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 came down to breakfast the day after Roy had come to dinner, Jillian told her again how much she liked Roy. She got Bob to say the same, and even prodded Chip to admit he liked him.
“It was nice to see you shooting hoops again,” added Bob. “So... New Year’s Eve day. What wonderful things do you kids have planned? I’m going to work.”
“Me too,” said Jillian. “Big day at the luncheonette for some reason.”
“Have you talked to Roy yet?” asked Bob with a big smile.
“Dad, it’s eight o’clock in the morning,” Kaylee answered, before she realized he was pulling her leg. “I get it, okay? Everybody’s excited about Roy.”
“At least he’s not a creep like Dennis,” offered Chip.
“That’s not fair,” said Jillian. “Dennis was a perfectly nice young man.”
“Maybe, but he was still a creep.”
“Seriously, Chip,” asked Kaylee, “what did you think of Roy?” He shrugged. “Come on, I know you liked him.”
“What if I did?”
“Then I’d say that makes me happy.”
“Why, you gonna marry the guy?” Jillian and Bob both gave Chip warning looks.
“Okay, Kaylee to family. I just met Roy. Counting last night, that was like our second date.”
“Nice try, sis, it’s pretty obvious how you feel about him.”
“I could say the same for you. Why can’t you just admit he meets with your approval?”
“He meets with my approval. Okay?”
“That’s good,” said Bob, smiling again, “because I have a feeling we haven’t seen the last of him.”
“You guys,” said Jillian, shaking her head.
Kaylee held off as long as she could and called Roy. “Are you working?”
“Yeah, but that’s okay.”
She asked the question she was dying to ask. He gave her the answer she most feared to hear. The question was, ‘Do you think my brother’s in serious trouble?’ The answer was ‘yes.’
“Oh, God. Oh, God.” When he had helped her calm down a bit, she asked, “Did he say what he’s... You know...”
“Do you know if he owns a rifle?”
“No, he doesn’t, or no, you don’t know?” He suggested she search Chip’s room when he was out and any other place he might stow a weapon.
“Why? What would he do with a rifle?”
“Does he know how to use a rifle?”
“Well, we all know how to use a pistol. We’ve all done target practice. I heard my dad took him out hunting not too long ago, but that was not typical.”
He asked her again to search the house, and she asked again why he thought there might be one. One step at a time, he counseled.
Since Chip was out of the house so much, she didn’t have long to wait. As soon as he left, she searched his room. Then the garage, then the basement. She found where her mother stashed liquor, but no weapons.
Roy was not reassured. “Do you know where he went just now?”
“Probably to see Dirk. Remember I mentioned Dirk?”
“Do you know where they go, what they do?” She said she had no idea. He asked if she could follow him next time. She said her parents used both vehicles to go to work, but he kept making suggestions until she said it might be possible. “My bike’s still in the garage. You guys found the pump.”
“But it might not be till tomorrow.”
“That’s all right, nothing’s going to happen today.”
“You’re scaring me again, Roy. What might happen tomorrow? Obviously something involving a rifle.”
Again he counseled, one step at a time. He said she wasn’t alone, that he would be with her. She was comforted, but not enough.
That evening, New Year’s Eve, she pretended to have fun with a few high school friends. The next morning she tried and failed to get Chip to say how he’d be spending the day. When he went out, she followed. Her mother had to work, but her father was taking a rare day off and had lent her his pickup. “Sure, go have fun, honey.”
Not an hour later, she was half hysterical on the phone with Roy. When he had calmed her down enough, he got her to tell him that she was sitting in her father pickup, listening to the sounds of rifle-fire. Chip and Dirk were target-practicing in a field outside of town. “What’s going on, Roy?” she half-shouted, half-sobbed. “Why won’t you tell me? You know something.”
“Did you see the weapons?” he asked.
“Why are you so calm?” she shouted.
“No, I didn’t. But I know my dad would never allow Chip to take a gun out of the house by himself.”
“But you know it’s Chip who’s shooting.”
“And Dirk, yes.”
