Russell Hatler
Kasie Evans

“I don’t think it’s ever going to happen,” said Ralph dejectedly. “The website business, I mean. I think I’m a really good website designer, but I totally suck at marketing. In four and a half years I’ve only gotten contracts to build a handful of websites, not counting the ones I did for free, and the customer for the last one stiffed me on the balance of my fee once the website was up and running. Are you gonna eat that other piece of toast?”

Norbert “Ralph” Gleason and his girlfriend, Heather Marsh were sitting at the kitchen table, discussing Ralph’s long term career objectives. Heather had scrambled some eggs with a couple slices of that delicious rosemary ham and Ralph had toasted three slices of raisin bread. Even though Ralph and Heather weren’t exactly married they’d been living together five years and considered themselves to be in a committed relationship.

“You can have it,” said Heather. “If you shut down your website stuff, what do you want to do with the third bedroom? We took this place because you needed an office for your business. We don’t need another bedroom. I’m not pregnant or anything and your mother died three years ago so she won’t be moving in. My folks moved to Florida, and they aren’t coming back. Are you saying you want to look for another apartment?”

“Oh God no,” said Ralph. “I like where we live now. It’s close to everything and the neighbors are nice. No, I was thinking we could look for a roommate to share expenses.”

“Well, we sure could use the extra cash,” said Heather. “I make minimum wage doing data entry at Mako up in Henderson. Your day job at Dick’s Sporting Goods pays the rent but not a whole lot more. Groceries these days cost an arm and a leg. And I haven’t bought me any new clothes in a long time. Not complaining, you understand. But I’m certainly not opposed to the idea. How do we get started on the roommate hunt?”

“I came across this website called Share Your Space the other day,” said Ralph. “We post an ad for a roommate on their website specifying stuff like preferred gender, age, whatever, and they promise to send us fully qualified prospects. Their fee is 8% of the first year’s rent, so for all practical purposes they collect the first month’s rent for doing the legwork. If we don’t find a roommate there’s no charge. What do you think?”

“I think it’s a great idea,” said Heather, getting up and clearing the table. “Let’s discuss the particulars tonight. I’ve got to get going or I’ll be late for work.”

After dinner that evening (Spaghetti Bolognese: delicious!) they went into Ralph’s office and sat down to discuss the plan.

“I’ve identified four major characteristics I think we need to agree on for the candidate,” said Ralph. “Gender, Attitude, Educational Background and Sexual Orientation. Can you think of anything else?”

“Gender’s easy,” said Heather. “She should be female, of course.”

“I agree,” said Ralph. “But why the ‘of course’ stuff? Quite honestly, I thought you’d balk at the competition.”

“Competition for what?” asked Heather. “This isn’t about vying for your attention as cock of the walk. We’re picking somebody who can contribute to the budget. Besides, our personal safety is at risk here and I’ve never heard of a female serial killer.”

“Done,” said Ralph. “How about attitude?”

“She needs to be a cockeyed optimist,” said Heather with a grin. “To maintain a semblance of balance around here. God knows you’ve been hard enough to live with these past few months.”

“I’ve been going through a rough patch,” muttered Ralph. “Let’s not make this about you and me.”

“Education?” asked Heather. “At least a couple years of college. How about sexual orientation? Why is that so important?”

“Well, we’re both straight so I naturally assumed another straight person would make the best fit.”

“Your cousin Eddy’s gay and I absolutely adore him,” said Heather.

“Eddy’s who I had in mind,” said Ralph. “Eddy’s a fuss budget. He makes me nuts when he comes over.”

“That’s because you’re anal,” laughed Heather. “Sorry. You seem to be forgetting the most important qualification. She needs to have a job. And pass a cursory background check. I think it said that in the lease. If somebody new comes here to live with us, they have to pass muster.”

“I’ll post the ad tomorrow,” huffed Ralph. “And I’m not anal.”

The first week seven candidates responded to their Share Your Space ad. The Share Your Space preliminary vetting process needed some work. Two of the “fully qualified” candidates were living at home with their parents and didn’t have jobs, three others had already found a place by the time Ralph got in touch. Of the remaining two only Katherine Morgan returned Ralph’s phone call. Sarah McNutt couldn’t be bothered. Ralph invited Katherine over for dinner on Monday. She said she’d love to. And please call her Kat.

