Killer G.F. by Russell Richardson

Tom finds out a shocking secret from his girlfriend's past; by Russell Richardson.

In the bedroom, Tom asked Nancy if he could put a framed photo of his childhood dog on her nightstand. "Go ahead, it's your house too now," she said. And later, while hanging shirts in the closet, he asked, "Is it OK that I'm taking this whole side?"

She feigned an annoyed look.

"Sorry," he said, laughing. "Still feels like your space."

In the decade since graduating college, Tom had his own bachelor's apartment while engineering for Lockheed Martin. Nancy's house was much more of a home, with kitten-printed bedroom curtains, ample toiletries, a stocked pantry, and, most novel, tidiness. She was a maternal housekeeper, and Tom was still emotionally adolescent.

Climbing into bed, he said, "Remind me to call about changing my voting location."

"Geez," she said. "I should ask who you intend to vote for." Over three months of dating, they had only discussed politics superficially. Tom avoided the subject, fearing the discovery of an incompatibility that would end their hasty romance. And with their mutual disgust for the current presidential administration, he assumed their inclinations were similar.

Nancy, however, looked surprised when Tom answered, "Whoever will be toughest on crime."



"That's unexpected, is all."

"Don't you agree that crime is a significant problem in our country?" If he looked worried, there was the added freight of having just moved his life into the home of a 33-year-old woman who, until recently, was a stranger.

"Our criminal justice system is exceedingly punitive," she said delicately.

"Exceedingly punitive?" The words upset his stomach. "That's its job."

Nancy sat up and crossed her legs beneath her on the bed. She was looking down at Tom. "What if a young person commits a crime under extenuating circumstances? What's fair punishment?"

Tom raised his hands and sat up to level with her. "You're taking this personally. It's cute. We're having our first fight."

"Cute? This is serious."

"Yes, crime is serious, so I support legislators willing to prevent it." He squinted a little. "Who would you vote for?"

"I can't vote?"

"It's your civic duty. You never registered?"

She shook her head. Her hands gripped her kneecaps. "Do you endorse the death penalty?"

Tom nodded carefully. "In certain circumstances, yes, the punishment should fit the crime. An irredeemable creep should be removed from circulation. This hypothetical about a young person in extenuating -"

"That was me," she said in a fading voice.


Nancy's tongue wet her lips while she scanned the bedsheets. At last, her intense, glassy, sky-blue eyes met his gaze. "I've been waiting for the right moment to explain my past."

Tom had become stone. "Go on."

"I spent five years in prison for killing a man who abused me."

Tom sat completely still. He was shocked by both what she said, and her dispassionate delivery - as rehearsed and lifeless as if she had stated her social security number. "You never mentioned this because...?"

"You don't slip that detail into casual conversation." Her hands began braiding a length of dark hair that had fallen over her shoulder. "He was a boyfriend who became violent over time. One night, he wanted sex, but I didn't. He raped me. I killed him while he slept."

Tom started to say, "I'm sorry," but halted because he wasn't sure he should. Justified or not, she was describing a murder. "What happened next?"

"I turned myself in. They arrested me. There was a trial. The judge gave a lenient sentence, given the circumstances."

"Five years? I'd say," muttered Tom.

"What does that mean?"

"For murder, even in a case like this - five years is light."

She scoffed. "That was long enough. The actual term was nine years, but time was reduced for good behavior. The parole board freed me on my first appearance."

Tom was reeling. He had so many questions, and he knew he was coming across as insensitive. Softening his tone to make himself sound reasonable, he said, "This is a lot to process. But I understand. You were a young woman in a bad situation. How old were you, exactly?"

"Nineteen when it happened," she said, still braiding. "Twenty when I went to jail. Twenty-five when released."

"What about parole?"

"Five more years after that. I've been off paper for three."

"Off paper?"

"Sorry - that's the lingo. Off parole."

Tom whistled through his teeth. His eyes avoided hers. "Did you shoot him?"

Nancy shook her head. "Kitchen knife."

"Jesus," Tom groaned. "That's so much worse."

"I'm sorry," she snapped. She bared her teeth. "I was raped."

He raised his hands again. "I just don't believe five years is exceedingly punitive for a stabbing."

"There weren't multiple stabs," she said. "I stuck the knife in his heart where it belonged."

"Hell, you don't sound remorseful at all."

She paused. She had run out of hair to braid. "I'm not. I defended myself."

