House Secrets

A Joe DeMarco Thriller

by Mike Lawson

Paperback, 541 pages, Grove Press, List Price: $7.99 | purchase

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Title
House Secrets
Subtitle
A Joe DeMarco Thriller
Author
Mike Lawson

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Book Summary

When Joe DeMarco is asked by the Speaker of the House to probe the apparent accidental death of a reporter who was trailing presidential hopeful Senator Paul Morelli, dirty secrets and divided loyalties threaten his investigation.

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The Iwo Jima Memorial, on the Virginia side of the Potomac River overlooking Washington, D.C., is one of many capital landmarks that do double duty as crime scenes in the novels of author Mike Lawson. Mark Wilson/Getty Images hide caption

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Note: Book excerpts are provided by the publisher and may contain language some find offensive.

Excerpt: House Secrets

Prologue

"Carl, goddamnit, don't bruise his neck!"

"I'm trying not to, but he's a strong little bastard."

"Shit, you're twice his size. Grab him by the hair, not the neck."

"That did it," Carl said after a minute. "I just saw a buncha bubbles come out."

"Yeah, well, hold him there a while. I don't want what happened in that movie."

"Movie?"

"You know, the one with what's-her-name, where she boils the rabbit."

"Oh, yeah. But what's that — "

"At the end there, don't you remember? When Douglas gets her in the tub? Bubbles comin' outta her mouth, eyes wide open, then like five minutes later the bitch pops up and tries to stab him."

"I don't remember that part," Carl said. "I remember the rabbit but ..."

"Oh, for Christ's sake," Jimmy said. "Just hold him there."

.........

"You got his keys?" Carl said.

"Yeah, I got the keys," Jimmy said. "What do you think I'm jigglin' here?"

Jimmy opened the door which led into the kitchen of the house. "Now where's his office, den, whatever?" He started through the kitchen but stopped when he heard the refrigerator door open. "What the hell are you doing?"

"Gettin' a Coke," Carl said. "I'm thirsty."

"Are you nuts?"

"I'm wearin' gloves. What's the big deal?"

Jimmy just shook his head. Carl, sometimes he just didn't know.

Two minutes later, they were standing in front of the safe. It had been behind a picture, a sailing scene.

"Why do they always put it behind a picture?" Carl said. "I mean, you know where it's gonna be."

"They put it behind a picture because it'd look pretty fuckin' ugly, just sittin' there in the middle of the wall," Jimmy said.

"Oh."

Jimmy spun the lock on the safe.

"How the hell did Eddie get the combination, anyway?" Carl said.

"He said something about a locksmith the guy used."

Jimmy swung open the door to the safe. Inside it were a bunch of little notebooks, the covers doodled on, the pages all ragged. Jimmy took out the notebooks, several at a time, and tossed them into his shoulder bag. Carl had said that the shoulder bag looked like a faggy purse, which it sort of did, but it was better than carrying around a shopping bag.

At the back of the safe was a wad of cash bound with a rubber band. Jimmy flipped through it. Maybe five grand. The guy's disaster money. He handed the cash to Carl and looked back into the safe. The only thing remaining, lying flat on the bottom, was a clear plastic sheet with little pockets containing coins. Jimmy didn't know anything about old coins but he figured these must be worth something or the guy wouldn't have put them in his safe — but he didn't touch the coin holder.

"That's it," he said, but then he noticed something under the coin holder. He lifted up the plastic and saw a flash drive for a computer. "Damn," he muttered, "almost missed that." He put the flash drive into his bag.

"Gimme the money." Carl handed him the cash and Jimmy tossed it back into the safe and closed and locked the door. Eddie had said not to take any money, or anything else but the stuff he'd told them. And if that's what Eddie said ...

"Now let's find his laptop," Jimmy said. "And any more of these flash thingamajigs."

Carl finished the Coke he was drinking, made a small burp, and put the soda can in Jimmy's man-purse.

"Okey-dokey," Carl said.

Chapter 1

Mahoney was reclining near the pool, a big blue beach umbrella shading his head. His meaty right hand was wrapped around a frosted glass containing equal parts vodka and tomato juice. Clenched in his left hand, in the V created by two thick fingers, was a cigar. He wore white swim trunks with a red stripe down the side, and partially covering his broad chest and substantial gut, was an unbuttoned aloha shirt patterned with red hibiscuses. His hair was white and full, his legs were white, thick, and hairless, and his large bare feet were pale.

