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: 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.
* * *
“Do you believe it?” shouted Bob. “And they have the nerve to claim it don’t make any difference! How do we know they didn’t make this little, quote, ‘tabulation error,’ in a hundred other precincts—or a thousand? Man oh man.”
“I hear you,” said Eric.
“Tabulation error, my foot! If that district was really won by us, then who’s to say we didn’t win the whole state? And the other states where we know fraud was committed.”
Eric was nodding. “Take a breath, Bob. Better yet, let’s get one more and call it a night. I don’t know about you, but some of us have to work in the morning.”
“Very funny.” Bob made a ‘V’ at the bartender, indicating their glasses, and waited for fresh ones to arrive before he said, “Come on, tell me this doesn’t tee you off.”
“Of course it does.” Eric shrugged in disgust. “It proves the president’s right about fraud. I mean what else do you call it when the Democrats claim a win that turns out went Republican? Honest mistake? Don’t make me laugh.”
“Did you hear What’s-his-name from the House? I forget his name, you know who I mean. He’s calling for a whole new election. And I think he’s right. No more Mister Nice Guy. Only six states, my ass. Let’s do this thing right and find out who really won. Otherwise... What?”
Eric was smiling. “I know who you mean. From upstate New York? The one who said, ‘This thing is rigged, it’s a joke on our democracy?’”
“That’s the one. I love that guy.” They concentrated on their beers. It really was getting late, at least for them. “Look at these people, like the night is young. Tomorrow’s a workday, ain’t it? Man, wouldn’t it be great to sleep in and get to the office at 8:30?”
“And push paper all day? And breathe canned air? And report to some you-know-what who doesn’t know one end from the other?”
“I hear you, partner. I was just...”
“Sure. Cushy job, who wouldn’t? Look, this government makes it harder than you know what to be in business for yourself, but I’ll still take it any day.”
Now Bob was nodding. “Let’s drink up and get some sleep.” He was suddenly feeling it.
They lowered their beer levels. “You know,” said Eric, “I wouldn’t mind going down there. I heard all kinds of people have gone to these places to make sure they do the recounts right. That’s how they turned this so-called error up.” He chuckled. “They’re banging on windows—cause, you know, these officials lock themselves in a room. ‘Stop the fraud, stop the fraud,’ bang bang bang. Man, I’d love to go down.”
Bob nodded. “I heard they’ve got housing arranged, transportation... If only we were as good before the election as after.”
“Us. The Republicans.”
Eric nodded. “You know they brought in SWAT teams. No kidding, on the news. To ‘escort’ officials. How’s that for democracy, when people can’t even talk to their own officials?”
“Yeah, I saw that. Come on, I’m not a youngster like you.”
“All right, old man, give me one second.” Eric gulped down the rest of his beer. As they headed for their pick-ups, he said, “See you dark and early.”
* * *
The alarm went off on Bob’s side of the bed. When Jillian stretched to wake herself up, he said, “Sleep, you had a rough night. I can fix my own breakfast.”
She settled back, but then stretched again. “It’s okay. Once I’m up, I’m up.” On her way downstairs, she called into Chip’s room, “Good morning, Chip. School day.”
They were well into breakfast before he appeared. Without a word he filled a plate for himself and sat down. “Good morning to you too,” said Jillian. Chip nodded and Jillian threw Bob a look.
“So, Chip, what’s on for today?”
“What’s on for today? Well, I’m going to go to school like a good little boy, and I’m going to learn lots of interesting and useful things.”
“Can’t do much without a high school diploma, son. Besides, you’re way too smart to...” His voice trailed off and Chip didn’t reply. He avoided Jillian’s look.
* * *
Dirk screeched to a halt in front of the gun shop and lurched backwards into a vacant spot. Inside they gravitated to the wall of semi-automatic rifles behind the main counter. “Morning, gentlemen,” said the proprietor. The boys stared at the rifles.
“Dude,” said Dirk, nodding.
“You got the Rock River 1410?” asked Chip.
“That we do. Know something about it, do you?”
