Max and Barney entered into the secret room in the basement of the Tie Loi Lottery Company. They were there to meet with Little Pete. As the door opened Max expected to see an opium den. He had heard about them but had never been in one. But this was not one. He supposed Little Pete was too clever. Detective Barney was well known in Chinatown and well tolerated but he imagined the tongs had limits on information they would share even with him.
Max looked around at the walls blackened by smoke. But in the center of the room was a table with a few Chinaman playing Mah Jong. It was a game sort of like dominoes. Max had seen his assistant Jaden play it. The ivory tiles had pretty little pictures of nature or such and when they were shuffled it made little clacking sounds they called "the twittering of sparrows."
The scene presented seemed the opposite of the dark underworld Max was expecting. Little Pete offered them a seat on a bench in the side of the room and offered them tea. Little Pete was a member of the Hop Sing, a powerful tong, but you would never know it from the play he was performing. Detective Barney knew it and seemed amused.
Little Pete knew Lok Chu, the houseboy and accused murderer of the socialite Nora Abbott. He reported Lok came to the opium dens at times and also played the lottery games. But he laughed at the idea of him being a murderer. He said Lok was devoted to his mistress. As to the white involvement in the ever increasing heroin market he pointed the finger to North Beach and a building mafia presence. Max had sent his girl friday Jaden to North Beach to interview the gigilo that was with the victim the night of the murder. He hoped she was getting somewhere.
Picture - 1920s mah Jong set.