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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“This is the kind of day congressional staffers love and hate,” said one of them to one of the many reporters stalking the halls of the Capitol. “Whenever the caucuses are polled, there’s a lot of to-ing and fro-ing, and today is certainly no exception. That means an especially heavy burden on us to, you know, communicate and coordinate.”
“How do you see it going?”
“Well, of course, I can only speak for my side. You’ll have to talk to the other side to find out what they all are debating, but I can tell you it’s a busy day for Republicans.”
“What can you tell us at this point? Has a decision been made about the Florida slate?”
“Yeah. That’s above my pay grade? Plus, it’s early yet. You can expect an announcement at the appropriate time.”
“But has there been any movement? Because, after all, that’s what the polling is all about, right?”
“Yeah. Like I said...”
At the end of the day, senior party members separately grouped around their respective leaders—the Speaker of the House for the Democrats, the Majority Leader of the Senate for the Republicans—to deliver the same message: That after extensive and intensive debate, they had decided not to change their positions with respect to the competing slates of Electoral College votes from the State of Florida.
Every reporter shouted the same question: “Now what?” In reply they heard many words, but no answer. The closest it got was, “It’s up to the other party.”
Only those who went to bed late learned that this was not entirely accurate. A rumor was reported, “and that’s all it is,” said reputable reporters, that in fact a suggestion had been made—it was not clear from whom—that might open a way ‘to break the logjam.’
By morning it was confirmed that a few Republicans had raised questions about the propriety of the Electoral College slate from New York. “It appears that proper procedures were violated,” said a spokesperson.
“How?” immediately shouted the reporters.
“That’s all I have for you at this time.”
Commentators rushed in, hauling legal experts with them. “Certainly there is no requirement under the Constitution that every state’s slate be counted. If one is deemed somehow defective, and there is no alternative slate that was properly submitted, its votes are simply not counted.”
The Democratic response was described as ‘somewhat apoplectic.’
“Big surprise, New York went for the Democrat. Exclude those votes and the president wins—no matter which slate is admitted from Florida.”
It was also noted—as dryly sarcastic as speakers could make it—that New York just happened to have the same number of Electoral College votes as Florida. That the governor of New York was a vocal critic of the president. That the president had little support in New York, having lost by a very large margin.
But what was the, quote, ‘impropriety?’ It look a long time to get the answer—a ‘long time’ in this case being hours, as the countdown to inauguration had now reached Day 11. To understand it, everyone had to learn about section 11 of the rules, where it explicitly stated that the sealed ‘certificates’ of a state’s Electoral College slate had to be submitted by registered mail. New York had sent its certificates by express mail.
“So what?” screamed Democrats.
“Hey,” Republicans calmly replied, “rules are rules. Read section 11.”
How was the error discovered? “Well, there are six certificates, and the same section specifies where they are to be sent. One of them goes to the president of the senate.”
“And he happens to be a Republican.”
“Who probably never even knew how the certificate had been mailed.”
“Apparently—not entirely confirmed at this point—it was one of his staffers who remembered.”
“And apparently didn’t say anything at the time.”
“Also not confirmed, but apparently, yes. Maybe he didn’t know this detail in section 11. Maybe he didn’t think it mattered, since the parcel was received on time and otherwise in good order.”
“Okay, this is picky, but isn’t the whole thing picky? Do we know for sure that all six New York certificates were mailed the wrong way?”
“That apparently is what held up the announcement. The answer seems to be ‘yes.’”
By evening of the same day, this whisper from a dark corner had become the strategy of the party and the talk of the nation. Democrats were powerless, thanks to the vice president’s majority-bestowing vote in the Senate.
It took another day—countdown Day 10—for the experts to notice that this didn’t break the logjam, it just added another one. “The compromise on offer—you allow our Republican slate from Florida, we’ll allow your Democratic one from New York—is no compromise at all. Why? Because it hands the election to the Republican.”
“And if that were to happen, the president will have achieved an upset that I dare say no one, no one, believed possible.”
* * *
Russ informed Natasha that the rocket was away and it was time for stage one to be separated, as it had consumed its fuel. “Durok,” she muttered and contacted him to ask, “What in fuck does this mean?”
“Speaking of ‘fuck,’” he replied, “how about one last meeting?”
“You have already last meeting, so fuck yourself. This is American expression, yes?”
They met on a bench in the park and he explained in euphemisms that were more clear that he believed it was time to betray Chip and Dirk to the FBI.
“Stage two is ignited?” she asked with a slight grin. He nodded, and she nodded consent, but added, “You are certain stage one has ‘consumed its fuel?’”
