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The Men Wars, Book One Men-ipulation

Prologue Johnny Appleseed

December 15, 2007
Phoenix, Arizona

"Now," the nice hospital social worker says in her nicest hospital social worker voice, "how, exactly, did that apple get into his rectum?"

Rhetorical question. All the nurses and doctors who have been in here to gawk at my boyfriend know the mechanics of how items that aren’t supposed to be inserted into rectums get there.

And why, I might mention.

Suzy Socialworker stares at me. Her eyebrow lifts, the motion filled with accusation. The doctor standing next to her crosses his arms.

Oh, fuck. I can see it coming. For the second time in my life little five-foot-nothing me is about to come face-to-face with a charge of abuse against a man almost twice my size.

I lift my hands in front of me, palms up, in a gesture of innocence. As if that will help.

"Hey, I didn't put anything anywhere," I tell them both. "Trust me. If I'd been home when he"—I wave my hand toward the curtained area where my boyfriend is getting sicker by the minute what with that big beautiful, undigested Red Delicious fermenting inside him—"came up with this idea, none of us would be standing here now, wondering how to get it out of him.

Okay, here's what you need to know about the man behind the curtain. My own personal Johnny Appleseed about to become Johnny Hard Cider, claims to be an ex-rock star and porn star. I can’t verify the first claim, but I know the second one is true. I saw that movie.

Whatever. One thing’s for sure, he really enjoys extreme porn.

Viewing it. Mostly. He does occasionally get ideas.

He also happens to be English, drop-dead gorgeous, a hard worker and a generally wonderful, loving guy. I mean, he rubs my feet every night. And, although it's a little hard to believe at the moment, he's also very intelligent.

However, he is a product of the upper crust British Public School system, an environment notorious for sexual abuse of boys, and he claims to be a descendant of Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street. As far as I’m concerned that explains a lot. "You're saying he did this to himself?" Suzy asks, still looking incredulous.

Her words stop me. It's four in the morning. Johnny and I’ve been here for hours and I'm tired. For an instant all that fills my exhausted brain is the image of a man inserting something as big as a Red Delicious where the sun don't shine.

When I can't think of anything to say, I shrug and offer, "He's pretty strong?"

It sounds lame even to me. She doesn't respond. A moment later she and the doctor walk away, but I'm pretty sure I haven't cleared myself in her eyes.

With nothing else to do but wait for yet another doctor to appear, I spend the next hours trying to figure out how to prove I really was out Christmas shopping when Johnny got ambitious.

Turns out I didn’t need to waste any time plotting. Suzy never comes back and none of my boyfriend's doctors or nurses mentions anything more about the hows and wherefores of his present situation.

Just after dawn the apple makes its exit via surgery. None too soon either. The surgeon assures me that my little Johnny could have died if he'd had to wait much longer. Apparently when fermentation happens inside a body it leads directly to death. There's not even a pleasantly buzzed stage along the way.

Who knew combining fruit and sex could be so dangerous?

Welcome to my fuckingly outrageous life. Everyone in the book exists, although I’ve changed some names to protect the truly innocent. Every story really happened. You're not going to believe it. Don't worry about that. Half the time I don't believe everything I've lived through and all the shit I've experienced.

I mean, I'm just a nice middle class Irish Catholic girl from Kansas City who should have married a nice Irish Catholic boy and raised a dozen little Catholic kids in the same middle class neighborhood that I grew up in.

Instead, I married a trust fund baby, am recovering from an addiction to Heroin and Crack, was best friends forever with one of the FBI’s most wanted drug dealers, almost ended up in the witness protection program and hobnobbed with the likes of Barry Goldwater.

Trust me. You won't be bored.

Chapter One

Two A.M.
Good Friday, 1986
Kansas City, Missouri

I'm sitting on one side of the twin bed in Monk Johnson’s guest room while Steve Sarli, my husband of ten years, sits across from me. Monk, our drug dealer, and his wife Faye stand at the end of the bed. It’s a fucking slumber party.

Well, not quite although Monk is dressed in a white t-shirt and plaid pajama pants while Faye wears a prim white nylon nightgown under a plain cotton robe. One thing’s for sure. We’d all be having a lot more fun if Steve hadn’t consumed half a bottle of Wild Turkey earlier this evening.

“Give it to me,” Steve demands, snapping his fingers until I hand him the nylon stocking I always carry in my purse for a tourniquet. His words echo in the room. “And don’t forget to put the rest of our Dope in your purse.”

