If He Loses
If He Loses
a novel in 22 episodes
by David Vigoda
Copyright © 2020 by David Vigoda
All rights reserved, including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form.
This novel is a work of fiction. Any references to historical events; to real people, living or dead; or to real locales are intended only to give the fiction a setting in historic reality. Other names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and their resemblance, if any, to real life counterparts is entirely coincidental.
* * *
Navigation: At the bottom of this episode is a link to the next one. You can go to any episode by scrolling to the top of the page and clicking the “If He Loses” tab.
* * *
Half the country was glued to Fox News, the other half to CNN, because everyone knew it would be close. They had hung on the latest poll numbers, but no one believed them, not really, not deep down. Too much was at stake.
“Brian,” said Dick Clafferty on Fox, “I wonder if even the pollsters really believed the polls.”
“Susan,” said Ryan Sickel on CNN, “I’d be willing to bet that not even the pollsters really believed the polls.”
At campaign headquarters across the country, in bars and in living rooms, everyone grew even more tense at the approach to midnight, eastern time. The banter and the bragging and the meaningless commentary all dropped away. When at last voting ended on the west coast, all the networks, even Fox, called it for the Democrat, even though the margins were tight in some battleground states. Republicans were outraged by voting irregularities, Democrats held their breath, waiting for the now-outgoing president to concede.
He didn’t concede. His first announcement, on live television at campaign headquarters, came only minutes later, in tone roughly neutral, like a lion trying not to growl. “We’re waiting for all the results to come in, all the results are not in yet, they will be soon and we’ll see what they say, but a lot of people are telling me I won.”
Everyone muttered the same thing: “Sonofabitch.” They didn’t all mean the same thing.
Some went to bed, others couldn’t tear themselves away, though they had to be at work in eight hours. Many were still listening to their emotional support people, watching bleary-eyed as numbers in red and blue crawled across their screens, when the president returned. It was a little after 2 am, and he was still at Trump International in DC. He began by reading from a paper, but was soon improvising on the theme that the election had been rigged and he would be challenging the “so-called results.”
“Darn right,” muttered Bob. Then, forgetting that Jillian had gone to bed at midnight, he hit the table, shouting, “Yeah!”
“What happened?” came a groggy, scared voice from upstairs. “Bob, are you okay?”
“Oh, gosh, I’m sorry, Jill,” then, “We’re fighting it.”
“The so-called results.”
“What so-called results?”
“The rigged election, Jillian, the whole thing was rigged and the president says we’re going to turn it around.”
“That’s great, hon, but don’t you want to get a few hours sleep? What time is it?”
“I’ll be right up, go back to bed. I didn’t mean to...”
He turned the volume down on the TV and turned it up on his phone for Twitter notifications. Sure enough, the president tweeted not an hour later, and the ring almost blew him off the sofa. After that, he was out cold. He was still out cold when Fox reported at dawn that a young Democratic Party campaign volunteer was shot and killed as she left the local headquarters in Terre Haute, Indiana.
“This just in...” She’d been rushed to Union Hospital, where she was pronounced dead. “Her name is being withheld, pending notification of family. We do not yet know the cause of death, but there are reports of multiple gunshots. We will bring you information when and as it becomes available. The president has been notified and a statement is expected shortly. At this time, thoughts and prayers go out to the victim’s family.” They then went live to Democratic headquarters, where a spokesperson expressed shock and outrage, promised justice, and called for thoughts and prayers.
When Bob was awakened by the smell of coffee, Jillian turned up the volume in time to hear, “This is what we know so far...” It was revealed that the victim’s name was Joanne Maybridge, that she was attending her first year at Indiana State University, had been a campaign volunteer, and was walking back to her dormitory in the early hours of the morning when she was shot.
“Oh, Lord. You know, Kaylee’s roommate is named Joanne. I know ISU’s a big place... Could she have a roommate who’d be a volunteer for the Democrat?”
“I didn’t know there were any Democrats at ISU.”
Jillian shrugged. “Terre Haute. You have to expect some.”
“I was joking, Jill. Say, what time is it? Wow, I’ve got to...”
“Get going, buster. I think I’ll call Kaylee, just to... That’s really awful, what happened to that girl. You have to feel for the parents. I’d hate to think that one of ours did it.”
