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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“I’ll try to be there as soon as I can,” said Greg quietly into his phone, “but frankly I’m not sure I can make it in today... Yeah, she’s not doing great. I was hoping that, when Joanne’s killer was caught, she would, you know, get some closure. I think she was hoping so, too, but... It’s hard, you know? The news keeps reporting how he’s gloating over what a hero he is. They quote from his manifesto, just really horrible stuff... Yeah, it’s not at all like what we imagined... Yeah, thanks, I really appreciate that. So, listen, I hate to leave you stranded like this... That’s kind of you... Thanks, I’ll be sure to tell her...”
He disconnected and stared at nothing.
After a deep breath, he went upstairs to the bedroom. He entered quietly to see if she was asleep. He thought she was—she was so still—but her eyes were wide open. He kissed the top of her head and asked if she’d like a little light. “It’s so dark in here.” She let him open the curtains a bit, but it was a gray day in January, so the room didn’t brighten very much. When he opened the curtain wider, though, she stopped him, and he moved it back.
He sat on the edge of the bed and tried to catch her eye. “I know this is hard, Ellen, it’s hard on me too. At least they caught him. Justice will be done. And he won’t be able to hurt anyone else.” He looked for a response, but found none. Then she turned to him.
“That man is proud that he murdered our daughter.”
“Don’t let that... He’s all twisted inside. He’s filled with hate.”
“He calls himself a freedom fighter.”
Greg was disconsolate. “You shouldn’t be reading this.”
“He had pictures of our daughter on his wall.”
“Ellen, why torment yourself?”
“I can’t help it. This is what we’ve become. You can’t avoid it, Greg.”
“This is not what we’ve become. I will not allow people like him to represent us. Remember when we spoke to all those good people in Indianapolis?”
“Bring it back. We have to hold onto the positive. I need you to do that, Ellen. Please don’t...” He fell silent, seeing that, if anything, his words upset her even more.
“Have you heard the president?”
“Oh, Ellen. I wish you’d let me take your phone away. The last thing you need now is to...”
“He’s the president, Greg. Millions of people voted for him.”
“They voted for him, they didn’t tell him to seize the White House if he lost.”
“They’re cheering him on.”
“Many are. The more outrageous he acts, the more they like it.”
“They are a minority, Ellen.”
“A large minority.”
He sighed, almost struggled to breathe. “Why don’t you come downstairs for a little breakfast. I’ll make your eggs, just the way you like them.”
She didn’t reply, then said she wasn’t hungry.
“You haven’t eaten.” He watched her. “What do you say?”
“I could put on some music you like. Hm? We could watch a movie. What’s that movie you liked so much?” He waited. “What do you say?”
She looked at him and made an effort. “Okay.”
“That’s my girl,” he said cheerily. When he reached to help her out of bed, she waved him away. Still, to see how weak she was on her feet tore him up inside.
* * *
“First, they’re not minors. Second, they didn’t surrender voluntarily. Third, two were caught in the act, while the third was an accessory before the fact. Fourth, from reports, they’re not cooperating. Fifth, based on how much we know the FBI has on you, they’ve got a mountain of inculpating evidence against them, including phone calls, emails, travel records, you name it—not to mention the weapons. And sixth, they’re a flight risk. Did I count right? So trust me, no magistrate this side of anywhere is going to grant them bail. You, on the other hand...”
That was how Chip’s lawyer assured him, and his parents, that he could go home without worrying that one of the conspirators might come after him for having cooperated with the investigation. “To put it another way,” he added for good measure, “I doubt the judge would agree to protective custody, given the expense to the public and no credible fear of harm. Okay?”
They were in a small meeting room near the courtroom in Federal District Court, Terre Haute. There were two guards outside the door.
“Come home, Chip,” said Jillian.
“I agree,” said Bob. “What’s the point of having a lawyer if we don’t take his advice, right?”
“Plus,” added the lawyer, “I’ll let you know the second I hear about their bail. Plus, by the way, they may not plead ‘guilty.’ That’s a factor too.”
“Maybe,” said Chip, turning to his parents, “but it’s still a lot of money. You okay with that?”
