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PARIS, FRANCE - (Names in the following account have been changed to protect the guilty.)

I ran into Joe on the streets of Paris last week. He looked wan and nervous. "I'm on the lam," he said. "I've been hiding out for days." This came as a shock. When the door is marked tirez, Joe always obeys and pulls, not pushes. He only pushes when it's marked poussez. A law-abiding fellow.

"For gosh sakes, what are you running from?" I asked.

"Look at this!" he exclaimed as he slipped a creased and worn piece of newsprint into my palm. It told a chilling tale that made me glance down to see which shirt I had put on that morning.

Under the headline "Beware of the Crocodile," the article told of a Thai citizen who had been apprehended by French police on the Strasbourg-to-Paris train. In the suitcase they pried from his grasp were 275,431 embroidered crocodiles each about an inch in length. Several pornographic models about an inch and a half long showed two crocodiles on one embroidery, which brought smiles to the faces of the gendarmes. No matter how much the suspect protested that he collected insignia, the more the police became convinced that these crocodiles were going to be sewn onto shirts, sox, sweaters, hats and suspenders to be sold sans license agreement with the head croc. The dragnet apparently was out all over France, where name brands are taken seriously.

Unsuspecting, Joe had returned from Bangkok, Seoul, Taipei and Hong Kong with crocodiles and Mickey Mouse all over his wardrobe. Now, like an outlaw, he dodged from dim alleyway to dim alleyway in Paris, sporting a Pierre Cardin belt, a St. Laurent tie, a Ferrari key ring and matching Lacoste shirt, sox and suspenders. Mickey Mouse was all over his underwear. He reeked of Givenchy after-shave.

"There is a woman in Bangkok who can free me," he whined without much conviction. "Down at the end of Silom Road where it divides, near the Tony Rama boot store, she pushes a cart selling all this stuff. She assured me that her cart was franchised. She even displayed a sign that said so."

I grasped his dilemma. If you can't believe in her sincerity, how can you believe in the $25 Rolexes they were selling on the next cart?

Then bitterness crept in. "Why me?" he inquired in the mode of evey framed felon throughout history. "Why aren't they after those graffiti crooks blatantly posting bills against the law of 1881?" (Hasn't every tourist seen the "Defense d'Afficher Loi du 29 Juilet 1881" written on French buildings?)

Continuing, he swore that he never even tore the tags off mattresses under penalty of law.

My nod was inadequate.

"Yeah," he sneered, "the real dangerous crooks go free." "Only yesterday I saw a guy wearing a New Orleans Saints sweatshirt he obviously bought somewhere outside the United States. Under the NFL emblem it said, 'Let's Get Cracking'. My guess is that Mike Ditka never said 'Let's get cracking!' in his life."

I could only mumble that I'd rather face 275,431 stitched crocodiles, rather more than that if you counted the two-on-one models, than a misquoted Mike Ditka.

Then Joe heard the sing-song wail of a French police siren and glanced quickly from left to right. "Wish me luck, old buddy," he said.

"Turn yourself in!" I pleaded. "Maybe they'll settle for a sincere apology and sentence you to public service at Euro Disneyland."

"Not a chance," he scoffed sardonically, masking his eyes with Porsche sunglasses. "I'll just have to keep running until my Gucci shoelaces wear out!"

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