"Get Hatch in here."

"Yes, Mr. Kincaid."

Hatch appeared almost immediately, his colorless eyes blandly inquiring. "Yes, sir?"

"Get hold of Gelkirk. I want him here in one hour."

"The appraiser? I'll call him immediately."

William Gelkirk scuttled nervously into Kincaid's office forty-five minutes later. He was a rotund little man with a fringe of hair surrounding a bald head and small eyes that looked out at the world through thick lenses. Kincaid found him irritating, fussy, and boring, but there was no doubt that Gelkirk was one of the finest authorities on sixteenth-century armor on the West Coast. He had appraised a few items for Kincaid in the past, but Kincaid had not consulted him about the dagger.

Kincaid had been very certain of the dagger's authenticity. After all, he had removed it himself from the vault the night he had calmly shot Henry Wilcox dead. The police had declared the incident a random act of violence since nothing seemed to be missing from Wilcox's Beverly Hills mansion. No one had known about the dagger. Wilcox had only recently acquired it and not yet insured it.

Wilcox had been so proud of the dagger, Kincaid remembered. The first time he had displayed it was to a fellow collector whom he knew would appreciate it. Kincaid had taken one look at it, considered its untraceability, and decided he appreciated the weapon far more than Wilcox did. He made his decision and acted on it immediately. He used Wilcox's personal gun, the one the older man kept in his desk drawer to protect himself in the event of a break-in.

The police were always warning people that weapons kept in the home were far more likely to be used against the owners than in self-defense. In this case, they were right, as usual.

Kincaid no longer did his own acquisition work. He now had the kind of contacts that enabled him to contract out that sort of thing. But back in his younger days he had been much more impetuous.

He forced a reassuring smile as he handed the dagger to Gelkirk. "It was very kind of you to come on such short notice. I'm extremely anxious for your opinion on this dagger. For years I assumed it was the genuine article, sixteenth century, Italian. But recently someone put some doubts in my head. If you would be so good as to give me your opinion? The usual rates, of course."

Gelkirk nodded eagerly and took the dagger. He peered at the ornately fashioned grip and then carried it to the window to examine the steel blade in sunlight.

"I'd have to run some tests to be certain, but my first impression is that this is not sixteenth century. It just isn't heavy enough. They had good steel in those days, legendary steel, but it wasn't this light. My guess is that the blade, at least, is modern. Would you like me to take it back to my shop and check it more thoroughly?"

Kincaid contained his fury behind a facade of rueful gratitude. "No, I don't think that will be necessary.

I may follow up later to see just how badly I've been had, but in the meantime I'll take your word for it. This experience will teach me always to get a second opinion before I buy. Thank you, Mr. Gelkirk.

My secretary will issue you a check for your services and call you a cab."

Gelkirk beamed. "Anytime, Mr. Kincaid. Anytime. I'm always pleased to be of service to a dedicated collector such as yourself. And don't feel too bad about the dagger. It really is an excellent reproduction. A lot of experts wouldn't have been suspicious."

"I'll take what comfort I can from that," Kincaid said dryly, holding the door for Gelkirk. He waited impatiently for the little man to walk through and then closed it with a carefully controlled slam.

"Goddammit."

He took three long strides across the marble floor and snatched up the brass-plated telephone. The number he dialed was unlisted. It was answered on the second ring by a man's voice that confirmed the number but offered no greeting.

"This is Kincaid. I want to talk to Tresslar."

The male receptionist did not respond verbally. He simply made the connection. A few minutes later a low-pitched voice with a thick southern accent answered.

"Yeah?"

"Tresslar?"

"You got it."

Kincaid winced at the accent. "I have a job for your firm. Do you have someone available?"

"Sure. I always have a man available. Rates have gone up some since we last worked for you, though."

"That's not a problem as long as I get reliable service."

"You got it."

Kincaid described Jonas and the location of the restaurant in Sequence Springs. "His name is Quarrel.

Jonas Quarrel. I want it to look like the work of a small-time thief who got scared and used his gun on his victim. That sort of thing happens all the time these days. The police can only investigate so far before they give up and wait for the thief to try his luck again."

"You got it."

Kincaid wondered how many more times he could deal with Tresslar before the accent got to him.

"The money will be deposited to your account under the same arrangements as last time. Half up front.

Half when the job is done."

"How soon you want this done?"

"As soon as possible. This week, in fact."

"You got it." Tresslar hung up the phone.

Kincaid gritted his teeth and hung up his receiver. Then he stalked to the window.

There was no doubt about it. Quarrel had to be eliminated. He was turning into a major question mark.

It appeared that he did indeed have the "touch." And he was somehow involved with Caitlin Evanger.

According to Hatch, he had been invited to the exclusive little get-together being held in two weeks at the house on the cliffs.

Quarrel could easily be representing a mysterious collector who wanted Bloodlust. But that wasn't the reason Kincaid wanted him dead. Kincaid was confident he could compete financially against almost anyone. He had had Quarrel investigated only because he wanted to know in advance exactly what he would be up against. But now there was something more involved. Kincaid's instincts were aroused at last.

Kincaid wanted Quarrel dead because he had seen the look on Quarrel's face when he held the dagger in his hand. For just a moment Quarrel's cool, sardonic expression had been replaced with another. It was an expression of sudden, jarring recognition. It was as if Quarrel had somehow known the blade at once, not just as a fake but for what it was, the cause of a murder.

And then there had been that parting crack at the door about the ethics of the "dealer" who had sold Kincaid the dagger.

Kincaid watched the sailboats on the Bay and drummed his neatly manicured fingers on the glass.

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