Luck Be a Lady Tonight, Part I
Set during the 3rd season.
Rated PG (language and violence)
Genre: Comedy/Adventure/Mystery
Characters: Mary Anne, Jennifer, Larry, Balki
Synopis: Jennifer and Mary Anne get more than they bargained for on a trip to New York City.
Archive: If you wish to archive this story on your site, just e-mail me!

“I can’t believe this!”

Jennifer Lyons clutched the flagpole on the Empire State Building for dear life. Her best friend Mary Anne Spencer looked equally frightened hanging beside her. Gunshots rang above them. They didn’t have a choice about where to go. If they went back, the men who chased them would certainly kill them. Of course, if they let go, they’d fall to their deaths. It wasn’t a pleasant thought.

“Why do these things always happen to us?” Jennifer wailed. “I could be following our itinerary and having a wonderful dinner at Tavern on the Green with my boyfriend, but no, my best friend just had to buy an ugly statue that’s wanted by half the people of New York City who own guns!”

“I thought it was really cute!”

More gunshots broke above. “Apparently, you weren’t the only one.”

CREAK. “Mary Anne, what was that?”

CRACK. Mary Anne looked toward the skyscraper. “Oh, it’s just the flagpole breaking. It’ll probably fall off the building any minute.”

CRAAAACK! “Mary Anne, if this thing comes apart, we’re going to become the biggest road kill in New York City!”

“Well, maybe we’ll be able to catch something on the way down.”

Jennifer made the mistake of looking at the street far below them. She groaned. “This is crazy. We’re going to plummet to our doom any second, we’re completely off-schedule, there are people on the roof who want to kill us, Larry and Balki are probably dead…”

“We sent Larry to the police, remember?”

“What if he never made it? What if he got lost, or fell in the sewer? What if the thugs got him? What if the police don’t believe him? He’s not the most believable person under most circumstances!”

“Sounds like someone could use some Mylanta.”

Jennifer screamed as the flagpole let out another, more pronounced crack. “How did we get into this mess?”

“Well,” Mary Anne began, “once upon a time, you and I were working a flight to New York City and getting a week off afterwards, and the guys had a week’s vacation from the Chronicle, so we decided to vacation together…”

That morning...

Jennifer Lyons pushed aside the curtains of the hotel she, her best friend Mary Anne, Mary Anne’s boyfriend Balki Bartokomos, and her boyfriend Larry Appleton were staying at during their week’s vacation in New York City. She was glad that they’d gotten this time together. “Isn’t this wonderful, Mary Anne?” She sighed. “Just a week of nothing but sightseeing, eating in nice restaurants, going to museums, and spending time with each other and the men we love.” She took one last swipe with a brush at her long, wavy gold hair and put the brush back on the pale pink dresser.

Mary Anne grinned, pinning her short, fluffy yellow curls into place. “And I’ll bet you have it all planned out, too.”

Jennifer nodded. “Larry and I whipped up a list of places we’d like to go and places we know you and Balki want to go before we left Chicago.” She whipped out a folder stuffed full of brochures and papers. “The travel agency gave me a bunch of ads for attractions in New York. We went over them and created an itinerary that we think will fit all of us.” She pulled out two pieces of paper and handed one to Mary Anne. “Here’s your copy.”

Mary Anne studied her paper. “This doesn’t leave us a lot of time at any location.”

“Well,” Jennifer explained, “if we want to see everything on the list, we have to keep moving.” She checked her copy of the schedule. “And, according to this, we’ve got a half-hour to meet the boys in Chinatown for an early lunch, then go to Little Italy and Herald Square before Larry and I have dinner at Tavern on the Green and you and Balki visit the petting zoo at Central Park.” She checked her watch. “We’d better get going if we want to stay on schedule.”

Her friend sighed as Jennifer grabbed her purse from the desk. “You and Larry are going to do it again, aren’t you?”

“Do what?”

“Every time we go on a trip, even in Chicago, you plan everything we do down to the last detail, and then you get mad when we can’t keep up with your plan.”

