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´╗┐Title: The Chameleon Man
Author: McGivern, William P.
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "The Chameleon Man" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.

                         Transcriber's Note:

    This etext was produced from Amazing Stories January 1943. Extensive
    research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S. copyright on this
    publication was renewed.

                          The Chameleon Man

                        By WILLIAM P. McGIVERN

     Perfect adaptation, that's what it was. When a human being
     can blend with his surroundings, funny things can happen!

       *       *       *       *       *


I've got an office in the _Daily Standard_ building and sometimes when
things are slow in my line--theatrical bookings--I drift upstairs and
talk to the guy who writes the column, The Soldier's Friend, for the

On this particular morning I walked into his office and found it empty
so I sat down and waited, figuring he was downstairs getting a mug of
coffee. After I cleaned my nails and glanced through Jake's mail I
propped my feet up on the desk and relaxed.

Things in my line were strictly stinkeroo. With the army taking an
option on every available hunk of male flesh, it made it pretty tough
to get acts together. Of course, I still had a few dollies to peddle,
but the situation don't look too good there, what with the WAVES and
the WAACS and the demand from factories for powder-puff riveters.

I sighed and moodily contemplated my uncreased trouser legs and
thought of my non-existent bank balance. Whoever said war was hell,
sure hit the nail on the head.

The door opened and I heard a shuffle of footsteps on the floor. I
tipped my derby back and looked up, expecting to see Jake, but the
office was empty.

The door was standing open and I scratched my head. Maybe it had blown
open. Then I remembered the sound of footsteps I'd heard and my
bewilderment increased.

"Hello," a voice said.

My feet came down from the desk with a crash. I sat up straight and
stared about the small room.

"Who said that?" I demanded.

"I did. I'm right here." It was the same voice and I jerked my head in
the direction of the sound.

For an instant I didn't see a thing. But then, my eyes seemed suddenly
to focus, and I saw a tall, lanky young man standing a few feet from
me. He had a shock of straw colored hair and mild blue eyes. He wore a
light suit.

"Can you see me now?" he asked, and his voice sounded strained, as if
he were exerting himself in some manner.

"Yes, I can see you," I said. I was a little nettled. "What do you
mean coming in and scaring people that way?"

"I'm sorry," he said. "I didn't mean to scare you. I just can't help
it. I'll have to relax now."

"You'll have to what? Are you--"

I broke off and goggled. The young man had completely disappeared. My
forehead was suddenly damp with nervous perspiration. I closed my eyes
and forced myself to think calmly. This was some trick of my
imagination. I'd been working too hard. My nerves were shot. I'd have
to take a rest.

I opened my eyes cautiously. The room was empty. I drew a relieved

"I'm sorry if I frightened you," a familiar voice said apologetically.
"But, you see, I can't help it."

I stood up warily and peered about the room.

"Where are you?" I whispered.

"Right here in front of you."

"If you're a mahout for pink elephants, I don't want to see you," I
said. "Go away."

"Please," the young man's voice was plaintive, "I need your advice.
I'm in trouble."

"That's too bad," I said, edging toward the door.

"Please listen to me. There's nothing to be afraid of."

"From your viewpoint, no," I said.

"If you'll look carefully you can see me," the voice said. "That's
what bothers most people. I mean not being able to see me."

"How stupid of them to be bothered by a little thing like that," I
said, trying not to gibber. But in spite of my common sense I did peer
closely at the area the young man had occupied and I saw a very
remarkable thing.

       *       *       *       *       *

I saw the vague, indistinct shape of the straw-haired, blue-eyed young
man standing exactly where I had seen him the first time. But the
effect was so uncertain and shadowy that I was hardly able to trust my

The young man seemed to blend into the background, which happened to
be a desk, water cooler and wall, so evenly and completely that it was
impossible to see him at all.

But even so, seeing him, however fuzzily, was a relief.

"It's a good trick," I said cautiously.

"It's not a trick," the young man said, aggrieved. "It's something I
can't help."

"Oh yeah? Well how does it happen that I was able to see you when you
came in?"

"I was exerting my will power," the young man said. "But that's
awfully tiring. I had to relax a moment or so and when I did you
weren't able to see me quite so distinctly."

