Won-Ton Bandits
Part Four


 
The robbery occurred on Friday night, January 6th, just as Stuart Lin had told McKenna and Foley on Thursday that it would. Henry Lee hadn't been there, but other Joe Boys were. Stuart obviously had his finger on a pulse, but second-rate robberies were not enough. There were other reasons why the Gang Task Force was interested in him, as well.
Foley went back to the office after the Friday night arrests and started writing a scratch on the adventure of the won-ton bandits. It was about 2 A.M. Halfway through the scratch, he had to describe the bandits' white car. During the seconds he had passed it on Mason Street, he recognized not only its occupants, but also, somewhere at the back of his mind, the vehicle itself.
A mental picture flashed before his eyes: a kamikaze pilot behind the wheel, beaming a gold-plated smile from under an Ivy League cap.
"Jesus Christ!" Foley muttered out loud in consternation. "Now, we've got real trouble with that little son of a bitch!"
He reached for the phone without thought for the time and called Tim Simmons at home.
Simmons, sound asleep until the phone rang, reached for it from his bed. He listened to Foley's voice on the other end of the line, saying, "Tim, they pulled the won-ton robbery like Stuart said they would, and guess whose car the kids were driving?"
"Asshole!" whispered Simmons in a snit. "What's this 'Twenty Questions' bullshit at 2 o'clock in the morning? How the fuck should I know whose goddamned car it is?"
In the Task Force office, Foley looked at his watch. "Oh, hell, Tim, I'm sorry! I didn't realize it was this late. Anyway, now that you're up, take a guess."
Simmons heaved himself up to a sitting position in the bed and swung his legs to the floor, gently laying aside the covers so as not to wake up his wife who had not heard the phone. "Let me open my eyes for a second, man. O.K., so the noodle thing went down, and these guys are drivin' somebody else's vehicle, right?"
"Right!" echoed Foley.
"And I'm supposed to know whose, right?"
"You got it," Foley agreed.
"Well, damn, I can't....hey!" Simmons mouth fell open. "Oh, Christ, it's not a white car is it?" "Dirty, but white," Foley replied.
Simmons' mind flashed to the same channel as Foley's. "It's Gan Wah's! Ornery little bastard! Oh, shit, how embarrassing!"
Foley laughed. "You sound just like Ron Schneider tonight! Anyway, I think you'd better talk to Gan Wah tomorrow."
Simmons grunted. "Talk? You mean kick his ass! Yeah, I'll talk to him! Thanks, Dan. Sorry I called you an asshole. You deserve better than that, maybe a horse's ass!"
The two detectives chuckled as they hung up on each other.
Tim Simmons was the natural man to call if anything went awry in the life of Gan Wah Woo. His special relationship with "the swimming dragon"--who, at 14, braved the Pearl River's sharks to reach freedom in Hong Kong--was a matter of common knowledge in the Gang Task Force. Some hated to admit it, but without that relationship, the Golden Dragon investigation might never have got off the ground at all.
It occurred to Simmons on that early morning of January 7, 1978, that maybe it wasn't a bad thing that Gan Wah had lent the car to the won-ton bandits. Hadn't it suddenly and surprisingly become Gan Wah's job to keep himself cool with the Joe Boys? Who would ever have thought that the tough little swimming dragon would turn police informant and spy? Playing along with him might even break the Golden Dragon case!
Simmons grinned and slapped his knee. Gan Wah was using his head. What could be more conducive to the continuing friendship and trust of the Joe Boys than letting them use his car? The gang kids were known to tolerate almost anybody for the sake of having another vehicle around.
Simmons couldn't help but laugh out loud. Hell, the same could be said of the Gang Task Force. Most of the vehicles they got their hands on at that point were conned from other units. If they had to wait for Chief Gain to set them up with patrol cars and other equipment of their own, they might as well start paddling upstream at the bottom of Niagara Falls!
He thought again about Gan Wah and what he, the tough cop, had done for him, the tough kid. In a way, they were in debt to each other. Simmons had given the boy a chance to show he was more than a mindless killer, and Gan Wah had returned the favor by showing that something could be done about helping the gang kids change their ways, at least temporarilty. If it only served the purpose of helping the Golden Dragon case to a successful conclusion, that would be enough to prove a point.
Simmons' first exposure to Gan Wah at San Francisco General Hospital in March of '77 had hardly proved an auspicious beginning to a relationship that would become as meaningful as theirs. Seeing the wounded boy lying in bed with hatred for the police blazing in his eyes, Simmons had accused him of being "a goddammed liar" when he denied association with the youth gangs of Chinatown.
