PAYBACK IS CUSTOMARY

(And How Twinkies Can Be Hazardous To Your Health)

"Are you sure you have everything you need?" Jennifer asked Mary Anne as the two stepped out of their apartment and into the hallway.

"I think so," Mary Anne replied carefully, checking her purse.

"Wallet?"

"Yes."

"Money?"

Mary Anne reached in her bag and opened her wallet. "Yes."

"Your little stuffed Dimitri?"

Jennifer's tiny roommate pulled from her purse a pocket-sized toy sheep and giggled as she tickled its fur. Mary Anne never went anywhere without the special gift from her boyfriend. With a smile on her face, she gently placed it back in her purse.

"Ok, so you're sure you have everything?"

"Yes, I have everything," Mary Anne retaliated. "I don't understand why we have to go through this every time we leave the apartment!"

"Because you have a habit of forgetting things at home."

"Like what?"

"Two weeks ago, you forgot to bring our written requests for flight schedule adjustments. We ended up working flights to Australia and the Philippines without getting to submit our requests, and because of that we missed the deadline."

"Ok, so I forgot something important once."

"A few days before that, we went to the grocery store and you forgot the coupons. And your credit card!"

"But I remembered later and we came back to get them."

"Mary Anne, you remembered when we were in the checkout line, after the clerk rang everything through!"

"Ok, ok. I sometimes forget things. But I didn't forget anything this time. I've got my wallet, money and Little Dimitri. We're set to go."

Jennifer paused. "Do you have the key?"

Mary Anne rolled her eyes. "No, silly. I left it in the apartment so I don't lose it while we're gone."

The taller blonde gaped at her friend for a moment before letting out a breath. "Ok," she said calmly, "I'm sorry. Why don't you lock the door and we'll go meet the guys?"

"Sure." Mary Anne turned to the door and gazed down at the lock for a few seconds as Jennifer looked on expectantly. "Oh, right!" she realized before turning to Jennifer. "I'll be right back," she said in embarrassment before she went into the apartment to retrieve her key.

Jennifer could only laugh at the comedy of errors. "Larry will love this one," she chuckled to herself.

With key in hand, Mary Anne returned to the hall and locked the door behind her. "Sorry about that."

"It's ok, Mary Anne," Jennifer grinned. "I have days like that, too. Let's go see if the boys are ready."

The longtime best friends made their way downstairs to their boyfriends' apartment. Before she could knock on the door, Mary Anne turned to Jennifer. "Have you ever noticed how we always seem to visit their apartment, but they don't spend much time in ours?"

"Sure. I was thinking about it the other day."

"Why do you think that is? You'd think a change of scenery would be nice."

"Maybe it's just easier this way."

Mary Anne shrugged then turned and knocked on the door. Moments later, Larry opened the entrance with a half smile on his face.

"Hi, girls. Come on in." He guided Mary Anne in then exchanged a gentle kiss on the lips with his girlfriend.

"Are you ready to hit that new coffee shop?" Jennifer asked as she walked in.

"Well, I am, but Balki hasn't come home yet." He led Jennifer to the couch, where Mary Anne stood waiting. "Please, have a seat."

"Where is he?" Mary Anne asked as she and Jennifer sat down.

"To be honest, I'm not sure. He went out a couple of hours ago but didn't say where he was going."

"Maybe he just had some errands to run," Jennifer offered.

"Maybe. It's just not like him to run off without telling me where he's going or how long he'll be. He's very considerate that way."

"Well, I wouldn't be too worried, Larry. I'll bet he just went off to find some special foods or decorations for a Myposian celebration day, and he just wants to surprise you."

"That's what I'm afraid of."

"Don't you like when he does that, Larry?" Mary Anne asked.

"I might if it didn't end up with me having to wear some garment lade with tassels, bells or garden fungi and eating some sort of goat innards." He shook his head. "I don't know. I just have a bad feeling about all of this."

"Maybe the goat innards were off."

Jennifer looked at her roommate. "He hasn't eaten any goat innards yet. He's worried about Balki."

"Maybe I should go look for him," Larry said.

"I'm sure he's fine, Larry. Balki's a grown man and he's lived in Chicago for a long time now. He can take care of himself."

Larry paused to think. "You're right, Jennifer. Why am I so worried? He's only been gone a couple of hours. I mean, if anyone can take care of himself, it's Balki. After all," he sniffed confidently, "I brought him up."

Jennifer and Mary Anne looked to one another with gentle grins. "You brought him up?" Jennifer scoffed lightly.

Larry looked to his girlfriend with slight shock, somewhat taken aback that he was being doubted. "During his time in America, yes. If it wasn't for me, he'd still be naïve, gentle and innocent."

"Oh, so you're the bad influence!" Mary Anne joked, causing Jennifer to giggle.

As Larry looked on with a puzzled façade, Balki quietly entered the apartment, catching the attention of his friends. Larry, Jennifer and Mary Anne looked on in stunned silence as Balki stood before them, dirtied and tussled from head to toe. His tired eyes blinked a few times before he did his best to brighten his expression. "Hi, Cousin Larry; hi, Mary Anne; hi, Jennifer! Beautiful day today, hoh?"

"Balki," Larry gasped as Jennifer and Mary Anne made their way over to the boys, "where have you been? What happened to you? Are you alright?"

"Oh, I'm fine, Cousin. I was just out running some errands. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to take a shower. It's dirty work…..running errands." He quickly tried to escape to his bedroom, but Larry intercepted him.

"What kind of errands?" Larry asked with suspicion, knowing his cousin's appearance told a different story.

"Oh, you know. This and that, and a little bit of the other."

"Did this, that and a little bit of the other involve tumbling down a mountain of dirt?" Larry quipped as he nodded to Balki's soiled exterior.

"Oh, this? Well, this, uh….this….," Balki stumbled as he tried to come up with an excuse, "it, uh….." He paused, composing himself. "Cousin, you ever have one of those days where you just don't feel fresh?"

Larry looked at his friend, whose best efforts to be convincing weren't passing the test. "Balki, we're not buying it."

"Perhaps would you consider taking it for a test drive while I have a shower?" He tried to dash off to his bedroom again, only to be stopped by his cousin.

"Now wait a second, Balki—"

"Please, Cousin," Balki interrupted with a tone of urgency in his voice. "I have to get back to…..running my next set of errands."

"You're going out again?" Mary Anne questioned.

"We have plans to go to the new coffee shop with Jennifer and Mary Anne," Larry reminded his cousin. "Remember?"

"Well, of course I do, don't be ridiculous; and I promise you all that I'll make it up to you. But I really have to go."

Larry stepped in Balki's way. "Balki, you're not going anywhere until you are straight with us."

Balki looked at his cousin with an expression of shock. "Cousin! After all this time, you should know that I like girls!"

"That's not what I mean by 'straight'. We want the truth."

"But that is the truth! I only like girls!"

"Not about that! We want the truth about where you were this morning and where you're going now!"

"You know, Larry," Jennifer interceded delicately, "Balki has every right to his privacy. We shouldn't badger him."

Balki panicked. "You're going to sic badgers on me?!"

"No, of course not," Larry replied as Mary Anne went to comfort her nervous boyfriend. "Jennifer just means that you don't have to tell us where you were and that we should respect that." He struggled for a moment before sighing. "And she's right." Larry faced his cousin. "I'm sorry I tried to force you to tell us."

"Oh, that's ok, Cousin. I know you are just concerned. I can understand why you would want to know why Balki was digging up dirt all morning."

"Digging up dirt?" Larry repeated.

Balki looked to see that he had inadvertently revealed what he was doing and had piqued the curiosity of Larry, Jennifer and Mary Anne. "Did I say 'digging up dirt'?" he said with feigned innocence.

"Yes, you did," Mary Anne replied blankly.

"No, I couldn't possibly have said that."

"I heard it, too," Jennifer added.

Again, Balki looked to each of his friends before taking a stance. "I don't think so!" he declared confidently. "I believe I said…..I said…..'Ding ding machmoud'."

"'Ding ding machmoud'?" Larry challenged.

"Yes. That's what I said."

"So you didn't say you were digging up dirt all morning; you said you were ding dingmachmoud all morning."

Struggling with his conscience, Balki tried to endure. "Uh…huh."

"So you were a Myposian dish of pig snout and saffron."

Balki thought for a moment. "Is that what 'ding ding machmoud all morning' means? Perhaps my translation is off. After all, English is not my native tonsil. Well, off to take my shower now!"

Larry grabbed Balki's dirty shirt sleeve, sending a spray of dust into the air. "Ok, now I know there's something wrong," he coughed, wafting the dirt particles away from his face.

"What makes you think something wrong is?"

"Because you're not a liar, yet you've been lying to us since you walked through that door."

Balki paused, ashamed of misleading his friends. "Ok, Cousin. You're right, I was digging up dirt all morning."

