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.
* * *
“My campaign to legitimize the election and right the result is in full swing,” the president told reporters in front of TV cameras. “You don’t have to take my word for it, everybody’s saying it. My lawyers tell me we have an excellent case. So we’ll see. We’ll see what happens. But we have an excellent case.”
“Mister President, do you have any evidence, any facts you can cite, to support your claims?”
“I just said.”
He was tweeting dozens of times a day. One said: “Hostile power maybe Iran could have hacked election system, changed vote to favor Dem. DNC collusion? Needs investigation. All Corrupt Dems say is Russia Russia Russia. All a cover. Clearly I won and will protect our Great Country. Iran treachery, phony result, must not stand!”
Republicans formed a chorus to sing the presidential refrain. It began in lower registers with, “Clearly there were serious irregularities in multiple states,” and “The American people deserve a free and fair and transparent election.” Soon it rose to falsetto soprano with, “We need to get to the bottom of this. Who was involved, what did DNC officials know and when did they know it, and what is the extent of what some are calling fraud?”
Americans saw and heard it on their big and little screens all day long, wherever they turned. Pundits everywhere said, “Pundits everywhere are in overdrive, across the political map.”
One said, “Democrats are trying to change the narrative, but of course the line has been drawn and no one is crossing it.”
Another said, “There are few arguments because people have stopped talking to each other.”
A third solemnly summarized, “The topic is taboo among those who have to work together, or live together. But in safe circles, no one talks of anything else. Many are scared, everyone is angry.”
Recounts were reported to be already underway in Florida and Michigan, where the margins were narrow enough to trigger a recount of machine (but not paper) votes. Also reported were that the president’s legal teams were on the ground in the other contested states, and the president-elect was scrambling to meet the challenge. Also, the court battles had begun.
“I can tell you that immediate investigations were demanded into allegations of voter registration fraud, also vote tampering by ‘certain partisan’ county and state Boards of Election. Objections were raised about the design of certain ballots. Questions were raised about the integrity of voting machines, the software used, the counting of paper ballots, the chain of custody of those ballots...”
“...Questions were raised about the locations and hours of certain polling stations, the behavior of certain election monitors, ‘unexplained’ delays, ‘false or incorrect’ information given to voters, ‘slow’ processing, ‘unwarranted’ contesting of credentials, ‘improper’ use of provisional ballots, ‘harassment’ of voters by Democratic Party ‘operatives’ crossing inside the exclusion area...”
“Is that all?” joked the anchor.
“Actually, no,” replied a straight-faced reporter. “A suddenly important issue is the, quote, ‘egregious’ gerrymandering in certain states, namely those where the legislature is controlled by Democrats.”
The president tweeted: “Voting machines hacked, millions of Fraudulent votes, Republican voters intimidated, harassed, turned away. Election officials skewed rules to favor Democrats. Disgusting!!! Will not stand!”
Commentators at Fox and CNN agreed that reporters were straining to remain current with developments. Said one, “The news cycle has become a continuous barrage of claims and counter-claims.” Said the other, “The news cycle has become a ceaseless effort to separate fact from fiction.”
Commentators at Fox and CNN disagreed about the role journalists had played during the campaigns. CNN said rightwing journalists had systematically defended efforts to suppress voter turnout among likely Democratic voters. Fox said leftwing journalists had systematically conspired to depress voter turnout by those who favored the president’s re-election.
A new term suddenly took center stage among Republicans, both in the media and among politicians: ‘selective reporting.’ Usually this was followed closely by ‘voter depression,’ a phenomenon disproportionately, even uniquely affecting would-be Republican voters.
Everyone knew the courts were expediting hearings. Decisions were issued rapidly. When an important challenge was decided against the president, he immediately fired his lawyers. The country learned of this from a process that immediately created another new term: ‘tweet firing.’
* * *
Kaylee had no memory of the lieutenant who had been in her room when she returned the morning Joanne had been killed, that was why she looked at him blankly when he met her at the police station. That, plus the fact that she was terrified. With a brief thanks for ‘coming in,’ he led her to an interrogation room. With her was a lawyer from the university, who introduced herself.
