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.
* * *
Bruce was pleased that the Vigo County Public Library was near the campus. It made it a fitting place to publish his manifesto.
As he approached the entrance, he slowed to a casual gait, to give himself time to see where the security guards and surveillance cameras were. He had dressed in neat, clean clothes, open shirt collar, new sneakers. He had left his cap home, but was wearing glasses—clear glasses. As it turned out, there were no security guards or surveillance cameras.
As soon as he entered, he turned right so the librarians behind the central desk wouldn’t get a direct view of his face. Fortunately that turned out to be the correct choice, because the bank of public computers were straight ahead. There was a help desk, which he casually passed, and walked past the computers to the stacks, from where he could observe how the system worked.
It was simple: When a person left, the computer was free for the next—you didn’t have to show a library card, no sign-up was required. He pulled a book off the shelf and pretended to read it. When one of the users started to gather his things, he approached and asked if there was anything special he needed to know to get online. “Nope, nothing special, but there’s someone to help you, if you need it.” He smiled and sat.
He took out his recorder, put in his ear buds, navigated to the site, and started typing.
He was calm. In fact he was in a great mood. If he had a problem, it was controlling his excitement.
He chuckled when he got to the place where he had told himself to smile because he was about to be noticed. “You’ll be more than noticed,” he’d said to himself, “because this is going to be big.” When the person beside him turned to look, he just shrugged and smiled and shook his head.
Typing with two fingers, the work became tedious, and he had to take a break. Without moving his head, he surveyed those he could see. No one even noticed him. He took a breath and returned to work. When he got to the end, he didn’t check for typos, he just sent it. He took another breath and quickly left.
Outside, on a whim, he pressed record and said, “If they only knew, they would not have ignored you. Of course that’s what you needed. That’s about to change, though. Big time. By the way, nice touch at the end, to say you’ve already identified the next target. Just so the FBI doesn’t think maybe I’m done.”
* * *
“Sir, you need to see this.” While she spoke, she was staring at her colleague at the next station, and he was nodding at her. When her supervisor appeared, she gave him her seat. “First, this. I have reason to believe they are discussing the FUSAC.”
“I thought we were done looking at the FUSAC.” They both pronounced the acronym as a word: ‘Few-sack.’
“I thought we were. On a hunch I took another look and found this.”
The supervisor read the item. When he was done, he turned to her and she reached in front of him to bring up item number two. Then number three. When he was done he said, “Okay, connect the dots for me.”
“I’m finding a lot of chatter about this. I remind you this is the first...” She emphasized ‘first.’ “...Forum on US-Africa Cooperation. There have already been three forums on China-Africa Cooperation. The Chinese are conspicuously sending a high-level delegation. This has been in the works for more than a year, and it is not a coincidence that it’s scheduled right before the inauguration. It always was to include a banquet to honor the next American president—whoever that person might be. But the president, the current president, has been applying pressure to get himself invited.”
“Makes sense, doesn’t it?”
“Except that he isn’t the next president—at least not yet. Now the president-elect initially proposed to send the vice president-elect, but this was poorly received by the AU—that’s the African Union, which is sponsoring the forum. The P-E will attend the banquet, as well as the VP-E.”
“This happens when?”
“Soon. It’s timed to precede Davos, which starts Jan. 19.”
“That’s only... You’ve got my attention, tell me what I just read.”
“Sir, I believe you just read about an attempt by the Russians—the FSB to be precise—to assassinate the P-E and VP-E at the banquet.” The supervisor’s face worked through a selection of reactions, covering the full range of possibilities. “I know, it’s a lot.”
“You see this here? I believe that’s a reference to the poison. My guess is polonium, it’s perfect for this scenario. That’s what they used against Litvinenko.
Uselessly, the supervisor asked where the banquet would be held.
“Trump International. We know the Russians almost certainly have agents there. All they need to do is infiltrate the wait staff. They position their agent to wait on the head table... It’s simple. Easy to administer the liquid. Easy to get it to the two victims.”
