appearance of our polystyrene cooler boxes on the verandah brought an all-round sigh of relief, and soon the group were jointly engaged in consuming cold soft drinks and even colder, damp sandwiches.

Clearing the table of bottles and food wrappers, we spread out the ordinance survey sheets and the treasure map. Norman pointed to the area of the hillside where “X” was supposed to mark the spot. We spent a short while alternating our attentions from the map to the survey sheet to the actual surrounding terrain. Bloody big hill, no doubt. It might even qualify as a small mountain. Good elevation . Lot of trees, bushes and scrub vegetation on the slopes. I retrieved a compass from my rucksack and oriented the survey sheet and map correctly. Everything lined up. The mountain was right where it was supposed to be. So, where was the portal to the tunnel? Well, that’s why we were there, to find out. If it was easy, then women and kids would have been doing it, and we’d have been out of a job.

Norman and Dulay led us over to the site of the original excavation, where the “X” was supposed to be located. Now the Philippine military can do a hell of a lot of damage with guns and cannon, but it was nothing compared to the devastation they had wreaked here with picks and shovels, and a wheeled backhoe. It was a circus without a tent. I’d seen better organised riots. They could fuck up a perfectly good anvil. The earthworks were an uncoordinated mess. Spoil piled haphazardly on the batters of the excavations. No retention works performed. It was an accident waiting to happen. It was also a bloody miracle it hadn’t already, as the main excavations had been carried out during the monsoon season.

We questioned Norman on what had been located at the base of the main excavation, and how deep it had reached. Twelve meters, he informed us, and there they encountered solid rock. What kind of rock? Dolomitic limestone. So that was the foundation, and probably the main mass, of the monolith before us : limestone.

O’B and I discussed our game plan, then requested Norman, as our resident geodetic engineer, to second the on-site military guards as chain-men, and re-survey the site. I doubted the military group’s earlier survey results were in error, and their positioning of the tunnel portal location was probably correct. We needed to generate a record of our own measurements and points of reference to work from. Apply the engineering maxim of Measure twice - cut once. O’Brien, Ernie and myself then commenced a hiking / climbing survey of the perimeter and slopes of the structure. As I walked back to the barracks verandah to grab my rucksack, I noticed Dulay had made himself useful by sitting there with his feet up; fanning his sweating, podgy cadaver in an apathetic manner with a news magazine. Anything I can do to assist, he asked? Yea, find us a case of cold beer for later, I fired back over my shoulder.
Our trio then set off around the base circumference of the mountain, jungle bolos in hand, to clear any obstructing vegetation. It was a hike of some four kilometres, with a climb over an adjoining ridge, and a gradual descent back to our starting point. O’Brien was getting a bit long in the tooth for such activities and noticeably out of breath and bathed in sweat; so we headed over to the barracks for water and give O’B the necessary respite.

Dulay was still in the same posture as I had left him, only now asleep and snoring. Ernie dropped his rock hammer onto the table purposely. Dulay carried on snoring. While we took our refreshment I noticed Norman was well underway with his survey, and had all four of the guards, and Sonny and Bong, assisting too. O’Brien gave me a short “Pssst” and indicated towards Dulay. He had opened up his shirt before collapsing into his current coma, and a shoulder-holstered handgun was clearly visible, tucked into his left armpit. Ernie’s comment was a simple “He’d feel naked without it”.
I asked O’B if he was up to our next exercise, a walking survey of the slopes of the hillside, or did he wish to stay put, and baby-sit Colonel Dulay. The caustic reply was “ Just lead the way, sonny boy”.
No problems for Ernie, the physical exertions of the climb. Field geologists and surveyors spent most of their waking hours climbing over mountains and harsh terrain. We maintained a zigzag course during our ascent, to cover as much ground as possible, with Ernie hacking off exposed rock samples as we climbed. Eventually reaching the peak we sat , able to view the slopes below in entirety, and the spine of the adjoining ridge. While the semi-recumbent O’Brien was busy having a heart attack, or some similar form of seizure, Ernie and I studied our copies of the Japanese map and the ordinance survey sheet, comparing them with what our eyes could see before us.
We stayed atop the hill for a good hour, making observations and hypothesising on the sub-strata geology below us, and sketching the contoured terrain that rose above and around the original excavations.
O’Brien had made a full recovery, no harvest for the Devil’s net that particular day. The old party then cursed all cigarettes and vowed to stop smoking. Why ? I asked. After thirty-odd years of inhaling the damn things his lungs wouldn’t function without a regular intake of tar and carbon suicide.
The afternoon was drawing on by the time we descended the hillside and returned to the shade of the barracks verandah. Norman had completed his survey and was compiling notes. Dulay had awoken and offered us cold beer ! Where in Hell’s name had he found cold beer, O’Brien asked? He’d given the drivers cash and instructed them to drive back onto the highway , find a sari-sari store that sold ice and beer, and fill up the cooler containers. Two cases, he proudly announced. I didn’t think he’d even heard, or registered, my earlier parting statement. Good old Orly Dulay, he obviously had his uses after all.
So, making ourselves comfortable, stretched out on the verandah, we drank cold beer while discussing our mutual findings and observations.