“You her lawyer?”
“Does she need a lawyer?”
“We’d just like to ask her some questions. She’s not a suspect.”
“Then I’m just here as an observer. The university has an obvious interest in your investigation.”
He nodded. “In that case I may ask you to leave the room.”
“In that case I may ask Kaylee if she would like legal representation.”
He nodded again. Everyone sat and he explained to Kaylee that he was just going to ask her some questions in connection with the investigation. “We’re hoping you might be able to shed some light on the situation. Okay?” When she barely nodded, he asked if she would like something to drink. When she barely shook her head, he explained he was just looking for information. “You’re not in trouble, we’re not suspecting you of anything, okay? We’re just looking for information. You’re here voluntarily, and we appreciate that. I know how hard this must be for you.” He tried to smile, and she tried to smile, and he turned on the video camera. After going through the obligatory preliminaries, noting the time and who was present and asking Kaylee to state her full legal name, he asked her how long she had known the deceased—Joanne.
He asked her if she could name others who had known Joanne. When she started to name some, he asked her to write down their names. When she was done, she pushed the paper across the table, where he glanced at it and pushed it back. “Keep it for now. If you think of any more, just write them down, okay? That’s very helpful.”
He asked whether Joanne had had a boyfriend and whether Kaylee knew him. The question bothered her, because he kept talking about her in the past tense. She did have a boyfriend and she did know him. They had gone on some dates together.
“Joanne and you and her boyfriend?”
“And my boyfriend.”
“Is he on the list? Could you write his name down too?” He asked her to indicate that he was her boyfriend, and to note which one was Joanne’s boyfriend.
He asked if Joanne had had many boyfriends. He asked if she was ‘intimate’ with boys.
“What does ‘intimate’ mean?”
“For example, you’re her roommate, did she come home every night?”
“You don’t sound certain.”
“I’m certain. She came home every night.”
“And you would know, right? Because you came home every night?”
Kaylee looked really scared. “Yes.”
“Was that a ‘yes?’ I’m sorry, I could hardly hear you.” Kaylee nodded. “I’m sorry, could you say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ for the record?” Kaylee said ‘yes.’
He asked if Joanne had ever talked to Kaylee about her relationships with boys, and the lawyer said, “Excuse me, lieutenant, but is this line of questioning somehow relevant to your investigation?” He ignored her and repeated the question. “Lieutenant?”
“We’re trying to get a picture of the situation.”
“And you believe...”
“We’re just looking for information. We need to know who knew the victim, who might have had a motive...”
“And you think that, just because the victim in this case was a young woman...”
“We need to look at everything.”
“But this is where you chose to begin.”
The lieutenant looked directly at Kaylee and repeated the question again. She stared at him, plainly trying to figure out how to respond, and started sobbing.
“Okay, that’s it,” said the lawyer. “If these are your questions, we don’t need to be here.”
“Would you prefer we get a subpoena to compel her? We could get a two-for-one and subpoena the university to release all records.”
“To what end? Maybe if you could explain the relevance of a dead student’s sex life to a murder investigation.”
The unflappable detective replied, “I think I’ve explained that we’re trying to get the full picture...”
“I don’t see it,” she interrupted, “I see a prurient interest in a girl’s private life.”
“What does ‘prurient’ mean?” he asked, with the closest thing to a smile exhibited so far.
“Do you suspect Joanne Maybridge may have been murdered by a jilted lover—or that her boyfriend turned out to be a homicidal maniac? Or a boy she rejected was stalking her and killed her in a jealous rage?”
“Thank you, counselor, those are helpful theories. Now we have an investigation to conduct. So, if you’ll allow me...”
“I think we’re done here, Kaylee.”
“Are... Are you sure?”
“I’m sure. You’ve done your part. Now we’ll see if the police do theirs.”
“Kaylee,” said the lieutenant, “all we want to do is find the person who murdered your friend. If she was a flirt, with lots of boyfriends, and a reputation on campus, we’re going to find out. Wouldn’t it be better if you told us in your own words? For the sake of your friend’s reputation?”
