The Reluctant Dragon
Part One

In June 1976, Stuart Pok Lin came to the United States from Hong Kong at the age of 16. He therefore would have been instantly labeled an F.O.B., a jook kok, a stalk of bamboo open to Chinese culture at one end and sealed off from American culture at the other. This made him a prime target for the bamboo tigers of Chinatown--fresh meat, new blood.
Stuart entered Galileo High School, but even with an I.Q. of 133, he found that his bad English held him back. That didn't stop him from making Chinese friends at school. He first formed a close relationship with Helbert Tham, a Wah Ching Gang member and fellow soccer player. This turned out to be a false start. He gravitated later toward a Joe Boy, Henry Lee, who introduced him to Gan Wah Woo, Tom Yu, Peter Ng, Melvin Yu, and others in the gang who attended the same school.
Stuart's father had no idea his son was hanging around with the gangs, nor would he have known what a Joe Boy was, much less a Wah Ching. Once, Stuart made the mistake of staying away from home all night. His father was furious. Stuart alibied that he'd been delivering newspapers, had forgotten his house key, didn't want to wake the family, and so, slept in someone's garage. "The rest of the time [my father] didn't know I was with those bad guys."
Stuart made an effort to follow the earnest example of his sire. He got a part-time job, then another, and still another--in sequence, not simultaneously. By the summer of 1977, he owned his first car, a 1969 Oldsmobile Cutlass. He paid $175 for it. "The guy down on North Beach who sold it to me wanted $200, but I told him I ain't got that much money, and I showed him my paycheck."
Stuart had a summer job that year, "kind of like the government give to school kids: child care." So now he had work, he had a car, he had a little money, and he had friends in his new world.
He also had a tattoo: a six-inch, rose-and-green dragon, mouth agape with serpentine rage, rushing headlong into battle along Stuart's right upper arm. He got the tattoo at Bert's, probably early in the summer of '77. Having established himself as a regular patron by means of half-a-dozen previous visits, he was at the shop in Daly City one evening, in a tee shirt, playing pinball. Stuart didn't especially want a tattoo, but Tom Yu saw all that vacant space on the taller boy's beefy arm and insisted, "You need one."
"Hell, I don't need no tattoo."
"You've got to have a tattoo because we've all got tattoos. You're gonna get a tattoo."
"I ain't goin' for no tattoo."
"You're gonna get a tattoo, and I'm gonna put it on you." Tom picked up a gun--a tattoo gun--and set to work on Stuart's biceps. The older boy was good at it. It turned out to be a very fine tattoo, and Stuart would have no reason to be ashamed of it.
Things looked good that summer, until the 4th of July, when fellow Joe Boy Felix Huey was shot dead at the Ping Yuen. Melvin Yu got shot in the elbow, and Jeung Him Tom got hit, too. Stuart, who was not there that day, had seen Felix a few times, but was closer to the older brother, Patrick.
At first, everyone was sad, then angry as hell. The good times rolled into reverse and ran downhill. So did Stuart's car. The Olds had seemed O.K. in the beginning, but by mid-August he noticed "its engine was kind of shaking, you know, and sometimes on the freeway it is overheating, and, sometimes, going up the hill, it's rolling back." He asked Tom's twin, Dana, and younger brother, Chester, to fix it for him. He gave them $60 to do it and left it at Peter Cheung's apartment.
That was a couple of weeks before the Golden Dragon.
After the Golden Dragon, the sun ceased to shine for Stuart Lin. But he was only 17; the sun would shine again. It did, in the person of a young Chinese girl with whom he suddenly fell in love. They walked together and talked together, went to the movies, and hung around. Although he found consolation in romance, a man needed not only the softness of a woman, but also the hard strength of a male companion with whom to share the darker secrets of his heart.
For this Stuart turned to his closest friend, Gan Wah Woo.
Dan Foley officially met Gan Wah on Monday, January 9, 1978, when he went with Tim Simmons in the morning to pick up the swimming dragon at Harbor Emergency Hospital, the usual rendezvous. Foley had seen the kid in the office before, but had never talked to him. He saw him once out near Lowell High School. On that occasion, the undercover Golden Dragon informant had been sitting in the white Chevy given him by the Gang Task Force. When the unmarked police car drove by, Gan Wah touched the bill of his Ivy League cap in a furtive salute and smiled, his gold teeth glinting in the sunlight.
