Scramble
Part Six


 
One who heard the TV news of Stuart's arrest the night of March 24th was Peter Cheung, whose parents' home on Amherst had provided apt cover for Gan Wah Woo and his Ivy League cap on March 14th. It would appear that after Peter drove by, saw his front door broken in, and police vehicles scattered around in front of the house, he got the message fast and decided to become a house guest himself--at Bert's place in Rohnert Park. As was customary with the boys, he probably said nothing to Bert about the reason for his impromptu visit. He was, obviously, still around on March 24th, no doubt sneaking in and out of the back doors of the house and the shop while trying not to tip his hand to his hosts. One report has it that Dana was up there, too.
One can imagine him (or them) hearing the sad tale of Bert's arrest from Sandy that evening. He would have packed his emergency gear and thrown it into the car, ready for a quick take-off from a "safe" house that wasn't so safe anymore. He would have commiserated with Sandy at least to the point of staying to watch the TV news for a story about Bert.
It is known that what he found out next, he heard over television the night of March 24th--the announcement of Stuart Lin's arrest, the first for the Golden Dragon massacre.
Stuart in custody? Oh, my God!
As disastrous as had been the Mack Sennet-like caper resulting in Gan Wah's apprehension, it was as nothing alongside the problem suddenly facing Peter now. The boy's dilemma came closer to that of Shakespeare's tragic Prince of Denmark than to any confronting the crooks in Sennet's wildly funny cops-and-robbers comedies of the silent movies: was he to be, or not to be, arrested for the Golden Dragon?
There he sat (as in "Hamlet"), color fast rising to his cheeks, fearing all his crimes broad blown, as flush as May. Alas! Poor Yorick! Or Peter, as it were.
The First Clown in Shakespeare's play could have told him to cudgel thy brains no more about it, for the name (Peter Cheung) was indeed upon that sorry list.
Given the lifestyle he had constructed for himself, it was inevitable. His father had come alone from Hong Kong when Peter was just a kid, and had worked hard as a waiter in Chinatown to earn money to transport his wife and son to the States. They lived in Chinatown for a year before moving away from the Chinese district to the pleasant, middle-class house on very American Amherst.
Peter mixed in with the Joe Boys Gang. He could easily have gone another way, but different influences than his parents' determined otherwise. He had dropped out of Francisco Junior High in the middle of the ninth grade, and had refused to continue his education further. There was a quick-witted and rather endearing side to the hard-nosed little guy, but these were quickly masked by surliness and a hatred for police, prerequisites for all kids in the "hard-eye" game.
He was "kind of working," as he put it himself, which seems to have meant hanging out at Wayne Yee's Chinese Youth Alternatives, "a place to help get a job." He was 14 when he started that. The alternatives offered him there were of a limited range. He identified Wayne Yee as a Joe Boy, and sought such identity for himself. He was about as young as Joe Boys could acceptably be.
He began going regularly to Bert's tattoo shop in 1976, at the age of 15 or 16, probably when Bert instituted sessions of kung fu. But when Peter started giving and getting tattoos around that time, Bert and he were already old friends. The two first met when he was 13 or 14 (and Bert 34), in 1974, at a kung-fu studio about a block away from the tattoo parlor in Daly City. Bert was featuring belly-dancing classes at the shop in those days. He was still married to Cathy, who gave those lessons. He didn't start his kung-fu classes until 1976, when married to Sandy.
At Wayne's C.Y.A., Peter formed relationships with the Yu brothers--twins Tom and Dana, who were more than a year older, and Chester, almost a year younger than he. It was Dana who actually had rented Peter's apartment for him, with Peter's money, in Daly City in the late spring of 1977. Peter had been unable to do so because he had no identification at the time. It was, however, technically his place, although Dana spent a lot of time there, playing cards, talking, and sleeping over. So did Sai Ying Lee, and Peter Ng.
And Melvin Yu.
Melvin was a really good friend, not related to the triumvirate of Yu's. Melvin's birthday fell only 17 days after his. Maybe that helped to make them close.
