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.
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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.
* * *
Bruce had been sucking on a beer, laid back on his broken-down couch, when it was announced on television that the FBI was taking over the investigation of the Joanne Maybridge murder. When he heard a spokesperson say the reason was because there was evidence to suggest it may have been an act of domestic terrorism, a huge smile came to his face. He even raised a fist in celebration with the hand that wasn’t holding the beer.
He had to get up and pace around the room—as much as possible with all the clutter—and pump his fist some more. “Yes!” he hissed. “Fuck you, Terre Haute cock-sucking detectives, trying to make this a sex crime.”
He grabbed a sheet of paper, scrawled ‘FBI!!!’ on it, and taped it to the wall beside the pictures of Joanne.
He stood back and admired it. “Hot damn, Bruce,” he congratulated himself, “you’re in the big leagues now.”
A few days later, though, his excitement collapsed when he was taking his ten-minute break. He succeeded in moving the conversation to the recent FBI announcement about the Maybridge investigation, only to hear the other forklift operator exclaim, “Fucking FBI don’t know its ass from a hole in the wall. ‘Domestic terrorism,’ my ass. If you ask me, the guy was probably some kind of stalker.”
“What the fuck are you talking about?”
“I’m talking about I heard she was a piece of ass. I’m thinking this cocksucker couldn’t get any and he was pissed.”
“What the fuck, man. If that was so, then why her? You think he asked her out or some shit, and she turned him down?”
“Something like that, yeah. Maybe he’s a pervert.”
“Shit, man. That is so fucked. If you ask me, the guy was a patriot.”
“Patriot? For killing some college girl?”
“For sticking up for this country.”
“Shit, you white boys,” said a man across the table. “Why don’t you let a brother take his ten with a little P and Q.”
“Amen, brother,” said his buddy. “All I got to say is, let’s hope the dude ain’t one of us, otherwise it’s gonna be domestic terrorism plus perversion—plus robbery.”
Later, amid continuing news coverage of violence motivated by ‘fringe political conspiracy theories,’ spawned by certain Internet websites, a self-styled ‘patriot’ group publicly claimed credit for Joanne’s murder. “You see,” exclaimed Bruce in the break-room, “I told you, it was patriotism.”
“Patriotism, my ass. Terrorists might call it that. I call it ‘murder.’”
Bruce shot air through tight lips and snapped his head sideways with a sneer. “What would you know about it?”
“What do you know about it?”
“I know a patriot when I see one. That’s more than I can say for you.”
When he got home, though, he slammed the door and shouted, “Son of a bitch! Cocksuckers!” He immediately sat down to write a post, but stopped. He had written: “The deep-state FBI has been infiltrated with traitors and appeasers who want to take down our president and destroy America’s freedoms. It don’t know shit! I was the one who assassinated Joanne Maybridge. I did it as a warning.” Then he deleted the last two sentences. Frustrated, he turned on the TV, but soon turned it off.
He hadn’t gotten home from the afternoon shift till after midnight; by now it was around 2 am. He threw the empty beer can into the sink and watched it bounce onto the floor, where he left it. Then he got another idea.
He wrote, “What kind of patriots take credit for somebody else’s action? I say you’re chickenshits.” He struggled over the next sentence, wrote several versions, ended up with, “I can prove you’re lying,” and then deleted that. Frustrated, he deleted the post and jumped up to storm around the room. He went outside to cool off, finally felt his fatigue and, returning inside, threw himself on the bed at 4 am.
When he woke up, he suddenly remembered everything and was in the process of getting enraged again when it came to him. He got a sheet of paper and wrote, ‘Don’t get angry, get even. It’s time for #2.’ He liked how it looked. He put it up on the wall, opposite ‘FBI!!!’ He stood back and looked at it, turning his head to one side and the other, as if he were looking at a painting.
Two weeks later he was looking at the same wall, while the president was saying, “My lawyers tell me the Electoral College is a mess, it’s broken. They say it’s a target-rich environment.” Beside the paper, there was now a picture of a second young woman.
