Fantastic Windfall

by Jeff McCall

In March of '74 I was employed as agent of the Kvisgin Oil Concern to go into the jungle of the Philippine island of Lubang with express orders to try and convince a mister lieutenant Hiroo Onada, who'd been missing since he was ordered to disappear in late December 1944, to stop fighting World War II. The Lieutenant's official orders back in '44 had been,[explained by to him by top brass on a well lit sun porch] "You will neither surrender nor die by your own hand. As long as you have one soldier, including yourself and as the one soldier you might have left, you are ordered to use what ever means necessary to wage war against the enemy. When the war is over, we'll come and get you. We wish you luck."
"We wish you luck," is exactly what the Tetsuo, the oil company rep had said to me when the jeep dropped me off at the jungle. they'd dug up an old Japanese officer's uniform for me to wear so that Onada would think I'm the Japanese come to get him. "but I'm not Japanese." "oh, it doesn't matter," they said. "just keep it on or he'll probably kill you." checking myself and my gear and thinking something's been left out. camera, tape recorder, a picture of Onada's mother a banner with his family colors, lantern, beans, beef jerky, several assorted bic lighters, sleeping sheet and mosquito netting, still... "are you sure I shouldn't be taking a gun or even a knife or something. a knife especially. I mean, how could he know if I have-"
"It's Absolutely necessary that you not be armed at all. we've lost agents like this before, Cummings. Think about it, Onada has been in that jungle for 26 years. He's lost all his sense of time and place. He thinks he's still fighting the war. if he senses that you have a weapon he'll think you've come to kill him."
"But what about the uniform?"
"yes, keep it on. now, remember, put up the banner before you make camp."
"and then..."
"and then wait."
"He'll just see the banner or something, and just come over, or..."
"you might try calling out to him. say something like, 'I just want to talk', 'Japan's won, you can come out now.'-whatever. just be congenial."
"but I don't speak Japanese."
"it doesn't matter."
"how can it not matter?"
"Look, we're paying you a lot of money and you're holding up the story, so get going. you should have enough stuff for five days out there. we'll be back in five days. if Onoda comes out, give him the letter. it will explain everything. we wish you..."
so I walk down this path that comes to a clearing about 800 yards in and set up camp. if they think I'm walking around in this mess and getting lost, forget it. I unfurled the banner over a tree limb. it was long and silk with yin-yang circles at each of three columns of slicy lines. Onoda's family banner. strange how I'd gotten this job. just bumming around Manila doing some free lance photography, mostly for bird enthusiast magazines, and I'm out on a job taking some wild shots of cocteaus, when my guide tells me that he knows a man who's looking for an American and is paying big money. thus, I'm put in touch with Tetsuo. Tetsuo says, "$25,000, five nights in the jungle." he requires that I accept or decline before he tells me any more. what the hey? then I find out about Lt. Hiroo Onada, and his orders to effect lifelong guerrilla warfare. how all ten of his men had either abandoned him or been killed. how they'd sent Onoda's own brother to try and talk him out, but he never revealed himself. he only left them a note painted on the side of a rock that read, "impostor. war continues." later, I'd hear from a fisherman at the a bar in Manila that in the last few years Onoda's taken to raiding the oil company's property, blowing up their pumps, toilet papering their trees, slashing the tires on their trucks. the highlanders call him Malaveyovo, he tells me, their mythic cannibal that lives in the woods. they make offerings of vegetables to him to keep him fed. it's comforting to know that the psychotic killer on the loose in the jungle is eating his greens. but this wasn't a bad gig. heck, for the money this was cake. when Onoda didn't show on the first night I was a little disheartened. but I spent the days wandering the down into the jungle by way of that one path, careful to watch if it split or did something that might obfuscate my chances of getting right back to camp, but it simply meandered without splitting. under the squawking green canopy and constant mist, plants radiating oxygen, I sang:

Onoda! Onoda!
The War's long been ovA!
it's time to Surrr-ender,
this 26 yeeear Bender.
the Oil Company sent me here,
there are no weapons in my gear,
don't kill me!
i'm just a messsssengeerr!