He nodded again. “The best contribution it can make now is to fall away with a bang. Stage one believes it is the only stage. Maybe spectators think so too.”
He sent an anonymous tip to the FBI that the pair were planning “an act of terrorism on American soil.” He gave the town where they lived and said they were apparently armed with automatic weapons.
He also said he had reason to suspect they were ‘just teenagers,’ but believed the threat of ‘imminent harm’ was real.
* * *
Two men in suits and well-polished black shoes entered the Vigo County Public Library in Terre Haute, asked for the head librarian, and showed their FBI identification. They asked a lot of questions about the computers, including who had access to them, whether there was any sign-in procedure, whether usage was restricted in any way...
“Well, for example, is usage restricted to library business, or can people use them for any purpose?”
The librarian showed them the library’s written policy on computer usage, and showed them where it clearly said computers could not be used for any illegal purpose.
“So, say I wanted to talk to my friends on social media, I could do that?”
“We don’t encourage that, we hope people will use... As you can see, there’s a lot of demand for our computers. People use them to search our catalogs, yes, but they also do homework, research various topics, and so on. So we hope people won’t be just chatting with friends, but...”
“You don’t stop them.”
“How could we?”
One of the agents scanned the room and said, “I notice you don’t have any security cameras in your public access area.”
“So anybody could come in here.”
“It is a public library.”
“And so pretty much anybody could come in here and do whatever they want.”
“Not at all. This is a library. People come here to access our services. Other than that, why would anybody come?”
“So you’ve never seen anyone come here who, you know, looks like they’re not on library business.”
The librarian hesitated. “Of course, we get the occasional homeless person. Some with a mental problem...” She fell silent and shrugged.
“But not enough so you would want a security person on the premises.”
She shook her head. “I would be very sorry if we ever had to go there.”
“May I ask if you were on duty during the period between Christmas and New Years?”
She thought briefly. “Yes, sure. The library closes for the holidays, but otherwise... Yeah, I was here.”
“Anybody come in here during that period... They would have used a computer, possibly for quite a while. Anybody catch your eye for any reason? Maybe something just didn’t feel right to you?”
“Well, again, if someone were to create some kind of disturbance... Otherwise...”
“Obviously, you see a lot of people come and go here. You see how they’re dressed, how they behave. Did you happen to notice anyone who seemed out of place? Maybe someone who looked like they were lost in a library, uncomfortable somehow.”
“I wish I could help you, but no. I mean, people come and go all the time. Unless they come to us for assistance, or there’s some sort of problem, we would have no reason to recall any particular individual. Maybe if you had a photo...”
“Thank you for your time.”
“I wish I could have been helpful.”
“Thank you. We’d like to talk to your staff.”
But after questioning everyone, including the custodian, they left with no information.
* * *
It being Sunday, Bob followed his resolution and went to church instead of to work, even though things were tense with Jillian. There seemed to be an unspoken truce between them, which held for the duration. On the way home, though, she responded to the minister’s prayer, specifically where he prayed that “judgment would run down as waters and see the president reinstalled where he belonged.”
“So tell me what’s going on in Congress is good for the country.”
“It is, because it will re-elect the president. And if the Democrats broke the rules, then they broke the rules.”
“Oh come on. Because they mailed their vote a different way?”
“Hey, Jillian, I didn’t write the rules.”
“But it’s meaningless.”
“How do you know? It’s got to be there for a reason.” She sighed and shook her head. “Besides, the president doesn’t have anything to do with this. So why...?”
“Of course he has something to do with this. This entire mess... Inauguration’s in a week and a half and no one knows who won the election? That’s entirely his fault.”
“Oh, really? His fault the vote was rigged?”
“Come on, Bob, you know better than that. I get it, you think he’s good for the country...”
“So do you. At least you used to.”
She let that pass and tried to lower her voice. “Bob. Win at any cost? Don’t you get to a point where democracy itself is at stake?”
“Yeah, you do. That’s what we’re trying to prevent.”
“No. Look at him, listen to him. He’s not saving our democracy, he’s destroying it.”
“Maybe he didn’t start that way. I didn’t think so, anyway. But he’s doing it now.”
“How? How, Jill? Come on, where did my wife go? What’s gotten into you?”
“I think I just got to the point where I couldn’t stomach it any more. I couldn’t keep looking away, making excuses for him. He corrupts everything he touches.”
Bob shook his head, in disbelief, in sadness.
“What you’re doing right now,” said Jillian quietly, “I could do the same. That’s where we are right now. This is what that man has done to us.”