I found my curiosity stirring. Maybe the guy was a crackpot or phony,
but it wouldn't hurt to hear his story. In my line, with things as
lean as they are, you can't afford to miss any bets.

"What makes you pop on and off like an electric light?" I asked. "Must
be a tiring way to go through life."

"You don't know the half of it," the young man said mournfully. "I've
only been this way for a few months, but it seems like it's been

"Well, go on," I said. "Spill your troubles. Why should Mr. Anthony
have all the fun?"


"Never mind. Shoot."

"I'm not sure what causes me to fade-out like this. I've been to a
half dozen doctors and psychiatrists and they aren't sure either. But
it has something to do with personality development, they think. The
last psychiatrist I visited told me that I had a very colorless
personality and abnormal inhibitions and frustrations. He said that my
present condition was a physical manifestation of my colorless

I shook my head disgustedly.

"That sounds about as asinine as the droolings of the average
psychiatrist," I muttered. "He didn't know and spent an hour saying
so, I'll bet."

"It's awful," the young man sighed disconsolately. "I can make myself
visible for a little while but it's awfully tiring. The rest of the
time I go around like a ghost. I blend into the background so
completely that people just don't notice me at all. It's just like not
being alive."[1]

[Footnote 1: The young man's peculiar physical condition is not as
fantastic and unprecedented as one might at first believe. Everyone
has had the experience of meeting a person who makes almost no
impression whatsoever on them. People with such anemia of the
personality are constantly being forgotten, overlooked even by friends
who know them well. Their presence in a room will be unobserved for
several minutes and, frequently, such people will be completely
ignored, even when they are sitting or standing in plain view. In
nature, the chameleon has similar properties but for a definite
reason, namely that of defense against its stronger enemies. The
chameleon blends perfectly into the brown and green foliage of its
native habitat and even the marvelously keen eyes of its natural
enemies are unable to detect its presence. It is not impossible to
conceive that the same camouflaging property could develop in a human
being. Nature might appreciate the difficulty of a retiring, sensitive
person to mingle with his more vivid fellow creatures, and so clothe
him with a defensive armor of practical invisibility to insulate him
against the attacks of those with stronger personalities. Readers of
_Fantastic Adventures_ will remember John York Cabot's classic, "The
Man the World Forgot," as an exposition of this theme. Unexplained
instances of men and women "disappearing" from normal environments
might be simply cases of submerged personalities which did not
"disappear" but were simply and tragically forgotten.--ED.]

I studied the vague shape of the young man carefully. I could see him,
but only by straining my eyes. The whole thing was amazing. Looking
carefully, I realized that the young man was _not_ invisible; he was
just easy to miss because he was so inconspicuously blended into the
background of the office.

"You'd probably have a fine time on a patch work quilt," I said.

The young man shuddered.

"Please don't joke," he said imploringly. "I'm in real trouble. I need

"I'll say you do," I said. "But I don't see what I can do for you."

"It's this," the young man said. "My draft board just deferred me with
a 4-F classification. They told me I wouldn't be any good in my
present shape. So there."

I looked at the young phantom.

"Well--go on!"

"Go on? That's all there is to it. They've rejected me. They won't
take me."

"And that's your problem?"


       *       *       *       *       *

I shook my head. It takes all kinds, I guess.

"Now listen to me," I said. "If the army doesn't want you, consider
yourself lucky."

"But I want to get in," the young man protested. "I won't feel right
until I am in service."

"You left that psychiatrist too soon," I muttered. "Anyway, what do
you expect me to do?"

"Why, I was sure you could help me," the young man said. "You're the
Soldier's Friend, aren't you? You write the column of advice to the
Yanks in the _Standard_, don't you?"

I got it then. This wraith thought I was the Soldier's Friend. That's
why he was spilling himself to me.

He continued. "You know all the angles of the various branches of the
Service, and I hoped you'd be able to recommend some branch that could
use me. I'm willing to do anything or go anywhere. If you'll help me
I'll put myself completely in your hands."

"Now just a minute," I said. "You've got the wrong idea. The guy you
want to see--"

I closed my big mouth with a snap. What was wrong with me? Were my
brains on a permanent vacation? Here was opportunity hammering and
banging at my door and I was too deaf to hear a sound.