I was interested to know where the tunnel spoil had been dumped. If the Japanese military had driven a tunnel into this structure, then what had they done with the excavated material? Viewing the surrounding landscape from atop the mountain earlier, there was no evidence of it being dumped in the general area. To leave no obvious traces of their activities it was possible they had trucked the spoil out and dumped it elsewhere.
O’Brien was quizzing Norman and Dulay on their past research into the provenance of the site. Had they questioned the local inhabitants regarding Japanese activities here during the war years? Were any of the locals press-ganged into labouring on the tunnel construction? Was there any local legends regarding the tunnel and a possible buried treasure?
Their replies were pretty negative. The Japanese established a military camp here in 1942, but nobody had knowledge of any tunnel being constructed. No local legends regarding the treasure either.
I sat staring at the side of the mountain, and the multicoloured butterflies dancing around the lush vegetation. The Japanese never intended to leave their treasure buried here for thirty-odd years. If their Asian conquests had proceeded as planned, and been a success, they would have been the new ruling, de facto colonial power. The treasure would have been used to finance their development of trade and industry. Whoever had been in charge of burying the treasure around the Philippines was the one supposed to oversee its retrieval.
The treasure map we had for this site was a singular sheet, with no great detailing attached. No actual scale or technically-applicable dimensions.
It was indicative of the site’s location and general layout only. But somehow the dials on the map stood as coded instructions : how many degrees of angle, or meters in distance, to add or subtract from the baselines.
I walked over to the foot of the rising hillside. Ernie joined me, and we together pondered where we personally would choose to drive a tunnel into the mountain’s structure. It wasn’t so much a matter of where would we, but where we wouldn’t, or could not.. What areas denied the engineering feasibility, or complicated such a construction venture to the realms of
prohibitive civil works, construction duration, and costs. We were definitely of the same opinion regarding one point : neither of us would have started driving a tunnel into the mountainside from the location marked on the map.

The afternoon was getting late and Dulay wished to return to Bayombong before dark. As the drivers loaded our equipment into their vehicles I walked around the verandah of the barracks building, collecting up the discarded half litre plastic mineral water bottles we had imported. I piled them in a corner of the barracks, instructing the in-house guards not to trash them.
Ernie and I had a use for them the following day. A spot of forensic chemistry to track down our tunnel.
It was on the edge of darkness when we pulled into the driveway of our overnight accommodations on the outskirts of Bayombong. Our hostess greeted us warmly and, after shedding our mud-clad boots at the patio steps, we were shown to our rooms. Mine had an en suite shower and toilet, so I bathed and donned shorts and a T-shirt, then joined our group. Dulay informed me our hostess was a widow, Mrs. Edralin; a relative of the Marcos clan. She was a nice old bird, fussing over us and tasking her housemaids with the chore of keeping up with our drink requirements. Very hospitable lady indeed.
Dinner was a veritable feast, which saw us all stuffed to the gills. We hadn’t eaten much during the course of the day, so appetites were keen. Our conversation that evening, with the Widow Edralin present, was of matters mundane.

The following morning saw everyone up and around shortly after dawn, due the natural provincial cacophony of roosters crowing, dogs barking, the foraging and grunting of native pigs, pots clanging on and off stoves, and the chatter of the household help. We breakfasted, then departed company with the Widow Edralin, and drove back into the foothills of the Palali Mountains, to our treasure site.
The bright morning sun hadn’t yet evaporated the heavy dew clinging to the thick grasses carpeting the site. My boots and lower legs were soaked as I tramped along the base of the ridge adjoining the mountain. Ernie followed my path until we came to a stream formed by the natural drainage of the geological edifice above us. Here we filled one of the plastic bottles with a sample of the draining water, and duly endorsed the container with a felt-tipped pen. We proceeded to make our way back along the base of the ridge, taking further samples of water where drainage was apparent : all the bottles duly marked and their corresponding sample points jotted down on our topographic sketches.

Returning to the camp’s barracks, Norman was discussing the results of his previous day’s survey with O’Brien. His figures tallied with the military group’s. The trooper guards had brewed two thermoses of coffee for our use. Ernie and I poured a cup each, and got down to our chemistry exercise.
Mainly our Ph test kit gave readings of eight to nine for the majority of the samples : slightly alkaline, which we expected from the natural seepage and drainage of the limestone mountainous mass. Two readings, from the lower portion of the ridge’s midway section, gave readings in excess of all others.
Both samples were from the same area, one below the other. We slugged back our coffee and returned to the sampling points.
We studied the seepage flow from both locations in comparison to the others in the general area. A slightly higher rate and quantity, nothing of great significance; apart from the fact the alkaline content of each was higher than the rest. Walking back down to where the hillside drainage formed the head of the stream, we studied the natural lines and contours of the ridge and small mountain behind. It was difficult to evaluate.
If the Japanese had driven their tunnel through the ridge, and into the mountain, they had left no physical trace of their workings. Plus we had to consider the three decades of natural weathering overburden and vegetation growth, which had covered the site since their supposed forced entry into the monolith thirty-four years previously. We returned to the barracks to deliberate our findings and opinions with the rest of the group.
Norman and O’B agreed the higher Ph factor at two adjacent sampling points on the ridge was significant, but Ernie had to explain to a confused Colonel Dulay why this was so. We had estimated, during our survey of the previous day, that if the Japanese had constructed their tunnel into the limestone structure via a portal heading through the ridge, then the natural
drainage would be greater from the tunnel itself than the surrounding rock.
The tunnel would act as a collection sump, and its discharge point would manifest a greater seepage rate, and a higher Ph factor due coursing across unadulterated limestone. Zero natural ground filtration to reduce the alkalinity. It was standard engineering procedure to construct drainage points and channels while driving a tunnel : to keep the invert (base) from
Dulay related a piece of information passed onto him by the Japanese group concerning this particular site : the tunnel was very big, over ten metres in diameter. The Japanese army were able to drive trucks inside. O’Brien and I howled with laughter, the best joke we had heard for ages.
Dulay appeared offended, so we placated him with the simple engineering facts as to why this was not possible in this case. Apart from the point that a tunnel of ten meters bore, with a flat invert, would constitute a veritable three-lane highway. We estimated the tunnel, if it existed at all, to be no more than three meters bore.
But, Dulay countered, it would have to be huge, as the Japanese had stated, to contain all the gold they had interred there. Over two hundred tons, by their accounts. Dulay was about to get shot down in flames yet again.
Hadn’t he seen gold bullion ingots recovered from their earlier sites? Yes, he had. How much area did one ton of gold take up? He wasn’t certain was a “ton” actually was. One thousand kilos, we informed him. He pondered for a moment, then indicated an area half the size of the veradah. We smiled, then pointed to one of the cooler chests : less than half a cubic meter per ton. Very dense metal, gold; with too many common misconceptions and assumptions of its mass - volume - weight factors. Assumption : the Mother of all Errors.

