Grove Press
Grove Press
Grove Press

House Blood

A Joe DeMarco Thriller

by Mike Lawson

“Another page-turner brimming with authentic Washington, D.C., detail and distinctive, engaging characters.” —Library Journal

  • Imprint Grove Paperback
  • Page Count 448
  • Publication Date June 11, 2013
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8021-4607-6
  • Dimensions 5.5" x 8.25"
  • US List Price $15.00

About The Book

In House Blood, fixer Joe DeMarco finds himself in a particularly lethal situation as he goes up against a ruthless pharmaceutical company with a terrifying agenda. Orson Mulray, CEO of Mulray Pharma, has discovered a drug that could prevent a previously incurable disease and make him billions of dollars. But the drug needs to be tested on humans to prove its efficacy, and Mulray needs more than blood samples—he needs autopsy results. 

In naive Lizzie Warwick, Mulray finds a solution. Warwick provides relief to victims of wars and natural disasters: perfect test subjects. But Warwick’s D.C. lobbyist discovers what Mulray is doing, and so Mulray has the lobbyist killed and frames his partner, Brian Kincaid, for murder.

When DeMarco is put on the case two years later, he doesn’t expect to free Kinkaid—much less to become the target of two of the most callous killers he and his friend Emma have ever encountered.


“I love Joe DeMarco. . . . These are wonderful. I think they’re inventive, nicely detailed, just a treat to read.” —Nancy Pearl 

House Blood is a fast-paced and utterly believable thriller about a regular Joe who also happens to be smart and tough. Lawson writes with grit, humor and precision, creating a meaty story about D.C. insiders, a corrupt pharmaceutical corporation, sociopathic hit men and a tenacious hero who will, one way or another, make sure that the bad guys pay—just as soon as he gets his gutters cleaned out and his steaks off the grill! The characters have surprising depth, the premise is 100 percent plausible, and the twists and turns were totally unexpected. House Blood is a great read that will keep you turning the pages hungry for more.” —Mark Greaney, New York Times bestselling author of Ballistic

“The plot and pace are relentless, and the milieus of Congress’ D.C., and disaster relief seem knowingly presented. But character creation is Lawson’s greatest talent, and Fiona, her supersoldiers, and of course, the ever-cranky cynic, DeMarco, will rivet readers’ attention. A host of lesser characters are nearly as engaging. House Blood is so good it will move long-time political-thriller readers to recall the memorable characters, with, and style of the late, great Ross Thomas.” —Thomas Gaugin, Booklist (starred review)

“A what-happens-next, edge-of-your-seat thriller, told with the author’s clear prose and storytelling skills. I know that Mike Lawson has methodically grown a loyal base of fans, but I think that his consistent excellence needs to be more universally acknowledged. This is a very ambitious book and I’m hopeful it will be the one that propels him into best-sellerdom. He certainly deserves it and his publisher does as well.” —George Easter, Deadly Pleasures

“In Lawson’s enjoyable seventh thriller starring congressional fix-it man Joe DeMarco, DeMarco looks into a lobbyist’s suspicious murder conviction. . . . While Lawson provides a vivid picture of what it takes to get a drug approved and how high the stakes can be both politically and financially, the book’s main appeal is everyman DeMarco, who’d rather watch college basketball on TV than work. As ever, he’s good at tracking the bad guys—and it’s fun to watch him at it.” —Publishers Weekly


Washington, D.C., August 2009

Kelly and Nelson began by reviewing Brian Kincaid’s phone records and credit card statements and immediately saw the pattern—a pattern that had not changed in over a year. On the first Wednesday of the first week, they followed Kincaid and confirmed what the data had shown.

They spent several days analyzing the security procedures for the office building on K Street. It was an older building—built in the ­fifties—and only seven stories high. It didn’t have its own parking garage. Until a year ago, there was no general security for the building and if tenants wanted to protect their office spaces, they contracted with a private security company. But in 2008, two floors of the building were vacated by a law firm and temporarily leased by the Treasury Department to house federal employees displaced while a portion of the massive Treasury Department building on Pennsylvania Avenue was being renovated. The remaining five floors continued to be leased by private companies.

Because of whatever function the Treasury Department workers performed, there was now a metal detector in the lobby—something that had become almost a standard fixture in government buildings post 9/11—and during the day, two security guards screened people entering the building. Another requirement was that all the building’s tenants were required to wear security badges so the guards could distinguish tenants from visitors, and doors were secured in such a way that everyone one was forced to enter and exit the building via the lobby.

The building had three stairwells. The center stairwell exited onto a small loading dock, and the loading dock door was always kept locked when not in use. The two outer stairwells exited into the lobby. There was a security camera in the lobby and cameras in the elevators, but there were no cameras monitoring the loading dock behind the building or the stairwells. None of the doors that permitted access to the building were alarmed. Apparently protecting whatever Treasury was doing wasn’t worth the additional expense of wiring the building for alarms and adding more cameras.

