A/N: Now I will begin taking liberties with reality. I will attempt to create believable scenarios based on factual evidence, but I will diverge from the path of reality several times in order to keep the plot. Please forgive me, all you gypsiologists out there who know that one gypsy was not allowed to kill another. If this were true, there would really be no story. Or no drama, at any rate. And what is a novel without drama?


Do Your Homework


"Hello." Cal's voice was deep with tension. I closed my eyes for a second. I was far too far away from him. I was in Scotland, he was in New York. Neither of us had any way of getting to the other. If something were to happen over there . . . I banished the thought as Cal spoke again, louder this time. "Who is it?"

I composed my voice as much as possible, putting all my concentration into sending waves of calming confidence through the wireless miles across the Atlantic. "Cal."

"Nik?" And, damn, there was that lost little boy voice again. He sounded surprised to hear my voice, as though he were expecting someone else.

"I'm here, Cal."

"Nik, you damn frigging bastard . . . Where in hell are you?"

As he was speaking, the trailer door had burst open. Three more Gypsies entered the suddenly bright living area, their dark eyes pinned on me. The Gypsy I had had on the floor scrambled to his feet and ducked out the door with a last evil smile at me. I also recognized the Gypsy in the blue sports coat who had accompanied my knifing friend at the library. Once again, he was turned away from me, his hands hidden by the flap of his jacket. My trained eye wondered what kind of weaponry he had secreted there.

"Scotland," I muttered, tensing up, feeling the knife in my hand. I wouldn't get a chance to throw it. "I'm in Scotland."

"What the hell! Shit, Nik, what in hell are you doing in . . ."

"Who are you talking to?" demanded one Gypsy, and I recognized him from the library. The man who'd tried to knife me. "Shut the phone off and come with us."

"Nik, you still there?"

"Yes . . ." I said, mouth dry.

"I said to shut the damn phone off!" screeched the Gypsy, and a sharp pain entered my abdomen, a needle-thin blade through my stomach lining. I grunted in surprise and looked down, expecting to see some kind of hilt or grip jutting from my belly. Nothing – no blood, not even a hole to mark a point of entry. Shit, what was this?

". . . shit, Nik, what was that?"

"I'm fine," I said quickly, straining for some way to communicate to my brother what little I knew in a single sentence. This was especially difficult because I didn't know much myself. "Kirk Yetholm." Another piercing pain, this one right through my head, entering one temple and exiting through the other. I should be dead – it was a fatal blow. But none of the Gypsies had moved, and there was no weapon rammed through my head. Despite the obvious lack of weaponry or blood, I felt the metal sliding through the soft tissue of my brain, severing the arteries behind my eyes and cracking through my skull. Another suppressed grunt escaped my lips as I realized that it was the man in the blue sports coat – the one who had hidden his hands and was not looking at me.

"Cyrano . . ."

"One more word about our location and we hang the kris and finish you here," the Gypsy whispered. "Now shut off your phone."

"Do your homework," I told Cal, and disconnected in the middle of his exclamation of indignant confusion. My legs were shuddering beneath me, and I dropped the phone onto the countertop as I clung to edge of the faux marble to keep myself upright. "What do you want with me?" I demanded.

"Justice," whispered the Gypsy with a crooked-toothed grin.

The invisible thumbs of a giant pressed themselves against my wounded temples, cutting off all circulation to my brain, threatening to throw me into unconsciousness yet again. I lifted my hand to throw my blade, but a third ghost knife skewered my wrist just below my palm, and – fingers tingling with the shock of the pain – I felt my knife fall onto the cheap plastic tiling, hearing the merry twang of its metal hitting the floor before I did the same – but without the merry twang.

I wasn't unconscious, but I was smart enough even in my suddenly oxygen-deprived state to know that if I faked, I had a chance. As I had guessed, the minute I allowed my eyes to roll up into my head, let my jaw go slack, and toppled to the ground, the pressure on my temples was released. I let my eyes close halfway and watched as the shadowy forms approached me, sidling around the counter to stare down at my prone form.

Being on the ground while others looked down on me is not a familiar experience, and I must admit it is a quite unnerving one. While I was still miles away from gibbering pleas like a moronic revenant, I wasn't exactly at my coolest. I will make an allowance for myself by drawing attention to the fact that I was an ocean away from my home turf, in pain, and outnumbered by vengeful opponents who wielded some sort of advanced weaponry that inflicted wounds without bothering with being tangible.

As they conversed in what I imagined was the Gypsy tongue – something I had never bothered to learn and Sophia had never bothered to teach – I let one hand crawl toward my tanto blade, only to have a heavy and mud-encrusted boot stomp on my knuckles.

"Smart guy," sneered the Gypsy as I opened my eyes and glared up at them.

"Get your foot off my hand before I am forced to extricate it myself and consequently relieve you of an appendage," I warned coldly, pleased when they merely smiled and chose not to take me seriously. It was a mistake on their part.

While they were still chuckling in their bemused world in which they held the upper hand and I was merely something to be picked up, skewered, and tossed around, I was on my feet, knives blazing. I managed to slit my knifing friend across the wide rock-hard paunch and embed a blade in the shoulder of the man with the blue sports coat. He screeched and jerked away from me, bending double so that he could hide whatever was in his hands.

Before I could make a grab for his mystery weapon, the sensation of those same huge hands grabbing my spine and twisting it until the vertebrae popped and the bone tore filled my head, threatening to bowl me over. I lost all feeling in my limbs – my legs folded beneath me like useless strips of rubber. I cracked my skull on the edge of the counter, my ears ringing.

"Enough play," growled the spokesman, now holding his stomach with one hand while the blood dribbled out between his filthy fingers. "Take him."

A/N: Sorry about the long, long, LONG delay – I'm working on other literary endeavors at the moment and probably will not be updating with the frequency you were accustomed to in Half. My apologies in advance.