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.
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When Kaylee trembled violently in Nicky’s arms, he led her out of the cafe and walked her to a place where it was quieter. He started to speak several times, but feared he might say the wrong thing. She let him keep his arm around her—or she was oblivious, it didn’t matter, he liked it. When they stopped walking, though, he felt too awkward and dropped it. He had grabbed her computer on the way out and still held it. “Where would you like to go? I’ll walk you there. Kaylee?”
She seemed to notice him. “What?” He repeated his question. “I have class.”
“I’ll walk you there. Where is it?” His speech had changed, his posture had changed, as if the real Nicky had come out from hiding behind his antic manner. Her vulnerability had given him courage—or maybe he had just forgotten to keep his wall up.
He directed her to the middle of campus and asked again where her class was. “I don’t think I can go to class.” Looking at her, he agreed. “Okay, no problem. What’s your dorm?”
“I don’t want to be alone. Joanne’s gone.”
“My roommate. She’s the student who was killed election night.”
“Jesus! You’re not having much luck, are you? Well listen, is there anyone else?”
“Okay,” he said, trying not to appear crushed. “Do you want to call him?” She thought for a while and shook her head. “You don’t want to call him?”
She shook her head again. “He knows my brother. Anyway, we’re...”
He tried not to show his excitement. “Is there anyone else?”
“I can’t think right now. Really, I...” Her eyes welled up with tears as she looked into his eyes, and he almost fainted.
“I could stay with you,” he said in a mouse-like voice.
“Would you? Thank you, Nicky.”
He almost fainted again, but found the strength to walk her to her dorm. However, he lacked the strength to hide how happy he was.
* * *
Mary Beth felt shortchanged by their last conversation. They had ended up talking about politics, whereas Mary Beth wanted to hear about Richard. ‘What’s the point of talking about politics?’ she told herself. ‘You can talk till rivers run dry, what difference will it make?’ She actually called Jillian and said all this.
And Jillian agreed. So they made another date and Jillian started by saying that Richard and she had become friends. Mary Beth threw her the look she knew she would throw. “It’s okay. The thing that happened... There’s no way it’ll happen again.”
“You sure about that?”
“Positive. It will never happen again.”
“Then why keep it going?”
Jillian shrugged. “I like talking to him. He’s kind of needy, but I’m kind of needy too, right?” She shrugged again. “He makes me feel...”
“That’s what I’m afraid of,” said Mary Beth with a warning look.
“No, not that. He makes me feel good about myself. He takes me seriously.”
“And Bob doesn’t?” Jillian fell uncharacteristically silent. “It’s okay, if you don’t want to...”
She gestured. “He came home a few days ago and took me completely by surprise. Said he wanted to be a better husband, yadda yadda...”
“What do you mean, ‘yadda yadda,’ that sounds promising.”
“It was promising.”
She threw out a hand and made a face. “He’s busy all the time. Like I say to him, ‘Your head’s not in the clouds, but it’s in the trees.’” She shrugged. “We’ve been together since we were kids. You get to a point where you stop noticing.” Mary Beth nodded vaguely. “You know?”
“You guess? If I told you the new Bob lasted a day or two, do you still guess? We did have one night where he was shall we say ‘amorous.’ That was nice.”
“And here comes Richard.” She looked concerned.
“Wrong. For starters, he’s got 20 years on me.”
“Are you saying...”
Jillian’s face went funny as she replied, “No, I can’t truthfully say that.” She giggled.
“Lady, you are making me nervous.”
“Forget it. Maybe if he lived here it could be a problem. He’s over near Indianapolis.”
“That’s not exactly...”
“Trust me, Mary Beth, nothing sexual is going to happen—not again. He makes me feel good is all.”
* * *
“The election is not over, people. We need to stay locked and loaded, we need to stay sharp.”
“And we need to get her done,” added a very crisp man, ten years her junior.
“Right, good point,” she continued, annoyed by the interruption. “All right, you’ve all had a chance to look at the memo, let’s get to work. First, we need to message the legalities.”
“Are you sure about that, Adrienne?”
Adrienne stared at her opposite number and decided not to take his head off. “After 25 years’ success as a campaign consultant? Yeah, I’m sure.”
“Nobody cares how the sausage is made,” he persevered, unfazed. “They want to know...”
“They want to know that the president-elect is now five weeks away from inauguration. That means he has a path to victory. That means the election will stand. That means we are not going to lay back and spread our legs while the soon-to-be ex-president and his toadies in the Senate whip out their little dicks.”
He couldn’t help smiling, even though he was used to her colorful metaphors. “Which has what to do with getting in the weeds about our petition to the court?”
“The American people need to believe we have a plan, Chris. For that, they need to see it. ‘Trust us’ won’t cut it.”
