Chapter 66 BUNDOK

“The name of this place is Bundok,” Captain Noda tells him confidently. “We have chosen it carefully.” Goto Dengo and Lieutenant Mori are the only other persons present in the tent, but he speaks as if addressing a battalion drawn up on a parade ground.

Goto Dengo has been in the Philippines long enough to understand that in the local tongue bundokmeans any patch of rugged mountainous terrain, but he does not reckon that Captain Noda is the sort who would appreciate being brought up to speed by a subordinate. If Captain Noda says that this place is called Bundok, then Bundok it is, and forever will be.

Captain is not an especially high rank, but Noda carries himself as if he’s a general. Somewhere, this man is important. He is pale-skinned, as if he’s been spending the winter in Tokyo. His boots have not begun to rot on his feet yet.

A hard leather attache case rests on the table. He opens one end and draws out a large piece of folded white cloth. The two lieutenants scurry to assist him in unfolding this across the tabletop. Goto Dengo is startled by the feel of the linen. His fingertips are the only part of his body that will ever touch bedsheets as fine as these. THE MANILA HOTEL is printed along the selvedge.

A diagram has been sketched out on the bedsheet. Blue-black fountain-pen marks, punctuated with spreading blotches where the hand hesitated, reinforce an earlier stratum of graphite scratches. Someone terribly important (probably the last person to sleep on this bedsheet) has come in with a black grease pencil and reshaped the whole thing in his own image with fat thrusting strokes and hasty notations that look like unraveled braids in a woman’s long hair. This work has been annotated politely by a fastidious engineer, probably Captain Noda himself, working with ink and a fine brush.

The heavy with the grease pencil has labeled the entire thing BUNDOK SITE.

Lieutenants Mori and Goto affix the sheet to the canvas of the tent with some small, rusty cotter pins that a private brings to them, triumphantly, in a cracked porcelain coffee cup. Captain Noda watches calmly, puffing on a cigarette. “Be careful,” he jokes, “MacArthur slept on that sheet!”

Lieutenant Mori dutifully cracks up. Goto Dengo is standing on tiptoe, holding up the top edge of the sheet, examining the faint pencil marks underlying the whole diagram. He sees a couple’ of little crosses and, having spent too long in the Philippines, supposes at first that they are churches. In one place, three of them are clustered together and he imagines Calvary.

Nearby, diggings have been indicated. He thinks Golgotha: The Place of the Skull.

Lunatic! He needs to get his mind in order. Lieutenant Mori shoves pins through the linen with faint popping noises. Goto Dengo steps away, keeping his back to the Captain, closes his eyes, and gets his bearings. He is Nipponese. He is in the Southern Resource Zone of Greater Nippon. The cross-shaped marks represent summits. The diggings are some sort of excavation in which he is destined to play an important role.

The blue-black fountain-pen marks are rivers. Five of them sprawl from the triple summit of Bundok. Two of the south-going streams combine to make a larger river. A third stream roughly parallels this one. But the man with the black grease pencil has drawn a stout line across the stream with such force that loose curls of black grease can still be seen dangling from the linen. The fountain pen has been used to scratch out a bulge in the river just upstream of this mark. Apparently they want to dam the river and make a pool, or a pond, or a lake; it is difficult to get a sense of scale. It is labeled, LAKE YAMAMOTO.

Looking more closely, he sees that the larger river–the one formed by the confluence of the two tributaries–is also to be dammed, but much farther south. This has been dubbed TOJO RIVER. But there is no LAKE TOJO. It appears that this dam will thicken and deepen the Tojo River but not turn it into an actual lake. Goto Dengo infers from this that the valley of the Tojo River must be steep-sided.

The same basic pattern is repeated everywhere on the bedsheet. Grease pencil wants a complete perimeter security system. Grease pencil wants one and only one road leading to this place. Grease pencil wants two areas for barracks: one big area and one small area. The details have been worked out by smaller men with better penmanship.

“Worker housing,” explains Captain Noda, pointing to the big area with his swagger stick. “Military barracks,” he says, pointing to the small area. Bending closer, Goto Dengo can see that the larger, worker area is to be surrounded by an irregular polygon of barbed wire. Actually, two polygons, one nested within the other, a barren space in between. The vertices of this polygon are labeled with the names of weapons:

Nambu, Nambu, Model 89 field mortar.

A road or trail, or something, leads from there up the bank of the Tojo River, past the dam, and terminates at the site of the proposed diggings.

Goto Dengo bends close and peers. The area including both Lake Yamamoto and the diggings has been surrounded by a tidy square, neatly crosshatched with Captain Noda’s brush-and-ink, and labeled “special security zone.”

