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 naïve Lizzie Warwick, Mulray finds a solution. Warwick provides relief to victims of wars and natural disasters ? in other words, people who’d make perfect test subjects. But Warwick’s D.C. lobbyist discovers what Mulray is doing. Mulray has the lobbyist killed and frames his partner, Brian Kincaid, for murder.
Two years later, DeMarco is asked to look into the seemingly hopeless case. He has other worries on his mind: his girlfriend has left him, and his friend Emma may be dying. DeMarco doesn’t expect to free Kinkaid much less to become the target of two of the most callous killers he and Emma have ever encountered.
Praise for House Blood
"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." -Booklist (starred review)
“Lawson’s seventh novel in his Joe DeMarco thriller series is another page-turner brimming with authentic Washington, DC, detail and distinctive, engaging characters. Even the bad guys are interesting. Adventure-seeking readers will love [it].”-Library Journal
“As ever, [DeMarco is] good at tracking the bad guysand it’s fun to watch him at it.” Publishers Weekly
“A what-happens-next, edge-of-your-seat thriller, told with the author’s clear prose and storytelling skills.”George Easter, Deadly Pleasures
About the Author
A former senior civilian executive for the U.S. Navy, MIKE LAWSON is the author of seven novels starring Joe DeMarco: The Inside Ring, The Second Perimeter, House Rules, House Secrets, House Justice , House Divided and House Odds. He lives in Seattle.
Read an Excerpt
Three years earlier Wilmington, Delaware~March 2006
Orson Mulray was fifty-three years old. He stood six foot two and weighed two hundred and fifty pounds, but thanks to a broad chest and wide shoulders he carried the weight well and appeared powerful rather than obese. He had a full head of gray hair that was trimmed weekly by a stylist, a large, fleshy nose, and a blunt, determined chin. He was not a handsome man, but he looked confident, competent, and prosperous. One could envision him playing a corporate executive in a movie — CEO or Chairman of the Board — and he would have been perfect for the role because that's exactly who he was.
Orson sat in a dark blue suit in one of half a dozen graveside chairs. Delaware's governor sat on his right-hand side, and next to the governor was her husband and next to him was a retired Delaware senator. The senator had been one of his father's oldest friends. On Orson's left were his son and daughter — his father's only grandchildren — two sullen-looking teenagers whom Orson had barely spoken to since divorcing his wife four years ago. The crowd standing behind the graveside seats consisted of over two hundred people, mostly wealthy businessmen and community leaders who had known his father and claimed to have admired him.
As his father's coffin was lowered into the ground, the governor reached over and took Orson's hand to convey her sympathy and support. He glanced over at her, gave her hand a small squeeze to let her know that he appreciated her being there, then looked straight ahead, his face appropriately solemn, as his father's casket descended slowly into the grave.
What he wanted to do was leap to his feet and cheer.
He didn't think the old bastard would ever die. There had been times when he had wondered, as illogical as it sounded, if Clayton Mulray had discovered an elixir for immortality. But finally, he was gone. Finally, at the age of eighty-four, his father's small, hard heart stopped beating — and, as soon as this farce of mourning was over, Orson Mulray would move forward with his plan to become, quite possibly, the richest man on the planet.
Clayton Mulray founded Mulray Pharma in 1953, the same year Orson was born. He worked eighteen-hour days. He developed an effective sales force, established a research division, and bought patents on promising drugs with money borrowed from greedy lenders. He learned how to bribe doctors to push his products on their patients, he manipulated the FDA to get his drugs approved, and he hired lobbyists to influence Congress. He contributed handsomely to those politicians favorable to his endeavors, like the retired senator who attended his funeral. At the time of his death, Mulray Pharma was the twelfth-largest pharmaceutical company in the world, the eighth-largest in the United States, and number 435 on the Fortune 500 list. Its revenues in 2006 were eighteen billion, its net income four billion, and it spent three point six billion on research. It was a solid company.
