Conspiracy of Tigers
Part Nine


 
Sandy Rodriguez woke at 9 on Sunday morning. Soon after, she went to the front of the house and found some of the boys awake, while others still slept. Quietly, she returned to the children and set about getting them ready for a trip to the Novato home of Bert's sister. They washed up in the bathroom while she gathered swimming suits and towels for the holiday trip.
Bert was up by 10.
Neither the radio nor television were turned on.
At 10:30, Tony Szeto walked in. Sandy had seen him once or twice before, but didn't know his name. He brought with him some won-ton soup from the Golden Dragon's take-out shop across Washington Street from the restaurant. Bert greeted him with a big grin. He knew Tony from Wayne Yee's Chinese Youth Alternatives and the kung-fu classes at the shop.
Tony placed the soup, in two large styrofoam containers, on the table in the family room. He had with him eight smaller styrofoam cups for individual servings, which included one for himself. He must at some point have talked with Tom or Sai by telephone to have known exactly how many of the gang members were at Bert's.
Bert grabbed a tablespoon from the kitchen and sampled the soup. "Damn, that's good!" He turned down an offer of more. "We gotta hit the road for Novato."
When the family left a few minutes later, Bert asked Tom to lock up when he left. "But don't be in a hurry to leave, man. You know how we say it in Spanish: mi casa es tu casa--my house is your house."
Once alone with the gang, Tony told them to turn on the radio in the family room. "Jesus, the Golden Dragon's the only thing they're talking about! I heard it a dozen times on the car radio this morning. They got cops all around the place! I seen 'em when I got the soup."
The perpetrators of the Golden Dragon massacre listened to the news.
They heard that five people had been killed, and 11 wounded.
They heard that not one of the dead or wounded was in any way connected to the underworld of Chinatown.
They heard that police already suspected it was the work of a Chinese youth gang.
The boys stared at each other over won-ton soup from the Golden Dragon. For the first time, they realized what they had done.
"Get rid of the guns," ordered Tom.
Egg removed the white sack from the closet. He took it around the corner into the family room and went through the door leading to the garage. He sawed the weapons into pieces and wrapped them in the green army jacket Melvin had worn to the Golden Dragon. Melvin scratched the inside of the .38's barrel with a screwdriver. Everybody went back and forth to the garage while these activities were taking place, picking up this and that, sweeping the shavings away, talking about the predicament they now faced.
Wiping fingerprints from the .38, Melvin returned it to the sack, checking to make sure the stocking masks were in there, too. Egg placed the gun pieces on top. Beneath them were Peter Cheung's precious collection of ignitions and car keys.
Tony went outside and backed his blue 1975 Ford Granada into the garage. They were thus able to load the bag into the trunk without walking into the street and risk being seen by neighbors.
When the car was ready, Tom told Tony to "dump the guns in the Bay." Chester went with him.
In the car, Tony asked Chester what part he had played in the scenario of the night before. "I drove the getaway car," the kid replied. Tony probably wanted to know all the details, and Chester no doubt complied.
They traveled east from Firecrest along Hickey and over the hill past Peter Cheung's apartment and the graceful pavilion of the Chinese Cemetery. Turning southeast on the Junipero Serra Freeway (Route 280), then went east again on the San Bruno (Route 380), coming out just north of San Francisco International Airport, which, along with Daly City, Pacifica, Burlingame and 17 other communities immediately south of San Francisco, is situated in San Mateo County. This factor would later prove to be of importance.
Going south, then, on the Bayshore Freeway (Route 101), Tony finally left the main highway a couple of miles beyond the airport at a point within the city limits of Burlingame.
In 1977, Bayside Park, a land-fill area jutting eastward along the shore of San Francisco Bay, comprised, at its western end, no more than open field and one or two buildings near the freeway. The eastern end was better developed and included a glass-sided structure housing Kee Joon's, a Chinese restaurant known for moderately spicy Mandarin cuisine. The landing pattern for the north/south runway of the airport lies directly overhead, making it a noisy, although remote, sort of place.
Tony drove across the field to the water's edge. The tide was down, leaving about a five-foot depth in the water by the shore. He parked the Granada near a concrete column sticking out of the water, part of the accumulation of waste, earth and junk used in the land-filling operation which had created this artificial shoreline. Taking the bag with the broken weapons into his arms, he tossed it into the Bay.
A fragment of wooden stock floated to the surface.