"Well, now that we've got that cleared up, do you want to tell us why you were digging up dirt?" Suddenly, Larry remembered something Jennifer had said to him earlier, and a look of concern overcame his face. "Oh, no. Don't tell me you've been preparing for some inane Myposian celebration!"

"Well, sort of. That's been kind of a benefit of the digging. While I was shoveling, I found the ideal grubs for next Wednesday's celebration of thePikinokskok Festival, the Myposian commemoration of truffles and spores! And good news, Cousin; you get to wear the traditionalSkamagosheadgear while we eat a hearty dish of VeeskeetMahBavanous, or what is commonly known as Goat Lung a la Mode!"

Larry sank in place. "I knew it," he brooded.

"Wait a second, Balki," Mary Anne spoke up. "If that's a benefit of the digging, then why were you digging in the first place? And will you save some VeeskeetMah Bananas for me?"

"Mary Anne," Jennifer said, "Balki obviously doesn't want to talk about what he was doing this morning, so let's leave him alone."

"Well, ok. But I just have one more question." She turned to Balki. "Can you use strawberry ice cream for the goat lung?"

"I don't see why not," Balki replied. "On Mypos we usually use rutabaga ice cream, but I'm guessing you don't have that flavor here." He looked at his watch. "Beeskavatiki! I'm going to be late!" He ran to the washroom and closed the door behind him.

As the sound of running water emerged from the bathroom, Larry looked to Jennifer and Mary Anne. "Something's not right."

"No, but what can we do about it?" Jennifer asked hypothetically. "He'll talk about it when he's ready."

"Perhaps we don't need to wait for him to tell us."

Jennifer peered at her boyfriend. "Larry, what are you planning?"

"You forget, I'm an investigative reporter. Finding out the story and all of the secrets and hidden angles is my job." He grinned. "If anyone can find out what Balki's trying to hide, it's me. Now, if you'll excuse me for a moment."

Suddenly, Larry darted for the washroom and barged in, slamming the door shut behind him. Jennifer and Mary Anne could hear the running water interrupted by the hasty yanking of a shower curtain followed by Balki's screech.

"Cousin! What you are doing?!" the girls heard.

"Come with me!" Larry's voice boomed prior to the sounds of a scuffle emitting from behind the door. Jennifer and Mary Anne looked on with shock as the door burst open and Larry dragged out Balki, who was struggling to keep a towel around his waist. Larry pulled his cousin to the living area where the girls stood. Jennifer gasped and covered her eyes as she turned away, while Mary Anne gawked with wide eyes at Balki's partially covered wet body. "Tell us where you've been!" Larry demanded impatiently. 'Tell us, tell us, tell us!"

Shocked and reeling, Balkistumbled in utter disbelief of his cousin's actions. "Well, Cousin, what do—" he began before seeing Mary Anne's eyes fixated on him. "AHHH!" he yelped, scurrying behind Larry in order to hide his naked frame from his girlfriend. Jennifer immediately turned and grabbed Mary Anne, forcing her to face away from Balki.

"Larry, what happened to your investigative reporting skills?" Jennifer snapped with her hand over her eyes and her back to the boys.

"Sorry, girls, but sometimes a reporter has to take action he doesn't always want to take in order to get the story."

"You mean you get stories by dragging people out of the shower?" Mary Anne inquired. "Wow, it must have been so awkward when you did that article on the nunnery!"

"I don't think this is what's meant as exposing a story!" Jennifer added.

"You could have fooled me!" Balki gasped angrily. "Cousin, what the meaning of this is?!"

"Balki," Larry said, turning to his cousin, "you're hiding something from us!"

"And I'm going to keep it that way!"Balkiretaliated, adjusting his towel.

Larry pressed on, ignoring his cousin's misunderstanding. "What are you hiding?"

"Not very much right now!"

"Ooooh!" Mary Anne sang with intrigue as she tried to turn around but was held back by Jennifer.

"Balki," Jennifer reasoned, "why don't you just tell us what's going on? Then you can put some clothes on, we can go for coffee and Larry can hopefully regain his sanity."

The Mypiot opened his mouth to protest only to meet the eyes of his cousin. Balki could see Larry's look of confidence and reassurance, and he knew he couldn't keep deceiving his friends. He sighed as he realized defeat. "Oh, Cousin," he began, letting out a deep breath, "you can read me like the back of your hand. I don't know why I tried fooling you."

"So you're ready to tell us what's going on?" Larry asked encouragingly.

"I don't know where to begin."

"Just give us the bare essentials."

"I think we've gone way beyond that, Cousin," Balki quipped, eyeing his uncovered body. "May I get dressed now?"

"Ok."

"Awwww," Mary Anne groaned.

"You promise you'll talk to us when you come out?" Larry asked his cousin.

"I promise, but I'll still have to go soon."

"Fine."

As Balki dashed into his bedroom to change, Jennifer and Mary Anne turned to face Larry. "I can't believe you did that," Jennifer said.

Larry shrugged. "It worked, didn't it?"

Jennifer eyed her boyfriend, her lips slowly growing into a smirk. "I guess it did," she admitted lightheartedly.

"It sure did," Mary Anne said dreamily, staring in the direction of where Balki exited. "Is your air conditioning broken?" she asked, flustered. "It's awfully warm in here!"

"At the very least," Jennifer joked to Larry, "you just guaranteed Mary Anne a good month's worth of nice dreams!" She turned to her roommate. "I'll get you a glass of water."

As Jennifer walked to the kitchen, Mary Anne rushed to Larry and gave him an embrace. "Thank you!" she gushed. "I never knew tending flock could do that to a body!" As she pulled back, her hands quickly examined Larry's arms. "Hmm, too bad there aren't any sheepherding schools in Chicago."

Jennifer returned to the living area and handed Mary Anne a glass of water as Larry pouted while feeling his right bicep. Moments later, Balki emerged from his bedroom. Dressed in manual labor working attire of old sheepherder shorts, a Chicago Black Hawks t-shirt and Myposian-designedsuspenders, he joined his friends.

"Ok, Balki," Larry began, "what are you up to?"

"Well, I'm always up for a parsnip roast, but I don't have time for that now."

"Not what are you up for; what are you up to?"

"Ohhh, what am I up to!" Balki repeated with understanding. "Sorry, I'm a little preoxidized."

"You mean preoccupied?"

"What's my eyesight got to do with it?"

Larry glared at his cousin. "Just tell us where you were this morning!"

Balki looked to Larry then to Jennifer and Mary Anne. He swallowed. "Cousin, do you remember a couple of weeks ago, when you work late on the Friday?"

"Sure. I was working on that transit funding article for Marshall and Walpole."

"Right. So Balki came home alone that night. Shortly after I arrive, a delivery man come to the door with a parcel from Mama."

"Let me guess – the Skamagos headgear for the Pikinokskok Festival?"

Balki looked at Larry with a grin. "You are good!"

Larry placed an understanding hand upon Balki's shoulder. "And you've been hiding it from me because you think I won't want to wear the headgear, take part in the festivities or eat ice cream-topped goat organs," he assumed. "Well, I understand that, and as your best friend I can assure you with the utmost confidence that you are absolutely right on all accounts. See – there was no reason to hide that from us." He turned to Jennifer and Mary Anne. "Let's go to that coffee shop now."

"Wait, wait," Balki said, stopping his cousin. "That's not it."

"Well, it should be, because I'm not partaking in any festival that celebrates the 'miracle' of fungi."

"Cousin, it's not about the festival," Balki said sternly. He paused. "Would you eat the goat lung if I used Cool Whip instead?"

"Balki—" Larry said in a tone that warned his cousin to get back on track.

Balki sighed and resumed his explanation. "Anyhow, when the package come, it come by overnight express, postage due."

"Your mama sent a package overnight from Mypos, postage due?!" Jennifer gasped. "That must have cost a fortune!"

"Two hundred thirty nine dollars and fifteen cents," Balki confirmed. "See, Mama asked KidiPannopanous – the potahto-picker from her neighbor's farm – to ship the headgear to me. I guess Kidi's lazy eye had a full-blown nap that day because he accidentally ticked the 'Overnight Express' and 'Postage Due' boxes on the shipping label."

"Balki, where did you come up with that kind of money to pay the delivery man?" Larry asked.

"Well, that the thing is. Balki didn't have the money; Cousin Larry, you weren't at home; Jennifer and Mary Anne were working a flight to London; and was in Atlantic City playing the slops! But I have to find someone to borrow the money from or the man take the parcel away and send it back to Mama!"

"So what did you do?" Mary Anne inquired.

"I have no choice! I go downstairs and—" he paused, knowing Larry's reaction would not be good, "—see Mr. Twinkasetti."

"Twinkasetti?!" Larry, Jennifer and Mary Anne exclaimed in unison.

