Conspiracy of Tigers
Part Five


 
Tom Yu gathered his troops in Bert's living room and said: "Those people are at the Golden Dragon, and there is a policeman at the door." He looked at Melvin and Egg. "Are we going, or not?"
Melvin shrugged. "That is of no great importance," he said. "Maybe by the time we get there, he'll be gone. If he's still there when we arrive, well, he gets it, too. We will shoot him first, and then enter the restaurant."
Facts are sketchy with regard to the next half hour before they left the house, but elements of conversation and random remarks, preserved in future testimony, indicate a scenario substantially like this:
There was a pause as each thought of the job ahead. They had reached a moment of truth. They had committed themselves to the murder of their own kind, and that of a policeman, as well.
Tom looked at Dana and Sai. "Who is going to drive the shooters down there?"
His twin, as loyal as any of Tom's other cadre, volunteered: "A lot of people in Chinatown can recognize me, but if you want me to drive the Dart, it's O.K."
"No, we can't run that risk. You are too well known," said Tom.
"Well, one of us should be there," Chester chimed in, conscious at that moment of his family's face.
Tom may not have wanted his family involved at that point, but the choice of Chester made sense. He was only 16 and as trustworthy as anyone. If caught, he might serve some time at the California Youth Authority, but, to them, that would have been no great shakes. "O.K, Chester, you drive."
With this development, Tom may have perceived the need for an older person to tag along on the periphery. "Sai, I think you should drive the bump car instead of Don. Use his Malibu. That will be his contribution for now. You're already an adult, but they will never know you're connected to this thing. You will just be a drunk getting in the way."
Sai grinned. "O.K., I think I can handle a drunk-driving charge."
The "loyal cadre of Tom Yu's troops," as Hugh Levine would phrase it one day, plus one unsteady cadet, assembled in the living room for last-minute inspection and drill.
Knowing now that they were going to the Golden Dragon, a restaurant apparently familiar to most of them, if not all, they made good use of the two short staircases in Bert's sunken living room--one leading up to the unlocked closet and the family room, and the other leading down from the front door on the opposite side of the room.
The Golden Dragon features two levels for dining, corresponding to the eastward slope of Washington Street outside. The so-called "upper" level lies behind a bakery which gives directly on to the street. The bakery sells dim sum and sweet pastries during the day, and is separated from the restaurant by glass doors. The "lower" level, still at street level because of the incline, has two sets of double doors for entry. To the left, once the second set of doors is passed, is a small cocktail lounge and bar at the front, its back wall adjacent to the street.
With these details in mind, the pack of jackals coordinated movements as a choreographer blocks out a Broadway show. They knew that a surveillance camera, on a closed television circuit, was trained on the main door for the purpose of discouraging robbers. Thus, they chose the upper door for entry. Melvin was to go in first, followed by Stuart, and then Peter.
Tom clarified Cadet Stuart's assignment to be that of firing one shot at the ceiling to frighten the crowd and make them dive for the floor. This would allow more time for Melvin, by then on the lower level, to pick his targets, and Peter "Egg" Ng, who was to remain, with Stuart, on the upper level, to do the same.
They had been informed by the telephone call that Frankie Yee and other Hop Sing Boys were clustered at a round table toward the rear corner on the eastern side of the lower level, and that Hotdog and his group sat in a booth against the west wall toward the front of the upper level.
All were to exit through the lower level, circling back to Chester who would wait in the blue Dart which was to be double-parked in the only lane open to traffic. Both sides of one-way westward Washington Street were in use for metered parking (free parking after 6 P.M. and on Sundays and holidays). Sai would stay at the wheel of Don's Malibu, behind Chester.
After the job was done, Melvin would lead the way out, with Stuart second, and Egg last, firing one-handed with his .38-caliber pistol to dispatch anyone foolish enough to give pursuit.
They practiced the runs on Bert's stairs, with lots of hoarsely whispered "pows" and "bang-bangs." They tried on the stocking masks. Don joined in that, apparently just for the fun of it.
Melvin wore a green army jacket borrowed from Egg. Stuart wore a blue cotton, Chinese jacket, borrowed from Sai, and the pink pants bought for him by Gan Wah Woo. Egg wore a brown Chinese jacket, also probably not his own, and "a very thick, black apparel inside that," as Stuart described it.
The kids always switched clothing as standard practice. Stuart would explain the custom thus: "They never particularly wear their own clothes. They just wear whatever they like. For instance, if I have something they like, then they would just wear it. They would wear it out and make it dirty and then give it back to me." With regard to the Chinese jacket he wore, Stuart said, "Sai and somebody gave it to me because that day at Bert's house I was only wearing a shirt and it was rather cold." That night, the policy may have had its origin in the idea that it would help thwart any future identification.
