The Art of Murder

Novel Excerpt
The Art of Murder
By Maggie Giles

My cigarette bounced across the asphalt, sparking each time it hit the ground. From where I stood, I could still see Courtney. A worried expression on her porcelain face, cellphone pushed tightly to her ear, practically hidden by her flaming red hair. She climbed into her car and sped down the street without another glance in my direction. I could guess what was causing her distress but found myself unable to focus on her trials today.

I couldn’t get Vanessa’s lifeless eyes out of my mind. I’d barely slept the night before, too coked up and wired from the deadly events, and when I’d managed a bit of shut-eye, my dreams were plagued with Vanessa’s gentle touch and the image of her blood creeping across the floor. I reached up, running my finger across the new silver star stud earring in my second piercing.

Then, I grabbed my phone, shooting Courtney a quick text to make sure everything was okay. I didn’t expect an answer so when my phone buzzed, I was pleasantly surprised. That was until I read Dean’s name and the short words accompanying it.

Be at my place by 8. We have to talk.

Did someone find the body? Or was Dean slowly becoming more unhinged? I was certain if Vanessa’s rotting corpse had been found I would have heard about it. Either from Courtney—her cop fiancé was a terrible gossip—or the local news. There hadn’t been a word.


I glanced up at the sound of her familiar voice as Savannah wheeled down the sidewalk towards me. I ignored Dean’s message, shoving the phone in my pocket.

“Yeah?” I tried to keep the disdain from my voice. I’d grown tired of Savannah’s company shortly after Courtney befriended her. The accident that paralyzed her had garnered sympathy from the entire town and had been in the headlines for weeks. They never caught the guy. They never would.

She pulled up beside me and looked up at me with narrow eyes. “You need to clean up. Courtney is counting on you.”

I rolled my eyes and turned away from her. “You don’t need to worry about me and Courtney.”

“I’m not worried about you,” Savannah said, wheeling to catch up with me. “I’m worried about her.

Her. I didn’t think of Courtney. I thought of Vanessa. The woman I couldn’t get out of my mind. Her blood, the way her dead eyes stared at me as if they saw right through me. The way her fair skin looked paler as the blood flowed from her head wound. I thought of the metal stench warm and sticky on my fingers and the way I wanted to caress her lifeless face. The strange sensation was foreign to me but felt so right.

“Alexa?” Savannah said, eyeing me with scrutiny.

I shook my head free of the images. “I said I don’t need you to worry about me and Courtney. I’ve got this.”

I turned on my heel and walked away from her, my pace quick, hopeful she would take the hint and leave me alone.

“You’re going to lose her if you’re not careful,” Savannah called after me.

I didn’t turn around. I’d never lose Courtney. I knew too much.

I turned down the path to my dad’s following the ravine that led the way to the harbour and the bay. Watching the flowing water, I was immediately transported back to Toronto after my tenth birthday. The first time I’d ever seen a dead body.

I’d been standing at my bedroom window, listening to my parents scream at each other on the floor below. I scurried upstairs the moment dad returned home and mom threw the glass she was holding at him. I never knew why they fought, only that sometimes they did.

It was a hot summer afternoon, and the wailing sirens drew my attention, distracting me from the shitstorm brewing in my own home.

The uniformed officers piled out of their car, descending into the wide ravine that ran behind our house. When the body was pulled from its watery grave, I wasn’t even certain it was human. The ashen skin and grotesque, bloated corpse looked more like a monster from my nightmares than a once living person. Even at ten I’d been fascinated by the story, curious about the circumstances and the way the corpse decomposed with the elements around it.

I wondered how Vanessa’s corpse was fairing buried in the shallow grave. Had her thin limb begun to stiffen? Had magots burrowed their way into her open wound? I tried not to imagine her once beautiful face gnarled and frozen from the rigor mortis that had no doubt set in.

This death was different then what I’d experienced before. I was so close to this one. Vanessa was only inches from me when she met her end. Her body still warm as I scrubbed it clean of any evidence.

I wondered when Vanessa would be found lost in the cornfield. When she’d start to smell strong enough someone would go investigate. Or maybe the coyotes would find her first.

Would someone eventually realize she was gone and notify the police? Did she have family? Friends? I knew nothing about her life. Not even her last name. The idea frightened and fascinated me at the same time. What an uncomfortable feeling.

My phone buzzed again pulling me from my thoughts. Another text from Dean. Only question marks. My hands shook as I tucked it away again without response. I should answer him if only to try and get another bump to shake off this awful withdrawal. Even as I thought it, a strange sensation told me it wouldn’t be enough. That it would never be enough again. I wanted something else now.

A light summer wind rustled my loose hair and I reached up to tame it. Courtney looked at me like I was a complete drug addict. If only she knew the truth. Though I supposed it would have put us on even ground. She owed me a life-changing secret after all.

By the third text from Dean I answered, telling him I was still with Courtney and I’d get back to him when I could. After he didn’t message me. This time he got to ignore me. Dean was awfully petty sometimes.

I reached my condo after a forty-minute walk and hesitated before entering. My dad had been out cold on the couch when I’d left and dealing with him was the last thing I wanted. I’d grown tired of supporting his habits. The disability barely covered the rent. My income supplemented our lives.

I’d considered moving out years ago, giving up on him and finding my own life away from the trauma we’d both seen. He was the only family I had left. Even with all the bad, I wasn’t ready to cut ties with the only person who’d ever loved me without condition. Even if he was far from that man now.

The stench of stale booze and musky air invaded my senses as I pushed the door open. Strong enough to make me stop and gasp for air. There sitting in the main room was my dad. Upright, looking haggard with his unshaven face, messy hair and bloodshot eyes. He lifted his head to acknowledge me then shifted his gaze back to the TV. The sounds of muffled voices accompanied his loneliness. The newscasters; his only real friends.

“You look like shit.” I kicked off my shoes.

“Be nice, Lex.” Dad said, his voice raspy. He didn’t look my way again.

“It’s not like you’ll remember it anyway.” I stomped across the room and swiped his cigarette pack from the table, stealing a dart and lighting up. He reached out as I discarded the remaining ones, taking one and doing the same. Then he patted the couch beside him. I didn’t take the seat.

“Where have you been?”

“Out.” I blew out a long puff of smoke as I turned away from him.

“Not the delinquent again, I hope.”

I rolled my eyes at Dad’s preferred nickname for Dean. “Don’t pretend you care.”

“You know I care.”

I ignored him as I turned for the stairs.

“Where are you going?” He called after me.

I didn’t look back.

<<<End of Excerpt>>>

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