“Thirty in the clip, 223 Remington caliber, 16-inch barrel...”
“What’d you do, memorize that on your way here?”
“Ask me about any gun on that wall.”
The man stared at him. “All right. How about that one there?”
“Which one?” The man touched it. “The Smith and Wesson 308? Well, of course it’s 308 caliber, that’s seven sixty-two NATO, slightly longer barrel, 18 inches, but it’s 10 shots. I prefer a larger clip. Plus—I mean it’s a good piece, don’t get me wrong—but it’s, what, 400 bucks more?”
“About that, yeah.”
“Want to ask me another one, or do I get to look at your guns?”
“No need to take it like that. We get all kinds in here.”
“Come on,” said Chip to Dirk, and they moved away to look at a case of handguns.
Another customer had entered the store right after them and was inspecting a rack of gun accessories. “Anything I can help you with, mister,” called the proprietor, “just holler, okay?” The man raised a finger in acknowledgment.
Dirk said, “Shit, you know your guns, little man.”
“Don’t call me ‘little man.’ I told you I don’t like it.”
“Yeah, but I like it.” He softened. “Would you like me to call you ‘Big Dick?’”
“Shut the fuck up,” said Chip with a smile, poking him.
“Hey, how about ‘Pussy Hunter?’”
“How about I call you ‘Dirkwad?’”
They tussled in fun, but slammed against the counter. “Easy there, fellas. There’s no rough stuff in here, got it?” When neither replied, he added, “Shouldn’t you two be in school?”
“College is over for the day,” said Dirk.
“You both in college?”
“Yeah. I’m a Phys. Ed. major, he’s majoring in Communications. That’s why he’s such a great communicator.”
“Shut up,” said Chip, poking him. He returned to the counter. “Can I try that Smith and Wesson?”
“Thought you said you didn’t like it.”
“Can I try it?”
“Maybe you should show a little respect,” said the customer.
Chip turned with his ‘scorn’ face, but it quickly fell away when he saw how the man was looking at him. “Sorry,” he said.
“Not me. Him.”
Chip turned to the proprietor and silently apologized.
“Look at me,” said the customer. Reflexively, Chip turned back and submitted to his harsh stare. “Guns ain’t toys. You treat them like they are, you’re going to hurt somebody, probably yourself. Whoever taught you what you know should have taught you that.”
“He did. It’s my dad. He did... sir.”
“All right then. Act like you’ve been taught to act. We good?”
The customer nodded and went back to browsing. Chip sheepishly turned back to the proprietor. “You think I could look at it now?”
The man hesitated, but took it off the wall and handed it to him. Chip immediately checked it to let him know he knew how to handle an assault rifle, then he aimed and pulled the trigger. “She’s kind of sweet. Fifteen hundred bucks, though. Wish I had that kind of money.”
“Well, since you don’t,” said the man, removing the gun from his hands, “why don’t we put her back.”
“How about the Rock River?”
“You got eleven hundred bucks?”
“Don’t you worry about it, okay?”
“All right, I won’t. But I’ll need to see ID.” He didn’t deliver the weapon and Chip didn’t show any identification. Instead he returned to the pistols. He was out of sight of the proprietor, except that the man was watching him in the overhead mirror.
Chip identified a number of pistols and told Dirk about their specifications.
“So which one do we want to take home?” he asked finally, with a touch of frustration or boredom.
“Depends on the job, obviously.”
“Okay, say we want to rob a bank.”
“Well,” said Chip, “that depends on whether we rob a bank like the bullshit stuff they put in movies or in real life. In real life, I’d rob a bank without any weapon at all. Just make them think you’re carrying.”
“Good luck with that.”
“Good luck with doing 15 to 25 for armed robbery. Without a weapon, it’s not armed robbery, is it?”
“You know, you’re pretty smart for a stupid shit. Come on, let’s get out of here.”
A few seconds behind them, the other customer left and turned in the opposite direction. Hearing the door, the proprietor called out, “Thanks for stopping by,” but he was already gone.
When Dirk pulled out, he pulled out.
