Year of the Serpent
Part Three

That evening, Saturday, September 3rd, several of them returned before 9 o'clock. Bert accepted this as natural on a long holiday weekend. He tended to think of himself as their surrogate parent anyway. The tattoo artist was convinced they needed what he gave them: a studio where they could work off masculine aggression and a home where they could just drop in and be themselves.
Another one arrived at 9, just as Bert and Sandra left for dinner at a restaurant in nearby Colma. The Rodriguez kids were already in their bedroom watching television under the supervision of Bert Junior. Bert backed his car out of the garage and noticed a red Monte Carlo and a green Firebird at the curb.
In the house, young Bert came out of the bedroom for a glass of water once while his father and stepmother were gone. The Chinese were talking in the living room. He spoke no Chinese, so understood nothing they were saying, but he noticed the guns were out of the closet again. The white sack they were kept in lay crumpled nearby. This time, there was even a box of bullets on the living room floor. His father wouldn't like that, but the boy figured that as long as his younger brothers and sisters were in the bedroom, it didn't matter. Of course, he wouldn't squeal on them. They were probably checking things out for a shooting trip in the country on Sunday.
His folks came home at 11, but Bert Junior was already asleep, as were his charges. The Chinese guys had stashed the guns in the closet by then.
Bert and Sandra headed for the kitchen to grab a couple of cups of coffee. They took their drinks into the master bedroom after making sure their kids were asleep.
"Lock up the house when you leave, guys," he yelled over his shoulder as he shut the bedroom door behind him.
The next morning, Sunday, Bert came out yawning at 10. The Chinese boys were scattered all over the living room again, sleeping soundly. The Rodriguez family tiptoed around the house till noon when the boys began to stir. Shortly thereafter, another kid arrived with several small boxes of won-ton soup--individual servings. The guys were slurping it up and chattering gaily when Bert corraled his family and took off for a holiday visit to his sister in Novato, a few miles beyond the northern end of the Golden Gate Bridge.
It was there, at his sister's house, that Bert first heard about the massacre in San Francisco during the hours he and his family had slept. The television report stated that Chinese gang members had invaded a restaurant with shotguns and an automatic weapon and had killed several people. Bert wasn't familiar with the Golden Dragon. It took a minute to sink in.
Slowly, a confusing jumble of mental pictures took shape in his mind. He saw the Chinese kids cocking shotguns in his Pacifica living room. He remembered with a sickening sensation the negotiations in his shop for the sale of a .45 semi-automatic. When Cameron had told him the gun was for sale, Bert had thought right away of Wayne Yee. It was Wayne and Gary Pang who, ultimately, had bought it. And it was one of Wayne's C.Y.A. sidekicks who had brought the white sack of guns to Bert for storage in the closet. He had seen the automatic in there then.
Suddenly, Bert could hear himself telling them to put the weapons away on Friday night. Then he pictured the sprawl of young bodies on his rug that very morning, Sunday, stirring awake sleepy-eyed in the middle of the day as if they'd been out carousing half the night.
The tattoo artist began to envision a terrible possibility.
"Jeez!" he cried, turning in horror to his brother-in-law in front of the TV set. "I wonder if it's those kids who stay over at my house?"
It was a question that troubled him all the way home Sunday evening. Although Bert Junior said nothing to his father, remembrance of what he himself had seen the night before, when he came out of the bedroom for a glass of water, gave him his share of concern, too--a box of bullets on the floor, weapons hoisted and aimed at the walls, an excited buzzing in Cantonese.
My God, the teen-ager wondered in silence, what was really going on?
Foremost in his father's mind when they got home at 9 that Sunday night was yet another unvoiced question: Christ, what kind of trouble am I likely to be in if I've been harboring a gang of savage killers?
The first thing Bert Senior did was check the closet. The guns were gone.
That discovery dispatched him to the telephone. A name had logically come to mind. Bert called Wayne Yee.
"Wayne, this is Bert. Man, this Golden Dragon thing! What's happening? I mean, is it your guys? Anybody who crashes at my house? The guns are gone from the closet! Jesus, you gotta tell me the truth!"
An incredulous chuckle came back over the wire. "Shit, Bert," laughed Wayne, "you can't be serious, my friend! Those guys wouldn't do anything like that! I've checked all of them out at one time or another, or I wouldn't have anything to do with them. Of course, I can see where you might be worried after finding the guns gone from the closet, but, hell, man, you wanted the damn things out of the there, didn't you? You're the one who told us you didn't want weapons kept around your house anymore, aren't you? So they took 'em away."
Bert relaxed a little, but his tension revealed itself in a taut silence.
"C'mon, Bert" wheedled Wayne, "you can't believe something like this about my boys! They're good guys, I swear to God. And I'd be the first one to know if they pulled any shit. They can't hide anything from me. You've got to believe that, buddy.
"I believe you, Wayne." Bert sounded convinced.
He almost was, but he talked to Wayne again a few days later, after Wayne and Gary Pang had gone on television for an interview with Marilyn Baker. There, the two mainstays of Chinese Youth Alternatives had publicly decried the assumption that the perpetrators had to be the Chinatown kids. Bert was glad to hear Wayne continue to be so definite about it. That should have ended his concern.
Still, several days later when one of the kids came by the house on Firecrest, Bert felt compelled to ask for direct reassurance. "Did you guys do it? Why haven't I seen you for a week?"
The boy shrugged. "We been down South for awhile. You know we got friends in L.A. We took off and went down there. You think we woulda come home if we done it?"
The boy seemed hurt by Bert's worried frown. Bert had known the kid for more than three years. He had been among those who had helped cater the reception at his wedding to Cathy, the wife before Sandra, in 1974. Their relationship went back quite a way. They were friends.
"It wasn't us," the Chinese youth assured him.
Bert accepted that. They couldn't have done such a terrible thing. Settling things up man to man Bert could understand. But to shoot all those people was crazy. These guys were a little spooky with their gun games, maybe, but they weren't nuts. Besides, they were Wayne Yee's boys, and Wayne was the boss.
He felt more confidence in Wayne than ever before. Such crises were the cement that bound true friends together through thick and thin. Wayne was a smart man who knew how to make his way in the community and how to take care of his associates. Bert decided to keep his wagon hitched to Wayne Yee's star.
The two men kept steadily in touch during the following months. Then, in December, Wayne stood prominently in a select group asked to speak at the Federal Building in San Francisco before a House of Representatives Subcommittee addressing the problem of juvenile crime. Wayne even began confiding certain business matters to Bert. He spoke of a fellow named Sam who was conferring with him on a "big deal" in Hawaii. Sam had come all the way over from the islands to implement it through Wayne's many contacts on the West Coast.
Bert must have been pleased. The tattoo artist relished association with larger things than he himself could achieve in life.

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2000 Brockman Morris