Chapter 1

Saturday, July 7, 5:45 P.M. Toronto, Canada

To the casual observer, there was nothing remarkable about Ryerson Street in Toronto's Chinatown. Old and unexceptional five-and-six-story commercial buildings lined both sides of the street. Although it was a hot summer day, steam flowed freely from pipes jutting through the windowpanes of every third or fourth window. On the loading dock of each building were large rolls of uncut cloth, along with a few steel clothing racks from which hung the factories' finished products—dresses, pants, blouses, and shirts, all cheap clothes on cheap wire hangers.
     Trucks, mostly rentals, were parked at the curbs on both sides of the street, and the drivers sat in the cabs with the motors running to keep the air-conditioning at full blast. The truck drivers were possibly the only people on the block enjoying any degree of comfort. Everyone else was inside, toiling in the oppressive heat of the piecework clothing sweatshops that were one of the linchpins of the underground economies of every large Chinatown in North America.
     At 5:50 the pedestrian traffic on the block increased dramatically as the night shift of workers began arriving. All were Chinese, and most were men dressed in shorts, tee-shirts, and plastic-and-foam shower shoes. The reporting workers formed themselves into orderly lines outside the factory entrances, waiting for the day shift workers to emerge.
     At 5:55 a rented Ford Econoline commercial van pulled onto the block and parked in front of one of the sweatshops. Like most of the workers on the street, the three occupants of the van were illegal aliens in Canada, but there were a few differences. Those on the street were resigned and even eager to work long hours at low wages for years while they paid off their transportation fees to the triad that had smuggled them from China into Canada. Although they were also Asian, the three young men in the van were illegal aliens from the United States, and none of them had worked a day at honest labor in years, if ever. They had grown up hard and poor, had become inured to the misery surrounding them, and had developed into creatures possessing neither conscience nor mercy. They were members of Born to Kill, a New York based Chinese-Vietnamese street gang, and all were dressed in the summer uniform of the Chinese street thug: black jeans, black canvas shoes, expensive silk shirts, and loose-fitting cotton sports coats to hide the 9mm pistols in their belts.
     Johnny Chow, the acknowledged leader of the trio, occupied the passenger seat in the van, and his disciple, Nicky Chu, sat on a plastic milk crate in the rear. Although both Johnny and Nicky were ethnically Chinese, they had been born in Cholon, the Chinese section of Saigon. The youngest was the driver, David Phouc, ethnically Vietnamese, but born in a refugee camp in Hong Kong. As Born to Kill members, their primary source of income was collecting money owed to 14K, the Hong Kong triad which controlled the lucrative market of importing illegal aliens from China to work in Canada and the United States.
     Johnny placed a Polaroid snapshot of a Chinese man in his thirties on the dashboard. The subject of the full-face photo looked poor and miserable, like the men in line next to their van, but Johnny had taken the photo and would know him when he saw him. The three men sat while Johnny stared at the front door of the factory, waiting for Wu Long to finish his shift. Wu was their mission for that evening, and he would be leaving with them—certainly not willingly, but docilely, like most of the other illegals they had kidnapped in the past. If Wu or his family in China couldn't come up with the money owed to 14K, it would be Wu's last ride.
     If it came to murder, the prospect didn't bother Johnny or Nicky. They had killed many times before for profit or revenge, as well as in their roles as snakeheads collecting for 14K. They could kill Wu without a second thought, but they wouldn't be pulling the trigger this time. Since Phouc had never killed before, Johnny had decided that Phouc would kill Wu Long if payment weren't made.
     Although he tried not to show his eagerness, David Phouc was looking forward to killing Wu as the final step in his initiation rite. He rubbed his month-old tattoo, certain that he had never been happier in his life. After years of running errands, hanging out, and doing the criminal bidding of his idols, he was finally in—a sworn member of Born to Kill, a man to be feared and respected. He soon would be a man of substance; he had been accepted in as the gang was profitably expanding from its traditional New York roots. Owing to the loyal and efficient manner in which they had handled collections for 14K in New York during the past two years, Born to Kill had been awarded the same contract in Toronto by the powerful Hong Kong triad, and the gang's leadership had traveled to Hong Kong and been initiated into the sacred brotherhood.
     Life was easy, the money was flowing in, but there were risks. Phouc realized that the assaults, kidnappings, and occasional murders Born to Kill committed in fulfilling its contract with 14K would generate a fair amount of official attention if they ever came to light. That hadn't happened yet in Toronto.
     "Get ready, they're coming out," Johnny ordered.
     Phouc leaned forward in his seat so he could see the front door of the factory over Johnny's shoulder. Many workers were coming out of the factory, and most were dressed alike, but Wu instantly gave himself up by his demeanor. He saw Johnny sitting in the van and froze for a second, then turned left and walked briskly down the block.
     Johnny wasn't worried. He was a veteran of many such kidnappings and had planned well. He had figured that Wu would see them, and then flee in the direction he had gone, behind the van. The other two members of the Toronto Born to Kill crew had been dropped off on the corner and were waiting there to intercept Wu. There was no escape.
     "Go around the block and meet us on the corner," Johnny ordered, then he and Nicky got out of the van and walked after Wu.
     Phouc did as he was told and, two minutes later, he met the crew at the corner of Ryerson and Carr. Wu was there, standing sheepishly in the midst of the gangsters. Other factory workers cast sidelong glances at the group, but none stopped or said a word. They all knew what was happening and, as they passed, each of them resolved to keep paying their fees to 14K in order to avoid the fate of foolish Wu Long.
     Wu was loaded into the van and his hands were tied. "Back to the hotel, and drive carefully," Johnny ordered. As Phouc drove, he heard the sounds of Wu being forcibly interrogated in the back of the van. It was apparent that Wu didn't have the money to pay. If his family in China couldn't come through, in a few days Phouc would have his first kill under his belt. Wu Long would be killed because he had missed two $300 payments, but the amount was incidental. His death would insure that thousands of other $300 weekly payments from the hundreds of illegals that 14K had transported to Toronto would be collected without incident.
     Phouc checked his watch when he pulled into the hotel's parking lot. Traffic had been light, so he had made the trip in just thirty-five minutes. Right on schedule, with plenty of time for dinner and maybe a few drinks before the next kidnapping.

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