Less than two blocks away, in the geographical center of Chinatown, San Francisco police officers Nelson Lum and Joseph Arone watched in bewilderment as a motorist leaped from his automobile in the middle of an intersection and raced toward their black-and-white patrol car waving his arms.
"Hey!" the man yelled. "You guys better get over to Washington Street. I just saw three masked men with guns run into a restaurant up there."
Lum shot a glance at Arone.
"That'd be Sam Woh's or the Golden Dragon," he surmised. "Nobody else up there is open this late. Let's go!"
Lum whipped the car around and simultaneously broadcast an emergency call to Central Station on the two-way radio. He headed against one-way traffic on Grant Avenue with red lights blinking and siren wailing. But the holiday-weekend traffic had thinned only slightly after the bars closed, and Lum found it tough going. Nobody seemed to give a damn about the cops trying to break through.
Arone's patience snapped. He snatched his shotgun and jumped out of the car. Pedestrians hugged the shop fronts as he flew past on foot and rounded the corner of Washington and Grant like an Olympic sprinter.
Meanwhile, the other two shooters in the Golden Dragon had bounded up the stairs leading to the upper level of the restaurant. One was clad in pink Levi's, and the other wore an army fatigue jacket. If any of the terrified patrons had had the nerve to look, they might have noticed a steely glint in the eyes of the boy in the jacket, glittering at the prospect of defenseless quarry.
Like the off-duty policeman drinking a Coke at the bar below, Special Patrolman James Michael Bonanno sat chastely sipping tea in a booth on the upper deck. He had seen the front doors open abruptly. His impression was that the three shooters lined up near the cash register, lowered their weapons and started firing at the customers. It happened so fast that the recollections of survivors would conflict in many details. He dropped under a table and drew his weapon, calling on his radio to ask for emergency assistance from headquarters. He could not hear the response because of the shooting noises. He called in another "406," a verbal code meaning that a police officer needs assistance.
"Shots are fired!" he shouted into the little black box and gave the location.
Now he caught a glimpse of the gunmen on the upper level. As had the officer downstairs, he decided that letting off a few rounds might risk the lives of the innocent people who tumbled about in his line of fire. Otherwise, he would gladly have seized the opportunity to waste at least the devil who wore pink Levi's to this festival of Satan.
Everyone on the upper level was scrambling to take cover, terrified by the staccato gunshots stitching the room below. The gang leader and his fellow criminals, forewarned by the sighting of the gunmen outside the bakery window, vaulted over tables and booths in a frantic quest for safety. The leader shouted, "Everybody duck!"
Everyone did, except the teen-age boy who was tipsy on two drinks.
He could not react quickly. He couldn't move fast enough, and now there was no more room under the table. He sat in mute incomprehension staring into the barrel of a shotgun held by the shooter in the army jacket. The weapon recoiled sharply as three loads of buckshot pumped out.
The first blast hit him across the cheek, disintegrating the right side of his face. He immediately lost consciousness and slumped forward, still alive. The second and third loads of double-O buckshot, each with 12 pellets of searing lead, tore through his neck and shoulder to penetrate vital organs--the right lung, diaphragm, liver and kidney.
The other gunman, who had as yet fired no shots, seemed to recoil like the shotgun. The gunman who had just unloaded his weapon in the teen-ager's face turned angrily to his colleague in crime. "Shoot that goddamn thing," he muttered in Cantonese. "Make that fucker SOUND, man!" The one in pink Levi's averted his face and fired three blasts of his sawed-off shotgun.
One of these blasts struck the back of the boy who had just called his mother, when he bent over to leave his seat hurriedly. He fell to the floor next to the buddy who had defended his right to telephone home. He screamed incoherently. Not realizing his friend had been hit, the buddy yelled at him to shut up, frightened that the hysterical cries might attract more of the killers' attention.
It was too late. The army-jacketed murderer ran to stand over the boy, but his shotgun jammed when he attempted to trigger it. Ruthlessly, he whipped out a silver-plated, .38-caliber pistol and fired into the chest of the 18-year-old writhing at his feet. He seemed determined to finish off the nice lad whose mother expected him home within half an hour. Then he turned to the boy's buddy. Taking aim with the .38, he shot the second boy in the belly.
Stunned, the buddy was conscious of screams and smelled wood burning as bullets glanced off tables. The din in his ears may have been his own cries when he took the close-range shot in his abdomen. He felt like he'd been hit in the stomach by a truck.
