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.
* * *
“Now,” said Natasha, “not only am I student of Electoral College, I am student of Supreme Court. Ask me about grant of certiorari.” When Russ cracked up, she poked him until he agreed to tell her what was so funny.
“Please say that word again. That was priceless.”
He tried to pronounce it like she did. Something like ‘sershorarry.’ She tickled him, he grabbed her, and they rolled around the bed. Later, they returned to business.
“Stop, Russ. I bring you to safe-house to share thoughts on this matter.”
“No, you didn’t. I could have given you my thoughts at our park bench. You brought me here to screw my brains out.”
“Yes,” she agreed playfully, “this is true. But now I am done with sex, it is time we talk.”
“Well, how about we talk and then have sex again?”
“You are man enough for this?”
“Whoa. Well now, you’ll just have to wait and see how much man I am.” Then, reverting to his Russian accent, he added, “But I give you hint, Natasha, with woman as much as you, I am much man.”
She rose and put on some clothes so he’d stop pawing her and said, “Now to business.”
“I can tell you in one sentence. No one knows for sure what the hell the Republican majority on the high court bench were thinking when they accepted this case. That’s it, that’s all there is to say. We won’t know more till the hearing next week.”
“But this hearing will not decide election, yes? Still it will not be... oh! I can never remember this word.”
“Irreversible. Correct, a lot could still happen. But if the court agrees with the Florida decision—and one theory is that they’re reviewing the decision for that purpose—then it will be hard to see how the Democrats could prevail. Still not certain, though. Those weasels could try anything.”
She nodded and said her office had concluded the same.
He asked if her office knew that only once before in American history had there been an Electoral College mash-up like this. She shook her head. “1876. At that time, the election was held the same day as now, but inauguration was March 4, not January 20—and the winner was not settled until 4 am on the night of March 2. Fact. How do I know this?”
He paused and she finally realized he was waiting for her to ask. “Okay, silly man, how do you know this?”
“Glad you asked. A few years after the Supreme Court decided our most recent electoral mash-up, in 2000, the chief justice wrote a book about the 1876 mash-up.”
“No kidding. This is correct expression, ‘no kidding?’”
“I love it when you do that. So, are you interested?” She nodded. “Okay. The Democrat won the popular vote by a narrow margin, but if three states could be flipped in the Electoral College, the Republican would win by one vote. These were southern states—including Florida—where Republicans controlled the boards of election. See the situation?”
“So the Republican boards certify their state votes for the Republican. To counter that, the governors, all Democrats, prepare rival slates of Electoral College electors pledged to the Democrat. The three states, then, submit multiple slates to Congress for certification.”
“Same situation as now.”
“Yes. And Congress was split like now: Democrats control the House, Republicans control the Senate. Each party objects to the other party’s slate. The rules under the 12th Amendment provide no way to resolve the differences. Christmas comes and goes. Various proposals, all partisan, are rejected, always by the opposing party. Now it’s mid-January. Both sides start to consider the idea of an electoral commission, to decide which of the rival slates to certify. You see the problem?”
“Who sits on the commission. Of course.”
“Smart girl. Both sides make clever proposals, designed to make their candidates win. Naturally, all are rejected by the opposing party. Eventually it is agreed to have 15 commissioners, seven reliable votes for each candidate, plus one more, a Supreme Court justice who is, quote, ‘independent.’ He’s a Democrat, but acceptable to the Republicans.”
“So one vote decides. Is like in Russia. I love this democracy.”
“We call it majority rule, but never mind. The president will effectively be determined by one so-called independent Democrat. Now, at the time, senators were elected by state legislatures. The Illinois legislature, controlled by Democrats, chooses this moment to make him its next US senator, obviously hoping he will show his gratitude by voting for the Democratic candidate. Instead, he resigns from the commission. The justice who replaces him is certain to vote for the Republican. The Democrats in Congress then threaten to prevent the vote with a filibuster.”
“‘Filibuster,’ this is word? I do not know it.”