What size were the bullion ingots he had seen retrieved from the earlier sites? He pointed to Norman’s field book on the table : about that size, he informed us. We estimated that what he had seen was approximately a six kilo bar. He agreed, they were about that weight. We pointed to the cooler chest once again. Two hundred of those, lined and stacked neatly, were not going to require a tremendous amount of tunnel space; even allowing for access. He didn’t seem totally convinced, but deferred to our joint opinion.

His next point was when could we start digging for the tunnel? The group collectively looked in my direction. I advised him that this operation would not involve ‘any’ digging, unless the tunnel had suffered partial collapses, or had, for some impractical esoteric reason, been back-filled with the excavated spoil. The latter fact was unlikely, as the Japanese themselves had to access their hoard at some future date, and didn’t need the daunting task of re-excavating water- logged tunnel spoil. Nor did we wish to commit to the protracted task of openly digging into the hillside to locate the tunnel portal.. Too much visible excavation work, and heavy equipment involved.

In those days, before the advent of reliable underground radar technology, there were two ways we could locate the tunnel, if our projections of its actual positioning were correct. One, with seismic waves, generated by explosive charges set in drilled shot holes along the ridge. The reflected sound wave was recorded by geophones, and computer-analysed to show subterranean geological anomalies. But prior consultations with Norman had revealed that no seismic exploration system was currently in-country, so from a time-efficient approach, we now intended to drill a series of small diameter bore holes along the sides of the ridge and mountain with portable coring rigs. Norman had ready access to these, and we could punch a good number of holes to the required target depth each day. Employing this method would also leave a minimum of visible debris, or evidence of our operations on the surface. It could be classified as actual “sub-strata mineral exploration”.

How many holes would we have to drill, Dulay asked. Don’t know, was my reply. How long’s a piece of string ? As many as necessary. If we planned our drilling patterns and azimuths with a modicum of fore-thought and prudence, we could get lucky. A few days of drilling, employing four small rigs on a twelve hour shift basis. Once we hit the tunnel, we could co-ordinate the rigs in series, to plot its direction; then decide how to gain access to it. All depended on the depth, and type of subterranean geology, where it was eventually located.

By noon we had gone as far as we could with our on site survey. We loaded up the vehicles and departed, leaving the four military guards to oversee security. We pulled over on the highway, just before Bayombong, to say our grateful farewells to the Widow Edralin, and thank for her
hospitality. Then we endured the long, bumpy ride back to Manila.
Arriving back in the city at the onset of evening, Norman dropped us at our hotel, with an arrangement for the group to reconvene at his office the following morning. O’Brien and I showered and changed, then met up in the hotel bar to further discuss our intended operational procedures : updates on methodology, and further equipment required.

By nine the next morning we were together as a group in Norman’s office. He was currently rearranging the third floor of his office building to accommodate our group and provide an insular measure of segregated confidentiality and security. Office space would be a tactical necessity during the coming week, so we had ease of access and contact with each other while expediting the logistics for our project. We set an operational schedule that morning, and intended to keep to it . We would hold a group meeting there each morning, and whenever possible, at the close of business each day : to bring each other up to speed on each of our respective areas of involvement and responsibility. Everyone was going to be busy over the next few days. Eggs to hatch and cats to kill. Flat out, like a lizard drinking.

We met with two of Norman’s exploration supervisors, who would be tasked with the drilling programme. Their initial job would be assembling the required drill rigs and peripheral equipment, and transporting it to the site.
His warehouse foreman was tasked with marshalling the usual equipment requisite for a drilling camp. This was a priority. The drilling teams needed to be on site first, to set up their camp and equipment, and be ready to commence operations. Dulay was tasked with providing accommodation for the site security force, after informing us additional military, from the Presidential Security Command, were to be posted at the site during our operations.