The problem — at least from his son's perspective — was that in the last five years of his life, the old man decided he wanted a legacy. After a lifetime of self-centered overindulgence, Clayton Mulray wanted to do something to help his fellow man, and he tasked Mulray Pharma's R&D division to concentrate their efforts on cost-effective drugs for diseases that affect third world countries: malaria, tuberculosis, measles, sleeping sickness caused by tsetse flies. Orson attempted to get his father to work on drugs that were more profitable — and on one drug in particular.
"Who gets bitten by tsetse flies?" he screamed at the old man. Then he answered his own question: "Fucking Africans, that's who! They don't have any money, you old fool!" But his father could not be deterred, and Orson didn't have the power to overrule him.
But now, Clayton Mulray was rotting in a fifty-thousand-dollar casket six feet beneath the ground.
Following the funeral, Orson, his ex-wife, his children, his ex-wife's lawyer, and a few of his father's oldest servants — the chauffeur, cooks, gardeners, and maids — went to the office of his father's attorney to listen to a reading of the will.
Orson sat there stoically as the will was read, showing no emotion. His father had informed him a year earlier of his intentions and, of course, the company's board of directors and the SEC had to be informed as well. The will left small amounts to the servants — a hundred thousand to each individual — and established a two-hundred-million-dollar trust fund for Clayton's grandchildren. The trust would be controlled by his father's lawyer so that neither Orson nor his ex-wife could get their hands on the money. And all this was fine by Orson.
The bell ringer in the will — and the reason why the board and the SEC had to be notified in advance — was that half of Clayton Mulray's stock in the company would be sold and the money used to establish a philanthropic organization. At the time of his death, Clayton Mulray owned one hundred and four million shares of Mulray Pharma stock, currently trading at twenty-seven dollars a share — and the value of half those shares was one point four billion dollars. The philanthropy would be called the Clayton Mulray Foundation.
The only good news from Orson Mulray's perspective was that even after his father's insane act of generosity, Orson would still be the largest shareholder in Mulray Pharma. And because he was CEO and chairman of the board — and because the board was a rubber stamp — this meant he had total control of the company. And control of the company was the only thing that really mattered.
Another condition of the will was that in order for Orson to inherit his father's remaining stock, he had to agree to cap his salary as CEO at one million a year for the next five years. His father had wanted his only son to remain in charge of the company — he just didn't feel that Orson needed to be as rich as he had been. Fortunately, even though Orson's salary was capped at a million, his bonus was tied to the company's stock price and, if his plan succeeded, the price was going to jump dramatically. In fact, dramatically was an understatement.
So Orson Mulray was still a wealthy man. His father had been number 147 on the Forbes 400 list but, because of the will, Orson was now 355. He was still a member of America's most exclusive club — but just barely. He also inherited from his father a seventeen-thousand-square-foot mansion in the exclusive Montchanin section of Wilmington, a ski lodge in Vail, and a yacht worth two point five million.
The problem, at least temporarily, was his salary as CEO of Mulray Pharma. Half his salary went to his ex-wife, his taxes were mind-boggling, and there was no way he could get by on a mere five hundred thousand a year. If he needed cash he could, of course, always sell some of his stock — but the last thing he was going to do was sell stock. Not only didn't he want to jeopardize his position as largest shareholder in the company, but more important, if his plan succeeded, the more stock he had the richer he'd be in the long run. So, thanks to his father, he was going to have to sell the yacht and the place in Vail to maintain his lifestyle for a few years.
What his father had done to him was cruel and humiliating, and if he hadn't made his own funeral arrangements, Orson would have buried the old bastard in a cardboard box.
Orson went from the lawyer's office to the luxurious Green Room in the Hotel du Pont, where Fiona West was waiting. On the table was a bottle of Dom Pérignon Oenotheque Rose in an ice bucket, the champagne purchased by Fiona to celebrate his father's long-awaited demise.