He called Tim and told him he had made contact and that he was going to set up a meeting.
“Then he checks out.”
“Yeah. In some ways he’s better than Dirk. Dirk’s the leader, though, so we need them both. But Dirk’s really green, and Chip’s... He’s a wise-ass, but there’s no question the kid’s good with guns. AR’s, pistols... He thinks, too, he’s got a brain, you know? I’m not sure Dirk’s got a brain. The only real problem is he’s under-age.”
“Well, both of them. Chip for sure. Dirk most likely. He’s definitely still in high school.”
“Sure they can handle this thing?”
“Chip can. I like his online posts too. We’ll see about Dirk. But, like I say, for now we need him.”
* * *
Some 75 million followers read this tweet from the president: “3-5 Million voted illegally in droves! Proven fact! Dead people voted! Now we know why cheating so-called president-elect falsely claims victory. I won! Courts siding with us, throwing out phony Dem cases. Victory at hand. We will take our country back BEFORE IT’S TOO LATE!”
When a journalist read this to Joanne’s father, Greg Maybridge, he contained his rage to say, “This kind of inflammatory nonsense is contributing to the toxic atmosphere that has settled over our country. It is precisely the kind of incendiary language that encouraged some deranged person—or group—to murder my daughter.”
He had gone to the local CNN affiliate station to go on camera. When he got home he found Ellen subdued. “I know,” he said, trying to suppress frustration, “you’re not happy with what I’m doing.”
“This is our private grief, Greg. Do we have to grieve in front of the whole country?”
“It’s my way. It’s how I honor our daughter’s passing. That she didn’t die for nothing.”
“But what about me? It’s not just you. I’m dragged into it.”
He sighed heavily. “Okay, if you want me to stop...”
They stared at each other silently, then she said quietly, “I don’t know how you do it. Just the thought of facing those cameras again...”
“You think I enjoy it? It takes a piece out of me too, Ellen. But I have to do something... for our baby. We can’t let this just...”
Later he told her that he had called the lieutenant again and was still getting the same answers—or non-answers.
* * *
Jillian picked up Kaylee at the bus station late Friday afternoon, and they hugged and asked each other how they were doing. “I’m fine,” lied Jillian. So did Kaylee.
They made small talk on the way home.
“Help me with supper?” They worked side by side. Jillian had the TV on, but ignored it. Kaylee talked about school. “Did you ever go the Health Center?”
“No. But I’m spending more time with this group called Christian Student Alliance. It’s good. It’s... helping.” Jillian looked at her, but there was nothing to see. She said it was a good bunch of people. She had not sat with a counselor—she chuckled nervously when she said it—but was participating in more activities. “What about you, mom?”
“What about me?”
“I don’t know, you seem kind of...”
“I’m fine, sweetheart, don’t you worry about me.”
Kaylee looked at her, but there was nothing to see.
* * *
Bob and Jillian both worked on Saturdays and Chip didn’t appear till lunch. Kaylee and he made chitchat while it lasted, but he quickly left for parts unknown. She went to her room to do schoolwork, but couldn’t concentrate and walked aimlessly around the house. She stood in the doorway of his room, staring at the mess, then went to his computer. It was open and she tapped a key to restore the screen.
Staring at her was a website so extreme that at first she thought it was a joke. It wasn’t. At least, if it was, somebody had done a great job of faking the most offensive, frightening hatred she had ever seen—and, in that case, it didn’t make any difference.
She clicked on the other tabs. More of the same. She clicked on the links in his search history. More of the same.
She was still sitting at his computer in front of a dark screen, lost in thought—troubled, unfocused—when she heard him come through the front door downstairs. She left his room hurriedly, hoping he wouldn’t remember which tab had been open, and tiptoed into her own room. “That you, Chip?”
“If it’s not,” he called, “you better call the cops.”
She went downstairs and said, “Hey.”
“Hey, yourself. What’s up, you look weird.”
“Can’t study is all.”
“Ditch it, it’s all a waste anyway.”
“Let’s not start, okay, Chip?” Surprisingly, he nodded. “You’re still my brother, you know.”
