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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“OMG!!! Assassination attempt P-E, VP-E!!! OK but... Chip??? OMG.”
When Roy got that message, he was in the briefing room at the FBI office in Terre Haute. Agent Rivera was interrogating Chip, while Dirk was being questioned by the agent who had accompanied Rivera to the police station to take the two into custody.
The special agent in charge was informing the Chicago office that it appeared the two knew nothing beyond what had already been divulged. “The anonymous denunciation traced back to Suspect R, now in custody, is still considered authentic. The supposition still holds that he did not know we already had the two in custody.”
When he hung up, Roy was in his doorway to say, “Sir, I’ve just received a text from Suspect K, who you recall is at the scene. You recall, she was on the bus that departed the ISU campus...” The special agent was nodding. “Permission to reply, sir?”
“You know the drill. You’re still under cover, reply as appropriate.”
“Yes, sir. Thank you, sir.” He returned to the briefing room and typed, “Sure Chip OK. Will meet U at bus.” When he hit ‘send,’ he discovered the special agent watching him.
“My advice, Agent Milgram, next time you go under with a suspect, don’t get sweet on her.” He broke into a smile and used it to draw in the others.
“No fear of that, boss,” shouted one of them, “because he’s gonna marry this one!” They all laughed, including Roy.
“By the look of things, you’re almost done,” continued the special agent to Roy. “In fact, you’ll have to climb out soon, because they’ll need your deposition. So,” he added, with another of those side smiles, “if the lady in question will still have you after you help convict her brother, you’re good to go.”
* * *
Anyone, anywhere in the world, turning to the news at any time, would probably be hearing or reading about the attempted assassination. The fact that little was publicly known was not a deterrent. There were so many angles.
In the US mainly, a second story competed with the first, but drew much less attention than it would have, had it arrived at another time. This was the announcement by the FBI that it had detained a person of interest in the murders of two undergraduate women at Indiana State University.
“Sources close to the investigation have revealed that there was a recent breakthrough in an investigation that had been stalled for lack of leads. It was learned that the second student murdered in Terre Haute had been a leader of a small campus protest against the president shortly before she was murdered. The political connection with the first victim, a Democratic campaign volunteer, was obvious. It was also consistent with the perpetrator’s so-called manifesto. Finally it did not go unnoticed that both victims were attractive young women.”
When Roy had been seeing Kaylee off on the bus to Chicago, he was actually one of many undercover operatives from the FBI and the Terre Haute police, who were covertly monitoring the area in hopes that the perpetrator might be looking for a third victim.
“Come on, Kaylee, you don’t want to be late.”
“Late? Look how much time we have.”
“Well, if you want to sit next to Alison...”
When they arrived, Alison was almost the only one there. “Hey, Kaylee, I’m so glad you decided to join us.”
“I’m kind of representing a friend who can’t be here today.”
“Well, I’m going on my own too.” She made that vague, somewhat embarrassed gesture with her head. “This is a first for me.”
“Even more cool. Don’t worry, you’re among friends.”
Meanwhile Roy was surreptitiously scanning the area, spotting other undercover operatives. He also noted the snipers on rooftops.
“Officials decline to confirm whether the ‘person of interest’ is a suspect in the case. It is believed, however, that the person was detained in the area, shortly after the departure of the bus.”
Roy had not been the one who first spotted a solitary male who fit the profile, but he got the alert. After the bus left, he was not one of those who detained him, but he had helped close in as he departed the scene with a casual gait.
He’d been close enough to hear Bruce ask if he was under arrest.
“No, sir, but we’re hoping you might be able to help us with an investigation. Would you be willing to come to the office to answer some questions? We’d sure appreciate it.”
“Sure, why not,” replied Bruce. “Anything to help the FBI, right?”
“I need to ask if you are carrying any weapons.” Bruce shook his head. “Do you mind if we check?” He shrugged.