He almost said, "You could have fled to a shelter instead," or, "Why did you stay with him so long if he was such a monster," or, "You could have just reported the rape to the police." But he knew that those observations would be considered insensitive. He let silence ring, then said, "I just finished moving in all my stuff."

"I suspected you'd run when you found out," she whispered, and her hands began undoing her braid.

"No," he said. "I mean - I don't know. Ever kill anyone else?"

"No," she said with nearly a laugh because the question caught her off guard.

"Ever considered doing it again?"

"I'm not a murderer, Tom."

He raised an eyebrow, which she ignored.

"I regret I couldn't tell you sooner," she continued. "If you want to move out and break up, I understand."

This presented an opportunity for him to seem noble, and he seized it. He met her wet eyes and embraced her, wrapping her in his arms. "No, I'm sorry," he said with his face pressed against her neck. "I get why you couldn't tell me. I'm sorry that happened to you. And I'm sorry about my reaction."

She trembled, sniffling against his chest. He knew he had said the right things when she called him, "A prince." He supposed he was.

Later, while she slept beside him, Tom's head was a torture box of recursive, unwelcome thoughts. So many questions remained. One question that had dogged him since asking for her phone number was how an attractive, normal woman had reached her mid-thirties without marrying. Now he had the answer. She wasn't normal, after all.

He slipped from the bed and crept to the kitchen for water. He turned on the ceiling light and surveyed the room, which was still largely her space. He tried to glean meaning from the décor on the walls - to draw clues about her psyche. His eyes fell upon a black block of chef's knives that scared him, and he rushed to extinguish the light.

Sliding back under the blankets, he knew he needed more information about Nancy's past, otherwise obsessive fear would substitute the worst ideas for the missing puzzle pieces. He tried to slow his breathing to a normal pace. He considered his next steps.

"Were you thirsty?"

Her whisper in the dark sent his heart into his throat.

"I heard you get up," she murmured, sounding very awake.

He tried to say, yes, he had needed a drink, but the words locked in his throat. She said nothing else, but he felt her watching him.

At work the next day, Tom wasted no time. He had searched for Nancy online before, and today's results were the same: A Facebook link; find-a-person sites; public records about her house, which belonged to her father. Trying a new tactic, he searched the father's name instead. He found an article about an awards dinner in Edwin Kincaid's honor that referenced his two daughters. The first, Helen, Tom knew to be Nancy's sister. But there was no Nancy. The other sister named in the piece was Carol.

So, that was her given name. And a search for that made all the difference.

Richly detailed articles about the Carol Kincaid murder trial occupied Tom's morning. In a few pieces, especially those written early in the trial, the public sentiment seemed to favor the abused woman. Later articles cast more doubt, however. The prosecution compelled Carol's then-best-friend, Dana, to take the stand, to chilling effect. Under oath, she said young Carol had often joked about wanting to kill previous boyfriends and twice threatened to murder her roughneck beau, Joe. Dana claimed she was not surprised to learn that Carol had fulfilled her promise. Nor was the murder weapon a shock. When sharing her fantasies, stabbing was the method Carol favored.

At the trial's conclusion, many prominent characters in the story - prosecutors, victims' family - remarked on Carol's remorselessness. This reminded Tom of the previous night's exchange, and he shivered.

His attention drifted to the ex-best-friend who had testified. He found her social media pages and an email address. She still resided in the city. Tom chewed his lip, and his hands hovered for a minute over the keyboard before he began to compose an email message. "Dear Dana, I'm a reporter working on a follow-up to the Kincaid murder trial. Would you be willing to discuss..."

Dana offered to meet Tom that afternoon.

Tom almost fled the Starbucks three times before she arrived. She entered, on time, and Tom remained skittish - he was about to violate his girlfriend's trust and possibly embarrass himself. He waited for Dana to buy a coffee, then raised a meek hand to flag the woman. Reaching the table, she chuckled.

"Are we playing Cloak and Dagger?" she asked.

"The sunglasses?" He cringed and removed them. "I have light sensitivity."

"And the hat?" she asked, sitting opposite him.

He tugged the brim of his Yankees cap and smiled. "Helps with the light."

Dana unwrapped her scarf. She was pretty with a vanishing bloom of winter on her cheeks.

"Thanks for meeting me," said Tom. "It's been thirteen years since the trial and the paper wants to -"

"What paper?" She sipped her coffee and recoiled from the heat.

