A lone Joshua tree stood sentry over the sun blasted clay buildings in the middle of the Sonoran Desert. Everything about the land bore the constant abuse of the heat. Insects made little noise as the temperature rose to its peak along with the sun. From the southeast came a rider, moving at a life-preserving pace. The horse walked along the trail kicking up tiny clouds of yellow dust. Brown grass and pale green brush dotted the landscape. Waves of heat rippled into the air from both the structures and rocks.
Although the temperature soared, the rider wore a broad brimmed hat with silver discs in the hatband. Over a long sleeve shirt and brown dungarees, they wore a Jorongo. Gloves, a bandana and boots rounded out the protection from the sun. Moving through the town the stranger passed a broken down Automata looking as though it had just laid down for a siesta. Weeds grew up through the legs and a gap in the chest cavity, breaking the illusion of sleep.
On the other side of the village, a mound rose out of the earth. It was as large as any five houses. At the base, a thick, battered door with a small roof was the only break in the natural edifice. Standing next to the mound a ramshackle lean-to stable threatened to collapse under a light breeze. The rider dismounted and walked the chestnut colored horse under the meager shade. Pushing the hat back and pulling down the bandana from her face, the woman worked the pump handle until a cool stream of water flowed into the trough.
Cupping her hand under the water, she slaked her thirst. The horse dipped its nose into the trough and drank eagerly. She tied the reins to a hitching post and removed a Henry rifle from its leather scabbard attached to the saddle. On her right hip, a Colt Navy pistol rode comfortably. Resting the rifle across her left shoulder, she strode up to the door and gave it a swift hard kick with her boot. After a few seconds pause, a small bolt hole slid open.
“Que esta ahi?” said a rough voice from the other side of the door. 
“Mi nombre es Angela. Yo estoy aqui par aver al gringo,” she replied without hesitation.
“Si? Es verdad?”
“Si, abrir la puerta, por favor.”
The door swung open on squealing hinges. The smell that washed out of the room nearly gagged Angela. Shaking her head cleared it somewhat and she made a note to breathe in shallow breaths. Inside, a small potbellied stove squatted in the corner, hooked up to a small boiler and engine. The engine chugged along, its driver arms turning several ceiling fans and keeping some electric lamps glowing with poor light.
A table with beaten tin plates of cold food, wrinkled cards and leather jacks of beer occupied the middle of the chamber. Another barred door blocked off the jagged maw of a cavern, the rest of the jail. Under the mound a series of tunnels and chambers formed by an underground river, which receded long ago, served as a place to hold dangerous criminals. The entrance room was cooler since it was sheltered from the sun’s rays.
“Donde esta el jeffe?” she asked the two men in front of her.
They exchanged glances. The one to her left stroked a long mustachio. He smirked behind his whiskers.
“<<Senorita, the boss will be along soon enough. Why don’t you have a seat with us?>>”
Angela’s dark eyes narrowed, she could tell they had other plans for her. Without taking her eyes off the man to her right, she whipped her rifle around in a tight arc and slapped its brass and wood butt into the side of the mustachioed man’s head. He sagged backwards against the table. The other man’s eyes bulged out and then went crossed as they tried to focus on the revolver barrel Angela pointed at him.
“<<I want to speak to your Captain. Get him now, do you understand me?>>”
The man nodded several times, “Si! Yo comprendo!”
“Beuno, <<go fetch him now.>>”
The second man scurried around the table and took a large steel key from his belt, opening the doorway after several attempts and dashed through it. As his footsteps faded, Angela rolled the mustachioed one over and bound his wrists behind his back. She slung her rifle across her back, leaning against the doorframe and waited. Not even a minute passed before footsteps echoed up from the cavern.
The barred door sprang open, shoved open by El Jeffe, Ernesto Del Mar, the boss of Sonoran Jail. He had a vast paunch, grown from many years of getting the most food and being the cruelest. Scars crisscrossed his cheeks and in a steel and tin hand, he carried a bullwhip. Traces of a wet, red substance smeared the leather. His piggish eyes honed in on Angela and then his man on the floor.
“<<What is this?>>” he said.
“<<You know what. Raul delivered my message last week, along with the money. Or did you conveniently forget?>>”
Ernesto glared at her for a moment but then broke a large grin across his face. “I didn’t forget, given the amount. Tell me little lady, why do you want to see my prisoner, eh?”