This hard-to-see young man was a natural for show business. I already
had an act lined up that he would fit as neatly as five fingers in a
glove. And he was practically begging me to take him under my wing.

"Young man," I said. "You impress me as being sincere and earnest. And
for that reason I am going to try and help you."

"Oh, gosh, thanks."

"It's the least I can do," I said. "But," I added sternly, "you've got
to put yourself completely in my hands. You mustn't question a thing I
tell you to do. You see, this isn't going to be easy. I'll have to go
about it in a rather roundabout way. And it may take a little while."

"Oh, I don't care," the young man said happily. "Anything you say is
all right with me."

"Fine." I glanced at my watch. "We've got to go now. You follow me."

"Sure, Mr.--"

"Flannigan," I said automatically.

"But, Mr. Flannigan, that isn't the name you use on your column."

"Naturally," I said. "Very sharp of you to catch that. I might get you
into Intelligence, even if only as a decoy. The name I use on the
column is a pseudonym."


"Now come along with me."

I hurriedly got my young phantom out of the Soldier's Friend office
before anyone could butt in and ruin everything. When we were safely
ensconced in my own office, I waved the young man to a chair.

"What's your name?" I asked.

"Horatio Heely," he replied.

       *       *       *       *       *

I was becoming more enthused every minute. Looking at him, or _trying_
to look at him, seated in a chair, convinced me of his enormous
potentialities. The chair was brown leather and, at first glance, the
only thing that indicated that it was occupied, was a slight
indentation in the seat and back of the chair. Horatio blended in
perfectly with the deep brown of the chair and his face, which stuck
up six or eight inches, was invisible against the grayness of the

"Maybe you could get me into the Coast Guard," he said.

I frowned. "I hardly think so," I said. "I know the Commander over
there but I don't think I could swing it. Now, remember, you're going
to leave everything in my hands."

The door of my office opened then and a slim, stunning blonde walked
in, followed by a tall, gaunt, sober individual with a gloomy face and
deep black eyes. He wore a turban with an imitation jewel set in the
center folds, squarely over his high forehead.

"Hah!" this character cried. "I suppose again you will tell me there
is nothing for Mystiffio The Great, today."

"Ix-nay," I snapped. "Ut-shay up-yay!"

The blonde looked at me, eyebrows raising.

"What gives, mastermind?"

This was the act I had in mind for Horatio. Mystiffio was a fair
magician and his line of patter wasn't bad. The blonde, whose name was
Alice, acted as a prop, and with her looks and Mystiffio's line they
didn't do badly. But with Horatio in the act it would be tremendous.

He would blend perfectly into the stage background. Invisible, he
could assist Mystiffio with the hocus-pocus and really produce some
wonderful effects.

Alice was still looking at me as if I'd gone batty.

"Just trust Uncle," I said hastily. "I got a great new angle for your

"You act as if you've been out in the sun too long," Alice murmured.
"But don't mind me."

With a weary sigh she sank into the brown leather chair. And one-tenth
of a second later she leaped to her feet with a scream. She wheeled
about, hand raised to slap, and then as she stared at the seemingly
empty chair, an expression of wonderment stole over her pretty face.

[Illustration: "Oh!" she screamed, and leaped from the chair]

"What--I could have sworn I--" She turned to me pleadingly. "What is
it? Am I going screwy or is there somebody sitting in that chair?"

"Horatio," I said. "Exert a little willpower and show yourself."

"All right, Mr. Flannigan," Horatio's voice from the chair answered.

Mystiffio moved nervously toward the door.

"I don't believe it," he said. His broad dark face was an unhappy
mixture of fear and surprise.

"Well, I'll be darned!" Alice cried. She was staring at the chair, or
rather at Horatio, who had suddenly become visible.

       *       *       *       *       *

I made the introductions quickly.

"Now that's enough, Horatio," I said. "You can turn yourself off
again. I don't want you to wear out."

"Thanks," Horatio said gratefully. He smiled faintly at Alice.
"Pleased to have met you," he said. Then he vanished into the brown
background of the chair.

"Get me a drink!" Mystiffio said. He grasped the edge of the desk and
stared solemnly at the empty brown chair. "Get me two drinks."