Steve’s voice is always loud, but he’s even louder when he’s drunk. Noise level isn’t the only thing that gets worse when Steve mood alters with alcohol; drink also makes him violent. Tonight while on our way over here, he again threatened to push me out of the car, his father’s new Lincoln Continental which we borrowed for the night. At least this time he only threatened. A few years back he actually attempted shoving me out of a moving car, but, thankfully for me, failed at it.

“Hush Steve,” Faye warns. She’s a pretty woman, small and plump. Her face and straightened hair are the color of tea. When she holds her finger to her lips to indicate quiet she almost looks like a librarian despite her big, fuzzy slippers. “There’re kids next door.”

“Yeah man, be cool,” Monk seconds as he pads over the bare wooden floor to the room’s only dresser. It’s an oak highboy. This is Monk’s business bedroom, where he plays host to his many clients as it were. This room, with its clean blue walls, dark wooden floor, and blue and green patterned blanket on the bed, is one of the nicest places Steve and I have fixed. Big Bill’s was the worst with that one room filthy, bloodstained, roach infested shooting gallery. The toilet was always crusted with vomit. You know you have some really good Heroin when you’re puking your guts out after fixing. At the time Bill was the only black dealer who’d let us white people mingle with his usual clients.

Monk puts our money into one drawer and begins measuring out our buy from his stash. As always, his movements are relaxed and unhurried. His laid back demeanor is an illusion. He not only looks like the character Samuel Jackson played in Pulp Fiction—he even wears his hair in Jheri curls, those tight little ringlets—he is the character Samuel Jackson played in Quentin Tarantino's movie, albeit shorter and scrawnier. Monk's killed a few people in his time, but only people who fucked with him, or so he professes. According to local gossip, he cut the poor slobs he offed into little pieces. I guess it made it easier to dispose of the bodies.

“Hurry up and give me my shit,” Steve blusters. As drunk as he is, his words slur until his command sounds more like Hurrup n gimmy ship.

His threat delivered, Steve rolls up his shirt’s long sleeve and ties the stocking loosely around his arm while I go back to digging in my purse. Fresh Insulin syringes from my local pharmacy—they think Steve has a sugar problem—along with lipstick and hand lotion, are must have items for me. Always be prepared to party, that’s my motto.

I tear open the plastic wrapper off a new syringe and hand it to Steve. Swaying unsteadily, he joins Monk, bracing himself on the dresser as he waits, patient now that he’s sure his rush is on the way.

Faye leaves for the bathroom and returns with a glass of water that she places near Steve. Her part finished, she comes to again stand beside me at the bed. I smile at her. She smiles back. I like Faye.

At the dresser, Monk hands a bent, blackened spoon to Steve. Steve takes it then extends his hand, waiting for the paper Monk’s now holding. Inside that fold of white paper is our gram of Heroin.

Rather than hand it to Steve, Monk takes a backward step, keeping the thing Steve most wants just out of reach. “Listen to me, man,” Monk warns, concern creasing his brow. “This is fucking Black Tar,” he says, using another name for what most people call Mexican Mud. “I don’t want you doing your usual dose.” Monk’s always been astonished at how big a hit Steve can tolerate.

Snarling, Steve lunges toward him, trying to snag the paper from Monk’s fingers only to miss, his empty hand slamming down on the dresser top. “Just lemme have it,” he almost shouts.

Monk would kill any other man for being such a fucking idiot. Why he tolerates Steve isn’t that Steve’s so much bigger than Monk or that we’re such great customers—we always pay first and in cash—or even that Steve always insists on sharing our purchases with Monk. Steve’s generous that way. No, Monk treats us right because he’s terrified of our new BFF—best friend forever—Terry Kelton, the present drug kingpin of the Kansas City ghetto. That’s saying something because it takes a lot to scare Monk.

Monk still isn’t ready to hand the Dope to Steve. “I mean it, man. You shouldn’t do so much. This stuff’s been killing people all over town,” he insists.

Steve only takes another uncoordinated swipe at Monk, trying to grab the paper. Monk looks at me, his eyebrows raised in question. I just shrug.

Steve Sarli always gets what he wants when he wants it.

With a disapproving noise Monk reluctantly slides the packet down the dresser top to Steve, who slams his cupped palm over it as it reaches him.

