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.
* * *
“Bob, it’s Pete Leffler.”
“Been a while, huh?”
“Sure has. Work keeps us pretty busy, I guess.”
“That it does, that it does. So, Bob, you’re probably wondering why you’re getting a call out of the blue like this. Frankly this isn’t an easy call to make, but I think a guy has a right to know.”
“Right to know? What’s up, Pete?”
Pete had been at the luncheonette when Richard had appeared. He told Bob what he saw. “Believe me, Bob, it gives me no pleasure to bring this news to you, but like I say... If it was my wife, I’d want to know.”
“Yeah, sure, Pete, I appreciate you letting me know.”
“No hard feelings?”
“Of course not. Thanks for calling.”
Bob abruptly disconnected and sat where he was in a daze.
At supper Jillian asked what was up. He gave her a ‘what-do-you-mean’ look and shrugged. “You’re being awfully quiet.” He shrugged again.
“No problem, I’ll just make chit-chat with myself.” He ignored the sound of her voice.
While she was cleaning up, he swiped her phone and found a number of calls from someone named Richard Benenson. All the other personal calls were from women. He found his address in contacts. He lived on the other side of Indianapolis.
He managed to get through his usual after-supper routine of checking national weather reports, and then went downstairs to watch TV. That’s when it hit him, and he couldn’t sit still. He was on his feet to find Jillian when she appeared. “What’s up?” she asked.
“What do you mean?”
“You’ve got a look.” She wasn’t nervous. It was as if she was in denial about what had happened. Only when he stared at her, with a look she had never before seen on his face, did she get nervous.
“Who’s Richard Benenson?” He tried to speak in an even voice.
“Where’d you get that from?”
“Who is he?” Trying to keep the voice under control.
She stared at him, unprepared. “He was in my group at that retreat I went to. You know, they divide you into...”
“Why does he keep calling?”
“What are you talking about?”
“Why does he keep calling?”
She shrugged. “You know, some of those sessions can get pretty intense. When you share like that, you make friends. I made a bunch of friends.”
“He’s the only one who calls you.”
“You went through my phone?” Bob kept staring, fighting for control. “He kind of glommed onto me. The needy kind, you know.” She stared back, hoping it was over, saw it wasn’t. “It’s not what you think, Bob.”
“What do I think?”
She ignored that. “You get needy people at retreats. Needy people sometimes have boundary issues.”
“And? So far we’ve got ‘glommed on’ and ‘boundary issues.’ You know what I’m asking, Jill.”
She gulped. “He kind of became infatuated with me.”
He nodded sharply. “And did you kind of become infatuated with him?”
“Of course not.”
She searched for replies, halted on a couple, and admitted that she was needy too, that she craved friendship, and Richard had become a good friend.
“Oh, don’t be silly, Bob,” she snapped.
“Why did he show up at the luncheonette? He lives a hundred miles away.”
“You want to know? He was getting too friendly, he wanted us to meet, and I said no. Okay? I told him it wasn’t like that. Next thing I know, there he is.”
“You went off with him.”
She was disturbed, but not surprised, that someone there had obviously given him a report. “I had to get away from there. All those prying eyes... Believe me, he’s harmless. Nothing happened, nothing’s going to happen. For gosh sake, Bob, he’s sixty years old.”
Bob thought. Pete hadn’t said how old Richard was. He was suddenly unsure of himself. “You said you crave friendship. Did you encourage him?” She said ‘no’ emphatically. “Then why are there so many calls? Some of them last an hour.”
“Look, I won’t deny I like to talk to him. Like I said, we’re friends. I can have friends, right?”
“A friend you’ve never mentioned. Who you say is infatuated with you. If I had a secret friendship with a woman who was infatuated with me, I wonder what you would think when someone you barely know calls you to say she came to see me and I looked pretty darn embarrassed, and went off with her, and came back red as a beet. What would you say to that?”
“I’m sorry. I didn’t handle it well, I can see that. I should have told you.”