“Well, duh, Adrienne. Come on, we all get that. The question is why do we need to explain what a ‘writ of certiorari’ is? Look, I’m not as old as you...” He paused just long enough to let that needle work its way in. “...But I know the political game, otherwise the president-elect would not have put me here.”
After the free-for-all that erupted around the table between the campaign consultants and the transition team, a truce was hammered out. Adrienne was still in charge.
There was at least outward agreement that it was not sufficient to say merely that the president-elect was petitioning the Supreme Court to review the decision of the Florida Supreme Court, the one that allowed the ‘Electoral College Freedom of Conscience Restoration Act’ to proceed. People needed to know something about the substance of the complaint. “Therefore, we need to review the memo that has now been sitting in front of you all for 30 fucking wasted minutes...”
“15,” objected Chris with a malicious grin.
“...And craft a message around the two grounds. Aisha, would you take us through it?”
“First,” she said without a single preliminary word—clearly, Aisha was all business and cut the bullshit, “the court violated the ‘due process clause’ of 3 USC Section 5. We’re asserting violations of procedure that in and of themselves nullify the law. The point being that the Florida legislature violated the rules when it passed the law, the governor was wrong to sign the bill, and the Florida Supreme Court erred in not issuing a stay of execution.”
“All Republicans, up and down the line,” noted a staffer.
“Therefore,” continued Aisha, “by implication, the Democratic electoral slate should be counted, not the Republican.”
“Everyone got that?” asked Adrienne. “The Republicans broke the rules. And the other?”
“Second, the Florida decision was inconsistent with Article II, Section 1 of the US Constitution regarding the selection of electors. The law here is complex, but the message is simple: The Florida Supreme Court is just flat-out wrong, the law is unconstitutional. Again, our slate, not theirs.”
“Well, was that so hard for you transition hotshots? Okay, thoughts, ideas. Would someone go to the white-board, please?”
A half-hour later, Chris said, “This is all great and wonderful, but how do we cover our ass?”
“Which part of your ass would that be?” asked Adrienne.
“The part that says maybe we should position ourselves for the likelihood that the Court is not going to help us.”
“You know, that’s the first intelligent thing you’ve said in this meeting—and I’m not one for compliments.”
“You’re too kind,” he retorted, then got serious. “What do we say when the Republicans object that our petition is a cowardly attempt to embroil the federal court in a matter that the Constitution relegates to the states?”
“Well put,” said a staffer acidly. “Who do you work for again?”
“‘Whom,’” said Aisha. “We believe our case has considerable merit. We think the messaging should reflect that.”
“Which means,” said Adrienne, “that the federal court, not the state, is the final arbiter of what the Constitution says. Even Republicans have to acknowledge that.”
“And,” added Aisha, “our first complaint, regarding the US Code, is obviously federal.”
“Well, this was fun,” concluded Adrienne. “We’ll have to do this again.”
“No doubt we will,” said Chris. “Maybe when the court declines to take the case.”
“Unfortunately,” opined the humorless Aisha, “the court grants writs of certiorari only 1½ to 2% of the time. But we believe...”
“Thank you, Aisha,” said Adrienne staring at Chris.
“Thank you, Aisha,” said Chris staring at Adrienne.
* * *
When Kaylee and Nicky arrived at her dorm, she asked him if it would be okay if they went up to her room. “I kind of don’t want people asking me what I’m doing, like, ‘Why aren’t you in class?’ Would that be okay?” He nodded tautly, afraid that anything more would betray how he really felt.
She made polite conversation for a while, until fatigue overtook her, then sheepishly asked if she could take a nap. “I don’t know... I never do this...” He reassured her. “You sure?”
“Of course. You’ve been through so much. I’ll wait.”
“Oh no, I can’t ask you to do that. I’m sure you have things you need to do.”
“Actually I don’t. Nothing. Really, it’s okay, get some sleep.”
He repeated that nod and she fell asleep almost instantly. He listened to her quiet breathing, then crossed the narrow space between them and looked at her.
When she woke up hours later, she was surprised to find him still there. “Whoa, you’re still here? I’m so sorry.”
“There’s nothing to apologize for.”
“That was awfully nice of you, Nicky.” She invited him to have supper with her. “Only if you wouldn’t mind, of course.”
“I wouldn’t mind,” he croaked.
As it turned out, she ate almost nothing and kept the conversation going while he ate. She introduced him to friends who approached, and he was beginning to relax into some self-confidence when she said, “You know what, I’m not going to get any studying done this evening.” He had lost control of his face when she added, “I’m going to go to CSF. You know CSF? Christian Student Fellowship?”
She was calm enough by now to be alert, and smiled at the look on his face. “You don’t have to come, Nicky.”
“No, it’s okay. I’ll walk you there.”
“Really, you don’t have to.”
“Really, I don’t mind.”
“Yeah, I saw your face,” she said with a smile, then added seriously, “You might try it.”