“You don’t think you might be putting your thing on him?”
“Like I said, he corrupts everything he touches.”
“Including me, you mean.”
She sighed. “You want to know where your wife went. I want to know where my husband went. The man I married doesn’t trade punches at a peaceful demonstration. He doesn’t justify breaking one law after another, vilifying anyone who dares criticize, demeaning people, sometimes in ways that sound a lot like racism. Tell me it doesn’t make your skin crawl when that man tries to pretend he’s a believer. Tell me, I’m waiting. Or is there simply no limit to the outrage?”
He didn’t hesitate. “You keep putting me down because I actually fought for my beliefs. You don’t know what happened. You weren’t there. But somehow you get to... So, one, get off my back about that. I’m proud of what I did, proud of the guys I stood with, and I’d do it again. And yes,” he continued before she could speak, “I will tell my son that. I’ll tell him don’t be an idiot and get involved in something stupid and illegal, but by all means stand up for your beliefs.”
He paused for breath, but when she started to speak, he cut her off. “And something else you should pay attention to. Democracy, liberty, these don’t always come easy, and sometimes it’s not pretty. You want me to admit the president is deeply flawed, okay, I admit it. But he’s all I got. Who else is standing up for our way of life? Candy-ass Republicans?”
“Can I speak now?” She waited till he nodded. “Maybe we could just focus on one thing you said. Could you please tell me how anyone who really cares about democracy and liberty could look at what’s happened to our country and honestly believe that the president is making things better? Isn’t it clear by now... Every day, another scandal, another tirade, another twisting of the Constitution...”
“You’ve got it exactly backwards.”
“Another outrage, every day.”
“Okay, when you look at this president, you don’t see a man who despises the word of God? You see a man who loves the Gospel and tries to live by it?”
“He’s a sinner, like the rest of us.”
“Has he ever confessed a sin?”
“That’s between him and Jesus.”
“Does he sound like a man who ever confessed a sin? Does he ever apologize for the terrible things he does?”
“What terrible things does he do? Call out liberals for their hypocrisy?”
She stared, as if she were trying to recognize him, and her hands went limp. Her whole body seemed to go limp. He waited for her to speak, but she just stared. She didn’t even shake her head. She didn’t cry. But a sadness of despair took hold of her, and he saw it. It stiffened him, made him all the angrier, and that too she saw. “Do you realize your fists are clenched?”
He unclenched them, but said nothing.
“You mentioned seeing the minister. Maybe we could do that?”
“And ask him to resolve a political dispute?”
“I think we both know that’s not the only thing going on.”
“Maybe you should go see him. I’m not the one who... who broke our marriage vows.”
“I vowed to love and cherish you.”
“Oh, is that what you were doing with this guy?”
“I’m trying to save our marriage, Bob,” she said very quietly.
“No, Jillian, you’re not. Maybe you think you are. What you’re trying to do is make me betray the one guy who stands up for people like me.”
“He uses people like you, Bob. He’s using you.”
He shook his head in disbelief. “How did you get so twisted around?”
* * *
With Chip in federal detention, the house was empty, and they used that opportunity to stop speaking to each other. Jillian still prepared Sunday dinner and later supper, but she let Bob eat first. He slept on the couch and left for work in the morning without breakfast.
He stopped for coffee and an egg-muffin along the way, and confessed to Eric as he ate it that Jillian and he had had ‘a big blow-up’ and weren’t talking to each other.
“Actually it wasn’t that. Well, it sort of was, because that’s still lurking around the house, but, no, it was about that thing we got into last Sunday.”
“That was part of it. The rest was the president. I got to say, this thing kind of crept up on me, but somehow my wife has turned against the president. You heard Whitcomb yesterday, the whole congregation supports him, but not her.”
“Well, not exactly,” said Eric and then, catching Bob’s look of astonishment, quickly added, “Not me, I’m still with you 100%.” He started bouncing his head from side to side.
“But Karen is kind of with Jillian on this one. She’s not happy with his blind support of the president. That’s her phrase, not mine. And according to her, she’s not the only one in the congregation.”
“You believe that?”
“You know, at this point I don’t know what to believe.”
During lunch, Bob excused himself to make a call.
“Sure, go ahead.”
He didn’t call Jillian, though, he called Mary Beth. He started by saying she probably knew why he was calling, because she’d probably just gotten off the phone with Jillian.
“Actually, no, I haven’t heard from her. Are you guys...? I mean, I know...”