Kat showed up wearing a flowered silk blouse and a tight black leather skirt. She was tall and slender but nicely endowed up top. Ralph noticed those things. Kat brought along a bottle of red wine. It was an excellent red, despite having a screw top. Both Ralph and Heather were favorably impressed. Heather made her signature Spaghetti Bolognese which evinced sighs of contentment from Kat. After dinner they took the remainder of the bottle of wine into the living room to talk turkey. They all sat down on the dark brown leather sofa with Kat in the middle. Kat reached into her purse and pulled out a second bottle of the red.

“Just in case you liked it,” Kat said, setting it down carefully on the brass and glass coffee table. “I was pretty sure you would. It’s my favorite.”

Ralph emptied the remains of the first bottle of red into Heather and Kat’s glasses, opened the second bottle and poured himself a glass. He had a good feeling about this. Kat was smart and personable. She was a beauty too. Ralph had noticed Heather subtly appraising Kat during dinner. It said on Kat’s application she was thirty-nine and worked during the day as a grocery store clerk at the Food Lion. Maybe a roommate was exactly what they needed to spice up the relationship. Or maybe that was the wine talking.

“Dinner was delicious, Heather,” said Kat. “Do you have professional training as a chef, or did you learn it all at your mother’s knee?”

“My mother taught me all I know about cooking,” said Heather, blushing furiously. “But thanks for the compliment.”

“She must be very proud of you,” smiled Kat, taking a sip of her wine.

“She might be now but that wasn’t always the case,” said Heather with a frown. “There was a time when I’m sure she didn’t want anyone to know I was her daughter.”

“Come on, sweetheart,” said Ralph. “That was years ago.”

“No, let her talk,” said Kat. “I really want to know.”

“Mom and Dad always wanted me to go into nursing,” continued Heather, taking a generous sip of wine. “Dad was a country doctor up near Henderson and Mother was his receptionist. This was before I was born. They also wanted a son but that’s a different story. When I was a senior in high school, I read an article about the Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing program at Duke. That sounded perfect, but first I had to get an undergraduate degree, so I enrolled as an English major at NC State in Raleigh. When I left home for college, my folks were tickled pink. Unfortunately, I fell in with the wrong crowd and washed out my sophomore year. You know, shit happens.”

“That’s where we met,” explained Ralph. “Heather was a waitress at Randy’s New York Pizza Parlor, and I was taking IT courses part time at Wake Tech.”

“I was also doing body rubs on the side,” said Heather. “That’s where we really met. Ralph was one of my clients.”

“Now, sweetheart we were destined to meet eventually,” said Ralph, reaching across Kat’s lap to pat Heather’s hand. “I’m sure of it. But seeing you naked was definitely a motivating factor.”

“Anyhow Ralph coaxed me out of the game, we fell in love and moved in together and that’s the whole story,” said Heather. “Now Ralph’s an assistant manager at Dick’s Sporting Goods and I’m a data entry clerk for Mako Medical in Henderson.”

“You’re a cute couple,” said Kat, taking a deep breath. “Since we’re letting it all hang out, I should probably tell you I’m a widow. My husband, Franklin, died nine years ago. He had his own business. Frank was an architect by trade. He worked for one of the big firms in Durham. You probably haven’t heard of them. They did mostly government contracts. I’m telling you this because I really like it here and I don’t want any misunderstandings down the road. If you decide to invite me to share your space, I want you to know I bring along a bit of baggage.”

“Not a problem, Kat,” said Heather, stroking the back of Kat’s hand. “It must’ve been quite a shock.”

“There’s more,” said Kat, shaking her head. “The police were called. They said it was murder.”

“Oh my God,” said Ralph softly. “What happened?”

