The Hallie McKinley Series: Book 1
Twenty-two-year old Matty McKinley hung up his cell phone and slid it into the front right pocket of his jeans. He ran a hand through his light brown hair as he thought about the unexpected twist his day was now taking. How was he going to pull off the task which now lay before him? Matty looked at the walls to the hallway; the light yellow color had always been warm and comforting. He took in a deep breath in an attempt to ease his now racing mind. It brought a little relief. Matty now focused on the door located a few feet down the hall. On the other side were his three business partners focused on a project they were fine tuning and hoping to complete that day; a project he was deeply engrossed in when his phone rang. What would he say to explain his sudden abandonment of them? Whatever it was, he needed to do it fast. Time was now working against him.
Matty quickly headed toward the room, opened the door, and called over to the three gentlemen his age. “Something urgent has come up, I have to go. Call me on my cell and let me know if you get it figured out.” Matty glanced at his guitar for a second debating if he should bring it. He decided he’d get it later, putting it into the case and the trunk of his car would take too long.
Lex gave him a surprised look. “Where are you going?”
“I don’t have time to talk about it.” Matty turned and quickly hurried out the door, into the hallway, and up the stairs that lead out of the basement studio and into the main part of the house which was owned by Lex, and where his other two partners, Paul and Henry, lived.
Lex was right on his heels. “You don’t usually have 'urgent engagements'. Is something wrong with April?”
“April’s just fine," Matty walked out the front door. "It has nothing to do with her.” He opened the driver’s side of his car and turned to look at Lex, “I’ve got to go.”
“I’m coming with you,” Lex jumped into the passenger seat of Matty’s blue Toyota Corolla full of curiosity. Work could wait.
“Do me a favor and punch Long Beach into Google Maps. See if you can tell it to go to the West End.” Matty backed the car out of the driveway and started driving down the road.
Lex was puzzled by this request. “You don’t have an actual address?”
“No, I’m hoping to get it soon.”
“What’s going on down in Long Beach?”
Matty glanced over with an uneasy look on his face. “It’s complicated... Maybe I should drop you off somewhere. I don’t think you’d understand this.”
“It's just something you wouldn’t expect, and I’m not sure what your reaction's going to be.”
“We’re best friends. You know you can trust me. If you’re in trouble, I can help you.”
“I know that," Matty appreciatively replied and then paused before continuing. "How do I explain this without hurting your feelings? ... Your perspective of the world is different from mine, and at the moment, I don’t want to listen to your commentaries.”
“It other words, you don’t want my opinion about what you’re doing.”
Lex was too curious to be annoyed. He noticed they were getting on the one-ten to leave Los Angeles and head down the coast. Matty was very focused on the road. He looked worried.
“If I guess it, will you tell me I’m correct?”
“Sure, but you’ll never guess this.”
Lex thought for a few moments. Something unexpected for Matty. “You’re putting a hit on someone?”
Matty shot him a surprised glance. “No, don’t be ridiculous.”
“You borrowed money from a gangster, and he wants to see you.”
Matty chuckled. “Not even close.”
Lex was glad he was able to lighten Matty's serious mood for a moment. He'd never seen Matty look so tense. “Good, ‘cause I’m your loan shark.”
“Since when have I ever borrowed money from you?” Matty was serious again.
“Never, but if you needed some, I'd give it to you.”
“Thanks, that’s nice to know.”
They rode in silence again. Matty was staring intently at the road, weaving in and out of traffic.
“Give me a hint. Are we talking about a person or a thing?”
“Male or female?”
“Do you care about this female?”
“You could say that.”
Now Lex was stunned. “Oh my gosh, you’re cheating on your wife. Matty, you guys were high school sweethearts. You just got married earlier this year. You’re the happiest couple I’ve ever seen. I can't believe this.”
“Call Charles to come and get you. I’m pulling over to drop you off.”
“I’m right?” The realization hit him harder than the initial thought.
“No, you’re not right. I can’t believe you’d even say that.” Matty was pissed.
“Look at the road. You're going to hit someone in this traffic if you're glaring at me." He defensively replied. "You said it was something I wouldn’t expect. Don’t pull over. You’re in a hurry, remember?”