“We don’t know that.”
“I’m just saying.”
“I’ll bet you anything it was some nutcase. No one I know is going to murder a girl because she’s a Democrat.”
* * *
After Bob had gone to work, Jillian was putting on her waitress outfit when the girl’s parents came on the small television in the bedroom. They both looked as though they had aged ten years in a few hours. Yet at the same time they looked like they couldn’t comprehend what had happened. With her husband beside her, masked behind a fixed grim expression, the girl’s mother tried heroically to smile. She got as far as to say how excited Joanne was about the election, and how hard she had worked, when she began to sob uncontrollably. Her husband caught her as she collapsed in agony.
The camera didn’t turn away at first, but then suddenly cut to the murder site, where a shrine just outside the yellow police tape was well under way. The commentator noted that thoughts and prayers were coming in from all over the country and even overseas. They cut to the mayor of Terre Haute standing beside the police chief, who added their own statements of condolence.
Jillian glanced at her watch and reluctantly turned off the TV, but quickly changed her mind and turned it back on.
* * *
When Kaylee was awake enough, she glanced across the room to find Joanne’s bed empty. “Oh my gosh, the election.” She grabbed her phone. “Well I’ll be! We lost. She must have partied all night.” Again she looked at Joanne’s bed. “Joanne, where are you?” she said playfully. “Have we been a good girl?”
While brushing her teeth, the young woman at the next sink asked if she knew who had won the election. “You slept through it too? I don’t know how everyone else is managing, but I’ve got an 8:30 poli sci lecture. I told myself, ‘Staying up won’t help anything.’”
“But do you know who won?”
“Oh, yeah. The other guy.”
“You’re saying the Democrats won? You don’t say.”
Kaylee stared at her briefly to try—unsuccessfully—to figure out whether she was pleased or displeased.
As she entered the lecture hall, there were knots of students engaged in earnest conversation. She shrugged, assuming they were talking about the election upset. But when she was sitting down, the boy who took the seat next to her asked if she had heard anything about a girl being shot. She shrugged reflexively, then asked, “Was that your idea of a pick-up line?”
“What? Of course not.” He too shrugged and they busied themselves opening notebooks.
She noticed that everyone was glued to their phone. “Why are we always glued to our phones right before class?” she said to no one in particular.
The boy turned. “Was that your idea of a pick-up line?”
“Sorry.” Sheepishly she pulled out her phone and was checking social media when the lecturer appeared.
“For the benefit of anyone who hasn’t heard,” he began with a solemn face, “I have a sad announcement. I’ve been asked to inform you that a student was shot and killed last night—this morning, really. Bereavement counselors are available at the Health Center for anyone who feels the need...”
“You knew about this?” Kaylee asked the boy. He stared briefly and shrugged. She was going to ask if he knew her name when a student called out that question to the professor.
“I believe her name is being withheld for the time being. To protect the family.”
“I hope not,” said another student, pointing to his phone, “because it says here it was someone named Joanne Maybridge.”
That was when Kaylee screamed.
* * *
One after another, people entered the conference room, some at the table, more behind them against the wall. Everyone took out papers. Everyone looked taut, as if they were being stretched. There was little conversation, few smiles. Table sitters reviewed documents and turned to wall sitters to confer or ask a question or send them on an errand. The wall sitters were younger, very earnest. There was only one woman at the table. There were a few women against the wall, all with good legs. Eventually the man in charge said, “Let’s get started,” and everyone hunkered down as if expecting incoming artillery.
* * *
“Is this the way to the Health Center?” Startled, someone shrugged and she continued, then asked another.
“I think so.” She nodded thanks and continued, but she slowed when she came to a bench, and then she sat and stared.
She looked around, as if there might be someone approaching who could help.
She took out her phone and sent her boyfriend a text message. “Murderd grl my rm. Was going stu hlth but feel...” Here she hesitated. She added ‘weird,’ and paused again. Then she deleted ‘weird’ and replaced it with ‘scared.’ Her thumbs hovered over the keypad. Eventually she added ‘to talk.’ Why was she afraid to talk? What was she afraid to talk about? Finally she concluded the message with the words, ‘scared to talk abt bro Chip.’
* * *
“What the hell, Kaylee!”