He was directed to a nearby car, which promptly drove away. Roy followed in one of the other cars. “Am I crazy, or was he actually smiling as he got into the car?”
* * *
Mainly in the US again, a third story competed with the first, and this of course was the continuation of what was being called the “constitutional crisis” in Congress.
“Congressional leaders are deadlocked.”
“This makes the 2000 Bush-Gore dispute look like Little League.”
“We have not seen anything like this since 1876.”
“The founders thought they fixed the Electoral College after the highly contentious Jefferson-John Adams election of 1800 with the Twelfth Amendment. Not so much.”
“It is very hard to see a way forward. Even if this goes to court, what legal basis will they find for a decision that will satisfy the voters?”
“As with the challenge to New York’s Electoral College slate, what began as a whisper campaign is now booming from microphones all over Capitol Hill today. The subject? To create a special election commission to resolve the dispute.”
“A special election commission has been tried only once in our history: 1876. How well it worked then is debatable—and some legal scholars have questioned its legality. Certainly there is no provision for it in constitutional law.”
“Is it worth noting that the party that expected to win in the 1876 commission ended up losing, due to an unforeseen last-minute development?”
“Despite concerns about the effectiveness and even legality of a special election commission, it is quickly emerging as the way—possibly the only way—to break the logjam.”
“It may be worth noting that in 1876 the special election commission took six weeks, with inauguration at that time not till March. Obviously we don’t have six weeks. We don’t even have two.”
“I have to say, it’s not obvious where the legal support for a special electoral commission would be found. The rules in 3 USC section 15 would seem to preclude it. That’s not to say—as some have noted—that Congress couldn’t repeal or revise the section—but with inauguration a matter of days away, where is the time to get it all done?”
“The question that must be raised at this point is this: Is there sufficient support for any solution? Even if there were sufficient time or will—and both are in very short supply—do we have super-majority, which means bi-partisan, support for any proposal? And would it be supported by a super-majority of Americans?”
By the next day, this was heard everywhere: “No one wants to talk about a special election commission anymore. The American people have spoken, Congress has spoken, the candidates have spoken. The decision seems to be unanimous: ‘No way!’”
“In all likelihood the Supreme Court is relieved, because if such a commission had run aground—and, given the stakes, it would seem all but guaranteed that the loser would appeal to the court—the court would have been in an impossible position.”
“Not only would the Supreme Court have had an all-but-impossible task, it would have had approximately no time to deliberate.”
“The Supreme Court should not be too relieved yet, because right now I dare anyone to tell me any other place this thing can go, except to the court.”
“I think it’s fair to say we would have seen an appeal to the court days if not weeks ago, except that both parties are terrified of the uncertainty.”
* * *
When Kaylee came off the bus and saw Roy, she burst into tears before noticing that he looked ready to do the same. She ran to him, and he held her tightly. “What is happening to this country?” she sobbed.
Eventually she felt somehow that something was wrong and pulled back. “What?”
Immediately he forced his face to neutral and said he had some good news. “Joanne’s killer has been caught.”
He nodded. “He was picked up this morning and he confessed. He’s been arrested.”
“Wow.” She looked stunned. “You saw that in the news? I guess we were all so caught up with what happened in Chicago—on the bus, I mean... Funny no one mentioned it.”
“It hasn’t made the news yet.”
“Then how do you know? I don’t get it.” She saw his face change back to miserable.
“There’s something I have to tell you, Kaylee. Before I do, though, I want you to know that I love you. I really do. I love you, Kaylee.”
“Okay, now you’re really freaking me out.”
“I work for the FBI.” He paused. “I’m not a special ed student. I work under cover.” He paused. “You were under surveillance when we met, it wasn’t by chance. I’d been following you.” He paused. “But I want you to know... Please please know... that my feelings for you are real.”
Her head shook slightly. “How could you be an FBI agent?”
“I haven’t been there long. You have to be 23. But that’s what I do.”
