Join the hunt with two thrilling adventures: Steel's Treasure and the newly released Steel's Gold!

The epic story of U.S. Air Force Captain William Steel, an intelligence officer with serious authority issues, and his hunt for billions of dollars of lost WWII Japanese treasure hidden in the mountainous jungles of the Philippines.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Steel's Treasure: Sample Chapter


Read a free chapter from my treasure-hunting action novel, Steel’s Treasure.  Does this ring true to you vets and active duty service men and women? How about my readers who have never been in the military? Does this capture your attention? If you want to read more, you can buy the book here.
    
                                  Steel's Treasure by Nick Auclair
CHAPTER 20
Target Range: Clark Air Base
1986


        Air Force security policeman Buck Sgt. William ‘Willie’ Long loved this part of his job: manning the M60 machine gun in the back of the camouflaged painted HUMVEE patrol vehicle. Willie adjusted his dark goggles over his eyes and pulled the chin strap to his Kevlar helmet tight. They were providing security, escorting two trucks; each held three instructors and ten GIs, officers and enlisted men headed for qualification training. Each trainee clasped an unloaded M16, and instructors sported loaded side-arms. 
          He gripped the roll bar firmly with his left hand and kept the right hand free to rock and roll with the 60 should the need arise.  The 60 could fire two-hundred rounds a minute.  Willie had one-hundred rounds in a belt mounted in a box on the side of the weapon.
          His security police squadron had been busy since the NPA murdered the GIs. There were gates to man, miles of perimeter fence to patrol, and the flight line to secure. The hours were long, but it was good duty.  
          He loved the Air Force.  He got respect for doing his job well. There was no prejudice here, not like the backwater town in rural Alabama where he grew up--no place for a young black man. 
          And then of course, there was the social life at Clark. Willie saw lots of women off base, too many for his grandma’s liking, he was sure of that. He was planning on seeing one fine lady tomorrow evening--Friday and payday. The joke was that U.S. payday was always a Phil national holiday. Let the party begin.   But that was tomorrow. Today was all business. He had to stay sharp.
      Willie looked down at the two policemen seated below him.  Senior Airman Miles, the driver, was one of the brothers he ran with. They were tight. Seated next to Miles, Airman Willard, a skinny white boy from Texas, lovingly cradled his M16. That boy loved his weapon too much. He always seemed a little too ready to use it.
          Miles slowed the vehicle in order to keep the two deuce-and-a-half trucks no farther than twenty-five feet behind them. Willie swiveled his head to check on them. In the lead truck were two crates of 2,000 rounds of .223 caliber NATO M16 rounds. 
          They cleared the back gate of the base. To get to the range they had to drive about one mile from the base down a bumpy, dusty road that paralleled the Sampang Bato River. Willie worried that its twists and turns would provide ample opportunity for the NPA to snatch the ammo in the trucks.   
          He used his legs like shock absorbers and kept his lips closed to keep from eating dust. He scanned the terrain ahead of them. They were about one hundred yards from Canyon Run where the road narrowed and ran for about fifty yards through a small gulch of thirty-foot-tall rock walls. During the rainy season the river, which snaked through the canyon, made the road impassable. 
          Willie thought the scenery looked like the backdrop for a western movie.  He loved playing cowboys and Indians as a kid-- felt like he was still playing now, protecting the wagon train behind him. Willie turned around and noticed the convoy had lagged behind more than he liked. He tapped Miles on the head with his boot. Miles looked into the rearview mirror and flipped Willie the bird.
          “Come on homeboy, slow your ass down,” Willie called out.
          He tapped Miles on the head again. Miles brought the vehicle to a stop. Willie lifted his goggles and grabbed the binoculars that were hanging against his chest, scanning the canyon ahead of them. He swept the area in a 180-degree arc. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary. Below, Willard strained his neck, checking out the area in front. He may be off, Willie thought, but at least Willard took his job seriously.   
          Willie turned and saw that the trucks had closed the gap to within twenty feet. “Good enough,” he yelled.  “Let’s keep up a good speed and keep’em moving in a tight formation through the canyon. Let’s roll homeboy.”
          Miles pressed the accelerator, and they jumped forward. Willie hung onto the roll bar. He felt uneasy, like he was being watched. Wasn’t that what the hero always said right before the injuns came streaming over the hill?
          Willie lifted his binoculars once more, checking the ridgeline to his right, then his left. He focused on something on the road fifty yards into the canyon. It was a trench, like the ones that moles dug in his grandmother’s front lawn back home. He hesitated. Probably nothing. But he could hear his hardnosed grandma in his head, “Fool. Of course that don’t look right!” 
          Grandma was never wrong, he thought. He yelled at Miles to hit the brakes, then armed the 60, and yelled out: “Willard, lock and load.”
          Willard happily obliged.
          “Willie, what the fuck, over?” Miles yelled.
          “Back up now,” Willie barked out, scanning the hills and the terrain to the east and west.
          Miles did until he hit the bumper of the first truck. Willie turned and yelled to the driver of the big truck to follow him double time. They were reversing. Suspect ambush ahead.
          “You shittin’ us Willie?” Miles whispered as he nervously looked around them. He reached down and pulled his baby Armalite to his lap. 
          “Miles, pull up, let the trucks turn around, and head back. I want to cover their retreat.”
          Miles obeyed. Willard stood up in his seat aiming his M16 and daring anyone or anything to try something. Not on his watch.