We required the current barracks building to house the drill crew personnel, so Dulay intended to billet the military troops under canvas : in tents. A lay-out of the intended camp was then drawn up, relative to our proposed operations area, and the existing barracks structure. The positioning of showers, latrines, and septic tank ; the drill water settling pond and drill mud pits, generator plant, kitchen and workshop, equipment lay-down areas, fuels and materials storage, and tent-accommodation siting for the security force, and our own group. Copies were xeroxed and issued to all supervisory personnel involved, for reference and adherence to. We were scrupulously applying the Five P’s Philosophy to our project : Proper preparation prevents poor performance.

O’Brien, Ernie and I spent most of the afternoon in Norman’s adjoining warehouse and plant yard, inspecting equipment and co-ordinating with his drilling crew supervisors and material stores foreman. One good thing with the Filipino workforce, they can’t be driven , but they can be led. They were easy to work with, and ready to modify and repair equipment under our direction. This especially applied to the heavy plant items we counted on employing if the tunnel was located at not too great a depth below ground.

By late afternoon we reconvened in Norman’s office. The third floor was now ready for our joint occupancy. There we would have undisturbed privacy, for our documentation and discussions. Norman informed us that he and Dulay had earlier received a summons to a meeting at Malacanang, with Marcos and Ver that evening. The President had sounded elated at our progress to date, Norman related; and our financial benefactor, our patron, had been selected and assigned to cater for our financial requirements. Christ, some guys got all the luck.

During the ensuing five days the drill crews and equipment, and additional military guards, had arrived at the site and were setting up camp. They were in contact with Norman’s office, and Dulay’s H.Q., via SSB radio. Our group had been granted access to, and inspected two of the previously-discovered tunnels : one, on the outskirts of Manila; and another, a day later, in Tarlac province. Colonel Dulay had produced copies of a selected sample of the original treasure map sites not yet located. He seemed quite flexible on our taking notes while studying these, for evaluation and comparisons; and magnanimous in providing access to them upon request.

Norman had acquired copies of the treasure maps for the sites already discovered, and the corresponding ordinance survey sheets embellished with measurements and dimensions relevant to the site’s actual location. After days and evenings spent studying their inherent cryptic details, we were still little nearer being able to decode the maps with the required certainty or ease. Left could still mean right, or further left, or vice-versa. Up could mean down, or further up. The direction of the fingers on the dials was making sense, but not the figures. There was no obvious method to their representation. Where three translated to seven in one case, it came out as five in the next. We now knew which dial represented distance and which the angles of the base lines, but their actual numericals remained an enigma so far. Dials within dials. Norman and I played around with slide rules until they squeaked, and worked desk calculators to overheating proportions, but without avail. The numericals were like a one-use book system of coding, with a singular set of numbers per individual site; never to be repeated.
Dulay’s opinion was one of “close enough” regarding where X had marked the spot on these maps, and the locations were actually found. Close enough only applied with horseshoes and hand grenades in my experience. They’d worked on a system of “Guesstimates”, and sheer luck had unearthed the tunnels.

Our inspections of the two tunnel systems had been fruitful inasmuch we now knew what techniques the Japanese had employed in their construction.
Quite impressive, for the 1940’s period. Both tunnel systems were extensive, with the portals excavated through the upper layers of soil into the bedrock of hillsides. Carefully chosen, by all appearances. No hit and miss system in evidence. They had employed sound-wall drill and blast techniques to drive their headings, with very little overbreak apparent. Both tunnels were of horseshoe design, with a basically flat invert, on which narrow gauge rail lines had been laid.

Neither tunnel was lined, but some areas had been concreted where weaknesses existed, or rock bursts had occurred. Neither tunnel was in excess of three meters in bore, and both systems had been constructed with drainage channels running aside the inverts. The ground arch had been supported in one area of the Tarlac tunnel by fixing crown bars, and rock bolts were visible in the crown of the tunnel at its final heading cut, and in several side drifts, which had apparently been used to stack the gold bullion.

No fault or shear zones were observed by Ernie. The rock block sizes of both tunnels exceeded the size of the tunnel opening, eliminating the requirement for lining or excessive support structures. The Japanese’ preliminary geological studies of the areas had obviously located stable, intact rock; thus the choice of the sites for their tunnels. But as O’B and I both well knew, the Japanese were pioneers in tunnelling technology, and well-versed in dealing with adverse ground conditions : where a tunnel “had” to be located and the heading driven. If they’d been able to make their own choices of where to locate the tunnel systems, they would obviously select suitable geological conditions to work in. The Japanese obviously had some gopher or prairie dog genes in their DNA, they loved tunnelling.

We knew the history of their Tanna Tunnel, driven through the Takiji Peak in Honshu, in the 1920’s. That was a nightmare of underground adversities, of fractured rock and massive water inflows. But they had adapted their engineering techniques to suit the geological conditions, and eventually overcome the obstacles. The Japanese were no amateurs where tunnelling was concerned, and both the tunnels we had inspected were of professional design and construction. Another interesting fact had come to light while we were inspecting the tunnels . Originally they had been used to store military ordnance.

Once our tunnel inspections were concluded, Ernie and I were both more confident , regarding our siting of the tunnel’s true location at the Nueva Vizcaya site. Now it was time to put our theories to the test.
The five of us sat drinking in our allotted office on the third floor of Norman’s headquarters. Everything was in place and ready to go. The site camp was set up and operational, generator running and lights working.
The drill crews were stood by and awaiting our presence. We were due to depart for the site the following morning. A vacation under canvas, a camping holiday, Norman ventured; drinking brandy and coke, and giggling to himself. O’Brien and I had by now realised that Norman had no real interest in the project from a commercial viewpoint; he simply wanted to be involved in a treasure hunt. O’B teased him on the point. He was in his element, he informed us, and hadn’t had so much fun in years. None of us had, we jointly declared, and toasted the success of our project. : Oplan Naalan. ( Project Recovery ).