“You have to understand something,” said Kat, putting her glass of wine down on the coffee table. “Frank and I had been going through a rough patch. He worked all hours of the day and night, trying desperately to make a name for himself. We lived in a lovely two-story house with a pool. I’m not proud of it but I’m afraid the guy who serviced the pool also started to service me. Dana was his name. God he was gorgeous. Anyhow one thing led to another. Frank came home early one night and caught me and Dana in flagrante delicto, as they say. We’d been upstairs in the guest bedroom doing lines. I expected Frank to be furious, but the truth is he stripped down and joined us, coke and all. Turned out old Frank was a wanna be bisexual under the covers. He’d just never come out of the closet.”

Ralph topped off all three glasses of wine. He glanced at Heather. She seemed fascinated by Kat’s lurid narrative.

“Go on,” urged Ralph. “It must’ve been something of an epiphany.”

“I’ll say it was,” said Kat, taking a big gulp of her wine. “But kinda beautiful at the same time. You know what I mean? It was like a feast of the senses, and I was the main dish. Except when they were doing each other I mean but then I was treated to a visual demonstration you wouldn’t believe. I don’t want to offend your sensibilities but two men rutting and grunting while the wife looks on is incredibly stimulating.”

Ralph looked over at Heather. Heather was loving it. He thought he heard Heather let out a little moan.

“Frank got up and left the room,” continued Kat. “Dana wasn’t finished, God, he was insatiable. I was helping him with my mouth when we heard a crash. Frank had fallen down the stairs and lay in a heap at the bottom, buck-ass naked. We got dressed and dialed 911 but Frank was dead by the time the ambulance arrived. The cops got there about the same time. They questioned Dana and me but there wasn’t much we could add. Three weeks later they arrested me and Dana.”

Kat took another gulp of her wine. She had a drawn expression on her face. Ralph replenished Kat’s wine. Then he poured the rest of the bottle into his glass. Heather was doing fine.

“Long story short, I was sent to the women’s detention center in Raleigh to await trial,” said Kat softly. “Dana and I were each other’s alibis, but the cops weren’t buying it. I should’ve mentioned the fact earlier that Dana’s black. That didn’t work in his favor. My charges were eventually dismissed because there was insufficient evidence to convict, but Dana was charged and convicted of first-degree murder. He swore he was innocent. Didn’t matter. They sent him to the Nash County Correction Center where he’s currently serving a life sentence. And that’s who I really am. I don’t suppose you’ll want me as a roommate after this. I should be going. Thank you for a lovely evening.”

“Sit down, sweetheart,” said Heather, pulling Kat back down on the sofa. “In the first place you shouldn’t be driving after all that wine. In the second place I can’t imagine going through all that and still being able to hold your head up high. And in the third place I’m fascinated by something you said. About Frank being a closet bisexual and all. Ralph’s probably gonna lose his shit and maybe I’ve had a teensy bit too much wine myself, but you’ve been honest with us, and I want to be honest with you. I’ve always wondered what it’d be like to make love to a woman.”

Ralph was flabbergasted. Kat not so much.

“Funny you should ask,” smiled Kat. “While I was in the women’s detention center, we didn’t have much choice when it came to sexual partners. I don’t want to brag but I got to be pretty good at eating pussy.”

“Would you mind showing me?” asked Heather shyly. “I’m sure Ralph wouldn’t mind.”

“Better than that,” said Kat, squeezing Ralph’s hand. “Ralph can join us. I think we’ve all had enough wine to sufficiently lubricate the process.”

It turned out Kat had a surprisingly talented tongue for a grocery clerk. Heather was an eager initiate. And Ralph was a happy guy.

The next morning, they tumbled out of the king size bed and went their separate ways. Before they parted, they all agreed that an ongoing relationship was a definite possibility. The rent wasn’t due for another three weeks on Ralph and Heather’s apartment and Kat said she had to give notice at her current address. Meanwhile another get-acquainted dinner date was set for the following Monday evening. In case they’d left anything out.

That evening at dinner Heather was awfully quiet.

“What’s the matter, sweetheart?” asked Ralph. “I thought last night went particularly well.”

“I just wish you hadn’t told her about our retirement account,” said Heather. “I mean I trust Kat and all, but I don’t think it’s a good idea to brag about it. You know what I mean?”