“You speak English, Raul failed to mention that. Why I want to see the prisoner is my business. Yours is counting the money I’m willing to offer for the chance.”
“Ah, true. Did you have to hit Miguel quite so hard?”
“Meh, he is a swine and a cheat at cards. All right then lady, let’s see the rest of the money.”
Angela reached under her Jorongo and pulled out a cloth bag, which she tossed at Ernesto. He plucked it from the air with practiced ease and gave it a heft.
“Is nice and heavy. I like it. Would you mind if I count it now?”
“Feel free,” said Angela.
Ernesto spilled the contents out over the table. Thick gold pieces rattled across the tabletop, clinking almost musically as they knocked together. Ernesto plodded through counting each coin. He only made three mistakes when the number got quite large.
“Es beuno, is good! Very good,” chortled Ernesto. “Come, you follow me. I take you to your man.”
“He’s not ‘My’ man. He is ‘A’ man,” Angela said, correcting the warden.
Ernesto beckoned her with his clockwork hand. Angela watched in fascination as miniature pistons on the back of it pulled and pushed the hand.
“That is a very nice piece of work there,” said Angela. “Where ever did you get it?”
Finding quality clockwork parts was not Mexico’s specialty, especially ones that connected to the body. The prices were outrageous by anyone’s standard and then there was the necessary ability to install the part. Ernesto turned his head to look sidelong at Angela.
“Perhaps on day when I am done having my way with you I will tell you.”
“Perhaps today I will unman you because you offended me,” said Angela.
Her jaw had set and her eyes went from their normal brown to a flinty color. Ernesto simply laughed.
“You certainly have spirit! Ramone, wake Miguel up and put him to work in the latrines for the rest of the day. Maybe then he’ll learn not to stand too close to a pretty woman.”
Laughing to himself, Ernesto led the way back through the barred gateway. Immediately stairs descended below the ground level. A metal tube ran along the wall following the path further down. Every eight feet an electric lamp dangled from the duct, spliced into a hidden power line and glowing feebly. By Angela’s estimation, they were twenty feet below the surface and probably a hundred feet away from the exit.
They came off the stairs into another circular room. This one was twice as large as the entranceway. Half a dozen guards lounged, some on chairs around the common table and two reclined on nasty looking bunks. Angela was sure she could see vermin of one sort or another moving over the blankets. Ernesto stopped and held out his flesh hand.
Angela shook her head, “I don’t think so.”
“<<I must insist senorita. It is for everyone’s safety. You may not enter the lower chambers with any sort of weapon. If a prisoner were to get hold of something, who knows what they might do.>>”
“<<Then bring me the prisoner I want to speak with.>>”
“<<Again, it is regrettable but I cannot do that, even for the amount you paid. You may place your items in that rack over there or go away. Decide.>>”
Ernesto pointed to a gun rack that stood at the ready next to a wardrobe and the stairs further down. Several of the guards were now looking at her. Their looks were not lustful, but rather watchful. The men were ready to move in a moment’s notice, to respond to violence with greater violence. Carefully, she unslung the Henry rifle and stood it in the rack. Using exaggerated movements, she lifted the Colt from its holster and sat it next to her rifle. She lifted the front of her Jorongo to show that there were no more weapons concealed.
“<<Is there anything in your boots, senorita?>>” asked a thin guard wearing an eye patch.
Shrugging casually, Angela extracted a six-inch blade from her left boot.
“Oopsie,” she said.
“<<Is that all?>>” demanded another guard, who not so subtly dropped his hand onto a pistol.
“<<Yes. I have no more weapons on my person.>>”
“<<Turn around, let’s see,>>” ordered a bushy haired man.
Angela removed her hat and jorongo and turned slowly about. She heard a number of whispers and not so subtle lip licking. She frowned at Ernesto as she finished her turn.
“<<Are we done here?>>” She said.
“<<Yes. Come along. It is not much farther.>>”
Ernesto opened another locked door, this one of solid metal except for a square peephole. He flicked a switch causing a crude improvised string of lights to blink several times before steadying into weak light. Down the hall, groans and cries reached the open door. The sounds were like that of the damned.
“<<Stay in the middle of the corridor and keep your hands to yourself. This is a dangerous place. Doubly so for a woman.>>”
“I hadn’t noticed,” Angela said under her breath.
Beyond the doorway, on the left a steel-bar door blocked off a room full of boxes.