“Basically it means you prevent the process from continuing. And it’s now the last week in February. Republicans start having closed-door meetings with southern Democrats to cut a deal. It’s simple: Democrats support the Republican candidate, who promises to end Reconstruction. This was basically the northern occupation of the south after the Civil War. White southerners detested it.”
“We learn about this.”
“You probably know more than we do. So there’s some additional sparring in Congress over the certification of the Electoral College vote, until it’s finally concluded a full 56 hours or so before inauguration.”
After asking for a few clarifications, she thanked him for the information and said she would report it to her superior. He nodded and said it was time to get back on the field, now that half-time was over. She professed not to understand. He explained his meaning in terms that were more clear.
“You think you can play second half?”
“Well, we’ll see, won’t we. I think, with proper motivation, I should be fired up and ready to go.”
She went to him and shook her head. “The ball is soft. It needs more air.”
“Then start pumping.”
* * *
The next time Richard called, he suggested that Jillian and he meet somewhere. She said no. When he called again, she said no again. Then he showed up at the luncheonette during her shift. She looked up and there he was, standing in the doorway looking for her. “How did you find me?” she hissed quietly, but not quietly enough. She looked around guiltily to make sure nobody was listening, which naturally drew attention. She pushed him outside.
Those in lucky seats watched through the window, but still couldn’t overhear distinctly.
“You can’t be here,” she hissed again. “I don’t understand, how did you find me?”
“I followed you here.”
“What do you mean?”
“I was watching your house, and when you left...”
“Watching my house? Watching my house?” He didn’t answer. “How do you even know where I live?”
“I knew what town you live in. And I knew your husband had a tree-cutting business. Nothing to it.”
“And how long have you been watching my house?”
“So I wasn’t sure when you would leave for work, so I got there early. A few hours ago.”
Jillian’s reaction was confusing, even to herself. Mostly she stared, waiting for it to clarify.
With an indefinable mixture of apology and assertion, he said, “I had to see you, Jillian. I have to say, though, I forgot how... attractive you are.”
At last she had a definite reaction: fear. “You have to go. This can’t happen, you can’t be here... Oh, Richard, why did you come? Couldn’t you see what a terrible idea it was? What were you thinking?”
He didn’t try to defend his decision, that is, not with words, only with eyes.
“Please go. Oh my God, don’t you realize what you’ve...” Suddenly she pushed him and they walked away from the luncheonette.
She walked behind him, telling him where to turn, until after a half dozen blocks they were in a more discreet location. “Oh my God,” she said, “I have to get back to work. What will they think? Richard, how could you be so stupid, don’t you see what you’ve done? What am I supposed to say?”
“That a friend was passing through town and stopped by.”
“That’s what you’re going with? Oh, that’ll fly for sure, after everyone saw that... that look on your face. You know what, leave. I’m serious, just leave, there’s nothing to talk about. Wow, what was I thinking? Mary Beth was... Leave, Richard!” Instead, though, she left, walking quickly back to the luncheonette.
She turned to look several times to make sure he wasn’t following, and then tried to compose herself—and figure out what to say.
* * *
When the music hour concluded at the evangelical center, neither Kaylee nor Roy wanted to part, and this was clear to both of them, so it was easy and natural to go for coffee in “The Commons,” the food court in the student union. With little if any awkwardness between them from the moment they met, they were fast friends by the time they sat down across from each other.
Also from the first moment, it was clear that they weren’t becoming ‘just friends.’ Both knew it, both welcomed it. In a busy, noisy hall, they saw and heard only each other. Conversation flowed, as if they’d known each other a long time.
What hung between them was the reason that had brought each of them to the silent chapel. Roy confessed first. “There’s something I want to tell you. It’s crazy, because we just met—but I feel like... I don’t know, I can’t explain it, but I find myself... You don’t have to answer back, okay? I just feel like I want you to know why I went to the silent chapel.”
“That’s not crazy?”
“Of course not. I’m... I guess the word is ‘honored.’”