“Maybe the plan would work better if you and Balki wouldn’t be late and wander off and make us go after you.”

“Can we help it if we like to stop and smell the Rose Petal dolls along the way?”

“You two smell enough Rose Petal dolls to start a toy store!” She put a hand on her best friend’s shoulder. “Promise me you won’t go wandering off or be late this time? New York is a big city. Who knows what kind of lunatics, criminals, and delinquents are running around down there?” Jennifer frowned. “And that’s just in the lobby of this hotel!”

Mary Anne smiled as she picked up her purse and they started for the bottom floor. “Jen, if I can survive living in Chicago, I can certainly survive a little trip to New York. You have nothing to worry about.”

The girls took a cab to Chinatown, where they met their boyfriends Larry Appleton and Balki Bartokomos. Larry was a small, nervous man with a head of curly dark hair and perpetually worried hazel eyes. Balki was Larry’s distant cousin, but he was as different from his relative as Mary Anne was from Jennifer. He was tall and thin, with straight, heavy black hair and twinkling, brandy-colored eyes. He wore a balloon-sleeved peasant shirt and a brightly patterned vest that stood out against Larry’s plain brown suit. He laughed and grinned as his cousin frowned and fretted.

“Mary Anne!” Balki swept his girlfriend into one of his crushing hugs. Larry put his arm around Jennifer. “Can we go to lunch now, Cousin? I want to try the moon googly eyes pan.”

“Oh, I love that!” Mary Anne exclaimed. “Maybe they’ll have egg foo-foo Neil Young.”

Jennifer was about to correct them as they walked toward the nearest restaurant, but Larry stopped her. “Don’t, Jen. It took me an hour to explain to Balki what Moo-Goo-Gai-Pain is.”

Lunch was quite pleasant, except for Balki’s introduction to chopsticks. He used them to do an impression of Mypos’ oldest goat that delighted Mary Anne and embarrassed their best friends. They were even less amused with his walrus impression. Larry took the chopsticks away after that and insisted they were all fine with normal utensils.

They strolled through the markets of Chinatown after lunch on their way to Little Italy. The produce stalls and storefronts were jammed full of all kinds of merchandise, from fresh seafood and just-butchered meats to exotic fruits and vegetables. Jennifer and Larry spent most of the stroll trying to keep Balki and Mary Anne from buying half the stalls. They wanted everything in sight, no matter what the price tag said, and they were susceptible to the calls of the crafty merchants.

“I want some kind of souvenir!” Mary Anne wailed after Jennifer led her away from a clothing store that sold beautiful Chinese silk dresses. “Those dresses were so pretty, and the lady who owned the store said that the pink one made me look like a Chinese princess from five thousand years ago!”

“Mary Anne,” Jennifer reminded her, “that dress cost over two thousand dollars! That’s more money than all four of us brought on this trip put together! Why don’t you buy something you may actually use when we get home?”

“Cousin, look!” Balki pointed to a shop just off Mulberry Street, where Chinatown became Little Italy. “Look at all the things in the window!” He pointed to a group of carved wooden goats. “Those goats remind me of the Sikiwood sheep carvings they used to sell in the toy stores in Mypos.” He smiled wistfully. “Those carvings were my first action figures. My cousins and I used to have wonderful sheep battles with ours.”

The others joined him and pressed their noses to the window. “Well,” Jennifer admitted, “it doesn’t look that bad.” She checked her watch. “We’re still on schedule. Why don’t we take a look at this store, then head over to Little Italy?”

Larry sighed as Balki, Jennifer, and Mary Anne all gave him their best cute looks. “Ok, ok,” he insisted, “but only for a few minutes. We can’t afford to go off-schedule if we want to get to Central Park by tonight.”

The four of them walked into the small shop. Despite its size, the shop was jammed-full with every possible thing one could sell, from carvings of animals to elegant wicker birdcages to odd Asian statues. Jennifer admired a group of ancient-looking silk screens. Larry gazed at hangings of Chinese writings. Balki happily played with the ox and goat carvings.

