Bitter Business
Part Five


 
Stuart Tam had posted the telephone number of Wayne Yee's Chinese Youth Alternatives on the wall of his bedroom. That gesture implied its frequent use, but not enough to remember without prompting.
His relationship with Wayne was about like everyone else's, a bit less cordial perhaps, because he was ranked among the younger boys, which equated with being a lackey. He had gone on jaunts out of town, with the Joe Boys, on C.Y.A.-sponsored camping trips. The older ones engaged in shooting practice and hunting, with automatic rifles and such.
On one of these occasions, Stuart was either offered a sawed-off .22 to fire, or was not, depending on what point in time anybody asked him. As he would say of himself to Gan Wah on the west campus of Galileo in January 1978, "I am so forgetful!"
Similarly, he was once asked if he'd ever been to Wayne Yee's house, and replied, "I don't know."
"But you told so-and-so that when you went over to Wayne's, you saw a .38 and an AR15 rifle!"
Deep thought. "Jesus! Where he live at? I think I did go to his house, maybe once."
Stuart also declared that he had never fired a gun before the Golden Dragon. He had to be reminded that he had once spoken of meeting Peter Cheung for the first time at a C.Y.A. picnic in the summer of 1977, before Felix was killed on the 4th of July. At that picnic: "They only let me shoot the .22. They wouldn't let me touch the AR15. There was a barbecue, and they played soccer. Henry Lee asked me to bring my soccer ball with me, and I lent him my soccer shoes."
Even then, he let himself be used. That was the first summer, and the last, when Stuart enjoyed the facilities of Chinese Youth Alternatives, which had moved from 3rd and Bryant to Market Street downtown. Henry took him there. C.Y.A. had a ping-pong table and some dominoes, among other things.
'Seventy-seven was also the first summer, and the last, that Stuart went out to Bert's tattoo shop in Daly City. He was there six or seven times before the Golden Dragon, mostly to play pinball and fussball--and, once, to let Tom talk him into getting the dragon tattoo. He always thought Tom did "a lousy job. To this day, I still hate the tattoo." Tom's argument was predicated on nearly everybody else having a tattoo.
It may be that Stuart allowed himself to be talked into sitting at the business end of Tom's tattoo gun with less struggle than he later admitted. The guys didn't like him very much. He was just another body to hang around. A deeply sensitive human being, who also happened to harbor a genius I.Q.--which nobody, including himself, knew at that time--the knowledge of his unpopularity may have hurt sometimes. But as often happens with such a person, he allowed himself to be the butt of the jokes, probably wanting very much to be liked, and hoping that being the dupe would do it.
Usually, Don Wong and Tony Szeto took him out to Bert's, before he had his own car. That must have been interesting. Tony didn't talk to Stuart, and Don was a completely different type. Henry Lee was his friend. Tony and Henry drove him around a lot in Tony's car. That was probably better. Stuart and Henry loved to gab.
Gan Wah Woo, in spite of his big reputation in the gang, at least talked to Stuart, even if sometimes to call him a "stupid idiot" and tell him what a tough guy he'd been in Hong Kong with the 14K--and still was, in secret, as a Joe Boys' hit man.
Stuart was grateful for the relationship he shared with Gan Wah, who was far more a man of the world than Henry Lee: "Gan Wah told me a lot of things. I never hung around with him. He always just call me, and every time see me, tell me everything. I don't go out with him, you know, except movies, and just talk, and once in awhile, you know, just go to talk to each other. He is the one, he is the only one of all those people, I'm mostly talking to. The rest of them I don't talk to them, except Henry. They won't never talk to me."
While Gan Wah and Melvin were one-upping each other with white hats and the like, Stuart and Melvin were not so close. They said "hi," and that, generally, was that, unless Melvin "smile a lot to me because he want something." Melvin sometimes was in the crowd that went with Stuart to the movies.
From time to time, other Joe Boys would grab Stuart and throw him on the nearest bed and pummel him or hit him "near my thigh, many, many times." It would start out as playing, but then he would say, "I don't want to do this anymore," especially when Peter Ng pulled out a knife. "The hitting was really painful. Peter point the knife at me and tell me not to fight back."
That kind of scene recurred often, first at Bert's house and then at Peter Cheung's apartment, which was only about a 15-minute walk from Bert's, for limber boys. Stuart claimed never to have visited Peter's place (probably not being invited) until the late summer of '77. Even then, it cost him $60 to leave his car for Dana and Chester to fix. Tom was often around at these times, as were Peter Cheung and Donald Wong. Halfbreed Lee, himself a frequent victim, was not above taking a punch or two at Stuart.