“I wasn’t bragging about it,” said Ralph defensively. “After all she told us some amazing details about her private life. I wanted to tell her something in return. It isn’t exactly a secret. When mother died, she left me her entire estate which amounted to $50,000 and change. I cashed it all in and bought bit coins. You didn’t think that was wise. In fact, if you recall that was our first real fight. Then bit coins went up, I cashed out at the peak, and we ended up with $450,000 which I invested in a mutual fund for our retirement. End of story. Maybe it was the wine doing the talking. I had more than my share.”

“Well, maybe it’s okay,” admitted Heather. “After all it’s where nobody but us can get to it. Isn’t that so?”

“Sure is, sweetheart. Trust me. So, stop worrying.”

The following Thursday evening at 5:45 Kat Morgan was sitting patiently in her 2003 Honda Civic outside her room at the Raleigh Inn waiting for Dana’s phone call. Kat didn’t really have a day job at the Food Lion, although what she’d told Ralph and Heather wasn’t precisely a lie. She had worked at a local Food Lion not that long ago. She was discreetly dismissed when several mysterious discrepancies showed up on her cash register transaction history. Nobody could prove there was a problem, but it appeared Kat’s cash register had recorded ten times as many individual item refunds as any other register in the store during the previous week.

HR did a belated background check and came across her arrest record in Orange County. Not for the murder, that was old news. Besides she’d never been convicted, and that record had been automatically expunged. No, the offense for which she was charged had to do with a non-violent misdemeanor at the Durham Walmart where she was arrested for shop lifting. Kat claimed she was taking a belated employee-discount on several articles of clothing by virtue of her status as an unpaid employee at the self-checkout register. The charges were eventually dismissed but they were never expunged.

Kat’s room at the Raleigh Inn was both her abode and her workplace. Kat played for pay during most afternoons and on occasion into the wee small hours of the morning. She didn’t want Dana to call her in the room because she was sure the phone was bugged. Kat was nobody’s fool. Her cellphone rang. After proceeding through the rigamarole that precedes inmate connection with the outside world, Dana answered at his end.

“Hey Babe, how you doing?”

“Good, baby, how about you?”

“Can’t complain given the circumstances. You put anything on my book this week? I’m running short on toothpaste.”

Dana’s “book” was his Inmate Trust Fund Account. Kat replenished Dana’s book on a weekly basis. It never seemed to be enough for his “toothpaste” needs!

“I did this morning, baby. Check out the balance. Got some good news. You’re gonna love it!”

“What happen, Babe? You win the Lotto?”

“Better than that, baby. I think we hit the motherfucking jackpot!”

“Give me details, Babe, but do the short version. We only got fifteen minutes.”

Kat related her Monday evening visit with Ralph and Heather, omitting the salacious details of their postprandial romp.

“You recall Mike Peterson?” asked Kat. “You asked me to do the research. Mike did time at Nash. He was supposed to be a lifer, but they released him on time served after eight years. Mike’s lawyers advised him to submit an Alford Plea. HBO did a series about it. Problem with us is we ran out of cash before we ran out of options. Frank only left a hundred thou insurance and that got eaten up before your case went to trial. You been telling everyone you’re innocent, right? That’s the deal with an Alford plea. You continue to insist you’re innocent, but you’re willing to plead guilty to a lesser charge. Here’s the bulletin. My boy Ralph got $450 big ones tucked away in a mutual fund. That number pays a lot of legal fees to get the wheels of justice turning. I think I can crack Ralph’s safe. Trust me on this one, baby.”

“Good news, Babe. We coming up on eight years’ time served next June. Shit, I can hold my breath that long. Pursue the plan, Babe. Don’t tell me till it’s done. Love you, Babe. Chat next week.”

Friday morning at 10:35 Ralph received a text from Kat.