Mary Anne tapped his shoulder. “Balki, look at this!” She picked up a small statue of a short, squat Chinese priest with an odd, wrinkled face. He had a strange, gold-colored circle with writing on it in his center. “Isn’t he adorable?”

“I like him!” Balki put down the wood animals and joined his girlfriend. “He reminds me of my Uncle Woccki. He had a beard that was just as long as that, if not longer. It was hard to tell him from the goats he herded.”

A tiny old woman suddenly appeared by Mary Anne’s side. “Hello, young lady. You like?”

“I couldn’t say, ma’am. We just met.”

The woman gestured at Mary Anne’s statue. “You like ancient idol?”

“Oh, right!” She smiled. “Yes, I like him. I think he’s sweet.” She looked for a price tag. “How much is he?”

The woman inspected her shrewdly. “For you, young lady, twenty dollar.”

“Twenty dollars for that?” Larry made a face as he and Jennifer joined them. “Mary Anne, don’t waste your money on that ugly thing!”

The old woman glared at him. “Who is tall golden lady and small man with large mouth?”

Balki put his arms around Larry. “This is my cousin, Larry.” He smiled. “We’re visiting from Chicago with our friends Mary Anne and Jennifer.”

Jennifer shook her head. “Mary Anne, I agree with Larry. That idol isn’t worth the money.”

“Ahh, golden lady and big-mouth man think they so smart.” The elderly woman took the fat statue from Mary Anne. “This idol holds mysterious power. It belong to Emperor for many year in China.” She handed it to Mary Anne. “It now belong to pretty fluffy lady, for twenty-five dollar.”

Jennifer could see that Mary Anne wanted the idol, so she talked the old lady down to fifteen dollars. Mary Anne emerged with her new idol in a box in her purse, and Balki bought several carved ox and goats. “Now, cousin, that lady was nice, and she had a nice shop. I bought some action figures, and Mary Anne got a soup vender.”

“Souvenir,” Mary Anne insisted. “I got a souvenir.” She took the idol out of her purse and admired him. “I don’t care what you guys think. He’s just so sweet. He has such a gentle expression on his face.”

Jennifer rolled her eyes. “He looks like he just ate three lemons.”

Larry checked his watch. “Ok, Mary Anne, we’re all glad you got what you wanted. Can we move on to Little Italy by now? We’re supposed to be in Herald Square by three.”

It didn’t mean much at the time, but, in hindsight, Jennifer wished that she hadn’t ignored the strange feeling that they were being followed as they rounded the corner to Mulberry Street. She thought she saw three men in dark suits watching them in the alley between the shop and the dry cleaners next door. One pointed at Mary Anne and spoke into a walkie-talkie. When she looked again, the three men were gone.

They strolled through Little Italy and down to Tribeca, wandering through small shops and art galleries. Larry whisked them through so many different places in such a short time that Jennifer didn’t have a chance to tell the others about the men in the alley. Maybe it was just as well, she decided as they took a cab to Fifth Avenue. Larry would only panic, and Mary Anne and Balki wouldn’t understand.

It was Mary Anne, though, who brought it up when they were all safely tucked in the cab. “I think we’re being followed.”

“Followed?” Larry looked over his shoulder. “Mary Anne, we’re in the middle of traffic in downtown New York. That’s probably some guy who’s a tourist, like us, and doesn’t know where he’s going.”

Mary Anne shook her head. “He’s been two cars behind us ever since we came out of that art gallery in Tribeca.” She peeked around Balki, who had turned around to look out the back window. “It’s that big black car, the one with the scratch in its passenger-side door and the dent in the fender shaped like New Jersey.”

Jennifer squinted and didn’t see a scratch or a dent shaped like a state. “How did you notice that?”

Mary Anne frowned. “Notice what?”

“Mary Anne, stop it,” Larry insisted. “You’re seeing things. There’s probably eighteen thousand cars like that in New York City alone.” He gestured to the cab driver. “Driver, turn here, please.”