It was odd. Stuart was taller and better built than most of them, and outweighed them, each and every one. Basically, they were a bunch of bullies, but Stuart desperately wanted to be one of that bunch.
Tom once said, "A person has to do things to prove his loyalty to the Joe Boys." The "things" implied sometimes created a need for a good hideout away from town. Members of the gang who wanted to tuck themselves out of sight used Peter Cheung's Daly City apartment. Peter Ng stayed there often, as did Sai, Melvin and Tom. There was scarcely any furniture in the place, nor was it any too clean. The landlord once complained about walking in and finding "Chinese kids, wall-to-wall."
In the late spring and summer of '77, Bert Rodriguez noticed that Tom Yu's faction started to spend an enormous amount of time at the tattoo shop. They enjoyed Bosco's kung-fu classes, in which Bert happily participated, too, and loved the pinball machines and the tattoo needles.
Although most of the boys had some kind of relationship with Bert, a few were closer to him than others. Tom and Dana, whose family had a restaurant, had generously helped cater Bert's wedding to Cathy (before Sandy) in 1974. The catering was done under the sponsorship of Chinese Youth Alternatives.
On an occasion when Dana was shot, Bert personally tried to remove the bullet, but couldn't, and finally Bosco Yeung took it out. That was at the tattoo shop. Dana had told Bert he didn't know who shot him. "Some other kids chased me, and I got shot running away." They traditionally kept their criminal activities a secret from the tattoo artist.
Melvin was a star at the needles. Bert greatly admired his work after six months of practice and was anxious for the boy to resume his tattooing lessons as soon as he recovered from his "accident" of the 4th of July.
Sometime in mid-July, Tom and Dana stopped by Bert's house on Firecrest Avenue in Pacifica. They brought with them a white rice sack containing guns. Bert took a look inside: two Remington shotguns, one sawed off and the other with full choke, and a .45-caliber, semi-automatic Commando Mark III submachine gun. Bert had seen the rifle in his shop when Rodney Williams, a friend of one of his employees, John Cameron, brought it in for sale to Robert Huey in December of 1976.
Wayne Yee and Gary Pang had been present. So were Tom Yu and a couple of his boys, in a back room. That was the occasion on which Robert signed his name to the bill of sale as "Gary Wong." Robert, at Wayne's suggestion, kept the gun at his house for a few months. Then, he received a phone call from Tom Yu asking if he could come by and pick up the gun. He turned it over to him.
Tom asked Bert to store the weapons for him, "as a favor." Under the impression that the guns were Wayne Yee's, Bert placed them in the front closet at Firecrest and warned his children to stay away from them. There was no lock on the closet. People who knew Bert have said that no matter what else took place in his life, he was a good father who loved his children. The children must also have feared him, for they obeyed his commands. There is no evidence to indicate that they ever touched that white rice sack.
During August, Tom Yu began stopping by Bert's house more than usual. He brought his group with him. They sat around and talked, sometimes smoking marijuana, but Bert knew they weren't really into drugs. They used the telephone once in awhile and occasionally stayed overnight, scattered around the living room and the family room in chairs, on the sofas, on the floor.
They were very respectful, not a nuisance at all, and were good with Bert's kids in a remote sort of way. They didn't treat the place like a clubhouse, messing it up anymore than one would expect of teen-age boys trying hard to behave. They offered their services around the house and made it clear how grateful they were for a comfortable place to relax, where they could while away the closing days of summer. Tom had already dropped out of school, quitting after the 11th grade, and worked that year in the laundry at the Laguna Honda Convalescent Home.
Late in the month of August, Bert took his family on a vacation to Yosemite National Park, about a four-hour drive east of San Francisco. They wanted to visit the Valley of Yosemite, one of the most dramatically scenic spots in the world, in celebration of the joint birthdays of Bert and Bert Junior on the 24th. It would be Bert's 35th birthday, and Little Bert's 14th.
He asked Wayne Yee to take care of the house, feeding the two dogs, taking care of the plants, keeping an eye on things in general. Wayne begged off. He was bound for Honolulu at that very time, leaving on the 24th and returning on the 30th. Bert settled on his old friend Tom as a substitute and gave him the key. Tom was glad to accept the responsibility.
It was the least he could do for Bert.
 

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2000 Brockman Morris