By the time Snooky was born, his parents were well into their forties and after trying for years, they'd finally given up on ever having a child of their own. At birth, he didn't look at all like most of the other newborn babies. He already looked older than the other babies and his skin had a slightly olive cast to it. He had a profusion of pitch black hair which stood straight up on his little round head. His face was oval and he had his father's decidedly pointed chin. His nose, which was slightly pointed, gave him a fox-like appearance but it was his eyes that one really paid attention to. They were jet black and there was a shine to them that most people's eyes didn't have. Even when he was real little, he had a way of fixing his black, shiny eyes directly on a person and this made folks feel very uncomfortable because he never seemed to blink.
When folks stopped Mrs. Long on the street to have a look at the new baby, they were at a loss as to how to react or what to say. The baby lay in his stroller and gazed back at them as directly as they gazed at him. He never took his beady, black eyes off them as he took in their measure. Disconcerted by the unending, unblinking stare, folks would back away; turn to his mother and mumble, "What an interesting baby!" Or "Where ever did you get this little tyke?" Folks hated to be mean or admit it but there was something about that Long baby that didn't sit quite right with them. They couldn't put their feelings into words but the feelings were there all the same.
Even as an infant, Snooky was demanding. When nursed, he'd suckle at one breast just long enough to get the milk flowing and then he'd pull his head back and howl at the top of his lungs. Afraid that he wasn't getting enough milk, Mrs. Long would hastily switch him to the other breast. He didn't eat, he didn't sleep and it wasn't too long before Snooky had worn his poor, doting mother's nerves to a complete frazzle.
Snooky wasn't easy to please at all either. If they picked him up for a sweet, little cuddle, he'd let out howls that pierced their ears until they quickly dropped him back into his crib. If he was in his crib, he'd thrash around until he'd taken his sheet right off the mattress and then he'd howl until they picked him up. If they sat down to rock, he'd squirm and wriggle until he'd worked himself up into a rage and then he'd howl all over again. There was just no way of pleasing him. People, mostly his father in particular, just left him pretty much alone.
Old Mr. Long, his father, was a simple, honest, hardworking man and when folks asked him how the boy was doing, his dad would look at them with a dazed look on his face and whisper, "Fine, jist fine." His father didn't know what to make of this new addition that had sprung from his withered old loins so late in life. He only knew that things had changed a great deal since that kid had arrived and it looked like things were only going to get worse from here on in.
If his father attempted to play with him, Snooky would look back at him with his cold, beady eyes and let out a howl that brought everyone within hearin distance, running. If his father walked over to the crib and smiled down at him, the kid would look back at his father with such a mean look on his cunning, little face that Mr. Long could feel the hair rise up on the back of his neck. It was akin to starin into the face of a wild animal.
As Snooky grew, he was quick of wit and deed and he did everything early. As soon as he could talk, he learned to lie. Then, he quickly progressed from lying to stealing. He was never content with what he had; he had to have it all. If he played with the other kids in the neighborhood, which wasn't often, he was soon sent home for fighting, stealing, lying, cheating, or all of the above.
There was many the time that Mrs. Long would come around the corner of the house to find Snooky smoking from someone's cast-off cigarette butt. By the time he was six years old, his reputation as a "little Christer" had spread to all the surrounding towns in the county.
As the kid grew, Snooky's father stayed away from him as much as possible. He made damn sure that he left home in the morning long before Snooky woke up and he never went home until he was damn sure that the kid was fast asleep.
It wasn't too long before Snooky learned that money was power. If relatives came for a visit, Snooky would wait until they'd settled on a chair and then he'd sidle up to them and lean against their knees and fix his mean, little eyes on them. If they tried to shoo him away, he'd just press a little harder against their knees with his small, pointy elbows and stay where he was. His mother, seeing Snooky leaning up against folk's knees, would smile and say, "He such a friendly little bugger, isn't he the cutest little thing!" He'd stay there and stare at the visitors until they were so unsettled that they didn't know what to do. Finally, just to get rid of him, they'd grope around in their pockets for a fistful of change and they'd shove the money into Snooky's hot little hands. Satisfied, he'd take off to hide the loot in his room. His mother laughingly told folks that "Little Snooky" had more money in his bank than she did! People, who'd unwillingly contributed to the little bastard's savings, didn't doubt her for a minute. Need-less-to-say, the Longs didn't have too many unannounced visitors dropping by.