“Um, Cousin Larry,” Balki insisted as he turned to face the back window, “that big black car is still two cars behind us.”

“Ok,” Larry grumbled, “there’s got to be a logical explanation for this.”

“Maybe he wants to know where we’re going?” Mary Anne pointed out.

“Why would he want to do that?” Jennifer asked. “He doesn’t know us.” Jennifer took her turn and looked out the window. The big black car was now right behind them. She watched as a dark-haired man in a nondescript gray suit pulled something shiny and black out of the glove compartment. “Guys,” she gasped, “those men have guns!”

“What?” Larry joined the others at the back window. His eyes widened and his jaw nearly dropped to the seat. “Oh, my lord!”

“They do?” Balki nudged his cousin aside and pushed his nose to the glass. “Well, paint me yellow and call me Big Bird!” He nodded at the others. “They have semi-auto-mechanics!” He shrugged. “I saw them on Magnum P.I.”

Mary Anne cuddled against Balki. “What are we going to do?”

“We’re going to stop the cab and get off right here,” Jennifer insisted, repeating her words to the driver.

“What are you doing?” Larry asked as they piled onto the sidewalk. “We’re sitting ducks out here?”

“Sitting ducks?” Balki looked around. “Well, maybe this vest makes me look a little like Donald Duck, but I don’t exactly quack.”

“Balki, he means we’re easy targets for the men with the guns,” Jennifer explained. She turned to her worried boyfriend. “Larry, we’re fine. We’re in the middle of one of the busiest streets in the world. If anyone starts shooting at us, we’ll know.” She shrugged. “Besides, it may not be us that they’re after. They could be trying to catch a cab or ask for directions.”

Something struck the building Jennifer stood next to, making a round, neat hole just inches from the four tourists. Mary Anne inspected the building. “Either that was a bullet,” she admitted, “or someone has a really good slingshot with really small rocks.”

Larry grabbed Jennifer. “Let’s get out of here,” he squeaked as they ducked into a throng of Fifth Avenue shoppers. “Not only do I want to live through this vacation, but we’re behind schedule!” He pulled his copy of the itinerary out of his pocket. “We were supposed to be in Macy’s five minutes ago!”

Another shot glanced of the building and singed Larry’s schedule. “Why can’t we hear the bullets before we see them?” Mary Anne asked as Larry dropped his gunpowder-covered paper and stomped on it. “Did they invent really quiet bullets?”

“Of course not, don’t be ridiculous!” Balki said. “The bullets must be invisible.”

“No, Balki,” Jennifer explained, “they’re using a silencer, a piece of metal that keeps guns from making noise.” She held on to Larry’s hand for dear life and looked around. “The coast seems to be clear.” She straightened her blouse. “I think we lost them in the crowd.” She checked her watch. “Larry, I think we may have to skip window shopping on Fifth Avenue. We’ve lost a lot of time.”

“Awww,” complained Mary Anne, “I wanted to see Tiffany’s.” She smiled. “I’ve always wanted to have breakfast there!”

Balki’s lip trembled. “Does that mean we’ll have to miss FAO Schwartz, too, Cousin? I wanted to dance on the big keyboard, like Tom Hanks in that movie where he turns into a grown-up.”

Larry ushered the four across the street, making sure to look for the men in the gray suits. “Maybe later in the week, Balki. You’re enough of a big kid as it is.”

Jennifer had to admit that she almost forgot about the men when they entered Bloomingdale’s. It was a truly amazing store, stocked to the brim with beautiful and expensive clothing, often based on the latest Broadway hit. She really did wish that they had more time to spend here, but they were supposed to head to Central Park after Bloomingdale’s.

Jennifer was the one who saw the men this time, as she and Mary Anne browsed through sundresses and spring skirts. Mary Anne showed her two identical dresses when she saw them over her friend’s shoulder. Three men, one of them the man in the gray suit, idly stood on the fringe of the racks, trying to look interested in flowered blouses and light sweaters.

