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Cold Hillside by Martin Cooper
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Cold Hillside by Martin Cooper

Giles, my sibling, my Mephistopheles. You lie whenever it suits you, but when you lie to me, surely you can take the trouble to make it convincing?

Simon is a professional musician and songwriter. Trader, rogue and amiable bully, Giles, is his brother. He is also a crook. When Giles dies in a car crash, Simon travels back to their childhood home in order to face up to his memories and his own implied complicity in his brother’s intrigues.

The Devil plays all the best tunes.


Two birds are strutting across the grass. One for sorrow, two for… not joy, certainly. These are crows, birds of ill omen, road- side carrion eaters with scabby beaks and a knowing look. One for trouble, two for more trouble. The collie launches itself from the path, its claws scrabbling for a purchase on the gravel, but the birds hop into the air and in a couple of beats lift their dangling feet clear. The dog slows to a canter and circles as the crows drift downwind, then lunges at them again. Still no joy.

The sun is throwing long horizontal shadows across the grass and the chilling air smells of wood smoke and rot. Fallen leaves are already collecting under foot. In the valley below mist is gathering along the river, while the downs rear up again green  and blue on the far side. The path curves away past a clump of birches, towards a parking area half hidden among the trees. A man is leaning against the bonnet of a car. He hears us coming and turns his head. The dog trots up to him, tail fanning furiously, and sniffs his trouser cuffs.

“Mr Coltraine.” Not a question. He knows who he is speaking to. “I‟m DI Randall.”


He produces a leather wallet, flips it open and returns it to his pocket. I pat my own pockets, fumble in my jacket and locate  my reading glasses. I put them on and hold out my hand. He hesitates then takes out his warrant card again and passes it over. The DI‟s ID. Photo booth likeness. Face the camera, chin up: mid-thirties probably; close-cropped hair, greying early; wide- spaced, deep-set pale eyes, the surrounding sockets rather dark. Adam‟s apple sticking out. No spare flesh, skin stretched tight over prominent cheekbones.

“So you are.”

He retrieves the wallet, pockets it.

“You wanted to talk about your brother, Mr Coltraine.”

“I‟ve wanted to talk about my brother for some time. Several of your colleagues have been too busy to do more than go through the motions.”

“Well, I‟m sorry if it has seemed that way, sir. It‟s a question of resources and priorities.”

A car lies upturned in the dark on the grassy verge of a country road. The roof on the driver‟s side has been crushed leaving the machine‟s mud-streaked underside canted at an angle. A wheel spins to a halt and liquid puddles under the engine. Fragments of glass glitter in the beam of one undamaged headlight. Resources and priorities.

But this is nonsense. Imagination. I did not get to see the place until a couple of days after the accident and by that time the remains of the car had been winched onto the back of  a truck and hauled away for scrap. My brother‟s remains likewise.

Even then I was not sure I had the right spot. All I had to go by were a couple of black skid marks on the road. But how many accident sites could there be? I parked my own car opposite and got out for a closer look. There were muddy gouges in the sides of the ditch, a few shards of broken glass and a black patch where oil had soaked into the grass. Not much to mark the passing of a life.

There was some light traffic. A Land Rover slowed and I caught the pale flash of the driver‟s face looking in my direction. Further on it slowed again, did a sudden U turn and rolled back on the opposite side of the road, coming to rest nose to nose with my own car.

That stretch ran dead straight for a couple of miles, flanked by an avenue of beeches, huge mature trees meeting overhead and slicing the sunlight as you drove between them. “B” road, nothing special; the link between two market towns, a bit of a rat run on school days. The chief hazards were unexpected dips every few hundred yards, each one big enough to hide an oncoming lorry.

“Need any help, mate?” The driver of the Land Rover had  got out and was standing by his open door looking across.


“The car. Need any help?”

“Oh. No, no. The car‟s fine. Just stretching my legs. Thanks though.”