"Press and Sun. So, the paper wants to revisit the story -"

"Are you new there?" She cocked her head. "I couldn't find your name on their web site."

"Right, uh," stammered Tom. "I'm an editor, actually, but this is sort of a, uh, special assignment. Good on you for due diligence, though. We should hire you."

Suspicion weighed in the woman's half-mast eyes. "What do you want to know?"

"My questions mostly concern Nancy - or, Carol. I understand she goes by Nancy now."

"Makes sense. It's her middle name."

"Correct. So you testified that Carol had mentioned wanting to kill other boyfriends, before stabbing Joe. Did you honestly take those threats seriously?"

"Some threats were serious, others weren't. Some were, like, I'll kill him if he eats the last Pop-Tart. Others were like, if he comes home tonight, I'll slit his throat. Those I think she meant. Have you interviewed Carol yet?"

"No, actually. I'm hoping to. Now -"

"Do you plan to write anything down?" interrupted Dana, taking an apprehensive sip of her steaming coffee.

"I, uh, forgot my notebook, if you can believe it. But, I have a meticulous memory. Now -"

"Then please don't quote me in your article. I don't trust your meticulous memory."

"Fair enough. Now, do you believe that Nancy, er, Carol's boyfriends were in legitimate danger? Or was Joe a special case?"

"She always picked lousy boyfriends. I mean, just a parade of sad-sack losers. But, Joe's violence pushed her over the edge."

Tom felt his face redden, and he sipped his own coffee. "Come on, she must have dated the occasional good guy."

Dana scowled. "Nope. Losers, to a man. So, are you gonna ask if I believe she is a killer?"

"I was getting to that."

Dana gazed into the distance. "Some folks will never hurt a fly. Some folks are chop 'em up and eat 'em, Dahmer types. Some folks are normal until a line is crossed, and then they can be dangerous, even murderous. Carol is that last type."

"I see," said Tom. His hands spasmed and spilled coffee on the tabletop. While he sopped up the mess with wadded napkins, Dana eyeballed him. "Are you sure you work at the paper?"

"Of course. Why?"

"Let's see some credentials," she said. "To be sure of who I'm talking to."

"No problem. I'll grab my ID from the car. First, just to clarify - you believe she's capable of murder, but only under extreme duress?"

Dana stared at him with her lips pursed.

"ID, sure. OK," said Tom. He stood and collected his jacket and sunglasses. "Back in a jiff," he said and dashed out the door.

Dana watched out the window while Tom's car sped away.

Back at work, Tom sulked behind his office door. Unable to focus on his assignments, he continued scouring the internet for Carol Kincaid. He dreaded returning to the house that night, to be alone with the murderess. When Nancy texted to ask about his day, he proposed they meet at Little Venice for dinner after work. To his relief, she liked the idea.

Their dinner conversation was labored. Neither addressed their awkwardness. Nancy rescued them with gossip about incompetent doctors she endured as a nurse's aide at the hospital. As they finished dessert, Tom brought out his phone, scrolled around, and announced that they had time to catch a romantic comedy playing at the movie theater. Nancy agreed to go, again to Tom's relief.

After the movie, which was neither romantic nor funny, Nancy found Tom's arm stiff when she tried to take it, crossing the parking lot. "What's going on?"

"Huh? Nothing," said Tom, forcing a smile and pulling her close to his side. "I was thinking we could grab a coffee a -"

Nancy withdrew from him. "You're afraid to go home."

"No. Why -"

"Obviously, you're stalling. Funny, I'd expect you to be tired after your busy day."

"Busy day?" he repeated, standing apart from her in an aisle of parked cars and slush.

"Sure, playing detective," said Nancy. She folded her arms over her coat. "Dana Green messaged me out of the blue to warn about a creep who's pretending to be a reporter."

"Dana Green?"

Nancy made a sour face.

"Alright," said Tom, thrusting his hands into the air. "So, I did. Can you blame me? I mean it's not every day you discover your girlfriend is a -" he lowered his voice and scanned for listeners "- a murderer."

Taken aback, Nancy said, "I can't believe you impersonated a -"

"What was I supposed to do?" he yelled.

"Trust me! Or don't, and leave. But, for God's sake, don't be a coward snooping around my past." She stepped back to let a car pass between them, and then let the gap remain. "I apologize for not disclosing my history sooner. But by the time I realized I loved you, it felt too late. I didn't want to jeopardize us." At last, she approached him. "But we can't proceed with distrust and sneaky behavior."

