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.
* * *
Navigation: You can go to any episode by scrolling to the top of the page and clicking the “If He Loses” tab.
* * *
Shortly after the president-elect announced that the election was effectively being conceded, every news outlet was discussing it, and Bob was driving Kaylee to the bus station with the radio on. She said she had something to tell him, and asked if he could turn it off. When he did, though, she became tongue-tied.
“You know you can talk to me, right? I know this family is going through some things...”
She jerked her head at him, as if to say, ‘you think?’ but said nothing.
“I guess that was an understatement, huh.”
She was breathing hard, willing herself to speak.
To break the tension, he said, “Pretty amazing news, right? Maybe now we can get back to normal.”
“Dad. This is not normal. Do you really think this is normal?”
“I said ‘get back to normal.’”
“By having the one who lost the election get inaugurated?” She stopped herself. “I’m sorry. That’s not what I wanted to talk about.”
“Okay. What did you want to talk about? Everything okay at school? I know you and Roy...”
“Look, I know you agree with the minister’s call to keep supporting the president. This is not what I want to talk about, but... I signed a petition... There’s an evangelical group on campus that I’ve joined, and I signed our petition. It calls on the president to respect the vote.” When he didn’t respond, she said, “You have nothing to say?”
“Well, good for you.”
“What does that mean, dad?” They both tried to calm themselves. “Look, this is not what I wanted to talk about, and my bus will be here soon.”
“All right then, what do...”
“Chip. I wanted to talk about Chip.”
His hands gripped the wheel. “Okay. What about?”
She took a big breath and said, “I think there are some things you and mom should know.”
“Okay,” he said carefully.
She took another big breath. He waited, and she could feel his hope that she not speak. “Chip was involved in some very disturbing online activity, dad.”
He said nothing. She told him what she knew, struggling to find words to describe how vicious and ugly it was, the terrible acts of racist violence celebrated, the vile jokes, the crazy conspiracy theories...
“He showed you this?”
“Some he showed me, some I found out about.”
“No, I found out myself. I’ve been so worried about him, dad. And you and mom... Are you listening?”
“Of course I’m listening. Look, we know Chip’s been having a tough time...”
“He wasn’t just surfing this stuff, dad, he was deeply involved. He was posting... You wouldn’t believe what he was posting. He was in an encrypted chatroom. Do you know what that is? Doesn’t matter, scary stuff.”
“I don’t know why you’re...”
“Seriously scary.” She lowered her voice. “I bet, when they recruited him, they had no idea he was sixteen.” When he didn’t say anything, she added, “Look, I know you and mom have a lot on your plate. I just thought you should know.”
“You don’t think we’ve been tearing our hair out?”
“I’m just saying this thing with Chip goes way beyond teenage rebellion.”
“Wouldn’t you say that’s kind of obvious at this point?”
She started to cry, but veered into anger. “The point is, dad, is that everything’s not okay now. Thank God he turned himself in. But he’s still lost. He’s lost, dad.” She turned back toward crying. “You need to know that.”
Finally he reacted. “Okay. Don’t cry, sweetie.” He tried to console her, but her bus arrived, and she had to go. “We’ll talk more, okay? I love you.”
“I love you too, dad.”
* * *
“Here’s the thing. We knew very quickly that the food servers who were caught trying to poison the president- and vice president-elect were Russian. And we learned soon afterwards that they were agents with links to the FSB, the Russian security agency. The news that’s breaking now is that the president knew there was credible information about a possible assassination attempt—by the Russians—against them.”
“Against those two specifically.”
“Yes. What my source is telling me is that the president was briefed several days before the event.”
“Yamiche, do we know the source of this information?”
“What I can tell you, Judy, is that this is a US official with direct knowledge of the latest information.”
“And, when you say briefed...”
“Well, that’s where it gets murky. The president is flatly denying that he was ever briefed. He says it never happened.”
“I believe he’s calling it ‘fake news’ and ‘a hoax?’”