Gan Wah had been picked up by the Triads almost as soon as he set foot on Hong Kong's shores. Simmons knew it had to be the bar fly's call for "another round" when the kid joined his family in San Francisco. The cop was right. Gan Wah had become a Joe Boy, seemingly to the core, within weeks of his first cocksure steps along the sidewalks of Grant Avenue.
Christ, thought Simmons, what changes since then!
These changes provided evidence of Simmon's ability to train a violent dragon to walk, at least for awhile, on a leash.
The close association of the two disparate characters began in early November 1977, after Gan Wah Woo was put on probation from the Youth Guidance Center following his arrest for carrying a concealed weapon, possession of a loaded firearm, conspiracy and defrauding an innkeeper.
On September 20th at 8 o'clock in the evening, Dick Moses and Larry Wong of the Gang Task Force had observed a known Joe Boy, Victor Pedrucco, walking into the Superior Palace Restaurant on Balboa Street out in the Richmond District. With him were two other Chinese boys. All three matched the descriptions of three persons who had committed an armed robbery on September 15th at the nearby Szechuan Restaurant on Geary Boulevard.
Moses and Wong entered the establishment, sat down at a table and kept covert eyes on the subjects. The boys ordered a large meal, consumed it, and 41 minutes later walked out without paying the bill of $8.95. Needless to say, they likewise left no tip for their waiter, 40-year-old Peter Leong, who was also the cashier.
The cops were right behind them and saw them get into a vehicle. As the officers walked up to the car and accosted them, one of the boys quickly closed the glove compartment. Inside it, Moses found a .22-caliber pocket pistol in a black leather shoulder holster. The gun was loaded with six live rounds. Also in the holster was an I.D. card in Victor Pedrucco's name.
A black-and-white unit, Officers Simms and Decarsky, responded from Richmond Station along with another Task Force unit, Mike Geraldi and Marshall Wong. The boys were taken to Richmond Station and placed under arrest. The classically named Victor Hugo Pedrucco was booked as an Asian despite being part Potuguese.
The two friends arrested with him were Gan Wah "Robert" Woo and Stuart Pok Lin.
The three were sent to the Youth Guidance Center, from which facility they were placed on probation. Gan Wah was still cooling his heels at the Y.G.C. on September 27th when Carl Klotz and Cantonese-speaking Fred Lau were routinely sent out to interview him with the hope of gleaning some information about the Golden Dragon.
The kid had a surprise in store for them. He talked, and what he had to say was so interesting that the Gang Task Force went out of its way to accommodate him. That was the first of several interviews, always requiring an interpreter. Despite a short stint at Galileo High School, Gan Wah barely spoke English at all. Not only that, but also his native dialect in Chinese was Toy Shan. He spoke both Mandarin and Cantonese, but was most comfortable and best able to express himself in Toy Shan. This factor demanded an extra effort in finding an interpreter or translator.
As Tim Simmons had some experience with him following the Jackson Street shooting in March 1977 when Gan Wah had taken a bullet in the chest after a car chase by Wah Ching gangsters, Simmons was assigned to meet with Gan Wah in company with Fred Lau. The boy had been released from the Youth Guidance Center by this time and seemed willing to accommodate the police in all respects.
They set up a rendezvous at Harbor Emergency Hospital, a city facility since closed. In 1977, it was still in business on Russian Hill above the Broadway Tunnel which connects Chinatown with the through-streets that lead to the Marina District and the Golden Gate Bridge. Being situated at the edge of Chinatown, with police cars, ambulances and plenty of rush activity for cover, Harbor Emergency provided an ideal setting NOT to be noticed unless you were brought in on a stretcher.
At Harbor, Simmons asked Gan Wah why he now appeared to be so anxious to cooperate with the police when he had behaved quite to the contrary previously. Gan Wah didn't like Simmons. He remembered too well the cop's calling him "a goddamned liar" at San Francisco General in March, but he had made up his mind to talk, and talk he would.
In Lau's translation, Gan Wah said: "I am most willing to cooperate with police because I don't like Chinese people killing other Chinese people. But I have to be very careful because if the Joe Boys find out, my life will be in danger."
In this and pursuant interviews, Gan Wah made it clear that he wanted to dissociate himself from the Joe Boys. He claimed to have separated himself from what he considered the most violent faction and had chosen new friends in the gang. These people, like Brian Kwan and Victor Pedrucco, had passed their 18th birthdays. They refused to participate in violent crimes leading to prosecution as an adult.
Gan Wah had turned 18 on October 3rd.
 

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2000 Brockman Morris