“Meaning I’m not sure what it means. I guess it means that... Don’t disappear on me, okay? We’re all going through stuff right now. The whole country’s going through stuff. I just...”
“You need to chill, sis. Is it, you know, because of your roommate?” First she hesitated, then shrugged, then nodded. “I get that.” After an awkward silence he said he was just back to get some stuff and was leaving again.
“Back for supper?”
“Yeah, sure. Why not?”
“Be nice to have a family dinner. You know?” He nodded—or was it a shrug? “Be nice if we could all go to church together tomorrow, too.”
“Don’t push your luck.”
“Think about it, okay?”
“Okay, I will. I just did. The answer is ‘forget it.’”
She returned to the edge of her bed and stared into space. She heard the front door close. She couldn’t understand how he could be so sloppy as to leave everything on his computer, right out in the open. She called her boyfriend, told him she was home for the weekend, asked him what he was doing, then got to the point. “Denny, I need to ask you something. About Chip.” She described what she’d found and asked, “Why would he just leave all that where anyone can see it?”
“Because he forgot to delete it?”
“I don’t think so.”
“You think he left it there on purpose?”
She shook her head in dismay. “Yeah. I think he did. And I think I knew that. I think I’ve been sitting here hoping...”
“Does it matter? Either way he’s looking at this stuff.”
“No, this is worse. It means he doesn’t care if we find out. Oh, golly.”
“It might mean he wants us to find out. He’s doing it on purpose. He left that awful website right on his screen.” Denny didn’t say anything. She asked if this could just be some 16-year-old thing.
“Well, it’s not anything I did, we both know that, right? I don’t know anyone...”
“We didn’t know everyone in high school. Maybe...”
“Maybe,” he agreed. But he wasn’t really agreeing.
* * *
When Jillian and Mary Beth had gotten off the bus at the evangelical retreat center, they were both excited and nervous. It was the first time for both of them. But everyone was all smiles, with a lot of chatter and camaraderie, and the staff could not have been friendlier or more helpful. After checking into their room, they went to the dining room for supper. In all there were several hundred people there, from a number of area churches. Everyone had a name tag displaying their first name in large letters and strangers casually introduced themselves.
During the meal it was announced that the number in front of each person assigned them to their ‘exploration’ group for the weekend. In the flurry that followed immediately, everyone learned that everyone at their table had received a different number. Mary Beth turned to Jillian with a big smile to say goodbye for the weekend.
“Well, we’re still roommates,” replied Jillian, secretly a bit anxious.
At the first meeting of her group, she introduced herself when her turn came, said this was her first retreat, and—more haltingly—indicated why she had come. Then the group leader expertly introduced the work of the session. Step one was to ask each participant to come forward to say what they hoped to take home.
When the session ended, one of the other participants told Jillian he’d been moved by her ‘testimony.’
“What was it you said? ‘Learning how to yield to the power of the Holy Spirit in my heart.’ I really like that.”
“Thank you,” she repeated.
They naturally walked together back to the dining room, now set up for the evening ‘social.’ And even as people linked up with friends from home assigned to other groups, it seemed natural for this man to stay with Jillian.
He was friendly and personable and relaxed. Totally non-threatening. Not for a split second did she look at him or think of him in ‘that way.’ Later in bed, though, he occupied her thoughts.
Starting with breakfast, the tables were marked with group numbers. Naturally, then, Richard sat beside Jillian. He was a good listener and laughed easily. She was completely comfortable with him, he even got her to laugh. He raised no alarm bells.
During the morning session, he said, “The Lord will do amazing things, in your heart, in your soul.”
Afterwards they walked around the spacious grounds together, and never stopped talking all through lunch. He confessed that he was struggling to heal a marriage that had become loveless, and she confessed that hers had become tense. “My son has become a problem. Bad case of being sixteen.”
“How can you have a sixteen year old? You’re not old enough.”
She smiled appreciatively.
Mary Beth was sitting a few tables away, and every so often she would watch the two of them. She saw that smile.
