Conspiracy of Tigers
Part Seven

Sitting in the car outside the Golden Dragon, Chester Yu heard what sounded like firecrackers going off inside. In less than two minutes, the doors burst open, and Melvin came running out. He headed around the back of the Dart, tripped off the curb, and fell. Egg jumped into the front beside Chester, tossing in his shotgun first. It dropped against Chester, giving him a fright. The driver stashed it on the dashboard. Stuart seated himself behind Egg. As Melvin took his place behind the driver, Chester took off with a quick left through Waverly Place.
Sai Ying Lee brought up the rear in Don Wong's Malibu. The two cars, a blue and a silver, turned left again on Clay, striking out eastward for the freeway ramp.
No one chased them.
The boys brought with them the scent of spent gunpowder. They chortled with excitement in the car.
One can imagine Melvin banging the back of Chester's seat with his fists, crying, "We done it! We done it!", perhaps unable to express the fullness of his feelings on account of his delirium of joy.
"The Hundred-Year Egg" complained that "I had to use my .38 to shoot a boy in a black jacket in the belly. The goddam shotgun jammed!"
Peter was sure he'd shot Hotdog. Melvin was, too. They must have been too excited to realize what they were saying. There was only one Hotdog.
Chester heard Stuart say, "I think I shot a girl."
Stuart, in retrospect, would relate that the Golden Dragon experience sickened him and made him tremble with unhappiness and self-disgust all the way back to Bert's. That may have been partially true. But he would also say that no one else was happy in the car. That is a less likely tale, which causes one to wonder how much trembling he really did, and how disgusted with himself, at that moment, he really was. That he had been sickened by the experience is a statement with which one can easily agree. Such carnage as he had witnessed--and participated in--would have made a normal man retch and weep.
It is most likely that they were joyous, and unmindful of the consequences, for Melvin had committed madness, Egg had perpetrated the most heinously premeditated evil, and Stuart, at long, long last, had made it as a Joe Boy--a "good" Joe Boy.
They left the freeway at Hickey Boulevard in Pacifica and reached Bert's house about 20 minutes after turning into Waverly Place opposite the scene of the crime. One wonders if any of them saw irony in the fact that Bert's home also faces a Waverly Place, in a position more or less corresponding to the Golden Dragon's. Chester drove into the driveway.
Tom was waiting for them anxiously in the living room. Don and Dana were there. Bert and his family slept on unaware. Either Peter or Melvin brought the guns inside. They were placed, with the masks, in the white sack in the closet.
Tom asked what happened.
Peter told him: "I used the shotgun first, but it jammed after I shot somebody. Then I shot a guy in the belly with the .38. He was wearing a black leather jacket. I think it was Hotdog."
Melvin reported: "I was shooting, and then I saw some guy lay down on the floor and the guy was moving all the time, kind of shaking. I thought he was going to pull out a gun and shoot at me. He looked like Hotdog. So I shot him a couple more times." Tom turned to Stuart. "Did you fire any shots?" Stuart replied: "Yes, I aimed at a girl, and she went down."
If I don't say this lie, Stuart claims to have thought, they might suspect I didn't do what I was told to do. Then they will be afraid that I might tell the police everything. They will beat me up or kill me.
After the three cadre--Stuart Lin had won his stripes in this action and had been promoted from cadet to cadre--made their reports, Tom asked Sai to go get some beer. "It's after 2," responded Sai. "Soda pop will have to do." They settled for that, and Sai went out to a nearby all-night store. He drove his Monte Carlo this time. Don and Chester left to dump the stolen car.
On that expedition, Chester drove the Dart to the first exit off Route 280 and parked at random in front of a stranger's house. Don, following in his silver Malibu, took Chester back to Bert's. The Malibu, of course, had served as bump car for the Golden Dragon trip.
Stuart would buy that car from Don in December. The price must have been right for him to have so compromised his conscience. It was the car he owned when he became a friend of Dan Foley's. It was the car he maneuvered along Bay Street like a Grand Prix driver, and left behind at Galileo High School on March 24, 1978, when Foley and Fred Mollat took him to the Hall of Justice for arrest in the Golden Dragon case.
