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.
* * *
“Twelve days after the election, the president addresses the nation this evening from the Oval Office.”
Reading from a teleprompter with his ‘presidential’ voice, he charged that the election had been marred by ‘gross irregularities and frauds,’ and claimed that ‘a foreign power sympathetic to the Democrats’ may have conspired to affect the election. Here he clearly left the teleprompter to add that many people believed this was exactly what happened. “Top experts are telling me this. Smart people. Good people.”
Returning to the teleprompter, he itemized the various defects and frauds, without distinguishing between them. This way, even a slight, inadvertent defect became evidence of massive fraud. He began with the design of certain ballots.
He said there were numerous, widespread problems with polling stations. With defective voting machines. With biased monitors. With unexplained delays. With false information about locations and hours. With unexplained delays in processing. With unwarranted contesting of ‘certain voters’—Republican voters’ credentials.’ With improper use of provisional ballots. With the rejection of valid absentee votes.
He said there were vote tabulation errors.
He said there had been vote tampering by ‘certain partisan’ county and state Boards of Election.
He claimed massive voter registration fraud, and demanded that all voting records be immediately turned over to the Justice Department.
He said there might have been hacking into computer systems in favor of the ‘Democrat nominee.’ He said his Attorney General would open an investigation.
He said that, while a lot of Democratic votes were fraudulent, a lot of Republican votes were not counted. He said his Attorney General would be looking into that too.
He said, “There are lots more ways the vote was rigged,” so many he couldn’t even list them all.
Here he paused briefly, then slowly read the following in his most presidential voice: “Two hundred years from now, when future Americans study this presidential election, let them learn that Americans did everything they could to ensure that all citizens who voted had their votes counted. Let them learn that democracy was ultimately placed ahead of partisan politics in resolving a contested election. Let them learn that we were indeed a country of laws.”
Returning to his more typical manner, he claimed that he was ‘winning in the courts.’ He repeated his claim of foreign interference. Then he declared himself the winner and demanded that the ‘Democrat nominee’ concede the election.
“Since the results clearly show that I won—me, I won—it’s time for the Democrats to stop all the political wrangling and drop the legal challenges.” He demanded this ‘for the sake of the country.’
That might have been the end, but it wasn’t. Leaving the teleprompter again, he praised the patriotism of ‘ordinary people’ from all over the country, who were ‘flooding in droves’ into the various ‘crime zones’ to defend ‘our precious democracy.’ Despite his claim of victory, he said, “This might not be over yet, folks.” He said, “Dedicated Americans should swamp the crime zones and make your voices heard.”
Then he took a breath and piously uttered, “Thank you, and God bless America.”
Other Republicans quickly weighed in. A governor who had gone to watch the recount told an interviewer, “Enough is enough. We’ve had a count, a recount, a recount of the recount. The president has won all three. I think it’s time for him to be recognized by the Democrat nominee as our president-elect.”
A Republican Senator said on Fox News, “It’s time for the Democrat nominee to end his campaign and concede this election with the honor and dignity the American people expect.”
Another Republican governor hastily convened a Monday morning press conference to support the president. “Last night we learned how far the Democrats will go to defeat this president. And I am very sorry to say it, but the Democrat nominee’s lawyers have gone to war, in my judgment, against the men and women who serve in our armed forces. I refer to the exclusion of overseas ballots just because they were not witnessed or postmarked by election day. This is no time to rely on meaningless technicalities.”
After hearing the president, a middle-aged man from the Midwest hastily packed a bag and drove all night to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, where he joined protesters in front of the state capitol. Attracting a television crew, he appeared on screens across the country, saying, “I had to be with people that are on the front lines of preventing this election from being stolen. Everyone knows we won now. The Democrat nominee’s unemployed. He’s going to have to get a job!”
The sign he had scrawled before leaving home and proudly held aloft read, “God bless our president!”
* * *
Bob was driving. Anyone could see he felt good, felt good to feel good. He told Eric there were three ways to feel when a storm came, and he had felt them all.
“Sometimes I’m bummed out about living away from home, cheap motels, eating in diners and truck stops.” Eric nodded hesitantly. “Sometimes I’m like, hey, this is my job and I’m good at it, darn good, and the pay is even better.”
“There you go.”
“Sometimes, I don’t know, I’m almost excited to get back on the road. There’s a camaraderie of the road, you know? We share the danger. We don’t even see it as danger, it’s what we do.”
“How about relief? After a dry spell, putting some money in the bank account.”
Bob nodded vigorously. “We aren’t exactly scraping bottom, but I could see it coming.”
“I hear you, brother.”
“That’s what you always say.”
“I hear you, brother,” repeated Eric with a laugh. “I generally let you do the summing up for both of us.”
“That’s me,” replied Bob with his own chuckle, “I guess I’m just a summing-up kind of guy.” He could feel it already. He was meeting it.
Jillian had said, “I still can’t believe you can just sit and watch this stuff. After how many years of marriage?”
“What can I tell you, it’s how the bread gets buttered, Jill.”
“No, it’s more than that. You should look in the mirror.”
“I didn’t have to,” he told Eric. “We both knew I’ve been frustrated. Not just the money. This you-know-what election. I mean, tell me you’re not mad as...”
“I mean,” continued Jillian, “you’re sitting quietly with a beer when the TV’s blaring about 140 mile-an-hour winds throwing pick-up trucks around like trash-paper, storm surges flooding some city, rescue crews stretched to the limit...”