I was having a blast. at night I'd make a little fire and heat a can of refried beans in a sauce pan and then fall asleep singing my Onoda song quietly to myself. all the beans and beef jerky increased the frequency my flatulation to an almost constant interruption. but it seemed to keep the mosquitoes away, and that peppered beef was mmmhmmm good. then one night, after one such campfire feast, just as the last flicker of fire went out and the embers were left to glow there in the darkness and my eyelids drooped to a slit, I felt a knife blade at my throat. no question this was Onoda. who else? so, of course I wasn't going to make any sudden moves. but he just sat there behind me with the knife to my throat for so long without saying anything that I began to feel kindof silly.
"I'm not armed. I have a letter for you," I said, once I'd regained the power of speech.
"if you had been armed, you'd be dead."
"yeah, that's what they told me."
"it's the uniform that threw me. why are you dressed up like that? Who sent you?"
"The Kvisgin Oil Concern. I have a letter for you." he took the knife away. still not feeling so good about moving, I wait to turn to look, and when I do, he's gone. then he's back, and he's got some wood. he drops the wood onto the fire and takes his canteen from his belt, opens it, and pours it onto the fire. except for the belt and his tattered camouflage shorts, he was totally naked. even barefoot, (I was wearing army surplus jungle boots and wet socks). his hair was a tangled mess of black and gray and white with leaves and his beard was overgrown, which gave him the look of a tan, athletically trim (how old did they say he was?) 22 year old Karl Marx surfer dude. when he strikes a match, the shadows of his face light up, and his high round cheeks glow like bronze apples resting on his beard. his eyes, caught within the blazing shadows of his brow, are sockets of coal (they say he'd trained his eyes to not reflect light, thus to become a more effective night hunter). he could not, however, eliminate total glare, especially with the match so close, and what was left of his eyes were like slivers of waxing crescent moons. he throws the match onto the wood and it catches in an instant whoosh! to flames.
"Now what about this letter," says Onoda.
I go into my bag and pull out the plain manila envelope I'd been commissioned to deliver and hand it over to him, somewhat disappointed for some reason, but relieved. he sits down on a log and opens it up, removes a thick stack of documents and photos. he reads a little of the first page and succumbs to a hysterical laughter that echoes under the jungle trees, startling a flock of birds to fly away. he falls off his log. I'm leaning over trying to see what it was he saw in the pictures that he's let fall all over the place in his tempestuous guffaw. There's pictures of Tokyo, New York, one of the earth from space and one of the moon landing, pictures of television, nuclear explosions, and various post cards from Disney Land.
Onoda's laugh, like a train slowing to the station, begins to lose momentum so that he is able to pick himself up and sit down again. still giggling a bit, he says, "sorry about that. I just get a kick out of these people."
"I don't understand. you are Onoda, right?"
"They call me Veyovo now. but, yes, I'm the man you're looking for."
"do you mind if I ask what's so funny?" he grins. "this letter," points to the scattered pages on the ground, "says that the war is over and that Japan is a supreme super power of the world, and that I should return home to take my place as a national hero." um...that was the cover story, so... "well aren't you still fighting World War II?"
"what, are you kidding? where the hell have you been? the war's been over for years. They think I don't know about these things. I've seen movies, I've seen television. For years I planned to go to Hollywood and assassinate the film academy one by one for giving Frank Sinatra an Oscar for From Here to Eternity."
"they think you're still fighting the war. why didn't you go back when they came to get you before?"
"why go back? Japan was decimated after the war was over. I had nothing to go back to. here on the other hand...," he spreads out his arms, "here I have the jungle to take care of me. and a beach. and a house with a pool and a Jacuzzi. the villagers come around all the time with vegetables. life is good here. why would I want to go back?" his point was convincing, and I had nothing to add, so I just nodded.
"the real question to me is," he said finally, "is why do they want me to come back?"
"aren't you bombing their trucks? blowing up their wells and stuff?"
"that's just in the last few months. there have been attempts to retrieve me ever since the war ended. but that's actually the funniest part of the letter," looking around on the ground for one of the pages, he finds it, "get this: they've offered me 50,000 shares in their company if I stop bombing. HA!"
"50,000 shares. that sounds like a pretty good deal."
"I already own 250,000 shares in their goddamned company, or rather, I've promised to buy 250,000." then my lightbulb went off.
"Ah! You're selling them short, blowing up their stuff, and then when the stock falls, you collect the difference, right?" he just grins through his Velcro beard. "don't get too wise and make me have to kill you. i've got plans for this money. maybe i'll buy a cattle ranch in Brazil. maybe build a nature park for kids. i dunno. there's going to be alot to go around. maybe you want in on some of this action too, huh? how much are they paying you to come out here?"
"25,000 dollars."
"whew," he whistles, "that's a lot of money for a kid your age. they must have thought I'd kill you and then wouldn't have to pay it. yes, that's definitely what they thought. but this is much better. oh yeah. go back, get the money, and wire 20,000 to an account in Zurich. do you have a pen? I'll write down the number for you."
I go into my bag and get out my notebook and a pen for him. "then, once that money is in place, take the rest of it and open an account at the Bank of Manila under your own name and wait. in a few weeks, my friend, you stand to be a very wealthy man." "how will you know what account to wire it to, you don't even know my name."
"You're Wally Cummins."
"wow, how did you know?" "it's written in your underwear if I'm not mistaken." hmmm, this was true, but I didn't get a chance to ask him anything more. he wrote down all the information that I needed to get the money. then he checked his pocketwatch and said he had to be getting home. Hee-Haw was about to come on. sitting there with my campfire and a stack of random pictures from the latter half of the 20th century, wondering how the hell he's getting Hee-Haw way down here, and not even sure if it's the right year for it. at the end of the five days I walked out of the jungle and Testuo and the driver were waiting there with the jeep, looking genuinely surprised to see me.
"well, hey, you made it. great," he said as I threw my stuff in the back, "did you see him? did you give him the letter?"
"yeah, I gave it to him."
"and what did he say?"
"nothing much. he's a total lunatic. thought all the photographs were fabrications. tricks to make him come out. I doubt if he could come out now. really more animal than human, you know, living in the jungle so long." the island wind smelled sweet and fresh as the jeep picked up speed. Tetsuo seemed unsatisfied with my answers. he kept turning around like he was about to ask another question but then checks himself, and shakes it off. "I guess you've got some money coming to you," he resigned. that's right, i thought, closing my eyes and sucking in the salty breeze.