“Correct. But the problem... The White House press secretary claims he was never briefed ‘personally.’ That appears to mean ‘orally.’ But two officials familiar with the matter, one said the president was briefed in early January, and the other cited January 7 specifically. Five days before the event. What they’re referring to is the ‘President’s Daily Brief,’” which is what it sounds like, a daily written compilation of intelligence that officials believe the president needs to know.”
“I suppose there’s no way to know whether the president ever read it.”
“In fact, Judy, officials all say the president rarely reads it—and that he is not receptive to oral briefings either, especially anything to do with Russia.”
“So, Yamiche, what are we to make of this?”
“The question people are asking, Judy, people in Congress for example, is whether it’s credible that no one in the intelligence community—and the information widely circulated there—thought it necessary to tell the president, whether he wanted to hear it or not, rather than hope he read the report... that the president-elect might be assassinated in a few days. Or, if not him, then people close to him.”
* * *
Greg was making breakfast to take upstairs to Ellen when he heard there was going to be a counter-inauguration and that a large crowd was expected. “We’re going,” he told the radio.
When he opened the bedroom door, she startled awake. “I’m sorry. Did I wake you?”
“I was just dozing.”
“Did you get any sleep last night? You couldn’t have gotten much.”
She shrugged, and he brought over her breakfast tray. “I’m not really hungry right now.”
“Eat anyway. You need to eat. Come on, do it for me, Ellen, okay? Listen, I’ve got some good news.” He told her about the counter-inauguration and that they were going. Then he had to repeat most of what he’d just said, and answer questions whose answers were that it was going to be on the mall, at the same time as the inauguration, that they were going to fly if he could find last-minute cheap tickets, otherwise they would drive, and they would stay outside the city to save money.
“You mean you’re going,” she said wearily.
“No, I mean we’re going. You’re going too, Ellen, even if I have to hire a medical van, because this is essential for your health. Don’t shake your head. You’re going to see that there is still much of America that recognizes the president’s threat and is standing against it.”
“I don’t know, Greg.”
“We’re doing this, Ellen. In fact, I already emailed my contact at CNN, and she said they might do a little interview. Don’t be angry, okay. I’m doing this for me, yes, but I’m doing it for you, too.”
“I’ll try,” she said finally.
“That’s my girl. You know, the last time you got up, you said it was thanks to Joanne. Joanne would not want you to miss this.”
He left her to look for cheap tickets and a hotel for Tuesday night—but first to send an email to his contact at CNN.
When the scandal broke that the president possibly withheld information that the president- and vice president-elect were under threat of assassination, his inclination was to run up the stairs, but he checked himself. Then she shouted for him, and he raced up to find her listening to the news. “You won’t believe this,” she said, in an alert voice.
They listened together.
Later, she got up, saying she had to pack.
They started driving after breakfast the next morning. They had gone several hundred miles when they heard that permits had been denied, forcing the cancellation of the counter-inauguration.
* * *
“Were you weirded out to learn that Butch was not the head of the plot?”
“Jesus, you don’t know?” said Dirk. “You’re not following this?” Chip didn’t reply. “Some guy named Hodie Hutchison, from Houston. DEA agent. You believe that?”
“I guess Butch was one of the shooters.”
“Nah,” he sounded, like a buzzer. “Connor and Tim. No Butch. Like, who the fuck are they?”
“So he used an alias. So what?”
“So you don’t give a shit that we were never part of this. That we were set up.”
“It’s just fucking lucky we turned ourselves in when we did.”
“Don’t thank me, okay?”
In reply, Dirk said, “Come on, let’s cruise.”
After a few minutes at the wheel, he said, “You’re awful quiet.”
“Where we going?”
“Fuck knows. Cruising for a bruising!”
“Well, how about you calm the fuck down? You’re driving even crazier than usual.”
Dirk kept going. “Hey, what do you make of this dude Hodie? DEA agent. They’re bad-ass, right? They say his record was clean, regular guy. Nothing to suggest he would, quote, ‘commit a heinous act.’ Turns out he wanted to help the president get rid of all the illegals. Says he was doing great work, but needed a second term to get it done.”
“How is it you don’t know this?” Chip didn’t respond. “Hello?”
“Shut up. Put some music on or something.”