The shooters wheeled and rushed down the stairs in a dash for their getaway car. The submachine-gunner on the first level joined them at the door, and the three rampant dragons exploded into the street like a hot wind from Hades. They jumped into an idling Dodge which sped away.
The killers had been inside the Golden Dragon for less than two minutes, but in their wake lingered the acrid odor of spent gunpowder rapidly blending with the smell of spilled blood and death.
Those on the upper level who were still able stirred into life from frozen positions behind anything they had found as cover during the awful moments that had finally come to an end.
The friend of the gangsters, who had seen the gunmen flash by the window on the street, looked down at the remains of his dinner on the floor.
"Jesus," he cried, "somebody blew up my clams!"
One of the girls across the aisle, who had gone out with gang kids from time to time, crawled from under the table in the same moment as the gang leader appeared from his place of safety behind a booth. She lifted a trembling finger and pointed in his direction.
"It's because of him!" she wept. "They came after us because he was here!"
On the main level, the vermilion pillar, encircled by the golden dragon that gave the restaurant its name, towered in sanguine splendor above a room more suited to Pandemonium, the palace built by Satan's orders as the capital of Hell in "Paradise Lost." Awash with blood, the Golden Dragon had become a likely scene from Milton's allegory of rebellion against God. Cries of agony and screams of hysteria blended in a cacophony of horror.
Sixteen patrons of the Golden Dragon were unable to rise to their feet.
The eighty-odd who stood physically untouched would share one thought. They would never be able to clear their minds of the memory of this night at the Golden Dragon.
Nor would San Francisco forget. The wall of silence which had for so long protected the criminals of Chinatown had to be stormed. The tigers roaming the streets behind it had to be trapped and caged.
Within minutes after news of the Golden Dragon massacre reached Police Communications, Washington Street, outside the restaurant, took on the look of a parking lot for ambulances. Earlier in the evening an unrelated bomb threat on an unidentified hotel had sent trauma units scurrying to every important hotel in town. With most of them still at full occupancy during the last major weekend of the summer season, "everybody's favorite city" was taking no chances.
A quartet of swank hostelries crested Nob Hill above Chinatown--The Fairmont, The Huntington, The Mark Hopkins and The Stanford Court. Near Union Square a few blocks away, The St. Francis, The Hilton, a Hyatt and a Holiday Inn were clustered downtown. The ambulances already gathered in these areas needed but scant minutes to blaze a trail through the streets of Chinatown. Recalcitrant motorists, who shortly before had made it tough going on Grant Avenue for Officers Lum and Arone, scattered frantically before the storm of screaming sirens and flashing lights.
As the orange and white vehicles converged at the intersection of Waverly Place and Washington, Francine Novick, the buxom blonde who had felt a bullet whiz through her hair, staggered out of the Golden Dragon on the arm of a paramedic into the brilliant glare of TV camera setups. Her husband, Paul, was close behind. Alternately clutching her breast and nervously sweeping golden curls back from her forehead, she weepingly gave her account to the microphones thrust toward her.
"The front doors opened. These masked men came in, and all of a sudden they were firing away. I thought first it was firecrackers. Then I saw the fire coming out of that gun. I got under the damned table and started crawling. A bullet went right through my hair, and a gal behind me got it. The next thing I saw was dead bodies and blood. Oh, my God, they were shooting at everybody from the back to the front! Dead people all over. It was terrible! They were after all of us. They didn't care who they hit. They just came in to kill us. I thought it was my turn, and I don't know why I'm not laying on that floor with those kids that are dead. No, I'm not hurt. I'm just sick. Listen, I'm from San Francisco. This is my town, but I'll never come back to Chinatown. Never!"
The woman expressed a sentiment in her last words which would echo through the next two years as Chinatown's economy crashed in the ruins of the Golden Dragon incident. Fear, not tourists, would fill its streets.
A second overwrought witness jostled through the crowd, shielding his face from the harsh lights when an interviewer snatched at his arm.
"You wanna know what it was like in there?" he croaked in response to a question. "Hell, it was like a Vietnam firefight! They didn't aim. They just shot at us. I saw one guy with a pump-action rifle. He unloaded it in all directions."
The interviewer turned toward the cameras, his face reflecting the bewilderment and horror seen on the faces of everyone milling behind him: "All of the dead had multiple gunshot wounds. None of them had the slightest chance."