When they were finally ready to leave, Tom went to Stuart, perhaps not sure about the unsteady cadet's understanding of his purpose on this mission: "Remember, go along and stand by the door. Watch what Egg and Melvin do. Afterward, when you all come out, if, you know, if somebody should follow and start to shoot or do something, then shoot back. And don't forget to shoot into the ceiling when you first go in!"
Tom turned to the cadre. "All right, it's time to go."
Chester rushed ahead to start the car. He opened all four doors of the Dart. The three gunmen, weapons in hand, marched out in single file behind him, none of them, at 17, eligible for the death penalty, no matter what they did.
Stuart would always insist he did not want to go, but felt that, under the circumstances, he had no choice. "I knew their plans now. I knew what they were going to do. I figured if I don't go along, they probably would kill me, like killing somebody to remove the evidence."
"Their" plans, what "they" were going to do--the mind of the unsteady cadet would never consciously accept that the "I" of Stuart Lin--with or without coercion--had allowed itself to go through with any of this awful thing, this reality which could not possibly have been real.
One is inclined to agree with Hugh Levine that Stuart's later claims of duress may have been "self-serving fabrications he...made up at some time after the crime in order to be able to live with the memory of what he [had] done."
At least, however, he had some conscience about it. The unsteady cadet was not a killing machine.
First into the car, while Chester waited to close the doors behind them, was Stuart. Egg had taken the shotgun away from him before he got in. Stuart sat in the right rear seat. Peter joined him on the left. Melvin chose the passenger seat beside Chester, the driver.
Sai Ying Lee opened and closed his own door in Don's Malibu.
For them all, their last sight of the house on Firecrest deposited an indelible picture in their memory banks: Tom stood on the walkway outside Bert's front door (actually, on the side of the house), the light bathing him with radiance in the darkness; lifting his hand in a farewell salute, he wished them, "Good luck!"
To loyal cadre, there could have been no greater inspiration for the dangerous task ahead.
Again, mystery surrounds the conversation in the car on the way to the Golden Dragon, but shards of verbal evidence exist, which enable one to piece its content together. It is known than Peter "Egg" Ng changed the plan, with the tacit permission of Melvin and, certainly, to the knowledge of Chester, both of whom were present. It may have been like this:
Peter handed the shotgun to Stuart. "Don't touch the trigger. That fucker is loaded."
The cadet gingerly placed the gun on the floor in front of him.
Then Peter said: "When we get to the restaurant, Melvin will go in first, and he'll let you in. He will go downstairs and take care of the lower part. You stay upstairs and fire a warning shot. I will look for Hotdog. But don't think you are only going to watch. You must follow us along, you know. Don't just stand there. Do what we do. After you fire your first shot...."
Stuart was appalled. "My FIRST shot? I am only supposed to fire ONE shot!"
Unfazed, Peter continued: "After you fire your first shot, we will start shooting as soon as people get down to the floor and get out of the way. I don't want you to just stand there looking like an idiot. I will give you instructions what to do. You must not be afraid."
Stuart was terrified. He undoubtedly trembled violently.
Peter looked at him with menace and disgust. "If you do not do what you are told to do, we will shoot you with your own gun."
"But...." Stuart began.
"Do you want to be victim number one? You know what we are going to do. We cannot let you go now. You will make that fucker SOUND, man!"
"You will do what you are told to do," added Melvin from the front seat.
Stuart panicked. "Chester, Tom is your brother! Is this what he meant for me to do?"
With his eyes ahead on Route 280, Chester shrugged. "I don't know, Stuart. I am only driving the car."
After that, Stuart had about 15 minutes to pull himself together. Faced with the inevitable, he tried his stocking mask on again.
"For Christ's sake, stupid!" someone shouted at him. "What are you doing that for? Get down! Do you want someone in another car to see you like that? They will guess what we are doing!"
He could do nothing right. He wished most that he had to do nothing at all, but he was, after all, there. He was, after all, a member of the gang, and he had, after all, accepted Tom as his master. Subject now to genuine duress, it was Stuart Lin who had chosen the way of the bamboo tiger. He should have expected nothing less.
A shade before 2:40 A.M., Chester pulled up outside the Golden Dragon, facing west. He double-parked almost even with Waverly Place, an alleyway street running southward toward Clay. Sai parked Don's Malibu immediately behind. The three shooters pulled the stockings over their heads.
Melvin jumped out, with the others at his heels. He tried the door to the bakery, but it was locked. Turning east, he ran toward the main entry doors farther downhill. Lingering at the bakery door, Stuart reacted too slowly to satisfy Egg, who gave him a vigorous push along Melvin's trail.
Melvin was already bursting through the inner doors on the lower level when Egg held an outer door open for Stuart and shoved him inside. The two disappeared into the restaurant behind Melvin.
An ominous quiet fell over the street.
 

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2000 Brockman Morris