The supervisor seemed to collect himself. He almost smiled. “You do realize what you’re saying, right?”
“And you want me to believe it on the strength of what I just read?”
“I know it’s just chatter...”
“You’re damn right it’s just chatter!” Suddenly he seemed angry.
“Yes, sir, but considering the risk...”
“Risk? Jesus H. Christ! You want me to believe that the Russians are prepared to take out an American president?”
“And vice president, to impede an easy succession, yes, sir.”
“What about the current president, are they going to take him out too?”
At first the analyst didn’t risk a reply, but when she saw one was required she said, “It appears they could, if they found it in their interest.”
The supervisor was shaking his head. “I can’t...”
“Polonium is lethal if ingested, in the tiniest dosage. We know from the Litvinenko case that the agents involved were either incredibly stupid or sloppy, or else they had no idea what they were handling.”
“The FSB doesn’t have to send highly trained... And it’s easy to get past airport screening, and the initial symptoms don’t suggest poison for days. It’s almost too easy.”
“Ahah!” He raised a finger. “That’s the point. When it looks too easy, it’s usually wrong.”
“I agree, sir. ‘Usually.’ I can’t ignore the chatter...”
“Well I can! I can’t take this upstairs!”
“Normally, I’d agree, sir, but in view of the risk...”
“In view of the risk, you’d better bring me something I can work with. Because this is...”
“With respect, sir,” she said quietly, almost whispering.
He shook his head. “Do you know what happens if I pass this up the chain and it turns out to be wrong? End of career. You, me, everybody who touched this. Hell, the whole agency.” She waited, like a good soldier. “This is a career-killer. No one at the top wants to take evidence to the White House that Russia is helping the president get re-elected.”
“With respect, sir, the date doesn’t support that. Heart failure takes three weeks. That puts it after inauguration.”
“I don’t feature the president getting hung up on the math. Assassinating his rival? See what I’m saying?”
“Jesus H. Christ,” he muttered. “I can just see his face when... No. No way. You need to bring me more than this before I... A lot more. And, by the way, it’s your neck, too.”
* * *
Kaylee was home for the Christmas-New Year’s holidays, but she was on the phone with Roy constantly. He told her he had returned to Terre Haute right after Christmas for his job—he was working part-time to pay for graduate school—and she invited him to dinner with her family. She did have one concern, however. “I’ll be honest with you, Roy, I’m not that anxious for you to meet my parents. I’m a little afraid they’ll jump to conclusions—about us, I mean.”
“Don’t worry, we’ll survive.”
“It’s Chip I’m thinking about. I know it’s not fair, but I’m praying that somehow you can work a miracle.”
“I look at it this way. I’m looking forward to meeting your family, and that includes your brother. So we’ll see, okay?”
Her father started right off by asking him to say grace.
“Dad,” objected Kaylee.
“It’s fine, Kaylee. I’d be honored, Mr. Ingram.”
They weren’t ten minutes into the meal when he asked Roy if he was saved.
“Come on, daddy, what is this? We’re not engaged, you know.”
“I’m just asking.”
“I know why you’re asking. And you’re wrong. We’re just friends.”
“Fine. I like to know who your friends are.”
Roy jumped in. “Yes, sir, I have been saved. I don’t say I ‘am’ saved, because that seems... Don’t get me wrong, my faith is strong—but I don’t think it’s as strong as Kaylee’s. Frankly, she inspires me.” He looked at her and found her face beaming, and he took her hand. “I believe that meeting her the way I did... I believe it was the hand of providence.”
“That is so beautiful,” said Jillian. “Isn’t it, Bob?”
Bob nodded, then returned to Roy and said with mock sternness, “All the same, just know that I’ve got my eye on you.”
“Yes, sir,” said Roy seriously, and everyone smiled—except Chip.
“I heard another girl was murdered on campus.”
Both Bob and Jillian put down their forks.
“I’m not too worried,” said Kaylee quickly, not entirely candid.
“It’s terrible,” said Jillian.
“I read his manifesto.”