Fiona raised her champagne flute in a toast as Orson sat. "Congratulations," she said. "You're now officially an orphan." Then, seeing that he was still brooding over the will, Fiona said, "Oh, cheer up, Orson. Five years from now you'll have more money than you can count."
And that was true. But what Fiona didn't understand was that he wasn't really motivated by money or the things money could buy. Money was just a way of keeping score. What motivated him was Mulray Pharma being the twelfth largest pharmaceutical company in the world, and not the first. Being any number on the Forbes 400 list but No. 1. And, most important, that if he succeeded, people would no longer say: Orson Mulray? Oh! You mean Clayton's boy. There was no point, however, in explaining any of this to Fiona.
He poured himself some champagne, and he and Fiona touched glasses. "To the future," he said.
To execute his plan, Orson needed someone to help him. For one thing, he couldn't do it all by himself and still manage the company. But the other reason he needed a partner was that he wanted to be at least one step removed from the crimes he planned to commit so that in the unlikely event those crimes ever came to light, there would be someone to blame. In Fiona West, he'd found the person he needed.
Fiona was a striking woman, almost six feet tall. She had a generous bosom, narrow hips, and shapely, mile-long legs. Her eyes were almond-shaped, the irises green, flecked with yellow. Her dark hair was cut short on top, close on the sides, and parted on the left. The hairstyle didn't make her look mannish, however — just edgy. In fact, edgy may have been the best way to describe Fiona both physically and emotionally. And although she was striking, she wasn't truly beautiful. Her face — a mirror to her personality — was too angular, too sharp, too severe. It reflected her coldness and her arrogance.
Fiona was Mulray Pharma's chief in-house legal counsel. She had five lawyers working for her and managed the work that was farmed out to any outside law firms the company retained. Orson's father had hired her — one of the few good decisions he'd made in his waning years — because she came with a well-deserved reputation for representing her clients in an absolutely feral manner: she ripped her opponents to shreds, using any tactic, ethical or otherwise, to win.
She became Orson's mistress a year after coming to work for the company, but Orson ended the affair after only two months. For some reason, she was just awful in bed. She would lie there with her eyes tightly shut, barely moving, clearly relieved when the act was over. Copulating with a corpse would have been more satisfying. Orson suspected the only reason she went to bed with him in the first place was to help her career — and he actually admired her for this.
Fiona was bright, determined, relentless, and ruthless — and flawed in a number of ways. She was extremely paranoid, childishly vindictive, and absolutely vicious when she didn't get her way. Orson suspected she was some variety of sociopath — and from his perspective, this wasn't a bad thing. She was his sociopath. His main concern was that she was going to be difficult to control — but Orson's job was controlling people.
He'd first approached her about his plan two years before his father's death. The initial discussions were very general, very cautious — almost philosophical in nature — but once he explained the financial upside, he found that caution wasn't necessary. For the amount of money he was talking about, Fiona, like himself, was willing to accept the risks. She finally decided she wanted to be paid one billion dollars if they were successful — and Orson agreed, because a billion was going to be a small percentage of what he expected to make. Had she asked for two or three billion he would have agreed, and the fact that she asked for only one meant that she didn't really understand the potential payoff. They didn't have a written contract, however, because Orson knew that if he reneged on his part of the deal Fiona would make sure that he served the remainder of his life in prison. As he came to know Fiona better, he realized she was more likely to just have him killed.
"When are you going to Princeton?" Fiona asked.
"Tomorrow morning," Orson said. "There's no reason to delay."
Since they had been discussing the plan the last two years while they waited for his father to die, there really wasn't anything more to discuss at this point. Orson would take care of the doctor-scientist while the rest of the preliminary actions would be Fiona's responsibility: arranging security for the research facility, obtaining a doctor to administer field testing of the drug, invading the Warwick Foundation, and hiring the security specialists.