“It’s not going to cost them a penny,” said the lawyer quickly, looking at them. “Know why? Because you’re not going to skip bail.”
“Not a nickel. Other than the bondsman’s fee, which is, compared with bail...”
“Don’t worry about it, son,” said Bob.
“Just come home,” said Jillian.
When the time came, there was a knock on the door, and one of the guards nodded to the lawyer.
“Keep your chin up,” said Bob. “We’re right behind you.”
“Actually, it works to our favor if he looks contrite. No arrogance in there, right? Just like we said. ‘Respect, remorse, reform.’ Got it?”
Kaylee was waiting in the hallway. When the door opened, she was startled to her feet. “Hey, sis,” called Chip quietly.
“Hey.” She was seeing him for the first time since before his arrest.
“Do I look so different?”
“I’m sorry. I’m just a little...”
“Scared?” He shrugged, managed a little smile, and let the lawyer nudge him toward the courtroom. Behind him, Jillian put her arm around her and whispered, “He’s doing well.”
* * *
“Well,” said the lawyer to Chip’s family as they closed in on him as soon as the hearing had concluded, “given what the magistrate could have imposed, I’d say our first day in court went very well.”
“But trying him as an adult...”
“Not to worry. The US attorney clearly wants to be seen coming in hard.”
“But he’s sixteen,” continued Kaylee.
“One who’s implicated in a conspiracy to assassinate the next president of the United States—and vice president. That said, it remains to be seen how committed he is. Especially when he sees how cooperative Chip could be with the case against the others. Does he really want to throw the book at a boy, or is this his way to pressure us into full cooperation?”
“Which Chip is already doing,” said Bob.
“He wants to keep some cards he can play. Don’t worry, we have cards to play too.”
They all looked somber.
“Folks, stop worrying. This was a good day for us. Your son is free, take him home. Okay? Go home and let me talk to the reporters.” As they turned to leave, he said, “No one says a word to anyone, got it?”
During the short drive to drop Kaylee off at the campus, she put a hand on Chip’s shoulder and looked into his eyes. She nodded, squeezed his shoulder, rubbed it a little. He made a face neither of them could decipher.
On the way home, no one spoke. It was awkward. Normally he would have something blaring in his ears and wouldn’t notice or care, but this time he expected some kind of verbal exchange. He watched each of them from behind. Both of them kept their eyes on the road, sitting stiffly. “Okay, this is weird,” he said finally. “Unless you’re waiting till we get home.”
“I’m not waiting for anything,” said Bob.
“We’re glad you’re home is all,” said Jillian.
“Really, you’re going with that? One thing I think we can all agree, you’re not glad when I’m home.”
No one spoke. Chip waited, then threw up his hands, and leaned back into the seat. After a while, Bob turned on Fox News.
In the house, Chip sat at the kitchen table, plainly expecting that ‘verbal exchange.’ Unable to think of anything else to do, his parents sat down too, and when the silence started to build, Chip said, “How about that poison thing last night?” Hearing nothing, he said, “It’s weird to think that I was involved in something like that—or thought I was involved.” Still hearing nothing, he said, “And the president talking crazy, what’s up with that? What happens if there’s no inauguration? Hey, speaking of weird, do I have to go to school tomorrow?”
Jillian said, “We haven’t talked about it, but offhand I don’t see why you shouldn’t go to school.”
Bob said, “If the election isn’t decided by inauguration, then the vice president serves as ‘acting’ president.”
“Which vice president?”
“The current one.”
“For how long?”
“Till the election is decided. They say there’s no limit. They say, if this election is never decided, or gets bogged down in the courts, he could serve the entire term.”
He nodded. “That’s what they say. It’s in the Constitution.”
“How come your voice is so weird?”
“How is it weird?”
“I don’t know. Kind of flat. I guess you’re pretty pissed at me, huh?”
“You could say that.”
“You too, mom, right?”
“I guess I just can’t imagine how you could have gotten mixed up in something like this.”
“Actually, it wasn’t very hard.”
She forced herself to look at him, yet control her voice. “Really? Assassination wasn’t very hard?”
He looked down and said, “That part turned out to be hard. That’s why I turned myself in.”