“But there’s nothing for me to worry about.” He chided himself for putting words in her mouth. He’d been trying so hard not to do that.
“Exactly. I told him this has to stop.”
“Why were you blushing when you came back?”
“‘Red as a beet’ is what I heard.”
“Think about it, Bob, it was pretty embarrassing.”
“I would imagine so. The thing is, I don’t have to worry about being embarrassed that way.”
* * *
When Kaylee reached her dorm after coffee with Roy, she turned her face up to his and he kissed her. She put her arms around him to make it last. Then he asked her out to dinner the next day. Then they kissed again.
He drove her to one of the very few Japanese restaurants in town, hoping to impress her.
As before, there was no hesitation between them, they were completely comfortable with each other and talked about everything, from politics to personal intimacies. The plan had been to go to a movie afterward, but they talked for so long, it got too late. He suggested that they could watch a movie at his apartment. She agreed. They didn’t watch a movie, though.
They were breathing heavily when she stopped him with, “Roy, I really like you.”
“No, I mean, could we... Do you think we could...”
“Slow down?” She nodded. He nodded.
“It’s not that I don’t want to.”
“You haven’t... done it yet?”
“This is where I say, technically I’m still a virgin.”
“Well, that seems to suggest some possibilities.”
“Would that be okay?”
“More than okay.”
He didn’t answer with words.
When they were sated, lying in bed together, his arm around her, she said, “I can’t believe we just met. I feel like we’ve been together for...” He said he felt the same, and she replied, “Isn’t that weird?”
“To me it’s kind of wonderful.”
“Really?” In reply, he kissed her. “I feel safe with you. I’ve never felt safe with a guy before.” She told him about Denny—Dennis. How they had been together senior year and had both picked ISU in part to stay together. “But the funny thing is, once we got here, we hardly saw each other.” She added that they’d agreed it would be okay to ‘see other people.’ They both did, right away. “How about you?”
He was candid about the girls—women—in his life, that he had had his heart broken about a year earlier, and currently was not seeing anyone.
“Not anyone? I can’t picture you...”
“I mean nothing serious. I’ve dated, sure, but... This may sound corny, but I’ve been serious about someone. I know what that’s like. I just haven’t found anyone else.” He shrugged and added, “Casual dating isn’t my thing.”
This time she kissed him.
Then she told him about her brother. “I’m so worried about him, Roy.” She told him how angry he was, how lost he seemed. “He’s stopped coming to church, even when my parents basically beg him not to humiliate them. He’s ditching school, hanging out with the wrong kids...”
Roy didn’t reply right away. “I guess I want to ask... You don’t have to answer, but I’m wondering how bad is it? Like has he ever been thrown out of school, or arrested?”
“No, thank God. But it wouldn’t surprise me if both of those happened.”
“Is it possible somebody’s influencing him?”
“Well, yes and no. He’s got this friend Dirk, who’s a real piece of work. He’s a year older, so I don’t even know why he bothers with Chip, but he is definitely the exact opposite of what Chip needs—but I can’t lay everything on Dirk. Chip is... If I believed in it, I’d say he was possessed by a devil.”
“That bad, huh.”
She nodded. “Lately... A while ago he showed me some websites he’s into. Scary stuff, Roy, really bad.”
“What do you mean? What kind of websites?”
“White supremacist stuff. Really awful, racist... Even violent, you know? I mean, some of the things they call for... And Chip’s reading this stuff—and posting himself.”
“I tell you, I’ve thought seriously about...”
She hesitated. “I just don’t want him to get in trouble—or hurt anybody.”
“Of course.” Roy offered to talk to him.
“Sure. Why not?”
“You would really do that?”
“Kaylee, at this point I think I would do anything for you.” He chuckled, but she was lost in thought. “From what I know, from where I grew up... There’s a risk it could go the wrong way. I wouldn’t want to see him make a terrible mistake. You said he’s sixteen? You’re an idiot, but you think you’re a genius.”