"How could you ask Twinkasetti of all people for money?!" Larry cried. "Wasn't there anyone else in the building you could have asked?"

"Cousin, I don't have time to go door-to-door like the A-bomb Lady! The delivery man wouldn't wait any longer!"

"So what happened, Balki?" Jennifer asked.

"Well, I go down to the store to see Mr. Twinkasetti and, let me tell you, he was as surprised as a Mypiot who find no eels in his bathing su-it!"

"I don't doubt it," Larry said. "He hasn't seen you since you quit working for him."

"Was he happy to see you?" Mary Anne inquired obliviously.

"He must have been. He remembered me by nickname – Turnip!"

"Wow!"

"Balki, get back to Twinkasetti!" Larry instructed.

"I've been trying to, but you won't let me leave!" Balki argued.

"I mean, get back to the point in your story where you went to see him about the money!"

"Oh! Well, I say to Mr. Twinkasetti, 'Hello, Mr. Twinkasetti!', to which he replied, 'I see the turnip truck just dropped off another shipment!'" Balki looked at Larry. "I guess the Ritz Discount now sells produce! I wonder if Mr. Twinkasetti would like some Mypos-grown vegetables for his customers?"

Jennifer interceded. "Balki, what happened when you asked Mr. Twinkasetti for the money?"

"Well, I tell him I only bother him for the money because no one else is around and it is very important that I pay the delivery man so I don't lose the package."

A pained expression came over Larry's face. "You didn't actually tell him how important it was, did you?"

"Well, of course I do, don't be ridiculous."

"That's what I was afraid of."

"What you do mean?"

"Balki, when Mr. Twinkasetti gave you the loan, did he tell you when you had to pay it back?"

"Yes, Mr. Twinkasetti was very good to me. He tell me I don't have to pay him back for a year!"

Larry and Jennifer both groaned. "And what interest rate is he charging you?" Larry inquired.

"How you did know he is charging me interest?"

"The same way I know a cobra will attack anything that comes near it. All venomous snakes are the same!" Larry spat. "Now how much interest is he charging?"

"Seventy-five percent a week."

"Seventy-five percent?!" Larry and Jennifer echoed in disbelief.

"Mr. Twinkasetti says that's better than any bank would give me."

"Any bank from 1950s Russia, maybe!" Larry answered. "Balki, he's ripping you off. Do you know how much seventy-five percent of two hundred and thirty-nine dollars is?"

"One hundred seventy-nine dollars and twenty-five cents," Mary Anne stated. Balki, Larry and Jennifer looked over to their friend, who stood silent with a blank expression.

Larry turned back to Balki. "Balki, Twinkasetti is robbing you blind."

"Mr. Twinkasetti lose his sight? That's awful!" Balki replied. "But how he was able to tell that he gave me the right amount of money?"

"He's not blind, he's scum!"

"What you do mean?" Balki asked in defense. "He loaned me the money for the package."

"Yes, but he's charging you an outlandish interest rate and has told you to take a year to pay it off! Think about that for a moment. Do you realize how much interest you'll have to pay after a year?"

"Nine thousand three hundred and twenty-one dollars," Mary Anne replied. Again, her friends stared at her with incredulity.

Jennifer shook her head. "Imagine what that brain could do if it wasn't working on a volunteer basis only!"

"It boggles the mind," Larry said before facing his cousin. "Balki, do you have that kind of money?"

"No, but Mr. Twinkasetti offered me another payment plan."

"Does it involve the donation of your organs…..or limbs?"

"Mr. Twinkasetti said that he will only charge me seventy percent interest if I be his personal lackey!"

Jennifer looked at Balki's naïve expression. "Do you know what a lackey is?"

"Well, of course I do, don't be ridiculous!" Balki scoffed. "It's someone who brings good fortune! Like a leprechaun!"

"A leprechaun?"

"Right! Just like the one on the box of Lackey Charms cereal!" Balki smiled. "Boy, I love that cereal. Pink hearts, yellow moons, orange stars, green clovers and Neil Diamonds!" He raised his arms. "I'm Mr. Twinkasetti's lackey charm!"

"Balki," Larry began, "that's Lucky Charms! A lucky charm is something or someone that brings good fortune. A lackey is a personal servant!"

"You mean I'm not a leprechaun?"

"No. You've agreed to be Twinkasetti's servant."

"Oh," Balki said despondently. Immediately, Mary Anne moved over to console her boyfriend.

"And I'll bet that's where you were this morning – digging up Twinkasetti's yard for him, right?"

Balki nodded sadly.

"Don't worry, Balki," Jennifer said with reassurance, "we won't let him do this to you; will we, Larry?"

"Absolutely not!" Larry affirmed with authority. "I'm going to go to his house and put an end to this right now! Then, I'm going to give you whatever money you need to pay off your debt to him! Let's go!"

As Larry, Jennifer and Mary Anne took a determined step towards the door, Balki spoke up. "Wait, wait! I can't let you do that!"

"Balki, you are not his slave," Mary Anne said. "He can't treat you like this!"

Balki paused. "Yes, he can," he said quietly.

"What are you talking about?" Larry demanded as Balki moved to the couch and sat down. "Slavery was abolished in this country over a hundred years ago!"

"Cousin, you don't understand. Mypos custom says that when a Mypiot agree to serve someone, then he is a servant for life. It is the custom of Dorkidiridi."

"This is not Mypos, this is America! And here, you are not required to be anyone's slave!"

"It don't matter where I am. As long as I am a Mypiot, I live by Myposian customs. To disobey a custom from my country would be dishonorable and would be just cause for the members of the Hut of Parliament to strip me of my citizenship. My family would be shamed and would become outcasts, and they would be exiled to the Isle of Locustopolis. And believe me, that name was given for a reason!" He looked at Larry. "You have to face the facts, Cousin…..I am Mr. Twinkasetti'sDork. Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go clean out Mr. Twinkasetti's eaves troughs. Why he keep pigs on his roof is beyond me, but who am I to question American customs?" Balki exited the apartment, leaving Larry, Jennifer and Mary Anne speechless.

* * *

For the remainder of the weekend, Balki rarely saw his apartment or his friends. Mr. Twinkasetti had taken great joy in keeping the Mypiot busy with any and every menial task he could think of. While Balki remained true to his promise and refrained from making any complaints, Larry stirred with great frustration over Twinkasetti's treatment of Balki. More so, the custom of Dorkidiridi and Balki's relentless abiding of it annoyed Larry that much further. While he respected Mypos and its system of values, he couldn't understand how anyone in the modern era could allow himself to be manipulated to such an extent.

The few times Larry saw Balki that weekend, he did his best to try to convince his cousin to allow Larry to provide a loan to pay off Twinkasetti. Balki would have none of it and continued to dedicate himself to working off his loan. Twinkasetti – a man of limited morals dictated by a Napoleon complex – knew Balki was naïve, honest and more than willing to go above and beyond the call of duty, no matter what the price. Without a moment's hesitance, he took advantage of that, working Balki hectic all day Saturday and all day Sunday, to the point that Balki did not arrive home on Sunday until close to midnight.

The following morning, Balki was up bright and early in order to get to the Chronicle on time. His tired and haggardappearance concerned Larry, who spent more time Monday morning watching his cousin than working on the article he was assigned. Fortunately for Balki, Mr. Gorpley had been scarce that morning and did not witness Balki's sluggish performance in the mailroom.

When the lunch break arrived, the first thing Larry did was get Balki to the Chronicle's cafeteria and order his cousin a full tray of food. He knew Balki couldn't have eaten well, if at all, during the weekend, and he wanted to ensure that his cousin was well nourished. He left Balki to eat with Harriette while he hustled back down to his desk in order to call Jennifer.

"There has to be something we can do," Larry told his girlfriend during their conversation. "He can't go on like this, and Twinkasetti can't get away with it!"

"Do you have any ideas?" Jennifer asked.

"The only thing I can think of is confronting Twinkasetti by myself, behind Balki's back."

"I agree with you, but what about Balki and the Myposian custom? He said he and his family would be shamed if he didn't succeed as Mr. Twinkasetti's—", she paused, unable to come right out and use the derogatory Myposian term. She tried again; "—as Mr. Twinkasetti's…..Dork."

"You're right. I think I'll just have to make sure that Twinkasetti makes Balki aware that he's the one letting Balki off the hook. That way, it's the debtor ending the Dorkidiridi, which has got to be acceptable, right?"

"I don't know, Larry. These Myposian customs always seem to be pretty complicated."

"I know, I know," Larry agreed, grimacing. "What a country! Have you ever seen anything so small be so complicated?"

"Well….." Jennifer giggled, hinting obviously.

"Hey!" Larry objected.

"Alright, so you're not that complicated," Jennifer teased.

