Jas. R. Petrin introduced the tough, but aging Canadian loan shark Skig Skorzeny to the pages of Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine in “Juice” the March 2006 issue. I’ve been in love with him every since. Skig appears again in the April 2014 issue in “A Knock on the Door.” Jas. R. Petrin’s AHMM stories have been shortlisted for the Arthur Ellis Award for Best short story presented by the Crime Writers of Canada.
Leo (Skig) Skorzeny. Where did this guy come from? It’s like asking where ideas come from, and the honest answer is—I don’t know. Besides, he seems like something more than an idea.
But the answer (if there is one) might prove interesting, so I’ll just root around in the clutter of my mind for clues. Start a file folder and toss in my findings.
Skig seemed to burst fully formed onto the page, but I believe he spent years stealing up on me. Decades, in fact, starting on the day I met old Nate. (Name changed to protect the curmudgeonly.) Nate was the chief—hell, the only—mechanic at the construction company where I worked as a kid. He was also a curmudgeon of the first order. One incident springs to mind. When I complained to him about the truck I was driving—a coughing beast ready for the crusher, so ancient the starter was a large button poking through the floor—he narrowed his eyes at me. I hurried to explain. Fumes from the rusted muffler, I told him, were filling the cab and making my head swim. “So open the window,” he barked. I pointed out that might be risky because the window glass, cracked in a dozen places, was held together with tape, (one of his previous repair jobs), and might disintegrate completely. With a wrench he knocked the wobbly glass out of the door. “Fixed,” he said. And he was right. No more fumes. But it was February, and thirty below, and as he must have known because he had “fixed” it as well, the heater barely worked. I froze for the next several weeks.
Good old Nate. Into the file folder.
And then there was Al. Different company, different job. We worked in a warehouse. Smiling Al, we called him. A sallow, dumpy man in a frayed red sweater, with a chip on his shoulder he could hit you with. Al had developed to a fine art the curmudgeonly trait of bringing happy people down to earth, such as asking a whistling co-worker if he had a punctured lung. When the worker said he didn’t, Smiling Al asked him if he’d like one. At about that time a couple of friends and I started a rock band, and were stuck for a suitable name. Al had one immediately: “Two Jerks And A Jolt!” Thank you, Al.
Into the folder.
That little starter band led me deeper into the music scene. I played for years in bars and taverns, which were rife with Skig-like characters. Curmudgeons abounded. One I recall had a playful streak. He would arrive early and conceal bits of our equipment around the room—mike stands, cymbals, whatever—stash them behind draperies and potted plants. His favourite prank? Get up on stage and, while you were playing and singing, unable to defend yourself, roll your trouser legs up above your knees. Which looked really cool if you were wearing Beatle boots. Toss him into the folder as well.
After the band-biz, I worked for a company that owned a small fleet of cars, available to employees who had to get out and about. It was guarded by a large, sour individual, whose name was Joe Karpoola, or so I was told. Joe had a solid rep as a curmudgeon. Our first encounter didn’t go well. With every blood vessel in his face ready to burst, he assigned me the crummiest heap on the lot. Only then did I realize that Karpoola wasn’t his real name. I’d been had. This affront could only be put right by handing over a large White Owl cigar with each subsequent vehicle requisition; but this I refused to do. I preferred to endure his tyranny, provoking many Skig-isms as a result.
More churlish characters come to mind, and I’d like to include them here. I’d also like to examine Skig’s other traits. But space is limited. Suffice it to say that over the years, unknown to me, Skig was growing like a tough old jack pine. He had to reveal himself sooner or later, and his moment came when I was asked to contribute a story to a crime anthology project. The theme was betrayal. I began writing, and “Skig the curmudgeon” seemed to emerge fully formed. I called that story “Juice”. It didn’t fit the requirements of the anthology editors, (were they squeamish?) but did find a home at AHMM, leading to other Skig Skorzeny tales.
I now kind of like the guy. But I’m still not too crazy about his ancestors.