“Oh, Roy, that is so...” She kissed him. “Really?”
They decided that she would bring him to dinner.
* * *
“I’m getting pretty frigging tired of this target practice bullshit.”
“Me too,” said Dirk. “I’m also pissed off that we haven’t heard from Butch since like forever.”
Chip nodded. “Let’s raise some hell. Let’s go to the mall and lift some cool merch.”
Dirk nodded. “Let’s go to the mall and score some hot babes.”
They were in Dirk’s room, leaning way back on chairs, with their legs out straight and their hands behind their heads. “I’m fucking bored,” said Dirk. “Want another beer?”
“Nah. Let’s blow something up.” Chip went to Dirk’s computer and started browsing their usual sites. “Hey, get this. This dude—he’s eighteen—they’re prosecuting him because he praised mass shootings and endorsed attacks on Planned Parenthood.” He kept reading. “He amassed an online following posting as ‘Army of Christ.’ Cool name! Wish I’d thought of that.” He read more. “So the Fucking Bureau of Insanity raids his house... He lives with his father... They confiscate 15 rifles, 10 pistols, and thousands of rounds. Bastards. And the dude said federal agents should be shot on sight—oh, but then he says he was just kidding. Cool dude!”
“Dude, why don’t we come up with a cool name and get a following?”
“Go ahead, it’s your frigging computer.”
“Got any ideas?”
“Fuck, man, you want me to come up with a name so you can get a following?” He jerked his head and made a face like ‘how stupid can you get?’ Then he made an excuse to leave, because he had a great idea for a name and wanted to post it on his own computer so Dirk couldn’t claim credit.
When he got home, he went straight to his room and navigated to the site, where he posted this: “Fuck relying on Congress, fuck relying on the Supreme Court, freedom fighters unite to rescue the election for white power!” There was more in this vein and then he wrote, “Let’s call ourselves ‘Fighters United in the Constitutional Klan, Unleashed!’”
‘Unleashed,’ an after-thought, was the master-stroke. The post didn’t quite go viral, but Chip was more than pleased.
* * *
Natasha reported to her superior at the Russian consulate in Houston that she felt ‘compelled by her duty’ to alert him to her growing doubts about the success of the Lighthouse Project. As usual he replied with silence and a blank stare. “Would the colonel wish to hear my concerns?” He replied with a slight gesture of one hand and the merest tilt of his head.
She told him that online activity had been detected that raised concerns about the reliability of some of the younger members of the group.
“What sort of activity?”
“Ill-advised posts, colonel.” To his silence she added, “Posts which could easily attract the attention of the FBI or other national security agencies.”
“Have steps been taken to curtail these posts and discipline the offenders?”
“But you still have concerns?”
She nodded brusquely. “One wonders if such poor candidates should have been hired in the first place.”
He stared, then nodded slowly. “What do you recommend?”
“Perhaps it is not too late to replace them, colonel.”
He thought briefly, then shook his head. “Do not have concerns about this.”
She waited for him to say more, but that was all. “There is more, colonel. The manager recruited by our friend at the Drug Enforcement Agency has threatened him that he, the manager, intends to proceed with the project even if ordered to stand down.”
“What do you recommend?”
She hesitated. “This is evidently a more serious problem. To replace key personnel at this stage...”
“And the discipline required in such a case... It would jeopardize the mission.”
“I agree. Given that, it seems we have no choice but to proceed. Unless you have a recommendation.”
Again she hesitated. “I am wondering if we must not consider discontinuing the project, given these threats to its success.”
Again he shook his head and informed her that ‘the possibility of failure’ was understood in Moscow. Trying to interpret that statement, Natasha deemed it best to remain silent. The colonel felt no rush to aid her understanding. Eventually he said, “Would we be surprised to discover that a parallel project is operational through a different channel?”
She nodded, both relieved that success was more likely than she’d thought and disappointed to learn that she was not as important as she’d believed.
“I imagine,” said the colonel, with the first hint of emotion, “that you are both relieved and disappointed to hear this.”