It was when Snooky went off to school that things really got bad. He was a royal pain in the ass to say the least. He terrorized the other kids until he got what he wanted. If he happened to be caught by the teacher doing something that he wasn't supposed to, he wouldn't even apologize. He'd just look back at the teacher with his little shit-eating grin on his face. He was never kept after school because the teachers had all they could stand of him during the day. And it wasn't uncommon to see Snooky skipping down the road towards home long before school let out at the end of the day.
The elementary school teachers used to offer each other bribes to take him in their class the next year. Poor Mr. and Mrs. Long spent so much time at the school that folks around town laughingly joked that they must be the new "substitute" teachers.
Being a small town, in those days, folks didn't run to child behaviorists or child psychologists if they were experiencing a problem with their kid. Generally, if a kid misbehaved, the parents simply "warmed his ass until it glowed a bright red," and that was that. Back then, no one thought of it as child abuse. Parents didn't have the time nor the energy to worry about long reaching side effects on their kid's psyche.
At about the fifth grade, the principal called Mr. and Mrs. Long into his office and explained that there was a problem with Snooky's antisocial behavior. His parents looked at each other in bewilderment, what was the principal trying to say? They had no idea what "antisocial" meant. Did it mean something good or bad? What had they done wrong? There were no answers. Snooky was Snooky. He'd been born that way and that was that. They were told that all the tests showed that Snooky was bright, very bright. He could do any work he was given but, he just didn't want to. He only came to school each day just to harass the teachers and the other children.
Mr. Michaud, the principal, explained that after much testing and discussion it had been determined that Snooky was a "sociopath." For a moment or two Mr. Long thought that that must be good but as the principal explained in greater detail, Mr. Long's tired old heart sank lower and lower in his chest. The principal went on to explain that it was the general consensus among Snooky's teachers that he didn't belong in a "regular" school and perhaps his parents should consider sending Snooky to another kind of school. "What kind of school is that?" His father asked. "I, frankly, don't know," the principal replied. "Snooky is only ten years old and if he continues on the way he is, I can only see reform school in his future." His parents thanked the principal and dejectedly left his office.
At home that night, his parents tried to talk to Snooky about what the principal had said but, he wasn't interested. He looked them in the eye and announced that he didn't need that friggin old school anyway and that he was already smarter than his teachers. For some reason, his father believed him. So, at the ripe old age of ten, Snooky no longer went to school.
For a while, it seemed that Snooky had turned over a new leaf. He took to getting up early with his father and before you knew it, not only was he working in his father's garage, he was running it! He took to motor vehicle repairs with a passion and skill that his father never had. Customers were often astounded to learn that their short, foul mouthed, chain smoking, grease covered, auto mechanic wasn't a midget, he was really only ten years old!
Snooky's reputation soon grew as a mechanic and folks began telling each other that maybe there was hope for him yet. But they quickly realized that a leopard really doesn't change his spots. They learned that if they left anything of value in their vehicles, then it certainly wouldn't be there when they went back to get it. So folks made sure that their vehicles were given a through going over long before they dropped them off at Long's garage.
Snooky had that uncanny ability to take an old worn-out engine and with very little work, make it run like new. He had more business than he could repair all by himself. He kept his father busy running to the junkyard in Presque Isle, looking for spare parts. If the parts couldn't be found at the junkyard, Snooky found other ways or means to get them. Farmers soon learned that if they left their farm machinery out in the field for a few days, then the machines didn't always work the same as they had when they'd left them there.
It wasn't uncommon to have a farmer pull up in the yard complaining that his "new" muffler had suddenly turned "rusty" overnight or that the "new" spark plugs he'd had put in just last week were corroded and misfiring. Now, no one was stupid enough to come right out and blame Snooky for all these problems but, everyone had their suspicions just the same.