“Don’t talk like that, Chip.”
“Don’t talk like that, Chip,” he mocked. “Why, you think God’s listening?”
“Yes, I do. Why are you so angry?”
“Why aren’t you so angry? How do you stomach all the bullshit?”
“Excuse me, whoever you are. Could I please have my little brother back?”
“That’s the point, I’m not your frigging little brother anymore.”
“Okay, I’m sorry, I’ll never... Then can I have my big brother back?” They each took a breath. They were in his bedroom and, when they stopped talking, each caught the silence in the house. “I know you don’t talk this way to dad. I hope you don’t talk this way to mom.” He didn’t reply. “What happened?”
“When I went away to college?”
“Maybe you just never noticed.”
“How fucked up everything is around here. Which pisses me off. And don’t give me that evangelical pity look. Me and God are not on speaking terms these days, okay? Why are you smiling?”
“You’re trying to provoke me, aren’t you?” Her expression quickly changed. “Like you’ve been provoking mom and dad, your teachers, Pastor Whitcomb...”
“You think I’m playing?”
“Mostly you’ve provoked mom. Unfortunately she’s an easy target. Also there’s probably some guy thing between dad and you. Also he wouldn’t stand for it.” Chip didn’t answer. “The problem is it worked, you’ve got her pretty upset. I refuse to believe that makes you happy, so...” He still didn’t answer and she said he could say something if he wanted.
“You left out the part where she provokes me.”
“How does she do that?”
“Come on, you know how mom is.”
“You mean how she loves us? How she’s worried about you, because suddenly you’re failing high school?”
“School,” he sneered.
“Dear Lord, you are so sixteen.”
“And you’re so little miss college girl.”
She abruptly left his room, but ended up sitting on the edge of her bed, stewing. She returned. “We used to have a special bond—at least I thought we did. Brother and sister against the world. Then somehow it became you against the world, and I became part of the world.”
“Were you practicing that line in your room? It wasn’t bad.”
She returned to the edge of her bed.
* * *
“I figure... I was anxious about college, he could be anxious about high school.”
“You were anxious about college?” asked Joanne. They were sitting on the edges of their beds, talking across the dormitory room’s narrow space.
“I guess, in a way. About certain things.”
“Certain things like guys?”
Joanne shrugged. “You sure you want to talk about that now? Not Chip?”
Kaylee nodded. “Things haven’t been going well for my brother. Not in school, not in church. My parents hoped his grades would stop sliding, that he’d make new friends. Then he did, and it wasn’t what they’d hoped.”
“Not the kind who went to church. Any church, never mind our church. These are kids who yell about white power and hang out in scary chatrooms. One of them even showed up with a swastika tattooed on his arm.”
Joanne was shocked. “Your parents must be...”
“They are. Me too. This is my brother we’re talking about. I’m like... They must be too. Where did this come from? He was never like this. It’s like the devil got him.”
* * *
“The point is, sis, is that I’m not coming back. Forget about ‘cute little Chip.’” He spoke the last three words with a mocking tone, then returned to anger to add, “There’s too much at stake.”
“I don’t get it. What do you mean, ‘too much at stake?’”
“What I mean is that...” he shouted, then only slightly lowering his voice, added, “Pastor Fuckface is full of shit, they’re all full of shit. And if you can’t see that...” When Kaylee started crying, it only angered him more. “Don’t you get it? The way things are going, we’ll be a minority in our own country. Taken over by niggers and kikes and fags.” Now he saw real fear in her eyes. “It’s about time we did something about it—especially if the president isn’t re-elected.”
“What do you mean?” she whispered.
He hesitated, but then said, “Let me show you something,” and took her to his computer.
* * *
Kaylee was still sitting on the bench when she realized she hadn’t even checked her messages. It turned out there were lots of them, including several from her mother. She started to call, but disconnected on the first ring. She didn’t know why. She started to call again, but stopped. Instead she looked around with a confused, disturbed expression. That’s how a friend, who happened to be passing, noticed her.
“Oh my gosh, Kaylee, what are you doing, you didn’t answer my message.” Kaylee looked up, but didn’t say anything, and the young woman sat beside her and hugged her, and only then did Kaylee start sobbing.