“That is of no consequence,” she replied like a good soldier.
“No, it is not. You are to persevere.”
She assured him she would.
Here, a wry smile actually coalesced on his face. “I suspect that I too do not know the entirety of the plan. It is a feature of our business, no? We accept it.”
“The method we are deploying in Lighthouse is not the most reliable. Greater success has been achieved with a more intimate method. One involving chemicals.”
Natasha maintained a rigidly correct reaction.
* * *
A second murder in two months at the university was obviously big news in Terre Haute. The police put up posters all over campus giving the approximate time and location of the murder and requesting that anyone with information call a hotline number. There was a picture of the victim and her name was given.
Bruce took one late at night to put up on his wall.
Since no connection was immediately made with the murder of Joanne Maybridge on the night of the election, the local police assumed jurisdiction. Bruce aimed to change that by publishing his ‘manifesto.’ He was still working on it, though.
He was ‘writing’ it in his apartment by dictating into a recorder. Whenever he got stuck, he’d look up at the two walls facing each other that held pictures of the two victims, news items, and other ‘souvenirs.’
He objected to calling the deeds ‘murders.’ He insisted that they were ‘political assassinations in defense of American freedom,’ and he was proud to have committed both of them. He called himself a ‘freedom fighter.’
He said the president was also a ‘freedom fighter.’ He praised him for ‘defending the Constitution against the deep state,’ and said he stood behind him 100% in his courageous fight to rescue the election.
He included details of both killings to substantiate his claim, details only the killer would know. These included the caliber of the bullets, the type of gun used, the approximate distance from the victims, also what he remembered of the clothes they were wearing.
He said he wanted the FBI to take over the investigation and treat it as terrorism, which was an act of war, because he considered himself a soldier, not a murderer.
He denounced the militia group for having taken credit for Joanne. “Good soldiers fight side by side, they don’t take credit for each other’s valorous deeds.”
The manifesto still needed work—he knew he wasn’t much of an author—but he thought it was at least headed in the right direction. It was kind of brief, though. Other manifestos he had read were much longer, and he wondered if he should talk about all the things that were wrong with America and what it was going to take to restore the nation to its founding principles. He wondered if he should call for others to follow his path or let his deeds speak for themselves.
He wondered if he should write—he dictated it into the recorder—that he was not afraid to be ‘captured.’ He said he was almost looking forward to it, because he would use his trial—which would be a political trial, not a criminal one—to speak directly to the country. Not the whole country, but the patriotic part of it.
For that, it was essential that the FBI take over the investigation from the local police. “Wait, you already said that,” he told the recorder.
* * *
“The president has made it clear that he will stop at nothing to be affirmed as the next president. He has challenged the vote in no less than six states. When he still couldn’t overturn the election, he has illegally created his own slate of electors in the Electoral College who are pledged to vote for him in defiance of their own state’s popular vote. Now he threatens armed conflict with Iran, obviously believing that will strengthen his hand at home. He obviously lost the election, but refuses to accept that fact. Rather than concede, he would tear the nation apart—and embroil us in another Middle East war. The American people have spoken and the Constitution is clear. If certain officials in high office will defy both, what are we to do? We must come out en masse and make it absolutely clear that the people’s choice must stand as the next president.’” Greg looked up from the computer to ask Ellen what she thought.
After thinking about it, she replied, “I think we’ve got it. Although... Should we say something about the Supreme Court about to review the Florida decision?”
He mulled that over, rocking his head. “No harm in it—though I think we sort of do, when we refer to ‘certain officials in high office.’”
“That’s pretty vague.”
He nodded agreement. “Give me a sentence.”
The purpose of the demonstration, they agreed, was to ‘to put Congress on notice that America is watching.’ That meant it had to be on the weekend before Congress was to meet to count the Electoral College votes. That made it Sunday, January 3—not quite two weeks away. Ellen said obviously there wasn’t enough time to call for a gathering on the national mall.
