The Fairfax Incident

The Fairfax Incident

by Terrence McCauley


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Manhattan, 1933. Charlie Doherty may have been kicked off the force after The Grand Central Massacre, but thanks to a wealthy benefactor, his private detective business is booming. Catering to the city’s wealthy elite, Doherty is making a good living chasing down wayward spouses and runaway socialites when the case of a lifetime lands in his lap. Mrs. Fairfax, a wealthy widow, hires Doherty to prove her husband’s suicide wasn’t actually a suicide. It was murder.

At his benefactor's urging, Doherty takes the case. He expects to pocket a nice chunk of change to prove what everyone already knows: Walter Fairfax walked into his office in the Empire State Building one morning, took a phone call, and shot himself. But Charlie took the widow's money, so he begins to dig.

He quickly finds out there is more to the Fairfax incident than a simple suicide. Before long, he discovers that Mr. Fairfax was leading a double life; running with a dangerous crowd that has a sinister agenda that threatens to plunge Charlie’s city – and his country – into another war.
In an investigation that quickly involves global implications, Doherty finds himself against not only some of the most powerful people in New York City, but against the most evil men in the world.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781947993051
Publisher: Polis Books
Publication date: 06/05/2018
Pages: 336
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.80(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Terrence McCauley is the award-winning author of three James Hicks thrillers: SYMPATHY FOR THE DEVIL, A MURDER OF CROWS, and A CONSPIRACY OF RAVENS, as well as the historical crime thrillers PROHIBITION and SLOW BURN (all available from Polis Books. He is also the author of the World War I novella THE DEVIL DOGS OF BELLEAU WOOD, the proceeds of which go directly to benefit the Semper Fi Fund. His story "El Cambalache" was nominated for the Thriller Award by International Thriller Writers.

Terrence has had short stories featured in Thuglit, Spintetingler Magazine, Shotgun Honey, Big Pulp and other publications. He is a member of the New York City chapter of the Mystery Writers of America, the International Thriller Writers and the International Crime Writers Association.

A proud native of The Bronx, NY, he is currently writing his next work of fiction. Please visit his website at or follow him at @terrencepmccauley.

Read an Excerpt




I stifled a yawn as I listened to the old lady repeat herself for the third time. Or maybe it was the fourth. I'd lost count by then.

"I don't care what you may have heard or read about my husband's death, Mr. Doherty, but I can assure you it was not a suicide. It was murder, plain and simple. And I wish to hire you to prove just that."

She wanted me to defy logic and prove the impossible. All I wanted was a cigarette, but when I'd first arrived at the Fairfax mansion, the maid warned me that Mrs. Eleanor Blythe Fairfax forbade smoking anywhere in the house.

So, I sat there and did my best to look interested while Mrs. Fairfax once more ran through the many reasons why her husband had not taken his own life, despite all the overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Homicide detectives, coroners, and plain, old- fashioned common sense be damned. Her Walter could not have possibly killed himself.

I didn't bother arguing with her because one simply did not argue with Mrs. Fairfax. One was expected to nod and give way to her every opinion. Some people might've gotten away with it, but certainly not a commoner like me.

Besides, I was already being paid to listen to everything she said and report it back to my real client, Mr. Harriman Van Dorn. He'd referred me to her because I was a private detective she could trust and knew how to handle such matters.

The truth was that he wanted to know more about such matters as soon as I did.

The setup was fine by me. Thanks to Mr. Van Dorn, I was making a damned fine living making my wealthy clients feel like I genuinely cared about their ivory-tower troubles. Empathy came easy when you made the kind of money I was pulling in, plus expenses.

Mrs. Fairfax was like a lot of my clients. Rich, well-fed, and happily isolated from the problems most people in Manhattan and the rest of the country were facing at the time. The Crash had happened a few years before, and now the Depression had everyone choking on the dust. But the Fairfax clan was one of those families that managed to remain wealthy more out of habit than anything else. They stayed in their tight-knit neighborhood that spanned "from Park to The Park," as they called it; a stretch of pricey Manhattan real estate that went from Park Avenue all the way over to where Fifth Avenue abuts Central Park.

