FACES TELL ALL

Prologue: Chinatown, New York

 

Orphaned at age fourteen and still unmarried at fifty—Mary Shun nonetheless considered herself a happily-assimilated Chinese-American; that was, until recent events threatened to shatter the life she had carefully crafted as if it were a delicate Ming figurine.

The original stench of racism in her adopted country had faded to only a faint odor. And Mary was proud she stuck it out. First employed as a shop girl, she mastered English at night school, worked hard at clerical jobs and after many years had risen to Assistant Curator at the Chinese American Museum (CAM), an organization devoted to understanding and tolerance between the peoples; whites were among her best friends.

But Mary’s otherwise bright outlook was clouded by this sinister new reality: remnants of Triad gangs in Chinatown were corrupting a cousin she sponsored when he migrated from Hong Kong the year before. Mary Shun had offered Shun-Fa-Ting, now Billy Shun, a corner of her small apartment on Mulberry Street and paid for his business computer course. Billy started his own computer business and was soon doing well enough to want his own place. Mary was anxious for that; she did not like the looks of Billy’s companions and their murmurings about street activities she was sure were gang related. Hoping to expedite his move, when the museum needed its own computer system rebuilt, Mary provided an introduction and Billy successfully bid the job.

CAM spotlighted anti-Chinese racism over two hundred years. Posters, books, magazines and videos of old movies depicted Chinese “villains” of the white American imagination such as Dr. Fu Manchu, and Dragon Lady—alongside stereotypes of “good” Chinese, like Charlie Chan, Anna May Wong, and the China Dolls. Nearby were photographs of actual Chinese-Americans who, like others, were loyal and productive citizens. Mary Shun had helped research much of the background information.

One day, Billy Shun seemed to take a new interest in the displays, especially those reporting massacres of Chinese coolies in the 19th century. Billy’s black eyes burned like coals. Charging into Mary’s office, he shouted curses against the “White Devil” that were widely overheard. Mary feared Billy’s volatility and connection to gangs could lead to violence and ruin her hard-won reputation and career.

 

The next night—it was mid-December, 2014—she was shocked to find Billy, at the museum, e-mailing display images to a trading company that was a suspected front for the Peoples Republic of China Intelligence Services, the MSS. She was furious but decided to hold her tongue for the moment. Mary was not unsophisticated about such matters. Months before, in a restaurant, she had overheard a reputed former Ghost Shadows gangster boast that he was getting orders from Beijing. She had informed her friend Lieutenant Henry Juen of the local Fifth Precinct, NYPD; he, in turn, introduced her to a U.S. government official named Van who gave her a list of suspected MSS-infiltrated organizations in Chinatown as well as their fronts in Hong Kong.

Mary had met Van at the huge Gothic-style Federal Building downtown. He was a very tall, older man with piercing blue eyes who seemed remarkably fit for his age.

Van had given her a contact phone number, an encoded e-mail address and said to let him know if she had a tip.

Before calling Van, Mary decided to confront Billy at their apartment. She practically spat out the words in their native Cantonese: “Billy, I cannot stand by if I see something that would bring dishonor and loss of face to our family and our community.”

Billy glared back, hands on hips, fists clenched. “What do you mean ‘not stand by’? You’d better not interfere.”

Mary’s answer was a grim tightening of lips and jaw.

Billy Shun read her face well. He knew what he must do.

 

Next day, Mary decided to call Van rather than e-mail him about her tip. He advised her to immediately take a cab to his Federal Plaza headquarters. Mary bundled against the late Fall chill with a thick coat and a wool hat that shaded her eyes and covered her ears; she did not see or hear the hooded figure following her as she emerged from her building. Seeing no cabs, she approached Canal Street and decided to take the subway.

After a short wait amidst a sizeable crowd on the downtown platform, Mary stepped toward the approaching Q train. She never saw who delivered the explosive kick that sent her tumbling and screaming to her death under the wheels. The high-pitched cries of horrified onlookers blended with the screech of brakes—applied too late.