Two weeks after that, there he was again. Where there had been a picture of a second young woman, there were additional pictures of her. They were taken from a distance. One was the original photo with a circle around her. Another was a blow-up of the same photo. The president was telling reporters, “Six weeks ago, on election night, I announced that the election was a sham and I won. Today, the great people of Florida voted for me in their Electoral College, making me the totally legal winner. Totally legal.”
“But what about...”
He had barely paused for breath. “The awful Democrats, what do they do? They break the law, they break the law, and make up their own vote. Can you believe it, their own vote. They meet separately, vote separately... They can’t get the governor’s seal of approval because they’re breaking the law. Talk about sham. But they send it in anyway. Unbelievable, unbelievable.”
“But what if the courts...”
“So now it’s over, it’s all over, completely over. I have been re-elected... I don’t have the exact Electoral College numbers, but it’s a big margin, a huge margin of victory. This is a great day for America, thank you.”
* * *
“Not since 1876 has America faced a situation like this, where a single state submitted two Electoral College slates. What does that mean, where do we go from here? There’s a lot to unpack there, so let’s get started. We begin with...” With slight variations, that’s how more or less every news outlet in America cranked up the national conversation—the national education—about the Electoral College, which was unanimously described as an ‘obscure institution’ created by the Constitution. It was occasionally condemned as a failed one.
As was explained, what had happened was simple: The Republican and Democratic caucuses of the Florida legislature had each appointed its own electors, who then met and voted separately. Each of course voted unanimously for its party’s candidate. “They then—today, this morning—mailed their slates to Congress. Congress will have to decide which slate to accept. In other words, Congress will choose the next president of the United States.”
“Wow. And you say this only happened once before?”
“Correct, and that was almost 150 years ago, soon after the Civil War. In a way, it marked the official end of hostilities—but it was itself hostile in the extreme.”
“Kind of like now, you think?”
“I do. And I think most Americans would agree. And may I say one more thing?”
“In dealing with rival slates, the rules are... Well, words like ‘incomplete’ and ‘vague’ come to mind. To the point where there might not be any generally accepted solution at all. That was certainly the case in 1876. Even at the time, many questioned whether the process was even constitutional, let alone fair and reasonable.”
“And you fear that could happen again?”
The expert made a face. “Don’t you? Doesn’t everybody?”
“All right,” said the anchor, turning to the camera, “you heard it, it’s mind-blowing, hold onto your hats, because, America, we are in for a wild ride.”
There would be no ‘wild ride,’ according to many commentators. “The reason is simple,” said one, a lawyer. “Yes, there are now two slates from Florida, but only one of them, the Republicans’, carries the governor’s certification—what’s called ‘ascertainment’—and the seal of the state. Democrats can try to cloud the issue, but the rules are clear: A tie is broken by ascertainment.”
“Hmm. If it’s so clear, then how can they...?”
“Maybe they haven’t read the rules. You know what? Can I read it to them now? Okay, if any Democrats are willing to listen... here it is.” He picked up a sheet of paper and read, “‘But if the two Houses’—that’s the two houses of Congress—‘shall disagree in respect of the counting of such votes, then, and in that case, the votes of the electors whose appointment shall have been certified by the executive of the state, under the seal thereof, shall be counted.’ There it is. Section 15 of Article 3 of the United States Code.”
“Well that seems pretty clear. So how can the Democrats...?”
“Good question. I think somebody should ask them.”
Of course, many did ask them, and they did not dispute that sentence. They pointed out that there was a lot more in Section 15, and in Section 5, and in other procedural rules, as well as in state and federal law—and taken together, that sentence was much less decisive than it sounded.
“So, then, why are the Republicans...?”
“Good question. I think somebody should ask them.”
Of course, many did ask them, and they did not dispute that Democrats could try to win in court. They were confident, though, that the Democrats would lose.
And pushed by questioners, many Democrats admitted they were not confident they would win.