“Okay, go home, then call me again.”
“Go home, Kaylee. Right now. He can’t see you, he’d recognize the pickup. Hang up, drive home, call me back. Got it?”
“That was quick,” said Bob when she returned.
She mumbled something about nobody being home and went upstairs to call Roy. “Okay,” he said, “your dad’s home, right? I want you to tell him what you saw.”
“I can’t. Oh my gosh, you can’t imagine what that would do. You need to tell me what you know.”
“I think I should do it in person.”
“Roy,” she wailed. “You are scaring me so much.”
“Listen to me, Kaylee. It’s going to be okay. It’s okay now, because you’re there. You can watch him.”
“Please, Roy, don’t leave me here. I’m so scared.”
“Kaylee, your parents are with you. I don’t understand why you haven’t talked to them. Why you can’t talk to them now.”
She tried to tell him what had been going through her mind the last couple of months, since she had discovered the disturbing websites he was frequenting. How she kept hoping it wasn’t as bad as it looked, or somehow it would resolve in a peaceful way—and how it would destroy her parents if she said anything. “And what if that turned out to be unnecessary? I don’t know how much you could see, but they’re so angry with him—and he’s so angry with them. It would be like throwing a match on gasoline.”
“Let me ask you this: Have you ever considered talking to the FBI?”
“Oh my gosh, how many times! I was almost going to go when I met you.”
“What stopped you?”
“I was too scared that I might make things worse. Maybe this whole thing, whatever it is, would just go away. Or Chip would somehow get out of it, or refuse to go through with it, or something. And if I had turned him in, his life could be ruined.” Finally she asked in a weak, desperate little voice, “Do you think I should go?”
“I do, Kaylee. At this point, I truly believe it’s the best way to protect Chip.” There was another long silence. “And I think it’s time to tell your parents.”
“Okay, then I’ll go with you. If you want.”
She started sobbing. “You would do that?”
“Yes,” he said quietly.
* * *
“Headed for Chi-town,” said Russ gaily to the guy next to him on the plane. “Special occasion.”
“Yes, sir, gonna have me some fun. New Year’s Eve and all.”
“Me, I’m going home. Saw the kids, saw the grandkids. Nice Christmas, but, you know, don’t want to wear out the welcome.”
Russ nodded as though he was interested. “Yeah, I’m looking for some fun. Watch the fireworks, have me a little party...”
The next morning, after settling the bill with his ‘guest’ and having a massive breakfast in the hotel, he returned to the room to study detailed maps of Grant Park and adjacent buildings. Then he took the hotel shuttle to the downtown ‘Loop’ and cased the area, which was filled with smiling, distracted tourists, despite the cold and fabled winter winds off the lake.
He took pictures, made notes, then found a coffee shop where he could open his laptop to study the maps again. He returned to the area, entered one of the hotels on South Michigan across from the park, discretely took a few more photos, and returned outside to make a few more notes.
He returned to his room and opened the laptop again. First he studied the schematics of the hotel, then started making measurements.
* * *
When Bob got home from the demonstration, he first responded to Jillian’s horrified expression with reassurance. “I’m all right. Really. I’m sore is all. Okay?” That of course didn’t work. She asked him what happened.
“You’re always so careful... In all these years you’ve never fallen out of a tree...” He had to tell her where he’d been. “You went to Indianapolis? Why am I just hearing about this? And you got in a fight at a demonstration? Were you attacked?”
He knew these questions were coming. He tried to give matter-of-fact answers, but he could see they sounded crazy to her. Sometimes they sounded crazy to him.
He switched to bravado. ‘You should see the other guy,’ seemed like a clever thing to say, also how he had ‘kicked ass.’
“You kicked ass?”
Somehow when she said it, it didn’t sound as good. “We really did something, Jill. Struck a blow for liberty. Is that too...? That’s how I think of it.”
“By the look of you, that liberty blow struck your nose.”
He made little of it, said it wasn’t broken, just sore.
“How do you know?”