In the next session, Jillian said, “In terms of spiritual healing, what God desires is to be in a healing relationship with us, of course ultimately leading us to heaven. So when we have blockages to fulfilling that fullness of life that Jesus desires for us, then we’re in need of healing.”
Richard said, “When I first got here, I had all kinds of wounds. I didn’t realize how much that was affecting my relationship with Christ and my relationship with others as well. I’m reminded of how much He wants me to open up my heart to Him and give Him my whole being.”
Afterward, Richard told Jillian, “I know how inappropriate this is, but we are here to confess, and I have to confess that I have feelings for you.”
“What kind of feelings?”
“Jillian, I think you know what kind of feelings.”
At supper he reached under the table to squeeze her hand.
At the evening session, she was talking about how the retreat was helping her to acknowledge areas where she needed to grow and needed to be healed, when she started weeping. Afterward she told Richard that she needed to ‘freshen up’ in her room and would meet him at the ‘social.’
He said he needed to freshen up too, so they got on the elevator together. She pressed ‘2,’ he pressed ‘3.’ When the door opened for the second floor, she didn’t move a muscle. The door closed. When it opened for the third floor, Richard got out and she did too. He walked down the hall to his room and entered, leaving it slightly ajar. Moments later she entered and locked it.
The next morning was church service for everyone. Jillian and Richard were tormented.
At lunch she wanted to sit apart from him, but could not resist the need in his gaze, as he could not resist the need in hers.
Later, calmer, she said, “No one talks about the president. Since when do we endorse people who talk and act like him? I am so confused by this. It’s challenging my faith.”
“Have you sought counsel about it?”
“I’m afraid to say anything. Especially now, during the campaign. I mean, this whole weekend, 250 people, supposedly confessing their deepest feelings. Not a peep. Is everyone 100% committed to him, no matter what?”
During the drive home, she tried desperately not to seem miserable.
* * *
What Ellen and Greg Maybridge wanted more than anything for Joanne’s memorial service was a quiet, intimate gathering where they could mourn in some semblance of peace. That wasn’t what they got. A single deacon at the church door was sufficient to keep the media outside, but not even an infantry battalion could have kept them away from the cemetery. The high metal fence, it was discovered, extended only along the road. In the back, at the thick woods, there was nothing, so it was a simple matter to carry in equipment.
Not that they became intrusive. No, they remained at a discreet distance, but with zoom lenses it made no difference. They could show the world the tears streaming down Ellen’s face and the empty heaves of Greg’s chest.
Police were also there. Not a large number, just a couple from the lieutenant’s squad, to look for the murderer.
“Seriously, lieutenant? That’s four hours, there and back. You really think the shooter will show up?”
“Until we have a motive, we can’t rule out a nutcase. If he killed for pleasure, he might like to watch her parents’ grief.”
So there were two of them, a man and a woman, in plain clothes, but it was pretty obvious they weren’t friends or family. Friends and family didn’t scan faces and surroundings like they did.
And there were politicians who had been told—though they already knew—that if they were not there, it would look terrible. “Think of the optics, governor, senator, sir, madam, if you were not there. Why hand the other side an opportunity?” So they came, from both parties, surrounded by their handlers and flunkies. And because the media was there, it would have been rude not to make brief statements of sympathy for the family.
Ellen and Greg avoided these distractions with determination, as did most of the hundreds of mourners who had joined them. They also refused to acknowledge the hecklers, who tried to disrupt the occasion. The private security detail, hired for the occasion, called the local police right away, and they were escorted off the grounds. Even from the road, though, their epithets and denunciations could be clearly heard.
Among the mourners were dozens of Joanne’s friends, including fellow students (Kaylee among them) and co-workers from the campaign office, the latter identified by campaign buttons they wore in recognition of her contribution.
Because groups at such events tend to pay no attention to anyone outside their groups, and also because of everyone’s determination to pay no attention to the distractions, no one paid attention to the one person who wasn’t part of any group. There was no particular reason they would have. He was dressed like everyone else and looked like everyone else. But he wasn’t really like anyone else, because he was Joanne’s killer.