“<<What’s that?>>” asked Angela.
“<<Nothing, just storage for the prisoners’ belongings,>>” said Ernesto.
He led Angela deeper into the caverns. The stone walls bore the marks of hand tools and were rough and uneven. They passed by several empty cells that were little more than a hole in the wall with some bars. This was a place where desperation permeated the very rock. The hallway began to zigzag doubling back on itself every fifteen feet or so. They walked past a cell where gnarled hands with blackened fingernails clung to the bars. A wheezing voice cried out “…Clemencia…Por favor!”
Angela could not see the rest of the prisoner since he lay in shadow. The pair arrived at a ladder that descended into a hole. Ernesto turned and lowered himself down and Angela followed suit. The next level was much the same as the upper one, winding corridors leading them on a drunken course underneath the earth. Then suddenly Ernesto came to a halt.
“<<Here you are,>>” said the jailer. “<<You may stand against the wall opposite the cells. Do not try to pass anything over or make physical contact.>>”
Angela nodded and backed herself against the wall. A slight scuffing noise preceded the emergence of a gaunt, battered face. The hair, unwashed and uncombed was a filthy bird’s nest. Several weeks without shaving left wild stubble like weeds in a garden across his face. It was the green eyes that looked out from behind the bruises and swelling that told her: This was Ignatius.
“Hello my dear, had I know you were coming today I would have swept up,” he said. A weak smile crossed his face.
“How did you know I would even come?” she asked.
“I did not know for certain. It was more of an article of faith.”
“When word of your arrest reached me I was in South America. Trying to earn back some of the lost wages from our second meeting. Do you remember it?”
“I remember how fetching you looked in the moonlight.”
“Admittedly it went better than the first time, didn’t it?”
“I felt that we made a certain connection.”
“Why am I here? More to the point, why are you here?”
“Officially? I am under arrest for crimes against the sovereign country of Mexico. However, no one will ‘officially’ acknowledge that fact.”
“Oh. Your job got in the way did it?”
“How is it that you came to be in this low place?” asked Angela.
“It was a combination of several factors. Not in the least of which is my mastery of the Spanish language.”
Angela cringed. “If by mastery you mean the complete butchering of, I can understand why they might put you in a jail cell.”
“Yes…well. I came to the Sonoran to track down rumors of a chemist working for the Confederacy. According to my information, he was producing an agent, which would create an illness among Union troops, debilitating them in a best case, or killing them slowly at the worst. Then there were even more disturbing reports: Clockwork monstrosities raiding small villages, slaughtering everyone indiscriminately. Does that sound familiar? I suspected our friend from the mountains of North Carolina.”
“After I located and destroyed the laboratory, it came to my attention that the stockpiles of the chemical were moved. I was in the middle of tracking down the supplies when several Clockwork monsters chased me. They feigned an attack and withdrew. I went after them and wound up on the underside of a pile of soldiers. Eventually I came here, where I learned that the chemist was in fact our adversary from North Carolina. That fat sack of horseshit Ernesto sends locals to him for experimentation.”
“Ignatius, perhaps you should consider what you are about to say, before you say it,” cautioned Angela.
“Gringo, you very well may never see the light of day again,” said Ernesto.
“Oh, was he here this whole time?” asked Ignatius.
Angela nodded her head.
“Did I mention that I think your hair looks lovely?” Ignatius asked.
“You are costing me a great deal of money and possibly my own freedom. Get to the point of this conversation,” said Angela.
“Yes, well, um, ok. You see I feel things. Certain kinds of things, specifically for you. Ever since that time in Roanoke, you remember?”
“How could I not? Camping in the mountains together was wonderful. I felt like we made a connection.”
“Exactly! I wanted to know that, if you had feelings of any kind for me. If I should pursue a courtship with you,” Ignatius said.
Ernesto’s labored breathing was the only sound in the tunnel at that moment.
Angela spoke first, “Well what should we do about it then?”
“I would suggest a long conversation about the benefits and downfalls of such a courtship, somewhere a bit more appealing than here,” answered Ignatius.
“Que?” said Ernesto.
“Did you ever prove a connection between the laboratory here and S.V. in North Carolina? Beyond the Clockwork experiments?”
“I did. The proof is here, in this prison. At the enod of the jailer’s wrist.”
“Exactly. That clockwork is a bit high end for the Sonoran Desert. Examine the palm of it. You will see what I mean.”
