Conspiracy of Tigers
Part Two

Bert and Sandy were getting ready to leave the house on Firecrest Avenue when the boys arrived a few minutes later.
Bert told them he and his wife were on their way to dinner at a Mexican restaurant in Colma, a neighboring community comprised of at least 10 cemeteries of various religious denominations, and not much else. "We'll be at La Concha. Call us if you got a problem with the kids. I think everything'll be O.K. They're watching TV with Little Bert in the back bedroom."
"We run into trouble, we call you." Tom was never more accommodating than around Bert. "What time you come back?"
The couple expected to return "in a couple of hours." Sandy reminded the boys they were free to grab snacks from the refrigerator. She was very kind, and trusted them not to take excessive advantage of the proffered hospitality.
Tom thanked her and told her they had finished dinner.
After Bert and Sandy were gone, Stuart cornered Dana, who was, as Tom had promised, already there. "I waited for you all day to get my car back. When can I have it?"
Dana shrugged. "I still got a lot of work to do on it. I'll repair it whenever I'm free."
Stuart was displeased. He would have liked to be more insistent, but Gan Wah wasn't around to lend his support. "Well, O.K, but maybe soon?"
Dana quickly lost interest in Stuart's problem and gravitated toward Tom and Sai, who were engaged in conversation with Peter Cheung on a matter of greater importance. They sat in the living room, where Tom occupied his usual place of eminence in the armchair.
"You're the best we've got for this kind of work, Peter," Tom was saying. "It's gotta be a four-door."
"Try to find one with a full tank of gas and plenty of tread on the tires," added Sai, "and make sure everything works, like the lights and stuff. We don't want to hear about blow-outs on the freeway or looking for gas in the middle of the night!"
They laughed.
"Dana will drive you there," said Tom, "Come back as fast as you can."
Peter grumbled. "Shit, you think I never done this before?"
He sped up a short staircase to the unlocked closet where the guns were kept. It was set into the wall beyond which lay the garage. Continuing from the closet area, one would enter the dining-cum-family room, where the TV set rested atop a garbage compactor. There was a like staircase on the other side of the room, leading down to the sunken living room from the front door.
Inside the closet, Peter sifted through the white rice bag and pulled out a Chrysler ignition he found among the several types stored in the sack with the guns. "Got it! C'mon, Dana, let's go!"
Outside, Dana jumped behind the wheel of his green Firebird and, with Peter as his only passenger, drove down three sloping blocks to Hickey Boulevard, turned east, and then, three blocks later, north toward The City. Dana asked Peter where he wanted to go.
"Someplace kinda dark, I think, without too much action in the evening, but classy enough for some dude to be dumb enough to think he can leave a nice car in the street."
Dana gave it thought. "Maybe over by the Presidio and Union Street. It's pretty dark there."
"Too goddam hilly! We want a flat place, where the car won't roll or make a lot of fuckin' noise pullin' up or down the hill. The Marina! That's it. Take me to the Marina."
Nearly half an hour later, they cruised quietly through the only part of town considered safe enough for a woman to walk her dog of an evening. Mediterranean-style homes tucked among bay-windowed blocks of flats in a curving maze of streets characterized the Marina.
"I want a Dodge," mused Peter. "Find me a Dodge."
"There's a Dart," Dana offered helpfully. "A blue one. Will that do? It's got four doors."
"Made to order!" whistled Peter. "You wait here."
With the deftness of a surgeon, Peter tugged a pair of gloves over his slim fingers and went to work with a screwdriver on the flywindow of the Dart. Gaining entry within seconds, he used the same implement to change the ignition. Voilâ! Three minutes later, he had himself a Dodge, absolutely untouched by a Peter Cheung fingerprint. Had he been born a safecracker, instead of a car thief and punk-of-all-trades, he'd have been rich.
