Bitter Business
Part Six

According to its one-time secretary, the Hip Sing Tong no longer called itself a Tong in 1977. The organization, dating back more than century, had begun to speak of itself by then as the Hip Sing Association. It had branches in Portland, Seattle, New York, Denver and Chicago. Its San Francisco headquarters were located on Clay Street, opposite Portsmouth Square. Flush with the sidewalk, its faade framed a large window suggesting a shop. Its interior featured intricately grained wood paneling on the walls, and projected the image of a clubby real-estate office.
The former secretary once reported that the Hip Sing Association occasionally had gambling in the basement, mostly mahjong and pai gow. He knew, because he used to deal some of the games. He had engaged in other occupations before going to the Hip Sing: assistant manager of a gasoline station; a meter reader for a utility company, and a bank teller at the Bank of America's main branch on California Street, the tallest building in San Francisco, 52 stories of distinctive, brown-marble facing.
He was born on March 16, 1955, in the South American country of Peru, which has a sizable population of Chinese and Japanese, as has Brazil. He is trilingual in English, Spanish and Cantonese. He is part Peruvian and part Chinese. He came to the United States with his parents in 1970, first, to live in Oakland, and, then, in San Francisco. He attended Galileo High School, from which he was graduated around 1973. He was a bit chunky and on the short side, with a dashing quality to his looks and personality that made him seem rather more Latino than Chinese, somewhat of a ladies' man, one might say, and he had a sentimental streak.
He admitted to knowing the names "Hotdog," "Wah Ching" and others in the same classification "from the time I came to the United States," and that "even then I knew about the gangs." To him, Hotdog was an "active member" of the Wah Ching. He understood that "Hop Sing Boys" referred to another youth gang that belonged to the Hop Sing Tong. Among the Hop Sing Boys, he knew of Frankie Yee.
In August and September of 1977, he worked for Twilight Security. He occupied a position as a guard at the International Hotel on Kearny Street, near Jackson. The antiquated "I" (eye) Hotel, on the city's "condemned" list for various reasons, became celebrated among political activists when San Francisco Sheriff Richard Hongisto went to jail for five days, starting April 30, 1977, on a contempt-of-court charge for refusing to displace its holdout residents by closing it down.
On duty just inside the door of the hotel, the erstwhile secretary wore a uniform which had an appearance similar to that of the California Highway Patrol, and he toted a legal gun. He worked a rotating shift five days a week, usually from 4 P.M. to midnight. The uniform suited him, and he was not averse to strolling the streets of the Chinese quarter in the evening and taking a look around, not only at the ladies, but also in search of familiar faces and pleasant conversation. He was distinctly a man-about-Chinatown, and the uniform gave him universal entrée.
He joined the Hip Sing Association around 1975 and was friendly with another member, Bosco Yeung, who was Bert's friend and a kung-fu teacher at the tattoo shop. Unlike Bosco, the secretary did not know Bert. But, like Bosco, he was acquainted with Wayne Yee, whom he did not meet at Chinese Youth Alternatives, where Bosco used also to teach kung fu. Wayne had once been pointed out to him at a Mobil gas station in the West Portal District. It would appear that many Joe Boys and their associates frequented that station.
The filling station was located on Ulloa Street near the "west portal," or outlet, of the Twin Peaks Tunnel, a two-and-a-quarter-mile underground thoroughfare which begins at Market and Castro Streets and ends at Ulloa and Lenox Way. Nearly three years in construction, at a cost of more than $3,000,000, the tunnel has been in use exclusively by streetcars, for which it was blasted out of solid rock, since February 3, 1918. It achieved a certain notoriety several years ago when modern-day train robbers staged a holdup of passengers on a tram coursing along its dark way. One of its subterranean stops served the Laguna Honda Convalescent Home, where Tom Yu worked in the laundry that summer of '77.