He told her he had gone to a walk-in urgent care facility. “Same thing with my ribs.”
“What happened to your ribs?”
“Sore but not broken, like I said. No need to worry.”
“Why should I worry? Just because my husband lets me think he fell out of a tree, only to learn he tried to break up a peaceful demonstration and got beat up.”
He turned angry. “Peaceful, my ass. You think we weren’t provoked?”
“Provoked? What are you, a teenager?”
“If you’d been there...”
“Why were you there, is what I’m still trying to figure out.”
“I’ll tell you why I went. Because I’m sick and tired of these liberals trying to cram their way of life down my throat. Tell me how to raise my kids, what to think, how to talk... They think they’re better than me because I believe in God... What else? Stop me before the list gets too long.”
“And you thought punching somebody would help?”
“He’s lucky I didn’t pull my gun.”
“Okay, mister, that’s the end of this conversation. It’s late, I’m tired, and maybe a night’s sleep will clear your head. I sure hope so. And, by the way, I don’t want Chip to see you like this.”
In the morning, she asked him to stay upstairs until Chip left. He started to object, but conceded she had a point.
She made breakfast and when Chip was halfway through it he asked where his father was. “Resting. He had a tough day yesterday, I told him to rest.”
“What? Dad doesn’t lay in bed.”
“He got banged up a little bit.”
“No big deal. Nothing an hour’s rest won’t help.” He nodded, finished quickly, and left without saying goodbye.
When she got to the bedroom, Bob was up and dressed and on the phone with Eric. “Let me guess,” she said. “He got beat up too.”
“We didn’t get beat up, Jillian. I wish you wouldn’t say that.”
“Call it what you like. Breakfast is ready.”
She let him eat alone without interruption, except to say, “You’re going to work?”
“Got to. I promised the job we’d be there. Eric’s already there.” She shook her head. “What? The bills don’t stop, just because I took a few knocks.”
Later, in a brief phone conversation, they agreed he’d go to a diner for supper. He came home late and went straight upstairs. “How was your day?” she asked dutifully. She could see he was trying to hide his pain.
“I’ve had worse.”
“Let me see your hand, it looks pretty swollen.”
“It’s fine,” he snapped.
The next morning Chip asked again where he was. She said he had already left for work.
Well,” he said, “that’s a better excuse than yesterday, but what the fuck is going on?”
“You’ll see him at supper.”
When he saw him at supper, he exclaimed, “Holy crap, dad, did you fall out of a tree?” Bob started to answer, hesitated, looked down. “What’s going on here?”
When he didn’t reply, Jillian quietly said, “Bob.” When he still didn’t reply, she said, “Your father got into a fight.”
“What?” Chip looked from one to the other, then threw up his hands. “Will somebody tell me...”
Finally Bob admitted he had been in a fight. “Look, I’m not proud...”
“You sure sounded proud,” said Jillian.
“You know,” he retorted, “for a moment there, I almost thought my family was worried about me.”
“Hey,” said Chip, “you were carrying, right? Did you pull it?”
“No, I didn’t pull it,” he replied indignantly.
“That’s what it’s for, right? Self-defense.”
“Not when a guy throws a punch. Are you crazy?”
“I know you think I am. Why not pull the sucker?”
“I think you know why. At least I hope you know why. But I get it, you’re kidding. So, I’m fine, son, thanks for asking.”
“You’re welcome, dad. So, how would you feel if you had pulled it? You know, shot someone.”
“Are you trying to...? Okay, I get it. Maybe you should just get out of my face.”
“Maybe I should, dad.” He turned to leave and said as he was going, “Great job, dad. Judging from your hand, it looks like you got him good.”
After he left, Jillian glowered at him.
“You’re asking me ‘what?’ That was wrong so many ways, I’m like, don’t get me started.”
“I don’t want to get you started.”
“That’s your son, Bob.”
“Maybe you should leave, too.” She did, and later he came to apologize. “The fact is, I’m ashamed.”
“Tell that to your son.”
“Do it now, before he leaves without a word again, and goes off God only knows where, and does God only knows what.”