Good morning Ralph even though I hardly know you there’s something about Heather I need to share. I’m a busybody by nature and it has more than once gotten me into trouble. Sometimes I poke my nose in where it doesn’t belong but I detest people who lie to me. After I got home from our late Monday night/early Tuesday morning tryst I used an app I found on the dark web to explore Heather’s background. She’s not who she pretends to be Ralph. I won’t say more until I have confronted her directly. After all I may be totally wrong but I don’t want to see you hurt. I’ve grown fond of you since our encounter. Intimacy does that to me. As an aside you have a magnificent cock, sir, and I look forward to once again partaking of its delightful nectar come Monday. You will come again Monday for me I trust? Be gentle with me my handsome stranger. I fear I may be falling in love.

Ralph was on his coffee break in his office at Dick’s Sporting Goods at the time. At first, he shrugged the text off. He barely knew Kat whereas Heather was an open book. To be sure, there was that wild time before they met. Well, that’s actually how they met but Heather had made some big changes in her life since then. Ralph was pretty sure about that. He did think Kat was sincere in her remarks about the magnificence of Ralph’s package. No woman he’d known intimately had ever remarked on it before, but you know what they say about taste. And speaking of taste Kat tasted pretty good her own self. Ralph wasn’t the least bit concerned about Kat’s purported suspicions, but he decided to keep the text. It couldn’t hurt. Could it?

Saturday morning at 11:17 Ralph received another text from Kat. This one contained links and pictures. Heather was out shopping. Ralph went into his office and closed the door.

Hey handsome it’s Kat again. I just wanted to bring you up to speed on my text from yesterday morning. I texted Heather and told her what I’d discovered about her perfidious behavior. I fully expected her to deny the whole thing. She told me in so many words to mind my own goddamned business. She said she had a good thing going and I wasn’t gonna fuck it up. She said she enjoyed having her pussy eaten by a pro, but if I ever tried to come between her and her man, she would fuck me up big time. I can show you a screenshot of the text exchange between us if you like. I’m sorry to break the news, sweetheart, but I think Heather is only after your money. I’ve forwarded the results of my research to you. Make your own decisions based on the hard facts, my darling, but I think your Heather is trouble.

Following the text were links to a variety of seedy websites. Uncle Randys Erotic Review. The American Sex Circus. Fantasy Kink Relief. Remarkable Rubs. Ralph remembered Remarkable Rubs. That was the old website where he had first met Heather. He thought they’d gone out of business. He clicked on the link. Sure enough, there was a younger Heather in all her glory. She was wearing a smile and very little else. Ralph particularly remembered those nipples. He had to admit Heather Marsh had a pair of very serviceable nipples. He also had to admit Heather had put on a little weight since the good old days. She was still lovely though.

Ralph clicked on Uncle Randys Erotic Review. Yikes! Some dude named The Captain had written up a review dated three days ago describing in detail the sensual delights provided by a sensual massage therapist The Captain called Honeypot Sugarpie. The picture at the end of the review was naked from the neck down. You couldn’t see her face, but the body sure looked like his Heather. Or her twin sister.

Randy clicked on The American Sex Circus. Up popped a collection of glowing testimonials regarding Honeypot Sugarpie and her remarkable skills when it came to squeezing every last drop out of, well you know. One of the blurbs contained an embedded link to a video. Ralph clicked on the link. He gasped. A naked lady on the bed in the video was adrift in the throes of ecstasy, her trembling legs spread wide. She was being vigorously humped by a man seen only from behind, but it was undeniably Heather Marsh’s face, wreathed in smiles and panting for all she was worth.

Ralph was about to click on Fantasy Kink Relief when the door to his office opened and Heather waltzed in.

“Hi sweetheart am I interrupting anything?”

When she saw the porn video filling the screen she giggled.

“What are you watching? And why was your door shut? Honestly, you’re beginning to act like a teenager. Here, let me see what you’re slobbering over. The lady on the bottom looks vaguely familiar. Oh My God that’s me!”

“I think you need to sit down for his,” said Ralph. “Kat sent me a bunch of unsettling texts yesterday and this morning. She promised to send me screenshots of a compromising text thread between the two of you that proves your devious nature. I have no doubt such a thread exists. I don’t want you to think I believe everything she told me, but I do think we need to clear the air.”

“I don’t much like Kat anymore,” said Heather, sitting on the guest chair. “Regardless of the outcome of our little Come To Jesus moment, I vote to get rid of Kat. As far as our future is concerned that’s a whole different can of worms. I’m ready for the inquisition.”