He brought her up to date and asked frankly if maybe she could help him understand why Jillian was so unhappy. Then he quickly added, “I know she’s upset with me, and I’m not blaming her for that. She’s right, I haven’t been there for her, and I’ve been trying to fix that, but I admit I... I still have work to do. I admit that. But still. She should be able to see I’m trying. So...” He trailed off, and silence possessed the phone.
When she replied, she gently suggested that maybe his call should be with Jillian, not her.
“I know that. I just thought maybe... I know you two are close, so anything you could say would, you know, help me understand.”
“Well,” she began gingerly, “you know it hasn’t been easy for her. She keeps the house, waits on tables—which is exhausting, you know—and has to face—has had to face—a very angry teenage son, every day. Not much of a life.”
“I’m not sure that’s it. I mean, she has to know I’m not exactly sitting on my rear end all day.”
“She does,” said Mary Beth quickly. “She always tells me how hard you work.” Here she hesitated. “But, you know, Bob, she also knows that you’re out with the guys all the time, that you’re happy with your work, maybe happy to be getting away from home, given the tensions there...”
“Well, that’s not true. She knows I hate it, I’ve told her that.”
“Look, I’m not about to step into the middle of something...”
“Of course, no, I understand. And I don’t want you to. I’m just looking for some guidance.”
“And I’m just providing some. But I’m not sure you’re hearing it.” There was an edge to her voice at the end, as if she expected him to take offense, but he surprised her.
“All I’m saying,” he said quietly, “is that I think there’s more to it than that. I don’t think she went to that retreat because I like my work.”
“Well, that’s true.”
“She told me she went because she felt ‘needy,’ that was her word.” He paused there before adding, “Look, Mary Beth, I know about Richard. We’re still working on that, but... Frankly, the way she describes him, it’s not like he’s some young hunk who seduced her. So something’s going on.”
Here, she did run short on patience. “And what part of what I’m telling you don’t you get, Bob? She’s home alone, she works hard, she hasn’t got much of a life, and every day she’s confronted with a son who seems to hate her.” He tried to interrupt, but she continued. “And I’ll tell you frankly, she feels like she’s carrying more than half the weight.” When there was no reply, she continued. “Plus—again, I’m just saying, but you asked—she feels like she’s not getting through to you.”
“About Chip, you mean.”
“About Chip, but not just that. Look, when your wife sleeps with another guy, and it’s not the whoopy, you got to know something’s going on.”
Bob gulped and muttered, “She told me she didn’t sleep with him. She was pretty emphatic about that.”
“I thought you said... Oh boy, now I put my foot in it.”
“You know for a fact that...”
“I’m not saying another word on that subject. I’m not positive you didn’t just trick me.”
“Trick you? How?”
“Never mind. Anything you want to know, talk to your wife.”
“I will. But are you telling me this huge fight we just had about the president was really about, you know, the other thing?”
Mary Beth paused to catch her breath, lower her voice. “You know, the president’s been troubling her for some time. Well, since the election is when I started noticing. And it’s been growing. She’s pretty upset with him.”
“And she knows that you’re not. She’s told me that. So that doesn’t exactly help, does it?” Silence. “Look, the truth is that I probably agree more with you than her on this subject, but she sees him tearing the country apart because he won’t accept that he lost the election. And I’ll tell you, the more we talk, the more I think she’s got a point. I’m pretty confused myself about now.”
* * *
Jillian had started to call Mary Beth, but didn’t complete the call. She tried again after a cigarette and a stiff drink, same thing. She called Richard.
“You sound surprised to hear from me.”
“I thought you wanted to break it off. But,” he quickly added, “I’m very glad you called.”
She told him she wanted to meet again at the motel.
He was shocked by her directness. “You sound upset. Are you okay? Jillian?”
She had hesitated. “No, I don’t think I’m okay.” She said she needed to be with him right away. She asked if he could be there in an hour.
She heard his hesitation. “Are you with your wife? That’s okay, that’s good. I don’t want to... Bob says I put my thing on other people. I don’t want my wrecked marriage to wreck yours.”
“Jillian, did something happen?”
She sighed and sort of sobbed. “I just... I just need you now. Do you want to see me? You can do whatever you want with me.”
“We had this big fight yesterday—not the first one. You know what’s crazy? We actually had a fight about whether it’s okay to change a national election because some doofus mailed a letter one way instead of another. Now we find out the mistake was caught in time and it was re-sent the way it was supposed to. And somehow there goes my marriage.”
He said he agreed with her. He said she had opened his eyes. He said he loved her, and she started sobbing. He said he would be at the motel in an hour.