Kaylee wavered and eventually said, “As far as I know, she has never slept with a guy.”
“Did she ever mention birth control?”
“You don’t have to answer that.”
Kaylee, lying, shook her head.
* * *
The fact was that Joanne and Kaylee had spent countless hours talking about ‘guys.’ And the facts were a lot more complicated than ‘had she or hadn’t she.’ At first they didn’t know what to make of each other, because they felt so different. They kept reminding themselves that they came from different worlds. But friendship melted that barrier, and they discovered that they liked each other, and before long they were close friends. Close friends confide in each other, and they had done so, often after they turned out the lights, often late into the night, though they both had early classes.
Their first confession was just that fact, that at first they hadn’t known what to make of each other. “I just assumed you would be so different.”
“You did? Me too. I kept thinking like, ‘Evangelical, wow, that is like...’”
Kaylee replied, “Sometimes I feel like that myself,” and laughed.
There was a difference between them, though, one that weighed on her. It was only late at night in the dark, and not the first such conversation, that she confessed to one unbridgeable difference between them: “Between you and me, when it comes to guys, the urges and the opportunities might be the same, but the guilt is different.”
“Yeah, I wondered about that.”
“And when you’re wrestling with all that, having a roommate who’s free to, you know, do things—things ‘good girls’ in my world don’t do—well, that sure doesn’t help.”
After an awkward silence, Joanne said she didn’t know what to say.
“You don’t need to say anything. That’s just the way it is.”
Joanne asked sheepishly, “Do we still like each other?”
“Of course. Actually, there is something you could do.”
“Don’t stop telling me!” At one o’clock in the morning that seemed hilarious. When the laughter died down, Kaylee said, “We both know you’re ahead of me. It’s helpful to, you know, hear things. Actually, I don’t know if it’s helpful. It’s just...”
“Something like that,” snorted Kaylee, and they both cracked up again.
That was what had troubled her so much in the interrogation room.
The lieutenant had gotten her to confess that when she had awoken to find Joanne’s bed empty, she wasn’t especially concerned. She knew she’d be staying up late, either to celebrate or commiserate, and assumed she was sleeping it off somewhere.
“Somewhere? Could ‘somewhere’ include her boyfriend’s bedroom?”
She had shrugged. That would have been a first, but hey, it was election night.
She told him that they had met at the campaign office, which was close to campus, so a bunch of students volunteered there. She reported that Joanne had said he was nice. She didn’t report that later she had said he was very nice. Or that that was when they had started talking about sex.
She kept trying to explain to the lieutenant that Joanne’s boyfriend was a nice guy who really liked her, not a jilted lover, much less a homicidal maniac. But he kept asking questions that made her blush, that were downright disgusting, that angered her. So, despite her desire to help, there was no way she was going to talk about Joanne’s sex life to this guy.
* * *
“Not too much. Two drops means two drops.” Chip was oiling the recoil spring on one of his father’s handguns. Actually it was his favorite auto pistol, the one he kept with him for personal protection. Chip wiped it off and started over. Bob was relieved that he had merely nodded. He never knew when Chip might react in anger. “That’s good. Good work.”
He nodded as Chip cleaned the gun, putting solvent on the cloth instead of squirting it directly on the gun. He was relieved to see that he wasn’t cutting corners, or screwing up just to make him mad. “That’s good, Chip, real good.”
“I’m not going to oil the magazine, unless you want me to.”
“Nope, that’s good, just leave her.” He watched with growing satisfaction and relief as Chip put two cleaning patches through the barrel and inspected the chamber.
He picked up the oil again.
“That’s okay. I would have cleaned the gun first with solvent, before starting with the lube, but I’m not about to nitpick. So long as you’re doing a good job, which you are. You’re being really careful, I’m impressed.”
Chip put oil on a Q-tip and lubed the slide rails, then dabbed at a few shiny areas. “Down inside you can see where the barrel rides and locks up a little bit.”
“Yeah, but I like how you’re not over-oiling. Everybody over-oils. Then, when you shoot, it splatters your face and you look like a goofball.”