“Come on,” she said, starting to cry again, “if this is something about my brother, just tell me, okay?”
“Chip had already been under surveillance. Dirk too. And the others, the ones who attempted the assassinations. Chip was never going to be one of them, by the way, they used him—Dirk and him—as fall guys. The day after they surrendered, they were deliberately betrayed. So, by the way, it’s really lucky he came in when he did.”
“Roy,” she mumbled miserably.
“You showed up on our radar when you hacked into his encrypted chatroom. We couldn’t be sure what you were up to...”
She broke away and started walking in a circle, eyes wide with disbelief, staring at the ground, shaking her head. When she was near him again, she turned and started to ask a question, but didn’t speak.
Roy steeled himself and said, “Chip will be arraigned, probably tomorrow. That’s when he’ll be charged and enter a plea. There’s going to be a trial, and I’ll probably have to be part of that, and we can’t see each other till it’s over.” He expected her to scream or hit him or storm off in rage, but the way she looked, he wasn’t sure how much she was understanding. “I’m going to pray every day that when this is over, that we can be together. I don’t know if you feel about me the way I feel about you. I’m just going to pray that you’ll see me again, when this is over.”
“After you help convict my brother.”
He shook his hard forcefully. “That’s the thing. My testimony could help him. I can swear to the things he told me, and what you told me. I knew he wasn’t a killer when I met him. He’s very angry and very mixed up—and a little stupid, frankly—but he’s not a killer. But if we’re having a personal relationship, you and I, my testimony would lose credibility.”
“So you’re doing all this for me.”
He couldn’t tell how she meant that. “I know this is... Everything I’m saying is honest, though.”
“Honest? All this time I’ve been...”
“A suspect,” he offered. “But we knew right away you weren’t a co-conspirator.”
She put a hand to her forehead. Tried to look at him, but couldn’t. He waited. “Oh, Lord.”
“You suggested I go to the FBI. You took me there.”
He put up his hands in despair and whispered, “I couldn’t say anything.”
“Did I help?”
He nodded. “You helped yourself. And Chip.”
“But that meeting. You arranged it.” He nodded. “They pretended not to know you.”
Kaylee let Roy walk her to her dormitory. They walked in silence, until she said she’d been re-running conversations, to see where he was playing her. “Like right away coming out with that business about your mother.”
“It was true, every word.”
“You brought it up like right away. You knew it would make me like you.”
“That’s exactly right, I wanted you to like me.”
“So you could play me.”
“No, because I liked you.”
“How do I know that?”
He sighed. “It goes with my job, Kaylee. I hide the fact that I’m under cover. Normally it’s not an issue. Normally you don’t fall for the person you’re marking. We both know I didn’t go to that chapel because of my mother—but I wasn’t faking grief, I was contacting it.” When she didn’t argue, he quietly added, “I wish to God I hadn’t met you this way, but I thank God I met you.” He thought deeply and confessed. “You’re right, I laid it on. But that changed.”
“In about five minutes.”
“I swear it. I could see right away you weren’t a terrorist. And then, when we went for coffee? That was me being incredibly attracted to you. Yes, I still had to do my investigation, I had to report back... I had two things running in my head side by side.”
“How did you keep them apart?”
He paused to consider his reply. “I hate the way we met. But that doesn’t change the fact that you’re amazing. I am so glad I found you. And I am so scared that I could lose you.” She started to cry. “I’m gonna fight for you, Kaylee. I’m not letting this fall apart, just because of the weird way it came together.”
* * *
Bob and Jillian ate supper together without speaking. Fox News covered the silence. After supper, he continued with Fox News in the living room as usual. After she finished the dishes, she joined him, as she had used to do. He reacted only slightly to her unexpected appearance. They sat side by side.