“Thank you. I went because of my mother. I’m concerned about my mother.”
“Is she sick or something?”
He shook his head. “We’re alone, she and I? My dad left when I was 11. And she’s worked so hard, all these years. She was determined to send me to college.”
“Wow, it’s kind of the same with me. My parents are working so hard to keep me here. I could have commuted, you know? But they said, ‘no way.’ They wanted me to have the full college experience.”
Roy asked what they ‘did.’ She replied and asked what his mother did.
“She’s a bookkeeper... which doesn’t pay a whole lot... so she works really long hours. She freelances on top of a full-time job. Which means she has no life. She’s still young, you know? She should have a life. Instead...”
“You really care about her.”
“The thing is, when I was in high school, we were together a lot. Even when I was running around, we always had dinner together. You know, like that. But since I left to come here... I’m in grad school now, this is my fifth year.”
“What do you study?”
“Special Ed. I really like kids. I’d like to have kids some day. One of my friends when I was little was a ‘special ed’ kid. It must have started then.”
“Wanting to help? You know, to do something good in the world?”
“That’s really great. I have no idea what I want to do.”
“What year are you in?”
“First. I’m a ‘frosh.’”
“Oh, wow. So anyway, I’m talking way too much, sometimes I just get down, thinking about my mom. Wishing there was something I could do.”
Kaylee was looking at him, and he looked back. They both smiled, and there was a long silence that was entirely comfortable. Then she said she’d gone to the silent chapel because she was worried about her brother.
She told Roy about the problems Chip was having in high school, the trouble he was getting into, his poor choice of friends, his nastiness around the family, his rejection of faith. “He’s hard on my parents—our parents. I’m starting to worry about them too. I’m picking up things that... I was going to say they worry me, but I guess the truth is that they kind of scare me. You know?”
“Tension between them, you mean?”
“Exactly.” She looked at him like ‘how did you know that?’
“Did it help, the chapel?”
She rocked her head from side to side and made a doubtful face. “It helps to pray—but how does that help my parents—or my brother?”
“You know, it’s not so uncommon for 16-year-old guys to, you know... He’ll probably just grow out of it.”
Kaylee hesitated before replying, then said, “He’s gotten involved in something. I just hope...” She looked at Roy, as if he might be able to complete her thought. When her eyes welled up with tears, he reached across and took her hand.
* * *
Jillian hadn’t reached the luncheonette when her phone rang. She saw who it was and didn’t pick up. It rang again, right away, and she did the same thing. She didn’t turn off her phone, though. She stopped walking and it just kept ringing, until she answered.
“I can’t leave this way, I’m sorry.”
“You don’t sound sorry.”
“I’m not sorry. I’m... Let’s be honest, I’m in love with you.”
“No you’re not.” She was annoyed, that he would say such a thing.
“You know I am. You said yourself, it’s in the way I look at you.” When she didn’t reply, he added, “And I’ll tell you what. If we’re honest here, you have feelings for me too.”
“Of course I have... We’re friends, Richard. We’re good friends, we’re special friends.”
“Richard, that’s a word. It’s a genteel way of saying we had sex, it doesn’t mean...”
“Be honest, Jillian. You’re good at that.”
After a long silence, he could hear her sigh, and he knew the corner had been turned. “By the way, I wanted to tell you that you’re right about the president. With this last stunt—with the Electoral College—my eyes are finally opened.” Perversely he chuckled.
“Thanks to you, I’m disenchanted too. And I have no idea where that takes me. I mean...”
“That’s not very funny, Richard. You have a weird sense of humor.”
“The way I see it, I better laugh, because what’s the alternative?”
She felt him trying to divert her attention and was annoyed again. “Come on, Richard, I didn’t convince you of anything. You’re just a lonely man who’s desperate for a woman’s company.”
“Not any woman, Jillian. I didn’t have the courage to question what so many of our ministers are saying. My wife hasn’t questioned anything. My friends haven’t. No one in our church has, at least as far as I can tell. But you have.” Quietly he added, “Why do you find it so hard to believe that I chose you because of you?”