We checked out of the Otani Hotel early the next morning, with Norman’s driver transporting us to his Manila home. There we met with the rest of the group, and were soon underway north to Nueva Vizcaya with a convoy of three Land Rovers and two Land Cruisers. After the mandatory stop-over en route, for merienda, we arrived at the site before noon. The galvanised iron gates blocking the rough track leading off the abandoned logging road to the actual site were now manned by two military troopers, festooned with all manner of automatic weaponry and grenade pouches. After a brief word from Colonel Dulay, the gates were swung back to allow our
unhindered passage.

The camp was a hive of organised activity. Everything had been laid out and constructed according to our plans. Norman’s drill crew supervisors were no strangers to establishing field camps in remote locations.
O’Brien and I were sharing a bell tent, Norman and Ernie selected the adjacent unit to ours. Colonel Dulay had one all to himself. Oh well, no complaints, he had sourced and provided them. The privilege of rank and position. At the end of the day he was the bird-dog on this project : the client’s representative. Marcos' watchdog.

We dropped our luggage in respective residences and ate lunch with Norman’s drill supervisors, co-ordinating our plans for the drilling programme schedule. Ernie and I intended to plot and peg the first drill holes after we had eaten. Dulay looked surprised, we were going to start drilling that day?
Sure, O’Brien informed him, “We’re burning daylight, boy.’ Dulay obviously thought “Time” was a weekly news magazine.
By late afternoon we had plotted and pegged the first series of drill hole locations along the side of the ridge, and the crews were busy assembling and positioning their rigs and equipment. We intended to commence drilling the next morning. Our working days would run from 06:00 to 18:00 hours.
Day one of drilling produced no positive results to locating the tunnel. Ernie and I had set a target depth of sixty feet for each hole on the first run, and extracted core samples from each one. Good solid limestone base rock. Ernie extracted a compact camera from his waist bag and photographed the line of core samples. He then proceeded to photograph the working formation of rigs while they were drilling. One of the P.S.C. troopers went ballistic. No photographs! No cameras permitted !, he ordered brusquely. He’d forgotten to use the magic word : “Please”, so we told him to go and copulate with a pig. A photographic record of the cores was required, and a visual chronicle of the rigs working was of no interest to anyone, apart from ourselves.
The P.S.C. guard disappeared with his companion, perhaps both going off to find a pig; with the second trooper intended to hold it. Obviously not, for they reappeared a few minutes later, with Dulay in tow. He was in the process of having a major anxiety attack. No cameras or photographs, he advised us. Very strict orders from his superiors regarding this point.
All too top secret. Profuse apologies on his part, he should have informed us earlier, he admitted. Ernie re-bagged the camera. Sorry folks, all around.

We carried on with our drilling, nonplussed, until 18:00 hours, then shut the crews down for the day. After showering and taking supper, we slept early.
At 16:20 hours on day two of drilling, one of the rigs working the second run level had lost circulation at 52 feet. The hole was duly pegged and flagged, and the rig re-positioned one meter diagonally from the hole.
Here we re-spudded and commenced drilling again, taking core samples as the drill string bored into the side of the ridge. Once again we lost circulation, this time at 54 feet. Ernie and I had been observing the drilling progress on this hole throughout, and both noticed the drill string drop when circulation was lost. Marking the string at 54 feet, we then lowered it down the drill hole on the wireline. It descended to 63 feet, then stopped. We looked at each other, and agreed we had a tunnel, with a nine foot crown to invert dimension. We’d burned the proverbial midnight oil drilling the last hole, so called a halt to work for the day.. It was by then two hours after dark. Time enough in the morning to re-site our drilling line, to plot the direction and mean average depth of the tunnel.

After showering we took our evening meal. No cordon bleu menu available here, it was all basic drill camp food. But hunger was a tried and tested appetiser. The crew had done a commendable job in extending the existing barracks kitchen, it was hygienic and sanitary, at least. Better than some work camps we had been in, where even the cockroaches came out of the kitchen spewing.
Dulay was ecstatic when informed of our progress, and disappeared into his tent to radio the news through to his superiors in Manila. He was all smiles upon returning, carrying a couple of bottles of brandy.
A celebration was called for, he informed us. Ernie and myself thought it a mite premature to be celebrating. We may only have hit a fault in the limestone, a drainage pocket.. Doubtful, but a pessimistic possibility. But Dulay was optimism personified, so celebrate we did.
The Colonel was soon partially inebriated and disclosing all manner of confidences in his exuberance over our success. This was a major site, he related; reputed to contain not only one of the main gold hoards, but also classified by the Japanese as a “Jar site.” The “jars” were supposedly large terracotta water jars, said to contain precious gems. The Japanese had also
disclosed to Dulay’s military group that this particular site contained copies of the maps of treasure sites in the Mountain Province, on which works had been completed, and their locations sealed, prior to this one. Some twenty sets of maps, he further informed us, that the group did not yet have copies of.
His final indiscretion also divulged the fact that accompanying the maps were the code books which would decipher the enigmatic markings on the maps. No wonder they were keen on this as the primary site for us to locate and retrieve.