When she could speak, she explained that she’d been on her way to the Health Center, but had had second thoughts.
“I don’t know where to go. I don’t know what to do.”
The friend didn’t know how to reply, so she said, “It’s so horrible. I can’t believe it.”
“They sent me to the Health Center, so I just started going there. But then I thought, don’t I really want to go to Campus Ministry? I mean they have counseling services too. But do I need a counselor? What’s there to say?” She turned to stare at her friend. “What do you say?”
“Come here,” she said, and hugged her again, then asked, “Are you sure Campus Ministry has counselors?”
“Evangelicals always have counselors. Don’t they? Maybe they don’t.”
“I could go there with you.” When Kaylee didn’t move, she offered again.
“I don’t want to go.”
“Oh. Sorry, I thought...”
“I mean not now.”
“Okay. I mean that’s okay. It’s just... I hate to leave you, but I’m missing a class.”
“Oh. Sure. Go to class, I’ll be fine.”
“Are you sure?”
“I should call Joanne’s parents, let them know I’ll pray for them. I only met them once, when they brought Joanne to campus, but they seemed nice—different, but nice. I should talk to my brother, too, find out how he’s taking the news. It’s on the news, right? He’s a sophomore in high school, and you know how they can be. Pretty immature. Which I don’t really take seriously, but... I should just talk to him first.” She tried to look reassuring, and the friend, not much reassured but anxious to get to class, left with the proviso that they would meet for lunch. When she was out of sight, Kaylee headed back to her dormitory.
* * *
When she reached her dorm, there was a cop there, not a campus cop, a city cop. He checked her photo ID and stared at her before letting her pass. When she reached her floor, though, there were more cops, and one of them walked her to her room, but when he saw which room it was, he wouldn’t let her in. She couldn’t have gotten in anyway, because the door was guarded and the small room was full of cops.
“Lieutenant,” called the guard at the door.
A man came out, dressed in plain clothes. “You the roommate?” She nodded. “What’s your name?” She told him, but it caught in her throat because he scared her. She wanted to ask what was going on, but he asked if she would talk to an officer.
“About what? Joanne’s my roommate. This is my room.”
“Hudson,” he called over his shoulder.
A woman emerged, in uniform, also with a stare on her face where there should have been some kind of hello smile or at least something reassuring. “Would you mind if we talked somewhere?”
“About what? I... I heard the news.”
The woman nodded and asked if they were friends. Kaylee nodded. “Good friends?”
“Of course. What does that question mean?”
For the first time the officer softened her voice, if only slightly. “We’re collecting information. You might be able to help. Would you...?” Kaylee nodded mechanically and she led her down the hall and took out her pad. “When did you last talk to Joanne?”
* * *
When she did call her mother, she could barely speak through her tears. She didn’t ask about Chip. She was too distracted to notice that her mother wasn’t taking the news well either.
* * *
When Jillian put down the phone, she automatically started to dry the breakfast dishes and discovered that her hands were trembling. Reflexively she went for a cigarette (which she had put at the back of the shelf in her bedroom closet), before she remembered she was quitting. Next she headed for a bottle she had put under the sink behind the detergent, but stopped herself. “Don’t you do that, Jillian, it’s barely 11 am and you have to go to work.” She visualized the minister’s reassuring smile and asked Jesus to help her and felt better.
Actually she didn’t feel better, just strong enough not to open a bottle before noon. “Do something, Jillian, don’t just stand here and wait for it to get worse.” She went outside, walked to the corner and back in the November chill, but that didn’t help, so she called Mary Beth to tell her that that poor girl who was killed was none other than Kaylee’s roommate.
“You don’t say! Oh, my. Really, Kaylee’s roommate was working for the Dems? How’s... Is she all right?”
“She’s pretty shaken up.”
“I can imagine.”
“I am too.”
“You poor dear. I wish I could come over...”
“Don’t bother, I’ve got to leave for work, like now.” She didn’t leave for work, though, she talked about how the election seemed to have driven Chip off the rails. “He’s scaring me, Mary Beth. I’m not sure I know who he is anymore.”
Jillian told her about his breakfast rant. “I don’t know what to do. I’ve got serious doubts about what the president’s doing. I mean is he saving the country or... Would my daughter’s roommate still be alive if...”