Chip didn’t respond.
“Good job, son, real good job. I like how you didn’t squirt a bunch of lube down in the action.”
“No, definitely don’t want to do that.”
“I agree, you definitely do not. Good job.” Suddenly, the gun cleaned, there was an awkward silence, as if each of them thought something should be said that wasn’t being said. “All right, reassemble the little lady.”
He watched as Chip checked the slider action, fired away from them, and popped the magazine in and out. Then that silence returned.
“Which one you want to do next?” asked Chip.
Bob shook his head to say it was up to Chip, then said, “So listen, do you think maybe we should talk about what’s going on, what do you think?”
“What’s going on?”
“Something’s going on, right? Church, school. Home... Mom says you’ve been talking to her in a way that maybe you know better.”
“She rides me sometimes, you know. I don’t like it when she rides me.”
“Maybe you need a little ‘riding.’” He said ‘riding,’ like it was Chip’s word, not his.
“Now you’re going to ride me, right? That’s what this is all about.”
Bob chose his words, nodding slightly as he did so, then pursed his lips. “In this family we look out for each other.”
Before he could continue, Chip blurted, “I don’t need looking out for. Maybe in this family someone should have the right to be left the hell alone.”
Bob caught his breath, heaved and replied quietly, “In this family we don’t swear. Can we just... talk?”
“Okay,” announced Chip, heading for the door, “fun’s over. It’s been great, dad. Thanks for the ambush.”
Bob hadn’t moved before Chip suddenly reappeared, and they briefly stared at each other before he asked, “Would you really shoot someone?”
“If I had to protect myself. Or my family.”
“What do you think it’s like to kill someone?”
Bob stared, trying again to choose his words, but unable to find them.
* * *
The particular clientele attracted to a certain trendy bar in DC was young affluent professionals on the make, especially those looking for some action after a long day—action, explained a regular to a newbie, that was temporary, heterosexual, and (presumably) hygienic. “...And I believe it’s time to fish, because these eyes have spotted a good catch at the bar. Time to bait the hook and cast the line.”
He leaned in close to shout his drink order at the bartender. When he got it, he didn’t withdraw. He dangled his line to see if the fish would take the bait.
She did. Her friend freed her seat so he could take her place. Jerking his line, he let her know he would soon make partner at a highly prestigious law-firm ‘in town,’ and that he was on the president’s legal team contesting the election. She was either really intrigued or knew how to fake it better than he did.
He said that, due to a brilliant and very aggressive legal strategy, combined with the president’s ability to frame the public debate, there was a very good chance they would win.
She didn’t respond. He was suddenly terrified. “Oh God, you’re not a Democrat, are you? Thank you for not throwing your drink in my face.”
“Your lucky day.”
He said that ‘we’ had quickly hired partners from many of the major law firms in the contested states. She shrugged. “Oh God, you’re not a lawyer, are you? Thank you for not looking bored.”
“I’ll let you live.”
He said that this prevented anyone else at those firms from representing the Democrats. She wasn’t as impressed as she should have been, so he explained. This not only denied expertise to the other side, because these would be the lawyers most knowledgeable about state law and practices, it also captured the firms likely to have the closest contacts with state power brokers.
He said that, ‘furthermore,’ it helped create the impression that ‘everyone’ sided with the president’s claim.
She raised her eyebrows.
He said that, ‘furthermore,’ it denied local facilities to the other side—office space, secretaries, phones, copiers—which they then had to waste time and money to create.
She smiled somewhat.
He said—the look on his face implied brilliance—that ‘we’ had placed ‘high-level insiders’ in the offices of the state officials responsible for the application of election law. The two who were Republican could be ‘advised on legal technicalities.’ The four who were Democrat could be ‘closely watched.’
He eased up and sipped his drink. Who could resist bait like that?
* * *
The luncheonette where Jillian worked served breakfast and lunch, so she was done by 3:30 or 4:00, which gave her a bit of free time before she had to get home to make supper. On this day she was at a local watering hole with Mary Beth, sipping on a club soda with lime and wishing there was something more in it. It was an ‘emergency meeting,’ triggered by that phone call she had gotten. The place was nearly empty. They were in a corner booth.