At six P.M., the two day-shift security guards were replaced by a single guard, and at eight o’clock, well after most of the building’s tenants had left for the day, the night-shift guard locked the lobby doors so he could use the restroom and go to other parts of the building if necessary. At midnight, for probably no good reason other than to keep himself awake, the guard made a floor-by-floor tour of the building that took approximately an hour. If a tenant needed to enter the building after eight P.M. he would buzz the guard and be required to show his security badge before being allowed to enter. Visitors were not allowed to enter after eight P.M. unless accompanied by a tenant.

It was hardly an airtight security system—not the type you’d see for a defense facility—but it was good enough to keep street people from wandering into the building and there were probably safes in the Treasury Department offices to further protect whatever documents were kept there. Kelly and Nelson, however, didn’t care about the Treasury Department. They concluded that the building’s security measures presented them no insurmountable problems, and the fact that there was a camera in the lobby actually worked to their advantage.

The background information provided on Brian Kincaid showed that he had a .38-caliber Smith & Wesson revolver registered in his name. He didn’t have a carry permit or a concealed-weapons permit, and Kelly assumed that Kincaid kept the gun in his house. One day, after Kincaid left for work, Kelly put on gloves, picked the lock on the back door of Kincaid’s house, and entered to search for his pistol. Kincaid’s financial records had shown that he didn’t have a home security system and, since he didn’t have children, Kelly figured the gun would not be locked in a gun safe but would most likely be in the master bedroom on the second floor or in the den on the first floor. He searched the bedroom first and found the gun almost immediately in the nightstand on the right-hand side of Kincaid’s bed. He confirmed the gun was loaded, then placed it back in the nightstand and left the house.

On the following Wednesday, Kelly and Nelson followed Kincaid again to confirm he stuck to his routine. After Kincaid returned home, they went back to the building on K Street and, at approximately one A.M.—after the security guard had made his rounds—they went into the alley behind the building and Kelly picked the lock on the loading dock door. He then picked the lock three more times to make sure he could open the door quickly.

They jogged up the stairs to the sixth floor—both men proud they weren’t the least bit winded by the climb—entered the hallway, and walked down the hall until they reached a door labeled Downing and Kincaid, LLP. Kelly picked the lock on the door, but had a hard time with it; it took him almost two minutes. He picked it several more times but couldn’t open the door in less than a minute—and that wouldn’t do. He needed to be able to enter the office quickly, and if someone was inside the office—which there would be on the night of the operation—an occupant was likely to hear him picking the lock. They were going to have to make or steal a key.

For the next two days they observed Kincaid, his business partner, Phil Downing, and the secretary they shared. They noticed that the secretary wore a cloth lanyard around her neck like a necklace, and that on the lanyard was her security badge and two keys. They figured one of the keys was for the office and that the secretary kept it on the lanyard because she frequently ran errands for her bosses and was probably worried about forgetting her key and locking herself out. The other might be for a file cabinet or a safe, which they didn’t care about.

They followed the secretary that day when she left work and saw that she went immediately to a nearby bar. The next two days, she went to the same bar and each time had at least two drinks before she caught the Metro home. The secretary appeared to be a bit of a lush. As soon as she arrived at the bar, she would remove the security badge lanyard, drop it into her large purse, and plop the purse down on the floor on the right-hand side of her bar stool.

Kelly and Nelson had a brief, good-natured debate regarding which of them would be more appealing to the secretary. The next night when the woman went to the bar, Nelson approached her, standing on her left-hand side, and began talking to her. Kelly took a seat on the bar stool on her right, and when the woman appeared to be giving Nelson her full attention, he dropped his car keys on the floor. While picking them up, he used his big body to conceal what he was doing and plucked the lanyard from the secretary’s purse, then immediately went to the men’s room where he made a wax impression of the two keys on the lanyard. When he returned to the bar, the secretary was laughing loudly at something Nelson had said and had a hand on one of his muscular forearms. Kelly had no problem returning the security badge and keys to the secretary’s purse.

The next day Kelly went to a locksmith in a seedy part of Washington and placed the wax impressions of the keys on the counter. The locksmith looked down at the impressions, then into Kelly’s eyes. He didn’t say anything. Kelly placed four hundred-dollar bills on the counter and the locksmith picked up the money, put it in his pocket, and started making the keys. It was a completely wordless transaction.

That night, again at approximately one A.M., Kelly picked the lock on the loading dock door for the fifth time. He could now open the door in less than thirty seconds. He jogged up to the sixth floor, walked down the hallway to the offices of Downing and Kincaid, LLP, and tried the keys. The first key opened the door.

The next day, Kelly and Nelson wrote down on a large white board every action they would take and then analyzed the plan. What would they do if Kincaid deviated from his schedule? What if the guard left his post unexpectedly? What if there were other tenants in the building at nine o’clock at night? This was their biggest concern—that one of the tenants might decide to work late.

The building’s janitors left before seven P.M. each day except Friday, when they mopped and waxed the floors, and the Treasury Department’s civil servants poured out of the building at exactly five P.M., like somebody had set off a fire alarm. There were no law firms in the building, therefore no lawyers likely to be pulling all-nighters preparing for a case. There was an accounting firm on one floor but, as it wasn’t tax season, these folks wouldn’t likely be working late, and all the other tenants had occupations that typically allowed them to leave at the end of a normal workday. Kelly and Nelson finally concluded they would simply have to take the risk of one or two tenants staying late, but that the risk was small.