Lex thought for a moment and decided to try a different approach to finding out why Matty was so tense and driven.
“So, this woman in Long Beach, she didn’t give you an address?”
“That’s strange. Why not?”
“I didn’t actually speak to her. I got my information from another person who didn’t have the address.”
“Then how do you know where you’re going?”
“I don’t know exactly. I’m looking for a pay phone,” Matty was nervously tapping his fingers on the steering wheel.
“And this woman is waiting for you at a pay phone?"
What a strange place to meet someone. "Are you buying drugs?"
“Why don’t you just call the pay phone and ask the woman what street she’s near?”
“I’d love to, but I don’t have the number.”
Lex reached into the pocket of his pants and pulled out his cell phone. “Here, let me see if I can pull up a list of all the pay phones in Long Beach. There can’t be that many, right? Doesn’t everyone use a cell phone?”
“You would think so, but there are six-hundred-thirty-five.”
“What! And you’re planning to drive to all of them? You do realize it could take hours to find her, no make that days.”
“That’s why I needed to leave so quickly. I don’t know how I’m going to find her. April’s helping as well. She's pulled up a list of all the pay phones and is calling every one of them as we speak. Hopefully, she'll call soon with the actual address of where Ann is.”
“And what does her boss think about her using company time to help you?” Lex felt a bit annoyed.
“I’m just saying that making all these calls will take her away from the projects she’s supposed to be working on.”
Matty gave him a look that told Lex he was really mad. “You’re right. Her boss wouldn’t understand. He’s never thought of anyone other than himself. He’s never loved anyone or even been close to anyone to know what it’s like to care for another person. He would rather have her spend her time working on some real-estate project to make him money that he doesn’t even need or even care about, because that’s more important than anything else. If he has a problem with her helping me today, then she can go work for someone else.”
Lex felt the sting of his words. “I think you’re being a bit harsh.”
“No, I’m just being honest.”
They rode in silence for a while. Lex was fuming. How could Matty say such things? What could be so important that he would risk their friendship? What was making Matty act so strangely? Lex had never seen Matty so agitated. Matty cussed several times at the traffic. Matty never cussed. His driving also had an edge to it, frantic. "What's really going on? You've never used me before."
"I'm not using you now. You invited yourself along, remember?"
"I'm talking about using April during company time."
"April took the rest of the afternoon off when she received my call. There just wasn’t enough time for her to go home."
"Why didn't you tell me that?"
"Because I couldn't believe you reacted the way you did."
Lex picked up his cell phone. “It’s Lex. April's not taking a vacation day, she's working on a special project for me. I don’t want her interrupted. Pull Carman to help her.” Lex hung up his phone.
“Thank you.” Matty looked slightly relieved.
“What you said about me hurt, and at first I was really mad at you and seriously considered having you stop the car, so I could get out and have Charles come pick me up. But then ... I didn’t know what I’d do after that. You’re the only real friend I have. You don’t use me like everyone else does, and I appreciate it. And you’re right, I don’t really care about what project April’s working on. What’s important is not losing you as a friend.”
“You haven’t. I’m sorry too. This is the most important thing anyone has ever asked me to do. I just can’t fail.”
“Thanks." Lex paused for a moment before adding. "Would you please tell me what’s going on?”
“I’m doing a favor for Ron.”
“When did you hear from him?”
“This morning, he’s the one who called.”
Lex was surprised. “He’s in Iraq, I didn’t think he had access to a telephone while fighting the war.”
Lex didn’t miss the aggravated look Matty shot him before he spoke. “Of course they have phones, they just can’t use them very often. Ron’s called before, he just usually calls my mom, so she can hear his voice and not worry so much about him.”
“So, let me get this straight. Ron called with an urgent errand that requires you to drive all over Long Beach, California until you find a pay phone and someone named Ann?”
“Her name is Ann Kasey.”
“You do realize how absurd that sounds?”
“I have no other choice. I have to find her right away. I promised Scott I would.”
“One of the guys in Ron’s unit. I'll do anything to repay him for saving Ron's life two months ago, no matter how absurd or crazy it may be.”
“So, who's Ann?”
“Scott’s sister. She’s in trouble, and I'm the only person who can help her.”