They took Gough Street to the freeway and drove in tandem (Dana following) back to Bert's. Peter reversed the Dart into the driveway. When he got out, he left the original ignition on the floor of the car. Dana parked his Firebird out front, behind Sai's Monte Carlo.
When the two entered the house, the others were playing cards in the family room. Peter tossed a key on the table. "This is for the car. It's the blue Dodge Dart in the driveway."
Sai went to the living-room window and peered out front. The light on the entryway porch, which was at ground level on the side of the house, gave scarcely enough illumination in the dark neighborhood for him to make out the car.
"It's got four doors, four good tires, and gas," Peter said. "You want me to do anything else?" He looked pointedly at Melvin, who, in turn, looked at Tom.
Tom shook his head.
"O.K.," Peter went on, "I'll go back to my apartment and keep Halfbreed company."
He turned down offers of a ride and left alone.
The brisk walk to his "stereo" apartment on St. Francis Boulevard took about 15 minutes down a hill, up another, across the extended freeway's end at a stoplight, and down the other side. He knew the car he had stolen was for use in transporting shooters to a scene of assault.
Had the proposed event taken place the night before, he would, by his own admission later, have been a shooter himself.
On Friday evening, September 2nd, the same group had gone to Bert's house, sans Stuart Lin. Peter, at another point in time, related that the conversation concerned itself with getting revenge on the Wah Ching and the Hop Sing Boys for "several people who has been shot--Melvin and Dana, and Felix Huey, who got killed." They were going to get revenge by "shooting them back." Everyone took part in the discussion. All of them played with the guns.
Bert, who, with his family, had retired to the three bedrooms at the back of the house, had come out of the master bedroom for a cup of coffee between 11 and 11:30. He saw Melvin holding a shotgun taken from the closet. "He was pumping it," Bert would report. "I reached down, grabbed it, cocked it to make sure it wasn't loaded, and gave it back to him. I made him put it away." He told Tom to lock up when he left. Bert went back to bed, and as soon as they thought he was asleep, they took out the guns again.
The telephone had rung late that night, probably around the hour for hsiao yeh. Bert would have heard it ring only faintly, if at all, because the one in the master bedroom had been damaged in a household accident and rang no louder than a cat purrs.
In the family room, Tom had answered the call, had spoken briefly, then joined the others in the living room. He told them to put the guns away. No targets were in view around Chinatown. What Tom and company seem not to have known was that several of the most prominent Wah Ching were away on a camping trip that weekend; chances of sighting any were slimmer than usual, but the odds would still turn out to be in their favor.
No one outside the gang was ever to know definitely who made the telephone call to Tom on Friday night.
It was not Carlos Jon. He had been asked to serve as spotter for the location of the Wah Ching and the Hop Sing Boys in Chinatown on the following night.
One must assume, therefore, that Tom had another spy, probably someone in the faction who was not present at Bert's on Friday evening.
Peter Cheung had been ready to participate in slaughter on Friday, yet bugged out after stealing the Dodge Dart on Saturday. What had happened to change the plan overnight?
Confusion exists as to the reason why.
It is agreed that he should have gone to the Golden Dragon. He was among the most criminally minded of Tom Yu's faction of the Joe Boys. He was Melvin's close friend. Melvin's causes were his, too, and revenge for Melvin's wounding on the 4th of July was a motivating factor in the plan drawn up by Tom Yu. Peter would have been one of its strongest links. Yet, on Saturday night, Tom let him off the hook.
Nothing could have stopped Melvin. He was crazy with lust for bosau on account of the 4th of July. Once unleashed, he would commit murder as does the tiny shrew, fiercest predator on earth, gobbling every creature available to eat. Like the shrew, Melvin would tremble with excitement all the while.
Egg Ng had a Wah Ching wound in his leg. He would, figuratively, have given his arm and that leg for a chance to bring the vendetta to full circle. No mindless shrew like Melvin, "the Hundred-Year Egg" had the malicious cunning of the wolverine that follows a trap line at night and kills all the captured game, in vengeance for being hunted itself. It growls and grunts its pleasure in the vandalous satisfaction of dealing death. Egg would behave that way.