      NPA Commander Bong peered at the American vehicles from his hiding place in the tall grass on top of the canyon. Why had they suddenly stopped? They were still out of range. He wished he had some binoculars to see what was happening. He wished he had more of everything to fight against the government. His patrol needed weapons and ammo. Ten men and they only had six guns; all were barely serviceable World War II vintage. 
          For twelve hours they had waited for the convoy of Americanos. It wasn’t an easy target but the large number of weapons and ammo was worth the risk. Bong wasn’t afraid of the Yankees.  Another unit in his sector had killed Americans before, and all the Yankees did in retaliation was to hide in their base. 
          His plan to ambush the convoy had been simple.  It had to be: this was his first mission. He had no formal training, and the local NPA organization hadn’t sanctioned the operation.  Bong was out to make a name for himself. Step one: blow a homemade mine set on the side of the canyon road, destroying the lead security jeep.  Step two: attack the other vehicles with rifles and grenades. Timing would be crucial. 
      He had watched the Americans perform the same exact convoy procedures along the same route last week. He couldn’t believe his luck when an informant in the village near the range told him that a convoy was planned for today. 
          He peered into the distance. Something was wrong. Apparently his luck had changed. He angrily watched the American vehicles turn and disappear in a cloud of dust. With no truck of his own, he could hardly chase after them.  He aimed his M1 at the fleeing trucks. They were in range, but he did not want to face heavy machine gun fire for nothing.
          “Damn,” he banged his hand onto the soft dusty ground. His ragtag group of farmers stood little chance of being players in the province without weapons.  
          His cousin, NPA Commander Hector, had said he was involved in a big operation going down today near Clark.  Bong wanted to impress his cousin—make a name himself in the organization. What the hell went wrong?


