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  • Max had finished his interview of Lok Chu at the jail and planned to stop in upstairs to talk with his police friend Barney. There were things in this case that just didn't fit. It was early evening and his girl Friday, Jaden, was over at the Green Street Theatre and Speak Easy to put the feminine squeeze on another possible suspect, Teddy Williams, actor and part-time gigilo. Jaden was like a little sister to Max but he also knew she could handle herself.

    Max found Detective Barney who wanted him to go to Chinatown with him. They got into Barney's unmarked Packard.

    "What's up Barney? Why the trip to Chinatown?"

    Barney, as was his habit, was puffing on a fat cigar. "It's about the Eleanor Abbott murder case. I didn't tell you this before ... and it's on the QT, but the narc squad is on this case."

    Max snorted a low laugh, "I know her Chinese houseboy smoked opium, but really Barney, you and I both know there is nothing unusual about that. You might as well say the guy drinks tea."

    Max was well acquainted with the underworld of drugs. He had been in prison himself, not for drugs, but he knew the score and what really went on in the bowels of San Francisco. Opium use had run rampant until 1875 when a national ordinance banned it. But in San Francisco and other major cities it just went underground, literally, into basements or behind stores and through underground tunnels connecting secret rooms. The wealthy had their own ways of getting it without going to the dens.

    Barney started honking his horn as several jaywalkers crossed in front of them. "Damn pedestrians, they're going to get themselves killed!"

    "You better slow down Barney, you know how narrow the streets in Chinatown are. Now what's up? Don't keep me on the hooks!"

    "Ok Max. Last night there was a murder of a Irish guy named Bernie was arrested. They found him in a rooming house South of Market. He had a heater and there was a shootout."

    "And this is connected to the Nora Abbott case? You think he did it?"

    Barney pulled over to a corner near an alley and parked. "No, no! Let me finish. This guy was an opium addict, but you know how some thought taking heroin would help you get off the opium? Anyway, the guy did heroin and went completely out of his mind. He killed this broad he had been dating and it was a violent scene - the guy went bonkers. Anyway, it had the all the markings of the Abbott case. The coroner said Abbott was basically beat to death, even before being strangled. So, the narcs are looking into that case and the Abbott case. What I mean to say is ... maybe it's not about the Chinese opium dens, but that may be where we need to start."

    Max knew that morphine was a principal ingredient of opium. Heroin was synthesized from the morphine and had been touted for medicinal use. By 1898 the Bayer Company was producing it as a medication to help a cough and for lunger patients. It was even given to children. Society found out a bit late about its addictive properties and by 1924 federal law made it illegal. But like other drug laws, it just pushed users into the underworld. Addicts would collect and sell pieces of metal and junk to get money for their habit, so the name of "junkie" took hold as well as the term "hopped up" related to its derivative.
  • Max and Barney walked over to Spofford Alley and entered the basement of Old Tie Loy Lottery Company on Waverly place. In the old days there were fourteen doors in this passageway, each door leading into a room. The San Francisco earthquake and fire had destroyed all that. It had also devastated the tongs which were Chinese gangs that fought to control underworld activities in Chinatown. Chinatown was rebuilt but now there were fewer hidden passages. The tongs still existed but the tong wars were basically over.

    Barney was friends with Captain Mason who had been instrumental in stopping the tong wars. He had a network of snitches who were paid off for tips. Mason connected Barney with Little Pete II, a second cousin of the notorious Little Pete who was murdered a few years back. He had information on the white supplier for opium and heroin. They needed to find out how this guy was operating.

    They went into the basement and knocked on a door. A small 3x6" panel slid open and a pair of dark eyes stared through the opening. Barney gave the password and the heavy door creaked open.
  • Photo: historic ad from pharmacy Historic photo Ross Alley, SF from
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