From Harbor Emergency on the 9th, Simmons and Foley took Gan Wah into the office and showed him the Nagra body-tape unit they wanted him to wear. Gan Wah had no idea what the thing was, so Simmons tried to show him.
A merry-andrew scene ensued, with the detective explaining, in English, the purpose of the Nagra while poking it against various parts of Gan Wah's thin frame to find an appropriate spot to strap it. The kid babbled bewilderedly in Chinese until finally the meaning of the cop's, till then pointless, gestures became clear, and Gan Wah relaxed, feeling, if not looking, like James Bond. The gold teeth shone in a grin.
A Nagra body tape is a sophisticated recording device coiled in an ultra-thin metal case which can be strapped to the back, the leg, at the waist, or wherever it might best be concealed. A cord connects the unit to a supersensitive, miniaturized microphone usually attached to the chest with adhesive tape. The Nagra's usefulness to spies, undercover agents, and others of that ilk, in secretly recording conversations, compares with the clandestine utility of the Minox camera, which can be stowed in a pack of cigarettes.
From Fred Mollat, Simmons and Foley also borrowed a tape recorder, and from Hugh Levine, a suction-cup attachment for use with the recorder in taping calls. Thus equipped, the swimming dragon returned with the two detectives to Harbor Emergency, slithered from the car, and plunged into the mainstream of Chinatown on the most important mission of his undercover career--getting Stuart Lin on tape.
It was Levine's idea to use a Nagra, once it had been decided to "wire" Gan Wah. But nobody on the Force had ever heard of a Nagra, more generally in use by law enforcement back East. The Fargo unit, a limited-range transmitter requiring a receiver a couple of blocks away, was a San Francisco standby. A Fargo seems to have more appeal for Hollywood action scenes, to judge from its appearance in so many movies wherein the agent secretes it about his or her person or car and goes off to a dangerous rendezvous--with an unmarked police van following close at hand. But the Nagra was better in this situation, where information would be passed strictly according to chance based on Gan Wah's ability to corner Stuart and get him to talk.
As no Nagra was available to the Gang Task Force, Levine fell back on a former associate who served with him in the Manhattan District Attorney's office. Gerry Hinckley had also left New York for the Golden West, rising to second in command of the U.S. Justice Department's Organized Crime Strike Force office in San Francisco. Levine called him and asked for his help in getting a Nagra on loan.
Ready to help an old friend, Hinckley came forward with a Nagra, but it was tagged with a string: Levine could borrow it, on the condition that he signed for it personally. Thus, if Gan Wah got careless and destroyed it somehow, Hugh Levine would personally be out 3,500 bucks, which is what the unit cost. When Hinckley offered it on those terms, Levine had visions of the won-ton escapade, when Gan Wah's white Chevy burned rubber on the nabobs' hill, but he signed for it anyway, later convincing Freitas to buy a Nagra unit for the D.A.'s office.
So Levine got his Nagra, and Gan Wah went out to get his man.
Stuart had already spilled the beans to Gan Wah within days of the Golden Dragon, on the occasion when he tore up the pink Levi's. Former Red Guard Gan Wah considered him shaky and had often pumped him for more. Stuart became Gan Wah's source of much of the information he would later feed the all-devouring appetite of the Gang Task Force for anything on the Dragon.
James Bond himself could have accomplished an assignment with no less alacrity than Gan Wah Woo displayed when he finessed his Nagra-taped interview with Stuart Pok Lin. Of course, he had his reasons for proceeding posthaste, not the least of which was the solid-gold carrot dangling in front of his nose--the City of San Francisco's $100,000 reward. Just as Agent 007 willingly laid his life on the line "on Her Majesty's Secret Service," so did Gan Wah brave discovery by the murderous Joe Boys for the Dragon Force.
Within 24 hours, the job was done.