“I’m only interested in the truth,” said Ralph. “For example, the video we were watching. There’s no doubt the lady on the bottom was you. Do we agree?”

Heather nodded.

“It sure looked like me,” she said softly.

“Well, the guy on top was me,” said Ralph. “You got in at the tail end of the show. Kat must’ve recorded our activities when she excused herself to go to the bathroom. I recognized the sheets on our bed when the video started. And the picture on our wall when the camera jiggled at one point. So that’s one item out of the way.”

“What a horrid thing to do,” said Heather. “She must’ve planned this whole thing.”

“There’s more,” said Ralph. “Kat is a very resourceful young lady. Well, maybe not so young. But she does know her way around the Internet. She sent me a screenshot of one of your old posts, from back when you were doing the rub stuff. The Remarkable Rubs website disappeared years ago but once something appears on the web vestiges of that something may remain for years in unrelated repositories. The web’s memory is eternal.”

“It was just a game to Kat,” said Heather bitterly. “Winner takes all. Damn her to Hell anyway.”

“There’s more,” said Ralph. “The posts on Uncle Randys Erotic Review and The American Sex Circus? Kat registered as The Captain. She posted those bogus reviews herself, including the link to the video.”

“The bitch was determined to win,” said Heather. “She sure went to a lot of trouble to sabotage our relationship. The stakes must’ve been pretty high.”

“$450K to be exact, if my guess is right,” said Ralph. “Wait, there’s more. I saw a picture naked from the neck down on Uncle Randys Erotic Review that looked like you. Kat must’ve snapped a picture of you naked, probably at the same time she shot the video, and used Google Images to search the web for similar pictures that resembled your body type. Clever, no?”

“What about the text thread she threatened to share with you?” asked Heather. “You can’t fake a text thread.”

“You can if you have Google Voice,” said Ralph. “Let’s say you have a Google Voice phone number in one name, like Kat, and another in a different name, like Heather. You can put together a thread that looks like a legitimate conversation. Remember, the labels in a text thread come from entries in your contacts list.”

“So where does that leave us?” asked Heather sadly. “I think you’ve explained Kat’s behavior to our mutual satisfaction. I think we both agree that Kat’s history. But what about us? Are we history as well? Did Kat succeed in destroying the trust in our relationship?”

Ralph reached over and took Heather’s hand. He squeezed it gently.

“Bear with me,” he said. This may take some time. There’s a difference between Trust and Truth or between Trust and Faith if you will. Truth is binary. Truth requires proof. There are no shades of truth. Something is either true or false. The truth the whole truth and nothing but the truth. It’s a tall order.”

Ralph took a deep breath.

“Trust is all encompassing,” he continued. “I trust you regardless. You don’t have to prove to me that you’re worthy of my trust. Trust is earned over a long period of time. And trust is subjective. I trust you to tell me the truth, but you don’t need to prove it.”

“I think I understand so far,” said Heather, holding on to Ralph’s hand for dear life.

“Back in the bad old days when you were selling sexual services there was no truth involved. The plain truth was it was all fantasy. You told the client what he wanted to hear. When you said you wanted your client to come for you it wasn’t necessarily true. The truth was you wanted to get it over with because you had another client waiting in the wings. The trust however was a different thing. Your client trusted you to arouse him to completion. And you trusted him to pay you for that service.”

Heather nodded slowly.

“Here’s another example. The truth is we’ll have many disagreements over the course of our relationship. I trust that those disagreements won’t destroy the relationship. I have Faith that we will always find a way to come back together. The truth is I don’t know for certain that will be the case. I simply trust that it will.”

Heather closed her eyes. A tear trickled down her cheek.

“Here’s another example. The truth is I want to marry you. I trust that you want to marry me too.”

Heather nodded. Then she opened her eyes.

“God, I love you Ralph,” she sighed. “Of course, I want to marry you. But there’s something I need to do first.”

Heather whipped out her cellphone, scrolled through her contact list and selected Kat. She sent her a two-word text.

Checkmate, Bitch.