“You mean take Jesus into my heart?” She nodded. He looked stricken. She laughed. “You wouldn’t consider, like, a movie instead? Yeah, I thought so.” She got up, and he got up because she did, and he asked her to let him walk her.
“If you like.”
It was a 15-minute walk, during which he was tongue-tied and she was alone with her thoughts. When they got there, he screwed up his courage to suggest, “Maybe we could meet again sometime, you know, like for coffee or something, whatever, I don’t really care what we drink...”
She replied as he expected, by saying no without actually saying no, and he said he hoped she needed more help with her computer.
There was a small room that served as a silent chapel, with a few small rows of folding chairs facing a simple cross on a blank white wall. She took a seat on the side in a middle row, and let her mind adjust to the room.
Another student entered a short while later and, exchanging the merest of nods with her, took a seat on the opposite side and a row in front. She watched him stare at the cross and then lower his head. She did the same. Every so often, though, she glanced at him.
She discovered him leaning forward with his elbows resting on his legs, his hands covering his face. She heard his panting and sniffling. She was watching when he sat up and quickly wiped his eyes. Then he seemed to become calm. Shortly afterward he arose and left, his head down.
A few minutes later she did the same. She found him in the foyer, looking at pamphlets. He noticed her and approached. “I’m sorry if I disturbed you in there,” he said quietly.
She shook her head. “It was fine. To tell the truth, I was happy not to be alone.”
“Even with me blubbering in there?” He said it with a sad smile, which inspired her to reassure him. They fell into conversation.
They were gently interrupted some time later by one of the center’s staff, a young man roughly their age, who said there would be an hour of ‘Christian folk music’ starting in a few minutes, if they cared to stay. “I can tell you she’s very good.” In fact, a small crowd of people had arrived and were heading into the ‘auditorium,’ which was merely a large room.
They shrugged at each other, which captured a whole conversation. Then he said, “I’m Roy.”
“Hi, Kaylee.” They went into the auditorium.
* * *
“Deer hunting!” cried Bob.
“What about it?” asked Jillian. “You don’t hunt.”
“It might be just the thing to do with Chip. I should have taken him out years ago. You know what, I’m gonna do it.”
He called a friend who was an avid hunter to ask about borrowing a shotgun or two, and was disappointed. “We’ve only got a two-week season and it just ended.”
“Aw, man. Just when I...”
“Hey, but you know what? That’s the regular season. The muzzle-loader season has a few days left.”
“Muzzle-loader season? What the...”
“Oh, man. Okay, here’s what’s gonna happen. I’m taking you out, to show you the sport. Because you...”
“That’s real nice of you, but actually I was looking to do something with Chip.”
“No problem, he can come too. I’ve only got two weapons, so we’ll have to pass them around... Hey, you know what? I don’t even need one. I’ll get a kick just introducing you guys to the sport.”
“That’s real kind, but I can’t do that to you.”
“No problem. I’ve already been out a couple of times and... It’s a kick, Bob, wait till you try it. I think Chip will really go for it. If you’re looking for something to do with him, this is it, I’m telling you.”
“Yeah, but you...”
“I’ve bagged my limit, so this is great for me. I don’t have to pull the trigger, I’ll be right there. I’m telling you, Bob, you guys are gonna love it. There’s nothing like it.”
“Why, what’s the big deal?”
“The big deal is, first of all, it’s like old-time hunting. First you load your gunpowder pellets and bullet, then you ram it down, then you insert your primer... It’s like the old days. Then, you have to get in real close. We’re not talking scopes or any of that stuff. Heck, with a blind and a brace and a scope on a modern rifle, anybody can take a deer. This is like being a pioneer...”
“It does sound kind of... You’re right, I really think Chip might...”
“Just say ‘yes.’ Do you know how to get licensed up? Because we’ve only got a few days left.”
Bob immediately navigated to the state licensing web-page and was all set to hit ‘send’ when he had second thoughts and called his friend back. “You know what? I’m not sure... You know kids, Chip might think it’s corny—or get frustrated.”
“I did it with my boy for years—that’s why I got two rifles. I’m telling you... Wait till he gets in close and draws a bead on an eight-pointer. Any sound, any movement... And then, if he drops him... You’re gonna have one happy kid.”
To Bob’s surprise, Chip didn’t take much convincing. “He did ask for a ‘truce,’” he told Jillian later, “but that’s okay, in fact I prefer it that way.” Before she replied, he added, “You know what, Jillian, for a moment I almost saw something on his face I can’t remember the last time I saw. A smile.”
“Don’t get your hopes up too far.”
“Meaning just take it easy. It may take more than a hunting trip.”
“And you’re thinking I don’t know that?”
She gestured vaguely. “It’s happened to me,” she said charitably. “I tell myself, ‘We’ll have a heart-to-heart and get it all out there, and then...’ Then, when instead of being thankful he gets angry, I feel twice as bad.”
