Five to Five
Much had been risked, and the murderer had escaped by such a rare combination of chances.
When elderly, unpleasant Simon Ewing was bludgeoned in his maisonette, and a stranger was seen exiting the building by several of the residents. The murderer had entered—and escaped—in just a few minutes when invalid Ewing was left unattended, implying that someone knew the movements of both his household and the neighbours.
Who would run such a risk in a building with multiple comings and goings?
Robbery appears to be the motive, but why was only one ring taken from Ewing’s secret hoard of valuable jewellery? A second death leads Detective-Inspector Woods to untangle exactly who was where in the crucial minutes before the murder.
Five to Five draws its inspiration from a notorious unsolved murder in Glasgow – the Slater Case of 1909 – and creates an alternative fictionalised account of what might have happened.
By D. Erskine Muir
Introduction by Curtis Evans, vintage crime historian
First published in 1934 by Methuen & Co Ltd, London
Available November 2021
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Chapter I The Watcher
The rain slanted down, quietly and steadily. It was cold, and the man standing in the street shifted uneasily from one foot to the other. He had been standing there for some little time, his back
pressed against the railings of the area of the empty house. Now he moved slowly along the dripping pavement, glancing up and down as he slouched along, collar turned up, hands in pockets.
The rain-soaked street was silent and deserted. Only a subdued roar of traffic from the great main road, some little distance away, echoed through the air. No traffic passed along this quiet backwater. Situated in Kensington, not far from the chief shopping area, it was yet extraordinarily isolated.
The houses were of the familiar London brick, once pale yellow, now dark. Originally built as large family houses, they were now mostly split up into flats or maisonettes. The road was a short one, curving away from the spot where the watcher stood. He had been loitering between two houses, one empty, the other with a brass plate which bore the name “Dr. Ainslie”. Opposite to him a street lamp shone across the wet road. Its light fell upon the entrances to the flats behind it, forming part of a block of converted houses. Actually the three or four at that end of the street belonged to the “Residential Hotel” at the corner. The proprietress there, who had made a success of her business, had bought up the adjoining houses and turned them into good flats, which were served from her hotel, and had a passage built on at the back communicating with her restaurant.
The man in the raincoat turned at the sound of a motor coming round the corner behind him. It was Dr. Ainslie’s car, and, as if anxious to avoid being seen, the watcher went hurriedly up the steps of an entrance beyond and vanished under the portico. This belonged to a set of self-contained flats, and in consequence the main door into the hall was open.
Standing within and glancing back, the man saw that the doctor, instead of stopping in front of his own house, was drawing up at the one where he himself was sheltering, and was
evidently intending to pay a visit within. After a moment’s hesitation, the man, clearly wishing to avoid a meeting with the doctor, began to ascend the staircase. He paused on
the first landing, but hearing the doctor’s quick footsteps beginning to mount behind him, went on up the next flight.
The doctor halted on the first floor; a pause, and then came the faint sound of a bell trilling in one of the flats. The man above stood still, listening and waiting. From his position now it chanced that he could see out of the window, which, facing towards the street, lit up the staircase at the turn. He stared out.
Across the dusk a light shone brightly. It came from one of the flats on the opposite side of the road. A room on the first floor had been left with blinds undrawn. The interior showed
as a lit-up stage shines across the dark auditorium. From the street level no view into this room had been possible, but from his present position the watcher could look down and across and see everything within. Stepping to the window, he leant his arms on the sill and gazed eagerly out.
Three long windows faced him. They gave a clear view into a very beautiful room, contrasting rather sharply with the drab exterior of the buildings. Tall glass-fronted cabinets were ranged against soft green walls; a few large pieces of oriental china were placed here and there. A great copper bowl filled with pink and white lilies took up the whole of a table near the windows. Mirrors in lacquer frames gleamed on the few spaces left on the walls between the cabinets, and a big lacquer screen apparently stood before the door. On the hearth a fire of sea-logs sent off those bright blue flames which are advertised as a special attraction by firms of ship-breakers. The light sparkled into the room and was reflected back by the shining objects with which
the cabinets were filled.