 

 

Within the hour, Van learned of the horrific incident. More disastrous news: a search of Mary’s apartment by Fifth Precinct detectives revealed that her computer, despite firewalls and elaborate pass codes, had been hacked and its confidential files compromised.

 

Next morning, Van was called to headquarters in Langley, Virginia to explain the security breach. Doubly hard to swallow was the dressing down from Tim Peters his Division Chief, who Van grumbled was “half my age and half my size.”

Van thought the Chief’s patronizing tone complemented his tailored blue blazer and Hollywood haircut. A bow mouth and button nose completed the twerpy picture. Equally calculated to annoy Van was Peters’ habit of fidgeting with a school ring while turning slowly in his swivel chair. To confidants, Van dubbed Peters “the Fidget Midget”.

“Bad idea, Van, to trust this Mary Shun with your codes because Lieutenant Juen vouched for her. Problem is, over the years, you’ve become too high profile, and…” he smiled, “I’m not just talking about your six-foot-six…too much publicity, too loose with your name and your codes. You’re more than ever a target of the MSS.”

Van wasn’t smiling; his sapphire eyes blazed in anger. An old-school Ivy Leaguer who scorned “dressing to impress”, he sported a blousy Russian tunic under his one sop to convention, a greasy, well-worn Burberry trench coat.

The Division Chief continued. “The better news is, we read a storm of Chinese chatter from satellite surveillance since the murder yesterday. We’ve pin pointed some receivers in the Los Angeles area near a South California U. campus. We might be close to ID-ing them. Meantime, I’d lay low, if I were you.”

Van’s eyes still glowered beneath his massive brow. That prominent feature together with a hawk nose, balding head and his usual belligerence led colleagues to call him (behind his back) the mad eagle. “Over the years, as you put it, I’ve carefully developed street contacts in Chinatown and elsewhere and never before lost an operative or a source. You don’t read these people and they don’t read you, by electronics—it’s face to face. As for publicity, shining a light is often the best way to see how the rats run. I’ll take my chances.”

Turning to leave, he heard the other man say, “Don’t let me read about you in the papers, Van.”

 

 

 

FACES TELL ALL

Prologue: Chinatown, New York

 

Orphaned at age fourteen and still unmarried at fifty—Mary Shun nonetheless considered herself a happily-assimilated Chinese-American; that was, until recent events threatened to shatter the life she had carefully crafted as if it were a delicate Ming figurine.

The original stench of racism in her adopted country had faded to only a faint odor. And Mary was proud she stuck it out. First employed as a shop girl, she mastered English at night school, worked hard at clerical jobs and after many years had risen to Assistant Curator at the Chinese American Museum (CAM), an organization devoted to understanding and tolerance between the peoples; whites were among her best friends.

But Mary’s otherwise bright outlook was clouded by this sinister new reality: remnants of Triad gangs in Chinatown were corrupting a cousin she sponsored when he migrated from Hong Kong the year before. Mary Shun had offered Shun-Fa-Ting, now Billy Shun, a corner of her small apartment on Mulberry Street and paid for his business computer course. Billy started his own computer business and was soon doing well enough to want his own place. Mary was anxious for that; she did not like the looks of Billy’s companions and their murmurings about street activities she was sure were gang related. Hoping to expedite his move, when the museum needed its own computer system rebuilt, Mary provided an introduction and Billy successfully bid the job.

CAM spotlighted anti-Chinese racism over two hundred years. Posters, books, magazines and videos of old movies depicted Chinese “villains” of the white American imagination such as Dr. Fu Manchu, and Dragon Lady—alongside stereotypes of “good” Chinese, like Charlie Chan, Anna May Wong, and the China Dolls. Nearby were photographs of actual Chinese-Americans who, like others, were loyal and productive citizens. Mary Shun had helped research much of the background information.

One day, Billy Shun seemed to take a new interest in the displays, especially those reporting massacres of Chinese coolies in the 19th century. Billy’s black eyes burned like coals. Charging into Mary’s office, he shouted curses against the “White Devil” that were widely overheard. Mary feared Billy’s volatility and connection to gangs could lead to violence and ruin her hard-won reputation and career.