The phrase had always grated on my nerves. I had been a private detective just long enough to know the richer they got, the worse their pet phrases tended to be.

Mrs. Fairfax was an elegant, moneyed product of good breeding who had sailed into middle age with all the dignity she could muster, and had held a steady course in the years since. Her black mourning veil was stylishly thin; her black dress had been carefully tailored to flatter her roundish frame. What little jewelry she wore was as minimal as it was expensive. She looked every bit the mourning matriarch of one of New York's finest families.

I found myself distracted by a quiet autumn rain rapping against the drawing room windows as she tried convincing me yet again, in that elegant tone of hers, that "my Walter" really hadn't killed himself.

An authoritative rumble came to her voice and caught my attention. "So, I say it now as I have said it before, and will continue to say for the rest of my days, Mr. Doherty — my husband simply wasn't capable of suicide. It had to be murder."

I knew convincing her wasn't going to be easy, so I started slow. "I was a police detective for a long time, Mrs. Fairfax, so I understand how difficult this kind of tragedy can be for those left behind. But, to be fair to my former colleagues, they officially ruled your husband's death an accidental shooting. That means — technically and legally — it wasn't a suicide."

Mrs. Fairfax waved that off with a black-gloved hand. "Everyone sees that semantic nonsense for exactly what it is: Chief Carmichael's flimsy attempt to help my family avoid scandal. And so we could collect on the insurance policies, of course. Insurance was my late husband's stock and trade. After all, he'd built a fortune from it."

I realized Mrs. Fairfax was a lot sharper than my usual well-heeled clientele. "Perhaps, but Chief Carmichael oversaw the investigation personally."

"For his own aggrandizement, I'm sure. I fully expect him to darken my door one day soon with hat in hand, seeking to be repaid for a favor I neither requested nor wanted. The chief has never extended a courtesy without being repaid for it tenfold."

I couldn't argue with her about that one. Few people knew Andrew Carmichael better than I did. He wouldn't cross the street for someone if there wasn't a buck in it for him somewhere. We had grown up together, ran the streets together, and joined the force around the same time. When the war started, I got drafted, while he got the chance to stay home and work on his career. After the war, he brought me with him as he rose through the ranks. I was his bag man for the same crooked Tammany Hall machine that got us our jobs. I also handled the occasional dirty job he needed doing. I was Chief Carmichael's Black Hand, and I'd had no complaints.

But when Roosevelt became governor on a reform ticket, Tammany's days were numbered. Carmichael hadn't gotten to be chief by being stupid, and was smart enough to jump sides to become a reformer, too. He needed a scapegoat for corruption in the department, so he stuck his best friend with a pair of goat horns and kicked him to the curb, just to prove how honest he was.

Unfortunately, that best friend was me.

And as much as I enjoyed hearing the old lady run down Carmichael, I tried to keep her focused. "I can't speak to the chief's motives, Mrs. Fairfax, but whatever he did seems to have worked. I've read every article published about your husband's death, and I've never seen suicide mentioned. It hasn't even been hinted at in the gossip columns as a blind item."

"They wouldn't dare," she said. "Neither would any of the ladies who have come here to pay their respects. They have been nothing but gracious and polite and proper, making a grand show of tripping all over themselves to line up and pat my hand; cooing and fussing about how unfortunate it was for me to lose Walter to such a terrible accident. 'Such a shame,'" she mimicked in a high-pitched voice. "'Such an awful, awful shame. Poor, dear Eleanor.'"

Her eyes narrowed as a subtle hardness crept into her voice. "But I know their game all too well, Mr. Doherty. All the time they're acting as though they're comforting me, they're really just studying me like I was something under glass; hoping to see a glimmer of the unspoken truth in my eyes. They're all so wholesome and kind while they're here visiting me, but as soon as they walk out that door and go to their lunches and cocktail parties, their fangs come out. They indulge in their acrimonious gossip, spreading venomous lies about Walter committing suicide. Speculating as to what could have possibly driven such a quiet, unassuming man to do such a thing. The cause inevitably boils down to one reason. Me." She folded her hands on her lap and looked away. "The damnable curs."

