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About the Author
Magician Mike Lane has been performing magic professionally for over 30 years. He lives with his wife, Donna, and their two children, Daniel and Lindsay, in Staten Island, New York.
Eric Wight is an author, illustrator, and animation director, whose books for children include the Frankie Pickle series. Eric lives in Chalfont, Pennsylvania, with his family.
Read an Excerpt
The Great Escape
By Kate Egan, Mike Lane, Eric Wight
Feiwel and FriendsCopyright © 2014 Kate Egan and Mike Lane
All rights reserved.
Lunchtime was over, and Mrs. Canfield wasn't happy.
Mike Weiss's class had just streamed up from the cafeteria, dropped their lunchboxes in a bin, and headed back to the classroom. Some kids were still talking and laughing, but Mike felt a chill in the air. Usually, Mrs. Canfield greeted everyone when they came back. She asked what was on the menu, or gave the occasional high five. Today, she was standing at the door with her arms crossed.
Mrs. Canfield hadn't been on lunch duty, but she knew what had happened. Mike didn't need magic to figure that out.
Kids pulled their chairs back and settled into their desks. One by one, they noticed Mrs. Canfield, glaring. Suddenly, the classroom got really quiet.
On a normal day, Mrs. Canfield would be passing out papers to get ready for math.
On a normal day, she would clap her hands to settle everyone down.
Today, she watched and waited until they settled down on their own.
Mrs. Canfield's voice was low when she finally spoke. "Guys, we need to talk about appropriate behavior in the cafeteria. And I have to say, I'm a little disappointed. Do we really need to go over the basics? You're in fourth grade now. I thought you knew better."
Nobody moved. Nobody spoke. Not even Mike.
"Can anyone tell me what happened?" Mrs. Canfield asked in a weird voice.
Emily raised her hand. "There was a food fight," she reported.
Other kids interrupted right away.
"It was not a food fight!" said Oscar.
"Yeah!" Lacey chimed in. "Someone threw food, and then there was a fight, but that's not the same. ..."
Now, everyone was talking at once. Mike drummed his fingers on his knees. He didn't like to get in trouble, but he also didn't like when it was about to happen to someone else. He always felt sorry for the kid on the spot. He knew what that was like.
Mrs. Canfield held up her hand. "Hang on," she said. Her voice was still quiet, but it felt like she was yelling. "This isn't going to work. Please take out a piece of paper and a pencil. I would like for each of you to write me a letter about what you just saw in the cafeteria."
Silently, everyone got out their supplies.
What had Mike seen at lunch? The inside of his PB&J, which he opened up and ate one side at a time. The face of his new friend, Adam, sitting across the table. Then there was a scoop of tuna fish, hurled at the wall. And a shriek from the kid standing next to it.
Some people rushed over and blocked his view of whatever happened next.
Mike was not involved.
He bit the eraser off his pencil and rolled it around on his desk. A food fight? he thought. Seriously? Who would even do that? He picked up the eraser and chewed it like a piece of gum. Jackson Jacobs, maybe. Or those twins from Nora's class, Tyler and Chase—they were bad news. He wasn't sure he should name names, though.
Mike looked up from his paper, his eyes darted around the room. Could anyone else be responsible?
His eyes met several other pairs of eyes. They, too, were trying to figure out who'd started trouble.
Trouble was, they were looking at him. Everyone thought it was Mike.
He looked down and raced through his letter. What else could he do?
He slammed his pencil down. Now, more people were watching him. He scowled at them and said "It wasn't me, okay?" with his eyes.
Then Mr. Malone was there, knocking on the window of the classroom door.
Math tutoring was not exactly the highlight of Mike's day, but right now, he couldn't get there fast enough. His face was bright red as he walked past Mrs. Canfield's desk.
Mike was doing a little better in school these days. Learning magic helped him learn other things, too. If Mike practiced the same trick over and over, he'd get to the point where he could do it automatically. Who knew it was the same with spelling words?
He was even doing a little better about following school rules. Apparently, no one had noticed, though. The other kids just thought he was the same old Mike, always going to the principal. They thought he was bad news, too.
Today, Mr. Malone settled into his chair and rubbed his hands together like he was cold. "I thought we'd try something a little different this time," he said.
Mike slumped in his chair. "Are we starting fractions?" he asked. The rest of his class was almost done with that chapter.
Mr. Malone swept his hand dramatically over the papers in front of him. "Let's try some ... mathematical magic," he suggested.
Mike smiled at him, maybe for the first time ever. Balding, skinny old Mr. Malone, in his yellow shirt that looked like plastic ... when did he get so nice?
It was like he knew Mike's afternoon was off to a bad start. He was trying to cheer him up. He was trying to make a connection.
"Pick a number," the math tutor said. "A three-digit number, with all the digits different, and no zeroes."
"Um ... okay," said Mike. "216?"
"Great," said Mr. Malone. "Next, reverse the number and subtract the smaller one from the bigger one."
"612 minus 216 ..." Mike said. "Can I use a calculator?" Mr. Malone handed him a pad instead.
