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By H. P. Oliver
2013 HPO Productions
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San Francisco, California - Tuesday - April 11, 1939
After more than twelve hours on U.S. Highway 101 between Los Angeles and San Francisco, I was tired, irritable, and generally out of sorts. It didn't help my disposition any when I finally arrived at 2308 Third Street and found the Tang Fan Trading Company locked up tighter than a drum.
I'd even taken the time to stop in Salinas and call Mister Tang to explain I'd been delayed by road construction and would arrive later than expected. Tang said he understood and would be waiting for me no matter when I arrived. Hogwash!
It was now eight-thirty, and Mister Tang was nowhere to be found. To make matters worse, I was in a dark and deserted industrial part of town with no public telephones, few streetlights, and not much of anything else. Welcome to San Francisco!
When I finally got tired of pounding on the Tang Fan Trading Company's front door, I stepped back a few paces and craned my neck to search the two-story brick building's dark upper-floor windows for some sign of life. Nothing. I was about to give up on the whole deal when I heard two muffled bangs about ten seconds apart from somewhere in the building. They weren't signs of life, though; they were signs of death. I know gunshots when I hear them.
Pressing myself against the building to be less visible, I felt the day's heat stored in the bricks and listened for the rest of the story. Before long an automobile engine cranked to life. I cautiously moved to the corner of the building and took a peek. A light-colored four-door sedan roared out of the alley behind the Tang Fan Trading Company and squealed its tires turning up the side street in my direction.
I jerked back out of sight as the sedan slewed through a left onto Third Street. A decidedly Oriental face behind the passenger-side window stared at me intently as the car passed. It was only natural the sedan's occupants would be curious about who the hell was banging on the front door while they were inside taking care of business. It was the nature of their business that worried me. Business involving guns is almost always a cause for concern.
Fully expecting the sedan to return, I ran to my car at the curb and grabbed the Smith & Wesson Police Special stashed in the glove compartment. Revolver in hand, I stood there next to my car for several moments waiting for whatever was going to happen next to happen. When nothing at all happened, I figured the sedan was gone for good.
I walked cautiously down the side street to the alley behind Tang Fan's warehouse. Mostly the alley was dark and deserted, but there was a narrow stripe of light spilling across the pavement next to the rear of the building. I moved past a large roll-up door designed to accommodate the loading and unloading of trucks. It was pulled down tight. The light was coming from a man-door left ajar a few feet further down the alley. I peered through the opening warily, expecting the worst.
The worst was about twenty feet or so inside the door. The single light bulb suspended from the high warehouse ceiling didn't give off much light, but it was enough to make out a lumpy shape on the concrete floor. From ten feet away the shape became a man. The guy had taken two shotgun rounds--one in the face and one in the chest. I didn't need to get any closer.
Based on what was left of him, the victim appeared to have been a gray-haired Oriental man in an expensive, custom-tailored suit. I wondered if I was looking at Mister Tang, the man I'd come here to meet. I didn't know Tang and had no idea what he looked like. For that matter, even someone who knew him well would be hard pressed to recognize the guy on the warehouse floor in his present condition.
By this time it was apparent that the corpse and I were quite alone in the warehouse, so I slipped the revolver into my coat pocket and looked around for a telephone with which to perform my civic duty. I found what I was looking for on the desk in a tiny office with windows looking out into the warehouse. I dialed "O," and the friendly operator connected me to the not-so-friendly San Francisco Police emergency dispatcher. I explained the situation. The guy on the other end of the line ordered me to stay put; officers would be arriving in a few minutes.
I decided staying put in the alley was preferable to keeping the dead guy company, so I went outside and lit a Lucky Strike. The night air had gotten damper and chillier during the short time I was in the warehouse, or maybe it was just me.
Wisps of lacy fog were now sinking into the alley, and a skulking cat in search of dinner moved slowly along the opposite wall until he noticed me. He scurried off in a furry blur, eager to be far away from the evil invading his domain. The cat had better sense than me and I wished I could follow his example.