Greg did what he could to keep Ellen from getting the news, but even though she never called anyone and rarely took a call, she insisted on keeping her cell phone. So she saw the news. That night, after Greg thought she had taken her pills, he fell asleep beside her, exhausted. He was exhausted by the news, exhausted by trying to keep his job while being a full-time caretaker, exhausted by trying to help his wife recover, to recover himself from the murder of their daughter, followed by the worst political nightmare of their lives.
So he didn’t wake up when Ellen got out of bed and went to where he thought he had hidden the pills, and swallowed all of them, and got back in bed and closed her eyes with feelings of both fear and relief.
Something woke him early. He didn’t know what, he just woke up, it was still dark out, and quickly he somehow sensed that something was wrong. Probably it was her breathing that was different. He called her, he shook her, he screamed in sheer terror, and called 911. And then he fought against panic, bereft, enraged, self-blaming, during the interminable hours-long minutes until the medics arrived.
* * *
Kaylee fell asleep reassured about her brother. She woke up terrified again.
Doubt had returned. She logged into the chatroom. This time she skipped past all the praise and adulation for disgusting, horrific acts of violence, and focused on statements she hadn’t fully understood before—and didn’t fully understand now. It wasn’t that it was jargon—terms like ‘rahowa,’ the site was filled with insider terms and references, it wasn’t that. It was discussions that didn’t seem crazy or disgusting, just unimportant, even trivial. She read them again, and the more she read, the more she shook her head. “What are you talking about?” she asked the computer.
She read more, flipped back and forth, increasingly frustrated. She sighed. “Oh, Joanne,” she whispered, “I so wish you were here. I need somebody else to read this. Oh!” she cried.
She got up to get dressed, wash up, take a deep breath. “Calm down, you’re letting your imagination...” But brushing her teeth, looking in the mirror, she admitted that she really didn’t know what they were talking about. “You don’t know what they’re talking about,” she said to the mirror. “Why is it there? Do I not understand it because I’m not supposed to understand it?”
She hurried back to her room to check the time, then shook her head. “You have to go to class, Kaylee. Besides, he’s probably still asleep.” So she went to class. She could barely concentrate, though, and the second it was over she called Nicky, the computer geek who had helped her get into the chatroom.
She left a message for him, went to another class—leaving her phone on. Called him again. “Wake up, will you? Oh!”
He called her during lunch—her lunch, his breakfast. Suddenly, now that she was talking to someone, the situation seemed less fraught with suspense, less dangerous. “Nicky, thanks for calling. You’re not exactly an early riser, are you?” Before he could start talking, she said she wanted to see him again, then, realizing how that might sound, said she would like it if he would take another look at her computer. He asked if she had run into a problem.
“Maybe, I’m not sure. I’d like a second opinion.”
“I don’t know, you just did something there. Everything okay?”
“Yeah, sure. Why not?”
“There was something.”
“Nothing. I guess I just realized that I’m using the same kind of guarded language I’ve been reading online.”
“By ‘guarded’ you mean coded. Is that it?” She admitted it. “Okay, stop talking, I mean say no more. You want to meet again right? Name the time and I’ll be there—same place.”
“Don’t you have class or anything?”
“I have both, but neither is as interesting as this. What time?”
When she arrived, he was already there. He had staked out a table against the back wall again. Unlike the previous evening, the place was busy and noisier. “Hi,” she said. “Do you think maybe someplace a little quieter?”
He shook his head. “Noisy is good. That’s why I use this place.” She started to sit down, but he said she should order something. “I would have ordered for you, but I don’t know what you like.”
When she returned she said, “You were very nice last night, for not reading it, I mean. But you mentioned that in high school you had some experience...”
“I was crazy then. Not like now. Seriously, you said you want a second opinion?”
She nodded. “I was impressed that you didn’t even look last time, but now I’d like you to. I need you to, actually.”
“Really, you were impressed? All right, score one for the kid.”
“So, would you take a look and tell me if it’s real or just bluster?”
“Of course,” he said seriously. “If it was my brother, I’d be mucho scared, aka scared shitless. Remembering how I was at sixteen, those many years ago. Okay, motherfuckers,” he said as he entered the chatroom, “let’s see what kind of macho bullshit you’re dishing up.”