“I’m not looking for him to be thankful.”
“I just want us to have a good time together.”
“You think that’s too...?”
She shrugged. “Like I said, I don’t want you to end up feeling worse. This is going to take time.”
“I guess I want to say, ‘Thank you, Jillian, now I feel...’”
“You should feel good. I really respect that you’re doing this. That you’re trying. Okay?” She gave him her best reassuring look, and it seemed to work.
“Okay. That’s one. Two is I want to take you out for steaks.”
He took her out to dinner. Over drinks he said he had realized something. He said he realized that he was not the husband and father he wanted to be, because he was away from the family so much. It wasn’t just that that put him out of touch with so much that was happening. It was the travel, the crappy food, the strange beds in cheap hotels, living out of bags... Plus, there was the loneliness. He was failing because he missed his family so much. The only thing that kept him going, that gave him hope, was his faith.
He was shocked when that made Jillian mad.
“What did I say?”
“What did you say? You said, ‘Jillian—honey—I just want you to know that none of this is my fault, and actually there’s nothing I can do about it. So I guess you’ll just have to suck it up—honey.’”
It took most of the meal to work through that one. They were into dessert before either one felt better.
He took Chip hunting with his friend and studiously avoided any controversial topic. He could see that Chip was tense, waiting for a trap to be sprung, but he couldn’t understand why, since he’d given his word. When Chip snapped at him over something trivial, he bristled, asked what that was about. Chip said, “I’m just waiting for the hammer to come down. That’s the point of this thing, right, dad?”
“Why would you think that? Didn’t I...?”
“Why would I think that? When was the last time we went hunting?”
* * *
When Bruce was on the afternoon shift, he stalked his new victim in the daytime, and when his shift changed to days he stalked her at night.
Her weekends were erratic, but from Monday to Thursday her evening schedule was regular. After supper at her dorm, she went to the library to study and stayed there late, then went back to the dorm. On those nights the library stayed open till 1 am, and mostly she didn’t come out till then. He liked that she was such a dedicated student. It also made his job easier. All he had to do was watch her dorm, follow her to the library, then wait for her to come back out.
He also needed to familiarize himself with the area. Mostly where the street lights and surveillance cameras were, but also where there were bushes, how the various paths connected, exit routes that provided cover and weren’t well lit.
Other than that, he did little to plan the actual murder. In the notebook he had started to keep, he wrote: “Lucky I picked a study-hound. Always takes the same route back—simple. Just catch her alone in the dark when no one is around. Area not so well lit, past midnight pretty deserted. Handful of students only—leave in all directions. So do the math, fuckers.”
He also wrote: “Don’t matter when I do it. But I got to do it before shift changes, so I can be here when I need to.”
When the president declared victory, though, he was inspired to act quickly. That was when the Florida Republicans mailed their slate to Congress. It was such a great moment of triumph for America. That was what he announced in the break room.
“Triumph? What’s the matter with you?”
“You’re just P-O-ed because you lost.”
“Damn right I’m P-O-ed.”
Bruce nodded with satisfaction. “It’s no fun, is it? Getting your neck stepped on all the time. Told you’re stupid. But guess what? We’ve got a thing in this country called the Constitution, and it’s about time you people stopped ignoring it.”
“‘You people?’ What sort of people would that be?” He was halfway to his feet before his friend put a hand on him.
“He ain’t worth it, brother.”
“You know what?” he said to Bruce, half-glaring, half-dismissive. “Fuck you, man.”
Bruce never moved, his smile became fixed, like it wasn’t a smile anymore.
He knew which way she would turn when she came out. When he saw her he walked toward her as though he was going somewhere. He pretended to be deep in thought, with his head down, and then he just happened to look up and recognize her.
He called her by name. She looked at him and he smiled. Reflexively she smiled, but only briefly, as a courtesy. “You’re the reporter, right?”
“I am. How did you like your picture in the paper?”
“To tell you the truth, I didn’t see it.”
“Oh, that’s too bad. Hey, I can show it to you now.” He pulled out his cellphone and started scanning through pictures to find the one.
“Hey, are those pictures of me too?”
“Yeah, we always take a bunch, to make sure we get a good one.”
He took a few more steps till they were between streetlights, then he put his arm around her and directed her off the sidewalk, saying, “It’s better away from the glare.” He found the photo and handed her the phone. “How do you like it?”
To be polite, she said it was nice. To be polite, she looked at him and smiled. That’s when he shot her.
He walked quickly through the bushes till he came out to another walkway and quickly—but not too quickly—headed off campus.
As he unscrewed the silencer, he congratulated himself for having bought it. “Have to write down that it’s an improvement over the first assassination.” He added, “She had a nice smile.” He was fixing it in his memory. “Joanne didn’t smile.”