I managed to get Nakamura on the fourth ring.
“Hey, Shim here,” said an unfamiliar voice on the other end of the line. I settled back and put my feet back up on the desk.
“Mr. Nakamura? This is Mickey Lynch returning your calls. I understand you’ve been trying to reach me the last couple of days while I was working a couple other cases. Sorry for the delay in getting in touch. Now, what can I do for you?”
“Call me Shim," he said. "Any chance we can get together tonight for a face-to-face meeting? I hate talking business on the phone."
"Business?" I asked. "You need a private eye?"
"And how," he said.
Nakamura was the second person of the day who wanted to hire me. I still didn't know what the mayor wanted, but if he was going to offer me a job, too, I was on my way toward scoring a triple play; I had that kind of luck so rarely that I was thinking about running over to Tanforan and putting some money on one of the nags running there.
I checked my watch. “Tonight? It's kind of short notice, Shim," I said. "What did you have in mind?”
“How about a joint in West Oakland called Miss Annamae’s?” Nakamura said. “Does 7:30 p.m. sound okay?”
I had never heard of Miss Annamae’s. “What kind of place is this?” I asked as I jotted the name down.
“It’s a dance club,” Nakamura replied. “Live music, booze. It’s got a little kitchen where the hepcats can score something to eat. Listen, I have to make like a fat lady’s bloomers and split. I'd probably take only an hour of your time. Does 7:30 p.m. sound like you can work it in?”
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West Oakland could be a rough part of town. There were a lot of jazz and blues joints in the area that catered to the carriage trade, but the place also was infested with crooks and grifters looking to separate some of the "A" listers from their cabbage. Musicians and music fans alike frequented the district and sometimes what Nakamura called “hepcats” got a little out of hand. In addition, the music venues were often the site of racial mixing. Oakland cops considered that a crime only slightly less heinous than kiddy rape.
It wasn't unusual for John Law to pop dope shooters and reefer smokers at the clubs. Sometimes they accidentally picked up people who weren't doing those things, but booked them just for associating with Negroes. I remembered a recent story in the Sunday Tribune about a big heroin raid at a club on Seventh Street; no dope was found and the charges were eventually dropped against the society swells, but not until all of them had their names and pictures all over the local sheets.
The last thing I needed while the D.A. had me in his sights was to get picked up in a drug raid. But the possibility of landing another paying client outweighed my nervousness. Besides, I was curious about this bird Nakamura and figured that if I got together with him, at the very least I would find out why his name rang a bell.
“Yeah, sure,” I said. “One question, though – your name seems sort of familiar, but I can't figure out where from. Have we met or something?"
The man on the other end of the phone laughed. “Not directly, but I have some first-hand familiarity with your work."
“How’s that?” I asked.
“It was an employment investigation. You cleared me of being a communist,” Nakamura told me.
I relaxed slightly. “Well, I’m glad to hear that."
Nakamura chuckled, but this time his laugh had a slightly bitter edge. “Thanks,” he said. “But it didn’t really matter. You see, my former employer ended up firing me, anyway. See you at 7:30 p.m., Mick.”
(More next week)