In the corner of the smoky, grease-filled garage, Snooky had posted a sign which read in big red letters, "Not Responsible for Items Left in Vehicles." On the rare occasions that Snooky did close his garage, he bolted the doors with the largest chain and padlock he could find. Folks, around Ashland, often joked that "wouldn't you know it, only a thief would have the biggest padlock and chain around" or things like, "Jaysus Jake, your old truck sure sounds better with my new muffler." Or "Does your truck handle better with my new struts on it?"
Time went by and the garage remained pretty much the same, only a little more dilapidated. Snooky had only one real interest and that was repairing vehicles. Because his garage was located just outside of Ashland on the Masardis Road, it was in a prime location for tourists and Canadian log trucks that were experiencing mechanical problems.
About half a mile down the road from Snooky's garage there was a pot hole in the road that had been there for at least a hundred years. Every so often the men from the Ashland Town Garage would go out and half-heartedly make a big production out of filling in the sink hole and repairing it. However, due to all the heavy log trucks going back and forth daily to Levesque's Mill in Masardis, the pot hole always returned each year, bigger than ever.
The pot hole was located at the bottom of Pike's Hill and as a vehicle approached the crest of the hill and began slowing down, Snooky would grin widely and begin counting the seconds until the vehicle hit the hole. Once he heard the resounding sound of metal being wrenched from its base, Snooky would smile to himself and say "Ka-ching!" "Ka-ching!" Snooky had made quite a business out of all the wheel alignments, wheel balancing and shock replacements from that pot hole, not to mention the very lucrative business of hub cap replacements.
It was rumored by folks around town that the reason Snooky kept that back hoe out behind his garage all the time was so he could dig out that pot hole every few months or so. All of the local folks knew of the pot hole hazard so, they always drove on the other side of the road to avoid it. But at the start of fishing season in May through the hunting season in November, Snooky's garage was a very busy place.
Folks knew that Snooky was a little "light fingered" to say the least but, that didn't bother them too much because he never over-charged them for their repair work. This odd quirk to his character was an oft discussed fact around town. Well, folks reasoned amongst themselves, with so many other bad habits, it was good that the Devil had missed that one.
Snooky didn't bother to chase girls like all the other young fellers around town either. He didn't have time for all that; he was too busy fixing things. But, the girls always found a way to Snooky anyway. The fact that he was so very different was what drew them to him. He always looked the same whenever and wherever you saw him. From his faded Ford cap right down to his boots, there was only one word to describe him and that was greasy! The girls chased after him all the same. He never took them out. Well, not that anyone noticed anyway. But every once in a while, a baby would turn up in one family or another and pretty soon folks were hinting that the poor fatherless baby certainly had the "Long" look to it, especially around the eyes and nose.
Snooky's garage seldom closed. He could be found there twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. On a slow evening, Snooky would sit out in front of the old garage with his chair tipped back on two legs against the wall. His greasy Ford cap was tilted at just the right angle to keep the setting sun out of one eye while his dank black hair fell over his other one. An ever-present Camel cigarette dangled out of the corner of his mouth. Every now and then, a long hunk of glowing ash fell off his cigarette and tumbled down onto the greasy bib front of his pants. "Jaysus, Snooky," folks warned him. "If you don't change your clothes once in a while or take a bath, you're goin to blow yourself up one of these days." When one cigarette went out, he'd immediately tap another one out of his pack and light it by striking a match against the thumbnail of his grease-stained hands.
One year slid into another without much notice except for the years changing on the calendar. Snooky became the owner of a much mangled bulldozer when one of his customers couldn't pay for his truck repairs. Pretty soon Snooky had that scarred up old piece of junk running like brand new.
Snooky spent all his free time learning how to run it. He'd drop the heavy blade along the side of the weather beaten building and push all the grease soaked dirt back into the woods behind the garage. He began building a road down into the woods and when any of the folks asked Snooky what he was doing, he'd look at them with his bright black eyes but he never give them a direct answer.
Then came nineteen fifty-two, the year of the snow-less winter and elderly folks around town began whispering to one another that this winter wasn't "seemly" and something bad was going to happen. They could feel it in their dry old bones and the predictions became more and more dire. The weeks went by and the elderly, whose mind was still sound, searched back in their memory to try and recall a year that had been like this one.