Steve’s all business now. As Monk watches, Steve opens the packet to carefully empty some Heroin into the spoon. He then uses the syringe I’ve given him to draw water up from the glass. This he squirts gently into the spoon. Although I can’t see it from here I know the Heroin instantly dissolves in the water. Now lifting the spoon to almost eye level, Steve takes his lighter from his pocket and positions it under the bowl, using the flame to cook his Dope.

The trick is to cook it just long enough to remove the impurities, both in the Heroin and those that were already in the dirty spoon. Steve hates getting spoon shakes, the annoying chill that’s caused by dirt in the spoon. Spoon shakes can really mess up your high.

I know the instant the liquid in the spoon starts to bubble because that’s the instant Steve drops his lighter to the dresser top. Like a nurse in an operating room Monk’s ready at Steve’s side, holding out a bit of fluff torn from a cotton ball. With the spoon now resting on the top of the dresser, burning yet another mark into what was once fine wood, Steve takes the cotton from Monk and places it into his liquefied Dope, aims the tip of his needle into the cotton, which acts as a filter, as he pulls back the plunger to draw purified Heroin into his syringe.

Usually when he’s done there’s a little something left in the spoon, whatever the Heroin was cut with, and God only knows what that was. But this isn’t your everyday Heroin; it’s not cut with much. There’s probably something in it though, because and pure Heroin will kill you.

Steve then holds up the syringe and bleeds off the air. From the bed I can see that he’s measured out his usual dose; the syringe is about half full of black liquid. That’s how Black Tar aka Mexican Mud gets its name: the Heroin comes from Mexico and it’s the color of mud or tar, depending on your perspective.

Syringe in hand, he returns to the bed, again sitting across from me. Taking one end of the stocking tied around his bared arm in his teeth and the other in his free hand, he tightens his tourniquet then feels along his wrist.

I watch him search along the thick black marks that cover his inner arm, searching for an unscarred spot along that vein, wondering if this will be the time he won’t be able to find a place left to use. Steve’s always been a shooter. So many needles being stabbed into his skin over such a long time has toughened his veins and left long stretches of his arms covered in dark, bruise-like scars.

He finds one and pushes the needle into his flesh. As a bit of blood seeps back into the sy-ringe he loosens the tourniquet and the black liquid empties into my beloved husband’s body.

An instant later, Steve releases a long, slow sigh. Faye and I sigh with him, both of us relieved. We both know nothing else mellows out a drunken Steve like this. I love Heroin for how it makes Steve normal. I don’t think it’d be possible for me to live with him without it.

I watch my husband for a few more breaths, hoping the Mud isn’t really as strong as Monk suggests. Steve’s eyes half close. His shoulders relax. Then he turns to look at me. All the aggression is gone from his face.

Steve’s a handsome man in a John Wayne sort of way, a big man, standing almost six feet tall and weighing in at two hundred pounds, with a strong jaw and a long, straight nose. He’s blond even though he’s half Italian. He grins at me. It’s that grin I fell in love with. On Heroin Steve’s again the sweet man I married, the charming boy who swept me off my feet when we first met, the man I now love more than life itself.

“Oh man, that is some good shit,” he tells me as the syringe drops from his fingers onto the floor. I hear it roll a little.

I smile back at him, relaxing for the first time since Steve and I left his parents’ house to go out for the night.

“I love you, baby,” he tells me, leaning over to give me a quick kiss.

“I love you, too, babe,” I reply, but he’s already deep into his high, eyes closed and humming as he sways gently on the bed.

This is our life, Steve's and mine. We’ve been partying for all of our sixteen years together. I met Steve when I was sixteen and he was seventeen, the day he appeared at a friend’s party with a big bag of Seconal. It was love at first sight, and not because of the Seconal. We’ve been together ever since although we didn’t get married until ten years ago, doing the deed at St. Viator’s Catholic Church in Las Vegas. I wore a pale blue knee-length dress; Steve had a suit in the same color. The ceremony almost didn’t happen because Steve's Uncle Pete had a hot streak going at the tables. Even late it was still a beautiful wedding, not fancy although Steve's family could have given me fancy. All I wanted was Steve.

My parents didn’t attend. Mom couldn’t. By then she’d stopped venturing out of the house, incapable of even making it to the corner store for cigarettes. As for Dad, he couldn’t bear that Steve’s family had money, riches Dad coveted and would never have because he drank up every extra penny he ever made and then some.

Now that Steve’s high, I’m ready to alter my mood as well. Coming to my feet, my purse slung over my shoulder, I glance from Faye to Monk. “You guys want a taste of this?”