The commentators were saying they didn’t often get to agree with the ‘lame-stream’ media, but this time they agreed that this was ‘one of the most crowded news cycles in memory.’ The latest story was the revelation that, behind the scenes, Senate Democrats were trying to persuade several supposedly weak Republican votes to switch their support to the Democratic Florida slate. This information was received from numerous reliable sources. Less reliable, but likely, were claims that they were offering numerous blandishments, such as ‘plum’ committee appointments.
“You see?” said Bob.
As the discussion continued, with denunciations of Democrats, he kept shaking his head. “You see?” he repeated.
“What do I see?”
“How despicable the Democrats are. I mean what kind of...”
“If the tables were turned, you don’t think the Republicans would be doing the same thing?”
“Oh, so you’re a Democrat now?”
Her chest heaved, but she held her temper. “I wonder, if you changed the channel, if we wouldn’t find out that the Republicans are trying to flip Democrats right now.”
“Why do you keep saying ‘the Republicans,’ instead of ‘we?’”
“Because I don’t recognize the Republican Party anymore. Do you want to change the channel and see if we’re getting the whole story?”
“What we’re getting is the truth. I change the channel, we get a bunch of fake news.”
“Have you listened to it?”
“I’ve started to, yes.”
They faced the television. Each could feel the other’s chest heaving.
When there was a break for commercials, she turned down the volume and said she had slept with Richard.
Still facing the television he eventually replied that he knew, that Mary Beth had told him.
“She called me, after. She told you about the retreat. I slept with him yesterday. At a motel.”
He made a fist and pressed it against his mouth. She felt him breathe heavily. They were both still facing the television. She started to cry quietly.
“It wasn’t what I want, Bob.” She sobbed more loudly. “Our marriage is falling apart, can’t you see that?”
“And you propose to fix it how? By jumping in bed with another guy?”
“We need help. I need help. I see my life falling apart, and I don’t know what to do.” After more sobs, she said, “I could go to the minister. Would you come with me?”
“You want me to listen while you confess adultery to him?”
“I’m confessing to you too.”
“So why do I have to be there?”
“That’s what I’m hoping you’ll think about.”
“You want me to recognize that it’s my fault you fucked another guy.”
“I’m hoping you’ll see that I can’t fix this by myself.”
“Is that why I’m finding empty liquor bottles in the trash?”
She gulped. “Do I count how many beers you drink every night? I’m depressed, okay? Maybe you should ask yourself why.”
“Oh. So it’s not only my fault that my wife is screwing some guy in a cheap motel, it’s also my fault that she’s becoming an alcoholic. Anything else you want to add to the list?”
He turned the volume back up and tried to watch, but soon they were arguing again.
They were still arguing when a sudden change in tone at Fox caught their attention. They stopped and turned to the screen, trying to figure out what had happened. Soon the anchor said, “If you’re just joining us, apparently there has been a second assassination attempt against the two Democratic candidates. This comes only a day after the first attempt.”
They watched till bedtime, watching the facts unfold (“This is what we know so far”), barely speaking. At one point Jillian said, “Do you notice how they’re calling them ‘candidates’ again? Like the election hasn’t happened yet.”
“So the election was over two months ago. Inauguration’s in eight days.”
* * *
Breakfast was a repeat of last night’s supper, eaten in silence, listening to Fox. By morning the basic facts were being reported. Two Russians, with links to the FSB, the Russian spy agency, had flown into the country a few days earlier and somehow got hired as waiters for an event where the guests of honor were the vice president, the president-elect, and the vice president-elect. Somehow they got themselves assigned to serve the latter two. They were each carrying a vial of polonium, a radioactive substance which was lethal, if ingested. They were caught in the act of attempting to administer the poison to both victims.
The event was the first ‘summit’ of the newly created “Forum on United States-Africa Cooperation,” sponsored by the 55-member African Union. Its impetus was that there had been no such ‘forum’ and no such ‘summit,’ whereas there was a “Forum on China-Africa Cooperation,” and there had been three summits, most recently in 2018. It was held at a prominent hotel in Washington DC.