In 1976, the ex-secretary, who does not seem to have been directly involved in the gangs himself, was introduced to Tom by Yee Yuen Wong of Reno, one of Wayne's boys in the meeting at the Sheraton at Fisherman's Wharf, and owner of the Roadrunner that brought Peter Cheung and Melvin to ruin in the Nevada desert. After the initial meeting, he used to run into Tom "on the streets and, once, in a nightclub." He did not, however, know where Tom lived. He did, conversely, know where Hotdog Louie lived, and on one occasion told John McKenna that he had driven by Hotdog's house with Tom and someone else and "identified it to them, but Tom was so stoned on marijuana that he probably doesn't remember."
Through Tom, he met Dana, and admitted having been introduced to Peter Ng and Melvin, although "I never had a conversation with them."
No matter. His only relevance in the Golden Dragon affair was connected to his conversations with Tom.
When employed as a minor official of the Hip Sing Association, he had served, primarily, as a public relations officer and, secondarily, as an interpreter for those who did not speak English. He once described the Hip Sing as "a place where people who come from Hong Kong, and who have difficulty with English and finding jobs, may go for help."
Cantonese-speaking Tom Yu, who came from Hong Kong, took him loosely at his word, and on August 29, 1977, asked for his help in "finding" what might be called "a job."
On that day, Tom went to the Mobil gas station on Ulloa. He did not come by tram through the tunnel from Laguna Honda; he was driven by Peter Cheung, who had often bought gas there before. As it happened, they encountered the one-time Tong official when they arrived. He had friends working on the premises and "always" bought his gas at that station. That they all arrived at the same time may or may not have been a coincidence. Prearrangement of the encounter was later denied.
At any rate, there they all stood, in one place at one time. Cordial greetings were exchanged, and Tom retired alone with the Hip Sing member to a nearby sandwich shop for a cup of coffee and a chat. The boy from Amherst Street waited dutifully at the station in the car.
The two were gone for about half an hour. Their conversation was conducted in Cantonese.
The Chinese custom of late-night snacks, hsiao yeh, was called to mind as they talked. When Chinese people go out to a party or a movie or a nightclub, they enjoy stopping off for an after-hours snack before heading home. This civilized habit is similar to the venerable Parisian tradition, between midnight and 5 o'clock in the morning, of supping on soups and sipping from a bottle of Chablis among the stalls of Les Halles, the immense public markets of Paris, destroyed, along with the tradition, a couple of decades ago.
Tom remarked that his acquaintance, as a uniformed security guard working the late-evening shift on weekends, was in an ideal position to take note of the scene in the Chinatown area at the time of hsiao yeh, generally after 1:45 A.M., when the bartenders blink the lights and shout, "Last call!" The bars in California must, by law, stop serving liquor at 2. At that magic hour, the places still open for food service, of which there are not so many now as once there were, fill up quickly with bibbers interrupted at their bacchanals, a number increased both by moviegoers and by workers headed home after the late shift.
The two young men discussed some of the people who "hang around out there" in Chinatown. Tom's friend should keep an eye on places where "those people" go for hsiao yeh, especially on Saturday night during the upcoming Labor Day weekend. For one thing, there were fewer cops around on the holidays, and this was the last big holiday weekend of the season.
"I would like to know if you see Hotdog that night," Tom specified, and named a few more Wah Ching and Hop Sing Boys. He wanted to know exactly where they were.
The former secretary promised to do the best he could, never doubting that if they were there, he would find them because "Chinatown is their territory."
"Call me at this number if you spot those people out there," instructed Tom, giving him a piece of paper with a telephone number written down. "I will be waiting for a call next weekend."
The "spotter" carefully placed it in his wallet.
Tom and he then returned to the Mobil station and parted company. Peter Cheung drove Tom to the house on Amherst.
The spotter was to remain a man of mystery to the police for longer than anyone else involved directly or indirectly in the Golden Dragon. They knew whose telephone number he had, but they didn't know his name. Had it not been for Chester Yu, Tom's younger brother, they might never have known, and even then the difficulty was compounded because lisping Chester didn't get the name quite right: "Carl? Carlo?"
The telephone number was Bert's.
The spotter's name was Carlos Jon.

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© 2000 Brockman Morris