Easier to understand is why he had no conscience about his maroon Olds. Fearing police surveillance of Peter Cheung's apartment, Tom told him not to claim it. The Olds was still inoperable, and no doubt Tom didn't want Dana standing out there fixing it. The car would wind up towed away to the no man's land of abandoned cars. Such was the fate of out-of-date vehicles that couldn't make the grade on San Francisco's hills. Stuart probably hadn't minded losing it that way. It was, after all, the Olds which had sealed his fate when he went to fetch it at Peter's on September 3rd.
How many times that early Sunday morning of September 4th did they rehash the murder scene? How often did they relish details of the various Hotdogs' last whimpers and cries?
What did Tom think really happened there?
One suspects that the shooters themselves had no concept of the enormity of their crime. In the first place, the plan to enter through the bakery door to the upper level had been thwarted when they found the door locked. This would have disoriented their minds. Melvin had to rush in through a different door.
Unsteady Stuart, already confused, had to be pushed along by Egg to the second door, which Egg then held open for him, perhaps giving him a good boot inside.
Having reached the interior of the Golden Dragon, Melvin had no lapse of time in which to run downstairs to the lower level. He was already there, right on the firing line. Stuart and Peter went in behind him, but whereas they were to have entered at the upper level, they now had to shift gears and run upstairs. Stuart undoubtedly had no idea of what he was doing and may have suffered from the most disabling stage fright. He certainly forgot to fire a warning shot.
The first shots fired were Melvin's, and those were blasted in an arc across the room, from his left to his right. Stupidly, he may have thought of them as warning shots. But they were too low. Perhaps he overcompensated for his wounded left elbow by applying too much strength in holding down the upward-jolting weapon. His eyes would have been searching through the stocking mask for the targets, scarcely focusing on anything instantaneously dismissed as a possibility: waiter's jacket, woman, older Chinese man, waiter with tray, young girl, Caucasian men together. None of these would have registered. A hail of flying plates and crash of toppling tables amidst a rapidly shifting crowd undoubtedly confused him.
Melvin was never, even at his best, what is called "cool." He was hot-tempered and vengeful, quick to react, and, therefore, subject to overreaction. His eyes would have been directed primarily toward the right rear of the lower level, looking for the Hop Sing Boys. Suddenly, a boy reared up before him who looked like Hotdog.
Focus! Hotdog! Move in! Hey, girl! Out of the way! Kill! Kill! Hotdog's down! Has he got a gun? Kill! Kill!
On the mezzanine, Egg--the calculating, the cunning, the sly--moved in with cool precision and dispatched his first victim, who could easily have been a gang kid.
Fill him with lead! Spray the buckshot! Jesus, Stuart, start firing! This is it!
"Shoot that goddam thing! Make that fucker SOUND, man!"
Or I'll shoot you, too! Christ, why are you firing over there? Over here, idiot! Hey, that guy went down! He's still alive! Goddam shotgun jammed! Where's my .38? Ah, got it! Now I'll finish that one off! Oh, God! Is it him? In the black jacket? It IS! It's HOTDOG! Hotdog's MINE! He's MINE! Get him, baby! Bang! One in the belly! That's for Felix, you bastard! Happy 4th of July, motherfucker!
Stuart claimed to the gang that he had shot a girl, but, in reality, he believed he had shot no one; Egg, with measured tread, had gone relentlessly after boys he thought to be gangsters; wild and crazy Melvin went after everybody.
Was Tom so blinded by hatred of his Wah Ching and Hop Sing rivals that he could not see beyond the hope that these enemies lay dead? Did the fact that Stuart claimed to have shot an innocent girl mean nothing to him? Did he for a moment suspect that other innocents may have died, as well? Did Melvin tell him about the girl who got in the way?
Or would he not have cared because he hadn't been physically present and, by his reasoning, would never have to pay for this crime? Was his pleasure in the deed more intense because it was vicarious, his hands unstained by its blood, his mind untouched by its horrible images?
His troops would take the blame, if discovered.
His twin was safe. All Dana had done was go with Peter Cheung to steal the Dodge Dart.
His younger brother was safe. Still a juvenile, a mere 16, Chester could take no more than a driver's fall, and that at "the country club" in Stockton. And HE was safe! How could Tom Yu take any fall at all?
He could sleep with a clear conscience, and so he did, as did his loyal cadre--Melvin, Egg, Chester, Sai, Dana and Stuart--camped out on the living room floor of the Firecrest house. Only Don Wong went home.

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2000 Brockman Morris