He nodded and headed upstairs. He returned a few minutes later.
“That was quick.”
“He wouldn’t open the door. There’s something else I didn’t tell you, Jill. I almost got taken in.”
“Taken in where?”
“Arrested. I almost got arrested.” She stared at him. “There weren’t nearly enough cops there. Eric saw reinforcements coming and we got out of there pretty quick.”
Still she stared at him. “Something came over you. Care to tell me what it is?”
“Actually, no, I’d rather not, not right now.”
“It’s the president, right? He’s making you crazy, like he’s making everyone crazy. That’s it, right?”
“That’s part of it.”
“What’s the other part?”
“That’s the part I don’t want to talk about now.”
Suddenly it occurred to her what he might be referring to, and stopped talking.
* * *
After the last call with Roy, Kaylee tried to watch a movie, afraid to leave her room. At supper, Jillian said, “Well you’re awful quiet tonight. Everything okay with Roy?”
In the silence that followed, Jillian and Bob exchanged looks. “Okay!” he exclaimed. “I’ve had an exciting New Year’s Day. I even got my son to watch part of a game with me.”
“Really exciting, dad.”
“Yeah, I can see it was a big hit.” He looked around the table and found everyone looking at their plates.
He left for a job first thing the next morning and Jillian left for the luncheonette a few hours later, leaving Chip and Kaylee, each on their computers in their rooms. She tried to work up the courage to ask him why Dirk and he were target practicing with rifles, but pictured him flying into a rage. Instead, she called Roy.
“It’s okay,” he reassured her. “You confronting him... I don’t see that changing anything at this point.”
“What point is that?”
“I just mean I think his mind is made up.”
“To do what?”
“To do whatever he’s planning.”
“What is he planning? Roy, I know you know more than you’re saying. Chip must have confided in you.”
“Yeah,” he said noncommittally.
“Look. Let’s get through today. Tomorrow I’ll come get you, after church. We’ll work this out together. Okay?”
Sunday morning Bob said he had to work, Chip said nothing, and Jillian and Kaylee went to church. On the way home Jillian asked if there was anything she wanted to talk about. After much hesitation, she confessed to being worried about Chip.
“We’re all worried about Chip, Kaylee.”
“I prayed for courage. I asked Jesus to help me, you know, help Chip.”
After a big sigh, Jillian replied, “So did I.”
The minute they were away in his car, Roy told Kaylee he had arranged for her to visit the local FBI office first thing the next morning. “Nothing to be scared about,” he said, seeing that she was terrified.
She spent the night at his apartment and in the morning they drove together to the nearby office. When he parked he hugged her to try to quell the trembling, but it didn’t work.
He gave the receptionist Kaylee’s name, said she was there to talk to an agent, and a man appeared in about ten minutes. He introduced himself brusquely and asked if she was Kaylee Ingram. She nodded. “And you are?” he asked Roy.
“Maybe you wouldn’t mind waiting here, while we talk.”
Roy turned to Kaylee with a smile, “You’ll be fine, just tell Agent Rivera everything you know. Don’t leave anything out. I’ll be right here, okay?” She looked distressed. “Kaylee, it’s going to be okay, really.”
He exchanged a look with the agent, who led her to an interrogation room. “Would you like coffee, tea, water...?” She shook her head. He nodded and said, “Like your friend said, all you need to do is tell me what you know. Okay?” She was too afraid to respond, but he nodded again and turned on the recording equipment.
At first he just let her talk. When she had told him everything she could think of, she begged him to save her brother.
“You have to know your brother is in a world of trouble.”
“I do. He’s sixteen. Please save him.”
Then the questions started.
* * *
“Call it the congressional Super Bowl or game 7 of the World Series, pick your metaphor. That’s what it feels like, not only in the halls of Congress, but no doubt across the nation. That’s because, under the rules of procedure, Congress is to convene today in joint session—the new Congress, by the way—to certify and count the Electoral College votes.”
“You know, Hamid, I have to say... I mean normally, would anybody be paying attention?”
