Conspiracy of Tigers
Part Three


 
While Peter Cheung and Dana were in the Marina stealing the blue Dodge Dart, Melvin and Egg took the white sack out of the closet and carried it to the family room. No sooner had they removed the guns and started taking them apart for cleaning than Bert Junior came out of his bedroom and went to the kitchen for a glass of water.
He saw the guns and noticed a box of bullets on the floor. He knew his father would have disapproved, but his relationship to the Chinese boys was not that of tattletale. They were, in his estimation, a bit removed from his world. Too bad, really, for they were all young people together and could have enriched each other with a wealth of cultural interchange. But these Chinese were so inverted in their perception of things that they would have been comfortable looking through a telescope from the wrong end, seeing the universe as small and restricted, rather than as limitless and grand.
Actually, their presence in young Bert's home was tanLinount to an intergalactic visitation. The little yellow men had landed on Firecrest only for the purpose of launching an insidious attack on their home planet. Inverse vision hid from them the fact that Chinatown was no more than an asteroid afloat in the orbit of California, the 31st star to win its place in the American flag. They could not see it as a new world in which to build constructive lives. To them, it was a world to conquer and corrupt into some semblance of the old.
There was not a Barry Fong-Torres among them. They were clones of Wayne Yee.
As the clock hands neared 11, these monsters from another galaxy of thought stashed the guns in the closet again, wiped the blood lust from their faces, and retracted their fangs. They were ready to continue their deception of Big Bert and his kind lady by posing as earthmen again.
The unsuspecting couple breezed in as expected, at 11. Sandy bade the boys a cordial goodnight and vanished into her sanctum at the back of the house, where she made sure the children were asleep. Bert fetched coffee for two and joined her, graciously leaving the plenteous comforts of his home to a "pack of jackals," as Hugh Levine would define them in the future.
When Bert had driven up, he found the strange car parked in his driveway. Any other man would have entered the house and asked the offending party to move it, so he could at least park in his own garage, and any other party would have thought of that in the first place. But he did not, and they did not.
This suggests something about Bert that night, and confirms Tom's state of mind.
Bert may have been a bit high on tequila, beer or wine, causing him not to take much notice of having to park on the street. That would have guaranteed his sound sleep, even if the telephone purred in his bedroom or if there were lots of activity in the living room. He and Sandy drank coffee at bedtime, not a habit with people under ordinary circumstances, but some believe it helps ward off a hangover the next morning. This belief is quite common in Brazil and other Latin American countries where a mythology centering around the coffee bean has developed along with its importance as an industry. Bert was of Mexican extraction.
Tom had scored many of his points with Bert by doing the right and the thoughtful thing in the years they had known each other. It was out of character for him to allow such an oversight to be perpetrated against his host. He was obviously preoccupied with a design for perpetrating something against someone else.
The gang laid out its plans.
Melvin and Egg would be shooters. According to conjecture based on other statements, it was probably ordered, in the beginning, that Don Wong drive his 1969 Malibu as the "bump" car. He would have been instructed to stay behind the Dart and cut off any traffic, especially if it were the police giving chase. He could have been told to "weave around like you're drunk. It's a holiday. If the cops get you, you're a juvenile so nothing much will happen. Maybe you don't speak English too well. You don't know what's going on. You don't understand a word the cops say."
Where was Stuart during this discussion?
Bert kept a radio-phonograph in the family room, and a sizable stack of records. Stuart had collared Don and they were in there listening to music a good part of the time. The others were in the living room. Stuart and Don must, in some way, have been kindred souls.
After Bert and Sandy had gone to bed, Tom said: "Don't play the records so loud. You might disturb them. Either shut if off and come down here, or don't play it so loud."
Stuart opted for turning it down, which probably took away some of the fun he was used to at Bert's house. He played with the bird the Rodriguez family kept in a cage and consoled himself further with frequent trips to the kitchen for snacks. It has been stated that he napped, not in a bedroom, but most likely in a chair, or with his head cradled in his arms on the dining table.
Along about midnight, he asked around for someone to take him home. They refused him. He next asked for permission to use the phone to call his family. His father was a bear about his staying out late. Tom told him to forget it. Stuart persisted: "How long are we going to stay here? What on earth are we doing here anyway?"
"I've got to wait for a call to verify whether those people are actually there," Tom explained, "and then, after that, we're going down there." He was still sitting in the chair; the others were on the sofa.
Stuart stood beside a plant on the landing at the head of the short staircase leading from the living room and past the closet to the family room. "We're going down there? We're going down there? I don't know...I don't know how to shoot!"
"I want you to go along," Tom said patiently, "so you'll know how to shoot the next time. Don is going, too. He's driving the bump car."
Stuart fidgeted at the railing. He didn't know what to say. He may have begun to feel frantic. It is certain that if he really didn't want to go on the mission, he was--to his mind--trapped. There was no public transportation available to get him home, and a taxi was out of the question. He probably didn't have enough money for one, even if he had been able to call, which he couldn't. Getting out of the house would have entailed going through the garage or out the kitchen window and over a fence. He wouldn't have dared use the front door. And that fumbling kid would NEVER have found his way home.
Even if he were not kept back against his will, there was the matter of face. He would be ruined in the gang if he left. Sadly, he would also be ruined if he stayed, although in a different way.
Hindsight red-pencils moments in the past. The picture of Stuart Lin at the top of the short staircase, clutching the railing with nervous fingers, stands out in red brackets. That was the turning point in his life.
The same was true for the rest of them. Tom Yu's Joe Boys had no intention of perpetrating the massacre as it ultimately occurred. They planned to kill Hotdog and others of his ilk. It could have been a paramilitary exercise without long-lasting effect on their lives. Given the inscrutable heart of man, the world might not have cared if young gangster had killed young gangster. "Good riddance!" the world would have said. But that is not what they were to do, and the world would, after all was done, care very much.
The guns were taken out of the closet again. Tom passed out weapons: to Melvin, the .45-caliber, semi-automatic rifle and 30 rounds of ammo; to Egg, a 12-gauge shotgun loaded with buckshot, and a .38-caliber revolver, his trusty piece. These guns had already been carefully cleaned by Melvin and Egg, even to wiping off the bullets, no less, with a tee shirt, to erase fingerprints. One could not accuse them of being criminally unsophisticated.
Tom gave a shotgun to Stuart, a sawed-off version of Egg's 12-gauge. The kid held it for awhile. "I don't know how to use this." Egg took it from him, and cleaned it. He then showed him how to handle it: "You move this forward. You move this backward. Now you are ready for the next shell." Egg loaded it for him.
It may be that Stuart hadn't given up yet. At an uncertain point in time, he supposedly asked Don Wong, "Do you mind giving me a ride home?" Don's answer implies that the question was asked after commitments were made: "It is too late. I better not."
Stuart claimed later that Tom sensed his reluctance and said: "If you don't go, you will still know what we're up to. If you don't go, you know what we will do to you." The only substantiation for this statement is Stuart's word.
Stuart also claimed that Chester and Egg were "fooling around with the guns, and pointed them at me." One of them is reported to have said: "Kick-kock! After that sound, you'll be dead!" He didn't know if they were kidding. It scared him.
While the others talked together quietly in the living room, Tom waited tensely near the telephone in the family room. The others sat vigil with him more or less in turns and discussed details of the plans.
 

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2000 Brockman Morris