“Jennifer,” Mary Anne said when her best friend went as white as the sheets in the house wares department, “what’s wrong? I didn’t think these dresses were all that bad.” She looked at the one on her left. “Well, maybe this sundress is a little revealing, but still…”

“Mary Anne, don’t turn around,” Jennifer managed to gasp. “The men from the big black car are here.”

“They wouldn’t be in the women’s department,” Mary Anne pointed out. “They’d be in the men’s section. I don’t think they’d fit into any of these dresses.”

“We have to get out of here.” She took the smaller woman and ducked into the dressing rooms, running into a huge customer carrying several pairs of pants that would barely fit Mary Anne. She flattened herself against the wall as Mary Anne made for a stall.

“Mary Anne, what are you doing?”

“I’m trying these on.” The curly-haired young woman disappeared behind a door. “I want to make sure they fit. The peach one looks like it might be a little loose in the bust.”

“Mary Anne,” Jennifer hissed, “this is hardly the time for buying clothes!” She peered out the swinging door. “They’re still here.” She hurried to Mary Anne’s stall. She could see her friend’s trousers and shoes on the floor. “Hurry up! It won’t take long for them to figure out where we’ve gone.”

“They wouldn’t come in the ladies’ dressing room,” Mary Anne reminded her. Jennifer could see her arms go up as she slipped the peach-colored dress over her head. “It would be indecent.”

“I don’t think they really care.” Jennifer put her hands against her temples. “Why can’t we have normal vacations where we don’t get snowed in and chased by men with guns?”

Mary Anne popped her head out of the stall. “A vacation just wouldn’t be as much fun without a little adventure.” She turned so her friend could see her new acquisition. “What do you think? I still think there’s too much up here,” she indicated her rather flat front, “and not enough of me, if you know what I mean.”

“Mary Anne, you look great,” Jennifer insisted. “It’s so you.” Frankly, she would have told her friend that if she tried on a paper bag. She just wanted to get them out of there before the men with guns got them. “Could we pay for it and get going?”

“Well,” Mary Anne grumbled as she went back in the stall, “someone’s taking all the fun out of shopping.”

“I’m sorry,” Jennifer apologized. “I’m a little on edge. I’ve never been shot at before.”

“That’s ok.” Mary Anne emerged in her normal clothes, the two sundresses over her arm and her purse slung around her shoulder. “I’ve never been chased into a dressing room by two big guys, either.”

Jennifer grabbed her friend’s wrist and ducked behind a rack of spring suits and blouses. They stopped long enough for Mary Anne to pay for her dress, then slid into a rack of men’s suits that a pair of stock boys were moving to the front of the store.

Mary Anne giggled. “This is fun!” Jennifer shushed her, hoping the men with the guns hadn’t heard them, but Mary Anne just smiled. “I’ve never taken a ride on a clothes rack before!” They got off in the linen department. Jennifer took a quick look around. The men in the suits were nowhere to be seen, and they certainly would stand out amid the brightly patterned comforters, sheets, tablecloths, and pillowcases.

Balki lay on a queen-sized, shiny brass bed covered with a silky blanket and tons of ruffled pillows. Larry glared at him. “What are you doing? This is no time to take a nap! Those guys in the suits are still after us!”

“Cousin,” Balki exclaimed, “you’ve got to try this bed! It’s so thick, it’s like sleeping on top of a flock of sheep.” He snuggled into the blanket. “And the quilt feels like a woman’s undergarden.”

“Wow,” Mary Anne squealed. She jumped on the bed next to Balki. “Hey, guys, this bed really is soft!”

Jennifer sighed. “Enough, you two. We’re way behind schedule, and this isn’t a playground.”

Larry tugged on the sleeve of Jennifer’s sweater. “Um, Jen, they’re back.” The three men in the suits were wandering through the aisles, obviously looking for something. Larry gestured at the area beneath the lacy comforter. “Ok, everyone, under the bed!”

It was a tight fit, but all four of them managed to crawl under the brass frame. “Cousin,” Balki whispered, “I left my wood ox and goat carvings on the bed! We’ve got to get them!”