"Ok, then." Larry paused before he realized what his girlfriend just said. "Wait a minute! I'm not small either. Five-foot-ten is average height."

"Five-foot-ten?"

"Alright, five-nine-and-three-quarters," Larry fabricated unconvincingly.

Jennifer chuckled. "You know I'm just kidding."

Larry smiled. "I know."

"Good, because I like you just the way you are! I have to go now. Good luck with Mr. Twinkasetti!"

"Thanks, Jennifer! I'll let you know how it turns out."

"Bye."

"Bye."

Larry hung up the phone and sat down at his desk. He pulled out a pad of paper and began trying to think of how he could convince Twinkasetti to let Balki out of his debt. Larry knew it was going to be a challenge since Donald Twinkasetti was one of most stubborn, seedy, crooked people he'd ever known. Even though he had not seen his former employer in close to two years, he could see by Twinkasetti's treatment of Balki that he hadn't changed…unless it was for the worse.

The first idea that came to Larry was to simply call the police and report Twinkasetti for illegally using someone as a slave. The thought quickly was dashed from his mind when he realized that there was no real proof of Twinkasetti's actions other than Balki's eyewitness statement. While he knew Balki's nature would not allow him to lie to the police, he also knew that Balki was willingly acting as Twinkasetti's personal servant in order to pay off a debt, and that that would make the police virtually powerless to lay any charges against Twinkasetti.

He then thought about the thing that would most entice Twinkasetti: a better offer. Larry thought that greed begets greed, and he figured that a gluttonous miser like Twinkasetti would be hard pressed to turn down something that would be more valuable than what he already possesses. While the idea seemed foolproof, Larry almost immediately realized the flaw: Twinkasetti had a personal servant and the potential to make close to nine thousand dollars in interest over the next year, and Larry didn't have anything better to offer.

Larry then thought of the one thing that could work above everything else. It was so clear, so obvious. He would strike Twinkasetti's Achilles Heel.

Determined and confident, he swooped up his blazer from the back of his chair, grabbed his car keys out of the pocket and rushed to the Chronicle's parking garage. It was time to put this to an end. It was time to confront his former employer face-to-face.

* * *

Larry stood outside the Ritz Discount store. He hadn't been inside since he quit working there, and he had had no regrets about leaving. It had always been hard for him as an employee of Ritz; he didn't necessarily dislike the job -- other than the times when he thought he should be a prize-winning photojournalist instead; rather it was his employer that made going to work a chore that resulted in a great deal of antacid consumption. Mr. Twinkasetti had never treated either Larry or Balki with any kind of respect, compassion or understanding, and he was the quintessential purveyor of insults added to injury.

At one time, Larry thought he'd never have to deal with Twinkasetti again. He'd just left his job at Ritz Discount to begin working for the Chicago Chronicle; and Twinkasetti was selling the apartment portion of the building, so Larry knew that he, Balki, Jennifer, Mary Anne and all of the other tenants would never have to worry about their unreasonable, stingy landlord again. Now, standing outside of the Ritz, he saw through the window the man he didn't think would ever be able to cause grief to he and his friends again. 'Never say never,' he thought.

Larry was on a mission as he entered the shop with authority. He looked down from the elevated entry to see Twinkasetti trying to sell an overpriced VCR to a middle-aged woman. With a serpent-like grin and a slithery tone of friendliness in his voice, the Ritz Discount owner was doing everything possible to convince the customer to purchase the equipment.

"I'm still not sure," the woman said hesitantly. "It still seems like a lot to pay. I think I might be able to get a better deal elsewhere."

"Ma'am, trust me," Twinkasetti replied, "you won't find a better price anywhere else. I pride myself on charging the fairest price possible."

She looked at the squat salesman. "Can you guarantee that?"

Larry could see the frustration overcome Twinkasetti's face, culminating in the dropping of his eyes from a false brightness to an unmistakable darkness. "Lady," Twinkasetti said sternly, "are you familiar with the saying about guarantees in life?"

The woman seemed taken aback by the challenge. "Well, certainly…" she stumbled. "There are no guarantees in life."

"A philosophy I live by. So buy it or get out."

"What kind of salesman are you anyway?"

"The kind that doesn't have time for lookiloos! Beat it, sister!" Twinkasetti didn't so much as bat an eye when the woman gasped in disgust and stormed past Larry and out of the store. "Eve takes Adam's rib," he grumbled aloud to himself as he dusted off the VCR he'd been trying to sell, "and ever since, women have been wanting everything for nothing!" Twinkasetti turned towards the cash register, only to see Larry standing on the entryway's steps. "Well," he huffed, "if it isn't Curly the Eighth Dwarf…and Snow White's favorite Stooge! What's the matter, Appleton? Did the paper finally find a more competent troglodyte to sort the obituaries and now you're crawling back to me, like a cockroach, for your old job?"

With a direct glare at Twinkasetti, Larry walked directly to his former employer. "Not on your life, Twinkasetti. I'm here about Balki."

"Oh, so the turnip was replaced by a monkey and now he needs a job!"

"Balki is not your personal servant!" He leaned forward intensely. "You're going to leave him alone, right?"

"Appleton, let me explain it so that even you can understand," Twinkasetti retaliated. "I gave the turnip a loan, and there is still an empty place in my wallet where two hundred and thirty-nine dollars belongs. Now, the turnip isn't able to give me my money, so we made other arrangements. It's called an I.O.U."

"It's called slavery, and I won't let you get away with it!" Larry contended. He pulled out an envelope from his inside breast pocket. "Here! Here's two hundred and thirty-nine dollars, in cash. The debt is settled, and you can go back to doing whatever it is that gargoyles do!"

Twinkasetti ignored the envelope held out before him. "I see the vegetative state runs deep in your family. Think about it, Appleton. This is the turnip's debt, not yours; and he can pay it off in ways you never could." He darted a look into Larry's eyes. "Understand?"

"Yeah," Larry hissed back, "I understand. It means nothing to you to take advantage of someone too vulnerable to resist."

"Oh, that's where you're wrong, Appleton," Twinkasetti smirked. "It means a lot to me. In this case, about nine thousand dollars and a priceless amount of free labor."

"I sure am glad you no longer own the apartment building! By now, you'd have turned off our water, heat and electricity as further collateral for the loan!"

Twinkasetti sighed. "Yeah, I miss being able to do things like that."

Larry stuffed the envelope back into his pocket. "Tell me something, Twinkasetti. What does your wife think about all of this? I mean, suppose word of your little scam got back to her. How do you think she'd react?"

"Wise up, ingrate. I wear the pants in the family, not my wife."

"That's funny," Larry said, feeling he was getting the upper hand, "I seem to recall that Mrs. Twinkasetti is awfully fond of Balki, and that anytime she found out you were treating him poorly, she had something to say about it; and your tune changed pretty quickly."

"So if that's the case, do you think the turnip would still be working off his debt?"

Larry suddenly realized, as Twinkasetti attempted to stare him down, that his former employer was right. He was sure Mrs. Twinkasetti would have not only immediately freed Balki from his position as her husband's personal servant, but she would have ensured that Twinkasetti paid for his mistreatment of Balki. Larry knew that Twinkasetti's wife was his only true vulnerable spot, but for one reason or another he seemed impervious to his weakness.

"Is that all you've got, Appleton?" Twinkasetti dared. "I saw better debates at my kid's grade school election!"

Knowing he'd lost the round, Larry refused to show Twinkasetti any weakness. "This isn't over, Twinkasetti. We'll free Balki from your tyranny yet!"

"'We'? You mean you and the turnip? Well, now there's a threat. Your combined brain power couldn't light a match!"

"And a lit match would still have more warmth than you!"

A look of sarcasm appeared on Twinkasetti's façade. "Gee, you got me there," he huffed. "Look out Don Rickles."

"You haven't seen the last of me," Larry growled before turning away and walking towards the door.

"Next time you come, bring the turnip. I've got a chimney that needs sweeping!"

Larry paused at the door, turned and glared at Twinkasetti, who leaned against the counter with a smirk on his face. He then stormed out of the store.

* * *

The next day at the Chronicle, Mr. Gorpley stormed out of his office. He took a quick glance of the area before setting his sights on Larry, who sat at his desk. "Where's Bartokomous?" Gorpley demanded angrily.

"I don't know," Larry replied. "I haven't seen him since he went upstairs to deliver the latest office memo."

"Well, he'd better get back here in a hurry. I just got a call from Wainwright. He just chewed me out for not having last month's mailing report completed yet!"

"So what's that got to do with Balki? Isn't that your job?"

"I have more important things to do, so I told the Mypiot to get the report done. But he couldn't even do that!"

"Don't you think you've put enough on Balki's plate without asking him to do such a large project like the mailing report? He can only do so much in a day!"

