Won-Ton Bandits
Part Three


 
The next day, McKenna and Ron Schneider had a meeting with Barry Johnson and Cliff Tawney of the Robbery Detail to set up a plan for surveillance. Foley worked the night watch and came in at 7. Schneider, Johnson, Tawney, Dave Horton, Bob Bonnet, Bernie McNeil, Marshall Wong and Foley started a stake-out near the won-ton shop at 11 that night.
Schneider and Johnson went inside to tell the owner, Mr. Ng, and one of his employees, named Lee, about the possibility of a robbery there within the hour. "Cooperate with the robbers, Mr. Ng. We're staked-out just outside. We'll take care of everything."
The eight officers involved in the surveillance moved their vehicles quickly into position.
Horton and McNeil sat in a van parked two car-lengths away from the front door. Bonnet and Wong stationed themselves on Kearny, half a block north, cutting off a hasty exit into Chinatown. Kearny Street ran one-way north. Schneider and Foley parked half a block south at the corner of Sacramento and Kearny, covering retreat on foot toward downtown. All six of these men were with the Force. The Robbery Detail detectives, Johnson and Tawney, staked-out facing east on Clay, around the corner, with a clear view of the escape route to the freeway and of the trees in Portsmouth Square, a likely place for the robbers to dash across if on foot.
The cops settled in for the long wait. All the men were seasoned veterans of stake-outs, but each such operation was always a new experience. They never knew what lay at the other end--open warfare with armed robbers or the timid surrender of frightened kids. All stake-outs shared one thing in common: tedium spiced with anticipation and growing nervousness as the fateful moment approached.
After what seemed like hours, Tawney radioed a hopeful announcement: "Just spotted two kids walking on Clay. They're giving us the hard eye." Two minutes later: "Hey, those two kids, they passed us again. They're walking west toward Kearny. Looks like they're checking us out. They gave us the hard eye again."
In the car at the corner, Schneider asked Foley what time it was. "Fifteen minutes to midnight," the younger cop replied. Schneider, the Task Force's senior officer after Lt. Murphy, and the greatest of the old Chinatown hands himself, went on the air: "O.K., guys, looks good. Keep an eye on 'em."
All the units turned eyes toward the corner of Kearny and Clay as the kids came into view.
Schneider got on the air again: "Hey, Cliff, those kids...is one of them wearing a dark jacket and the other one a dark, Air-Force type of jacket with a fur collar, and white pants?" Tawney answered: "Yeah! What are they doing?" Reply from Schneider: "Standing on the corner of Kearny and Clay, talking. Does everybody see them?" All afirmative. Schneider: "Wait a minute! They're walking toward the won-ton shop. They're going in. Hey, Dave and Bernie, what are they doin' in there?"
From the van near the door of the restaurant, McNeil replied: "Can't see inside. Wait a minute! There's a car pulling out right in front of the place. We'll jockey into that spot."
While the van pulled out of one parking place into another, the rest of the stake-out broke into a cold sweat of anitcipation. This could be the moment. Minds raced. Schneider tapped his microphoine impatiently, ready to give the command to move.
McNeil's voice crackled: "O.K., we can see 'em." Schneider: "What the hell are they doing?" McNeil: "Nothing! They're just sitting at a table near the counter. Looks like they're waiting for food." Schneider: "Everyone sit tight."
In unison, Foley and Schneider said, "Shit!", to which Foley added, "Must be the wrong guys." Schneider: "What time did you say this thing was supposed to go down, Dan?" Foley: "Midnight." Schneider: "Well, we got ten minutes. Let's sit tight."
The stake-out units sat in silence for minutes that seemed like hours.
Foley laughed in the ironic way of men prepared for battle. "Wouldn't it be something," he joked to Schneider, "if those two kids were really the won-ton bandits, and they just walked into the place and said to the owner, 'Give us all your money,' and the owner gave it to 'em, and they just walked out with it while we sat here with our fingers up our asses?"
Schneider giggled. The idea was so stupid, it was funny. Both cops expected a typical gang performance: a vehicle drives up and a carload of shrimp-size hoods leaps out with their guns drawn and cocked.
The two cops waited with fingers resting lightly on their holsters. A firecracker, if set off a block away, would have sent them rocketing through the roof of the car. Then, the two-way radio crackled, and everybody heard McNeil whisper from the van in front of the won-ton shop: "Looks like the kids got take-out food. It's in a white bag. They're walking out. There they go, turning right on Kearny, headed toward Clay."
Another thought crossed Foley's mind. "Hey, Ron, maybe we oughta take those kids on when they get up the block," he suggested half-seriously. "Maybe the owner just gave them the money!"
Schneider had already had enough of Foley's half-baked ideas. "Hell, no, Dan! We gotta stay here. We don't want to jump too early. If we do, we might blow the whole thing when the real robbers show up!"
The kids crossed Clay Street and headed along Kearny toward Merchant Alley beside the Chinatown Holiday Inn. There, they vanished into the dark byway. Schneider got back on the air: "Hey, Bernie, what's everyone doing in the shop?" McNeil: "Nothin', Ron. Just sitting around. Wait...the owner's coming out."
The other units could see Mr. Ng step outside and look around. He turned and walked back in.
A sickening sensation struck Foley in the stomach. "Ron, let's go!" he croaked, his fingers already on the ignition key. "Let's go stop those kids. They probably got the money!" Schneider held his ground. "No, no, we gotta stay here! We don't want to blow this!"
A minute went by.
Suddenly, McNeil's excited voice burst over the radios: "Everybody's rushing out! Something's wrong!"