She let him read. She expected a running commentary, or at least his odd outbursts, but he remained silent, reading intently. It seemed to go on for a long time. She tried to distract herself, looking around the room, studying her nails, checking her phone. He seemed oblivious.
Finally he looked up. He turned to look at her, then returned to the screen. “Okay, let me show you a few things.” He quickly scrolled up. “You see here, where they refer to ‘monkeyman,’ that’s the president-elect.”
“How do you know?”
“I know. Now, did you see all this stuff about planning for the party?” She nodded. “Obviously they’re not planning a party. That’s a euphemism.”
“That’s what I... For what?”
“I believe the FBI would call it a conspiracy to commit a terrorist act.” He was staring at her. She was staring at him. “I’m sorry. Sorry for you, sorry for your brother. This doesn’t look to me like the usual bullshit.”
She gulped. “You’re sure?”
“Look here.” He scrolled quickly. “You see here, where they’re talking about ‘monkeyman’s shopping list,’ that’s the president-elect’s itinerary. These are dates. Look at this where they say monkeyman will be the guest of honor... and here where they talk about playing the ‘long game.’ They’re talking about assassinating the president-elect.” Kaylee stared at him, her face blank. He shrugged apologetically. “The ‘long game,’ I’m not 100%, but I think it means a ‘long shot,’ like from a sniper rifle.” He stared at her. “You look... Would you like me to, like, hug you or anything?”
“Oh, God,” she said finally, whispering. She closed her eyes and pulled herself inward. Tentatively he put his arms around her, and when she didn’t resist he held her more tightly.
* * *
When she finished cleaning up after breakfast, Jillian had a free hour or two before she had to be at the luncheonette for the lunch crowd, and she had a routine she liked. She turned on the little TV in the kitchen—not the big one in the den—which, like the other, was always tuned to Fox. Then she fetched her bottle from wherever she was currently hiding it and fixed herself a highball. There were a couple of stools in the kitchen and she used one to sit at the counter, watch TV, sip her drink, as though she had all the time in the world, as though she were in a bar.
She went outside to smoke, in back where it was less obvious.
She was daydreaming when the phone rang. Seeing who was calling, she smiled. “Good morning, Richard,” she said cheerily, reaching to turn off the TV.
* * *
As Eric pulled into Bob’s driveway he said, “Good luck with your boy.”
Bob came through the front door, dropped his gear, and called out that he was home. “In the den, hon,” replied Jillian. “Hi,” she said from the couch when he appeared.
“Hi.” She asked if he was hungry, but he shook his head. “Tired? What, then?”
“How about a kiss?”
She looked at him, stood up and went to him, and he took her in his arms and kissed her. “What’s this all about?” she asked.
“Can’t a man kiss his wife when he gets home?”
“He sure can. It’s just... He doesn’t always do it.”
“That’s gonna change.”
“Been doing some thinking. Actually a lot of thinking. You’ll see. Chip home?”
“In his room.”
He gestured to indicate he was headed upstairs. He knocked on the door—twice—and said, when the door didn’t open, “It’s me, Chip, I’m home.”
The door opened and Chip looked at him. “Hey.”
“Hey yourself. Can I come in? Busy?”
Chip shrugged and stepped back so he could enter. Bob looked around as if he hadn’t seen the room in a while and sat on the edge of the bed. Chip watched him and then sat in his desk chair. “This isn’t gonna be a thing, is it?”
Bob smiled. “What’s a ‘thing?’”
“You getting on my case?”
“I’m not here to get on your case, Chip. I missed you. I did. Maybe you don’t believe me.” Chip shrugged, and Bob tried to relieve the tension. “So, what’s up? Anything new and exciting?”
“How was your trip?”
“Ah, the usual. You know. What about you?”
“The usual. You know.”
Bob nodded, as if he’d just remembered something. “What I should have said is that I like my work, I really do—but I don’t like being away from home. I miss your mom. I miss you.” Chip wasn’t looking at him. “I’m gonna try to be a better father, Chip. We used to have fun together, you know? We used to talk.” When Chip didn’t move, he said, “I’ve prayed for guidance.” After a long uncomfortable silence, he started to get up. “Well, I can see you’re busy...”