Their preparations were now complete.

They were ready to kill Phil Downing.

The next Wednesday, at approximately five-thirty P.M., they followed Kincaid from his office to his home in Arlington. As he had done every other Wednesday, Kincaid spent an hour inside the house, where they assumed he showered, shaved, and changed clothes. At seven P.M., he left his house and drove to a restaurant in Rosslyn—the same restaurant where, according to his credit card statements, he dined almost every Wednesday. As soon as Kincaid entered the restaurant, they drove back to his house. Kelly picked the lock on the back door, removed the .38 from the nightstand next to Kincaid’s bed, and then rejoined Nelson in the car.

At eight forty-five P.M., they were parked in front of a small parking lot a block from Kincaid’s office. The lot was where Kincaid parked every day and he had a sticker on his windshield that showed he paid monthly. The lot had no attendant. Customers who didn’t have monthly passes put their money in a box at the entrance and the money was collected twice a day.

At eight-fifty P.M., Kincaid drove into the parking lot. He exited his car, locked it, and headed in the direction of his building, and while Kelly followed Kincaid, Nelson parked their car in the lot where Kincaid had parked. Kelly watched as Kincaid buzzed the security guard, showed his security badge, and entered the building. Kelly looked at his watch. It was eight fifty-five P.M.

Nelson joined Kelly on the sidewalk in front of the building, and at nine-ten P.M. they watched Phil Downing buzz the security guard and enter the building. As soon as Downing was in the elevator, Kelly walked to the alley behind the building, picked the lock on the loading dock door, jogged up to the sixth floor, and cracked the stairwell door open so he could see down the hallway.

At nine twenty-six P.M., Kincaid exited his office. On all three Wednesdays that Kelly and Nelson had observed him, he’d left the building just a little before nine-thirty. Two minutes after Kincaid caught the elevator, Nelson called Kelly’s cell phone. The cell phone vibrated once, then stopped, and Kelly didn’t answer the phone. The phone call meant that Kincaid had left the building.

Now, unless Kincaid changed his routine, he would leave his car in the parking lot and walk to a nearby bar on M Street, where he would drink single-malt Scotch for approximately two hours and try to pick up a woman. If he did meet a woman it would not be ideal, but there wasn’t anything that could be done about that. Nelson would follow Kincaid to make sure he went to the bar and didn’t move his car. If Kincaid did remove his car from the parking lot and drove home or to some other establishment, Nelson would follow him. They needed to be able to gain access to Kincaid’s car after Kelly accomplished his task.

Kelly looked at his watch. It was nine thirty-two P.M. He had eight minutes. He walked down the hallway and used his key to open the door to the offices of Downing and Kincaid, LLP. Downing was, as expected, sitting at his desk. When he saw Kelly, he rose and said, “What the hell? Who are—”

Kelly shot Downing in the heart with Kincaid’s revolver. The gun wasn’t silenced and the shot was alarmingly loud within the confines of Downing’s office, but Kelly was confident the security guard in the lobby six floors below wouldn’t hear the shot.

Kelly knelt next to Downing’s body and checked for a pulse. Downing’s heart was still beating, but just barely. Kelly wouldn’t leave until he was dead. He knelt there looking down impassively at Downing, waiting for the man to die, and as he was waiting the phone on Downing’s desk began to ring. Kelly looked at his watch. Nine-forty P.M. The call was right on time. Kelly checked Downing again for a pulse and this time didn’t find one. Phil Downing was dead.

Kelly left Downing’s office and took the stairs down to the loading dock and left the building. He walked to the parking lot where Kincaid’s car was parked, checked to make sure no one was watching, and used a slim jim to open the driver’s-side door. It took him less than five seconds. He then popped the trunk latch, placed Kincaid’s gun beneath the spare tire, closed the trunk, and relocked the driver’s-side door.

Kelly pulled out his cell phone and called Nelson—who was still watching Kincaid to make sure he didn’t leave the bar—and five minutes later Nelson joined him in the parking lot.

“Everything go okay?” Nelson asked.

“Yep,” Kelly said.

They entered their car and pulled out of the parking lot.

“Are you hungry?” Nelson said.

“Starving,” Kelly said.

“You wanna go to Morton’s for a steak?” Three years ago they couldn’t have afforded a steak at Morton’s.

“You think they’ll serve us the way we’re dressed?” They were both neatly attired but wearing casual clothes: jeans, polo shirts, and tennis shoes.

“And who’s gonna refuse to serve us?” Nelson said.
Kelly laughed and high-fived Nelson. “Hooah!” he said.

Hooah is the phonetic spelling of the military acronym HUA, which stands for: Heard. Understood.

Acknowledged. It’s a word particularly favored by U.S. Army Rangers. When a Ranger is told to march, to fight, to kill—the response is: Hooah!

The only thing was, Kelly and Nelson were no longer in the military. They worked for a pharmaceutical company.