“And that’s why you want to have sex with me.”
“Who said anything about sex?”
“Then why are you here? We can talk on the phone.”
“It’s not the same as seeing you.”
There was a pause and a sigh. “Okay, I want to have sex with you. You take twenty years off my life. You’re... But do you think you’re the only sexy woman I’ve seen? You weren’t the only one at the retreat. But you were the only one who was you.”
She knew she was beaten. When he started to talk about where they could go, she didn’t resist. First she listened, then she replied, then she participated. Inexplicably, it gave her the courage to face the staff back at the luncheonette.
* * *
“We’re overjoyed,” Democrats told reporters.
“We’re dismayed,” said Republicans.
“I must confess to being somewhat perplexed,” said legal scholars of all political stripes.
“And that’s because...?” asked reporters.
“Well, I was confident—I believe my colleagues were as well—that the Supreme Court would never grant certiorari.”
“You refer to the court accepting the president-elect’s petition...”
“...To review the Florida decision.”
“Yes. So, to my surprise—our surprise, I dare say—the court has set the matter down for oral argument.”
“They’ve agreed to hear oral...”
“And, let it be said, for six days from now.”
“That’s the day before Christmas eve.”
“The lawyers on both sides, need I point out, will be scrambling to prepare.”
“And the justices will spend Christmas recess deciding who will be our next president.”
“The decision is all but certain to be momentous.”
“Perhaps the most momentous in American political history, no?”
“Well, among them, in all probability.”
The day after the Supreme Court announcement, the president made one. He tweeted this: “I have instructed the United States Navy to shoot down and destroy any and all Iranian gunboats if they harass our ships at sea.”
“Surely no one can be surprised by this announcement,” said commentators.
“I’m surprised by this announcement,” said commentators.
“You mean the timing or the action itself?”
Said some, “It’s perfectly obvious why the president picks this moment to ratchet up the saber rattling.”
“You mean because of the Supreme Court...”
“Right. There’s a chance now that the president’s attempt to steal the election will be arrested—if I can use that word—at this late hour—and by the Supreme Court, which only a few weeks ago handed him a spectacular—some would say unmerited—legal victory.”
“Yeah, why is that, do you think?”
Heads shook. “Your guess is as good as mine. There’s speculation in some quarters that certain justices on the bench have been angered over the president’s blatant attempt to circumvent their decision.”
“He demanded that they reverse the election results in six states. They reversed them in four, but upheld them in two. Then he attempts to reverse it himself in one of those two, which would make him the national winner. Legally it is contentious at best, and that may be why the court is weighing in.”
Said others, “The behavior of the Iranian government can only be described as disgraceful. Obviously they have made the huge mistake of believing they can take advantage of a moment of weakness in the US.”
“The ‘mistake,’ according to a statement from the Navy,” it was noted, “was for 11 vessels of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps to repeatedly cross—in international waters—the bows and sterns of six US ships—and at extremely close range and high speeds.”
“Define ‘close range.’”
“10 yards. That close enough for you? And this despite multiple warnings.”
“Do we know if there was any acknowledgment of those warnings?”
“We know that there was not. None. These dangerous and provocative actions increase the risk of collision and miscalculation.”
Always, at this point, commentators paused to choose words with care. “We—the United States Navy—has clear and precise rules of engagement. If those rules are violated, the navy knows how to respond.”
“Have they been violated?”
“Not yet. That’s why the president has wisely put down a marker.”
“Why do you think he waited a week?”
“Waited a week?”
“Well, the incident occurred a week ago. Why wait?”
“I’m not going to speculate about what deliberations may have occurred. Obviously we want our response to be prudent and proportionate. I think the president has acted with all deliberate speed.”
Nonetheless, commentators noted that a tweet was not a legal order.
“Is there any indication that the president is preparing to issue a formal order?”
“Not at this time.”