Mike wrote the number down, tried to remember regrouping, and got an answer. "612 minus 216 equals 396?" he said uncertainly.
"That's right!" said Mr. Malone. "Now reverse that number, too."
"693?" Mike asked. Where was the magic? he wondered.
Mr. Malone nodded. "Add it to the number you had before you reversed it." He pushed the pad back to Mike.
"693 plus 396 is ..." Mike said, writing it all out.
Mr. Malone cut him off. "Don't tell me!" He closed his eyes, paused, and took a deep breath. "Is it 1089?"
"Yeah," Mike said, surprised. Wasn't he supposed to be the one doing the math?
Mr. Malone's eyes popped open. "Let's try it again," he said.
So Mike picked another random number. "542," he said.
"Reverse and subtract," prompted Mr. Malone.
Mike scribbled it on the pad. "542 minus 245 is ... 297."
"Now reverse and add it to the number you had before you reversed."
Mr. Malone closed his eyes again, and Mike said, "No, let me do it this time."
He wrote it all out. 297 plus 792 was ... 1089.
"Hey, it's the same answer as last time!" Mike said.
Mr. Malone coughed. Or was he laughing? Oh, man ... he was cracking himself up!
"It's always 1089," he told Mike. "Every. Single. Time."
Mike didn't think it was funny, exactly. But he did think it was pretty cool. He tried it with a bunch of other numbers, and it really worked.
"See?" the tutor said. "I knew you could do this math if I made it interesting."
"Magic definitely makes it interesting," Mike agreed. He even remembered to say thanks.
Mike didn't always keep up with the rest of his class. And yeah, he got in trouble sometimes. He never did it on purpose, though. He just made a lot of mistakes. He was still a good kid, and he could even be a good student. If Mr. Malone could get it, why couldn't other people get it, too?
Mike would never start a fight. Or throw tuna fish at a wall. No matter what anyone else thought.
If only he knew a magic trick for changing his reputation.CHAPTER 2
Mike locked his bike in his usual place outside The White Rabbit. He put the key in his pocket and checked his watch. Eleven minutes. A personal best. He got to the magic shop a little faster every time he came.
What was he going to do when it was winter? Mike was pretty worried about that. He couldn't ride his bike through the snow, but there wasn't another way for him to get around on his own. It was hard enough to convince his parents that he could handle biking downtown.
For now, he had the best routine ever. On days that his parents were home after school—and his neighbor, Nora, was busy and he had no homework—he was allowed to bike to the magic shop alone. He had to call when he got there and call again when he was leaving. He had to get home before dark, too. Other than that, he could pretty much stay as long as he wanted.
Okay, it was never as long as he wanted. But if going to school was like crunching celery sticks, coming to The White Rabbit was like sucking down an extra-large chocolate milkshake: super-sweet.
The shop was warm and bright on this late-fall afternoon. Mr. Zerlin was standing near the counter, his hair sticking out in six directions, talking to a man in a Red Sox cap. He waved at Mike and said, "He's a friend." Was Mr. Zerlin talking about the Red Sox guy? Or was he talking about Mike? The magician was always hard to understand. Still, Mike beamed.
Mr. Zerlin was holding a small box. He showed it to Mike and the guy in the cap, then opened it up to reveal a deck of cards inside. (Mike knew that he bought crates of them for the shop.) Mike could tell he was about to perform.
Mr. Zerlin handed the cards to the guy, nodded, and said, "You can shuffle them, Cam."
That was Mike's first clue that the guy in the cap might be more than a baseball fan who'd wandered in off the street. Was he a friend of Mr. Zerlin's?
His next clue was watching Cam shuffle. The cards moved so quickly, they were a blur, and he must have shuffled a dozen times before he handed the deck back to Mr. Zerlin. Whoa, thought Mike. Was there such a thing as a professional card player? If there was, this guy had to be one.
Mr. Zerlin took the cards and put them back in the box. He closed up the box. Then he lifted the box of cards and pressed it to his forehead, as if his brain could sense what was inside. He looked like he was meditating. Or concentrating. Finally, he looked at Mike and Cam and said, "In my mind's eye, I can see the first card in this deck."
Mike and Cam glanced at each other. "Yeah?" said Cam. His voice reminded Mike of the way his dad sounded when he'd stayed up too late. Dry and raspy.
"Seven of spades," said Mr. Zerlin.
"Cool trick," said Cam. Mike couldn't tell if he was impressed or bored.
"Can you do it again?" Mike asked, hesitantly. Real magicians never did the same trick twice in a row. The first time, an audience would be amazed. The second time, the audience would be trying to figure it out. Inside the magic shop, though, magicians were always sharing illusions with one another. That was the whole point of the place. So Mr. Zerlin smiled and said, "Sure."
This time, Mike shuffled the cards. He handed them to Mr. Zerlin, and Mr. Zerlin closed them into the box. He pressed the box to his head again and sighed. "Jack of diamonds," he said, like it was tiring him out to use his psychic powers. He opened the box and pointed—that's how Mike knew he was supposed to take the card out. Jack of diamonds, just as predicted.