I didn't know how much of this was paranoia or anger or grief, but she wasn't rambling. I let her keep talking, and this time I didn't have to fake looking interested. I'd seen my share of families in denial when I was on the force.

Mrs. Fairfax wasn't in denial. She believed.

I watched the lines around her eyes get a little deeper. "I've never been one to abide scandal or pity, and I'm certainly not going to start at this age. Not for my sake, nor for the sake of my children and grandchildren. For more than thirty years I have protected the Fairfax name, and I refuse to allow it to be degraded by unfounded accusations."

Her sharp chin rose a little higher and pointed right at me. "That's why I want to hire you, Mr. Doherty. To put an end to all this speculation once and for all. I want you to prove my husband did not take his own life."

I didn't answer her right away. Mr. Van Dorn had already told me that I'd be taking the case, but I didn't want to lie to her, either. That could've sent her into a rage, and angry widows were bad for business. Mr. Van Dorn might be bankrolling me and feeding me clients, but it was still my name on the business card. That didn't always mean something to me, but it did now.

I said, "I did a lot of digging before I came here today, Mrs. Fairfax. Not just newspaper articles, but I've seen the evidence for myself. I've seen the crime scene photos, too, and I don't know if I can prove what you're asking me to prove."

"I hope it's not a question of money." She made a sweeping gesture to the ornate room where we were sitting. "As you can see, that won't be a problem."

The Park Avenue crowd never failed to disappoint me. They always thought throwing enough money at a problem could do the trick, even when their wealth was often the cause of their problems. "It's not a question of money, but of facts. One of the detectives who worked the crime scene is an old partner of mine. He let me read his initial report, the one he wrote before Chief Carmichael filed his own version. I also talked to the coroner who was at the scene. Both agree that your husband walked into his office that morning, took his gun from his desk, and shot himself. There's absolutely no reason in the world for them to lie or for you to believe otherwise."

Her sharp chin rose even higher. "I believe otherwise, Mr. Doherty, because, as I have already told you, Walter was incapable of suicide. Not that he wasn't a coward, mind you, for Walter Fairfax was most certainly a cowardly man. He simply wasn't considerate enough to kill himself. For had he been a considerate man, he would have done us the favor of ending his own life long ago, freeing the children and me from decades of mediocrity and mendacity."

I admit I didn't know what mendacity meant, but judging by the tone in her voice it didn't sound good. But judging by the mansion I was sitting in and the framed paintings on the walls, mendacity seemed to pay pretty well.

But she'd given me a chance to dig a little deeper below the surface. "I take it that your marriage to Mr. Fairfax wasn't exactly a happy one?"

"Who's happy?" Mrs. Fairfax sniffed. "I surrendered any illusions of happiness or love in our marriage long ago. As far as Walter was concerned, I had served my purpose once I had given him an heir to his family's insurance business. He insisted that we name our son Walter J. Fairfax, III, as if the first two of the name had been worthy of commemoration, which I assure you they were not. Walter's father was an angry, miserable little man who crafted my Walter in his own image."

The widow's narrow shoulders sagged a little as she looked out at the rain streaking down the stained-glass windows of her study. "I had once dreamed of a large family, you know. Four children at the very least. My first child was a daughter, Evelyn. I had hoped that a girl might change Walter, warm him somehow, but I was wrong. Mercifully, my next child was Trip, so for all intents and purposes our marriage died the day my husband got his heir. His legacy secure, my husband was able to dedicate himself to his true love: that damnable company of his. The Fairfax Liability Company. That was some thirty years ago."

Then, just as quickly as her sadness had appeared, Mrs. Fairfax shook it off. The moment of weakness had passed. The armor of society and breeding was back on and she pointed that long chin at me again, offering a grim smile.

