“I'll kill you for this," she screamed as she held up her bloody hands.

He said, “You're lucky I didn't cut your throat. It's important to pay your debts." Then he walked out of the alley.

*     *     *

The Crow's Beak Saloon was across the street from Stan's apartment building. Its red neon sign flickered on and off, intermittently casting pools of red light on the litter strewn sidewalk. Stan stood in the shadows of the doorway of the vacant store next to the saloon and pulled out one of Candy's index fingers from his pocket. He brushed off the lint and hairs that had become attached to the dried blood while inside his pocket and held the finger up and gazed at the way the jewel in the ring brilliantly reflected what little light there was. He removed the ring and put it in his shirt pocket, then stepped out onto the sidewalk.

“Here, boy," he called to a mongrel sniffing around a nearby overflowing garbage can.

With its head lowered and its tail between its legs it cautiously approached Stan. Its mange-ridden skin was stretched taut over its rib cage. The odor coming from it was the same as its diet, rancid meat.

“I have a treat for you," Stan said, and held out the finger.

The dog quickly snatched the finger between its jagged teeth and swallowed it.

“Good boy," Stan said before walking away and into the saloon.

The mix of odors from filthy bodies, cheap perfume, disinfectants and alcohol washed over him. He paused for a moment, fighting the urge to puke again. Two ceiling fans at opposite ends of the saloon whirred noisily and jazz blared from a jukebox. Almost the entire interior was red; red faux leather upholstery on the booth seats and stool cushions, red painted walls and ceiling and a tattered and stained red carpet on the floor. The dim lighting almost hid the four other customers. Two sailors were in a booth, a man in a wrinkled gray suit was standing next to the jukebox and a woman with a fox head stole draped around her shoulders and long dangling earrings was sitting at the bar.

Stan crossed the room, sat on a stool at the bar and reached into his shirt pocket and pulled out the ring and slapped it on the bar. “The usual, and keep 'em coming, Nick," he said to the bartender.

Nick picked up the ring with his meaty, hairy fingers and held it up and stared at it. “That a real diamond?" he said.

“No, it's a synthetic diamond, a fake" the woman said from the stool next to Stan.

“Keep your mouth shut," Stan told her.

She took a drink from her glass of whiskey. “Believe me, I know jewels and jewelry."

Nick slid the ring across the bar top to Stan. “Come back when you have cash or something worth something."

Stan grabbed the ring and slowly rose from the stool while glaring at the woman. “All you had to do is keep your mouth shut," he said. He walked out the door.

*     *     *


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