Instead, Dirk drove in silence, but that quickly annoyed him. “Okay, tell me you know about the Russia connection.”
“What Russia connection?”
“Jesus fucking Christ, man!”
“What Russia connection!”
Dirk shook his head dismissively. “He claims he was working with a Russian agent.”
“Why would he say that?”
“To save his ass. He’s offering a plea bargain. Info about the Russians in return for leniency.”
“Seriously? The Russians were behind this?”
“If you believe it. Do you believe it?”
Chip thought about it. “Why would a DEA agent conspire with Russian agents to assassinate Americans? Shit.”
“Think, asshole. What does that say about the whole thing? Oh, shit!”
“We know they were behind the poison plot, right? Now you’re telling me maybe they were behind our thing... Connect the dots, asshole!”
“They were a day apart!”
“No way. He’s just saying it to save his ass.”
“How do you know?”
“It’s all over the internet. Which I guess you’re not looking at anymore. And I’m asking myself, ‘What’s up with that?’” He drove in silence, then turned on some music—loud.
He kept driving aimlessly, music blaring, while Chip stared out his side window.
Suddenly he turned it down to say, “Anyway, who gives a shit? I’m thinking he was onto something. And it’s not too late.”
Chip turned to look at him.
“We should blow up something. I’m thinking one of those places where they hold the Mex, but maybe a nigger church. Or—hey—how about the school?”
“Why not? There’s Mex there, probably illegal. Some of them, anyway.”
“You know you’re fucking out of your mind, right?”
“Okay, so an immigration prison. I said that was my first choice.”
“Don’t be a pussy. It would be so much easier than trying to make two head shots at 700 yards. We just fill a van with fertilizer. Just like, I read about these guys, I forget where, who blew up a federal building. That would be so much easier. You just park it outside. One match, poof. We could take out a thousand greasers.”
“I thought we were trying to help the president.”
“He’s getting inaugurated. He doesn’t need our help.”
“That’s my point.”
“You don’t get it. This is to keep the Mex out.” When Chip didn’t respond, he said, “Come on, this would be so easy.” Chip still didn’t respond. “What’s with you?”
“Nothing, what’s with you?”
“You’re acting weird. Don’t you want to send a message?”
“While I’m on trial for terrorism? Last I checked, you are too.”
Chip fell silent, then turned up the music. Dirk kept driving aimlessly. Chip turned down the music. “Really, fuck them? You’re not worried about going away?”
Dirk made a face. “My parents say it’ll never happen. Might have to go to juvie till we’re eighteen, but, hey, that’s no worse than that fucking prison they call a school.”
He drove a while and said he didn’t want to talk about that. “I still think we should blow up the school. Don’t you? After what they did to you?” He looked sideways and saw Chip was distracted. “Hey, are you there?”
Startled, he said, “Let’s talk about something we both want to talk about.”
“Great idea! And I know just what that would be.” He talked about the ‘hot’ girls in school and what he’d like to do with each one of them. While he talked, he drove even more wildly. When he raced through a red light, a car swerved to avoid hitting him and narrowly missed an oncoming car. Finding this hilarious, he rolled down the window and shouted expletives as he sped away.
After verifying there was no police cruiser behind them, Chip started yelling, demanding that he stop the car.
Dirk refused. “Chill, man. I’m just trying to blast you out of whatever funk you’re in.”
“Stop the fucking car, Dirk.”
“Come on, man, why can’t you chill? You know what your problem is? You’re horny.”
“Damn it, Dirk, stop the car!”
“Man, what I wouldn’t give to have that fucking Eileen Garner suck my cock.”
* * *
Jillian and Bob were watching the news coverage of the national protests against the denial of permits for a counter-inauguration. Jillian said, “I hope the minister is praying for the nation tonight. I sure am.”
Bob said nothing. A few minutes later, though, he asked if it was just possible the minister was right about supporting the president.
“At this point, I’d say the odds of that are zero to nil.” She told him that Kaylee had called to say she was planning to go to Washington, to the counter-inauguration. “She invited me to go with her.”
“When was this?”
“Well, obviously you didn’t go.”