"Forgive me for going on like a silly school girl, Mr. Doherty. Rich women have no right to complain. I chose my life. My place in the Fairfax clan had been clearly explained to me by Walter's mother the morning we married. 'Raise the children, run the household, and make sure Walter has everything he needs.' Walter's purpose in life was to make The Fairfax Liability Company a success. The friends we had. The dinners we attended. Even the rare holidays we took. All of it served the solitary purpose of building upon the insurance empire his father had left him. A company I now own. Not my son, Trip. Not any of Walter's brothers. Me. I insisted upon that before we got married. I never wanted to be one of these widows forced to rely on the kindness of her in-laws for subsistence in the event of her husband's demise. His family wanted to make use of my family's name and the benefits it could offer their business, so they eagerly accepted."

Mrs. Fairfax managed a small laugh. "Business was the only thing Walter was ever good at. He got that from his father, too. The only thing that gave the Fairfax men any pleasure, any real sense of accomplishment, was that damned company. God knows they didn't derive much pleasure from their family, except as a mechanism to create more heirs to run their company."

She went on. "I'm telling you all of this, Mr. Doherty, because the Fairfax men are insurance men through and through. Even my son shows all the promise of being every bit as dull as the two Walters who preceded him, despite my best efforts to make him a better man." She looked at me. "Do you know much about insurance, Mr. Doherty?"

"Only that it's expensive."

"More expensive than you know. The lives and fortunes of insurance men are based on calculations and charts and payment schedules that were created on the off chance that something terrible might happen to a policy holder one day. Do you know that they even have charts that can determine how long a policy holder will live based on certain factors? What's even more troubling is how accurate the charts are." That grim smile again. "And that is why, Mr. Doherty, I know my husband did not take his own life."

I thought I'd missed something in her diatribe, but knew I hadn't. "I fail to see the connection, ma'am."

"Because I just told you Walter was an insurance man through and through. Insurance men are not impulsive, emotional souls. They plan everything in advance and leave very little to chance. Walter was no different. In fact, he was the most deliberate human being I have ever known. He would never just kill himself on the spur of the moment. Not without leaving instructions as to how his estate should be handled. Or his business. My God, he would have at least left a suicide note, which, as you must know, he did not."

If I hadn't known so much about her husband's death, I might've given her the benefit of the doubt. But I'd seen too much of the evidence to know she was grasping for something that just wasn't there.

I said, "Sometimes people who take their own lives leave notes behind, but sometimes they don't. I told you that I've read the police report. It contains statements from ten people who work for your husband, who say he was alone in his office with the door closed when he shot himself."

"It could've been staged to look like a suicide," she offered. "What about the windows? Someone could've been hiding in his office, shot him, and then hid in his private bathroom. Or they could have escaped out the window. Or maybe they shot him from a rooftop across the street through an open window."

"His office is on the sixtieth floor of the Empire State Building. There's no rooftop close enough for anyone to have taken a shot at him. There are no ledges and no way out of his office other than the door, which was closed when it happened. And the only fingerprints they found on the gun belonged to your husband."

"But —"

I didn't let her finish. "I was a cop far too long to believe in absolutes, Mrs. Fairfax, but if there was ever such a thing as an open and shut case, I'm afraid this is as close to it as it gets."

"Yes." The bitterness crept back into her voice. "Chief Carmichael made that much clear when he told me how he would change the facts in the case. But it still sounds like a lot of double-talk and circumstantial evidence to me. I don't doubt that you and your friends on the force know all about crime scenes and death, but I knew Walter Fairfax. He had no reason to take his own life."

Mr. Van Dorn had already warned me that convincing her of the truth wouldn't be easy, but I kept trying. "Maybe he'd gotten some bad news about the business. You said the company meant everything to him. These are difficult times, Mrs. Fairfax. Companies fail every day."

"Impossible. Walter may not have been much of a man or a husband or father, but he was an excellent businessman. He worked day and night to ride out the Crash in 1929. His companies have not only weathered the storm, but thrived in its wake. Walter hated surprises. He could not adjust to the unknown, so he worked harder than anyone else to keep surprises to a minimum. Besides, an examination of his holdings proved his companies were doing surprisingly well considering the current economic climate."


Excerpted from "The Fairfax Incident"
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Copyright © 2018 Terrence McCauley.
Excerpted by permission of Polis Books, LLC.
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