       Ten miles southeast of the canyon, parked alongside the Marcos highway, NPA Commander Hector and five heavily armed men sat in the back of a badly rusted dump truck. From the outside it looked like any of the scores on the roads this hot, dusty afternoon. They had hijacked it the day before from a construction company.     
          Hector tried not to worry about being seen. They were hidden from view by the tall walls of the truck and the spot he had chosen was away from most pedestrian traffic. At least it was shady. Hector took a deep breath and tried to focus on last-minute details.
          A whistling from the front cab startled him. His brother, Ka Romeo, who was the driver, motioned at him through the small window. Hector walked over to the opening.
          “Hector, we have just received radio confirmation that the vehicles are only ten minutes away,” he whispered.
          Hector gave his men the thumbs up and listened as Romeo started up the truck’s diesel engine. The whole back rumbled and vibrated.  Hector lurched to peer out of a crack in the large tailgate.
          Commander Hector was thirty-four-years old. He had spent ten years working his way through the NPA ranks to his current position, commander of a Sparrow hit squad, a post he had held for the last three years.
          He hadn’t started out life as a guerrilla. He was from a family of peaceful rice farmers who had for generations worked land in a small barrio in Neija Ecija province northeast of Clark Air Base.  But almost fifteen years ago his world shattered. Late one Saturday afternoon, his new and newly pregnant wife announced she was going to the river by their home to do some washing. He promised to join her shortly. When he did, she was nowhere to be found. Someone in the village had witnessed four Philippine constabulary troopers fleeing the area in their jeep. The next day her badly beaten body, bullet through her temple, washed up on the shore of the river.
          After an investigation, the local police announced that Hector’s wife was killed in a shootout with NPA in the area. They said she had drawn a pistol--an old rusty .45 that the policemen presented as evidence in their sham of a trial. Hector knew the real story: Four drunken off-duty constabulary men had raped and murdered his wife and his baby. 
          Something in him cracked: the injustice of the sham trial. He wanted revenge. He wanted justice. But mostly he wanted those fat, sweaty goons who had done this to die.
          He got his wish. After the trial a local NPA contacted Hector, and he jumped at the chance to take up arms. He was taken to a camp in remote Kalinga Apayao province and received six months of rigorous physical training, practice handling weapons, and political indoctrination. The months in the mountains did little to cool his anger. On the day he returned home, he calmly walked into a seedy bar and shot two of the men who had murdered his wife. He enjoyed seeing the shock on their faces as he pulled out the gun and pulled the trigger. Even better was watching the large caliber bullets rip through their bodies.
          Hector never did track the two others who took part in the murder. But from that point on, he always imagined his targets were those men. Every person he killed in the last twelve years was responsible for his wife’s death.
          He used a .45 pistol at close range, coolly and calmly. He had become a killing machine and earned his place high on the government’s most-wanted list.
          His hit today was not from the usual list of targets: informers, soldiers, corrupt policemen. Today it was American imperialists, a hit planned high up in the command chain. Nor was the operation the usual: a pistol at close range. This involved rifles and vehicles, and that made him a little uncomfortable. He found the anxiety strangely refreshing. It had been a while since he had felt anything when killing.
          “Ka Hector.” A face peered through the window of the cab. Hector acknowledged Benny who was sitting up front with Romeo.   “The vehicles are approaching.”
          Hector closed his eyes and took a deep breath. He needed to focus. “Salamat, thanks Benny. All right brothers, it is time.” They silently checked their weapons.
          He felt the truck roll forward a few feet, preparing to pull out in front of the van with the Americans heading to Crow Valley: a half-dozen military personnel and civilians going to work at the range. Hector had been ordered to take out the van, killing all aboard if possible.
          Hector tried to balance himself as he walked back and forth, squinting out of the crack in the tailgate. He was worried about visibility. The walls of the truck were nearly five feet high--good for hiding but difficult to see over. And they needed to see to fire down onto the van.
          The truck bounced onto the road. Hector thought he could see the van several cars behind. The truck deliberately crawled along slowly, forcing vehicles behind to pass them. When the van of Americanos passed, it would pull alongside directly into the fire zone--like shooting fish in a barrel.
          Hector had come up with the idea of using the truck and shooting down through the roof of the van. The Americans had mounted bullet proof Plexiglass inside their windows and doors; however, he was banking on the fact that the roof offered no such protection from a rain of bullets.
          After a few minutes, the white van came into view just one car behind the dump truck. Hector laughed at how easy the van was to recognize: large American-built, dark tinted windows. “Stupid Americanos,” he muttered. He would have used a Japanese-made van. It would have blended in with the local traffic.
          Hector could see that the van driver was impatient. He kept pulling out, looking for the right moment to pass. “Comrades, be ready,” Hector called out. The shooters moved to the side of the truck and squatted.
          The van driver pulled out as Hector watched and waited. Timing was crucial. If they popped up too soon, the driver would spook. Hector raised his hand. “Now. Shoot through the roof.”
          The cadre aimed their weapons over the top of the truck wall and unleashed a loud volley. Hector had been right; the thin metal roof did little to protect the occupants from the hail of .223 caliber rounds. The Filipino driver was killed instantly, and the van swerved off the road and into a grove of banana trees. Two U.S. civilian contractors who repaired surveillance radars in the valley died from a combination of gunshot wounds and the force of the collision. Five GIs originally on the passenger list had pulled out at the last minute, the only break for the U.S. command in the whole grim incident.  
          As the big truck lumbered down the road, Ka Hector walked back to his men, who were calmly reloading and readjusting their weapons. One casually picked up empty shell casings. Hector wished he could have stopped to check out the van. He wasn’t sure if they hit their targets. But they had to move fast to avoid police or roadblocks. 

          They sped toward the rendezvous point five kilometers up the road, where a jeepney would be waiting to take them to a base camp in the mountains for several weeks of rest before the next operation. Hector hoped his targets would be PC next time, maybe they would be the ones. 

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