He jerks back as Captain Noda shoves the end of his stick into the narrow space between his nose and the bedsheet, and whacks on the Special Security Zone a few times. Concentric ripples speed outwards, like shock waves from dynamite. “This area is your responsibility, Lieutenant Goto.” He moves the pointer south and taps on the zone farther down the Tojo River, with the worker housing and the barracks. “This is Lieutenant Mori’s.” He circles the whole area, windmilling his arm to cover the entire security perimeter and the road that gives access to it. “The entirety is mine. I report to Manila. So, it is a very small chain of command for such a large area. Secrecy is of paramount importance. Your first and highest order is to preserve absolute secrecy at all costs.”

Lieutenants Mori and Goto blurt “Hai!” and bow.

Addressing Mori, Captain Noda continues: “The housing area will appear to be a prison camp–for special prisoners. Its existence may be known to some on the outside–the local people will see trucks going in and out along the road and will guess as much.” Turning to Goto Dengo, he says: “The existence of the Special Security Zone, however, will be totally unknown to the outside world. Your work will proceed under the cover of the jungle, which is extraordinarily dense here. It will be invisible to the enemy’s observation planes.”

Lieutenant Mori jerks back as if a bug has just flown into his eye. To him, the idea of enemy observation planes over Luzon is completely bizarre. MacArthur is nowhere near the Philippines.

Goto Dengo, on the other hand, has been to New Guinea. He knows what happens to Nipponese Army units who try to resist MacArthur in the jungles of the Southwest Pacific. He knows that MacArthur is coming, and obviously so does Captain Noda. More importantly, so do the men in Tokyo who sent Noda down to accomplish this mission–whatever it is.

They know. Everyone knows we are losing the war.

Everyone important,that is.

“Lieutenant Goto, you are not to discuss any details of your work with Lieutenant Mori except insofar as they pertain to pure logistics: road building, worker schedules, and so on.” Noda is addressing this to both men; the clear implication is that if Goto gets loose-lipped, Mori is expected to turn him in. “Lieutenant Mori, you are dismissed!”

Mori grunts out another “Hai!” and makes himself scarce.

Lieutenant Goto bows. “Captain Noda, please permit me to say that I am honored to have been selected to construct these fortifications.”

The stoic look on Noda’s face dissolves for a moment. He turns away from Goto Dengo and paces across the floor of the tent for a moment, thinking, then turns to face him again. “It is not a fortification.”

Goto Dengo is practically startled right out of his boots for a moment. Then he thinks, a gold mine! They must have discovered an immense gold deposit in this valley. Or diamonds?

“You must not think as if you were building a fortification,” Noda says solemnly.

“A mine?” Goto Dengo says. But he says it weakly. He is already realizing that it does not make sense. It would be insane to put so much effort into mining gold or diamonds at this point in the war. Nippon needs steel, rubber, and petroleum, not jewelry.

Perhaps some new super-weapon? His heart nearly bursts from excitement. But Captain Noda’s stare is as bleak as the fat muzzle of a tommy gun.

“It is a long-term storage facility for vital war-making materials,” Captain Noda finally says.

He goes on to explain, in general terms, how the facility is to be built. It is to be a network of intersecting shafts bored through hard volcanic rock. Its dimensions are surprisingly small given the amount of effort that will be spent on building it. They won’t be able to store much here: enough ammunition for a regiment to fight for a week, perhaps, assuming that they make minimal use of heavy weapons, and get their food off the land. But those supplies will be almost inconceivably well protected.

Goto Dengo sleeps that night in a hammock stretched between two trees, protected by mosquito netting. The jungle emits a fantastic din.

Captain Noda’s sketches looked familiar, and he is trying to place them. Just as he’s falling asleep, he remembers cutaway views of the Pyramids of Egypt that his father had shown him in a picture book, showing the design of the pharaoh’s tombs.

A horrible thought comes to him then: he is building a tomb for the emperor. When Nippon falls to MacArthur, Hirohito will carry out the rite of seppuku. His body will be flown out of Nippon and brought to Bundok and buried in the chamber that Goto Dengo is building. He has a nightmare of being buried alive in a black chamber, the grey image of the emperor’s face fading to black as the last brick is rammed home on its bed of mortar.

He sits in absolute darkness, knowing that Hirohito is there with him, afraid to move.

He is a little boy in an abandoned mine chamber, naked and soaked with icy water. His flashlight has died. Before it flickered out, he thought he saw the face of a demon. Now he hears only the drip, drip of ground water into the sump. He can stay here and die, or he can dive into the water again and swim back.

When he wakes up, it’s raining and the sun has climbed free of the horizon somewhere. He rolls out of his hammock and walks naked in the warm rain to wash himself. Goto Dengo has a job to do.