Melvin had the distinction of bearing a Wah Ching wound from the 4th of July battle at Ping Yuen. Peter bore no such scar--and certainly couldn't brag about his many curfew violations in Chinatown--but he'd been with Gan Wah when the swimming dragon shot up Portsmouth Square, had done time at the California Youth Authority, and, on his own, had once escaped from the Youth Guidance Center. There was surely manhood in that. It could be said of both Melvin and Peter, in equal measure, that they were possessed of a truant disposition. ("Hamlet")
Melvin and Peter had often stewed in the same pot before, but the Golden Dragon was witches' brew, and they both knew it.
Having left Bert's Rohnert Park house far behind, he engaged in conversation with Melvin in San Francisco on Saturday, the day after Stuart's arrest. "I am thinking of getting out of town," Peter declared. "Yeah," reflected Melvin, "Stuart got busted, and he just might talk."
That's when Peter definitely decided it was time to scramble as far away as a tank of gas would take him.
The following day, March 26th, Easter Sunday, Peter threw his clothes and a few other belongings into the same 1963 Plymouth Roadrunner under the hood of which Dana and he had tinkered on the day when Gan Wah was apprehended on Amherst. It was not his car. It belonged to a friend in Reno, Yee Yuen Wong, one of Wayne Yee's "spooky fuckers" who had attended the meeting at the Sheraton at Fisherman's Wharf a few weeks before.
Peter struck out eastward for Stockton.
He had been to Stockton before. The pleasant, small city of tree-shaded streets was not only the site of one of his alma maters, the state's country-club prison for juveniles, known as the California Youth Authority, but also boasted a sizable Chinese community. His father would later go into business out there in the sun-drenched San Joaquin Valley.
At any rate, Peter knew the territory and quickly found a place to stay. Whether or not he rented one himself is not clear. Letters had been addressed to a "Carol Cheung" on Edison Street in Stockton before he arrived, and that was where he came to roost.
His birthday present, when he turned 18 on March 30th, was Melvin. He had called his buddy from Stockton, after getting situated. "How is it over there?" Melvin wanted to know. "Is it easy to get a job? Are you working yet?" Peter replied: "It ain't too hard to find a job. I've already got one lined up for myself at a car wash." Encouraged, Melvin told him the good news: "Here I come!"
Melvin arrived in time for the birthday, carrying his belongings. On April 16th, he, too, turned 18. His family had already given him a birthday card saying, "Happy Birthday to a Brother Who's All He's Cracked Up to Be: the Family Nut", containing $35 in cash.
Among his belongings, Melvin brought with him a sheet of lined notepaper covered with sketches of birds, a rose, a mushroom, a butterfly, and a pig dressed like a Wild West sheriff. They may have been his designs for tattoos. If they indicated his talents as a tattoo artist, Bert was right in holding him in high esteem; they were finely drawn in an elegant hand that also showed in his superior penmanship.
Peter was already working at the Shaughnessy Car Wash. His take-home pay was $47.30 from a salary of $54.33. He probably needed every penny of it. Installation of a smog device and minor repairs on the car at Louie's Garage on April 12th cost him $56.16. Maybe Melvin's birthday gift of $35 helped defray that expense.
At 5-foot-5 Melvin stood equal in height to Peter, but outweighed him, at 135, by 15 pounds. His hair, a bit straggly, was two inches longer than Peter's smoother cut, almost to the shoulders.
On April 12th, Peter had succeeded in obtaining an Interim Drivers License in his Chinese name, Cheung Chun Yiu, after flunking the written test on April 10th. On April 19th, Melvin passed the written exam with flying colors and got one in HIS Chinese name, Ming Ka Yu. They were obviously expecting the worst, which is exactly what they got on April 22nd.
On that day, Melvin's picture appeared at the top of the front page of the Saturday Stockton Record, under the headline: "Chinatown Massacre Suspect Seized Here." The story related the arrest of Peter Ng at the California Youth Authority right there in Stockton the day before. Melvin was described as "believed to be a fugitive and is considered armed and extremely dangerous," both of which he was.
That was too close for comfort. They decided to get out of California that very day, April 22nd.
Destination: Delta, Utah, city of....? Where is Delta? Why Delta? "I looked at a map of the United States," said Peter later, "and drew a line into the middle of nowhere."
They headed for Delta over a main route taking them past Lake Tahoe, a 12-mile-wide body of clear, deep blue water, 22 miles long, one-third of it in Nevada, and all of it surrounded by 4,000-foot mountains full of ski resorts.
