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.
* * *
After the press conference, the speculation by media pundits continued where it had been interrupted. The president had said that the election was rigged, but rather than contest the whole thing or even demand that the entire election be held again, he was just going to challenge the results in selected states. These were states where he had lost the vote by a small margin. Question number one was then: Which states?
“We’ll be coming out with that.”
“How big a margin is small? What does ‘rigged’ mean? Does it just mean you lost your re-election bid?”
“That’s a terrible question to ask me.”
“There were serious incidents suggesting systematic voter suppression in inner-city districts in a couple of states. Are those places you’re looking at?” The president glared. “I take that as a ‘no.’ Is that because it would skew the results toward Republicans?”
Another reporter noted that in Florida the votes had not yet been completely tallied, due to problems arising from aging equipment in certain districts, and asked if he was looking at that. When the president turned for another question, she asked if he wasn’t investigating because most if not all the affected districts were Democratic strongholds.
In studios and online, a consensus emerged that it was likely to be the usual ‘battleground’ states: Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, plus New Hampshire, though it had only four Electoral College votes—and yes, Florida, which the president kept mentioning, despite how the vote tallies seemed likely to skew.
But would he stop there? “In Minnesota, the margin was not much wider than in Florida—and once the vote tally is completed there, probably not wider at all.”
Florida seemed to really rankle the president. “In 2016 he won there by 113,000 votes. Now, with 98% of votes tallied, he’s trailing by all of 5,000 votes. The fact that the remaining 2% would almost certainly favor the Democrats doesn’t seem to affect him.”
“I agree, he seems focused on the narrow margin. He’s also upset about Pennsylvania, where his narrow win in 2016 has slipped to a narrow loss. Both times, a margin of less than 1%.”
“In Minnesota, he cut his 2016 loss of 45,000 votes by more than half. It seems out of reach, but who knows how far the president will go?”
On the other hand, all the news outlets were repeatedly noting, with their red and blue maps of America, that theoretically—theoretically—it was definitely possible to swing the election the other way.
“Currently the president has 229 Electoral College votes. He needs 270 to win. There are a bunch of scenarios to find 41 more—theoretically.”
“Well, in the simplest case, he has to reverse the results in two states, Florida and Pennsylvania. That sweeps him past 270 to 278. But if he fails to turn one of those, he needs at least three states, and the possibilities multiply. And if he fails to win both of them, then winning Michigan, Wisconsin, New Hampshire, and Minnesota would get him to 269—one tantalizing vote shy.”
“But, as you say, this is all theoretical.”
“Absolutely. Meanwhile the president has lost the popular vote nationally by some four million votes.”
Everyone was asking: How was he going to accomplish the seemingly impossible? Florida, with its razor-thin margin and Republican control—and its controversial history in the 2000 presidential election—was conceivable. After that... Everyone displayed two Electoral College maps, one claimed by the Democrats, based on the reported vote tallies, one by the Republicans, based on the president’s claim that the vote was rigged.
* * *
Since their appearance on national television, when they appealed to the authorities to capture their daughter’s killer, Joanne’s mother had been in a state of collapse. Her father responded differently to all the media companies that had installed themselves on his front lawn. After failing to persuade her to eat some breakfast, he silently ate hers in the kitchen, cleaned up, and returned upstairs.
“I’m going to go outside, Ellen.” She shook her head in despair. “That’s why I have to go. We can’t give in to despair. But I want your approval.” He waited as her face worked, and eventually there was a slight nod. “That’s my girl. Do you want to stand beside me? You don’t have to speak.” When her face showed terror, he told her not to worry and kissed her hand. “You rest.”
On the stairs he collected his thoughts, then opened the front door and strode outside and waited for the startled reporters to stick their microphones in his face. After answering invasive questions as patiently as he could, he said that whoever had murdered their daughter was a coward and a maniac. There he paused to retain control of himself, breathing deeply. When he continued, he spoke directly to the murderer. “You are either insane or stupid. We’ll know which when you’re caught, which I hope and trust will be soon, before another family is destroyed.” Suddenly he stopped to take another slow breath, and when he started again he again addressed those standing before him. “These people are vicious and pathetic. My wife and I have received death threats. Social media posts, emails...” He shook his head. “No, I will not repeat them.”
There was a flurry of shouted questions; he ignored them. He seemed to be gathering himself again. “You know where I am, you pathetic cowards. You like to strut around in your camo, with guns and knives strapped to your body. You think that makes you tough? You think that makes you a patriot? You don’t love this country, you hate it. You hate it. You killed my daughter. For what? Was she that much of a threat?” He fought back tears. His chest was heaving.
He managed to impose a very brief silence on the reporters, before one asked, “Do you believe the president when he sends his condolences?”
“Don’t be ridiculous.”
“Do you blame him for your daughter’s death?”