Why the president was not a guest of honor was an early and prominent question. The answer, it turned out, was that he had declined the invitation, saying his vice president would represent him. He changed his mind when he saw how much attention it was getting, and that his electoral opponent was receiving a lot of praise. The day before the event, he tweeted that he would be there. The seating was hastily reconfigured and a second high table was situated at the opposite end of the hall from the first.
Also reported, by all news outlets, were the president’s tweets.
The president had tweeted almost all night long and was still tweeting the next day. An early one said: “Whole so-called assassination plot TOTAL HOAX staged by Democrat agents. No proof, no poison, nothing. SHAMELESS DEMS trying and totally failing to prove Russia link to deny them election victory. Desperate to steal election from American people. FBI must expose hoax!”
A later tweet said there was evidence of ‘links’ between the waiters and a PAC secretly funded by the Democratic National Committee, but by morning he was claiming that in fact he had been the intended victim.
“Hm,” said Jillian, “how could it be a Democratic hoax against themselves and also a real attempt to assassinate the president?”
“Obviously it’s not both.”
“Which do you think it is, Bob?”
“When the president finds out, we’ll find out.”
“In the meantime,” she said coolly, “have a nice day.” She started clearing the dishes, and he left for work.
After he left, her chest was heaving. She started to pour herself a drink, but managed to put it away and make do with a cigarette. When she was done, she returned inside and turned up the volume. It was on at the luncheonette too.
She heard the president stick to his claim that he was the intended victim, despite being contradicted by dozens of eyewitnesses. These included guests and hotel staff, dozens of them, as many as reporters questioned, who were unanimous in their testimony. They all said they had watched Secret Service agents suddenly surround two waiters behind the president-elect and vice president-elect, restrain them, search them, and quickly escort them from the hall. No one saw or heard anything happen around the president.
When asked about this, he didn’t reply. Instead he pointed out that the Secret Service escorted him to a safe location as well as the others. He also kept harping on the poison used. If the Democrats were the target, he retorted, and inauguration was a week away, why use a poison that takes three weeks to kill? They could have used a nerve agent that caused death in minutes.
She was confused by this, so when she returned home she switched to a different network. Then she learned that there were many reasons, not least that that would make it all but impossible for the agents to escape. With polonium, they could be back home before symptoms appeared. It was also pointed out that the president’s argument about the poison worked as much against him as his opponents.
She also heard an argument which made much more sense to her than the president’s contradictory claims. Medical experts noted that, using polonium, poison symptoms would appear shortly before inauguration, death shortly after. This led political pundits to point out that, had the plot succeeded, “every American would know that, within a matter of days after inauguration, under the constitutional rule of succession, the acting president—for practically the entire term—would be the Speaker of the House.”
“You mean the very person who’s spearheading the attempt to promote Florida’s Democratic slate.”
“Tell me this would not have added weight to the Republican argument that their slate be admitted. Meanwhile, the Democrats would have been inaugurated, making it harder to prove that the plot was an attempt to help the president.”
She made a point of leaving the television on loudly when Bob got home.
Greg made a point of leaving everything off, if Ellen might overhear or see it. He was increasingly disturbed by her state of mind. Her symptoms were returning.
By bedtime, the president’s pronouncements had become increasingly wild. Bob’s channel said he was stressed by the attempt against his life. Jillian’s and Greg’s channels said he was upset about all the sympathetic attention focused on the Democrats.
He loudly declared that inauguration should be canceled and he would remain in office. He threatened to go to the Supreme Court to confirm this, unless the ‘fraudulent election’ was overturned. “Everybody knows I won the election,” he declared. He demanded that the Florida Republican slate be immediately admitted.
Asked about the fact that, under the Constitution, inauguration could not be canceled and he could not simply remain in office, he replied, “The Constitution says I’m the president. If I need the Supreme Court to say so, I’ll go to the court.”