In the early 70s, Big Brother Chang, the Reluctant Scholar, and several other 14K soldiers traveled to the United States to manage the triad’s business affairs in San Francisco. Tommy’s English language skills were a definite asset. The 14K triad had a long history in San Francisco, dating back to the gold rush, providing a steady stream of cheap labor to help with the mining, whoring, and the building of the railroads. In the 70s the drug trade had become the gang’s primary source of income. Americans had an insatiable appetite for marijuana, LSD, and opium. Some brothers outside Chang’s immediate circle developed a taste for drugs. But Chang banned the 49ers under his direct command to take part. That’s not to say Tommy never experimented. His motto was, “try anything once.” But he never developed what one could call a habit, at least not for drugs or alcohol.
Tommy’s weakness was gambling. As good a con man as he was, he was an infinitely worse gambler. For small stakes, like playing Mahjong or cards with his triad brothers, he did all right. But Tommy was drawn to risk, and when it came to big stakes he rarely finished on top.
In the mid-70s tensions between the 14K and the Sun Yee On triad had reached historic levels in several areas of the world, including San Francisco. Tommy had become one of Big Brother Chang’s most trusted lieutenants and was called upon to perform his most important mission to date. An informant had learned that a meeting between a high-level Sun Yee On officer and a San Francisco city official was scheduled at a neutral restaurant in Chinatown. Usually, this would not be an issue, but according to the trusted informant, the city official would agree to provide preferential treatment to Sun Yee On businesses in a section of Chinatown that would give the Sun Yee On triad a significant positional advantage over the 14K. Tommy was ordered to execute the Sun Yee On officer and did so three blocks before the man reached his destination, along with two of the man’s associates. Tommy narrowly escaped capture in San Francisco and then again crossing the border into Mexico. He eventually made his way back to Hong Kong where his stature soared. Not only had he gunned down a leader of their hated rival, but he had done it in the U.S, and had gotten away with it. Neither the 14K or Sun Yee On triad would cooperate with the SFPD, who were then forced to write the event off as another death in the escalating warfare between two gangs. It had happened in Chinatown, to a Chinaman, by a Chinaman. Case closed.