"I agree," said Tom, contorting his facial features, unsure of his emotions.

"Let's go home," she said and held him by the shoulders. "I'll make hot cocoa, and we'll lay all our secrets bare. We'll share every skeleton in the closet with each other, OK? No secret left unturned. Then, maybe we can trust each other."

Tom waited a moment, then smiled, and now they were both relieved.

They faced each other from either end of the couch in her - no, their - living room. Both had their legs tucked up underneath them and drank mugs of cocoa while merry divulging their gnarliest secrets.

She told about putting gum in her sister's hair.

He admitted to stealing from the cash register at his first summer job.

She cheated on math tests.

As a teenager, he smoked pot out his bedroom window.

They went on and on for an hour.

She'd become pregnant at seventeen, but miscarried.

He'd pulled a prank at school and stood by while a friend got blamed and suspended.

She punched a girl after a drunken party, just to experience a fight.

He falsified expense reports for business trips.

She'd had sex in cemeteries.

He once smeared peanut butter on his scrotum and let a Labradoodle lick it off.

She had been in a threeway.

"Whoa, whoa, whoa," interrupted Tom. "Who was the lucky dude?"

"Dudes," Nancy corrected from over her cup.

Tom's face fell open. "What? You were with two guys at once?"

"Yes, in a threesome." Nancy squinted, wary of his sudden tonal shift. "That upsets you?"

"Disgusts me," said Tom, putting his mug down hard upon the coffee table.

Nancy decided he was pulling her leg. "Yeah, OK."

"I'm serious." Disoriented, Tom rose to his feet and began pacing the room. "I can't believe what you said."

"We're sharing our secrets," reminded Nancy. She drew her knees to her chest. "You thought that was a good idea."

"I wasn't expecting that!" bellowed Tom. "Who are you?"

"Don't you dare judge my past mistakes, Mr. I-Let-The-Family-Dog-Lick-My-Balls."

Tom spread his arms while he paced. "Those things are light years apart. Two men at the same time, Jesus." He wagged a finger at her. "You are a slut."

"Excuse me?" Nancy straightened up. Livid splotches had sprouted on her face. "You have no authority to judge me. And why is murdering someone permissible, but not a threesome? It was just sex!"

"No one said permissible. It was forgivable, given the circumstances. But, two men? At once? I can't abide that, you... you're a slut."

"Screw you!" screamed Nancy as Tom stormed off to the bedroom. After a moment, she came in pursuit. Tom had grabbed one of the cardboard boxes stacked in the corner, and into it began emptying his things from the closet. He grunted, and swore, and spat gibberish. She stood at the doorway and laughed once, bitterly. "Are you serious right now?"

Tom threw down a full box and picked up another. He began yanking his underwear from their shared dresser - her dresser. His back was curved to her as he hunched over the box, trying to squeeze more in. Raving, he barely registered her presence. "I can't believe this! What a slut! Can't live with a slut like that! Two men at once! Inside her! Slut! Whore!"

Nancy listened until she had heard enough. Then she went to the kitchen for a knife.


  1. I love how you keep teasing the the reader's sympathies with this story. At the start it could be any relationship where we dance around each other's core beliefs, seeing where we fit. You kept me guessing where this was going right to the end.

  2. Yeah, I could see it coming. Good ending (Well, not so good for Tom, I guess).

  3. Wow was Tom ever clueless... He seemed more upset about the threesome than about Nancy murdering her ex. Personally I'd be out the door before you could say 'knife' after her first revelation, even before his chat with Dana and his internet search. Nancy must have had some amazing positive attributes, if he moved in after only three months, though they weren't mentioned.Ironically, he was pro death penalty, but maybe not for calling his girlfriend nasty names. A cautionary tale though to me also kind of funny because of Tom's cluelessness and his reporter antics.

  4. Dana warned Tom about crossing lines...wake up man!! It was pretty clear to me where this was headed, for me the fun was trying to anticipate how we'd get there. The scene that played out at the end definitely wasn't one of the scenarios I'd guessed at...probably because I thought Tom was still too scared of Nancy to engage in such beratement.

  5. Wow. I didn’t expect that ending. Great writing through the whole story. It’s so clear and some wonderful writing here. I loved the ending.

  6. Oh, I can't say I was surprised by the was clear that this relationship was going to end bad and it definitely did. Entertaining story.