“Neither did she. In case you haven’t heard, the permits were denied.”
“Of course the permits were denied!”
That was it, they went at it hammer and tongs. Soon they were arguing about Chip.
“I begged you for months to talk to him, take him in hand...”
“Me? What about you?”
“You’re his father!”
He told her what Kaylee had revealed to him, two days earlier, about Chip’s activity online. “There he was, week after week, up there in his room. I’m out working, you’re downstairs. Did it occur to you, just once, to see what he was doing up there?”
“You don’t think I tried talking to him? Huh? You’re his father, Bob! Where were you, week after week?”
It went on. Their biggest fight ever, also the nastiest, gloves off, no holds barred.
They slept apart. The next morning, after he left for work, she couldn’t resist the bottle. Before tilting the glass, though, she put it down and called Richard, begged him to meet her.
For the sake of privacy, she wanted to meet at the motel—but, she made clear, it would be ‘just to talk.’
He asked if she wouldn’t rather call her friend, Mary Beth.
She got in the car right away, to get away from the bottle.
When they were inside the room, they hugged, awkwardly at first, then she held onto him. When they were apart, he told her she looked distraught. “I haven’t seen you like this since the retreat.”
Her chest started to heave. She asked him to hold her again. “You like me, right? I’m not a bad person?”
“Of course I like you. And no, you’re not a bad person.”
She told him that only now was the full impact of what Chip did—what could happen to him—reaching her. “It’s like a storm wave across the ocean: You know it’s out there, but it doesn’t really hit you until it... hits you. I’m so scared, Richard. I’m so ashamed.”
“You don’t need to be...”
“How could I have let him stray so far without knowing the first thing about it? He was consorting with the worst of the worst. Well, you know, it’s in the news. Good Lord, where was I?”
“You were doing the best you could. And can I ask where Bob was?”
She told him she was so angry at Bob. “I begged him. I had no idea what was going on up there, but I knew Chip wasn’t doing well—we both did. But a teenage boy needs a father’s touch, just like a daughter needs her mother.”
“And he never...?”
“I can’t say he never, but it was always halfhearted, tentative. I remember once he went up and came down and said, ‘He won’t open the door.’ He just walked away. I mean, I know he’s trying. He wants to be a good father. But most of the time he’s working, or blowing off steam with the guys, and when he’s home it’s Fox News all the time. Which I used to do, by the way. Which now...”
He left the chair to sit beside her on the bed and put his arm around her. She looked up at him with a distraught expression, seeking solace.
He provided it.
Afterward came remorse, which overwhelmed her like that wave. Self-pity, blaming others...
Richard turned on the television. The inauguration celebration hadn’t yet begun. They watched anyway, saw the crowds, heard interviews. “Gee, I wonder if Kaylee’s there after all.”
“At the counter-inauguration. How do you feel about this? Am I crazy, or is that crazy? I mean, was that man truly sent by God to redeem America?” Richard shook his head. “I’m terrified of losing my faith. If being a good Christian means enthusiastically supporting that...” She gestured toward the television. “...Then I’m damned.”
“You’re not damned, don’t talk that way. You are not alone. You think I’m comfortable with this? Who is?”
“My minister is.”
“Well my minister isn’t. Maybe you need a new church.”
Oddly, she smiled. “Talk about irony. Bob actually offered. He eats that stuff up, but he offered to move. And I said no. Our friends are there, we’ve been there since forever. Do you know that the minister asked us to stay away?”
She nodded. “Because of my son. I mean, I get it, everyone’s embarrassed. But just when we need help the most?”
He turned off the television. Gradually she calmed down.
She acknowledged that she couldn’t keep seeing him, that it wasn’t fair to him. “I need to pull myself together. I need to stop drinking...”
“Don’t be too hard on yourself. It sounds to me like your husband left you to do most of the parenting. And maybe he could have paid more attention to you?”
“He really blew it with Chip, that’s for sure. Did I tell you he got into a fight at a demonstration?”
* * *
The chief justice of the US Supreme Court was waiting in a small private room near the Capitol rotunda. Gripped with both hands against his body was the bible he would use to administer the oath of office to the president. He kept looking at the clock.
