from the eleventh Kate Shugak novel

“Sit still,” Dinah said, yanking Kate’s head around by a fistful of hair.

“Ouch!”  Kate, wedged into Katya’s high chair, muttered something beneath her breath.

“Stop whining,” Dinah said, no sympathy in face or voice.  “It wasn’t my idea to give you a crew cut.”

“It’s not a crew cut.”

“It might as well be.  Why don’t you let it grow out again?”

Trooper Chopper Jim Chopin, watching from where he leaned against the wall with his arms folded, saw a shadow pass across Kate’s face.

Kate looked up and met his eyes.  She felt cold metal slide between her nape and her hair, heard the crunch of shears.  Her skin prickled.  “I like it short,” she said.

Something in her voice kept Dinah from pursuing the subject.  “Well, if you’re going to keep it this short, you’re going to need a trim once a month.  If you’re going to get a trim once a month, you have to sit still for it.”  Dinah paused, hand holding scissors the way Van Gogh might have held his brush in a pause between stars, and looked Kate over with a critical frown.

“You look like you’re putting the final touches to a masterpiece that’s going to sell to Bill Gates,” Jim said, echoing Kate’s thought in a manner she found more than a little eerie.  “It’s just a haircut.”

Dinah extended the scissors.  “You want to give it a try?”

He held up both hands palms out.  “No way.  I like living.”

“Then put a lid on it.”

“Yes, ma’am.”  Jim shifted, and Kate saw the gleam of a shield.  As usual, Jim was immaculately turned out in the blue-and-gold uniform of his service.  As usual, he looked like a recruitment poster.  Not as usual, his presence sent a definite ripple of unease up her spine.

A pillar ran through the center of the house, around which a built-in counter supported a variety of electronic gadgets, including radios, VCRs, tape decks, a turntable, monitors both television and computer, music in vinyl, cassette and CD format, and boxes of parts and tools.  It should have been a mess, but it was very well organized, with hooks on the pillar to hang the tools from and sets of Rubbermaid drawers beneath the counter to store parts in.  Lines to the satellite dish and the antennas mounted on the one hundred twelve-foot tower outside snaked up the pillar and disappeared through the roof.

At the console in the center of this mess, Bobby flicked a few switches, there was some kind of electronic whine and into the mike Bobby said, “Okay, folks, it’s show time.  Bobby’s all talk, all the time, when it isn’t all music all the time, one and only Park Air.  Coming to you live once a month, or whenever I feel like broadcasting a little pirate air.  Lately, I’ve been feeling like it a lot.  That’s right, it’s election season again, god help us, in less than two months we elect a new president and re-elect our congressman-for-life.  And with me tonight is one of the candidates for the office of state senator from District 41.  Yes, all you Park rats and ratettes, that’s your very own election district.  Remember, if you don’t vote, you can’t bitch, and what’s a democracy without bitching?”  He adjusted the fuzzy black microphone hanging from the articulated metal arm.  “Anne Gordaoff, how the hell are you?”

“I’m fine, Bobby.  Thanks for having me on the show.”

“Couldn’t hardly not, seeing as how you’re going up against my boy, Pete Heiman.  What’s wrong with him?  He’s been in, what, two terms now, what can you do that he can’t do better with the benefit of experience and seniority?”

Anne Gordaoff smiled.  “Gee, Bobby, according to you, everybody who isn’t one of the good old boys ought to just fold their tents and steal away by dark of night.”

Anne Gordaoff’s campaign manager stood two feet away, a sheaf of paperwork cradled in one arm, a pencil tucked behind one ear and another in her hand, alert, attentive, following every word of the discussion as if it were being broadcast live on 60 Minutes.

“Not in this lifetime,” Kate said.

“Quit muttering,” Dinah said.  A judicious snip, one more, and she stood back with the air of Hercules finishing up his twelfth labor. 

Fun fact: I was going to set this book in Juneau, Alaska’s capital city, but Juneau isn’t where the real politics are. So I moved the story to the Park where the campaigning rubber meets the road. I wish I’d thought to include an actual Nazi as Anne’s opponent, but my imagination didn’t extend that far. Which only goes to show that my imagination is totally inept, because we’ve got one in the Alaska legislature now.

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the 23rd Kate Shugak novel
coming April 11, 2023
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