Locust House Variations, A Weekly Fiction Column by Adam Gnade, Chapter 12

Who Are the Mystery Girls?
A Novel in Serial Form
Chapter 12 of 13, Gabby Martinez and Agnes McCanty
By Adam Gnade

Agnes knelt next to Gabby in the corner of the living room and touched her shoulder, held her shoulder, shook it, said her name, said it once more just as Gabby’s eyes dragged open—slow, resistant to the light. Agnes pulled Gabby close and wrapped her arms around her as if wrapping her arms around Gabby would make Steven go away, make the whole awful day blip into immateriality or nonexistence.

Which was when she remembered her friends.

Agnes looked over her shoulder—Marigold, Norma, Debsey.

“Norma, shoot him if he does anything,” Agnes said. “Shoot him if he even thinks about doing anything.”

“You got it, mija.”

Gabby sat up cross-legged and pulled the blanket around her shoulders. She smiled at Agnes as if seeing her from miles away or in a dream or behind layer upon layer of cotton and frosted glass, her gold-brown eyes hazy, glassy, drugged.

“Agnes … what? You’re here?”

“I’m here. I got you, Gabby.”

“Got me what?”

“I’m getting you out of here.”

Gabby’s voice was shaky. “Agnes, I took a Klonopin and I’m kinda fucked-up and I think I might—”

“What did he give you?”

“Give me?”

“Did Steven give you pills, Gabby? How many? You need to tell me how many he gave you.”

“No, no, baby, just … just … I just took a Klonopin he had so I could sleep and mayb—”

“It’s okay. You don’t need to say anything. I’m here. We’re goin’ home. Just hold on another minute, alright?”

“Okay, baby, okay.”

Agnes stood up and walked toward the knot of her friends. Debsey—in the open doorway, leaning against the frame, arms wrapped around herself, shivering against the sea air. Norma—both hands holding her pistol, pointing it at Steven on the couch. Marigold—looking out from behind Norma, eyes narrowed at Steven, who sat as before, relaxed, high, confident, smiling at Agnes, big and wide and foul in his yellow robe like some old rotting god.

“Should I shoot him anyway?” said Norma.

“Yeah,” Marigold said from behind Norma. “Shoot him before he tries something.”

Debsey dropped to her knees and leaned her head against the doorframe and said, “I think I’m about to be ill.”

Agnes locked eyes with Norma and shook her head just slightly and Norma lowered the gun.

Gabby had fallen to her side again—eyes shut, mouth open, the blanket half over her.

Agnes stood in front of Steven on the couch, a million thoughts colliding as to what was next, why Steven, why now, what could he possibly want?

Steven scratched his knee, disinterested. “How, Agnes?”

“How what?”

“How did you finally figure out it was me and what took you so damn long? I want to hear the whole stupid soap opera.”

“I don’t owe you shit, Steven.”

“Humor me.”

“Tavis Gregory said that Gabby told him she was going to Davy Crockett’s house when she left his place. Davy Crockett made me think of Daniel Boone, a coupla frontier assholes, a coupla ‘Merican coonskin cap bullshit legends, easy middle school code for Steven Boone. The phone number for one of your Halloween stores was on a slip of paper in Gabby’s coat pocket with ‘El Rey de los Verdugos’ written on it. ‘El Rey de los Verdugos’ is of course ‘the King of the Executioners’ in Spanish. Tavis called it a ‘costume shop’ so … yeah, I’m just assuming here, but the only person I’m makin’ an ass out of is you, not me. Costume shop = Halloween store. The King of the Executioners? Two guys dressed as executioners kidnapped Gabby and like all arrogant rich white boy assholes you would fucking love to be a king. Took us a while to wind up at Tavis’s, but after Norma clobbered his ass it was a two-second jump to Who Done It.”

“Ah, Agnes! I am so—”

“Dude if you do a slow clap right now, I swear I’ll have Norma shoot you right in the fucking balls. Listen. My turn for questions, and there’s only one.”

“Ah, yes, you want to know why.”


“Agnes, I stand—or, rather, I sit before you a broken man.”

“Cut the poetry and showboating, Steven. And anyway, poor you. Poor low rent abusive fucking boyfriend turned rich guy kidnapper. Great arc, Steven. Just in time for Sweeps Week.”

“Agnes, I want to be in our daughter’s life.”

“Nope. No way. Too late. Goodbye to all that.”

“Agnes, for months I called you and I called you and I stopped by your place every day and you were never home. You ignored the notes I left, and you … what kind of person in two thousand and fucking two doesn’t have an answering machine? What kind of worthless, shiftless Lady Luddite thinks answering ma—”

“She doesn’t believe in them!” shouted Marigold from behind Norma.