“You’re damn right I do. But of course nothing will happen to him.”
* * *
Chip was bragging in school that the murdered girl was his sister’s college roommate. It didn’t boost his popularity. No one was impressed; most were grossed out. One guy—too big to fight—said, “If I believed that, I’d figure you for the killer.”
“Matter of fact, if I’d had the chance, I would have cooled her. The bitch deserved to go down. It’s time we took this country back.”
“Dude, you are such a freak.” Then, to no one in particular: “What a loser.”
Chip was used to this and had a face prepared to meet scorn with scorn.
“She really your sister’s roommate?” asked Dirk. Dirk was his friend. Dirk was about his only friend. “Sweet.”
“We need to do something about the election.”
“The one that just ended, you mean?”
“I mean to help the president overturn the rigged vote.”
“You’re going to help the president.”
“No, we are.”
“That’s what I just asked you.”
“Okay, let me think. I got it! First we steal an atom bomb. Not a big one, one of those little dirty ones, you know, that you can wear in a backpack. Then we go down to the mall...”
“You don’t think I’m serious, do you? Just because you’re a year older?”
As Dirk told his brother, none of his friends could understand why he let Chip hang around. That, he said, was because none of them had discovered the pleasure of having someone follow you around who thought whatever you said or did was super-cool. “Besides, I kind of like him. He’s a tough little shit. He’s not like us. You should see, his whole house would fit in our living room. The evangelical thing is kind of interesting, too. They’ve got a word for it, I forget what it is, but basically he’s on the shit list.”
Dirk confided to Chip that he’d been contacted online. “Wait till you see, this is some serious shit, I mean these dudes don’t fuck around.”
“It’s sixth period.”
“My mom’s home?”
“Mine isn’t,” said Chip. “Even if she was, who gives a shit? ‘Sorry, I missed the Day of the Rope because my mom was home?’ I don’t think so.”
They ducked out of school and went to the mall in Dirk’s vintage Jeep Wrangler, where they shoplifted electronics and outran the security guard, then went to Dirk’s house to go online. He logged in to the same secure chatroom he had shown Chip, and on which Chip had been active, and they both posted the most inflammatory comments they could think of about the election. Then Dirk asked how serious he was about ‘doing something.’
He said he was ‘fucking dead serious.’
“Really? Because I can put you into something, but not if you’re all talk. Are you willing to put it on the line?” Chip was briefly scared, looking at Dirk’s eyes, but he nodded. “Sure? Because if you nod again, there’s no going back.” Chip was scared again and hesitated, but nodded. Dirk then went to a room he didn’t know about and introduced him to the conspirators.
* * *
In view of recent developments, the Democratic president-elect decided to make a brief statement. He said the American people would not allow a disgruntled incumbent to steal a second term by subverting the most highly cherished expression of democracy, which was to vote. “No one,” he piously intoned, “is above the law.”
“I wouldn’t have gone with that,” said a campaign aide. “It hasn’t worked before. Why would it work now?”
“How about it’s the truth?”
“That’s cute. Have another drink.”
She caught the bartender’s eye and pointed to her glass. When she’d had a sip, she said, “It won’t go anywhere.”
“The president’s bullshit.”
“You’ve been telling me that ever since we first had sex.”
“This is too big. Even for him. Steal a presidential election?”
“‘George Bush, 2000, Florida, Supreme Court hands him the election five to four’ mean anything to you?”
She shook her head. “Even if he can overturn Florida, there’s too much more. Trust me, never happen. You know what? I think you need another drink.”
“We’ve been saying that for four years.”
“Come on. Overturn a hundred or two hundred thousand votes in multiple states? Even the president can’t do that.”
“What if he does?”
* * *
“If you could see your way to the amount previously discussed... Yes, sir... Yes, sir... The PAC was set up several months ago... The Campaign for Election Integrity, that’s correct... Thanks, Terry, that would be excellent, the president will express his gratitude personally.”
As soon as he hung up he shouted for his secretary to tell her he’d just bagged ‘ten mil’ and she should put him through to the president. He managed to keep a straight face until she left, before his smile broke out and his fist shot up. Then he composed himself to pick up the phone. It was a brief call and his secretary reappeared when it was over. “Yes? You seem to want to ask me something.”
“It’s not really my business.”
“But you’d like to ask it anyway,” he said with a smile. What his face showed was, ‘But you’re going to ask it anyway, and since you have such a great ass, I’ll answer it.’
“Sir, if I may ask, were you surprised by the president’s announcement? That he was contesting the vote?”
“Do you want to know who was surprised? There’s a guy in Topeka who just came out of a four-year coma and he’s shocked. Come on, the president’s been talking about how the whole election system is rigged since the last election. He was seriously pissed that he lost the popular vote, to a major bitch, by three million votes, and now he’s lost to this joker by four million.”