Bob asked if he knew about the poison plot. Chip looked shocked. “Of course not. That was like... Russian agents with radioactive poison? Are you kidding?”
“It’s just a coincidence then? The Russians try to assassinate American heads of state one day after you guys?”
“Dad, trust me, I never heard a word about that. And there was a lot of shit online.”
“Trust you? Did you just say I should trust you?” He looked at Jillian briefly before turning away.
She said, “Maybe we should, you know... It’s been a long day.”
No one moved or looked at anyone else. They sat in silence, until Chip said, “So, if the vice president becomes the president... So, what’s to stop the current president from simply refusing to leave? Everybody knows he totally controls the vice president, so he could just...”
When Bob didn’t reply, Jillian said she’d been hearing about this too. “Everyone’s wondering what’ll happen. Would the court step in? Would the military get involved? How will people react?”
“Wow, this is some wacko stuff.”
“It’s pretty scary,” she said carefully. “You’re sixteen, but I think you’re old enough to see that this could really...” She turned to Bob. “Are you scared? Or is this what you’ve been hoping for?”
He stared at her, his face like a mask, because he himself wasn’t sure how he felt.
“Well I think it’s pretty cool,” said Chip. “If I’d’ve known it was gonna go down like this, I never would have...” He shrugged. “This is what we wanted.” He got up and went to his room.
* * *
Kaylee knew before she even got off the bus that her mother wasn’t doing well—something about the way she looked. “Hey, mom,” she said with a touch of sadness, and when they hugged, she held her tighter and longer than usual.
“How are you, sweetheart?” said Jillian with a smile, which quickly faded. “What’s the matter?”
“I knew I should have stayed with you. I’m so sorry, mom.”
“Stayed with me, when? Whatever are you talking about?”
Kaylee put her arms around her and held her. By the time they separated, she had made a decision. “Okay, the first thing is, I’m coming with you to the luncheonette tomorrow. I’ve got a waitressing job now—actually, I should be there now, but I pleaded family emergency. I’ll give you a hand tomorrow, okay?”
“But why? And since when are you working?”
“I just started. I make over a hundred bucks a week, and I’m putting it all toward paying the lawyer. Uh-uh, no objections, it’s what I want to do, okay?”
“But honey, you don’t have to...”
“Yeah, mom, I do. I should have started last semester. You and dad are working way too hard, and now this.” She caught her breath. “You look so tired, mom.”
“Oh, you know me, I’m fine. Now tell me all about yourself. Is everything okay?” They held hands on the way to the car in silence. When Jillian put the key in the ignition, Kaylee asked her not to start yet. “Everything’s not okay, is it?” she said quietly.
“No, mom, I don’t want this to be about me. It’s always about me, and I so appreciate that, but this time I want to be there for you.”
“But honey, I’m fine.” Kaylee didn’t reply, except to take her mother’s hand and kiss it. Jillian sighed. “I’m just tired is all.”
Conversation flowed as though a dam had broken, until Jillian saw the time and hurriedly turned the key. “Oh, will you look at the time. Your father will be home by now, wondering where I’ve disappeared to. This isn’t over, sweetie. We’ve got the whole weekend. So tell me, how are things with Roy?”
“Yeah, about that, mom.” When Kaylee told her that Roy was an undercover FBI agent, who had been investigating Chip and her, she almost lost control of the vehicle. When she was past that, Kaylee said, “But here’s the craziest part, mom. I think I’m in love with him. And he said he loves me.”
“But you broke up!”
“We separated. He explained to me why we have to.”
“Well, maybe you could explain it to me.”
She had just about done that when they pulled into the driveway. “We’ll talk later, right?”
“You better believe it. After dropping all that on me.”
“But it’s not going to be about just me. Promise me. I want to help.”
Jillian caressed her face and opened the door.
* * *
After hugging Bob, she told Jillian she’d be right back to help with dinner, and went upstairs to knock on Chip’s door. “Hey, Chip, it’s me. Are you gonna open up, or do I break the door down?” When he opened it, she said hi. “You know, I wish you’d let me call you ‘little brother’ again, it doesn’t really mean you’re little. Anyway, I’m gonna help mom with supper, but you and I are gonna catch up, okay? I’m staying for church Sunday, and I’m telling you right now, you are coming.”
