It turned out to be a lot more than a few days before the Hong Kong government decided to let the infamous Ho Gwok Wai back into society. There were meetings to attend, papers to sign, promises to be made, but eventually Tommy’s handlers determined he was no longer a menace to society and agreed that he would be released from prison on July 1, 2017.
At 8 a.m the Stanley prison door, the same door Tommy had walked into decades ago, opened for his departure. He had no expectations, but leaving seemed anticlimactic. The guards that processed his release were overly respectful and friendly, and Tommy wondered if that was just the way they trained the guards to speak to departing ex-convicts, or was it that the guards feared him now he was free. He liked to think it was the latter. That Big Brother Chang had recently visited him was also a factor.
A red taxi idled on Tung Tau Wan Road, waiting for him. A man smoking a cigarette paced back and forth next to the cab, talking on a cell phone. Tommy recognized the man as Pak Jan Wei (Johnny), a loyal friend and 14K brother. Seeing Tommy approach, the taxi driver jumped out and opened the trunk of the car. Tommy signaled that there was no need, holding up his small bag of belongings to prove it. The driver smiled, saluted, and returned to the driver’s seat. Johnny, finally noticing that Tommy approached, opened the back passenger side door and tipped his head in recognition but continued his phone conversation. Tommy doubted that it was an intentional sign of disrespect, but wondered what could be more important than welcoming him, his “Elder Brother,” after thirty years in Stanley Prison! Triad brothers weren’t exactly the huggy type, but gestures and implied meaning were an intrinsic part of their lifestyle.
Tommy sat down, placing his small bag of items on the taxi’s floor between his feet. Johnny went around the back of the taxi, sitting down on the opposite side.
“Elder brother, I am truly sorry. That was a mutual acquaintance that wanted to be here to see you when you got out, but circumstances wouldn’t allow.”
Tommy could count on one hand, maybe two, the number of “brothers” that had visited him in prison. Tommy understood why. Tommy had fallen out of favor with the Big Boss, and unless you had earned irreplaceable status in the 14K, it was critical that you appeared loyal to the person in power. Although Tommy was never officially kicked out of the brotherhood (he would be dead if he had been) his reputation was unquestionably trending down when he entered prison.
“Mutual acquaintance?” Tommy thought Johnny was being unnecessarily coy. “Who were you talking to?”
Johnny shook his head, and nodded towards the driver, indicating it wasn’t a good idea to talk near ears with unknown affiliations. Triad members were just as paranoid as any other member of an organized crime syndicate.
“How do you feel? Good to be out?” Johnny was one of the very few brothers that had continued to visit Tommy throughout his incarceration and was Tommy’s primary source of non-prison information. Johnny had visited only a few days ago and had spent the last forty-eight hours getting things ready for Tommy’s release.
“Yeah. Good.” He looked out the window. “Old. I feel old.”
“You’ll get used to being out by the time we get to your new home,” Johnny quipped.
Tommy shrugged. “Where are we going?”
“I found you a place in Kennedy Town. A little out of the way and on the island, like you asked.”
Although Tommy would like to have just disappeared, he knew Chang wouldn’t allow it, at least not until he had paid off his debt, and probably not even then.
“How much is the rent?” Tommy asked.
“You dishonor me by even asking. I’ve got it covered. Also, here is some walking around money.” Johnny handed Tommy a stack of red HK$100.
“And you must learn how to use one of these.” Johnny passed Tommy a smartphone that looked like an Apple iPhone. Only this was a copy made in China and far less expensive. Tommy turned the device over in his hands. It was cold to the touch, with a glass surface on one side, and a gray metal cover on the other. Two lower-case letters, “mi,” showed the brand.
“What is it?”
“It’s a mobile telephone.”
Tommy had entered prison in 1986, and cell phones were still a decade away from being mainstream. In the 80s, most Hong Kong businessmen (and gangsters) carried pagers. For obvious reasons, inmates weren’t allowed cell phones, and although Tommy had seen them on television, he was still surprised by how small and light they were.
“Get the fuck outta here!”
“It is. Look…” Johnny took the phone back and powered it on. The phone’s glass screen lit up immediately and Johnny slid his finger across the top showing how to manipulate the applications.
“There are a lot of things you can do with this kind of phone, but the two things you’ll do most will be to call someone, or text them…send someone a message.”
“Why would I send a message when I can just call them?”
“What if the person you’re calling is busy and can’t pick up the phone?”
“I’ll call them later.”
“But…” Johnny knew this wouldn’t be easy. “Look, I’m not an expert, but I send more messages than I make phone calls. It’s more efficient.” Johnny spent the rest of the drive showing Tommy how to use his new phone and warned him not to say or text anything he wouldn’t want the police or his rivals to know.
“I don’t know how they do it, but they have the technology to listen in on your phone conversations. They can also track you if they want to. This one is brand new, so I’m 100% sure it’s clean. Still, take precautions and don’t let your phone out of your sight.”
“That’s not good.”
“For now, I wouldn’t worry about it.”
They exited the taxi at the intersection of Catchick and Davis Street. Johnny paid the driver and motioned for Tommy to follow him. They rode the elevator up to the twenty-sixth floor. Johnny apologized in advance for the humble decor of the apartment, but Tommy assured him almost anything he moved into at this point in his life was an upgrade.
Johnny was right. There wasn’t much to it, but it was clean. After taking the tour, Tommy sat back on the plastic couch while Johnny pulled out a chair from the dining table.
“I have what I think you’ll find is good news.”
Tommy twisted his hands out in front of him indicating, “What are you waiting for?”
“Boss. What I’m about to say must remain secret. If anyone were to find out what I’m about to tell you, many people, loyal to you, to us, would die.”
“I’m only minutes out of prison, and you bring me this?”
“I know, but if I didn’t tell you, you would kill me,” Johnny said, only half-jokingly.
“OK. Spit it out.”
“The person I was on the phone with earlier, that wanted to be there in person when you got out?”
“It was your daughter.”
Tommy, like most men, prided himself on controlling his emotions, but this news knocked him back. Blood rushed to his head and he felt faint. He put his face in his hands to hide what he was feeling from Johnny and to gather himself.
“Are you okay Scholar?” Johnny inquired.
Tommy could not have received better news. His daughter was alive, and she wanted to see him. All indications, over the last few years were that she wanted nothing to do with him. Tommy felt reborn. He had a purpose in life and knew he would do anything to reunite with his daughter.
“Tell me,” Tommy demanded.
“Here is what I know. Happy is in America running a con on some rich guy who owns a bunch of hotels or some shit. She left without Boss Chang’s approval, but she’s been sending back loads of cash, so he’s let it go. But I guess he’s missing her because he demanded that she return.”
Tommy winced at the reminder that Boss Chang was intimate with his daughter
“I know. It’s sick. But you need to know what she’s doing, has done, is for you. She has a plan, but it may take a few weeks to come together. She cannot contact you, and she made sure I emphasized that you must not try to contact her. It must appear as though she wants nothing to do with you. If you need to get her a message, do it through me.”