"Precisely. Bartokomouscan only handle so much, which isn't enough. You tell your cousin that he'd better have that report done, in triplicate, by the end of the day, or he'll be out of a job!" Gorpley walked determinedly back to his office and slammed the door behind him.

Larry shook his head as he picked up his phone's receiver and dialed the extension of the reception desk. After four rings, Cassie, one of the receptionists, answered. "Hi, Cassie, it's Larry Appleton from the basement calling. Could you please page BalkiBartokomous? He's required in the basement right away."

"Certainly. I'll page him right away."

"Thank you." Larry hung up and looked at his watch. It was 11:47 – Balki had a little more than half the day to not only complete Gorpley's report but get his own tasks done as well. Moments later, he heard Cassie's voice over the building's PA system, paging Balki.

Shortly thereafter, Lydia appeared through the door at the top of the basement stairs. "Larry," she called as she walked down the stairs, "I just heard the page for Balki. Is everything ok?"

"Hardly. Gorpley said that if Balki doesn't get the mailing report done by the end of the day, he'll get rid of him."

"But it's always been Sam's job to compile the report. Why is he having Balki do it?"

"Gorpley says he has more important things to do."

Lydia rolled her eyes. "I'll bet!"

"What do you mean?"

"Larry, the only important things Sam has to do are watch others do his job for him and write nasty letters to his ex-wife," she explained. "He's taking advantage of Balki!"

"Him, too?" Larry said as a confused expression overcame his face. "Did that become a national pastime?"

"What?"

"I don't have time to explain it all right now, but someone else is using Balki, too."

"You mean there's another Sam Gorpley out there?" Lydia asked rhetorically. "There must be something about that in Revelations!"

"Believe it or not, Lydia, this guy makes Gorpley look…..well…..only somewhat rotten."

"'Somewhat'?" Lydia repeated. "Calling Sam 'somewhat rotten' is like saying Charles Manson is only slightly unstable."

"Well, it's true. "

"I'll believe it when I see it."

"Ok. But don't say I didn't tell you ahead of time."

"Larry," Lydia grinned almost condescendingly, "if I trusted everything a man told me, I'd believe that a one night stand could lead to something special." She stopped suddenly as the smile left her face and Larry arched his eyebrows at her. "Uh, what I mean to say is….well—"

Balki suddenly burst through the doors and bounded down the stairs in a frenzy. "Cousin," he gasped, coming to a halt between Larry and Lydia, "I hear-ed my name over the PU system! What's going on?"

"Gorpley's looking for you," Larry responded. "He wants last month's mailing report, in triplicate, by the end of the day." He looked at his frantic cousin. "You were delivering those memo copies for a long time. That's not like you. Where have you been?"

"I…I can't tell you. It's too hoomiliating!"

"You don't have to be hoomiliated. You can tell me anything."

"You can tell me, too, Balki," Lydia reassured her friend. "There's nothing to be hoomiliated about around us!"

"Well," Balki considered aloud, looking to Larry and Lydia, "alright. But you have to promise you no tell anyone, ok?"

Larry nodded. "Ok."

"I mean it. It's very important that you keep your lips peeled!"

"We promise," Larry acquiesced. "What happened?"

Balki looked around to ensure no one else was within earshot. "I fell asleep in the photocopier room."

"You did?" Lydia responded with surprise. "How?"

"I don't know. One minute I was making copies of the memo, the next minute I'm slumped in the chair, catching some cheese!"

"I think you mean z's," Larry corrected.

"What have bees got to do with this?"

"Not b's; z's."

"The guys who sing Stayin' Alive?"

"No, that's the Bee Gees. I said, 'not b's; z's'!"

"I was no talking about bees' z's. I was talking about bees' buzz!"

Larry looked at his cousin. "What are you talking about?"

"What are you talking about?" Balki exclaimed. "I tell you I fall asleep, and you start talking about buzzing bees and disco music!"

"Balki, Balki—" Larry said, grabbing hold of his shuddering cousin by the shoulders, "forget all that! If you fell asleep on the job, you're overly tired! It's obvious you're being worked too hard by Twinkasetti!"

"But, Cousin," Balki argued, calming down, "I made a promise to Mr. Twinkasetti. I cannot pay him back for the loan, so I work it off."

"Balki," Lydia interjected, "you can't go on like this. This Twinkasetti person is taking advantage of you, and you have to stand up to him! Defend your rights!"

"What I do look like – Tammy Faye?"

"No," Larry answered, bypassing the incorrect reference, "and you don't look like Norma Rae either."

"Who?"

Larry looked at his watch. "Never mind. We've wasted all this time and you have work to get done by the end of today. You'd better get cracking."

"I have to cook eggs, too?"

"No! No! Just get to work before Gorpley finds another one of his jobs for you to do!"

"Right!" Balkisaid, hustling over to his workstation.

Before Balki could pull out the previous month's mailing ledgers, Mr. Twinkasetti walked in from the parking garage. "Turnip!"he summoned loudly upon seeing Balki.

"Mr. Twinkasetti!" Balki replied, rushing over to his debtor. "What you are doing here?"

"I want you to get over to my store and take care of my customers! My clerk just quit!"

"Why he quit?"

"He said he was overworked," Twinkasetti scoffed. "Some people just can't handle sixteen-hour shifts."

"Perhaps he shouldn't eat so much bran," Balki said with a squint.

Twinkasetti glared up at Balki. "Shifts, you walking cinder block! Shifts!" He rubbed his forehead in frustration. "When will the government make it mandatory for you people to wear dunce caps so the rest of us have proper warning?"Twinkasetti turned to see Larry at his desk. "Well, look what we have here, trolling in the basement – the Phantom of the Sapera! Anything new in the obituaries?"

"I told you, Twinkasetti," Larry said straightforwardly, "I'm an investigative reporter. I don't write the obituaries." He paused. "At least not this week, I'm not." He glared back at Twinkasetti. "Anyway, I'm an investigate reporter! Investigative reporter!" he emphasized.

"You're an insufferable regurgitater." He turned to Balki. "Let's go already. Do you need an engraved invitation?"

"Well, of course not, don't be ridiculous!" Balki returned. "A simple handwritten invitation will do."

Twinkasetti made a fist and shook it at Balki. "As you can see, I've got better things I could do with my hand, Turnip! Now get going!"

Larry's phone started ringing as Balki and Twinkasetti began heading towards the garage. Suddenly, Mr. Gorpley strode angrily out of his office. "Bartokomous!" he barked, walking directly to his employee, while Larry answered his phone. "Where do you think you're going?"

"Mr. Gorpley," Balki greeted. "I have to go to Mr. Twinkasetti's store and help him. His jerk just quit."

"Well, I can understand why someone would want you to fill a jerk's shoes," Gorpley snapped, "but you've got a job to do here. And if you can't do it, I'll find someone else who can. Catch my drift?"

"Yes, I do," Balki nodded, leaning forward and continuing in a whisper, "and it tell me you just had a chili dog with onions." He bowed his head meekly. "I'm sorry I have to be a tattlesnail."

Gorpley sighed agitatedly. "Bartokomous, either you get back to work or you're fired! Get it?"

"And if you don't get over to my store pronto," Twinkasetti warned Balki, "the interest on your loan is going to increase – quite dramatically, I might add!"

Gorpley glowered at Twinkasetti. "And who are you?" he demanded.

Lydia leaned in to Larry as he hung up the phone. "This ought to be good."

"What's it to you?" Twinkasetti returned.

Balki's employer stepped up to the storeowner, towering over him. "I like to make it my business when any given gargoyle who doesn't work here walks in and starts making demands!"

Twinkasetti threw his hands up. "Again with the gargoyle stuff!" He turned to Larry. "Did you put out an ad or something?" He faced Gorpley again. "Listen, onion breath, the turnip here owes me a lot of money, but since he can't pay it off, he's going to work it off! And he's going to do it now!"

"Bartokomous isn't going anywhere until he finishes his work for the day. And since he has quite an abundance of tasks, I guess he won't be available anytime soon. Sorry to have ruined your day." He paused as a sly, greasy smirk appeared on his face. "Scratch that. I'm glad to have ruined your day. Now take a hike!"

"Wait a minuet," Balki interrupted. "Now before Mr. Twinkasetti goes for a trek in the woods, I have to say something." He faced Sam. "Mr. Gorpley, I know you said that the mailing report has to be done today, but Myposian custom says that I am first and foreplay at my debtor's beckon crawl. So I'm sorry, but I must go help Mr. Twinkasetti. I will be in very early tomorrow morning to finish the report for you."

Twinkasetti eyed Gorpley. "Check and mate, chump!"

"Balki," Larry began, rushing around his desk and stopping his cousin from leaving, "don't you understand? If you leave now, Gorpley will fire you!"

"And it will be my pleasure," Sam added with a grin.