With him was just one person, a police sergeant with the Capitol Police. He was trying, trying and failing, not to watch the chief justice.
“I know it’s time to be out there. There’s still time to administer the oath.”
The officer nodded while maintaining official decorum.
“Do you know why the oath is administered at noon? It’s not just customary. It’s specified in the 20th Amendment that the terms of the president and vice president end at noon.”
“I did not know that.”
The chief justice nodded, smiling, but made no move to leave the room. “No doubt you’re wondering why I’m still here, given what I just said. Can you tell from my face?”
The officer stammered and then stopped trying.
“I’m trying to determine what my duty is. Is it to administer the oath without question... or to not administer it, if that were to conflict with the law—or justice?”
Feeling that he expected him to respond, the officer said he was glad not to be in his shoes.
“I have been wrestling with this question. I thought I had brought it to its proper conclusion. Yet, here I am.” He sighed. “My conclusion was that I have no choice but to administer the oath. No matter how I might feel, it is out of my hands. Yet here I am. You may wonder why.”
“That is not my job, Mister Chief Justice. I’m sure you will do the right thing.”
“The right thing...” He pondered those words as if they were profound. “And here it is, a little before noon.”
“You have time, Mister Chief Justice.”
“Not much,” he said with that smile, which was not a happy smile. “May I ask your name, sergeant?”
“Williams, Mister Chief Justice.”
“Sergeant Williams, be so kind as to give me a report on what’s happening on the mall.”
“How many people are outside? What are they doing? Speak frankly, please.”
“Well, I don’t have to tell you that it’s a biting cold day out there, a damp windy DC winter day.”
“Correct, sergeant, you do not have to tell me that.”
“Yes, sir,” he said, embarrassed. “Our current estimate is that there are a million people on the mall right now. Roughly half are here to celebrate the inauguration, half to oppose it.”
“Have there been any...”
“Violence? Based on reports, I’d say the protesters are surprisingly peaceful. I’m sure you know they’re on the mall without a permit, but the Park Police have determined to contain the crowds, rather than try to disperse them. It’s a wonder how they all even got here.”
“That’s good to know.”
“However, there have been incidents. Some protesters have infiltrated the inauguration crowd, and as I say...”
“No reports of shots fired at this time, however medical teams have been required. I have no information at this time about the nature of injuries. I should tell you, Mister Chief Justice, that it is now ten minutes before noon.”
“Thank you, sergeant,” said the chief justice, glancing at the clock and then verifying it on his own watch. Then he fell silent and went inside himself.
“Mister Chief Justice? It’s five minutes before noon.”
“Thank you,” he said, without opening his eyes.
“Mister Chief Justice? It’s twelve noon.”
He appeared not to hear, then suddenly jerked his head and nodded curtly. He appeared to go quiet again, but then said, “After the contested presidential election of 2000, which was finally decided by the Supreme Court, people said the country had survived just fine—no constitutional crisis, no riots in the streets. We can’t say that this time, can we?”
The officer visibly hesitated to speak.
“You needn’t say anything,” said the chief justice quietly, and then fell silent.
A second officer, who was outside guarding the door, poked his head inside. “Everything all right in here?” The first officer gestured and he withdrew.
“Mister Chief Justice? It’s 12:05.”
He nodded slightly, slowly. “The United States is now without a president and a vice president. We have an acting president, but that does little to relieve my anxiety. Anyone in the world could know that at this moment the United States lacks a functioning president. I am putting the entire nation at risk.”
The officer struggled to say something, and finally said, “If there’s anything I can do, Mister...”
“I wish there was.”
A few minutes later, he said, “It’s 12:10, Mister Chief Justice.” He could see the man’s chest visibly rise and fall.
An official from the inauguration platform poked his head inside. When he saw the chief justice lost in thought, he looked at the police sergeant, who merely raised his eyebrows.
He disappeared and returned a few minutes later. “Mister Chief Justice,” he whispered, then repeated it in a normal voice, in case he hadn’t been heard. “What shall I tell the president?”