“Can I ask you something?”
“Of course,” he replied, sitting down.
“Do you think the president’s gonna be re-elected?”
It took Bob a moment to react. “It sure looks that way. I hope so. Why do you ask?”
* * *
Connor and Tim were riding the range when Tim said his wife was asking questions about what was going on.
“About what’s going on?”
“Yeah, about what’s going on.”
“What’s going on?”
“Don’t fuck around, Connor. She’s asking questions and I need to tell her something.”
“What did you say?”
“I told her nothing’s going on. What do you mean?”
“So you told her nothing’s going on, and she said, ‘Thank you, honey,’ and kissed you on the tip of your nose.”
Tim made a face. “She says, ‘Nothing’s going on,’ you know, like she does, like it’s not a question. So I asked her: ‘What’s going on?’ She says: ‘You’re telling me nothing’s going on. Well, something’s going on, that seems pretty clear. So here’s me asking you what’s going on.’”
Connor nodded. “What did you tell her?”
“Not a damn thing is what I told her. What should I have told her?”
“The obvious: You’re screwing around.”
“Oh, that would go over real well.”
“Yeah, you know that Darlene with the tits I’ve seen you with your eyes on? Well, why don’t you tell your little wife that you’re fucking her upstairs at the Broken Arrow?”
“Do you want to get serious for a minute, or you just want to bust my balls?”
“Well, obviously, I’d much rather bust your balls—but okay, you are my brother after all, so I’m gonna get serious. Wait, just give me a minute, I’m gonna get there.”
“You know, I got a mind to punch your lights out right now.”
“Hang on, I’m almost there.”
They rode on in silence, Tim shaking his head, till he said, “You know, I think this business has gone to your head. I mean, I get why they picked you instead of me. But sometimes I can’t help thinking it should have been me.”
“I haven’t gotten us in trouble, have I?”
“You’re behaving like you could.”
“How am I behaving?”
“Kind of arrogant.”
Connor didn’t reply. Instead he spurred his horse and then waited for Tim to catch up and throw him another dirty look. “I think you should tell your wife what she should already know, that her husband is a patriot. Who doesn’t take shit from anybody, including the government. Especially the government.”
“She knows something’s going on, Connor. Our hush-hush meetings, huddling over the computer, the odd hours, sudden trips... I don’t know what it is, but women... They can read looks, glances. I can keep saying it’s ranch business, but she knows I’m lying. I’m telling you, Connor, she knows—and I bet yours does too.”
Connor thought it over. “Suppose you told her that in a very short time she’s going to be very proud of you?”
“She’ll ask what I’m talking about. Besides,” he added, “the way things are going, it looks like we’re not going to have to do anything.” Connor nodded. “He’s winning every round. I see him re-elected, just like he said.”
Connor nodded, but said, “Yeah, but don’t ever trust Congress. You’ve got the libtards controlling one house and, yeah, he’s kept the Republicans under his thumb right along, but still... They’re cowards, and you never know what a coward might do, especially in Washington.”
“I know that.” Tim was annoyed again. “I don’t need you to...”
“All I mean to say is, there’s still pretty good odds we’re going to have to save this country from tyranny.” They rode on in silence for a while, walking their horses side by side. “I got to say, a piece of me wishes we could take them out, no matter what.” Tim nodded. “You too?”
“Why don’t we do it?”
“It ain’t up to us.”
“What if you proposed it to Russ? I mean if we don’t do it now, four years from now we’ll be right back where we are again.”
“Damn, if I don’t agree with you.” Tim shot a look to see if he was serious. “You’re right, brother.”
“All right! Let’s do this thing.”
“I’ll put it in the next message.” They nodded, looked at each other, nodded again, and suddenly spurred their horses.
At the top of a rise, Tim asked, “So what do I tell the wife?”
“That you’re going to assassinate the president-elect and vice president-elect.”
“Come on, seriously.”
“I am serious.”
“She’ll never believe it.”
“That’s the point.”