Making sure everyone has what they need at Steve’s and my parties is part of the job Steve gave me to do in our marriage. His job is to supply the money, while I’m responsible for maintaining the relationships with our dealers and for cleaning up after Steve has finished partying. That means I do everything from getting him home in one piece to making whatever excuses are necessary to cover up when his partying becomes excessive.

“Sure, thanks Monica,” Monk replies.

As I expect Faye politely shakes her head no. I’m not even sure she uses. Not many of the dealers’ wives I know do. “Thanks anyway, but I think I’m going downstairs to sleep on the couch. Night, Monica, Steve,” she says to us with a wave and a yawn.

Steve’s still humming to himself, so I say “’Night, Faye,” for both of us. Then I reach down and collect Steve’s used syringe. Like I said, I clean up after Steve.

After that, I join Monk at the dresser, setting the used syringe to one side. As short as I am, it hits me mid-chest, just tall enough for me to get a good look at the top of that dresser. It’s ruined, covered with burns and the black shit that comes off the bottom of spoons where they’re cooked.

It’s also the perfect height to let me snort my Dope off its surface. I am a dignified Dope fiend. I only snort my shit.

That isn't to say I'm unfamiliar with the act of shooting up. I'll do anyone else. I've injected Dope into the feet, hands, neck, fuck, even the tits of junkies. That needle goes any place there's a vein that isn't too abused to take another stab. I’ve even seen one junkie shoot up into his cock. If that’s all that’s left to use, then that’s what you use.

As Monk measures out his hit and begins the same elaborate ritual Steve has just completed, I find a small suede bag in that spacious purse of mine. I never leave home without this little bag because everything I need to feel alive is inside it: a small square mirror, a razor blade and a gold colored metal straw about three inches long.

Since I’m not Steve I heed Monk’s warning and measure out a small dose—two match heads-worth of Heroin—onto my mirror. I then carefully refold the paper and tuck the remains of our buy into my little suede bag. My razor blade tap-tap-taps as I cut the powder to the texture I want, then I carefully clean and replace the blade in the bag.

I’m obsessive when it comes to my things, whether it’s my drug paraphernalia or my shoes. Maybe that’s because my mother wasn’t big on housework or keeping things clean. Whatever. All I know is that I like things neat. You really can eat off my floors.

Monk laughs as he watches me carefully straighten my lines with the tip of my straw. “Girl, you crack me up. You look like a little college girl doing that.”

What he means is that I look fresh and young, not like the hardened Heroin user I am.

“So when are you going to start shooting up?” he adds.

He asks because there’s apparently a difference in the high between snorting and shooting. Steve says shooting Heroin feels as good as an orgasm. I wouldn’t know and I don’t care. I’m not big on needles and I don’t want tracks marking my skin.

“This is good enough for me,” I tell Monk. “Heroin’s still my Boy-friend, even if all I do is inhale it.”

He laughs at my pun. On the street corners out here you ask for Boy if you want Heroin and Girl if you’re looking for Cocaine. But I’m not kidding. I depend on Heroin. Not only does it mellow out my husband’s drunk, when I’m high I’m filled with confidence and strength.

No, I’m Superwoman. There’s a reason you can eat off my floors. I swear I could fucking paint the house in half a day on one hit of Heroin.

Now that my lines are ready, I lean down and delicately sniff one into each nostril.

And instantly rock back on my heels. This stuff’s so strong it knocks the air out of my lungs. The inside of my nose feels like it’s on fire.

Blinking in reaction, I carefully put away my straw and mirror. It isn’t until I’m zipping up my purse that it hits me. If two match heads is this strong, what the fuck is happening to Steve?

I whirl to look at my husband. He’s gone from sitting to half-lying on the bed. Although his feet are still flat on the floor, his head is braced against the wall at the head of the bed, bringing his chin almost to his chest. His eyes are wide open as he stares out into the room, or seems to be. Then he gives a big, gasping snore and I realize he’s trying to breathe through his pinched windpipe.

The sound brings Monk around to look at him. "What the fuck?" he cries.

"Babe, sit up." I grab Steve by the arm and try to pull him upright so he can breathe. He’s too heavy. I can't even shift him where he lays on the bed.

"Wake up,” I insist, shaking him. Heroin users are famous for nodding off. “You can't sleep here. We've got to go back to your parents’ house tonight."

Steve’s parents live on the west side of State Line Road, the street that marks the border between Kansas and Missouri, in Mission Hills, Kansas, a few miles and a whole world away from here. We have to go home tonight because we not only told Ralph and Mary Helen Sarli that we’d be coming back to their house, we’ve got Ralph’s car.