She nodded seriously.
“You’re allowed to smile. Especially since we both know you’re not surprised either. Don’t give me that ‘I didn’t know a thing’ look, you work in the West Wing for the president’s campaign manager. Plus, you know damn well I’ve been positioning donors for just this purpose for weeks. The PAC was created for just this purpose. And you know we went into high gear first thing the morning after, soon as the president woke up and gave the go-ahead. We’re talking major ad buys. Legal is lining up key law firms as we speak. I handle the largest potential donors so we can pay the bastards.”
“It’s just... The scale of it.”
“You think he gives a shit about the scale? One state, ten states, the whole friggin’ country, what difference does it make? The man who couldn’t lose lost. Not gonna happen. End of story.”
* * *
Chip didn’t show up for supper. While Jillian washed the supper dishes, Bob went upstairs to check the national weather maps. He checked for storms and extreme weather events anywhere in the country, a daily routine he performed almost automatically. Again, nothing interesting turned up. He called his partner. “See anything? I got nothing.”
“I guess the big storm this week isn’t the weather.”
“You can say that again. All right, buddy, see you in the morning.”
He returned to the kitchen, where Jillian was almost done cleaning up. “Nothing, can you believe it?”
“It’s just a matter of time, you know that. Be happy there wasn’t some major storm on election day.”
“Might have been better if there was. Watch TV?”
“Go ahead. I’ll be in in a few.”
“Still, we could use the money.”
Jillian nodded. “Bob? You know you’re gonna have to do something about Chip.”
“I know.” He heaved a big sigh. “The question is what. How many times have I talked to him already? You’ve talked to him. The minister’s talked to him, the vice principal, the guidance counselor... We’ve grounded him... We’ve lost patience and yelled—at least I have. I’ll admit it, Jill, I’m not sure I know what to do. We pray for him... You just hope he finds his way back to his faith.”
“I’m not sure we can just hope anymore.”
“If you have any ideas, be sure to let me know.”
She nodded again.
“You know what. You’re gonna have to do something. I can’t... Never mind, we’ll talk about it some other time. You’ve had a long day. Go, I’ll be right in.”
He turned on the TV and Fox came up as he settled into his chair. They were discussing a statement released earlier by a self-described ‘patriot’ group that took credit for Joanne’s murder.
There was a clip of an FBI spokesperson saying that they were taking it seriously and had opened an investigation, though they had reason to doubt its authenticity.
There was a clip of the president talking to reporters on the south lawn. “We don’t know who did it. It could have been anybody. There’s plenty of blame to go around. Look, the Democrats have been whipping up hatred against me since the day I got elected—the first time, I mean, not this time. The so-called impeachment, what the hell was that? Give me a break. It was a witch-hunt, and people are angry. They’re right to be angry.”
Jillian quietly joined him.
“He’s right, you know. I hate to say it, but they brought it on themselves. ‘Can a man take fire in his breast and not be burned?’ What, you don’t agree?”
“They killed someone, Bob. They murdered an innocent girl.”
“Well, we don’t know, do we? Maybe you’re right, it was just some nutcase. But until we find out...”
“Well, that’s where the FBI comes in, right?”
“That’s why I’m saying, let’s not... Let’s not dismiss this till we know...”
“You don’t think the president ordered a hit, do you?”
“Of course not, Bob. But suppose it was that patriot group?”
He kept talking, she stopped. Eventually they returned to the TV.
When her phone rang, she glanced at the caller ID and hastily left the room. In fact, she went up to the bathroom and closed the door before answering. “Hello?” she said feebly.
“Hello. It’s Richard, Jillian.”
“I know who it is.”
“How are you?” he asked sheepishly.
“I’m fine, how are you?” She didn’t know what else to say.
There was a pause. “I was thinking you’re probably following the news just like I am. I... I couldn’t stop thinking about you. I...”
“Stop right there. Don’t say another word.” He stopped and she stopped and there was a long awkward pause. “Are you still there?”
“You told me to stop.” He added a little chuckle to try to lighten the mood.
“How did you get my number?”
“Well, let me think. Could it be because you gave it to me?”
Suddenly she remembered. It shook her. “I should not have done that.”
“I’m glad you did, Jillian.”
“You should not be calling me. Do you hear? My husband’s downstairs.”
“I’m sorry. I’ve wanted to call you so many times. Hear your voice.”
“No. No. You don’t get to say that.”
“It’s how I feel.”
“You’re lonely, I get that. Lots of people are lonely.”
“Are you lonely, Jillian?”
“And you don’t get to ask me that. Just because... That was wrong. We sinned. I’ve asked for forgiveness. Have you?”
“I know it was wrong, you being married. Me being married. But I still can’t accept that it was a sin.”