“Absolutely right, Shawna, typically it’s a formality. Not this time. Not even close.”
“Which is kind of unbelievable, right?”
“Certainly it has never happened before. We are now two months, plus a few days, from the election, and we still do not know who the next president will be.”
“Now, we did have a contested vote in 2000...”
“Yes, but that one never made it to Congress—it was decided in the courts—and it was over in December, mid-December. We are now 14 days from inauguration, and there is no resolution in sight.”
“Okay, walk us through this, Hamid.”
Hamid took a deep breath and smiled. “Here’s the situation. Viewers may recall there were two slates of Electoral College electors in Florida, one voting Republican, the other Democratic. But only the Republican slate of votes was certified by the governor. It’s called the ‘certificate of ascertainment,’ and under the rules it’s normally considered the tie-breaker.”
“‘Normally,’ you say.”
“And these are not normal times. Because it’s the other slate of votes that ratified the popular vote—which was the law in Florida on election day. Now, not to get too far into the weeds, a new law was enacted by Republicans, it was challenged by Democrats, and went back and forth in the courts.”
“But the Supreme Court settled it, right?”
“It did not. It held hearings, raised doubts, sent the case back to Florida. The Florida court reaffirmed its earlier decision, and there it stands. The US Supreme Court did not issue a final ruling.”
“Wow. Can I say that?”
“I think we have to. There are so many legal technicalities, so many procedural steps, either side could seemingly challenge any of them. Just one example: The absence of a Supreme Court decision means we do not have a ruling on whether the Florida law meets one of the explicit provisions of section 5 of the rules. If it doesn’t, the certificate of ascertainment could conceivably be invalid. Again, it gets very complicated very fast, but that gives you a taste.”
“Can you tell us how the vote tally proceeds, Hamid.”
“Alphabetically, by state. Without objection you keep going, certifying each state’s slate and tallying the votes. If there is an objection to Florida’s rival slates—which is certain—under the rules the joint session is adjourned, so that each chamber may meet separately to vote on the contest.” Here he paused.
“Okay, then what?”
“That’s the question. You’ve got two interpretations of the laws and rules, two conclusions about the proper result. The Democrats still control the House, so no surprises expected there. In the Senate, we now have a 50-50 tie, but ties are broken by the vice president, who serves as president of the Senate. Again, pretty safe to predict which way this Republican vice president will vote.”
“Two chambers, two conflicting decisions. Then what? Can you spell it out for us, Hamid.”
“I spell it D-E-A-D-L-O-C-K.”
After dutifully chuckling, she said, “Yeah, but then what?”
Hamid chuckled himself. “Not to be flip, Shawna, but legal experts I consulted seem more or less in agreement that nobody knows.” He chuckled again, feebly. “There is nothing explicit in the rules of procedure, nor in the Constitution, nor in statutory or case law to decide how such an impasse is to be resolved. At least, that’s what they tell me. It was not foreseen and has never before happened.”
“So, let me try to process this. They seem to be indicating that a final determination by the Supreme Court seems inevitable.”
“Perhaps, but there’s a catch there, too. The Democrats fear a repeat of the 2000 presidential election, where a Republican majority on the bench—as the Democrats see it—skewed the decision to their side.”
* * *
Chip received a message: “Game time approaches. Be ready to travel. Bring your own gear.”
The first thing he did was call Dirk, who confirmed that he’d gotten it too.
“What do you think it means?”
“Seems pretty clear to me, dumb-ass.”
“It does? Okay, then tell me where we’re going, how do we get there, how long will we be there, how do we get out of there...?”
“Chill, bro. They’ll tell us.”
“We don’t even know who ‘they’ is.”
“Who gives a fuck? That’s how it works.”
Chip snorted. “Right, like you know. Why don’t you shut the fuck up?”
“Why don’t you shut the fuck up?”
They each took a breath. It was a tacit admission of how they both felt. Dirk said, “It sounds like we’ll be hearing again soon, so...”
Chip agreed and disconnected.