There’s not so much as a snore from Steve in response.

"Come on, Steve," I urge.

As I lean over him to get a better grip on his shoulders, his eyes roll back in his head. Then his lips turn blue.

“Monk!” I cry.

Monk's breath hisses from him. "The motherfucker’s!” There's a frantic edge to his voice.

I panic. I slap Steve's face, trying to revive him. “Steve, wake up! You can’t die and leave me to explain this.”

Steve can’t O.D. Not here. Not tonight.

When I get no response I hit him again and again with more power in each slap until I'm almost hammering him with the flat of my hand.

Up until this moment the knowledge that we’re using again—everything except Crack; I’ll never use that shit again—has been on a need-to-know basis and Steve's parents definitely do not need to know. Steve isn’t the only one in the family who expects me to clean up his messes. Ralph, Steve’s dad, adores his son and counts on me to make sure the rest of the world never sees the true Steve, the screwup, the child who needed to be institutionalized at fourteen, the kid with learning disabilities so severe that he couldn’t graduate from high school and the young adult who flunked out of his first year of college and returned home with nearly fatal cases of Gonorrhea and Syphilis.

It’ll kill Ralph to learn that for the past few months Steve and I have been making weekly trips to Kansas City from Tempe, Arizona (proud home of Arizona State University) where we now live. We’ve been coming here because the Heroin available in Phoenix right now is so bad you can barely cop a buzz from it.

Monk grabs my hand to stop me from hitting Steve again. "It's not working," he says, almost squealing in anxiety, then pulls me off the bed. "Get him up, Monica. We gotta walk him."

I'm beyond thinking at this point. I nod and drape one of Steve's arms over my shoulder. Monk takes the other. We grunt as we heave Steve off the bed.

He's dead weight, forgive the pun.

We're both too short to support him. Steve slips between us to lay face down on the floor. His feet land in front of Faye as she appears in the doorway. Her eyes are wide. "What's happening?"

I crouch down next to my husband and feel for a pulse. His lips are so blue. I don't think he's breathing. I can't believe this is happening to us.

"Call 911!" I shout to Faye. She leaps toward the phone.

"No!" Monk yelps.

Faye freezes, almost mid-stride.

Monk looks over Steve’s prone body at me. His face is as gray as possible for a black man. "Monica, he can't fucking die in here," he pleads. "I got too much Dope in the house. Help me get him outside and I promise you Faye will dial 911 right that moment."

"But how?" Tears flow down my face. "We can't even lift him."

"Got no fucking choice." Monk grabs Steve by one foot and points me to the other. "We gotta drag him down the stairs."

I need my husband to live. If accomplishing that requires getting him outside so Faye can call 911, then Steve is going outside any way I can get him there. I grab my husband's other foot.

It's much easier than I expect. We slide Steve across the smooth wooden floor of the landing to the stairs. Once we start down his body slides bonelessly along with us. He's laying face to the floor. His head bangs on every wooden tread: ka-thump, ka-thump, ka-thump.

Faye holds the front door open for us. Monk and I wrestle Steve through the opening. At the very instant all of him is past the threshold, Monk calls, "Now dial 911!" to Faye.

As Faye runs to do as she's told Monk helps me drag Steve over the cold, frost-slick walkway. Moonlight gleams white on the walkway and turns the nearby barren oak trees to skeletons, bony hands stretching up toward the streetlight beneath which Steve parked Ralph’s car. Bathed in that harsh light, the Lincoln’s silver exterior twinkles like starlight.

Our breath is gentle clouds in front of us as we huff along, dragging Steve to where the walkway tees into the sidewalk.

Still panting, Monk releases Steve's foot and grabs me by the arms. "Fucking promise me you'll call to let me know how he is," he pleads. He really does care what happens to Steve. Everybody loves Steve when he’s not drinking.

"I promise," I say, sniffling. Wringing my hands, I turn and watch Monk race back toward his door. He has the middle unit of these six well-kept brick townhomes. Although Troost Avenue, the boundary street for Kansas City’s ghetto, is only a few blocks away, this is a nice little complex, the sort of place that people on their way up to middle-middle class might live.

His door slams behind him. I hear his lock click.

And just like that I’m the only white woman for miles as I stand beside my dying husband with a dozen darkened second story windows staring aghast down at me.

Pulp fiction stole this fucking scene right out of my life, and by now you’re probably wondering how I got here.