Before he could react, she went to the kitchen.
After grace, Bob said, “Your mother tells me you’ve got a job.”
After she explained that, she said, “You know what we never talk about at the table? Politics. But nobody’s talking about anything else on campus, and I’m like all questions. So, can I just ask where you all are with what’s going on?” When no one replied, she said, “Don’t all talk at once, okay?”
“Don’t you realize you just threw a bomb? Sis, you’ve been away too long.”
“Well, somebody say something. Dad, what’s going on? The president is having consultations with the vice president about becoming his ‘special adviser?’ What’s up with that?” Bob stared at her, and she urged him with a look to say something.
“You know that Congress failed to count the votes, right? You know about the Electoral College?”
“These days everybody knows about the Electoral College. But that’s not over.”
“It’s not over, but today’s Friday. Inauguration is next Wednesday.”
“So it’s true that the vice president becomes the president, if they can’t work it out?”
Bob explained what he’d learned, that that’s what it said in the 12th Amendment.
“So where does the president come in? That’s the part...”
“Through the back door,” said Chip. “The VP gives him some title and gets out of the way, and he just keeps right on going. He doesn’t even leave the West Wing.”
“Well,” said Bob, “he probably will leave the West Wing. But it doesn’t matter.”
“Because,” said Kaylee, “behind the scenes, he’s acting like he’s still president.”
“Who said anything about behind the scenes?” said Chip gaily.
“And we’re okay with that?”
“Some of us are,” said Jillian. She looked at Kaylee, and Kaylee caught the look.
“And the vice president is okay with this? I mean, here he is, the president of the United States, and he just hands it over?”
“He does, if you make him an offer he can’t refuse,” said Chip.
“He’ll do it for the good of the country,” said Bob. “We’ve got a constitutional crisis on our hands and five days to resolve it.”
“But,” said Kaylee, “aren’t we the ones who created the crisis?” She caught her mother’s look, but focused on her father.
“What makes us the ones?”
“Because we’re the side that won’t accept the election. Are you really okay with that, dad?”
“I am, if the vote was fraudulent.”
“But it’s our side that insists it’s fraudulent. Meanwhile, I haven’t seen any evidence of that. Have you?”
“Oh boy,” said Chip. “Are you trying to start a civil war, or are you just...”
“She’s trying to figure out what’s going on,” said Jillian. “You would do well to pay attention.”
* * *
“How many times have we seen this already?” said Jillian, as they were doing dishes. “The president says something completely crazy, and before you know it everybody’s taking it seriously, and half the country is behind him.”
“Including, I gather, half this family.”
“The president says, ‘It’s the perfect solution for the country.’ Your father says, ‘It’s the perfect solution for the country.’”
“Wow, mom, you’re really... How long has this been going on?”
“Since November 3.”
“How come you never...”
“It’s been like a pot coming to a boil.”
“I think it’s boiling now.”
“Tell me about it.”
They continued in silence till the dishes were dried and put away. “So,” continued Kaylee, shaking her head, “by pretending to be president, he would effectively be president. He makes pronouncements, meets foreign heads of state, confers with Congress...”
“...And the cabinet, and the state department, and the defense department... Who is there to stop him? And of course the tweet storm would continue, also the rallies.”
“Mom, I had no idea you were so...”
“I wasn’t always. It grew on me.”
She shook her head. “Somewhere along the way there was a branch in the road, and Jesus helped me turn. Your dad didn’t turn.”
“I don’t know.”
“Is it bad?” She waited. “How bad is it? Mom?”
“Honest, Kaylee, I don’t know.”
Kaylee put her arms around her.
As usual, after scanning his computer for severe weather alerts, he came down to watch television. Fox News was on when Kaylee arrived. “Hey,” he said, “what’s up?”
“Can I talk to you for a minute?” She told him about Roy.
He was as shocked as Jillian had been. “Does Chip know?”
“Not yet. I know how much he liked Roy.”
“I seem to recall you liked him too.”
