The gang has just counted heads, and discovered that Murphy is … missing!
At this point we were going to have to make some decisions, fast. It’d been after midnight before we’d arrived at the fairgrounds, and summer nights don’t last long. Already, the trees to the east were silhouetted, dark grey against a sky that wasn’t quite black. We’d wait for Murphy as long as we could, but some of us at least would be missed at home if we weren’t there for the morning routine. The discussion went around the circle, in whispers, as the ground around our feet got damper and damper from the melting ice.
Nina had to go home ASAP: her parents had schedules that ran like clockwork; she’d have French camp first thing in the morning and a piano lesson before supper no matter what she’d gotten up to overnight. Lee’s folks pretty much turn him over to his big sister in the summer when she was home from the Polytechnik; Shan’s cool, but felt obligated to check up on him two or three times a day and one of them was before she went to work. Pounce? Just her grandmother this week and that could mean anything. If Noni had been stargazing or working in her night-blooming flowerbeds, she already knew her grandaughter was out and Pounce would either be in trouble or not, no matter when she got in. Or she could sleep till noon and never even notice. Mr. Spit, of course, was pretty much a free man; he could come back to his foster home whenever, as long as the police didn’t bring him.
Me? Square family, square life: two moms who are sisters and take turns taking care of the kids—that means I’m due at my house for cereal at 7:30 at the latest and Murphy was supposed to be chowing down on Cheerios at the breakfast bar right next to me. I didn’t relish the idea of being there alone, and had just about decided that if he didn’t turn up I wasn’t going to go home and face the music without him, when there was a familiar crunching in the bushes. It’s was either a sasquatch …
Or Murphy, staggering out of the woods, barefoot, muddy to his knees, covered with stratches and garlanded with tugged out weeds and vines, and pretty much soaking wet. He looked like a crazy fool, but we were awfully glad to see him. Mr. Spit spoke for all of us.
“Murph! What the heck?”
“I did it,” said Murphy. “I went back and I did it. I’m sorry I didn’t tell you I was going but it’s a super complicated idea that I just sort of had and no was there time to explain it and have a big discussion and still get it done before it gets light. And I think it’ll work. I know it will work.”
Murphy was so tired and proud and muddy and flustered and it took a while to get it out of him. And yes, it was getting lighter, but we were all so interested in what he had to say that we sort of forgot about it. Because Murphy, Mr. Head in the Clouds, had actually had a good idea. Maybe even a genuine Cunning Plan.
Basically, he had gone back down to Fairgrounds, grabbed a bucket he’d remembered seeing backstage at the sideshow, found a water tap, and dumped about seven or eight buckets of water all over the floor of the Frozen Cave Girl’s tent. As if her block of ice had completely melted. And then he’d taken off his sneakers and walked, barefoot, through the water and the mud and the wet grass, leaving the tent open. As if she had gotten up and walked away.
“Her feet are about is big as mine. It’s gonna work. It’s an excuse,” said Murphy. “It’s an excuse, and a story they can tell, and something people might believe, at least people who hang around at sideshows, at least a little.”
We looked at Murphy’s feet, and the Frozen Cave Girl’s feet still (mostly) inside her slowly shrinking block of ice, and yeah, it was a pretty good story.