Angela turned to Ernesto and put her own hand out, palm up.
“Let’s see your mechanical hand, if you please.”
“<<What madness is this?>>” demanded Ernesto.
“<<Your hand, let me see it,>>” repeated Angela.
With reluctance, Ernesto extended his hand. Angela took it and turned it over. On the palm engraved with flowing script were the words: ‘One step closer to perfection, S.V.’.
“El monstruro!” gasped Angela.
Ernesto glanced at his hand and shrugged. “What of it punta? It’s not like you will be around much longer.” He lashed out with the steel hand, knocking Angela to the ground. Her cheek split open under the blow and blood oozed out. Ignatius threw himself against the bars, growling savagely.
“And what do you think you will be doing about this?” Ernesto said to Ignatius.
He drew back a heavy foot and swung it into Angela’s side.
“You bastard!” said Ignatius.
Frantically he pulled on the bars as Ernesto approached Angela. Grinning wickedly at Ignatius, he leaned down, took hold of Angela’s shirt and pulled her close to him. Jutting out his tongue, Ernesto licked her cheek from the chin all the way along the jawline to her ear. With a brutish jerk, he tore her shirt open revealing the cloth binding her breasts in place. Giggling and grunting to himself Ernest failed to notice Angela’s left hand flop over, rolling a cosmetic compact to Ignatius’s cell door.
Moving as quickly as possible, Ignatius scooped up the compact. Inside, he found not powder for one’s face, but rather a malleable explosive, match and short fuse. Working feverishly, Ignatius jammed the explosive into the lock of his cell door and wedged the fuse in after it. Ernesto glanced in Ignatius’s direction when he heard the match strike against the stones.
“Que es?” Ernesto managed to squeak before the explosive detonated.
He slung Angela back to the ground and charged the cell door. Ignatius flung a double handful of filth through the bars, straight into Ernesto’s face. The jailer sputtered and wiped at his eyes, which were stinging. Ignatius heaved the cell door with all of his might. It snapped open and smashed into Ernesto, knocking him sprawling.
Ignatius flung himself on top of the porcine warden and thrashed the man with clenched fists, elbows and feet. Ernesto balled up his steel fist and rammed it into Ignatius’s abdomen. The breath exploded out of his diaphragm and Ignatius rolled off to one side. Just as Ernesto attempted to rise to his feet, Angela stomped on his wrist, snapping the connectors between the clockwork hand and flesh and bone. Ernesto roared like a bull in ‘Plaza de Toros’ at the conclusion of the event. Angela followed that with a swift boot to the man’s temple sending him back to the ground unconscious.
Ignatius rose to his feet and teetered. He tried to lean casually against the wall but slid halfway down before Angela grabbed him under the arms. She hoisted him back up to his feet.
“That went well I think,” Ignatius said.
“Spoken like someone who wasn’t just slobbered on by a man who doesn’t know the meaning of the word: Hygiene.”
“Looks like he is bleeding from the wrist.”
“Well isn’t that too bad for him,” Angela said. “We need to get out of here. There are at least half dozen guards between us and the exit.”
“True, but this man is our link to S.V… I cannot just leave him behind.”
“There are a number of considerations you need to make. Your mission was not a rousing success. Do you think the generals back stateside are going to welcome you home with open arms? The Mexicans have a great blackmail tool with this little escapade. Did you even manage to stop the chemical weapon?”
“Not so much. There are rumors that some of it may have leaked into the ground water and spread throughout the country.”
“Fine. Other than potentially embarrassing the entire nation with your actions you have nothing to show for this.”
“That might be true, except for one fact.”
“I know where the stockpiles of the chemicals are being kept. They are in fact below us in a cavern. A simple application of explosives will render both operations by S.V. a failure. We just need a few things from the storage closet.”
“Do you think that you can pull it off, this mission, our relationship, your place in the world at large?”
“Have no fear my dear. I can. Come on, we ought to be moseying along,” said Ignatius.
Looking down at his prison uniform, he plucked at the shirt despondently.
“Maybe my clothes too.”
Ignatius stooped and picked up the hand to carry along with him. Angela nodded at Ernesto. With moderate difficulty, they managed to roll him into the cell.
“That door is not going to lock,” cautioned Ignatius.
“Hardly matters with the rate he’s losing blood,” pointed out Angela.