"You know he's been wanting to get rid of you since Day One but he's never had a legitimate reason for doing so. Now you're giving him just cause."

Balki looked at his cousin with confusion. "Just 'cause what?"

"Not just 'cause," Larry clarified. "Just…cause!"

"What?"

"Just cause!"

"Just 'cause what?"

"I told you; just cause, not just 'cause!"

"You told me what just 'cause?"

Twinkasetti rolled his eyes. "I think I gave your combined brain power too much credit!"

"What's it going to be, Bartokomous?" Gorpley demanded.

Balki sighed as he surveyed the situation while the eyes of four people became fixated on him. He turned to his employer. "Mr. Gorpley, I have no choice. I must resign so that I may honor Myposian custom."

Gorpley'ssleazy grin expanded into a low cackle. "Pinch me, I must be dreaming!"

"If you insist," Lydia said before driving an angry fist into his upper arm, causing a loud smacking of flesh to reverberate throughout the large basement.

Sam immediately grabbed his sore arm and scowled at Lydia. "What the hell are you doing?!"

"Oh, gee, Sam," Lydia responded with false sincerity, "I thought you said 'punch'. I'm so sorry. " She smiled with satisfaction.

"Gorpley, you can't just let Balki walk out of here," Larry said. "Reconsider this, will you?"

"Reconsider?" Gorpley repeated, snickering. "Are you kidding?"

"Just think about what you'll be losing!"

Sam sighed heavily. "Alright, fine. I'll think about it." He paused. "Done! Good riddance, Bartokomous!" As he turned sharply towards his office, Larry looked to see Balki about to leave with Twinkasetti.

"Balki, wait!" Larry commanded, halting his cousin in his tracks. He turned to Sam. "Gorpley, do you have any idea what you're doing? Balki works his tail off for you!"

"Well, maybe he should have worked harder!" Gorpley fired back unmercifully. "On his best day, the Mypiot could only muster half a clue! I can hire a replacement before your cousin can say 'Bingibingi'….if that phrase actually means anything!" Sam resumed his walk to his office.

"Maybe you can, but you'll never find anyone as hard-working as Balki! Everything he does, he does well! He even does jobs that you should be doing!" He noticed Gorpley stop curtly just shy of his office door. Larry pressed on. "He does jobs that allow you to leave on time…..sometimes early! Sure, you could find another mail clerk; but would he make your job easier, the way Balki does?" He paused, watching Gorpley at a standstill. "Oh, what am I saying?" Larry suggested sarcastically. "Of course! There are a million Balkis out there, aren't there? I'm sure you won't have any trouble finding someone who will work hard enough to allow you to leave on time and make your poker games! You know, the poker games where you make the money you need to help pay—" He stopped to take a dramatic pause before lowering his voice; "—alimony!"

Gorpley cringed upon hearing the A-word. Taking a moment to swallow the situation he found himself in, he felt the last bit of elation drain from his body. He knew he had no choice.

As Gorpley began to turn to face Balki, Twinkasetti immediately recognized what was about to transpire. "Don't even think about it!" he addressed Gorpley with a stern point of his finger. "You released the reigns on the turnip, now he's mine!" He turned to Balki. "Let's go! I've got an empty store that needs your empty head!"

"Bartokomous," Gorpley began seriously, doing his best to keep from acknowledging his defeat, "I believe you have a report to finish…this afternoon!"

"Save your offensive breath! The turnip made his decision! He's coming with me!"

Gorpley stepped up to Twinkasetti. "No, the Mypiot is staying here!"

The smaller of the two clenched his teeth. "Did your mother have any boys?" he growled.

"Did yours have any children?" Sam returned.

Lydia leaned in to Larry, who anxiously looked at his watch. "I don't think either one of them have mothers," she said, grinning. "They probably came from spores!"

"Easy there, Lurch," Twinkasettishot at Gorpley, "you may hurt yourself coming up with clever remarks like that!"

Gorpley sneered. "Believe me, it's no challenge when you make it so easy!"

"Speaking of easy, what time does your ex-wife open for business? Oh, what am I saying –I'll bet the 'Closed' sign never came out…..except maybe for you, of course!"

Sam's eyes narrowed into slits as he nodded. "So, you want to talk about the wives, do you?"

Balki felt he was causing enough trouble as it was, but suddenly realized his debt was escalating the personal war between his former and current employers. "Please, please!" he pleaded. "Enough is eight is enough! Mr. Gorpley, you no want to say anything bad about Mrs. Twinkasetti!" He turned to his debtor. "And Mr. Twinkasetti," he began, only to stop suddenly as he witnessed Edwina Twinkasetti enter the basement from the garage's doorway right behind her husband. "Oh, popo!"

Twinkasetti glared at Balki while Larry grinned at the arrival of his former employer's Achilles Heel. "'Oh popo'? Am I supposed to know what 'oh, popo' means, Turnip?" He shook his head. "For your sake, I hope it translates to 'I'm on my way to your store right now', but I imagine it's just some sort of sheep mating call!" He turned to Gorpley as Edwina stealthily moved directly behind her husband. "Now, as for you, Tall, Grey and Ugly, there's nothing you can say about my wife that will bother me. And if you've seen her, you'll know why!"

"Donald!" Mrs. Twinkasettisnapped.

Twinkasetti's eyes grew in surprise before their lids slowly sank as he grasped the reality of the situation. He clutched his stomach. "Ooof!" he groaned quietly.

"And who's this lovely lady?" Gorpley asked mockingly before cackling deviously.

Donald screwed his face from a pained contortion into an expression of faux pleasure as he turned to his wife. "Edwina, my pet! What are you doing here?"

"The moment I heard what you were doing to Balki, I caught the first plane back to Chicago!"

"But how did you know I was here?"

"Well, when Larry was good enough to tell me what was going on, he gave me his work number in case I needed to call him. And sure enough, when I got to the store a short while ago and found you weren't there, I called him to find out if he knew where you were. Lucky for me, he told me you were here."

Twinkasetti glared at Larry. "Rrrrowwff!" he barked

Larry simpered as he explained to Twinkasetti. "When I went to see you, my plan was to use your Achilles Heel against you; namely Mrs. Twinkasetti. I almost accepted it when you told me she'd have stopped your manipulation of Balki if she'd had a problem with it. But when I thought about it, I knew that there was something wrong with that whole scenario. So I did what any good investigative reporter does – I did my research and dug up the real story!" He turned to his cousin. "Balki, what did Twinkasetti tell you about his wife while you were doing his grunt work?"

"Oh, Cousin, I think you are mistaken," Balki said innocently. "There was no pig care involved."

"Balki, grunt work is another word for labor."

The innocent sheepherder turned to his former employer's wife with a gasp and a smile. "Mrs. Twinkasetti, you are expecting?"

"Not that kind of labor!" Larry clarified intently. "Did he tell you," he translated slowly, "that Mrs. Twinkasetti had any objections to you working off your debt?"

Balki paused to recall. "Well, no. He said that he was keeping it a secret because it was going to be a surprise for her birthday, and that she would be very happy to have all the work done."

"Balki," Mrs. Twinkasetti said, "my birthday was four months ago."

"Well, maybe you should tell Mr. Twinkasetti that. He think your birthday is next month!"

"He lied to you about her birthday," Larry elucidated. "He probably even lied to you about where she was."

"Now that's no true. Mr. Twinkasetti says that Mrs. Twinkasettihad Bulgaria and had to be Florentined to their bedroom, so she should no be disturbed!" He faced Edwina. "I'm so glad you're feeling better now."

"Balki, she didn't haveMalaria," Larry said, only to be met with Balki's blank expression. He rolled his eyes. "She didn't have Bulgaria," he amended in order to appease his cousin's misunderstanding, "…or any other part of the Balkan Republic. Mrs. Twinkasetti was actually in Phoenix, taking care of her mother."

"Your mama's sick?" Balki asked Edwina with concern.

"She broke her leg in a bad fall and I've just been looking after her and helping around the house," Mrs. Twinkasetti explained.

Balki faced Larry. "How you did know where she was?"

"I investigated," Larry stressed, looking directly at Donald. "It was a matter of deducing that Mrs. Twinkasetti could only have stopped Mr. Twinkasetti's slavery scheme if she'd known it was occurring. And if she didn't know about it, that meant she was somewhere where she couldn't witness it. So I simply used some reliable sources."

"Who would tell you anything?" Mr. Twinkasetti scoffed.

"Your kids."

"Donnie and Marie ratted me out? What did you do, bribe them?

"Hardly. Once they knew that you would suffer when your wife found out about your scheme, they were all too eager to tell me everything!"

Twinkasetti turned to his wife. "I've always said they take after you!"

"Better me than you, Donald," Edwina retorted. She turned to Larry with a smile. "Thank you for letting me know what Donald was doing, Larry."