She told him that part of the story, too. “Do you think that’s crazy? To get back with the guy who...”
He chuckled and shrugged. “These days, Kaylee...? Nothing surprises me anymore.”
“Yeah, about that...” She asked him if he really believed it was right for the president to use a time of chaos—never mind how much of it was his doing—to seize power.
“That’s a complicated question.” He told her how he didn’t like it, but given the alternative, there was no alternative.
“Don’t you think the Democrats will go to court to stop it?”
“Of course. But what does the court decide?” He had heard they would argue that a ‘special adviser’ cannot assume the president’s constitutional duties, but had no law to support that. “I’ve heard there’s no legal limit on what an acting president can delegate. Don’t forget, it’s just temporary.” In any case, he added, given the complexity of the issues, it was doubtful the court would, or even could, expedite the case. It would take years. It almost wouldn’t matter what it decides.
“And there’d be plenty of time for the acting president to pardon him for any crimes he might have committed.”
“You’ve been talking to your mother,” he said, smiling quietly.
* * *
When Jillian and Kaylee returned from the luncheonette Saturday afternoon, Bob met them at the front door to say, “I just got off the phone with Pastor Whitcomb.”
“Oh?” said Jillian with a suggestive look. “I didn’t know you were going to call him.”
“I didn’t. He called me. And,” he added quickly, but then faltered, “after beating around the bush, he got around to his, quote, ‘suggestion’ that maybe we might want to skip this Sunday’s services.” Jillian and Kaylee turned to each other, then back to him. “He, quote, ‘suggested’ that it might be ‘best all around’ if we let a little time go by.”
“Are they kicking us out of the church?” asked Jillian. “Well, I’ll be.”
“I don’t know. I thought of asking if he was going to call me next week with the same suggestion. I wouldn’t say they want us out. It’s just so embarrassing. For us too, right?”
When Jillian paused to reflect, Kaylee said, “Is being embarrassed enough of a reason to leave? Maybe we should leave. But where would we go?”
“There’s that,” said Bob, “plus, on the other hand, Whitcomb’s been preaching for years about how God chose an imperfect vessel to work His will. Granted, he never talked about assassinating anybody, but...”
Jillian was suddenly reactivated. “We’re not putting this on the minister, are we?”
“Wait a minute, you’re the one...”
“I’ve grown very uncomfortable with what he says, yes, but I’m not putting this on him. If it belongs anywhere, that would be us, don’t you think?”
“You think we somehow...”
“I honestly don’t know.” She turned to Kaylee, who was listening to this interchange, before saying, “What we know is that he strayed, and we didn’t do enough to bring him back, and he just wandered to a terrible place.”
“I didn’t know how to bring him back. I still don’t know.”
Jillian asked Kaylee if she wouldn’t mind leaving, so they could discuss something that didn’t involve her. Startled momentarily, she went inside.
Jillian drew closer to Bob. “Can I ask you something?” He nodded and gulped. “Do you agree that this family is hanging by a thread?” He stared, lowered his gaze, sighed heavily, looked back up, and nodded. “Do we want to save this family?” Tears welled up and he nodded gently. “Then I say we all go to church tomorrow.”
“Yeah,” he said, clearing his throat, “but what church?”
“Our church. Maybe it’s not going to be our church much longer, but it’s been our church for a very long time. What do you think?”
He thought it over. “I think you’re right. I also think it’s kind of ironic that they’re angry at you for turning against the president, and angry at Chip for supporting him too much.”
“There’s no excuse for what Chip did, Bob. We have to face that, and find a way to deal with it. If there’s irony here, it might be that we’re going to need that church more than ever.”
After hesitating, he said, “Jill, there’s something I’ve been meaning to say to you. It comes into play here. Which is my little escapade in Indianapolis. I’ve been asking myself whether there’s any connection between what I did and what Chip did. I’m praying for the grace to face that, I just wanted you to know. I’m not done reflecting on what I did.”
“I’m so glad you told me that.” She went over and kissed him.
He looked at her with eyes again watery, cleared his throat and said, “I’ll let Whitcomb know to expect us.”
Jillian smiled slightly and nodded.