Peter Cheung was a delinquent boy of the first water, but he was neither shrew nor wolverine. No one was more willing than he to rally to a spontaneous call to action. Pass him a gun and an order to kill, and he would give it a try. He was a picaroon who found glorious transport in the wielding of a weapon before the mast.
Ship ahoy! The enemy runs 'fore the wind! Board 'em and cut the lubbers down!
But give him no time to think things out. As made manifest later in his quick flight to Stockton two days after Stuart Lin's confession, and in his even speedier dash with Melvin across the state line on the very day the two boys had seen Melvin's picture in the Saturday Stockton Record--Peter Cheung was, in his soul, a coward after all.
He was a few months short of 18; he had served time in the California Youth Authority; he was, frankly, afraid of getting caught. When asked why he left early that night, he would candidly reply: "I already done my job, so I don't want to get anymore involved of what would happen later on."
He would have gone on the job Friday night simply because he was present among those at Bert's. He would have lost all face if the call to Tom had been in the affirmative, rather than in the negative, and he had suddenly refused to go. You HAD to do those things to show your loyalty to the Joe Boys, and to Tom.
On Saturday, Peter Cheung had resolved not to place himself in that position again. How did he swing it? Tom was counting on him, and Tom's word was law.
Halfbreed had been at the apartment. Steven "Halfbreed" Lee was the right Joe Boy for the most grisly of jobs. His shell was as hard as Egg Ng's. He was as vicious and violent as Melvin Yu. He would have sailed through killing as a wolf chews its way through a flock of milk-fed lambs: with gusto, without remorse, with a taste for more. But he was, at 14, too young to play a man's game. His lineage was impure; he was not wholly Chinese. He was American-born; he was not from Hong Kong.
With those strikes against him, the others had carefully kept the substance of the plans from him. At the small apartment, they had spoken quietly in closed clusters while he busied himself at cards and mahjong. For the reason that he stayed behind, they were able to speak freely at Bert's, in the Cantonese which no one in the Rodriguez family could understand.
No, Halfbreed could not have been the answer for Peter Cheung. Sai Ying Lee, Dana, Tom himself, were too old. Tom and Dana insulated Chester, as older brothers would be inclined to do. Don Wong was probably not mean enough, and Gan Wah Woo was wildly independent. Tony Szeto was also too old, being almost 20, and he maintained a low profile anyway, being little known, tight-lipped, and more suited to spying around Chinatown.
This job required high motivation, ergo, Melvin Yu and Egg Ng, or a turkey who thought the Pilgrims set the first Thanksgiving table with only parched corn.
Then, at half past noon on Saturday, the door had opened and, behind Tony Szeto and Gan Wah Woo, there entered Stuart Lin.
Stuart had done almost nothing to prove himself worthy to be called a Joe Boy. He couldn't even handle a gun. As it must for every man, his time had come.
One could surmise that Peter seized this golden opportunity to somehow approach his exalted leader with a carefully phrased reminder of Stuart's virgin status and of the need to have him prove himself at last. It could, logically, have been handled with Oriental indirectness, which would in no way imply Peter's desire to withdraw. A seed may have been sown in talking with a person closer to Tom's altitude in the echelon, perhaps in the mind of an elder such as Sai Ying Lee, at 21, three years senior to the boss. It might have flowered there for Tom to eye as a blossom more suited to his own buttonhole, to make Tom believe it was his own idea all along that Stuart go instead of Peter Cheung.
Hypothesis aside, these boys were masters at using one another to get what each wanted in the depths of his heart. Thus it may have been that tough, and heretofore indispensable, Peter Cheung was allowed to go home to bed after merely stealing a car.
And so, at Tom's command, Stuart had tootled off merrily to Bert's, little realizing that he was about to become the turkey of the year.

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© 2000 Brockman Morris