I repeated the other address I had, making the list of numbers a question.
"Yeah, that's the place," he said, suspicious again. "How come you didn't go there?"
"This was the address I was given - by a very dependable source."
"If you were up to any good, you wouldn't be here."
I pursed my lips. I'd never been much good at bluffing, but Alice hadn't left me a lot of alternatives. "Maybe I'm not up to any good."
Max's face turned apologetic. "Look, lady - "
"Right. Bella. See, I need this job. J pays me pretty good to mostly just hang out here all day. I want to help you, I do, but - and of course Tm speaking hypothetically, right? Or off the record, or whatever works for you - but if I pass somebody through that could get him in trouble, I'm out of work. Do you see my problem?"
I thought for a minute, chewing on my lip. "You've never seen anyone like me here before? Well, sort of like me.
My sister is a lot shorter than me, and she has dark spiky black hair."
"J knows your sister?"
"I think so."
Max pondered this fora moment.I smiled at him, and his breathing stuttered."Tell you what I'll do.HI give Ja call and describe you to him. Let him make the decision."
What did J. Jenks know? Would my description mean something to him? That was a troubling thought.
"My last name is Cullen," I told Max, wondering if that was too much information. I was starting to get irritated with Alice. Did I really have to be quite this blind? She could have given me one or two more words....
"Cullen, got it."
I watched as he dialed, easily picking out the number. Well, I could call J. Jenks myself if this didn't work.
"HeyJ, it's Max. I know I'm never supposed tocall you at this number except in an emergency___"
Is there an emergency?1 heard faintly from the other end.
"Well, notexactly. It's this girl who wants to see you___" fail to see the emergency in that Why didn't you follow normal procedure?
"I didn't follow normal procedure 'cause she don't look like any kind of normal - "
Is she a badge?!
"No - "
You can't be sure about that. Does she look like one ofKubarev's - ?
"No - let me talk, okay? She says you know her sister or something."
Not likely. What does she look like?
"She looks like . . ." His eyes ran from my face to my shoes appreciatively. "Well, she looks like a freaking supermodel, that's what she looks like." I smiled and he winked at me, then went on. "Rocking body, pale as a sheet, dark brown hair almost to her waist, needs a good night's sleep - any of this soundingfamiliar?"
No, it doesn't I'm not happy that you let your weakness for pretty women interrupt -
"Yeah,so I'ma sucker for the pretty ones, what's wrong with that? I'm sorry I bothered you, man. Just forget it."
"Name," I whispered.
"Oh right. Wait," Max said. "She says her name is Bella Cullen. That help?"
There was a beat of dead silence, and then the voice on the other end was abruptly screaming, using a lot of words you didn't often hear outside of truck stops. Max's whole expression changed; all the joking vanished and his lips went pale.
"Because you didn't ask!" Max yelled back, panicked.
There was another pause while J collected himself.
Beautiful and pale?J asked, a tiny bit calmer.
"I said that, didn't I?"
Beautiful and pale? What did this man know about vampires? Was he one of us himself? I wasn't prepared for that kind of confrontation. I gritted my teeth. What had Alice gotten me into?
Max waited for a minute through another volley of shouted insults and instructions and then glanced at me with eyes that were almost frightened. "But you only meet downtown clients on Thursdays - okay, okay! On it.'7He slid his phone shut.
"He wants to see me?" I asked brightly.
Max glowered. "You could have told me you were a priority client;7
"I didn't know I was."
"I thought you might be a cop," he admitted. "I mean, you don't look like a cop. But you act kind of weird, beautiful."
"Drug cartel?" he guessed.
"Who, me?" I asked.
"Yeah. Or your boyfriend or whatever."
"Nope, sorry. I'm not really a fan of drugs, and neither is my husband. Just say no and all that."
Max cussed under his breath. "Married. Can't catch a break."
"Please! Is that the kind of people you usually deal with, Max? Maybe you need a new job."
I had to admit, I was enjoying myself a little. I hadn't interacted with humans much besides Charlie and Sue. It was entertaining to watch him flounder. I was also pleased at how easy it was not to kill him.
"You've got to be involved in something big. And bad," he mused.
"It's not really like that."
"That's what they all say. But who else needs papers? Or can afford to pay J's prices for them, I should say. None of my business, anyway," he said, and then muttered the word married again.
He gave me an entirely new address with basic directions, and then watched me drive away with suspicious, regretful eyes.
At this point, I was ready for almost anything - some kind of James Bond villain's high-tech lair seemed appropriate. So I thought Max must have given me the wrong address as a test. Or maybe the lair was subterranean, underneath this very commonplace strip mall nestled up against a wooded hill in a nice family neighborhood.