"My pleasure," Balki's cousin replied with a smile. "Oh, before I forget," he began, pulling out an envelope from his desk's top drawer, "here is the money Balki owes Mr. Twinkasetti."

"Save it. I think Balki has worked off his debt, wouldn't you say?"

"But, Mrs. Twinkasetti," Balki objected, "my country's custom say that I am indebted to your husband until he release me."

Edwina smiled to Balki then turned to her husband with a stern look. "Donald?" she said expectantly.

Mr. Twinkasetti looked into his wife's challenging eyes before dropping his head in defeat. "Turnip—"

"I'm sorry," Edwina interrupted acerbically, "I don't see any vegetables around here. Now, I believe you were addressing Balki?"

Donald growled lowly and jerked his head sharply, as though he was shaking off his frustration. "Balki," he strained with a grimace, "I am releasing you from—" Twinkasetti paused as he swallowed the pain of being forced to relinquish, "—your debt to me. We're even."

"And?"

"And," Twinkasetti continued, deflating, "I'm sorry."

"There," Edwina gloated to her husband, "now that wasn't so hard, was it…..Turnip?" She turned to Balki. "Well, Balki, I think everything is settled now. What do you think?"

A look of relief overcame Balki's face. "I am no longer Mr. Twinkasetti's Dork?"

"Of course you're not! The only dork around here is—" Edwina stopped to look at her husband. "Well, I think we all know who that is!" She turned back to the boys. "I think we'll be off now." Once again, she faced Mr. Twinkasetti. "Come on, Donald. There's a chimney at home that needs sweeping!" She led her sulking husband out of the basement.

"What a nice lady," Lydia commented. "Now that's the kind of woman I can admire. Someone who can bring a man to his knees and reduce him to a sniveling, groveling glob of humiliation! That's what you call a positive role model!" She paused. "Although a makeover wouldn't be the worst thing for her!" Lydia nudged Larry. "Personally, I wouldn't be caught dead with a hairstyle like hers!"

"Well?" Larry said to the advice columnist. "Was I right about Twinkasetti or was I right?"

"I have to admit it, Larry. You were right. What a little gargoyle he is!" She paused to ponder. "It's funny, though; I could swear I've met him before."

"If you had, you'd probably remember it."

"I guess you're right. Oh, well!" Lydia shrugged before leaving the area, humming Since I Lost My Baby.

Gorpley sneered as he watched Lydia walk away. "There's nothing worse than a happy ending!" He turned to Balki. "Ok, Bartokomous, time for you to put your hands to the plow!"

Balki gasped with excitement. "I get to plant crops?"

Sam faced Larry. "Is inbreeding mandatory on Mypos?" He addressed Balki as Mr. Wainwright entered the basement from the Archives. "Bartokomous, take that little low-capacity island mind of yours and put it to good use! That mailing report won't get done by itself, you know! And when you're done with that, the delivery schedule needs updating!" He smirked. "I hope you don't have any plans for tonight!"

"As a matter of fat, I don't!" Balki answered happily as Wainwright stepped up behind Gorpley. "Are you inviting me to one of your poker games you have here after everyone go home?"

"Just get to work!" He suddenly grinned slyly. "If you need me, I'll be in my office, finding more things for you to do!" Gorpley turned for his office only to come face-to-face with Mr. Wainwright. "Oh," he blurted, "Mr. Wainwright! I didn't see you there!"

"Apparently not," the Chronicle's unimpressed publisher stated. "Tell me, Gorpley. What are you doing making Bartokomous put together the mailing report and update the delivery schedule? Are those not your jobs?"

"Well, technically yes, sir…..But I just thought—"

"Gorpley, if I was going to hire someone to do the thinking around here, I'd pick someone a little more qualified than you; like a pigeon!" He looked at his watch. "Now, according to my watch, you only have about two-and-a-half hours to have the final mailing report for last month on my desk. In triplicate, of course." He leaned in to stare directly into Gorpley's wide eyes. "I hope you don't have any plans for tonight!" Mr. Wainwright walked around Sam, past Larry's desk and to the elevator. "Oh, and Gorpley," he called, "when you drop off the mailing report, you can explain to me why you're using the basement to host poker games without my permission!" He stepped into the elevator and closed the door.

As Gorpley stood humbled, Balki stepped over to his employer and patted him on the shoulder. "There, there, Mr. Gorpley. If you can't earn money for Alamomony by playing poker, perhaps you would take a loan from one of your friends and work off the debt." The Mypiot smiled innocently as Gorpley glared at him. "I can't think of anyone who'd be a better Dork than you!"

Without a word, Gorpley turned and headed to his office to begin working on the mailing report.

With a grin, Balki faced Larry. "I like to be of service."

"And you do a great job," Larry replied with arched eyebrows.

"I aim to sneeze!" Balki walked around the desk to Larry. "Cousin, I have to ask you something. Why you did offer to pay back Mr. Twinkasetti for me? Myposian custom is very strict about a person paying his own debt."

"Yes, I realize that, Balki, and I'm sorry if I disrespected your custom in any way. But Twinkasetti had no right to take advantage of you that way, and he had to be stopped one way or the other." Larry placed a hand on Balki's shoulder. "The truth is, today was my second attempt at settling your debt. Yesterday I went to see Twinkasetti. I tried giving him the money then, but he wouldn't take it. He was too intent on making you pay with free labor and an enormously inflated interest rate." He lowered his eyes. "I'm sorry I went behind your back."

"Oh, Cousin," Balki said with a smile, "you no have to be sorry. You were trying to help me. How can I be upset at you for that?"

"Thanks, buddy. I'm glad you understand."

"Well, if there's one thing about Mypiots, it's that we are very understanding people. We have to be; we're outnumbered three-to-one by sheep! On Mypos, you have to understand sheep so you know when they are making fun of you!"

Larry squinted in thought. "You mean that Livestock To English dictionary you have isn't a gag book?"

"Well, of course not, don't be ridiculous! How else I keep up to date with farm animal lingo?"

"I guess that would explain your video collection of the news station's weekly farm report." Larry chuckled. "Ok, Balki, let's get back to work."

"Right!" Balki answered with zeal before he began tidying the strewed papers on Larry's desk.

"Hold on a second, Balki," Larry said, stopping his cousin. "What are you doing?"

"Cousin, you helped make Mr. Twinkasetti relieve me from Dorkiness! I owe you! So now, I am your Dork!" He went back to sorting Larry's desk.

Again, Larry stopped Balki. "No, you are not. You are not my Dork. In fact, you're nobody's Dork. I just did you a small favor, that's all. If the Twinkasettis had accepted the money I offered," Larry began, appeasing his cousin, "then, ok, I'd have been happy for you to have become…..my Dork. But you have to remember that in America – and pretty much every other part of the world – you can repay a small favor with a simple 'Thank you.'"

"But it was no small favor. You help me settle my debt without feeding my dignity to the weasels."

"Still, that doesn't necessitate you being my…..Dork…..does it? I mean, I didn't actually pay your debt, so you don't owe me any money, or labor in lieu of money!"

"Well…..I guess it doesn't fall under Dorkidiridi status," Balki considered. "But I think that would then make me your Tamikopolous!"

Larry cringed at the sound of another Myposian title. "I'm afraid to ask. What does being a Tamikopolous mean?"

"I means I owe you one."

Relief struck Larry's face. "That's it?"

Balki shrugged. "That's it."

"Well, that I can deal with. And I think I know how you can owe me."

Balki thought a moment then lowered his head dejectedly. "Alright, Cousin," he began quietly, "you no have to take part in thePikinokskok Festival."

"Actually, I was thinking that you could read my article for the Sunday magazine. I'd like to get your opinion before I submit it to Mrs. Norman for consideration."

With a hopeful twinkle in his eyes, Balki looked back up to Larry. "Does this mean you will celebrate Pikinokskok with me?"

"I'll be there with bells on," Larry confirmed with a smile.

Balki gasped excitedly. "That means you'll wear the hat!"

* * *

That Saturday, Balki paced anxiously in his apartment. Donned in the traditional attire of the official of the Pikinokskok festivities, he looked proud in a billowy red silk shirt, wide black sash, charcoal grey pants and high black leather boots. He easily could have donned the cover of any romance novel.

With a smile, Balki strode quickly to the closed door of his cousin's bedroom. "Cousin Larry," he called, "are you almost ready?"

"Is it too late to change my favor?"

"Well, I already read your article and give you my opinion. But if you want me to be your Tamikopolous again, I can always find a way to become Mr. Twinkasetti'sDorkidiridi so you can try to reason with him once more!" Balki turned away from the shut door so he could laugh quietly to himself.

"Ok, ok! You win!"

As Balki proudly walked away from Larry's bedroom, a knock sounded from the other side of the boys' apartment door. Balki opened the door to see Jennifer and Mary Anne, both dressed in beautifully made Myposian garb.