“You don’t believe in answering machines and you never pick up the—”

“I wouldn’t return your calls even if I had one, Steven.”

“Agnes, I had to get your attention somehow. You were a Where’s Waldo page sans Waldo. Just a colorful painting of a crowded crowd. I had to create a problem you couldn’t help solving. Sometimes you put walls up not to keep people out, but to see who cares enough to break them down. Socrates said that, Agnes.”

“So you kidnapped my best friend? Wow, really usin’ a flamethrower to light a candle there, aren’t ya?”

“No, I HAD your best friend kidnapped, because rich people don’t kidnap anyone themselves, just like rich people never kill anyone. Dirty conscience, clean hands. My point was to get your precious, expensive, hard-earned attention, to bring you here to plead my case.”

“Dude, a) there are … oh my god, SO many better ways to do that and b) we … you and I? Us? We as a connected unit of functional, mutually beneficial humanity are beyond done and this … Jesus fucking Christ, dude, this does NOT help soften me to your cause. What is fucking wrong with you, Steven? I mean, seriously, what … went … WRONG in that shitty tiny apricot pit brain of yours? The shortest distance between two points is not a fucking scribble, Pythagoras.”

“Agnes, I am as sane and rational as the day is long, but I am a man in anguish. I want to be in our daughter’s life. I want to watch her grow up. You know I have the money to get our—”


“—our child into the best schools and provide the kind of life neither of us had growing up. I have lawyers, Agnes. Lawyers draft custody contracts. Fair, equitable contracts. Contacts you could … extravagantly benefit from. Lawyers can also declare you unfit to raise a child and oops, bye bye motherhood.”

Norma pulled the gun out of the back of her Dickies and pointed it at Steven again, shaking her head. “You just give me the word, Agnes. I’d be honored to end this fool.”

“It’s fine, Norma. This piece of dried-white dog shit’s got nothing on us. You’re done, Stevie. You are BEYOND out of my—our—life. You will never see your daughter and, holy shit, ESPECIALLY after this, because you were, and always have been, an abusive, gaslighting, predatory, lying, power-wielding, sadistic, racist, misogynistic, hilariously impotent leech. You never had a chance before and now … you are one deluded ivory tower dickhead if you think you have any power over me and mine. This is a regime change, Steven. Your time is up. You’ve damaged my life enough with your out-of-control fucking greed, your dishonesty, and your bad decisions. Just because you’re loud and big doesn’t mean you’re strong. Let’s go, girls.”

“Agnes. Agnes! If you walk out of here—”

“Steven, I’m gonna be fine. We’re leaving and you’re letting us and everything is going to be sweet as cream. We—me and Gabby and Marigold and Norma and Debsey—we’ll laugh about this one day. YOU won’t.”

Norma and Debsey helped Gabby to her feet and walked her to the door.

“Agnes! Don’t you leave here!” bellowed Steven from the couch.

“Bye, Steven.”

“Hold on a sec,” said Gabby. “I can walk now. I’m good. Just a sec.”

Gabby walked from the open doorway toward Steven, unsteady, but growing more certain with each step.

While Agnes, Marigold, Norma, and Debsey stood in the doorway, Gabby bent down and whispered something into Steven’s ear as he sat, eyes wide, mouth open, spit-flecked, staring wildly at Agnes.

Gabby began to walk back to the group, but Marigold held out her hand like a traffic cop. “You stay right there, Gabby!”

Agnes knelt next to Marigold. “What did you hear, Mari?”

“She heard nothing!” shouted Steven, who now stood up and fought to keep his balance, as if standing on the deck of a boat at sea. “You didn’t hear a goddamn thing, you fucking spic! I’ll destroy all of you! I’ll sue you and take everything! I’ll ruin your lives!”

Gabby looked back and forth between Steven and Agnes, panicked, unable to take a step in either direction.

“YEAH, she heard something,” said Agnes. “She’s got superhuman ears. What did Gabby tell Steven, Marigold?”

Marigold stared at Agnes, eyes filling with tears.

“It’s okay, Mari.” Agnes nodded her head. “Whatever it is you can tell me.”

“Gabby told Steven, ‘I’m going with them, but it’s all good, I’ll be back tomorrow morning.’”

(To be concluded next week)

Read previous installments:
Intro to the column
Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
Chapter 6
Chapter 7
Chapter 8
Chapter 9
Chapter 10
Chapter 11