The units saw a crowd of 10 or 12 Chinese pouring out to the sidewalk from the noodle shop, bouncing around with excitement, chattering and looking in every direction. One of them jumped up and down, pointing toward Merchant Alley.
At that instant, a commanding voice from headquarters boomed over the police radios: "Attention all units! A '211' just occurred at 648 Kearny Street, the won-ton restaurant. Suspects described as two Chinese juveniles....."
"Oh, shit!" echoed through every stake-out car.
Spurred into action at last, Foley, at the wheel, gunned the motor. At his side in the passenger seat, Schneider muttered repeatedly: "Jesus Christ! How embarrassing!" He said it for all of them.
By that time, a black-and-white unit from Chinatown's Central Station had screeched to a halt at the scene. Schneider moaned: "Let's not even talk to those guys. Jesus Christ! How embarrassing!"
But Foley stopped briefly, and the unit told them it was a "good" robbery, meaning that the won-ton bandits had made off with the cash. He and Schneider then took off in search of the culprits. They drove down Clay to the freeway on-ramp where they met another Central unit that hadn't seen anyone go by.
Their minds no longer benumbed by embarrassment, the two detectives asked themselves where would those kids go, if not the freeway?
Turning up Sacramento Street toward the heights of Nob Hill, Foley thought of David Yu's house in the 1200 block of Mason. At top speed, he nosed the car up the steepest block on Sacramento, beside the Fairmont Hotel, and burned wheels in a sharp right northward on Mason down a roller-coaster incline pointing back toward Clay.
Flying down the hill, he caught sight of a white car moving slowly toward them about a block away, coming from the direction of David's house. As the unmarked police car bounced across intersecting tracks at the Cable Car Barn, the occupants of both vehicles took a quick look at each other.
"Goddam!" cried Foley to Schneider. "It's the won-ton bandits!"
The white car shifted into high, zoomed around the corner and headed east on Clay.
U-turning on the proverbial dime, Foley followed suit. Schneider lifted the portable floodlamp from under the seat, held it to the windshield and flashed it red. The white car ahead braked momentarily. Its door popped open on the passenger side, and one of the kids took off running up an alley near Powell and Clay. The car, increasing speed, continued down the street.
"You're the jogger, Ron," Foley hollered, jolting to a stop. "Go get his ass!" Schneider took the cue, leapt from the police car, and dashed up the alley after the kid.
Foley stepped on the gas and cut off the white car at the intersection of Powell and Clay. The cop jumped out and ordered the driver into the street at gunpoint. Patting him down quickly, Foley saw money sticking out of his coat pockets. As Foley handcuffed him, a black-and-white unit from Central tooled by and happily found a place for the kid in the caged back seat. Foley advised them that his partner was up the alley looking for the second suspect. Inside the white car, Foley found the white paper bag full of money, but no gun.
He glanced down the street to the apartment-house home of some known Joe Boys. Heads stared back from an upstairs window. Foley concluded that was where the kids had been headed. Then, he ran to the alley where he had last seen Schneider and puffed his way up the steep hill. The cul-de-sac abutted the back of the Brocklebank Garage that faced Sacramento.
To the left, a dark clearing rambled over an exposed patch of the granite that forms Nob Hill. It was covered with underbrush and garbage and, at that rainy time of year, ankle-deep mud. Long an eyesore to residents of the Hill, especially where it dropped from a height to be edged by a ramshackle fence bordering Powell, the lot presented a dismal prospect to Foley as he contemplated fighting his way over it in a pair of new shoes. But Schneider stalked the presumably armed won-ton bandit somewhere in there, so Foley sloshed into sludge up to his sox. He found Schneider waiting at the brink of the cliff.
Central Station's units blocked any escape through a hole in the fence on Powell, and some of their officers joined in the search. In a crevice between the rock and a side wall of the Fairmont Hotel Annex Garage, one of the men from Central found William "No-knock" Anderson. The youth tried to pull a gun out of his waistband. The policeman wrestled him to the ground and handcuffed him.
The kid Foley had ordered out of the white car was Robert Lui, whom he had known to be a Joe Boy for a period of time. No-knock Anderson, a Southeast Asian whose street moniker derived from the American mispronunciation of his Vietnamese name, was also a Joe Boy.
Under polite grilling at Central Station, No-knock confessed to committing the crime, but Robert Lui stood firmly on the negative. Stubborn as hell, he greeted all questions with the famous gang-kid "hard eye."
Meanwhile, Ron Schneider muttered happily to Foley: "Wow, what a relief! This is great!" Now everything looked good. Schneider's heart was in the right place. It could have been a real embarrassment--eight of "San Francisco's finest" surrounding the place, and two punk kids breeze in and waltz out with a bagful of take-home cash!
In the aftermath, Schneider and Foley went back to the won-ton restaurant bearing the good news and a receipt for the loot temporarily retained as evidence.
Mr. Ng received it with grace and informed them of what had taken place: "The two kids walk in. They say they have a gun. They want all the money. So I give them all the money in the cash register--$306--like you say to do. But I was a little worried because you guys don't come up and arrest them when they walk out. I think, where are the police? I wait. Still I don't see you. So I call the real cops. Everybody go outside. I keep looking for you, but nobody comes. What happen to you guys?"
With a slight cough, Foley told him it was planned that way. The cops wanted to see where the kids were going. Mr. Ng smiled at inscrutable Western ways.
Schneider was very happy, too. The kids didn't get away and embarrass law enforcement to death. Foley stood there in his new suede shoes. They were soaking wet and covered with mud. He was not so happy. The following Monday, he asked Lieutenant Murphy about a replacement pair. Murphy laughed.
 

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2000 Brockman Morris