It turned the fifteenth of January and there was still no snow on the barren ground. The temperature hovered around two degrees and influenza ran rampant through the scattered settlements. The young and old alike began dropping like flies. Folks cursed, prayed and cried and blamed everyone and everything that they could think of. Finally the dying and the crying ceased and folks picked up the tattered remnants of their lives and went on. The illness took old Mr. Long first and it wasn't too long before Mrs. Long joined her husband in the cold, damp ground of the Ashland Cemetery.
Snooky soon sold the old family home on Main Street and moved the rest of his belongings into the back room of his dilapidated garage. He threw his clothes, which were all the same hue of black, onto a pile of retread tires and that was that.
With the death of his parents and the opening of Stacy's garage on the Portage Road, Snooky's life took a turn for the worse. Competition for used car parts became decidedly fierce. It was becoming necessary to range further and further afield to check out the junkyards and abandoned vehicles in the surrounding towns. If Snooky's manner of obtaining replacement parts was questionable before, it was now the latest topic around town. Folks began commenting that they had been awakened at odd hours of the night by the sounds of a tow truck dragging vehicles around the back of Snooky's garage. Other folks living along the Presque Isle Road commented that they'd heard Snooky's bulldozer working late at night in the woods behind his garage. "What tha hell could he be doing?" They kept asking each other.
In most small towns, folks generally tend to mind their own business especially if it's in their own best interest. But, all these strange happenings, especially at odd hours, only served to pique their interest. It wasn't too long before the local law enforcement began to hear all the rumors too. Folks in Presque Isle, Caribou and Houlton began reporting stolen vehicles. The police were even more confused when they discovered that the "stolen" vehicles were older vehicles, farming equipment or even old abandoned vehicles. "Who in hell would go to all that trouble to steal old vehicles?" They wondered. This mystery caused the troopers at the Houlton State Police Barracks many a sleepless night discussing the strange happenings.
It was on a cold and starlight night that they finally discovered the truth. The local game warden, Danny Glidden, was flying back to Presque Isle from Eagle Lake one night and his flight path happened to take him over the property behind Snooky's garage. As he passed over the area, the warden looked down and thought he saw a light moving slowly in the woods. He banked his plane and decided that he'd have another look at the spot where he'd seen the light. As he came in low over the trees, he was startled to see a man on an old bulldozer pushing dirt over a freshly dug hole. As the warden looked more carefully around the area, he was surprised to see that there were more than twenty other mounds identical to the one the man had been bulldozing. "Well, well, well, what do we have here?" thought the pilot as he banked the plane for home.
Bright and early the next morning, the warden paid a visit to his old friend Sargent Crocker who lived on the Goding Road. After much discussion, they decided that perhaps they'd better take another look at the land behind Snooky's garage. As they flew over the area, it became apparent to them that Snooky had been a very busy boy.
Snooky was arrested and found guilty of auto theft, farm machinery theft and conspiracy and was sent down to the Thomaston State Prison to serve a sentence of three and a half years. Folks around town weren't really too shocked by this sudden turn of events because most of them really didn't expect people to be much better than they were.
It was oft heard around town that since Snooky had been sent away and his garage closed, there wasn't a good repair shop around anymore. More than one resident was heard to mutter that they'd sure as hell be glad when Snooky was released from the slammer because they certainly weren't going to take any more vehicles out to that God-damned crook Stacy on the Portage Road.
Folks, when asked by people from away, if we have any things of interest in our small Maine town, tell visitors that we have a Logging Museum on the Garfield Road and oh yes, there's an "engine burial ground" on your left, behind the old garage, jist down the Masardis Road.
Martha Stevens-David Column Magic City
The Most Recently Republished Articles include:
The Manure Spreader
Aroostook River Fishin
Vengeance is Mine Pt. 1
Aroostook County Memories
Childrens Stories include:
See also Vengeance is Mine a short mystery novel published at Magic City over 4 days.
All works by Martha Stevens-David published at Magic City Morning Star News are her copyright property and may not be reproduced without her permission.