"What is it?" Alice demanded. "How do you do it? Mirrors? Lighting?
It's terrific."

"It's completely on the level. Now here's the angle. I'm going to put
this guy into your act. Wait'll the crowds get a load of Mystiffio's
magic then. With Horatio in the background pulling the strings he'll
make Thurston look like an amateur parlor entertainer."

Mystiffio turned to me stiffly.

"What," he said frigidly, "makes you think I need an invisible man to
help me in my act? I am perfectly capable of astounding and amazing an
audience by myself."

"You're quoting your own press notices now," I said. "I know; I wrote

"And what makes you think I'm not as good as Thurston?" Mystiffio
asked in an injured voice.

"Ah, temperament!" I murmured. I turned to Alice. "You work on him.
You can see that Horatio will be a good thing, can't you? You don't
want your act to die, do you?"

"Mr. Flannigan." It was Horatio. His voice sounded apologetic. "I
don't want to disturb you, but what has all this got to do with
getting me into the army? You sound more like a booking agent than the
Soldier's Friend."

Alice looked at me.

"Heel," she said. "What kind of line are you giving him?"

"Horatio," I said. "I am disappointed. I expected a little trust from
you. Didn't I tell you it might be a little while before I got things
set? This angle I'm working now will put you practically into the

"Yeah! How?"

"I'm going to line you up doing an act for the U. S. O. Does that show
you my heart's in the right place?"

"There will be a short pause for cat-calls and boos," Alice murmured.

"All right," Horatio said with a sigh. "I'll go along with you."

"Fine," I said. "And just to get you used to army life I'm going to
start paying you fifty bucks a month."

"You great big generous man," Alice said and I think there was a
twinge of sarcasm in her voice.

"Now that's no way to talk," I said. "I'm doing the lad a favor."

"Yeah," she said. "I'm sure you are. Just like a man picking up a
dollar bill is doing the street cleaners a favor."

"You don't understand my noble motives," I said, "so I will not talk
about them anymore. Tomorrow we start rehearsing the new act."

       *       *       *       *       *

Well, sir, it was absolutely amazing the way Horatio picked that act
up. With his dexterous, invisible help Mystiffio performed like the
paragon of all prestidigitators. Alice added a jolt of high-voltage
eye-appeal to the ensemble, by smiling sweetly and wearing a black
satin bathing suit that had been designed by some patriotic person who
believed in saving material to the point of cutting down on

I was sure, for the first time in my stretch in this loony business,
that I had an option on a nice private little gold mine.

And I wasn't going to let anything upset my cartful of golden apples.

"Okay," I said. They were rehearsing on the stage of an empty theater
which was owned by a guy I'd done some favors for. "You look pretty
good, but don't let it go to your head. The act needs a lot of work.
Keep at it. I'm going out to get a sandwich."

Alice put her hands on her hips and looked down at me.

"Everything is fifty-fifty with you, isn't it?" she said. "We do the
work, you get the money. Nice even split."

"Careful, beautiful," I said. "You'll die of your own poisons, if you
don't look out." I waved to her and left. After I'd had a bite to eat,
I went to see one of the biggest agents in the business, the guy who
books all the acts into the Capitol in New York.

"Look, Morry," I said, when his secretary had ushered me into his
office, which was big enough to hold the World Series in, "I've really
got something terrific lined up."

Morry looked up at me and his little eyes were uninterested. He yawned
and dusted a fleck of dust from the sleeve of his coat.

"What is it?" he asked.

"It's a magician's act that--"

Morry shook his head. "Magicians are dead. Who wants to see rabbits
pulled out of a hat?"

"This is different. This guy is good."

"All right, he's good," Morry said. "So what? We can't use him."

"But you ought to at least see the act," I pleaded. "It's got a honey
of a girl, too."

"Girl?" Morry glanced up and there was a flicker of interest in his
little eyes.

"Yeah, a honey."

"Well," Morry shrugged. "I can't promise anything, but we do need an
act to fill in a spot within a week or so. But whatever I get has to
be good. I can't send bums to New York."

"I know. I know," I said. My heart was hammering with hope. One break
on the Stem and I'd be set. "When will you catch the act? Tomorrow be
all right?"

Morry nodded.