While the Colonel was in a receptive mood to giving away secrets, O’B and I questioned him concerning the mysterious Japanese group who knew so much, and yet so little, about the sites. Were they Japanese government or military? Surviving relatives of the Japanese military group who had buried the treasure? No, none of the above, he nonchalantly informed us. They were Yakuza, Japanese gangsters. Part of the controlling secret society group of the Japanese military who had stolen the treasure, and directed its burial in the Philippines. No problems with them, the Colonel casually assured us; they were now out of the picture. O’Brien and I exchanged concerned looks. On the one hand we had Marcos’ personal Gestapo, on the other, a Japanese crime syndicate. Time for another beer.
Dulay babbled on for another hour, before passing out in his chair.
But he was happier that evening than I had ever seen him to date. Full of himself, and the unqualified, premature assumption of the success of our mission.

By 08:00 hours the next morning we’d re-pegged the drill line, to trace the heading of the tunnel. The rigs were re-positioned, and by the end of the shift that afternoon we were averaging seven hits out of ten on the tunnel. Ernie and I were now certain of our methodology. The average depth of the crown of the tunnel’s heading under the ridge was fifty three feet. The tunnel maintained a bore of nine feet throughout, according to the measurements we’d logged on each successful drill hole. We retired to the camp, the day’s work was completed.
Apart from Dulay, who had kept a sensible distance from the drilling rigs,
we were all pretty well mud splattered as we sat discussing our next steps, and replacing lost sweat with cold beer. ( Norman had shipped up an extra seven cubic foot refrigerator with the camp equipment, for our required beer storage. )
We jointly decided to stay with Plan A, and Norman arranged for the required items of equipment to be shipped up from Manila. It would be a couple of days before they arrived and were set up, ready to work.
We carried on drilling along the ridge, into the tunnel’s heading, throughout the following day. Now we had her course defined and logged. Next the rigs were re-positioned around a selection of successful drill holes, and a series of perforation groups sunk around the original holes. These would aid the subsequent stage of the operation : to gain access to the tunnel itself.

The next day we were awaiting the arrival of the required equipment from Manila. We demobilised the small coring rigs, and cleared the side of the ridge, in readiness for stage two of the operation. By noon we were stood by. Norman contacted his Manila office by radio. The equipment had departed the previous evening, it was en route.

The heavy auger rig pulled onto the site later in the afternoon, accompanied by two trucks loaded with the required drilling augers, down-hole accessories, and three-quarter meter diameter steel casing sections to line the drilled hole. As two of the drill crews expedited the unloading of the cargo with our crane truck, the others positioned the auger rig over our main drill hole location and set up the jacking legs and wirelines. She was checked for fuel and hydraulic oil, and given a test run. By then it was on the fall of darkness, and we shut down operations for the day. With luck and a modicum of good judgement, we would have a cased access shaft into the tunnel within forty-eight hours.
After supper, we sat drinking and discussing the schedule of the project for the next couple of days. Dulay was perturbed because we weren’t working at night, now we knew the actual location of the tunnel, and the “big” drilling rig had arrived on site. Simple, we expounded : safety. The gold
ad been down there for some thirty-plus years, it could wait a couple more days before getting a suntan.
Norman and Ernie had reservations concerning the use of the auger rig.
Both harboured doubts it could bore through that depth of limestone, regardless of the modifications O’Brien and I had carried out on it, and the accompanying down-hole tools. Their misgivings were obviously of a contagious nature, for Dulay was soon infected, and voicing all kinds of worries : What if this, what if that, and so on. O’B uttered one of his “Oh ye of little faith” reproaches, and headed to the refrigerator for a fresh brew.

Once the auger rig was spudded in and drilling the next morning, O’Brien and I assumed supervision of the drill crew. Our first fifteen feet of cased hole was attained within three hours, mainly through compacted overburden. Then we hit the limestone layers. We exchanged auger bits for our modified versions, with the hard-facing welded caps on the cutter edges, and bored into the rock again. After several feet, with down-hole progress slowing, we withdrew the auger bit , cased off, then fitted our one-ton deadweight, with its hardened point. The winch hauled this up the rig mast on the wireline, then released the weight on free-fall down the hole. It struck the bedrock, and was hauled back up, and dropped again. We checked the depth on the wireline. Time to change back over to the auger bit.

The P.S.C. trooper who had previously given Ernie hell for playing the tourist and taking photographs came around to observe during the morning. He apologised to Ernie for causing a problem, but orders were orders.
Ernie and I made light of his concerns. No problems, he was only doing his job. Sorry, but Colonel Dulay was very strict with them. Not an easy commanding officer to deal with; he was “Tarantado”, the trooper explained. I looked at Ernie for a translation. It meant a “difficult person”, Ernie related, but in actual English it would mean an “Arsehole.”
I beckoned to the trooper, Danny. He spoke good English, and I requested he did me a favour. Anything, he replied. Keep a sharp lookout for Japanese snipers in the hills around us, I advised. I was still thinking of Dulay’s comments concerning the Yakuza.