“Well, we won’t dignify it by discussing it at the table.”
“Don’t you want to know what you’re dealing with? What do you think, Roy?”
“I’ve read it too, Chip, and what I think is that, if you’re angry that this country isn’t the way you think it should be, you need to find a way to help make it better. Murdering people in cold blood isn’t it.”
“He called it ‘assassination.’”
“Either way, two innocent girls are dead.” He turned away from Chip to add, “Trust me, Mr. and Mrs. Ingram, I will do everything I can to keep Kaylee safe.”
“That’s real kind of you, Roy. Isn’t it, Bob?”
Bob, still staring at Chip, was startled. “Yes, it is. Thank you.”
“The FBI took over the investigation,” said Chip. “They say it’s terrorism.”
“What do you call it?” snapped Bob.
“You know,” said Roy, “one of them was a friend of Kaylee’s.”
“Worth keeping in mind, wouldn’t you say?”
Unexpectedly, Chip didn’t reply immediately. Almost in a different voice, he asked, “You a hunter, Roy?”
“I’ve done some hunting. I’m not sure you can grow up on an Indiana farm and not hunt. Is that something you’re interested in?”
“How about you?”
When he didn’t respond promptly, Bob jumped in and said he probably should have done more to teach his children how to hunt, but somehow it was never his thing. “I do believe in self-defense, though. We believe in the Second Amendment here. If you’re interested, I could show you what I’ve got.”
Roy said he would like that, then returned to Chip. “So what are you interested in, Chip? Sports?”
“He did a lot of sports when he was younger,” said Jillian.
“Oh yeah? Shoot hoops? I hope so, this is Hoosier country after all. We could do a little one-on-one, if you promise not to be too hard on me.”
Amazingly, after the dishes were cleared and Jillian assured him he could help the next time, Roy went out with Chip, who dug out the old basketball. He even found a pump. “Did you ever think you’d see that again?” she whispered to Bob. He nodded, then went upstairs to check the weather reports, leaving Kaylee to help Jillian.
“Roy seems nice,” she began.
“I broke up with Dennis.” Jillian nodded. “Are you disappointed?”
“Not at all, sweetheart. We never, your dad and me, we never pinned our hopes on him. Not that we had anything against him.”
“ISU is such... Thank you for letting me go there. I know it’s not easy, the money and all.”
“Don’t you worry about that. This is what we wanted for you. Marrying out of high school, like your father and I did, well, there’s nothing wrong with it, but we wanted you to have a chance to see a little more of the world before you settle down. How long have you been seeing Roy?”
Kaylee laughed. “You won’t believe it. I don’t believe it.”
As if on cue, they both watched Chip try a fake and a jump-shot.
* * *
As soon as Kaylee and Roy left, Bob said, “Do you think our little girl may have...”
“It sure looks that way, doesn’t it?” replied Jillian. They were not quite looking at each other. “Do you like him?”
Bob nodded. “What happened to Dennis, I wonder?”
“She broke up with him.”
He digested that information. “Do you think she’s serious about Roy?”
“She didn’t say anything, but I saw something in her eyes I haven’t seen before.”
“Well, from what I saw, it seems like she could do worse. I have to say, it would be kind of a relief, you know, to know she’s settled?”
“She apologized for being a handful in high school.”
“But she wasn’t. I mean, compared to Chip...”
“A girl in high school these days... Thank the Lord she has her faith. You’d think liberals would realize that when you call girls ‘women,’ they’re going to think they are women, and should be having the experiences that women have. Lucky for us Dennis was an evangelical and not a rebel.”
“Well, it looks like she made a good choice. ISU’s a big place.”
“I know you would have preferred a small Christian school.”
Bob shrugged. “I was worried about her is all.”
“That’s why it’s called ‘faith,’ Bob. You can’t hide from the world.”
“Hey, I agreed, didn’t I?” After an uncomfortable silence he said, “Chip, on the other hand... I know you think I’m too hard on him.”
“No, Bob, just the opposite. But in front of guests?”