DeMarco thought he looked like a beluga whale that had crashed a luau.

"It's about time you got here," Mahoney said.

This complaint was typical of Mahoney. There he was — lying under an umbrella, drinking, doing nothing — while DeMarco had been forced to drive seventy miles in heavy traffic because his boss hadn't wanted to talk over the phone. Or maybe Mahoney just didn't want to hold the phone as this could have interrupted his drinking and smoking.

Nor did Mahoney offer DeMarco a seat or a drink. This breach of etiquette could have occurred because Mahoney was oblivious to the creature comforts of his subordinates — or it could have been because DeMarco looked impervious to such ailments as dehydration and heat stroke. DeMarco's forefathers were Italian and his features reflected his heritage. He was five foot eleven, with heavy shoulders and strong arms. He combed his dark hair straight back, and the first strands of gray were just beginning to appear at the temples. He had a handsome face, but a hard one, and if Francis Ford Coppola had been casting extras for Godfather IV, he would have hired DeMarco on the spot.

So DeMarco stood there in front of Mahoney's lounge chair, squinting into the midday sun. It was the first of September and the temperature was in the low eighties. As he waited for Mahoney to tell him why he'd been summoned, he glanced up at the large house in the background. DeMarco didn't know who had loaned his boss the use of the mansion with its pool and its magnificent view of Chesapeake Bay, but he suspected it was someone trying to curry his favor. DeMarco wondered if that same person had loaned Mahoney the woman he could see in the window.

The woman — lithe and tanned — was in her thirties and she was walking back and forth in front of a large picture window, talking on a cell phone. The only thing she was wearing was a black bikini bottom the size of a stripper's g-string. Her bare breasts, from a distance of fifty yards, were flawless.

Mahoney swiveled his thick neck to see what DeMarco was looking at.

"Yeah, she's a character," he said. "And in case you're havin' impure thoughts, she's not with me. She's the girlfriend of the guy who owns the house."

Impure thoughts — a Catholic sinner's expression — and DeMarco bet that Mahoney had been confessing to that particular transgression from the time he was a pudgy altar boy. But was he lying about the woman? DeMarco didn't know. He doubted if God knew. And the fact that Mahoney could lie so nimbly was not surprising: he was a politician. John Fitzpatrick Mahoney was the Speaker of the United States House of Representatives, third in line for the Oval Office if both the president and vice president were unable to serve. A truly terrifying thought in DeMarco's opinion.

"Hey! Stop looking at her tits and pay attention," Mahoney said.

DeMarco reluctantly shifted his gaze back to Mahoney's blue eyes — the red-veined eyes of a dedicated drinker.

"There's a guy," Mahoney said, "an old buddy of mine, an ex-congressman from Virginia. His name's Dick Finley and he retired about ten years ago. Anyway, a week ago his son died in some kinda weird accident and Dick wants somebody to look into it."

"Does he need a lawyer?" DeMarco asked. "I mean is he planning to sue somebody?"

DeMarco had asked the question not because he cared about the answer but because he had just looked up at the mansion again — and he wanted to keep looking. The young woman was still on the phone, but this time she saw DeMarco staring at her. She turned to face him so he was treated to a full-frontal view, and then she smiled and wiggled her fingers at him. She was so firm nothing else wiggled. He bet Mahoney was lying.

Mahoney snorted in response to DeMarco's question. "If he needed a lawyer, Joe, I wouldn't have given him your name." DeMarco was offended though he knew he had no right to be. He had a law degree — had even passed the Virginia bar — but he had never practiced law. He was too busy doing other unsavory things on Mahoney's behalf.

"It sounds like what he needs," Mahoney said, "is somebody to turn over a few rocks and see what crawls out."

There you go, DeMarco thought. That was his job description: rock flipper and bug crusher. Not very flattering but accurate enough.

Excerpted from House Secrets by Mike Lawson. Copyright 2009 by Mike Lawson. Excerpted by permission of Atlantic Monthly Press.