“It’s too late now!” Larry hissed. “You’ll have to get them later.” Four pairs of plain black lace-up shoes appeared in front of the frightened quartet.

Mary Anne held her breath as she listened to the men’s conversation. “Man, I know I saw the blondes go this way.”

“Look!” There was the sound of paper rustling against silk, and someone opening a bag. “These are the carvings the old hag sold the foreigner.”

“Yeah,” complained another voice, “so she was telling the truth. Shame we had to kill her. She knew too much.”

“Guys,” Jennifer whispered, “they killed the old lady from the shop!”

“And they may kill us if they get their hands on us!” Larry added in horror.

“What is it that they want?” Mary Anne wondered.

“Well, I’m not sticking to the floor long enough to find out,” Balki insisted. He quietly untied the laces of the four pairs of shoes and knotted them together, so that the four men were also held together.

Jennifer saw the men turn away and trip over each other, cursing loudly and imaginatively. “Let’s get out of here!” she shrieked.

The four hurried out from under the bed while the men were still trying to untangle their legs. “There they go!” the man in the gray suit exclaimed. “Get them!”

They never ran so fast in their lives, stopping only to let Balki grab his carvings from the bed. They ducked around boxes and customers, jumped over furniture and stacks of goods, and hurried through racks of clothes. Other men, and even some women in simple pantsuits seemingly replaced the men who were probably still untying their shoes. Jennifer began to wonder at that point if there was more than one group of people after them, or if everyone in New York just wanted to chase four tourists around Bloomingdale’s for fun.

“Oh, my lord!” Larry stopped, and the other three ran straight into him. A woman holding a small child in her arms pointed at the four, moving her lips to an interested-looking security officer. Jennifer recognized her as one of the people they’d pushed their way around when they were on their marathon through the linen department. From the look on her face, she wasn’t happy with seeing four people race through a respectable department store. “Now security is after us!”

“I’m sure if we just explain to them that we’re in trouble, they’ll understand,” Mary Anne insisted.

“Oh, sure,” Jennifer wailed, “they’ll understand that we’re being chased for no reason whatsoever by a bunch of men in non-descript suits carrying big guns.” She wanted to bring up her theory about more than one group of people being after them, but Larry was already looking around desperately, trying to figure a way out of this situation.

His eyes stopped on a group of mannequins standing in the section devoted to ball gowns and tuxedos. “Wait a minute!” He grinned, his eyes growing twice their normal size. “I know how we can avoid the goons and the guards. I have...”

“Oh no,” Balki moaned. “Not again!”

Larry ignored him. “...A plan!”

Jennifer had to admit it was one of Larry’s better plans. They quickly threw on the clothes that four of the dummies in the back of the formal department were wearing. Except for the fact that they couldn’t move, and if they even breathed, they would be either killed or arrested, this was kind of fun. Jennifer didn’t need to pretend to admire Larry in a beautifully cut black tux with a red cummerbund and tie. Balki dropped to one knee before Mary Anne, holding a bouquet of silk daisies. They were adorable together, Mary Anne in her fifties-style yellow tulle dress, Balki in his simple navy tux. Balki’s gentle smile and Mary Anne’s shy grin were genuine. The hand that Larry laid on Jennifer’s puff-sleeved blue satin gown was sweaty, but his smile was real.

“Oh, Balki,” Mary Anne whispered. “You’re so sweet! You brought me flowers!”

“Well,” Balki confessed, “they’re not real, and they’re not mine, but they’re yours when we can move again, my little Bibli Bobka.”

“Jennifer,” Larry murmured, “you look gorgeous in that dress. It brings out your eyes.”

She hoped no one noticed her blush. “Thanks. You look pretty darn good yourself.”

“Aw, this old thing?” Larry joked.

“Shhh!” Mary Anne barely nodded toward the racks in the front of the store. The four men who originally followed them into the store were now searching through the racks of purple taffeta, green velvet, and black jet beads, with two security guards close behind. The quartet stiffened into position, trying to look as lifeless as possible.