They ended up arguing, until Bob left to pack so he could get an early start. Jillian stared into space a long time before picking up her phone.
The next morning, alone in the house, she called in sick to the luncheonette and drove to a motel about 30 miles away along the highway.
* * *
Fox said the low turnout proved how little support there was for a radical socialist agenda. CNN said the high turnout proved how much support there was for the Constitution and the rule of law. They both said the fundamental issue was ‘the integrity of our elections.’
Each state had its own demonstration. In Indiana, the location was the statehouse in Indianapolis. Actually it was the Soldiers and Sailors Monument a few blocks away, whose large open circle provided a more congenial site for a large crowd and speakers.
As Ellen had predicted, Greg and she had been rediscovered by the media, and were swarmed when they reached the site. Whenever Greg was asked a question, he deferred to Ellen. She tied her answers to Joanne. For example, she referred to “the senseless murder of my daughter, Joanne Maybridge, whose only ‘crime’ was to believe in democracy.” She said her daughter was a campaign volunteer who had been targeted because someone hated the candidate she was working for. It was no coincidence, she added, that she had been brutally murdered on election night.
They made their way to the speakers stand slowly, because a lot of people recognized them and wanted to shake hands, thank them, wish them well.
When their turn came to speak, they both rose, but Ellen stood at the microphone, with Greg beside her. She took a moment to admire the size of the crowd. “My daughter, Joanne Maybridge,” she began in a strong voice, “would be so proud of you. She was not a radical, much less a socialist—but she believed in democracy. She believed in America.” She paused. “I would like to read you a text she sent us from the campaign office in Terre Haute where she was a volunteer. It was on the afternoon of election day. It was...” Here she faltered, and Greg suddenly turned to her, but she found a way to continue. “It was only hours before she was killed... killed on her way home. The murderer, who has still not been caught, has bragged about his ‘patriotic’ act... Calls himself a freedom-fighter. Calls the president a freedom-fighter...”
She revealed her suicide attempt, saying she had lost hope. “And with all hope gone, I lost the will to live. But I was saved. I was saved by my daughter, who came to me in a dream. And I made her a promise. And I made my husband Greg a promise. That I will never lose hope again.” Here she hesitated before saying, “I will not lose hope even though Greg and I have been receiving death threats again.”
Completely surprised, Greg snapped his head to look at her. Forgetting where he was, he said, “I didn’t know you knew. You never said a word.”
Ellen ignored him and continued to address the crowd. “And now I make that promise to all of you. And I call upon all of you—each of you—never to lose hope. Never lose hope. Never lose hope. Never lose hope.”
The crowd took up the chant, and Ellen, exhausted, finally allowed the tears to come, and sobbed on Greg’s shoulder.
There was no party atmosphere in the crowd, little humor, and none that was not bitter. Mainly there was anger. The signs were split between those that demanded respect for the Constitution and those that condemned the president, lampooned him, derided him.
There were counter-demonstrators. They too were angry. They too had signs that were split between demands that the Constitution be respected and those that condemned, lampooned, and derided the president-elect. There were also confederate flags, ‘don’t tread on me’ flags, signs that read ‘the tree of liberty must be watered with the blood of tyrants,’ and swastikas. There were men and women dressed for combat, with automatic rifles and extra clips across their chests—faces masked. There were also signs that read simply, ‘You’re next.’
They were supposedly barricaded behind police barriers, but the barriers were inadequate and the police insufficient. Epithets were exchanged. Fights erupted, then brawls.
* * *
“Are you okay?” asked Eric. Bob threw him a look, trying to brush it off. “Bob?”
He shook his head. “I am really sorry, buddy. Believe me when I tell you that will never happen again.”
“I do believe you. I have to believe you. It doesn’t matter whether you go up the tree or I go up the tree. I got to know...”
“I know, I know.”
“Listen, you brought me up. You taught me the business. So, you know, I’m not going anywhere, okay? But when you share this kind of work with a guy, day after day, you get to know him. And one thing I can say for pretty darn sure, you are not okay.”