This system of drilling out the main access shaft continued through that day, and into the morning of the next. By 11:00 hours we had attained a depth of fifty feet, hauled back up the auger bit, and cased off. We then lowered the auger back down the hole and continued to drill. Too close to the actual tunnel crown now to continue employing the deadweight to break up the limestone, it was liable to cause a major fall in the tunnel’s deckhead.
The auger made steady progress, and by working through our scheduled lunch-time break period, we had drilled into the tunnel, and fully cased off by 13:30 hours. Our measurements indicated we would have a one foot section of casing protruding into the crown of the tunnel, with a two foot section sticking proud of the drill hole on the surface : to keep out surface water and loose debris. Our crew grabbed a late lunch, after which I prepared to go where no silly bugger had gone before : down the drill hole. Another shitty day in Paradise
After lowering and retrieving a weighted bucket from the tunnel, to determine it wasn’t flooded, O’Brien directed the drill crew to set up an industrial extractor fan adjacent to the drill hole, and inserted twenty feet of flexible suction pipe down the casing. After connecting the power line to the generator distribution panel, he started the fan; checking the outflow of air with a gas detector.
Fifteen minutes of sucking the stale atmosphere from the tunnel showed no poisonous or inflammable gases were present. The fan was stopped and the flexible suction pipe removed, the fan turned around, and the pipe reconnected; so it would now feed fresh air into the tunnel.
Dulay was intrigued by the use of the gas detector and O’B elaborated on its versatility for his benefit. How would we check for poisonous or explosive gases if we didn’t have a gas detector, Dulay questioned? Simple, O’B informed him, lower down a canary holding a lighted candle. Unfortunately, the joke fell on barren ground.

By this time I was rigged out in my spelunking gear, and approached the drill hole festooned with all manner of equipment; declaring “Today, Bayombong Church steeple - tomorrow the Matterhorn!” It raised a laugh from Ernie and O’Brien, at least.
The ventilation fan was shut down, and the feed pipe removed from the hole. The crew then tied off a three-quarter inch braided rope to the deadweight’s lifting shackle and lowered the remaining 100 foot coil down the hole : my emergency lifeline. We rigged and tested our communications set, all was functioning correctly. O’Brien scrutinised my equipment. Safety helmet, lamp and battery pack, climbing harness, emergency flashlight, pint-sized compressed air cylinder and respirator, head set microphone and earpiece receiver unit. All were secure and operational.
He connected the auger rig’s wireline to my harness with a screw-lock carabiner. I was ready.
Dulay was uneasy, he should be accompanying me on my exploration. I looked at the narrow neck of the protruding casing, then the Colonel’s bulging midriff. He agreed, it would be a tight fit.
The slack was taken up on the rig’s wirline and I climbed into the casing, connecting a second carabiner to the braided rope. I indicated, with a downward circular motion of my finger, to lower away. O’Brien directed the winch operation with scrupulous deliberation as I was lowered down the shaft, with me transmitting instructions to him via the communications set.
It was a smooth descent, and I called a halt to the wireline’s fall. Stumbling across the pile of debris left by the auger rig’s breakthrough, I unhitched myself from the wireline and safety rope. O’Brien copied me on the comms’ set five by, and I instructed him to retrieve the wireline and return it with a shovel attached.

