“It’s not a good idea,” the bullet catcher says. He dips a cloth under the falling water and wipes the back of his neck. “It’s sure to get us killed.”
“Do you have a better one?”
“Yes. We ride. We get as far away from Las Pistolas and Nikko as we possibly can. We ride until we run out of land. Maybe we’ll go to the Northland. Or hire a boat to take us across the ocean.”
For a moment, I allow myself to imagine traveling to all these places I’ve only read about. “I can’t leave, having seen what I’ve seen.”
Hartright speaks up, “Nikko won’t stop until he controls the whole Southland and all the water in it.”
“Where there are people, there will always be those who seek to oppress and control them. You can’t help them all.”
“No, but we can help these people. Right here. Right now.”
“If you do what you say you want to do, you’ll be helping plenty, sure, but you’ll be damning others, too.”
Hartright says, “If we destroy the gunslingers’ power over the water, it’ll turn Las Pistolas into a ghost town. No water. No people. Just like it was before.”
“But the water they’re stealing from these towns will go back to where it belongs,” I say. We’re silent. The sun has fallen over the far side of the plateau. It shines through the waterfall, lighting the cave a brilliant blue. “I’m going to try to stop this with or without you.”
The bullet catcher cups the water in his hand. “I never thought there was a cause worth dying for,” he says. “But maybe I was wrong.”
“People should not have to pay for water with fear.”
He looks at me. The light sparkles brightly along his scars and wrinkles. “I wasn’t talking about the water, Cub.”
“Where the hell have you been?” Cloak calls on me at my apartment in Las Pistolas. It’s nearly midnight on the day after meeting the bullet catcher on the road and hashing out a plan with him and Hartright to bring an end to the gunslingers’ control over the water. I’ve washed and changed clothes, but there’s nothing to be done about the deep tan I got from riding out to Tablerock.
“Around,” I say.
“If you’d been ’round, I’d have seen you.”
“Why are you here, Cloak?”
“Bullet requests your presence at the practice field.”
“Tell him I’ll be there shortly.”
He tips his cap automatically, gives the room a final look, and descends in the elevator. I let out my breath. The man fills me with fear that’s hard to hide.
When I meet Nikko, he looks tired and pale. The moon is nearly full and casts a hard, white light over the field. “I was worried about you,” he says.
“I went for a ride is all.”
He reaches into his pocket and unfolds a telegram. He looks at it a moment before reading: “Tablerock operation ambushed. Stop. All dead. Stop. Bullet catcher. Stop.”
The air freezes in my lungs. I swallow hard.
“It’s not safe out there,” he says, putting the telegram back in his pocket. “The bullet catcher will try to hurt me any way he can. If he can’t get to me he’ll destroy my plans. If he can’t kill me he might try to harm you.” He turns to look at me for the first time. “If you head off again, let me know and I’ll arrange a bodyguard.”
“I can take care of myself,” I say. Having a tail would only make things difficult.
“I know. It’s for my peace of mind. So I know you’re safe. Okay?”
Reluctantly, I nod in agreement. “Okay.”
He lets out a deep breath. “Good,” he says. “Good. How about we blow off some steam with a little target practice?”
I go through the motions, shooting at the targets, my mind on other things. My shots find homes in the centers of the targets. It’s easy. But then again, I guess shooting’s in my blood.
When it’s over, Nikko claps me on the back and says, “You’re a born gunslinger. What can I say? You’re perfect.” After everything I’ve seen and experienced, I want to hate him. But I can’t bring myself to. I’m angry—devastatingly angry—at him. But looking at him now, I’m still amazed he’s alive; I’m grateful that I can reach out and touch him. And I know that my anger at him is not the same thing as hate.
“No, I’m far from perfect.”
Later, we sit on the bank leading down to the field and watch the moon fall through the sky. Nikko rolls a cigarette but doesn’t light it.
“I’m proud of you, Imma,” he says.
“I am. And I’m not just talking about...