“You know I married right out of high school.” She did know. Jillian had told her more than once—a lot more. “Before I knew it, Kaylee came along. We thought we were ready, but we were so young. I look at the pictures now...” Mary Beth, a very good listener, knew how to keep nodding. This was their relationship: Jillian confessed and complained, she consoled and commiserated. “Let’s face it, we were practically kids. We had to grow up together, in the marriage.”
“Which could not have been easy.”
“Right, it was no piece of cake. We had money problems right from the get-go.”
Jillian tended to not ask about Mary Beth’s life, and Mary Beth tended to not talk about it.
“And Bob’s away so much.” Jillian’s face took a turn for the worse. “And now I just feel so... middle-aged.”
“Well, that’s just silly. Have you looked in the mirror? You’ve still got your figure... I wish I looked like you do.”
“What are you saying? You look lovely.”
“Men don’t look at me. But they look at you.”
“They do not.”
“Trust me, hon. They do.”
Jillian fell silent and Mary Beth nodded for emphasis.
“I just get overwhelmed sometimes. You know?”
“Well, look at how much you’ve got on your plate. No sooner do you get Kaylee through high school, without getting herself in trouble, than Chip decides to... do whatever he’s doing. And you’re pretty much holding down the fort by yourself. And now this election business seems to have given you a case of the blues...”
“I’ll be honest, Mary Beth, he’s shaking my faith. Not Bob. But me for sure.”
“We’re all trying to figure it out.”
“Well that sort of explains it, I guess.”
That was when she told Mary Beth about Richard’s phone call.
“Remember that ministries retreat a while back? I went there to surrender to Christ. Bob said, ‘Go, Jillian, you deserve a break. I’ll figure out the money, you go have a good time.’ The trouble is I wanted so bad to have a good time...”
“What does that mean?” She could tell that some kind of bomb was about to explode.
“I met a man there.” Mary Beth held her breath and tried to look as calm as before. “It just happened, you know?” For once, Mary Beth didn’t know whether to wait till Jillian spilled the beans or
prod her a little bit. When nothing happened, she tried the latter.
Jillian looked like she was getting ready to tell the story when this came out: “It’s just... I’m so worried about Chip, leaving the church, acting out. And now this election seems to have struck him right between the eyes. Kaylee too, obviously.” She paused, Mary Beth waited. “I know Bob has to travel for work, I know that. It’s not fair to blame him, he’s doing it for us, right? I know he wishes he could be home more. But still, there’s this tension. We can’t seem to get rid of it.”
Mary Beth couldn’t help herself: “But what happened at the retreat?”
“Oh...” She looked at her watch. She looked at Mary Beth and sighed, glanced quickly around the bar, but didn’t say anything. “A story for another time. I’ve really got to go.”
They stared at each other.
* * *
After the captain announced that they were descending for Indianapolis International Airport and requested that all passengers put up their tray tables and stow any loose items, Connor and the guy next to him stopped conversing. It hadn’t been much, the usual, ‘business or pleasure, what kind of work do you do, I have a friend whose cousin’s neighbor...’ When the warning lights went off and everyone undid their seat-belts, Connor said, “You have a nice day, you hear?” and the guy nodded, and they returned to being total strangers.
It was a short walk to the car rental.
“Welcome to Indianapolis. Your name, please?”
“Avery Hissom, H, I, S, S, O, M.”
“And your address.”
“Three-one-five Archer Lane, Sacramento California.”
He gave her his drivers license and credit card with a casual smile. “This will only take a moment,” she said, and in that moment asked, “First time in Indianapolis?”
“First time in Indiana.”
“Really.” She seemed genuinely surprised. “Well, enjoy your stay.”
“Thank you kindly. Seems like a nice place. Awfully flat, compared to what I’m used to.”
“Where you from? Oh, of course, California. I guess it’s pretty hilly there.”
“That it is. Downright mountainous in places.”
She nodded. Then the printer started spitting out a pile of forms for him to sign.