Cloak shoves me into a buggy and gets behind the wheel. He keeps his gun trained on me the whole ride. We pull over in front of a large building near the center of town and Cloak tugs me out of the buggy. People on the street stop what they’re doing to stare as he shoves me through the doors and inside. My cheeks are hot, not from fear but from embarrassment. He pushes me through the lobby. Then into the elevator. He keeps the gun dug into my side until we get to the right floor and into an open office. Nikko is inside with his boots up on his desk, reading a paper. When he sees us, he stands with a jolt.
“What the hell’s going on here?”
“Caught her snooping around the factory.”
“Which factory?” His voice drops.
“The factory.” Cloak still has me by the arm. I feel safer in front of Nikko, so I shake away his hand.
“What the hell,” I say, rubbing my arm.
“I hope he wasn’t too rough with you,” Nikko says. But his words are not totally sympathetic. “Cloak can be a bit single-minded. That factory is a restricted area.”
“It just looked like pipes to me. Why all the secrecy?”
Nikko motions to Cloak to close the door. He does. Nikko comes out from around his desk and sits on the edge in front of me. “You’ve seen what water can do, Imma. It can take a dust bowl like Las Pistolas and turn it into a thriving city. That’s a lot of power, and there are certain gangs and people who would prefer the gunslingers not to have that power. So the factory, if people knew what was made there, would be a target.”
“We’ll have to increase security,” Cloak says.
“More guards will just raise more attention. The goal is to keep it a secret. Who told you about it, sis?”
He cocks his head and makes a yeah right face. “It’s no big deal. I just want to make sure whoever told you won’t tell anyone else. I need to look after the whole city.” I chew my lip, thinking it over. “Please, sis, it’s important.”
“Her name is Hartright.” I say it, but I’ve no idea if it was the right thing to do.
“That old crow has a big mouth,” Cloak says.
Nikko nods and takes a seat behind his desk again. “You wouldn’t know it to look at her,” he says, “but Hartright was once a great gunslinger. Next time you see her, ask her to roll up her sleeves. She has bullet catcher handprints up both arms, all the way to her shoulders and across her back.”
I think of the old woman I met that morning in the saloon. The one who invited me over to swap stories. The first person who seemed genuinely friendly to me—not scared of me or of my brother if they crossed me—just kind. To look into her eyes, you’d never think her capable of hurting a fly. But if Nikko is telling the truth, her gun wasn’t always just a paperweight.
“Hey,” Nikko says, “don’t look so glum. Everything is okay. I forgive you.”
This makes me angry. “There are children working on the factory floor.”
Nikko shifts in his seat.
Cloak says, “It’s better they’re working than on the street.”
“Nikko, don’t you remember how the Brothers and Sisters lined us up for the factory owners? How it felt when they went down the line examining our fingers like the hides of cattle?”
Cloak is about to say something, but Nikko raises his hand and Cloak shuts his mouth. “What I’ve learned since then is that if we don’t provide shelter and protection for children like the ones we used to be, then no one else will. Do you think me heartless?”
“Who are they, the children?”
“They’re children we’ve taken in as we travel the Southland negotiating water with the townsfolk. They all make a wage. They have a roof and food. They’re far better off here than where we found them.”
“It’s still not right. Kids that age, they should be in school.”
Nikko stares at me, considering. “Maybe you’re right,” he says. Then he stands. “I get that you’re concerned, and I promise to tell you everything soon. In fact, we’re planning on riding out to another town to talk to them about water in the next couple days. Why don’t you come with us? Then you’ll know everything. No secrets.”
I nod. “Okay.”
Cloak opens the door, a signal that it’s time for me to go. Nikko walks me into the hall. “Give my regards to Hartright,” he says. “Oh, and when you see her, you should ask her about Dad.”
“What do you mean?”
“If you’d read Dad’s journal, you’d know they used to ride together.”
Back in my rooms, I make a beeline for the bedroom and find the journal...