After a struggle, Bob said, “It’s about Jillian.”
Eric nodded. “I thought you guys had kind of patched things up?”
“I tried. I wanted to. I don’t know if it was me or her, but it didn’t happen.” He started to say more, and Eric waited till he got it out. “You know she went to a retreat, right?”
“That was a while back.”
“Right. Well, come to find out she met a guy there.”
“When you say ‘met a guy...’”
“That’s just it. That’s what I don’t know.”
“But you suspect.”
Bob nodded. “Things have only gotten worse between us. I don’t know what it is, but something’s wrong.” He told Eric everything he knew, about the phone calls, the luncheonette. When Eric asked if he had confronted her, he told him about their conversation. He ended with this: “She told me she was needy. She said she craved friendship. That doesn’t sound too good, does it?”
Eric searched for something helpful. “If she was, you know, seeing another guy, wouldn’t you know?”
“How? How do I know she’s not with him right now? There’s just her and Chip, and from what she tells me, he’s gone most of the time. Which is another thing, by the way.”
“Gee, Bob, I don’t know what to say.”
They fell silent, nursing lousy coffees, sitting on a log.
A week later they were driving to a job when Bob asked Eric out of the blue if he’d be willing to ditch work for a day. He said they’d been talking ‘since time began’ about going to one of the president’s rallies. “I know it’s not one of his rallies, but in a way it’s more important.”
“Today, in Indianapolis.”
“Bob, that’s for them, not for us.” Bob told him there was going to be a large counter-demonstration. “How do you know?”
“Well, you know me, I’d love to take it to those smug SOB’s. Like they really want to defend the Constitution, right? Short notice, though. It’s a day’s pay, too.” Bob nodded. “Heck with it, let’s do it.”
Eric pulled over while Bob put the new destination in the GPS, then called the job to tell them something had come up, but they’d be there the next day.
By the time they reached the area and found a garage, things were well underway. When he could hear the tumult, Bob practically jogged the last few blocks.
It was exhilarating. He forgot everything. “We should have done this a long time ago,” he shouted.
Eric nodded, saying, “I hear you, brother.”
He started greeting people, like they were friends, shaking hands with a big smile, saying things like, “This sure is something, isn’t it?”
“You got that right!”
“Everybody’s open carry,” he observed to Eric, “do you think we should...”
“Second Amendment, brother. Let’s do it.” He was already undoing his belt to put it outside his coat so the holster would show, but it wasn’t big enough, so he settled for leaving his coat open. Bob did the same.
“I don’t know about that, though.” With his chin he indicated a couple dressed in combat gear, with automatic rifles. “I just want protection, not to start a war.”
A chant went up and they joined.
“Let’s get closer.”
Bob didn’t answer, but worked his way toward the barricade. Eric followed.
* * *
The next day most of the mainstream media reported more or less as follows: “It may have been only yesterday when many in this country expressed optimism for what they see as the rule of law, but it seems like an age. Earlier today, the Florida Supreme Court released its revised decision on the Electoral College law—and it is almost exactly the same in scope and result as their original opinion. This is seen to be a huge win for the president. Hours later, he signed an executive order sending thousands of National Guard troops into so-called ‘sanctuary cities.’”
“So-called demonstrations yesterday horrible!” he tweeted. “Rioting and unprovoked attacks on good people trying to exercise First Amendment rights will not be tolerated. Sending National Guard into sanctuary cities to detain and deport large numbers of illegal aliens.”
Chip and Dirk celebrated by drinking as they drove recklessly through red lights.
Bob felt redeemed and let Jillian know it.
Jillian was torn between confusion, doubt, and disgust, which Bob couldn’t understand.
Mary Beth told Jillian she accepted it as the decisions of more knowledgeable people.
Kaylee told Roy she didn’t know what to think, but was sure Joanne would have been extremely upset.
Roy replied that he was disturbed by what seemed to be erosion of due process and abuse of power.
Bruce smirked at his co-workers in the break room.
Greg was terrified at how Ellen might react. She was herself terrified.