I went back to the theatre walking about three feet from the ground. I
felt I was in at last. It was a funny feeling I couldn't analyze, but
I knew I was going to be in.

       *       *       *       *       *

When I walked into the little office back stage I found Alice there
talking to Horatio.

She was saying, "There should be _something_ you could do for the
Army, Horatio," as I walked into the office.

Horatio was standing by the desk, shoulders slumped. I had to look
twice to make him out against the background of the desk and wall.

Alice shut up when she saw me.

"Horatio and I were just talking," she said.

"Yeah," I said. "Now Horatio and I are going to do a little talking.
Make yourself scarce."

Alice left and I turned to Horatio.

"What kind of a line was she giving you?" I snapped.

"Why, gosh, Mr. Flannigan," Horatio stammered. "She was just trying to
help me. She's just as interested in getting me into the Army as you
are. She's a wonderful girl, Mr. Flannigan."

There was something in his voice that brought me up with a jolt. The
kid had fallen for the girl as sure as I stood there.

"Now, look," I said gently. "You really want to get set with Uncle
Sam, don't you?"

"Why, sure."

"Then listen to me. I'm doing everything I can for you. And I've got a
deal all lined up. I was just over at the Army recruiting station and
I think everything is set. Not right away, but pretty soon."

"Gosh, that's wonderful."

"Now you know who your friend is." I came over beside him and put my
hand on his shoulder. "I got a little piece of advice for you that I
want you to take to heart. Stay away from this kid, Alice. She's no
good for you."

"Now just a minute. You can't--"

"I'm sorry, kid," I said. I let my hand fall from his shoulder. "Maybe
I shouldn't tell you, but--"

"Tell me what?"

"It's only for your own good I'm doing this. That pretty little blonde
is just going to play you for a sucker. She's already married."

Horatio gasped. He must have been pretty sold on the girl.

"I don't believe it," he cried.

"It's God's truth."

"Who is the man?" Horatio cried brokenly.



I nodded slowly. "It's a tough break, kid, but the sooner you forget
her the better." I had already decided I'd get rid of her. She
wouldn't be hard to replace. Horatio was my gold mine and I didn't
want anyone to do a scorched-earth job on him.

"But she never told me," he muttered.

"Naturally," I said. "She'll probably even deny she's married to him
now, but don't let that fool you."

"No, sir," Horatio said. "She won't make a sucker out of me." His
anger must have subconsciously affected his visibility mechanism for
he was visible and his lean jaw was hard, but there was a hurt look in
his clear blue eyes.

"That's the boy," I said. "Just remember who your friends are and you
won't go wrong."

"I won't, Mr. Flannigan," he promised solemnly.

       *       *       *       *       *

The next afternoon Morry arrived to see the act. He was dressed in a
natty pin stripe suit and he wore a big yellow carnation in the
buttonhole, but his sallow face was impassive.

I escorted him down the dark empty theatre to the front row.

"Just hold your breath now," I told him. "I'll have the act on stage
in a jiffy."

He yawned and glanced at his watch.

"I haven't got long," he said.

I went backstage and found Alice.

"Hurry up," I said. "Morry is waiting."

She looked at me as if I'd just crawled out from the wainscoating.
"I've just talked to the kid," she said. "He thinks I'm poison. What
kind of a yarn have you been feeding him?"

"Me? Why, honey, that hurts. Do you think your Uncle Patrick would
breathe an unkind word about you?"

"Well, it's mighty strange," she said. "He won't even tell me what's
biting him."

"I wouldn't pay any attention to him," I said. "Perhaps it's all for
the best."

"Hmmm," she said, eyeing me shrewdly.

"Come on now, be a good kid and get things rolling. A lot depends on
this you know."

I went back and joined Morry.

Well the act was terrific. Mystiffio had Morry's eyes sticking out
inside of thirty seconds. I hadn't told Morry about Horatio. I figured
I'd let that angle ride for a while.

But Morry was really impressed.

"The guy is good," he said. "The things he does don't seem humanly

Of course he didn't know that most of the effects were being created
by the invisible Horatio but what he didn't know wouldn't hurt him.
And he didn't miss Alice, either. When she came on stage in her cute,
abbreviated little costume, he straightened up and opened his eyes.

"The kid is nice," he murmured.

