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.
* * *
Natasha reported to her superior at the consulate that the Lighthouse Project had entered its final phase.
“Excellent. Timing is impeccable. All has so far gone according to plan?”
He told her that she had done a splendid job and could expect a major promotion. “You may look pleased, if you wish.”
She had been carefully maintaining a military attitude. “Thank you, colonel,” she replied smartly, then smiled.
“Have no concerns about the likelihood of success. I believe I may have indicated this before.”
“Yes, colonel.” Military again.
“In a sense, one might say that it will be a success, no matter what the specific outcome. Do you understand what I mean?”
“I believe so, yes, colonel.”
“It could, on its own terms, fail to achieve its purpose. Yet that very outcome would be a success of sorts, because it would give confidence to our adversaries. That very confidence would enhance the likelihood of success of other projects that might exist. In that sense, the more confidence incorrectly assumed, the more an apparent failure becomes in reality a greater success.”
“I see what you mean, colonel. I am proud to have been selected to play a role, however modest.”
“Ah, do not be so modest. Your work has been exemplary, in a field that is not easy. Be assured that when you reach Moscow, my highest commendation will already have arrived.”
“Thank you, colonel.”
“On a personal note, allow me to say that I shall miss our interactions.” With that he handed her her airline tickets. “You will be on Russian soil in time to avoid capture. Good luck, Agent Karlovna. Or if you will allow me to address you this once by your first name, good luck, Svetlana.” Smiling affectionately, he held out his hand, and she shook it abruptly, not allowing herself to be too familiar.
As she turned to leave, for the first time he allowed himself the pleasure of contemplating her beautiful form, and the grace with which she carried it.
* * *
“Before we touch down, Peaches,” said Russ, “is there anything else you’d care to tell me about my failures as a husband, step-father, and financial provider?”
“Well, let me think, Honeybun, I sure don’t want to leave anything out.”
“You haven’t accused me of having an affair.”
“Are you having an affair?”
“No, but that shouldn’t stop you from accusing me.”
“Well, I do wonder about some of those late nights at the office.”
“Let’s fight about it now. Because once we touch down, I’d like to start this wonderful mini-vacation that I’ve been planning for so long. You are going to be one happy Texas gal, I can promise you that. Wait till you see what I’ve got planned.”
“I can hardly wait.”
When Emmy entered the luxurious lobby of the hotel on South Michigan in the heart of downtown Chicago, she immediately got into the spirit of the occasion. “Okay?” he asked as she looked around.
At the registration desk, he insisted on a room with a view of the lake. “I promised the little lady and, trust me, we do not want to disappoint her.”
“I do not believe that will be a problem,” said the receptionist, scanning his computer.
“I know it won’t be,” said Russ, turning to wink at Emmy.
“Here we go.” He pounded on the keyboard, scanned the credit card, and put two keycards on the counter.
“Oh. Would you mind making one more?” He leaned in to say, “I always manage to lose one. You wouldn’t want me to have to admit that to my wife, would you?”
“No problem, sir. Anything else I can get you at this time? Then you two have a wonderful day.”
“Oh, we will, we will.”
When they entered the room, Emmy went straight to the window. “They seem to be constructing a stage across the street.”
“Really?” He joined her at the window to see a small army of workers putting on the final touches.
“Bunting and everything. Any idea what that’s for? I mean the park is pretty and all, but an outdoor concert in January—with that wind?”
“Just our luck. I think I heard something about it, and then just put it out of my mind. Well, we wanted a view of the lake, so we’ll just look past this little nonsense.”
“Why, what is it?”
“It’s the frigging president-elect—and vice president-elect.” In a mocking voice, he added, “Well, if the president gets to have rallies, then we do too.” Then in his normal voice he said, “They’re scared shitless. They thought they could steal the election, now they’re desperate because it looks like this is the only stage they’re gonna get to stand on.”
“It might be kind of fun. When is it?”
“Tomorrow I think. Don’t worry, we don’t have to sit here and listen to it.” He turned to peck her cheek. “I’ve got big plans for you, darling. You are going to be doing some serious shopping—in some very high-end shops. They say this is the place to be.” He started to nuzzle her neck, but she chose this moment to cross the room and check the liquor supply.
“Care for a high-ball?”
“I like the way you think, Peaches. I’ll fetch some ice. By the way, this is the place where Obama held his rally on election night. Grant Park. Obviously they’re hoping some of that magic will rub off—maybe some of his skin color.”
He grabbed the ice bucket, but stopped at the door to say, “I get it, though. Chicago, Democrat stronghold. Large boisterous crowd, lots of flags flapping in the wind...”
“Well, you’re my Honeybun for thinking of this, and we won’t let a silly thing like that get in the way of our fun.” She felt guilty for pushing him away.