On Tuesday, January 10, 1978, Gan Wah contrived an encounter with Stuart on the so-called "west campus" of Galileo High--"west" meaning it lay in that direction kitty-corner across the street, behind high gray walls facing Van Ness Avenue, and "campus" meaning a few barracks-style borrowed for classroom use on the grounds of nicely landscaped Fort Mason, near the gates facing Bay Street.
It was a beautiful setting for a school ground, with flower beds and pretty lawns and tippytoe glimpses of the not-so-far-away Golden Gate Bridge, but a paradoxical one for a discussion between schoolboys about an alibi to cover the night of a mass murder which was already a fait accompli.
Stuart had apparently told Gan Wah of his questioning by police (McKenna and Foley) and that he had used Gan Wah's name and Korea House in his alibi.
"What time did you say you saw me [at Korea House]?" queried Gan Wah.
"About 10," Stuart replied.
"You sure are stupid! Why did you say 10? Do you know what time it was when you went into the Golden Dragon?"
"Well, [that was] a simple time to say [you were at Korea House]. Then I could be a witness. If you were there at 10 and left a few minutes after, then how do I know where you went after you said you saw me? Stupid idiot!"
"I'm really forgetful," admitted Stuart in dismay.
Later, Gan Wah discovered that Stuart didn't even know where Korea House was. "You're a stupid idiot! Do you know, or don't you?"
"I just [told the cops] it's in Japantown, I think. I'm so forgetful! If I said [the wrong place]...oh, no! Fuck!"
Gan Wah tugged the worried Stuart over to a patch of bare, sandy ground. They hunkered down, and Gan Wah sketched out a map of the Japantown section of Post Street with a pen. "If [the police] ask you to take them's right here. That's Korea House."
"Then what's it like inside?"
Gan Wah sketched the interior of Korea House.
"Then where did you sit?"
"Henry was sitting the corner. Then me and--what's-'is-name? David?--[we] are sitting at the next table. The singer was there."
"If I saw you, then why didn't I see [Henry and David]?"
Gan Wah thought about that one. "There were high things also blocking your view. Ah! You saw me at the bar!"
"What song was [the singer] singing at [closing] time [2 A.M.]?"
"[Just say] a girl was singing."
Although they discussed many things and several people--including the shooters and drivers of the Golden Dragon killers' team, as well as the instigator of the plot--getting Stuart's alibi straight was the gist. What he had to say about the others involved in the massacre did not constitute admissible evidence against them. What he had to say about himself--his need for an alibi because he was there--deeply incriminated him...on tape.
Gan Wah had nailed Stuart Lin, a stunning achievement in so short a time, and with only one bad scare: Stuart had noticed the bulge at Gan Wah's skinny waist (it was the Nagra!) and, assuming it was a pistol, cautioned him against carrying "such a thing." Had Stuart realized what it really was, he might have panicked and run off to the Joe Boys with the news that Gan Wah was a spy. That would have meant curtains for the swimming dragon.
But Stuart wasn't that quick on the draw, and Gan Wah outsmarted him. Agent 007 would have celebrated with the nearest beautiful lady; the swimming dragon delivered the Nagra tape to the cops.
"I've got what you guys wanted," he grinned at Cantonese-speaking Fred Lau. "I talked to Stuart at Galileo. It's all right here."
The Force had the Nagra recording transcribed to regular cassette tape, which they got back on January 16th. Lau dashed into the interview room with it and started writing notes on what he heard. In the late afternoon, he cried out: "Stuart was at the Golden Dragon; it's on the tape!" A small group fluttered around the table to pick up the bits and pieces that rippled from Fred Lau's busy fingers. He didn't make a full translation, just scribbled his notes and passed them on. "He screwed up his alibi!" Lau finally exclaimed. "Gan Wah's describing Korea House!" Happy cries and looks of satisfaction made the rounds of the room. They knew they had him. A Golden Dragon shooter, the devil in pink Levi's, had given the best evidence against himself--his own taped admissions.
Tim Simmons realized his faith in Gan Wah's veracity had been vindicated. For him, the Nagra tape confirmed him in his resolve to do everything he could to protect Gan Wah's cover and, while so doing, to give the boy a push in the right direction.
But the tape gave Foley cause for reflection.

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2000 Brockman Morris