Peter, no dumb bunny, had taken the precaution of removing the license plates from Yee Yuen Wong's Roadrunner as far back as April 17th. He had then applied for, and received, a Temporary Operating Permit, perhaps by reporting the plates stolen. The Highway Patrol stopped them on the California side of Tahoe for not having license plates, but they talked their way out of it.
Now doubly frightened, Peter headed for the back routes through the High Sierras and the Carson Range into the state of Nevada. Long after dark, they had trouble with the car in the dry, mountain country around Stagecoach, in western Nevada.
Peter pulled over on the shoulder of the road and yanked up the hood, but Tom's twin, Dana, wasn't out there in the middle of nowhere to help him with the Roadrunner now. Nor was Chester Yu, upon whom Stuart had relied to fix his Olds. The Yu brothers were having their own problems in the elsewhere of San Francisco.
Melvin and Peter looked up and down the silent, dark highway. Despite the name of the place, there wasn't a stagecoach in sight. Leaving the hood up as an S.O.S., they crawled back into the car and shortly fell To sleep: perchance to dream: Ay, there's the rub; For in that sleep of death what dreams may come....("Hamlet," again).
'Twas no dream, but, verily, a nightmare for the sleeping boys when Lyon County's Deputy Sheriff Robert Wenner and Reserve Deputy Steve Boyer came cruising by on routine night patrol. Ay, that was a rub!
Noticing the hood standing open, Wenner also observed that the car bore no license plates. He suspected this might be the black Roadrunner for which he had received a be-on-the-lookout alert in connection with homicide in San Francisco.
He woke up the kids with a knock on the window. Both were asleep under blankets, Melvin in the front, and Peter in the rear. Peter crawled over the seat and stepped out through the driver's door.
"We're just tourists passing through," Peter explained with splendid understatement, presenting his driver's license bearing the completely Chinese name. "Our car is broken down. We need a tow truck." Wenner studied both licenses, as well as the temporary registration. On the latter, he immediately recognized the number as that of the vehicle wanted in San Francisco. Realizing now that the boys might be exceedingly dangerous, sly Wenner asked Peter to wait comfortably in the Roadrunner while he called for a tow truck.
Wenner, a desert fox, returned to his patrol car to inform the waiting Boyer of the news, ran a radio check, and discovered that mellifluous "Cheung Chun Yiu" and "Ming Ka Yu" translated, in Western parlance, as hot potatoes Peter Cheung and Melvin Yu.
Wenner called for assistance. He returned to the boys and told them he'd ordered a tow truck. Help was on the way.
It was, but not for the F.O.B's.
Arrested at gunpoint after the arrival of a posse composed of Deputies Logan Denison and Mike Judd, the boys were taken to Lyon County Jail in neighboring Yerington, a small copper-mining town of 1,500 people, 40 miles east of Lake Tahoe.
Ron Schneider, accompanied by Lt. Murphy, Leon Crouere and Fred Lau, arrived the next day. Schneider informed Peter privately that the driver of the Golden Dragon getaway car, Chester Yu, had been arrested, and "got a deal" for promising to testify.
Would Peter like to talk to Chester and to Mr. Levine? Peter would.
By telephone, after confirming it all with his friend, Peter listened carefully as Hugh Levine told him they knew he had stolen the getaway car with Dana, and if he wanted to cooperate with police, he could get the same deal as Chester did.
"You'll be charged as a juvenile, Peter, for auto theft and as an accessory for harboring Melvin now and Gan Wah Woo earlier. You'll do your time at the California Youth Authority in Stockton."
Peter went for it. He would testify.
To Stockton, again! That town seemed to be irrevocably linked to his destiny.
Levine offered no deal to Melvin Yu. There would be no deals for the boy who peppered the screaming crowd with 23 rounds from a submachine gun on the lower level of the Golden Dragon Restaurant, at 2:41 on the morning of September 4, 1977.
Nay, not for this Melvin: 'Tis now the very witching time of night, when churchyards yawn and hell itself breathes out contagion to this world: now could I drink hot blood, and do such bitter business as the day would quake to look on. ("Hamlet" again, Act III, Scene II)
 

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