He kept a pair of swimming shorts rolled in a plastic bag in the trunk of the car. Removing his clothing, he slipped them on and waded into water almost to his neck. Gathering up the sack from the bottom of the Bay, he worked his way out about 20 feet from shore and shook out the gun pieces, stomping them into the mud with his feet. Then he dived, jamming the floating stock between rocks underwater. The white sack, with its remaining contents of nylon stocking masks, auto keys and ignition parts, he also wedged among the rocks.
Tony and Chester returned to Bert's house after an absence of an hour.
It was decided that Tony would drive Tom, Melvin and Egg to Los Angeles. Hiding places would be found for the two shooters with other Joe Boys down South. Peter "the Hundred-Year-Egg" Ng was, of course, already wanted for armed robbery.
Stuart was to be left behind, presumably because he was an unknown quantity in Chinatown and therefore ran infinitely less risk of being I.D.'d by Golden Dragon survivors than did the other two. Essentially, Tom went along to Los Angeles just for the ride. He would return with Tony after a few days, probably to help him with the driving on the usually 10-hour trip back to San Francisco.
They saw no need for Chester to disappear, or Sai or Don or Peter Cheung or Dana. These five had done no more than gang guys did every day in Chinatown: drive a getaway car, or tag along in a bump car, or steal a car and get rid of it later. These could come and go as they pleased, as could Stuart. In proof of the point, Stuart, Halfbreed and Dana went off blithely to the movies in Serramonte that night.
For all except the two prime shooters, life went on more or less as usual for the perpetrators of the Golden Dragon massacre. The only concessions made to the avoidance of apprehension by police were that Peter Cheung had to give up his apartment (it could no longer be considered a safe house), and Stuart had to give up his broken-down Olds (parked outside Peter's apartment).
Tom, most of all, felt himself to be utterly free.
He was a Pontius Pilate. He had mentally cleansed his personal hands of the affair. This crucifixion of innocents he considered to be none of his doing.
His private view notwithstanding, Tom Yu, criminal heir self-presumptive to a succession of would-be rulers of the largest Asian community in the Western world, had conspired with his bamboo tigers to attempt the conquest of Chinatown. He had sought to do it under the guise of bosau, revenge, for the homicide of Felix Huey and the wounding of Melvin Yu on the 4th of July. He had thus hoped to create a vacuum in which to seize power, by destroying what he assumed to be the central leadership of the most powerful rival gangs.
The conspiracy misfired, and his tigers made of Labor Day, 1977, a doomsday not only for 16 innocent people at the Golden Dragon Restaurant, but also for thousands more--for their own families, for the families and friends of their victims, and for the law-abiding ethnic Chinese of San Francisco.
Inspector John McKenna of the Gang Task Force, international lecturer on the burgeoning problem of Asian gangs in Western society, often points out that the Tom Yu faction was as effective in its figurative destruction of Chinatown on that night in 1977 as were, literally, the Great Earthquake and Fire of 1906. "It took the Chinese Chamber of Commerce years to regenerate touristic interest in the Asian community. Ordinary citizens, businessmen and restaurateurs endured mental and economic depression. It was not until 1980 that the quince branches reappeared. It is the custom at Chinese New Year to offer quince branches for sale on almost every street corner. They are a Chinese symbol of new life."
At least Chinatown, if not the Golden Dragon victims, came back to life.
Five coffin lids slammed shut on five guiltless human beings for whom no quince branch would ever symbolize a return from the dead.
Tom Yu rested his own case on the security of his statement, oft repeated in the coming years: "I wasn't even there."
San Francisco's Grand Jury did not agree with his premise.
On May 24, 1978, based on testimony given by his own brothers, by Peter Cheung and by other witnesses, Tom Yu was indicted for his part in this infamous conspiracy of bamboo tigers. With bail set at a million dollars, he was charged with five counts of murder, 11 counts of assault with intent to commit murder, 11 counts of assault with a deadly weapon, and two counts of conspiracy.
Also indicted was Sai Ying Lee. Sai could not be found to answer to these charges and remains at large to this day.
Tom surrendered to authorities on Memorial Day, May 31, 1978.
The Great Wall of silence which had for so long protected the criminals of Chinatown had been stormed. Some of the tigers roaming the streets behind it had been trapped and caged.
Thus began the years of bearding the bamboo tigers.
 

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2000 Brockman Morris