Security specialists sounded better than killers.CHAPTER 2
Princeton, New Jersey~March 2006
Orson Mulray drove himself to Princeton to meet Dr. Simon Ballard for the first time. Ballard was Orson's Sir Galahad — he was going to bring him the Holy Grail of medicine. And although this would be the first time he would lay eyes on Ballard in the flesh, Orson knew everything there was to know about the man. He had hired a private investigator to delve into Ballard's past, to see if he had any nasty habits, any skeletons in his closet. He didn't. Ballard was an open book, a very boring open book. The only thing he cared about was his research.
Orson became aware of Simon Ballard when he asked himself the following question: What kind of drug could he produce that every civilized person in the world would buy and continue to buy, whether they needed it or not? When he answered that question to his satisfaction, he tasked Mulray Pharma's R&D division to look for scientists who appeared to be taking the most unique approach to solving the problem — and they discovered Simon Ballard.
Ballard had written a grant proposal that was rejected when Clayton Mulray ran the company. In part, the proposal was rejected because it was so poorly written that it was almost incomprehensible. It was also rejected because even if Ballard's theories were correct, it was going to take a decade for him to get the data he needed to prove his theories and, after that, at least another decade to get the FDA to approve the drug. But his approach to curing the disease was radically different from other cures being tried, and this is what appealed to Orson Mulray.
The other good thing about Ballard was that rival drug companies had chosen to ignore him. Not only were his theories unorthodox, but Ballard was horrible at self-promotion — he had the personality of a fence post — and, as Orson had seen from his grant proposal, the man had almost no communication skills. But were the other companies right? Was Ballard a man who should be ignored?
Orson had learned from his father that a successful CEO had to rely on his instincts. You listened to your advisers, you looked at the data, but in the end you had to go with your gut — and Orson's gut told him to go with Ballard. He didn't rely totally on instinct, however. He took all of Ballard's research he could lay his hands on — including unpublished data hacked directly from Ballard's personal computer — and parceled it out to scientists who were the best in their fields of study. He didn't allow any of them to see the complete picture and he paid them an outrageous amount of money to confirm Ballard's conclusions, but only after they had signed nondisclosure agreements that would turn them into homeless paupers if they ever violated them. In the end, he decided to gamble on Ballard. And it wasn't a small gamble. Not only would he be risking a substantial percentage of Mulray Pharma's R&D budget — he could end up in jail if things went wrong.
When Orson entered the laboratory, Simon Ballard was sitting in front of a computer monitor, squinting at the screen. Other than the two classes he taught, the man was almost always in the lab, and usually until one or two in the morning because he had virtually no social life. Every Tuesday he played chess with a colleague, and every Friday he had dinner with a woman who taught creative writing and spent the night at the woman's house.
Orson had his private detective plant listening devices in the woman's house because he was curious about her relationship with Ballard. Their conversations were mostly one-sided, with the woman either backstabbing her colleagues or going on for hours about a novel she'd been trying to get published for ten years. The two of them didn't sound particularly intimate and they never discussed any sort of future together. When they had sex, the act was brief and mostly silent. Orson concluded they were just two lonely, unattractive people using each other for sex, and that Ballard had no deep feelings for the woman.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "House Blood"
Copyright © 2012 Mike Lawson.
Excerpted by permission of Grove Atlantic, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Book was captivating and had me wondering how "Joe DeMarco" was ever going to sort thru THIS "mess" with so many obstacles. He came thru as usual and was able to find a solution that everybody could live with (except the bad guys). Enjoyed
This was another enjoyable installment in the series.
Again Mike Lawson delivers a real page turner that keeps you engaged in the story until all the conflicts are resolved. From his first Demarco novel, which was a Free Friday selection, to the latest in the series, I have become a big fan and look forward to Lawson's next book!
House Blood is another in the series of Mike Lawson's books featuring his central characters, Joe DeMarco and Emma. It doesn't disappoint. It is full of plot twists, surprises, and even international intrigue. It would make a great movie! A must read.