“Now that’s the spirit. Fancy hotel, fancy shops, and get ready for some fancy restaurants. Because nothing is too good for my Peaches.”
“Then I guess I’d better get ready.” She walked close to him and turned around. “Be a dear and unzip me.”
* * *
“I feel naked without my hat,” said Tim. “You too?” Connor nodded. With only carry-on, they walked as quickly as possible through O’Hare’s long corridors till they reached their hotel shuttle. They hadn’t exchanged another word.
After they checked in, Tim asked the receptionist, “How far would you say the lake is?”
“From here? Afraid I couldn’t tell you.”
“Could we walk?”
She tried and failed to suppress a smile. “No sir. It’s a pretty good drive.”
Turning to Connor, he quipped, “Guess you messed up, brother.”
In the room they dropped their bags and checked the amenities. Connor sent a text message with a single word: ‘Arrived.’ Tim turned on the television. “Already?”
“We’ve got hours to kill. The less we go out, the better, right?”
* * *
When Russ and Emmy returned to their room that evening, she put her arms around his neck and pulled him to the bed. “Thank you,” she whispered. “This is wonderful.”
“It ain’t over yet,” he said, reaching to push off her shoes.
“Seems so,” she cooed as his hand came up between her legs.
Afterward she said, “Well you were quite the stallion tonight, Honeybun,” and pulled him into an encore kiss.
When he was adjusting the taps to take a shower, he whispered, “Thank you, Natasha. Could not have done it without you.”
After she’d had her turn in the shower, he proposed a night-cap, and she beamed. “We need to do this more often.”
He went out for ice, but before filling the bucket he carefully placed a key-card behind the ice machine.
* * *
Kaylee had no trouble finding a part-time job. One of the local pub-restaurants was looking for an extra waitress for Friday and Saturday evenings, they closed at nine, the tips were decent, and she told them she had waitressed in high school when she helped out her mom at the luncheonette. Plus, Roy met her at closing time to drive her home.
Yet she couldn’t decide whether she was overjoyed, bereft, or merely content with what had happened to her brother. Roy tried to tamp down the first, console the second, and was relieved by the third, but from one moment to the next, he never knew what mode they’d be in.
Saturday night was all of two days since Chip had surrendered, not enough time for charges to be brought and therefore too soon to know what to expect or hope. This, Roy explained, carefully, patiently, and he encouraged her to talk to her parents. Sometimes she heard, sometimes she didn’t. She did call her parents and learned that they had retained a lawyer. They wouldn’t tell her how much of a retainer he had required, only that ‘for now’ they had put it on the credit card. She could feel the tension. She didn’t mention her job.
When she hung up, she cried. Roy proposed that they attend evangelical services on campus in the morning, and to his relief she agreed immediately.
After services, a student handed out leaflets. Seeing that it announced a chartered bus leaving campus the next day for a rally in Chicago for the Democratic presidential contenders, Kaylee scrutinized her. “Didn’t I see you earlier at the service?”
The girl smiled. “You’re surprised to find an evangelical opposed to what the president is doing. You might be more surprised to learn that I’m not alone.”
“Yeah, I know what a shocker that can be. It wasn’t that long ago, I was standing where you are now. But the Word has a way of bringing forth the truth. We believe that we are commanded by the Gospel to walk in the path of justice and righteousness, and this president is nowhere near that path. What do you think?”
Kaylee was so unprepared for the question that she actually stammered.
“That’s okay,” she said easily. “For us evangelicals, it can be a journey. But if you truly open your heart to the message of Jesus, you might be surprised what He tells you.”
“But... to support a candidate who believes in abortion?”
“Yeah, I get that. So, first of all, they won the election. The Republicans might undo it—it looks like they will—but they can’t change that fact. But, okay, the abortion thing. It’s complicated, I know, but we need to ask ourselves some tough questions about whether all abortions are murder and what we really mean when we say life begins at conception.”
“Depends what we mean. Do we really mean ‘life’ or ‘a life?’ If we mean ‘life,’ what was there the moment before conception, ‘non-life?’ Hard to look at the process and believe that. And if we mean ‘a life,’ a person, it’s not obvious that a fertilized egg is a person. It can become a person. But so can an unfertilized egg. Isn’t it more accurate to say that life is eternal? And isn’t that in fact what we Christians believe?”
“Am I freaking you out? I know this can be...”
“No, no. Well, actually, yes. I mean this is a lot to, you know...”
“Well, if you like, we’ll have six hours on the bus tomorrow, we could talk about it. Do you think you might sign up?”
Kaylee looked at the sheet and saw there was contact information. She asked the deadline. The girl said, if there was a place left, she could walk on at the last minute, but she wasn’t sure how many places were left. “If you want to come... Well, it was nice meeting you. I’m Alison by the way.”
“Hope I see you tomorrow, Kaylee. Nice talking to you. And by the way, we’re not going there to be cheerleaders. We’re going to listen.”
