Stella followed him in the same reverse fashion, redoing all the actions she’d done in the office and then heading backwards out the office door. Closing the red door behind her, she found Noam smiling at her in the hallway. The moment didn’t last long before worry crossed his face.
“I don’t know what approach to take this time…”
“What if we thought of something together?” Stella suggested.
She noticed his brow furrow for a moment, perhaps in skepticism. “Yeah, okay. Together.” He tried and failed to not sound skeptical.
She tried and failed to not notice. “Ideally, how would you like to meet people for the first time?”
“Male or female?”
“Does it matter?” The question irritated her. “It doesn’t matter. Answer me, how do you like for people to enter your life, or more metaphorically, your doorway?” She tapped lightly on the red door for effect.
“I don’t know.”
She didn’t speak and waited for more from him.
“I guess I would like for the person to arrange a meeting with me. Like set up a time. Definitely not show up at my door unannounced.”
“That is also what I would like,” Stella agreed. “So why don’t we see if we can get an appointment with him, and try and meet him that way?”
“That sounds like a fair idea. Maybe he has something in his office to help us.” Noam reached for the office door and began turning the knob.
“You’re not serious, are you?” She figured he must be joking. Had they not just decided to stop busting in on the guy?
“No.” Noam’s hand dropped. “I was just kidding around. Obviously. We can find out how to see him some other way.” And with that, he began peacocking himself down the long-ass hallway of the Loner’s Social Club. Stella, needing to go in the same direction as her partner, had no choice but to follow him.
Out on the sidewalk, the sun was making a rare appearance and shining bright. Squinting in the unexpected sun, Stella watched Noam gaze down the street in the direction of their hotel.
“What do you want to do next?” She didn’t feel like thinking about it.
“I’m thinking we should just ask someone about the appointment. I’m thinking I’ll talk to my buddy, Chris.”
“Chris?” Was she suppose to know who that was?
“The guy who first told me about the Rewriter. The drug dealer. Who also happens to be a psychopath. Which sounds worse than it is. He’s a great guy. Anyway, him. I never thought when he told me about the Rewriter that I might need an appointment with him.”
“Okay.” Wouldn’t it just be faster to search the Collective for the information? Whatever. “Where is he?”
He gestured for her to walk ahead of him. An act of chivalry that did not go unnoticed.
“Where are we heading?” Stella questioned as she headed in the general direction Noam had gestured to. Looking around and taking in the scene, she loved that she had never experienced anything like this before. She’d remotely walked through a slum once in Mumbai though. This place seemed different though, less starkly sad. It seemed to offer more hope to its inhabitants. As she walked she would peek into every tent, tarp, box, and container she saw, curious to what she would find inside. People seemed to be doing okay, though she’d never seen people with so little. She’d lived in a world where people had so much more than they needed, and she marveled at how the sadness she felt was similar… but different?
“It doesn’t snow here. So it’s easier to live outside here.” Noam was watching her.
“Is that why so many people move here?”
“I think so. When Canada began accepting climate refugees, I think this community grew rapidly. Easting’s always existed, but it was never as organized and populous as it is now.”
“Cool.” Stella bit her lip, in thought.
“Last time I saw Chris, he was dealing just off Chinatown. Let’s head in that direction and see what we see.” Noam pointed South towards the visible end of the East Hasting’s community, where Chinatown began. Stella could see the dragon arches that welcomed you in the distance.
“Sounds good.” She was fascinated as they approached the edge of the community. The street, East Hastings, was the major artery of the community, with small side streets snaking off of it, like veins. She presumed at the end of each vein was the same faux border, which was simply an end to the organized chaos and DIY-ness of the make-shift community and a return to normal Vancouver life.
“We’ve gone too far,” Noam attempted to stop short with her, throwing his arm out. Sneaking around it, she stopped and folded her arms in front of her, unwilling to play. “Chris was near the border of Chinatown but not this far. Maybe I’ve got the wrong side street. Let’s walk the next street over.”
This time she actually looked for Chris, though she didn’t know what he looked like and didn’t care to ask. Looking into the many alleyways between the buildings, she saw them brimming with people, doing drugs. Most were using needles but there were spoons and flames and pipes too. She’d seen her kind of people do their kind of drugs but this was something entirely different. After looking into more than enough alleyways, Noam seemed to spot Chris. Stella wondered why guys insisted on keeping their facial hair when it looked like that. He had one of those scruffy beardy-like things that really just looks like scraps of pubes on your face. His worn leather jacket was a faded black, as was everything else that he was wearing. Around him were a few junkies and they all stood hanging out in the cleanest and least busy alley she had seen yet.
“Hey, Chris.” Noam seemed confident in his relationship with this guy and smiled brightly.
“Hey.” Chris responded very coolly, not looking up, or reacting really at all. Stella wondered if he remembered Noam, then Chris seemed to notice Stella’s shoes and his gaze began to follow the trail of her body up to her face and broke into a wide smile.
“Well, hello there.” He reached for her hand and she reluctantly and with control let him take it.
“I’m Chris.” She couldn’t help but notice the dirt on his calloused hands.
“You are beautiful.” He held his gaze on her, and after two seconds too long with this creep and his staring, she gave up and looked down to avoid it. “What’s your name? You’re not WITH this clown, are you?” It wasn’t really a question. His words were rapid-fire and excited. Noam’s smile dropped from his face.
Taking her hand back from Chris’ intimate grip and meeting his eyes once again, she replied, “I’m Stella Leigh. And I work with him.”
“So you’re single?”
She started to answer but then realized it was none of his business, and she didn’t really know the answer anyway. Addie insisted things were not over. But how could they be together if she was here and Addie was there? It wasn’t enough. But Addie wouldn’t admit that. She said it was. Stella didn’t believe her. So before Addie woke to take her to the airport, Stella slipped out of Addie’s bed and life. It felt cowardly but she was convinced it was her only choice as her taxi made it’s way through the empty early morning streets.
While Stella continued to think of Addie, ignoring Chris, he proceeded to call her “feisty” and “hot”. Ready to move the conversation along and visibly annoyed, Noam got straight to the point.
“Chris, I need something. An appointment with the Rewriter. Can you help with that?” Noam spoke really loud and hard at Chris, and he was successful in shifting Chris’ gaze away from Stella. He had been giving her that look she knew well. The look of a man that looked a little too happy to see you.
“Is it for you?” Chris signaled to Noam. “Or is it for you?” Chris signaled smirking at both Stella and Noam.
“It’s for us.” Noam replied in a slightly bitchy tone.
“Cool,” Chris continued to eye Stella and pay little attention to Noam. “I can get you an appointment with him. But are you sure a sexy little thing like you wants the Rewriter?”
“She does.” Hard and loud. Apparently Noam was speaking for her now and she threw him a look that he entirely missed as he stared hard into the side of Chris’ face.
“Your choice.” Without missing a beat Chris informed them, “You can see him tomorrow at 11 am.”
Stella wondered why and how he had an appointment for them so quickly and Noam pushed into Chris, “Today would be better.”
Still not responding to Noam’s growing aggression, Chris responded with “Sure thing.” Waving to an older, more beaten down sketchy guy hanging around in the alley, he approached and Chris whispered something to him. The man paused, running something through his mind, before he responded, nodded. Chris patted him on the back and the man left the alley without a word.
“You can see him in 30 minutes,” Chris reported to them while still fixing his eyes on Stella. The next thing he said he purposely directed at Stella only, “I hope I see you again soon.” She didn’t let her eyes meet his.
Not saying a word to Chris, Noam made himself bigger and with a hand on Stella’s back, guided them away from Chris and the sketchy alley.