Ignatius started walking back along the corridor, with one hand against the wall. When they reached the ladder, Ignatius looked at it for a long moment. Angela put a comforting hand on his shoulder. Nodding his head, he placed a hand on a rung and started the climb. Angela followed, making sure that he did not slip.
Several minutes passed and Angela laid a cautionary hand on Ignatius’s wrist. They moved forward on silent feet halting at the doorway to the storeroom, where Ernesto had indicated everyone’s possessions were.
“We need my kit. It has a few things in it that can make all the difference to my mission,” said Ignatius.
“Is there anything to get past a room full those Culos?”
“I have several items that should make this a walk in the park.”
Angela reached into the top of her boot and extracted a set of lock picks. She set to work, probing the lock. Within a few moments she was able to spin the tumblers into position. The door swung open on well-oiled hinges. Ignatius brushed past her, diving into the pile of clothing. With a cry of triumph, he pulled out a long coat of black oilskin canvas and a pair of boots. He stepped into the boots straightaway. From his coat, Ignatius took a metal cylinder out of the pocket and unscrewed the top. He shook out a needle and vial of the familiar blue liquid. Angela gave him a withering look.
“What do you need that for?”
“To rejuvenate myself. It was not exactly a picnic languishing in a cell.”
“Do you know how dependent you are on that concoction?”
“Perhaps now is not the best time to discuss this,” Ignatius said.
Without taking his eyes from Angela, he deftly filled the syringe and slid the tip into his arm.
“This is why we can’t be together,” she said.
If Ignatius heard her, he did not show it. After finishing with the needle, he put everything back into his coat, in addition to the purloined clockwork hand. He located his cane, drew a three-foot sword blade from it, and looked over the edges. Satisfied, he put it back in the cane.
“One more thing,” he muttered to himself.
Ignatius rummaged along a shelf, peeking into bags, boxes and other containers. He grew increasingly frantic in his search. Things started coming off the shelf in his haste. At last, he seized a box, the size and shape that cigars might come in. With care, he placed it on the floor and raised the lid. Despite herself, Angela glanced over his shoulder. Inside the box were a pair of pocket watches and a metal box the size and shape of a deck of cards.
“We agree on having feelings for each other, correct?” he asked.
“Yes. But there are obstacles.”
“Can we agree to talk about them, perhaps even consider different plans to get past them?”
“Maybe. I think a good start would be getting out of here.”
“I could not agree more. One more moment.”
Ignatius lifted the two pocket watches out of the box and opened their cases. He inserted the key into each watches watch-arbor and wound the main spring. Tucking the key into a coat pocket, he opened each fob and pushed a protruding button on the top of the fob. Each one made a distinct clicking sound. From the sides of the watch face four miniscule legs extracted. In a matter of seconds, the watches were milling about Ignatius’s feet, like tame little mechanical mice.
Tiny high voltage travelling arcs sprouted from the fob in ‘V’ formation, with barely discernible arcs of electricity rippling along the two wires.
“Ok you two, you know what to do,” said Ignatius.
The watches turned and marched out of the storeroom, turned left and walked off presumably into the bowels of the prison. Angela found herself taken aback. Each fob had a pair of glass eyes and a small wire screen, simulating a frowning mouth. Ignatius turned his attention to the metal deck of cards. Another key wound the deck and this time only two legs grew from the bottom of the pack. In addition to the mini Jacob’s ladder, a pair of arms with fine wire fingers developed.
“Right, off you get,” ordered Ignatius. “Angela, you may wish to cover your eyes and ears for a few moments.”
Angela followed Ignatius’s lead, closing her eyes tightly and covering her ears with her hands. Moments later a significant shockwave rippled out of the guardroom. Ignatius wasted no time springing out of the storeroom and running at full speed into the guardroom. Angela followed along behind. In the common room it looked as though a great wind gust blew everything about. The main table capsized, bunks thrown together and the men were rolling on the ground shouting and crying in pain.
Blood dribbled from various wounds around their eyes, ears and nose. Two of them bore great tears in their legs. Footsteps brought the two guards from the front door into the commons, where Ignatius met them with his sword-cane at the ready. Gracefully he cut down the two men with a slash for one, and a lunge for the other.
“Madre de Dios, what happened?” said Angela.
“Wind-up Automatons. Something I got working recently. We need to keep moving before the pocket watches get to where they are going.”
Ignatius proceeded out of the room going back the way the two guards had just entered.