"Mary Anne! Jennifer!" Balki exclaimed, leading the girls inside. "You look wonderful!"

"Oh, Balki," his girlfriend sighed, "you look so handsome!"

Balki blushed slightly. "Tell me something I don't blow!"

"Balki, these Myposian dresses you made for us are gorgeous!" Jennifer said as she modeled the majestic purple outfit she wore.

"And they fit perfectly!" Mary Anne added, adorned in a shiny baby blue dress. "How did you know our sizes?"

Balki smirked almost smugly. "It's a gift. I used to help Mama knit pajamas for our goats. After you get butted the first few times you try to measure those little Billies, you get pretty good at estimating inseams!" As Jennifer and Mary Anne looked at one another, Balki stepped in between them. "Mary Anne, Jennifer; Cousin Larry tell me you chip in to come up with the money I owed Mr. Twinkasetti. I just wanted to say thank you."

"We were happy to do it, Balki," Jennifer replied. "Mr. Twinkasetti should never have tried to make you his minion!"

Mary Anne looked at Jennifer with wide eyes. "Wow! He made Balki cook, too?" She turned to Balki. "I could never get my Fillet Minion right! How do you prepare yours?"

"A minion is a slave, Mary Anne."

"That dish is named after slaves?" the tiny blonde gasped. "First, Lackey Charms, now Fillet Minion!" She shook her head. "The things I have yet to learn!"

"There's no unit of measure large enough," Jennifer returned.

Just then, Larry's bedroom door opened a crack. "Balki?" Larry called meekly as Balki scooted over to his cousin's chamber. "Did I hear Jennifer and Mary Anne arrive?"

"Yes, Cousin. We are all waiting for you so we can get this party started! Come; we cannot start celebrating without the Mykadavros!"

"Explain to me again how I was bestowed the honor of being the Mykadavros."

"Well, as the Chikadopolous, I must conduct and oversee the festivities. So the other Myposian of the hut – that being you – must be the Mykadavros."

"Why can't I be the Chikadopolous?"

"Can you recite the Myposian Ballad of Pikinokskok?"

"No."

"Can you lead the Dance of the Seven Entrails?"

"No."

"Can you weave a cart bra out of yak hair?"

Larry paused. "What is a cart bra, and what does that have to do with a festival celebrating fungi?"

"A cart bra protects Myposian transportation from mosquitoes, dung flies and sheep spit, just like the bras you put on your cars," Balki explained. "And it really has nothing to do with the festival; but anyone who can weave a cart bra is one hundred percent Myposian, and since I'm the only one here who can create yak hair magic, I guess I'll be the one to officiate the celebration! Now, will you come join us?"

A loud sigh could be heard from Larry's side of the door. "Alright, alright. Just…..don't laugh."

"We promise." Balki turned to Jennifer and Mary Anne. "Right?"

"Oh, absolutely," Jennifer confirmed. "We won't laugh, will we, Mary Anne?"

"No, we won't, Larry," Mary Anne called. "Unless you look silly, of course!"

Larry's door slammed shut.

"Cousin Larry," Balki called, "come out here, please! Your friends are waiting for you, and the VeeskeetMahBavanous is getting cold!" He paused. "Well, except for the ice cream part of it. That part is melting. So, the Bavanous is both getting cold and melting…..which is really stupid if you think about it!" He turned to the girls. "Perhaps in the future I should serve the Bavanous in a container like the McDLT!"

After another pause, Larry's bedroom door slowly opened. Balki took a few steps back to allow his cousin to exit his room. Suddenly, the sound of bells could be heard, accompanying Larry as he appeared from behind the door.

Immediately, Jennifer and Mary Anne tightened their lips and bit their tongues to suppress the giggles they could feel developing inside as they took in the view of Larry wearing the traditional Mykadavros outfit. Stopping after a few steps, Larry looked carefully at the faces of his friends to ensure that no laughing was about to take place at his expense.

Balki slowly began to circle Larry, taking in the sight of his cousin in the yellow and peach outfit that almost could have doubled as a water-skier's bodysuit. The suit was lined with chicken feathers, dried kelp and preserved mushrooms, and was accompanied by a belt of think, itchy wool. The suit was highlighted by ten-toed slippers with a bell attached to each toe, and the Skamagos hat; an oversized, floppy, goat-hair-covered Fedora-type hat with truffles and spores, as well as three large, dangling jester hat arms laden with bells and tassels.

As Larry stood with a look of humiliation and regret on his façade, Balki walked around his cousin, smiling and nodding. "Uh-huh," the Mypiot said positively, "uh-huh." He looked at Larry. "You fill that su-it out perfectly!" He turned to Jennifer and Mary Anne and lowered his voice. "The smallest man on Mypos is usually the Mykadavros. I actually thought the su-it would be too big for Cousin Larry." Balki turned back to Larry. "Cousin, come!"

Reluctantly, Larry walked over to his friends, glaring at Balki the entire time. "For this, you ought to be my Tamikopolous for a good ten or twelve lives!"

"Larry," Jennifer began with a sweet smile, "you look adorable!"

Larry looked at his girlfriend and studied her sparkling eyes, which were always a sign that she was being truthful. He smiled slightly. "Really?" he said as he turned a slight shade of blush red.

Jennifer nodded. "Really."

"Yeah!" Mary Anne agreed enthusiastically. "You look just like H.R. Pufnstuf!"

Deflated, Larry's head drooped. "Oh, God," he complained.

"Oh, Cousin, don't worry about how you look," Balki said, throwing an arm around Larry's shoulders. He turned to Mary Anne and whispered. "You're right! He does look like Pufnstuf! No wonder no one on Mypos wanted to be the Mykadavros!"

Larry looked up and glared at Balki after overhearing his comment.

"Uh, what I mean is," Balki stumbled, "it's time for the festivities to begin!"

"Fine," Larry sighed. "What do I have to do? What is the Mykadavros' role in all of this? Serving the Bavanous? Singing the praises of toadstools?" He looked at the kelp and mushrooms on his outfit. "Acting as the dinner salad?"

"Actually, you're doing it, Cousin."

"Doing what? What am I doing?"

"Well," Balki said slowly, "the Mykadavros simply wears the su-it and gives everyone a reason to smile throughout the festival."

"And how do I go about keeping everyone smiling?"

"By wearing the su-it." Balki smiled at his cousin. "It's hard to wear a frown when you see someone looking so silly!"

Larry looked at Balki. "That's it," he blurted, "I'm changing!"

"Wait, Larry," Jennifer interceded, rushing to her boyfriend's side. "Please stay. I meant it when I said you look cute in that outfit!"

Again, Larry looked into Jennifer's eyes. "Well…..ok." He turned to Balki. "But the moment these mushrooms start to turn, I'm gone!"

"And we'll be ten paces ahead of you," Mary Anne cracked.

"Enough of the chitty-chatter-bang-bang," Balki announced. "Time to serve the VeeskeetMahBavanous!"

"But I thought we were having Fillet Minion!"

Jennifer shook her head as she led Mary Anne towards the kitchen. "Come on, Mary Anne. I'll explain it to you while you choose what ice cream you want on your Bavanous."

"Ooh, there's dessert, too?"

Balki moved to Larry. "Cousin, I know this is not what you expected when I ask you to wear the Mykadavrossu-it."

"Well, I didn't exactly expect this, but I didn't think I'd be wearing an Armani either."

"Well, I should hope not! You'd look silly adorning those little armored creatures!"

Larry thought for a moment before he realized Balki's error. "That's an armadillo."

"The city in Texas, right?"

"Right," Larry conceded hopelessly.

"Well, do I know my stuff or what?"

"You certainly do. It's just too bad your stuff is from another world."

"What?"

"Nothing."

"Cousin," Balki said, returning to his original thought, "I just want to say thank you for taking part in the celebration and for wearing the su-it; and for helping me get out of my debt to Mr. Twinkasetti."

"Balki, it's ok. Really."

"I know it is, but I still want to thank you. You know, I don't say it often enough but I'm very grateful to have someone who is there for me time and time again." He paused with a smile. "You're my best friend, Cousin Larry."

"Well, thanks, buddy. But it's easy to be there for someone who I've always been able to count on."

Balki leaned in and gave his cousin a hug. "This is great," he said as they separated. "I can count on you, you can count on me. It's so wonderful that we have the kind of friendship where the counting never stops!"

"That's true."

"So then I know I can count on you when I really need you!"

"Well, of course you can."

"I'm so glad to hear you say that, because next week is the Running of the Gingadinos and I need someone to taunt the yak!"

"Taunt the yak?"

"Yes, but don't be worried," Balki said reassuringly. "You'll be well protected. The Gingadinos hat is bigger than the one you have on now!"

THE END.