Then Mr. Zerlin put the box behind his back. "Queen of hearts," he announced. Of course, it turned out that was the next one in the deck. Mike bet he could identify every card in the box. He watched closely, but he couldn't figure out how Mr. Zerlin did it.
Meanwhile, Cam was pacing around the middle of the store. He kept picking things up, looking them over, and putting them down. A china plate. A dusty accordion. A mirror. Mike noticed that he wasn't going into the section of the store that said Secrets Inside. He was sticking to the non-magical merchandise. The "antiques" that were mostly junk.
Without a word to Mike, Mr. Zerlin put the box of cards on a shelf and stepped away to talk to Cam. Mike couldn't hear what they were saying because their voices were low. What would a magician say to a card player? Mike wondered. They did totally different things. How did they know each other, anyway?
"Did you meet Cam?" asked Carlos, one of the high school kids who worked at The White Rabbit. He was unwrapping a roll of quarters to put in the register. "Cam used to be part of Mr. Zerlin's act," Carlos told Mike.
"Mr. Zerlin's act?" Mike asked. He didn't know Mr. Zerlin had an act! "Where can I see that?"
"Oh, you can't see it anymore," said Carlos. "Without Cam, his show fell apart. Mr. Zerlin's been working on something new, I think." He shrugged, and Mike knew what he meant. No one ever really knew what Mr. Zerlin was doing.
"So, what happened?" Mike said. "I mean, Cam seems okay to me."
Their conversation was cut off when the door opened and a woman came in, holding a little girl by the hand. Carlos had to help them, so Mike was on his own.
Not that he minded. He loved learning stuff from Mr. Zerlin or the other magicians who came to the store. But he also learned a lot from just hanging around and listening. Some of it was magic—that was how he'd figured out how to do a rising card trick, where he could make the card that someone selected rise magically out of the deck. Mike had also learned some non-magical stuff. He was pretty sure that Carlos had a girlfriend, for instance. That had to be why he was always texting when he thought that no one was watching.
Mike went into the Secrets room and took a deep breath. He'd only known about it for a few months, but this was his favorite place in the world. Every time he came here, it felt like his birthday. So what was he going to do? Every inch of the room was crammed with shelves and bins of magical gear to try out.
Today, Mike was drawn to one of the bookshelves. He wasn't much of a reader, but books were a good way to learn about new kinds of magic, right? There they were, lined up by category. Stage illusions. Close-up magic. Mind magic. That must have been what Mr. Zerlin just did, Mike thought.
Below those titles was a row of books labeled History of Magic. History? No way Mike was reading that. But he'd heard Mr. Zerlin talk about studying the old masters of magic. Even the ones who took their secrets to the grave. Like, say, Harry Houdini. The greatest magician of all time.
Houdini's original name had been Erik Weisz, which he changed to Weiss before he changed it to Houdini. Weiss as in Mike Weiss!
Hey, Mike realized. This was his chance to find out if there was any connection to his family. Suddenly, Mike was all about history.
The only problem? These books weren't written for kids. So many long words! So many long chapters! Mike wished Mrs. Canfield could see him now. He worked really hard trying to read the thickest one.
He made it through a detailed description of one of Houdini's most famous escapes, where the magician was handcuffed and locked inside a container filled with water. When the book described how Houdini changed this act over time though, Mike's attention wandered. He flipped to the section of black-and-white photos in the middle.
There was Houdini jumping off a bridge. There he was with his wife, Bess. There he was onstage at a show. Mike loved looking at the shocked expressions on the people in the audience. There he was with a whole group of magicians.
Then Mike noticed a detail he'd missed.
Houdini was at the end of the line of magicians, standing in front of a bench. A hat was perched on the bench's arm, right beside him. Maybe it was the latest accessory for fashionable gentlemen in 1917, but Mike didn't think so.
He thought it was Houdini's magic hat.
Why? Well, Mike just happened to have a magic hat in his closet at home. It was about the same shape as the one in the picture. A little lopsided, and drooping on one side. And that hat had a label inside that said "E.W." Which happened to be Houdini's initials before he changed his name.
It was warm in the windowless room, but Mike had goose bumps.
Luckily, he was in a place that sold all kinds of old stuff. He walked out into the antiques area and grabbed a magnifying glass that was next to a giant dictionary. Carefully, he peered through it at the picture.
The hat in the photo was a perfect match with the hat in his closet.
Mike had wondered if Houdini was connected to his family. And here was the answer, right in front of him, he was pretty sure.
Then the alarm on his watch bleeped. Mike had to go.
Mr. Zerlin was still whispering with Cam, and Carlos was still helping the lady and the little girl. Mike waved, but didn't say good-bye. He'd be back, and they knew it.
Mike biked home as usual, but it felt like he was flying.
That was his magic hat in the old-school magicians' picture.
And that little fact, like the wave of a wand, could change everything for Mike.
Excerpted from The Great Escape by Kate Egan, Mike Lane, Eric Wight. Copyright © 2014 Kate Egan and Mike Lane. Excerpted by permission of Feiwel and Friends.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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