* * *
As Kaylee turned away, Roy took her hand. “Well, that was something.”
They continued in silence until he asked, “What did you make of all that?”
“That’s what I was going to ask you.” He didn’t answer and there was more silence, until she said, “It’s funny,” and then stopped.
“She reminds me of Joanne. Joanne was like that. We were so different—I mean we came from different worlds. But when she talked about things, she had a way... She just made so much sense. Which was so strange, you know? I don’t know about you, but we were not encouraged to look beyond our faith. And our faith was pretty much what we were taught.”
“I’d say that’s true for me too. If I said I’ve worked through much of this stuff, I’d be lying. I mean, all that about abortion...”
“Yeah, for sure. It always seemed so clear. Now...” More silence, then, “Oh, man.”
“Yes?” he asked, smiling.
“It’s just... You know Joanne said that the president was a sinister force? She said, even if you agreed with his policies, you had to admit he was encouraging us to hate each other. Well, that was definitely not what people were saying where I come from.”
“Again, me too.”
“Although, my mom... She’s not the kind to speak out, but I know she’s troubled by him.”
“What about you?”
She hesitated long before replying. “I have to admit, I think I’ve been ducking it. If you ask me, I say I’m confused, I’m not sure... The fact is, I pretty much know in my heart.”
“I think I need to confess something. I don’t know what’s in my heart. I haven’t had the courage to look.”
“I don’t believe that.”
“It’s true. I’ve been trying to keep my head down, not think too much about, you know, the big stuff.”
“Would I, if I hadn’t met Joanne?”
He took his time reflecting on that. “I’m sorry I didn’t get to meet her.”
“Me too. You would have liked her.” Suddenly she gave him a sly smile. “Maybe you would have liked her too much.”
“No fear of that. But she does sound cool.”
“That’s it. We all want to be cool. She really was. And then, the very hate she was warning about, killed her.” She started to cry. “I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be. Don’t apologize for grieving. She meant a lot to you.”
They walked, still hand in hand, for quite a while in silence, a comfortable silence, until Kaylee said, “I honestly think the Lord is guiding my life. My meeting Joanne was a miracle.” He looked at her. “Seriously. If we had just been in the same class or something, you know, we might have been friendly, but... But no, she comes to me as my roommate. We talk half the night. And then you...”
“Seriously. Think about how we met. Another miracle. Now my best friend is you.” She choked up.
He turned to hug her, and they embraced a long time. When they had started walking again, Kaylee said that going to that rally would be a way to honor Joanne’s memory. She watched him as he watched her. She nodded. “I’m gonna do it. I know she would be there. I’ll go in her place. No, that’s wrong. I’m going in my own place. That’s how to honor her memory.”
* * *
Connor and Tim left their hotel without breakfast and took the train to the Loop. Arriving far too soon, they had breakfast and wandered aimlessly to kill time.
Russ and Emmy left their room to go out for breakfast, followed by more shopping. On their way through the lobby, they saw Secret Service agents and federal marshals beginning the work of screening the building.
At a specified time, the brothers found their way to the alley behind Russ’s hotel. There were dumpsters there. They looked behind each one till they found two gym bags. They walked quickly out of the alley and then, separating, casually along the sidewalk.
Heads down, each entered the hotel through the main front entrance and crossed to the elevators. From there they diverted to the stairwell. They exited at a certain floor and together found the ice machine, where they retrieved the key-card.
Wearing plastic gloves, they entered the room and immediately opened the bags to assemble the rifles.
It was an old hotel that had been completely refurbished, but this room still had regular double-hung windows. With a bit of trouble they got it open, at least enough for their purposes.
Across the street was a raised runway, with a podium at the front and leading to a transverse stage in the rear. The runway was surrounded by large crowds, and they could hear the expectant noises. There were bulletproof glass walls surrounding the podium on three sides.
They moved a chair out of the way so they could move the desk to the window. “How did Russ know to pick this hotel?” asked Tim to relieve the tension.
“Obviously he wanted the one closest the stage.”
“What I’m asking is, how did he know where the stage would be?”
“How do I know? Does he share those kinds of details? He knows, he found out. He’s DEA. Obviously they have access to that kind of intelligence.”
They placed their rifles on stands and looked through the telescopic sights, adjusting settings. “See the glass shields?” asked Connor.
“Yeah, don’t matter. We’ll have plenty of time. I figure they’ll take their time coming down. Wave to the crowds, blow kisses... They might even stop a few times.”
“I think so. So, to run through it one more time. As soon as they appear, you’re ready. Wait for my shot, then fire at will. Got it?”
“I take out the president-elect. Yours is the VP-E.”
“Roger that, brother. I reckon, when your shot goes off, hit or miss, I see my target crouching, not running.”