While this was being expedited I surveyed both headings of the tunnel from the base of the access shaft. Plenty of stalagmites and stalactites forming since the tunnel was sealed in the 1940’s. Paired railroad tracks were fixed to the tunnel invert. The portal end of the tunnel was hardly visible from my standpoint, and the opposite direction curved out of sight, under the ridge.
O’Brien advised me to stay clear, the wireline was descending. I unhooked the shovel and cleared the debris from the base of the shaft.
Gathering the communications cable in a coil, I advised O’Brien of the tunnel’s status, and began to walk in the direction of the portal. I could now discern the cemented rock fill sealing the tunnel entrance, with two rectangular pedestals set a couple of meters before it. But what in damnation was sitting on the pedestals? Lions, with their backs to me. I drew closer, stepping over the meter-wide sump excavated across the tunnel’s invert. This was the drainage catchment, from which a conduit channelled the water out of the tunnel; to seep through the overburden of the ridge.
I stopped dead in my tracks, behind the paired pedestals. What appeared as lions from a few meters away in the tunnel’s gloom were a pair of aerial bombs, sat snugly in the pedestal’s concave top faces. Deposits of calcium carbonate had dripped onto the bomb casings, but I was wary of the high explosive charges still being active.
Inspecting the elaborate booby trap, I observed that the noses of the bombs had been modified by attaching industrial gas cylinder valve protection cages. Into these a spring and plunger mechanism had been fabricated and fitted, with lightweight steel wire cables running from the plungers to anchor points set in the rock and cement filling of the tunnel portal. A turnbuckle was fitted to each length of wire rope, to enable the correct tension to be set.
If anyone had unearthed the actual portal from the outside, and tried to gain entry by breaking down the cemented rock backfill, the cables would have been released, and the bombs detonated.
I walked back towards the base of the cased shaft, talking with O’Brien over the comms’ line. I needed two lengths of half-inch diameter rebar, each a foot long; four pieces of three-eighths bulldog clamps and a combination wrench to fit them, one small jemmy bar, and an aerosol can of penetrating oil.
He advised the crew were fulfilling my shopping list, and asked what I’d found. Prudence and Fortitude, I replied. Clarify, he requested. Remember the New York Public Library main building, I asked? What do you see as you exit the edifice and walk down the steps? The bloody steps ! , he replied in exasperation. What else, I countered? His mind had ticked over for a few moments, then came the answer I was seeking. Lions, two of them. Patience and Fortitude, one on either side.
Congratulations, O’B, you’ve just won tonight’s star prize. That’s what were sat at the portal of the tunnel : Patience and Fortitude, but in the form of two aerial bombs.
O’Brien virtually shit kittens and instructed me to get out of there. No way, they would be okay once the plungers were locked in position and the tension relieved from the cables. He acceded to my professional opinion, and advised my requirements were on their way down.
I gathered up the items from the basket attached to the wireline, and returned to the tunnel’s portal. First I sprayed both turnbuckles with a dose of penetrating oil, then fitted two bulldog clamps to each wire rope, where they passed through the tops of the cages. Finally, I inserted the lengths of steel rebar through the valve cages, jamming the actuator springs and plungers. No way the ordnance could detonate now. I then turned my attentions to the turnbuckles, slowly unscrewing them until ample slack was in both cables.
Making my way back up the tunnel, I advised O’Brien all was well, and deposited the tools in the basket. I then began my exploration of the tunnel’s upper reaches. From what I had seen so far, the tunnel was unlined, and apart from the precipitation of draining ground water mineral deposits, in good condition.
There were several side drifts off the main tunnel, each a few meters deep. They contained nothing, and were probably cut for the temporary storage of tunnel spoil during the original construction. I followed the tunnel’s heading to the left, under the ridge and the mountain; dodging the hanging stalactites. All very gloomy, my cap lamp providing insufficient illumination for a spectacular panoramic view. The attached communications cable gave a jerk and halted my progress. I walked back two meters and called O’Brien, advising him of the fact, then disconnected myself from it.
A further ten meters on I encountered more side drifts, virtual adits, cut into each side of the tunnel. A very pleasing sight, as each one was lined with a stack of gold bullion ingots. I picked up one of the bars, turning it in my hands as the cap lamp’s beam played over the unblemished surface. Around 12 kilos in weight, I estimated, approximately 25 pounds. The only markings were Japanese, or Chinese, ideographs. The stacks sat on rotting timber pallets, some now leaning askew, some with the ingots tumbled to the floor. I surveyed the corresponding side drifts, each one was filled with small stacks
of gold. I counted the ingots in one intact stack. Eighty bars. I turned my attention to another stack, also eighty bars. Swift mental arithmetic, multiplying eighty by twelve kilos, gave me a figure of nigh-on one thousand kilos. Close on one ton imperial, per stack. I counted up the stacks in the side drifts. A total of sixty stacks. Not bad, sixty tons, considering gold ran at hundreds of dollars per Troy ounce. We had definitely earned our fees on this project.
Turning my back on the gold cache, I continued my exploration of the further reaches of the tunnel. No more side drifts evident, I observed.
I could hear the sound of running water ahead, then my cap lamp caught the reflective surface of the upward sweep of the tunnel’s crown. Puzzled for a brief second, I thought the Japanese had excavated a chamber in the mountain’s rocky bowels. No chamber, it was a natural limestone cavern, several thousand cubic meters in dimensions. My gaze upon the unrefined beauty of its soaring cathedral expanse was only interrupted by one fact. The Japanese had levelled the uneven, natural floor of the cavern, and this was crammed with stacked lines of gold bullion.
Each stack was compiled of twelve kilo ingots, eighty per stack : one ton per stack.
I strode slowly between the stacked lines, counting as I went. The total came to three hundred and eighty stacks, plus the sixty stored in the side drifts I had already accounted for. A grand, round figure of four hundred and forty tons. Thirty-two thousand ingots, of twelve kilos each.
This obviously was a motherlode - a principal petal from the Golden Lily.
Two side drifts had been cut into the east wall of the cavern, deeper and wider than those previously encountered. I shone my cap lamp’s beam into the first. It contained a line of one meter high clay jars. I hacked a chunk of the baked tan clay from the base of one of the jars with my rock hammer. I didn’t wish to remove the sealed cap and encounter any more booby traps. The clay crumbled, and a gush of highly reflective cut gems piled onto the floor.

Souvenir time. I split a random handful between the pockets of my leather rigging vest. Determining the side drift held no other surprises, I moved to the adjacent drift. Here only a corroded metal military footlocker was in evidence, mounted on a pile of railroad ties. I drew a breath, then took a chance, and forced open the fastening catches of the lid. Oilskin satchels, several of them. I examined the contents of each in turn. They contained sheaves of maps, their surface oily to the touch. No code books apparent, though. Replacing the satchels in the footlocker I noticed an oilskin pouch attached to the inner side of the lid. It contained some type of circular slide rule, the incised markings in Japanese script. I committed this instrument to the secure confines of my rigging vest’s inner field book pocket and resealed the locker.

Satisfied there was little else of great importance to discover during this reconnaissance survey, I walked back to where I’d disconnected the communications line from my headset. On informing O’B of my discovery, I could hear the echoed shouts of the elated work crew on the hillside above. I reached the base of the cased shaft and hooked myself back up to the wireline and safety rope. “Beam me up, Scotty”, I advised O’Brien.
As the wireline slowly ascended the shaft, I looked back down into the dark abyss below. Four hundred and forty tons ! Where in Hell’s name had that amount of gold bullion come from?


Chapter 1


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