In a big arm-chair with an invalid’s foot-extension, drawn up close to the hearth, sat a man. He had white hair and, as far as could be seen, a pale, thin, waxen face. He had a special sort of baize-covered board in front of him, resting on the arms of the chair. This was evidently used as a writing-table, for some sheets of paper were scattered on it, and he held something in his hand which appeared to be a pen, for as the watcher looked on he began to write. A tall standard lamp in a beautiful oriental design was placed close to the arm-chair. The light, falling softly downwards, showed quite clearly the glint of his white head bending forward over his papers.
The fireplace was in the middle of the wall to the left of the watcher. Between it and the window stood a bureau, with a tall open top, consisting of two doors, folded
back now and showing an elaborate arrangement of small drawers and pigeonholes. On the rug before the hearth knelt a girl, whose fair hair caught the gleam of the flickering flames. She was busily picking up something from the floor. Her hands moved backwards and forwards, seeming to tidy with swift movements.
Presently she rose, and pressed whatever she had collected in her hands down into a waste-paper basket standing by the corner of the hearth. She walked across the room and disappeared behind the screen. Presently she reappeared, now wearing a waterproof, and pausing in front of one of the mirrors began to adjust her beret. The elderly man laid down
his pen and turned towards her. From the depths of his arm-chair he fished up some small packet which he held out towards the girl.
She took it, but with a curious stiff little gesture, and with a perceptible pause of hesitation. The man then pulled from his breast-pocket a wallet and handed the girl what was clearly money in the shape of bank-notes. The girl put this and the little packet into her hand-bag, and then, turning away, began to pick up a number of parcels from a chair which was out of the range of sight from the window.
Both girl and man glanced towards the mantelpiece. Following an imperious gesture from the old man, the girl, awkwardly balancing the pile of parcels on one arm, stepped towards the tall windows, and with her free hand began to pull the cords which worked the curtains. Slowly as she tugged, the heavy folds began to slip across the lighted spaces. She went from one window to the other, until finally, again with that faint reminiscence of the theatre, the last fold swung into place, and the bright interior was shut away.
The watcher opposite still did not stir, but stood motionless and intent. Presently the front door across the street opened. The girl came out and stood to open her umbrella beneath the big portico. Then, running down the steps, she turned to her right and went swiftly down the street.
At this very moment the watcher was startled by a sudden outburst of voices coming from below.
“Very well, I’ll run up, doctor, and see if Miss Stack would let me use her telephone,” and hasty steps could be heard mounting the stone staircase towards the landing. Instantly the man turned, and began with great speed to go up still higher. On the floor above two doors faced him, one on either hand, giving access to the small two-roomed apartments at this, the top of the house. The farther one had a card pinned on it: “Mr. Hetherington”, Hastily crossing to it and keeping his back towards the person coming up behind him, the man pressed the bell, and while the woman was knocking and ringing with agitation at the nearer door he found himself confronted by a tall, burly figure wearing an artist’s overall.
“Mr. Finlay?” he inquired in a rather low, husky voice. “Certainly not,” retorted the artist. “Can’t you read?” pointing to the card fixed to the centre of the door by a drawing-pin.
“Sorry, I was told Mr. Finlay lived here,” mumbled the watcher.
“Well, he doesn’t; and the man who was here before wasn’t called Finlay either. I’ve only moved in a couple of weeks, but the fellow before me was MacNaughton. You’ve come to the wrong block,” andwith these words, snapped over his shoulder, the peppery occupier of Flat 5 bounced back into his passage-hall, slamming the door in the inquirer’s face.
By now, however, the agitated lady had been admitted to the opposite flat and the coast was clear. The watcher began to make his way down the staircase. He had hardly passed the lower landing, when he heard the door of the flat open, and the doctor’s voice was audible, in the preliminaries of departure.
“Well, I must be off now, I’m afraid. I’ve an urgent case waiting. But the nurse will do all that’s needed, and I’ll look in again on my way home to dinner.”
Hastening ahead, the man in the raincoat reached the front door. Slipping out, he glanced cautiously round, and as he did so a big clock in some nearby tower began to boom out its deep chimes. It was five o’clock, and as the heavy notes died away trembling through the damp air the man ran very hurriedly down the staircase and vanished into the rain.