Peking Tommy was boss of the Hip Sing tong in the sixth ward. He ran mahjong and fan-tan cellars up and down Mott Street, and he had opium joints all over Chinatown. A survivor of many tong wars, he was one of the last of the old time Triad bosses.
But he had a problem.
The rival On Leong tong had established a partnership with Finn O’Neil, a minor ward boss in a city of minor ward bosses, and a former gang member himself. It was a real game changer. Tommy’s second, the upstart Harry Lee, advised a territory share that would please everyone.
It wasn’t what Tommy wanted, but this was the way things were going.
Smoke hung heavy in Tommy’s joint on Bayard Street where the acrid opium scent mixed with the sweet smell of joss sticks. In red jars everywhere, candles backlit the smoke. Tommy had his pig tail re-braided and donned his silk red Mandarin hat for the important occasion. But like Finn and his people, the younger Lee wore a bowler and a wool suit with a button vest. The men reclined on small sofas and Tommy made a real ceremony of preparing the pipe. “For special guest,” he said. Finn and Lee passed it around.
When it came back to Tommy, the old tong chief drew shallowly on the pipe and bowed slightly in the direction of Finn. Passing the pipe he said, “Mr. Finn, my Lee tells me you want to open two dens and two gambling cellars in the sixth ward.”
“That’s right,” said Finn. “The On Leong have asked me to negotiate. It’s a way we can end this war.”
“What if I don’t agree?”
“It would be stupid on your part, Tommy. My people would harass your clients and shake down your joints everywhere. Not only that, but your laundries and your restaurants would come under fire. We have the police now, Tommy, not you. Times have changed. The days of protection pay-offs are over. It’s more involved than that, more of a big business nowadays with lots of people involved.”
The pipe came back to Tommy, but he cast it aside in frustration. “But how do I know you and the On Leong won’t try to move me out?”
Finn answered, “Tommy, that’s why I’m here, to talk about a deal, you know? A business contract. You don’t want this war to escalate.”
Tommy thought this over. He looked Finn in the eye, “I have survived many wars, you know that?”
Finn laughed through his nose. “Tommy, you won’t survive another one, not now. But hopefully there won’t be another one, right Harry?”
Harry Lee nodded and looked at Tommy. “Uncle, we should agree to this,” he said.
Tommy shook his head solemnly. “Maybe you are right. Times are changing.” He refilled the pipe and passed it around again, asking questions about details of the power share as the men smoked. Eventually, he asked Finn, “Why did you not partner with us instead of the On Leong tong?”
“Soon Wong is dead,” Finn said. “A lot of people think you had him killed. The new leader of the On Leong is Fung Yow. He’s younger, like Lee here, and he understands the way things are moving nowadays. The future is with people like him and Lee. It’s in business partnerships with politicians. Why do you think I became a ward boss?”
Tommy laughed. “Maybe I make mistake in killing old Soon Wong. But I don’t know if these young ones are ready to run things when I’m gone.” He pointed to Lee. “Young bosses have not seen enough of tong ways. Many tong members are not what they seem to be. There are . . . how do you say . . . “double-crossers,” yes?”
Loose from the smoke, Lee stole a glance at Finn.
Before the meeting, Tommy gave Harry Lee a straight edge and told him to place it in the side pocket of his suit. “They trust you. You are one of their ‘young guns.’ But they will check me over, pat me down. When I give you signal. You cut Fung Yow. Then we bargain with Finn. We make a deal between him and us. This way, the On Leong are out.”
The joint was cleared out for the meeting. Fung Yow patted down Peking Tommy. “He’s ok,” he said.
Tommy looked alarmed as Finn made to pat down Lee and protested, “That is not needed. Lee is honest man!”
“Just a precaution, Tommy,” answered Finn. The gangster-turned-ward-boss patted down Lee. “He’s clean.”
Tommy knew for sure now.
With great ceremony, he walked over and stood next to young Lee. “Gentlemen,” times are changing,” Tommy said. “This young man is part of the future. I’m honored to have taught him the ways of the tong.” He bowed slightly to Lee.
Lee wondered if it could be any easier. He moved to grab his blade and slit Tommy’s throat, but it wasn’t there when he reached for it. Tommy rose up and slashed it across the young man’s neck. Like a cat, he was on Fung Yow next. Blood covered the floor.
As he wiped the blade on Yow’s cheongsang, he said, “I told you, Mr. Finn, these young bosses are not ready for the ways of the old tong. They do not always see the double cross. It’s good that you decided to become a ward boss, as you say. Perhaps you and I can make a deal now.” He took a step toward Finn. “Or do you still consider yourself a gangster?”