The old men entered the storefront at 8 Pell in single file. They removed their hats, sat down, caught their breaths. Five grayhaired men looking out on the street where they lost their youth.
The hunggvun, enforcer, Triad red-pole rank, had requested their presence here in the clubhouse instead of meeting formally at 20 Pell, to save the old gentlemen three flights of stairs, and to ensure the privacy of the meeting.
Golo came around the partition and quickly offered his respects to them. He spoke quickly, to the point.
“There is a woman involved in this. Perhaps some of you have seen her?”
A pause as the old men pretended to search their minds.
“Alert your secretaries. You must offer a reward for information, contact all Chinese travel agents, but keep her out of the newspapers.”
“A bounty?” one of the elders asked.
“If you prefer, Uncle, to put it that way,” Golo answered respectfully before continuing.
“You must contact your counterparts in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Vancouver. Also, all East Coast Chinatowns. They must send people to cover the main airports. But don’t neglect the bus terminals, the trains, the hotels and motels nearest our communities.”
The old men paid due attention, respect owed to Colo for his efforts in the aftermath of the murder of their leader. They understood. The eldest rose from his wooden chair, the others followed, nodding, putting on their hats.
Golo gave them sheets of paper with Mona’s and Johnny’s profiles worded in Chinese, like an invitation. He followed them out of the storefront and watched them go down the street into the double doors of Number 20. His watch showed late afternoon, and he wondered how far away Mona, and his cache, had gotten.
The Liner slipped down into the Valley.
Utah passed in the darkness, craggy headlands, rolling plains under moonlight. Mona slept a troubled sleep, a nightmare with ghost coolies, bloody pickaxes, Chinese women and children screaming, murdered in the night.
The train sliced through the flat vastness of desert, hot and bone dry, the vistas so sunny she put the Vuarnets back on. The desolate beauty caught her. Nevada flashing by made her feel she could start forgetting New York.
She napped until there was a stop at Reno; the sunshine fell onto the desert. The Sierra Nevada rolled up, then dropped from granite into a fertile sunlit valley on the western shore.
The California Zephyr drifted to a stop in Oakland before noon.
Mona waited until the Chinese families passed her compartment, then emerged and fell in behind them. No one would be able to tell she was traveling alone.
Seventy-two hours from NewYork, she briskly crossed the platform, the Hermes scarf moving now, pulling the Rollmaster on a march through the Bay Area Rapid Transit system in the direction of Chinatown.
The Chinese lowriders in the red Trans Am wore tight perms and biker sunglasses, faded denim jeans and baggy shirts opened to gold bar-link chains around their thick necks. The grumble of the car died as the three young men inside walked out under the hot L.A. sun and crossed the parking lot, jostling each other, into the Holiday Inn.
Johnny stayed in his hotel room, rereading the newspaper. Uncle Four’s funeral, biggest in Chinatown history. The Chings were going to be hot, seeking Mona, Johnny realized, and L.A. didn’t seem like the place to stop. His mood swung, he readjusted his identity from partner to accomplice. He’d scored the gun and that tied him in.
Partners, she’d said, the word ringing in his ears. Yeah, he thought, partners in crime.
He came to a news item about a dead radio-car driver, which stopped his heart a beat. Gee Man, a heart-attack victim, dead near the Lincoln. In that moment he felt the weight of their pursuit, how deadly serious they were, after him also.
He went to the lobby and rented a car, paid cash in advance. When he drove it off the lot he passed a Trans Am, blood red, parked off the main entrance. Like a bleeding shark with dark window eyes. It reminded him of NewYork.
He parked the rental car outside his room window, nervously came back to the lobby. There was a crowd of Japanese tourists in Hawaiian shirts, a group of Chinese Kiwanis. A Cub Scout pack.
He thought he spotted some perm cuts or sunglasses that could be L.A. Ching boys. He didn’t think they saw him, but he didn’t feel so safe anymore.
Slipping back inside the room, he checked the Ruger, got whiskey from the honor bar, sucked the little bottles down while waiting for Mona’s call.