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November 29, 2009

'The Great Twain Robbery'

Special thanks to Brendan Mallory for this week's illustration.

November 29, 2009|By Mike Mallory

"Scotty, phone," my mom called, adding: "It's Meredith."

Meredith sometimes calls with a homework question, but today was different. "I just want to talk to someone who doesn't think he's Mark Twain," she said.

See, my school is having a Mark Twain event and "the author" himself is going to make an appearance. They contacted a professional Mark Twain portrayer, but he was too expensive, so Meredith's dad got the job. He'd been rehearsing all week, and it was driving her crazy.

But when he got on the auditorium stage the next day, he really had it down. He was wearing a white suit, bushy white wig and a squirrel-tail mustache. He told stories and read from a Twain book in a squeaky voice, and I thought he was great. After his act I told Meredith, "Your dad was great! He was like a pro!"

"Yeah, he was almost too good," she said.

After the show we went to the school library, where Mrs. Washburn, the librarian, brought out a special surprise: the first edition of "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn," which was really valuable. She said it had been in her family for a century. As we were leaving, "Mark Twain" came in. He was still carrying the book he'd read from on stage, which had a picture of the real Mark Twain on the cover. I was amazed at how convincing his makeup was!

We were back in Miss Cullen's class when Mrs. Washburn suddenly ran into the room. "Something terrible has happened," she announced. "My priceless edition of 'Huckleberry Finn' has gone missing! Scotty, I'm bringing in your father, but feel free to investigate until he arrives."

See, my dad is the town's chief of police, and everybody knows that I'm going to be a detective someday.

I knew none of us kids could have taken the book. That left only one suspect, but Meredith sure wasn't going to like it. Unless --

"I need to call my dad!" I said. I got him on his cell and told him what I suspected. About a half-hour later, Dad arrived, escorting the man I believed to be the thief: Mark Twain!

"I caught him in the parking lot," Dad said.

"You think my father stole that book?" Meredith shouted.

"No, we don't, Meredith," Dad said, pulling off the wig and mustache to reveal a stranger! "I contacted your father. He received a bogus phone call this morning telling him the Twain event was canceled, so he went to his office."

"Then who is this?" Miss Cullen asked.

"His ID says he's Sam Hawthorne."

"He's the Twain impersonator we decided not to hire!" Mrs. Washburn said.

"Which is why he seemed so professional," I said.

Mr. Hawthorne was still holding that book with the real Mark Twain on the cover.

"OK, I admit I'm a Twain buff and a collector," he said. "When I heard you had a first edition of 'Huckleberry Finn,' I pulled a trick in order to replace my replacement, just so I could get close to it. But there's no way I could have sneaked that book out of the library."

"Oh, yes there is," I said. "You disguised it, just like you disguised yourself. It's right there."

Dad took the book he was holding and carefully removed its modern dust jacket. Underneath was "Huckleberry Finn." "You made the switch when no one was looking," I said. "It's like Mrs. Washburn says: You can't judge a book by its cover."

Special thanks to Brendan Mallory for this week's illustration.

Mike Mallory is the author of "Universal Studios Monsters: A Legacy of Horror" and "Marvel: The Expanding Universe Wall Chart."

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