 

The next night—it was mid-December, 2014—she was shocked to find Billy, at the museum, e-mailing display images to a trading company that was a suspected front for the Peoples Republic of China Intelligence Services, the MSS. She was furious but decided to hold her tongue for the moment. Mary was not unsophisticated about such matters. Months before, in a restaurant, she had overheard a reputed former Ghost Shadows gangster boast that he was getting orders from Beijing. She had informed her friend Lieutenant Henry Juen of the local Fifth Precinct, NYPD; he, in turn, introduced her to a U.S. government official named Van who gave her a list of suspected MSS-infiltrated organizations in Chinatown as well as their fronts in Hong Kong.

Mary had met Van at the huge Gothic-style Federal Building downtown. He was a very tall, older man with piercing blue eyes who seemed remarkably fit for his age.

Van had given her a contact phone number, an encoded e-mail address and said to let him know if she had a tip.

Before calling Van, Mary decided to confront Billy at their apartment. She practically spat out the words in their native Cantonese: “Billy, I cannot stand by if I see something that would bring dishonor and loss of face to our family and our community.”

Billy glared back, hands on hips, fists clenched. “What do you mean ‘not stand by’? You’d better not interfere.”

Mary’s answer was a grim tightening of lips and jaw.

Billy Shun read her face well. He knew what he must do.

 

Next day, Mary decided to call Van rather than e-mail him about her tip. He advised her to immediately take a cab to his Federal Plaza headquarters. Mary bundled against the late Fall chill with a thick coat and a wool hat that shaded her eyes and covered her ears; she did not see or hear the hooded figure following her as she emerged from her building. Seeing no cabs, she approached Canal Street and decided to take the subway.

After a short wait amidst a sizeable crowd on the downtown platform, Mary stepped toward the approaching Q train. She never saw who delivered the explosive kick that sent her tumbling and screaming to her death under the wheels. The high-pitched cries of horrified onlookers blended with the screech of brakes—applied too late.

 

Within the hour, Van learned of the horrific incident. More disastrous news: a search of Mary’s apartment by Fifth Precinct detectives revealed that her computer, despite firewalls and elaborate pass codes, had been hacked and its confidential files compromised.

 

Next morning, Van was called to headquarters in Langley, Virginia to explain the security breach. Doubly hard to swallow was the dressing down from Tim Peters his Division Chief, who Van grumbled was “half my age and half my size.”

Van thought the Chief’s patronizing tone complemented his tailored blue blazer and Hollywood haircut. A bow mouth and button nose completed the twerpy picture. Equally calculated to annoy Van was Peters’ habit of fidgeting with a school ring while turning slowly in his swivel chair. To confidants, Van dubbed Peters “the Fidget Midget”.

“Bad idea, Van, to trust this Mary Shun with your codes because Lieutenant Juen vouched for her. Problem is, over the years, you’ve become too high profile, and…” he smiled, “I’m not just talking about your six-foot-six…too much publicity, too loose with your name and your codes. You’re more than ever a target of the MSS.”

Van wasn’t smiling; his sapphire eyes blazed in anger. An old-school Ivy Leaguer who scorned “dressing to impress”, he sported a blousy Russian tunic under his one sop to convention, a greasy, well-worn Burberry trench coat.

The Division Chief continued. “The better news is, we read a storm of Chinese chatter from satellite surveillance since the murder yesterday. We’ve pin pointed some receivers in the Los Angeles area near a South California U. campus. We might be close to ID-ing them. Meantime, I’d lay low, if I were you.”

Van’s eyes still glowered beneath his massive brow. That prominent feature together with a hawk nose, balding head and his usual belligerence led colleagues to call him (behind his back) the mad eagle. “Over the years, as you put it, I’ve carefully developed street contacts in Chinatown and elsewhere and never before lost an operative or a source. You don’t read these people and they don’t read you, by electronics—it’s face to face. As for publicity, shining a light is often the best way to see how the rats run. I’ll take my chances.”

Turning to leave, he heard the other man say, “Don’t let me read about you in the papers, Van.”

 

Dr. Philip Wolfson

Author, Face Tell All