“Oh, Jillian, surely you don’t think...”
“I’m trying to console my daughter. I’m trying to keep my son from abandoning his faith. Meanwhile I’ve got my own doubts—as you well know, and I am so sorry for burdening you with it.”
“Bob’s home, right? I mean, I haven’t heard about any storms.”
“Yeah, no, he’s home. Doing a local job.”
“Can you talk to him?”
“I prefer not to, when he’s forty feet up in a tree with a chainsaw. But, yeah, I can talk to him. Bob’s real good about that.”
Before the silence got embarrassing, she asked, “Have you tried grounding him, Chip I mean?”
“He climbs out the window. But we’re... He threatened me, threatened his mother, and I am like scared—and, yes, I will talk with the minister, but I already know what he’ll say. I mean, what can he say? Besides,” she added illogically, “everything is online with these kids.”
“You could take away his computer, his phone.”
“What does Bob say?”
“He reads the riot act when he’s home. But then he leaves, he’s always leaving, and Chip knows it.”
“And he has to go, right? There’s not enough local work?”
“Not to make that kind of money. We’re barely making ends meet as it is. Now we’ve got Kaylee’s college...”
Mary Beth asked what happened at breakfast.
“He waited for Bob to leave to say, ‘We’re gonna take it back.’” (She mimicked a version of his voice.)
“Well, isn’t that what we’ve all been saying for the last four years?”
“Not the way he said it.”
“He’s sixteen, Jillian, that’s what sixteen-year-olds do. He’ll find his way back to Jesus, hon, don’t you fret so, okay?”
“He was almost exultant. What’s there to be exultant about? For heaven’s sake, a girl’s been killed over this. Not just any girl, his sister’s roommate. And now the president’s saying there was widespread fraud and he’s demanding... I don’t know what he’s demanding.”
“You said he threatened you?”
“He said certain things needed to be done, and anyone who got in the way needed to be gotten out of the way, and he was looking at me. You should have seen his eyes, they were not the eyes of my son, my little boy who...”
“Oh, Jillian, please don’t cry. We’ll figure this out, you’ll see. It’s probably just... The whole country’s a little crazy right now, don’t you think?”
“That’s what the minister says. The path of faith is a rocky path. Faith, patience, and prayer.”
* * *
“At noon the president tweeted that he will hold a televised press conference later in the afternoon. Corinne, what do you think he will announce?”
Every news outlet, left, right, center, and edges, launched into speculation hyper-space about what he would announce. His campaign officials were chased for comments, explanations, predictions, but they evaded all questions. When the press conference began, someone turned up the volume on the television in the luncheonette where Jillian worked—it was already tuned to Fox News—and conversation stopped.
When the president’s press secretary appeared instead of the president, there was a visible sense of disappointment and some confusion, but after the usual brief opening statement, the obvious questions crackled like popcorn and the answers were as provocative as half the nation hoped and the other half feared.
The press secretary had announced that the elections would be contested in several states. “Which states?” was the immediate question.
“We’ll be announcing that shortly.”
“How were the states determined?”
“They are states where there were serious voting irregularities.”
“What irregularities? Who determined that there were irregularities? Has the president consulted with legal advisers? Was this anticipated? If this was anticipated, were there plans already in place? How long ago did planning begin, and who conducted it?”
Suddenly the president appeared. Rather than wait for him to speak, questions were shouted from all over the room. He gestured with his arms for everyone to quiet down, then spoke with his unctuous voice. Though there had obviously been widespread fraud and other irregularities across the country, he was only challenging the vote in certain states, because he didn’t want to put the country through the ordeal of having a whole new election.
Again the shouted questions, starting with ‘Which states?’ In reply, he made sweeping claims, denounced his critics as ‘pencil-necks, boneheads, fat slobs, and dwarfs,’ and invoked with obvious pleasure the various derogatory nicknames he’d been using throughout the campaign.
In the instant between sentences, someone repeated forcefully, “Which states, Mister President? Surely the voters have a right to know.”
“The states where I lost,” he retorted instantly, loudly. “Where the vote was close. Because frankly I won those states. Okay? I won those states. So we’ll be challenging the rigged voting. The voting was rigged. I won, everybody knows it. And we’ll see what happens. Okay?”