“Local, then. That’s fine, right? It’s still really tight.”
Greg had a moment of doubt. “Do you think people will turn out?”
“Oh, God, let’s hope so. If they don’t...”
“I guess the Tallahassee Trek can’t have been the first and last protest. What should we call this one?”
Ellen reflected. “People will give it a name, just like they did that one. I think of it as a call to defend the Constitution.”
The plan was to send it to the CNN producer who had approached them when Joanne had been murdered. Ellen surprised Greg when she said she would need to reveal her suicide attempt.
“Because it’ll get out.”
“Somehow. If this is successful, we’re going to be back in the news. We know from before that a lot of people don’t like us. They think Joanne got what she deserved.”
“Ellen,” he cautioned.
She waved it away. “I’m okay. I’m not going to give that to them. I think the term is, we have to ‘get out in front of it.’”
“Yes,” she replied emphatically.
He nodded assent.
* * *
“What the... are they doing?”
“I just don’t get it,” continued Bob. “We win big in Florida. The Supreme Court says, ‘Wait, we’re going to review the Florida court’s decision.’ Why would they do that? A Republican-dominated court. Somehow they must not have liked something, right? So they hold hearings, issue their own decision, and what does it say? Nothing. ‘We haven’t decided whether the Florida law is legal or illegal.’ I mean, did we win and I just don’t see it?”
Eric was shaking his head. “If we did, I don’t see it either. I have a suggestion, though. By the way, did you see the sign? We’re about two hours out.”
Bob nodded. “So what’s your suggestion?”
“That you stop talking so darn much and we turn on Fox to find out what happened.” He was grinning.
“I don’t get it,” said Greg. “Did we win or lose?” Ellen shrugged. “Why did the court agree to review the Florida decision if they weren’t going to affirm or deny it?”
“Maybe they didn’t know what they were going to decide till they heard the arguments?”
He smiled. “Okay, you got me. But, really, they didn’t know...? I mean, they must have had concerns, otherwise why agree to review the case, right? That’s why we were so reassured. At last, the court’s going to render justice. But no.”
“Maybe they did, maybe they didn’t.”
“With inauguration a few weeks away.”
She nodded sadly. “Here’s an idea: How about we don’t let it ruin our day? Look at the response we’re getting to our call.”
“Of course you’re right, Ellen. Still... The justices had no opinion about whether it’s legal to change the method of choosing electors after election day? And then we argue it’s illegal, and they still have no opinion?”
“I presume the Democratic justices did.”
“It was a unanimous decision!” He held out both arms in disbelief. “And speaking of the Democrats, the president’s lawyers argue that the Supreme Court has no jurisdiction to hear a state matter... and they don’t have an opinion?”
She let him cool down a bit before responding. “If I heard it right, the decision did say there was merit in the president-elect’s argument.”
“Not enough to overturn the Florida ruling.”
“Look, I agree it’s not great—but there’s still... They did—what’s the word?—vacate the Florida court’s ruling and sent it back.”
“Yeah, ‘remand’ they call it.”
“With directions to correct the decision.”
“‘Eliminate the obscurities and ambiguities,’ I know. I’ve been running that around in my head, trying to figure out how much it means.”
“Well, it seems like a pretty big hint that some of the justices at least were troubled.”
“But not enough to take a stand! Doesn’t it seem like a cowardly move? I mean, they could have stopped this insanity right there.”
“I know,” she said quietly. So, you know, we keep fighting.”
Fox reported the decision as a tremendous victory for the president, but everyone else noted that the president was said by top aides to be ‘enraged.’ After slamming the court in tweet after tweet, he announced that he had ordered an immediate increase in ‘our defense posture with Iran.’ This, he said, was in response to ‘highly credible’ information that the Iranians were preparing a large-scale attack against ‘an American interest.’ He cited no information. He said the increase would be massive. He said that if Iran so much as fired one shot towards America, they would be ‘hit with something like you wouldn’t believe.’