“I agree. And if my first shot misses, he goes into a crouch, that just makes the next shots easier.”
“Also, look at it. Unless the Secret Service comes down with him...”
“Which I seriously doubt they will.”
“Me too. That means we have several seconds to make good.”
“Once the Secret Service is over them, we’re done, for better or worse. Right? Disassemble, pack the bags, move the furniture back, shut the window, leave here as calmly as we came.”
“Down the same stairs, stay calm, exit right through the main door, hop in a cab, we’re out of here.”
“And keep your head down.”
“And keep your face neutral.”
One nodded, the other nodded, suddenly there was an awkward silence, till Tim said, “We don’t think about it, we just get her done.”
“Roger. Plenty of time to think later.”
There was more silence, until Connor, looking at his watch yet again, said, “Shouldn’t be long now.”
They were at their rifle sights when the door was smashed open and a stun grenade went off. Before they could recover from their initial disorientation, the SWAT team was at them and they were pushed to the floor.
* * *
The shopkeeper was wrapping an expensive handbag. Emmy was ready with her credit card. The clock on the wall showed the same time as Connor’s watch, the last time he checked. The shopkeeper was all business, Emmy was all anticipation of her latest purchase, Russ was contemplating what this shopping spree was costing him.
When the now-smiling pair stepped outside, men approached from the front and sides and restrained both of them. They were quickly separated and pushed against the shop window to be handcuffed and checked for weapons.
Emmy, in a state of shock, was passive. Russ, knowing resistance would only make things worse, was also passive. Neither of them made a peep.
The proprietor was incredulous, but before he could react, the pair had been ushered into separate waiting vehicles and driven away.
* * *
Those who were first-timers at a campaign rally found it odd that, at the appointed time, neither of the headliners appeared on stage. Those who were experienced didn’t find this odd at all. They found it odd that no one was onstage. No one to warm up the crowd. No one to proclaim triumphantly, “Ladies and gentlemen, the president of the United States!” Text messages began to appear, soon to multiply, all the same: ‘WTF?’
Predictably, the area was swarming with reporters, and their text messages soon escalated to posts. Posts that were shared and shared again and shared again. So the rumors started quickly and spread quickly.
One said there were multiple SWAT vehicles parked adjacent to the hotel right across the street from the podium. ‘SOP’ was the explanation, but some, soon many, began to wonder if it really was ‘standard operating procedure.’
Another said that SWAT teams were spotted entering the hotel through back doors. That couldn’t be ‘SOP,’ could it?
Then someone claimed to have seen SWAT operatives coming down with two captives, not only in handcuffs, but leg chains.
Then someone claimed to know that an entire floor of the hotel had been temporarily closed, even to those with rooms on that floor.
Then someone claimed to have heard a loud crash, maybe on that closed floor, which could have been the sound of a door being smashed. Soon it probably was. Soon it definitely was.
Then someone claimed to have reliably heard that the P-E and VP-E were being sequestered in two armored vehicles, surrounded by a ‘phalanx’ of Secret Service agents with drawn pistols.
Approximately everyone in the crowd was busily working their screen when someone finally appeared onstage and quickly moved to the podium. “Ladies and gentlemen, I am obviously not the person you came here today to hear. If I could have your attention... I have a brief statement to read. First I want to make absolutely clear about what I am about to say that at no time was anyone in this crowd in any danger, nor are they now. I repeat, there is no danger. Please remain calm and stay where you are. Please. Again, there is no danger.”
By this point, of course, everyone was nervous, if not frightened, a reaction obvious to the man at the microphone. “I have been cleared to read the following brief statement: ‘At approximately 11:55 this morning—about a half hour ago—law enforcement officials arrested four individuals and immediately took them into custody. There is evidence to suggest that they were conspiring to assassinate the president-elect of the United States and the vice president-elect of the United States.’” Immediately, of course, such a cry went up that even with a powerful sound system, he could not be heard. He put up a hand to call for calm. Eventually the crowd did settle down, if for no other reason than to learn more about what happened.
He repeated his last sentence and continued. “‘Both had been made aware of the potential threat and were safely sequestered, free from the possibility of harm, until all conspirators had been arrested and detained.’” Looking up he said, “The two people you came here today to see will stand before you in just a moment or two. I want to repeat that at no time was anyone in this crowd in danger, nor is anyone in danger now. The threat has been contained. And now, ladies and gentleman, please welcome to the podium the mayor of Chicago, who will introduce today’s speakers. Thank you.”
No one listened to the mayor. Everyone was furiously texting or talking or posting. The entire army of reporters moved off to file stories or talk live. Even television crews previously trained on the podium turned to people in the crowd, who lined up to express how shocked and upset they were.
From Grant Park to the rest of the world, minutes, if not seconds. Only one person in the world knew that Kaylee was in that crowd.