“The card deck is a shocking noise maker. It climbed up the door, through the peephole and into the room. Once there it unleashed some hellish sounds and then exploded, nothing too damaging unless you are unprotected.”
“Hold on,” Angela said.
She darted back into the living quarters and snatched up her rifle and pistol. Remarkably, they did not appear to have suffered any damage from the explosion.
“It does not have any TNT in it,” said Ignatius as he explained. “The noise and shockwave is mostly from compressing air and expelling it out through a very narrow opening. The force and pressure builds up and that causes the case to explode outwards in a spherical shape. Shrapnel is sent flying all over.”
They reached the main door and paused for a moment. Both were breathing lightly as Ignatius put his ear to the door and listened. He turned the handle, pulling the door open. Outside the sun beat down on the hillside with every ounce of its being.
“You should have a hat,” Angela said.
She put her own back on and pulled up the bandana. Ignatius cast around the room and spied a battered cavalry hat. It fell around his ears, but he rationalized that a poorly fitting hat was better than no hat at all. They went into the lean-to where Angela’s horse stood patiently waiting. Angela started drawing more water into the trough.
“What are you doing?” asked Ignatius.
His voice had an edge of panic in it. Angela regarded him coolly, her lustrous brown eyes showing no sign of rushing.
“I am watering my horse. In case you failed to notice, we are in the middle of a godforsaken desert.”
“Time is of the essence!”
“What will time matter if we drop over from dehydration and die amid the sand and rocks?”
“By my calculations we need to be at least a mile away from here before…” Ignatius said.
Angela filled her canteens from the pump while her horse drank its fill.
“Go one, before what?” Angela asked.
“Before the pocket watches reach the powder keg underneath the jail that sits next to a chemical stock piles and explode.”
Angela stopped what she was doing and looked at Ignatius, “this, you could have mentioned earlier. We are so going to talk about your sense of what information might be apropos for a given situation.”
“If we are around to do so, I agree, that is what we will discuss first. May we go now?”
“North. There is another village several miles in that direction.”
“How fast can you run?”
“With my serum, fairly fast, why?”
“Because my horse isn’t going to be able to carry two riders at any sort of speed in this heat.”
At the mention of the temperature Ignatius felt sweat starting to break out across his brow.
“Suggestions?” he asked.
Angela tossed a full water skin to him, “Start running. I’ll meet you a mile and a half north of here.”
She swung herself up into the saddle and grinned down at Ignatius.
“Might help burn off some of that junk in your veins.”
Wheeling her horse out of the lean-to, she kicked the animal’s flanks and rode out and around the hill. She slid her rifle back into the saddle holster as the horse lengthened its stride into a gallop. Looking back over her shoulder, she saw Ignatius sling the water over his shoulder and start running after her. Chuckling to herself, she turned her steed toward the open desert. Several minutes later, she reined the horse in. Ignatius continued running toward her, arms flailing and coat streaming out behind him.
He was perhaps a hundred or so yards from her when the vibrations reached her. The horse neighed and pawed the ground. Angela watched the smaller rocks around her dancing over the sand. The noise came next. The sound was deep and heavy, much the same as an armored freight train speeding past, laden with supplies. The hillside heaved and bulged until a massive detonation ruptured it. Sod, sand and cacti flew skyward even as the ground surrounding the dome sank, falling back into a void, which the explosion left behind.
Angela watched in horror as the collapsing ground raced after Ignatius. The earth pursued him, unrelenting in its quest to consume him. He drew closer still, now a dozen yards away and without warning, he dove forward. Landing face first in the sand, he slid a couple of feet before coming to a stop. Angela stroked her horse’s neck to soothe the animal. Just like a summer shower that springs up for a minute and then disappears, so too did the pursuing earth.
“What the hell was that?” said Angela as she swung down from the saddle.
“What?” yelled Ignatius. He pushed himself up out of the sand. “I seem to have a ringing in my ears. Must be from the concussion of the blast.”
Angela threw her head back and laughed. She hauled Ignatius up by his coat and threw her arms around him.
“No dying on me until I’m done with you,” she whispered fiercely.
“Ditto,” he replied.
 There is some Spanish dialog in this piece. It should be simple enough for anyone to follow given the context. If not, you can get it translated at: translate.google.com. After the initial exchange, the dialog goes to English, but is enclosed in << and >> to denote the speaker is not speaking English. This is typically seen in comic books when characters using different languages need to convey information to the reader.