"Are we in?" I demanded.

"Can't say yet. I gotta talk to the act but I'd say your chances were
pretty good."

I almost swooned with happiness. The break I'd been waiting for all my
life was here at last. The golden apples were about ready to drop into
my lap.

       *       *       *       *       *

When Mystiffio finished his routine I took Morry backstage. I found

"Here she is, Morry," I said. "And she's just as nice as she looks." I
shoved Alice toward him. "Be nice, baby," I hissed in her ear.

Morry took one of her little hands and his eyes were interested.

"I kinda like the act," he said. "If you could find time to be nice to
me I might like it a whole lot."

Alice takes her hand back as if it had accidentally brushed something

"I'm sorry but I don't go with the act," she snapped. "There are some
things worth more to me than three meals a day and a paycheck."

"Okay, sister," Morry said without expression. He turned to me. "Guess
I made a mistake coming up here. The act is lousy."

"Now wait a minute," I yelled. "You said it was good. You can't walk
out now." I wheeled to Alice. "Baby, baby, don't do this to me. Tell
him you're sorry."

Mystiffio came up behind us while we were talking.

"What is the matter?" he asked. I noticed he put an arm around Alice's
shoulders. I was too distraught to think about it.

"Nothing's wrong," I said desperately. "Alice just took offense at
something Morry said. Nobody meant any harm."

Mystiffio drew himself up straight and he grabbed Morry by the lapels.
Morry struggled to free himself but he was pinioned helplessly.

"You cad! You bounder!" Mystiffio roared. "Do you mean you've been
making advances to my daughter?"

Daughter! How do you like that! That just goes to show you never to
trust people.

Morry pulled himself loose.

"You're all crazy," he shouted. "Lemme out of here."

He wheeled and started away, but before he had taken two strides he
collided with a solid, unyielding, invisible substance.

He backed away a few steps, his mouth working in terror.

"What is it?" he screamed.

"I'm sorry," Horatio's voice sounded in the air a few feet from Morry.

Morry's face went white; he stared wildly about for another instant
and then charged madly out of the theatre, screaming in terror.

       *       *       *       *       *

I chased after him, but it was a hopeless effort. When I got to the
sidewalk he was gone. Moodily I slumped back into the theatre and went
backstage. My big opportunity was gone, but I still had Horatio.

I found Alice in the office and she was alone. She smiled sweetly when
she saw me.

"You too, Brutus," I muttered. Then I thought about my meal ticket and
looked worriedly around the room.

"Where's Horatio?" I snapped.

"Horatio," she smiled, "is gone. Too bad you missed him. He would have
liked to say goodbye."

"Goodbye!" I shrieked. "Where's he going?"

"Into the Army," Alice said sweetly. "Isn't it wonderful?"

"You're crazy," I shouted. "The Army won't take him."

"I arranged a little something for him," Alice said. "I'm sure he'll
be very useful in the camouflage department."


I groaned and sank into a chair.

"Yes," Alice said pleasantly, "when he learned that Mystiffio was my
father--not my husband as you so cleverly told him--he was quite angry
for a while. But of course he felt better when he thought it over. And
he was very happy to take my suggestion to apply for a commission in
the camouflage. I think Horatio and I are going to get along nicely."

I groaned again.

Mystiffio stuck his head in the door.

"Goodbye," he said. "Ready, dear?"

"Yes," Alice said, moving to the door. "I'm ready."

"Now wait a minute," I cried. "Where are you two going? You're the
last act I've got."

"I am enlisting!" Mystiffio said proudly.

"As what?"

"Signal corps, in charge of messenger pigeons."

Mystiffio flapped his coat tail and a lone pigeon fluttered into the
air. "I've had a lot of experience with the little devils."

I groaned again and dropped my head in my hands.

What was left?

When I looked up, Mystiffio and Alice had gone.

For a moment I sat there staring about the quiet dusty office. Then I
stood up and I knew what I was going to do.

I put my hat on and walked out of the building. I didn't stop walking
until I reached the Marine recruiting office. A big poster said, "The
Marines Promise You Action!"

I walked in. Nothing could be worse than what I'd just been through. I
felt contented for the first time in sixteen years.

       *       *       *       *       *

*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "The Chameleon Man" ***

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