“Wait, I said that backwards. I know it was a sin, of course it was a sin. But somehow it didn’t feel wrong.”
“It was a terrible moment of weakness is what it was. Best to let it be and move on. You hear me? Let it be.”
“I don’t think I can do that, Jillian. I’ve missed you so much.”
“Don’t call this number again, you hear?” She disconnected before giving him a chance to reply.
* * *
“Connor, I think we’ve got our last man. I just found him, a kid in Indiana. He’s young—only eighteen—but he sounds good.”
“Eighteen works, so long as he takes orders.”
“He sounded to me like he’s desperate to take orders, you know what I mean? One of those ‘nobody gets me’ type of kid. Desperate to belong. I think we can use him.”
“We can use him. You want to bust my balls? I’m telling you the kid’s for real.”
“Tell me about him.”
“He’s a friend of Dirk’s.”
“Dirk’s our youngest recruit. You sure about this?”
Tim didn’t hesitate. “He’s got a presence online, I checked him out. He’s making the right noises. Actually I’d have to say I’m kind of impressed. He’s got his head straight when it comes to defending freedom.”
“Did you talk to him?”
“Naturally. I pushed him some, he answered good.”
Tim nodded energetically. “I’ll say. Of course he was showing off, wants to tell me everything he knows—but he knows. Handguns, rifles, ammo... Seems his father’s big on self-defense, he grew up around firearms.”
“He knows semi-auto?”
He nodded again. They were walking along the fence and would pause to gaze across their land, checking the herd. In the distance were three men on horses, and it was easy to tell which were the hired hands, which was their father. “He’s something, huh?”
“Dad? You betcha. Don’t make them like that anymore.”
It was a large ranch, the fence-line receding in the distance till it disappeared.
“Any hint he’s an FBI plant?”
“I doubt it, seeing as how young he is. But of course we test him before we show him anything.” Suddenly Tim sensed the hesitation. “What the fuck, have I let you down before? So back off.”
Connor didn’t react. There’d always been this tension between them. But now it wasn’t just two brothers squabbling, he had a mission to complete, and he couldn’t afford to go easy on his brother, just because he was his brother. “Did you set up a meet?”
He shook his head with some pique. “Of course not. Got more online shit to get through. First I work him online, flush him out if he’s running some game. But I’m telling you, I got a good feeling about the little prick.”
They continued in silence. The school-bus arrived and they waved to their kids as they got off and headed for their respective houses. Suddenly Connor turned. “Damn, brother, we’re gonna do this. Good on you for assembling the team.”
“None too soon, neither.”
“Well, we’re gonna have to hustle. How soon can you...?”
“This evening, after work.”
“Good. Assuming it goes like you think, we’ll report tonight, okay? What?”
“I think you might have just smiled. Just a little.”
Connor threw his head back and snorted, which was as close to laughing as he got. “This election cannot stand, and someone’s got to do something about it. If we don’t fight now, we’re finished.”
Tim nodded. Connor was always the talker, which was why he was team leader. He could say what they all felt about federal abuse of power, government oppression. When he got going, he could rile up a crowd. He’d seen it. His brother up there, railing against federalism, about how all three branches of power had been combined into one, with no one accountable to the citizens. “They are not under the power of recall,” he’d said. “They have violated the letter and intent of the Constitution. We’re not the terrorists, we’re the ones who’ve been terrorized, who’ve been threatened with their livelihoods lost.” He remembered how he said, “Are you prepared to put a stop to a faraway government telling law-abiding citizens what they can and cannot do with what’s rightfully theirs?” “Now you’re smiling,” said Connor. Tim nodded, but remained silent. “It’s okay to say it,” he urged.
“We’re really gonna do it. How long have we been working this thing? Now, finally...”
“Thanks to Russky. Without him, we’re just a couple of ranchers. Farm boys,” he added with a touch of false self-deprecation.
“Yeah, right. Be funny if he was a Russian agent, right?”
“Well, I don’t feature calling him that to his face anytime soon.”
That evening, Tim said Chip had checked out, and Connor immediately reported to Russell via secure email on the dark web. “Base 1 has ID-ed final member. Young but eager. T reports online & verbal check out. Request auth for direct meet, initiation. PS. Meet Midwest. Funds req’d.”
“Good work, base 1. Time short, must move. $$ arriving overnight, initiate ASAP & report.”
“Roger that. Will leave tomorrow. Instructions?”
“As per usual. Good to go?”
“Good to go.”
“Fly the flag.”
“Fly the flag.”
Connor turned to Tim. “That’s it, we’re on. Set it up with our boy—and make sure Dirk’s there, I want to see them together. By the way, make sure he didn’t lie about his age.”
“I’m on it. When do you wanna meet?”
“Soon as I get there. Hot damn, I’m going to Indiana.”