RAMON Marcus Kincaid picked up the exquisitely crafted stiletto and caressed it with a lover's hands.
Kincaid's assistant, a man of carefully cultivated colorless-ness, watched respectfully.
Although he was silent, Hatch was secretly awed by the breathtaking resemblance between his boss and the small dagger. Kincaid, Hatch knew, would treat the stiletto with infinitely more care and consideration than he would ever offer another human being. Hatch suspected at times that his employer wasn't all that fond of his fellow human beings. Those strong, tapering fingers moving over the dagger should have belonged to an artist, someone who had the soul of a creator. The only thing Kincaid created was more money and power. Kincaid would have made a terrific Borgia.
Hatch knew better than to inquire too deeply into the recent history of the stiletto. It was rumored that Kincaid had connections into a shadowy world whose members frequently went far beyond the limits of normal business practices. There was some clout to be had from working for a man who wielded such power, but it was safer not to look into the shadows around him.
Hatch was getting quietly concerned about those shadows, however. Kincaid paid well, but money wasn't everything. There were other potential employers in San Francisco. He had already started looking. Quietly, of course.
"Lovely, isn't it?" Kincaid said, admiring the object as if it were a woman he was thinking of bedding.
"Early sixteen hundreds. Beautifully crafted. Did you know that in one form of Italian swordplay the stiletto was used in conjunction with a rapier? The stiletto was for parrying and the rapier for thrusting, you see."
"It sounds like it would have been a difficult skill to acquire," Hatch volunteered neutrally.
"It was. The dual style required a great deal of training. But then, the men of the time had ample motivation. Just going to church was a dangerous business. Assassination was a national pastime in Italy during the Renaissance. Rather like kidnapping today, I imagine."
"I see." Hatch winced at his own banal words. But he could hardly say that he thought his employer looked a little too enthusiastic about such murderous pastimes.
Every so often Hatch caught a glimpse of something in Kincaid's eyes that made him very uneasy. It was nothing he could define, but Hatch knew instinctively that whatever it was, it went beyond the acceptable levels of the kind of cutthroat enthusiasm associated with the American way of business. If he'd been forced to put a name to what it was he sometimes sensed in Kincaid, Hatch would have labeled it lust.
But it was a lust Hatch did not understand. The secret lust that Kincaid harbored was neither g*y nor straight in orientation. Hatch suspected it wasn't sexual at all but something far less wholesome.
"The stiletto is interesting. Italian, you said?" Hatch asked politely.
Kincaid's head came up and Hatch found himself staring into those soulless, unreadable eyes. It was always an unnerving experience, even for Hatch, who, having worked for Kincaid for two years, knew he should be accustomed to the jolt.
Damon Kincaid was nearing forty but his body was in excellent shape; lithe, thin, and strong. It was the kind of body that could have belonged to either a professional dancer or an expert fencer.
Anyone who assumed that Kincaid was a dancer was either dumb as a brick or blind. Kincaid preferred physical activities that had a lethal edge to them. Fencing, not dancing, was one of his passions. A stuffed dummy used for practice was suspended in the corner of the office. It looked like a dead man swinging from the end of a rope.
Even without the strong, lithe build, Kincaid would have been a striking man. He was tall, with features that would have suited some Renaissance sculptor's idea of a natural nobleman: strong-boned and austere yet refined. His eyes were the only unsettling elements in the physical landscape of his face.
They were an indeterminate shade between blue and gray and frequently appeared silver.
What made the eyes unsettling was that they rarely reflected any emotion except that occasional hint of unnatural lust that Hatch had glimpsed once in a while. Kincaid's gaze was strangely superficial; completely unreadable and never illuminating. Hatch had learned to use other cues in his employer's personality to help predict and interpret Kincaid's responses. It wasn't an easy task and Hatch had been wrong more than once. Right now he groaned inwardly, wondering if he hadn't appeared sufficiently impressed by the four-hundred-year-old stiletto.
"Yes, it's Italian," Kincaid said, but he did not berate his assistant for failing to perceive the true beauty of the object. Instead he put the old weapon down on a marble table and walked across the office to take the high-backed leather chair behind the inlaid mahogany desk. The desk had no file drawers. That single fact instantly told a visitor just how powerful Damon Kincaid was. He ran his corporate empire with an aristocrat's disdain for the niceties of modern business.
The office was empty of furniture, except for Kincaid's elegant desk and thronelike chair. Anyone who was shown into the room was forced to stand while he conducted his business. It ensured that Kincaid retained the psychological edge. As the only one who could sit down, he was clearly the most important man present at all times. Hatch was forced to admire his boss's intuitive understanding of human nature.
Kincaid, himself, was unreadable but he had an uncanny ability to assess others and figure out how to use them. It was a talent that served him well in business.
The floor of the office was polished marble. There was no rug to soften the impact of the cold, hard, brilliant finish of the stone. On the walls hung a variety of swords, rapiers, and daggers dating from the fourteenth to the nineteenth century. Walking through Kincaid's door was rather like walking into an ancient armory.
The only object hanging in the office that was not overtly lethal in nature was a Caitlin Evanger painting.
Hatch disliked Evanger's work, even though he freely admitted he was fascinated by it. A lot of people were. Kincaid was an avid collector, however, and seemed to be entranced by the disturbing style and ferocious images that characterized Evanger's work.
Hatch resisted the urge to shift restlessly while he waited for Kincaid to make his wishes clear. He stood, placid and politely expectant, as Kincaid swiveled around in the chair to examine the view of San Francisco far below.
"You have this week's report on Evanger?" Kincaid asked, his eyes narrowed as he studied the Bay.
"Yes, sir. The investigative agency has maintained the round-the-clock surveillance you ordered when you first heard the rumors about Evanger getting ready to sell her final painting." He glanced at some papers in his hand, although he already knew the information cold. He never showed up unprepared in Kincaid's office. "According to their report, Evanger and her companion returned from the health spa before the weekend. The only other incident of any significance is the fact that they entertained on Monday evening. Their guests arrived that afternoon and left the next morning."