“And the president has done this before, about Iranian vessels, is that correct?”
“That is correct. As far back as his first presidential campaign, when he said they would be ‘shot out of the water.’”
“But of course that’s not to say the situation couldn’t change.”
“Which takes us back to miscalculation—or escalation. If the president decides to give the order...”
* * *
Everyone called it ‘the final four,’ the last three days before the election and then election day. The campaign office where Joanne volunteered, like every other, was running at full steam, 18 hours a day. The principal activity was phone-banking, calling as many likely Democratic voters as possible. Joanne helped manage one of them, which was at a local union hall. There was a large room, with dozens of tables spaced apart, each with a phone and a stack of call sheets. Callers would come and go. There was food and drink—not just snacks, but meals, so people could stay as long as they could keep going.
She checked people in, checked them out, reviewed the call sheets, coordinated with other call centers, helped arrange transportation, reported to headquarters... She loved it. She was friends with everybody, flirted with some cute guys, and her face telegraphed her belief that she was doing something important. When she found a moment to call her parents, she told them she had personally supervised more than 10,000 phone calls.
“You sound excited.”
“Oh, mom, it’s so great. I really think we’re gonna win.”
“Let’s hope so.”
“I really think so. There’s so much great energy here.”
“Let’s hope so.”
“Be positive, mom. We have to stay positive.”
Seven weeks later, her father brought her mother home from the hospital, following her suicide attempt. She had been rushed there in an ambulance, they had pumped her stomach, and when she was stabilized they sent her home. Tests had revealed no signs of significant neurological damage, but the nurse told Greg what to look for, and the social worker instructed him to keep an eye on her.
She still slept a lot, but no longer stayed in bed all day. She was quiet, slow to respond, apparently deep in thought much of the time, but the weight of depression seemed to have eased.
Greg worked from home as much as possible, did the shopping and cooking and cleaning, until Ellen began to help. “You look exhausted, honey.”
“I’m okay.” She looked at him like they both knew that wasn’t true. “Really. You just get better, okay? I need you to get better.”
At supper one day, she told him she’d had a dream the night before. “I just remembered it, just now. Isn’t that funny?”
She fell silent and Greg nodded. “You just wanted to let me know you had a dream?”
“I dreamed about Joanne.”
“That’s normal. You’ve dreamed about her before, I imagine. I have.”
“This one was special.”
“It’s like she came to me. I don’t know, it’s hard to describe.”
He said that was okay, and she said she knew it was okay, and they both took a breath, silently acknowledging that they both knew they were on a road to recovery.
“I dreamed about when she called me on election day. Do you remember I told you about it?” He nodded. “She was so excited, so happy. So full of promise.”
“No, it’s okay, I’m not going to be sad.” He watched every blink of her eye. “The dream told me not to be sad, to be happy that she got to experience that.” He nodded. “Wait, that’s not it. Well, it’s part of it. The dream reminded me of what she said. Maybe she said it again in the dream, I’m not sure.”
“I’m not sure I remember that specific call.”
“You were at work. Maybe I didn’t mention it.” He nodded, still watching her. “She told me I have to stay positive.” Suddenly she looked right at him, and he was relieved to see that she wasn’t about to collapse into grief. “I really think she came to me in a dream last night to tell me I have to stay positive.”
He nodded. She smiled at him and he smiled back, and reached for her hand. Still unable to decide what to say, he just nodded. Then he said, “We’re going to find a way to be okay and still...” He stammered over the final words, “and still honor Joanne’s sacrifice,” fearing they might upset her.
“Greg, I am so sorry for what I’ve put you through.”
He shook his head forcefully. “Don’t say that. Everyone grieves in their own way. You didn’t put me through anything. Okay? Okay?”
She nodded slightly. They both knew he was lying. “I need to say this out loud, so we both hear it. I am going to be positive. I’m going to recover and I’m going to stand with you, and we are going to fight this maniac with everything we’ve got. That’s what Joanne would have wanted, right?”