The men looked behind them and under the stands, but not at them. “They’re not here, boss. They’ve vanished.” “Boss” must have given him a piece of their mind, because he held the walkie-talkie as far from his ear as he could. “No, I don’t think they vanished into thin air. We’re looking for them.” He frowned. “Two guys, two girls. Tall blonde with knockers, little blonde bimbo, tall guy with an accent, short nervous guy with curly hair. The Chinese hag said that the bimbo bought the idol.”

“The idol from the junk shop?” Jennifer breathed into Larry’s ear. “That’s what this is all about?”

Larry gave her a comforting, barely perceptible squeeze on the waist in reply. She could see the fear in his eyes, despite the happy expression frozen on his face.

The man with the walkie-talkie continued. “How should I know? The old lady sold the idol for fifteen bucks. Yes, I know that’s a fraction of what it’s worth, but I don’t think Bimbo knows how valuable it is.”

The man stood in front of the quartet, making faces at his machine on his ear. “We can’t do that! We’re in public. We’ve already got half of Bloomingdale’s security force on our tail.” He rubbed Balki’s nose with the tip of his antenna as he talked. Balki twitched his nose, trying to keep from making noise.

Four well-dressed women sauntered onto the floor, laughing and chattering loudly about how gaudy and expensive all the most fashionable clothes were. “Look, Boss,” the man insisted, “we’ve got company.” As he moved the machine to the other ear, he brushed it across Balki’s nose again. Mary Anne tried to glare at him without being noticed. Balki sniffled and twitched, but he couldn’t get away from the walkie-talkie’s antenna. “I promise, Boss, we’ll get that idol, if I have to search every store on Fifth Avenue to find it!” He finally clicked it off, but it was too late. Even as he returned it to his belt, Balki let out a sneeze that could be heard over the rows of silk, satin, and gauze.

The man stared at him. Balki gulped and smiled, thrusting the silk flowers into the man’s hand. “Um, would you like a bouquet of flowers?”

Larry’s eyes were about to fall out of their sockets. “Run!” he shouted at the top of his lungs. They grabbed their purses and packages from behind the stands and took off. The man with the walkie-talkie started after them, but one of the well-dressed women got in front of him and asked him whether the pink silk suit or the Swiss-dotted lace gown looked better with her considerable bust size.

They dashed to the nearest exit, which happened to lead behind the store and down the crowded street. “Hey,” Mary Anne exclaimed as they sprinted around a corner, “we didn’t pay for these outfits!”

“We’re borrowing them,” Jennifer explained. “We’ll bring them back later.”

“If Bloomingdale’s will even let us back without arresting us,” Larry reminded her.

“Cousin,” Balki wailed, “I think the men who tried to take my carvings are back!” He rubbed his nose. “I hope they put their walkie-talkies somewhere else this time! I thought I was going to end up swallowing the antenna.”

Jennifer didn’t stop to think, or even wonder how she was going to run through the crowd of Fifth Avenue shoppers in a blue satin ball gown and four-inch high heels. “This is crazy!” she muttered. “We’re completely off schedule, we just made off with some of the most expensive clothing in Bloomingdale’s, there are people who want to kill us, and why? Because my best friend just had to have a souvenir from Chinatown!”

“It could be worse,” Mary Anne insisted. “They could be shooting at us.”

Something whizzed past Mary Anne and hit the side of a building, coming so close to her it almost part her hair. “You had to say that!” Jennifer groaned.

“Look,” Larry insisted as another silent bullet breezed between him and Balki, “we’d better split up. We’ll meet you two back at the hotel.”

He and Balki shot ahead, Balki calling “Mary Anne, I love you!” as he retreated down Fifth Avenue.

“This way!” Jennifer ducked between two skyscrapers, with Mary Anne close behind. The alley smelled like the sewer and the ground was slimy with mud and grime. She skidded on her high heels and ran into a chain fence that blocked the rest of the alley. There was nowhere else to go, and no way over the fence in their fancy dresses.