“Everyone else is scared white about how long it’s going to take to rebuild, to get back to work, to find their dog...”
“That’s it,” he said. “That’s it right there. That’s the part that’s not just the money.”
“You’re a good man, Robert.”
He shook his head. “I’m a danger freak is what I am.”
“No. You just said it. You like to help people.”
He shrugged. “Also, by the time it’s on TV, I’ve been following it online. That’s the work part. This is relaxation.”
He had a daily routine at the computer after work, starting with the National Weather Service and then clicking through a series of websites, to check for storm warnings, extreme weather events, emergency announcements... In the winter it was mainly ice storms and monster snow storms, events that brought down trees. Eric did it too, in case he missed something.
This time it was an ice storm in New Jersey. Not a monster storm, but there would be work for two guys if they got there quickly. When he finished his beer, he went upstairs to pack. Of course he was mostly packed already. It was more a question of working through his checklist to make sure he had everything.
“New Jersey’s not so bad. 800 miles. We’ve done twice that. Leave early, we’ll be there in time for a decent night’s sleep, so we can hit it the next morning. What?”
“Nothing,” said Jillian, who was watching him get ready.
“Seems like something.”
“Nothing. It’s just... It seems a long way to go for a couple of days’ work.”
“Could be more. You really don’t know till you get there.”
“Come on. What’s on your mind?”
She shrugged. “Do you have to go?”
“Now where is this coming from?” Again she shrugged. “Hey, Jill, this is what I do, remember? It’s how we put Kaylee through college. It’s how we put Chip through, if he goes to college.” He stared at her blank expression. “I don’t get to pick, I go where the storms are. Where haven’t I gone? And when something hits, I go. There’s no advance notice. And you know it’s not about how far away it is, it’s about how bad it is, because the more damage the more work. But you know all this. So what...?”
She forced a smile. “Of course.” She shook her head as if to shake off some annoying bug. “So, got your toothbrush?” He smiled, nodded. “Cell phone?” Nodded. “Condoms?”
“You know me better than that. Spare ammo, spare gun...” He made a face, as if suddenly he was defending his right to bear arms. “Indiana’s an ‘open carry’ state. When I travel, I can’t worry about what local law says, I have a God-given right to protect myself. Especially when I go places where law enforcement is on its back heels from a disaster.” His manner changed, and he shrugged. “You think I don’t wish I didn’t have to be away so much? I know what you’re dealing with here.”
“We’ll be fine, don’t you worry. I don’t want you distracted up in a tree...”
He looked at her closely. “Is there something we need to talk about? Because if you have any doubts...”
“Of course I don’t. Bad joke, that’s all.”
He paused and seemed to sag. “I know I haven’t been as... I haven’t been as attentive as I should be. I’m going to try to do better when I get back.” When she started to reply, he continued, “And I know it’s up to me to deal with Chip. But we both know it’s not just Chip. I need to do better, I know that.”
Jillian started to cry.
* * *
Usually when Chip and Dirk drove somewhere, rap music was blasting away and they were jabbering inanities or bragging about what they’d like to do to every girl they passed. They had started that way, but not for long. “Is this where it is?”
“I’m not sure. Go there.”
Dirk was driving slowly, looking around. “Arriving at destination,” said the robotic voice of the GPS navigator, but where they were was a warren of alleys in the part of Terre Haute that featured junkyards and broken-down warehouses.
“Think I should honk?”
“No, stupid. Just... Try there.”
They were inching down a long alley between buildings when a guy stepped out from an inset doorway and blocked the way. Dirk hit the brake like he’d been careening down a highway. “What should we do?”
“Maybe you should turn off the fucking engine?” They waited, but the man just stood there. Chip got out, followed by Dirk. Again they waited. Eventually, when no instruction was given, they approached slowly.
“Which one of you assholes is Dirk?” barked the man suddenly, and they froze as if on command. Gingerly, Dirk raised a finger. “That makes you Chip?” Chip nodded. “What’s that? Couldn’t hear you.”
“Yes. Yes, sir.”
The man continued to stare at both of them, like he was adding them up. He approached, as if to get a closer look, and neither dared move. The man was both impressive and ordinary. He looked tough, like he’d been in the military, like he knew how to fight, like he didn’t take shit. Like no one his enemies would want to meet, but a great guy with his buddies. He was also a guy who liked to look good: His clothes were clean and crisp, as if they were brand-new, his hair nicely cut, his shoes polished to a shine, but nothing up-scale. The kind of guy who was handy with the ladies. “All right, shit-heads,” he said, “listen up and listen up good, or I’ll kick your asses out of here so far, it’ll take a week to find them.”
But then, instead of talking, he barked questions at them. He approached Dirk until Dirk was hard pressed not to step back, and asked why he was here.
“Why am I here?” ventured Dirk.
“I asked you a question, son!” It wasn’t loud, yet it threatened like thunder.
Dirk cleared his throat and said, “I’m here because I’m sick of all the bullshit.”
“You?” he snapped at Chip, without shifting his stare at Dirk.
“I’m here to fight for freedom, sir,” said Chip. He faced straight ahead, not looking at anyone.
Slowly the man moved until he was confronting him as he had Dirk, with a look to suggest that what Chip had said was the stupidest drivel he had ever heard. “What do you know about freedom, little shit?”
“I know that the tree of liberty must be watered with the blood of patriots—sir.”
“Who said that?”
“Thomas Jefferson, sir.”
“You ready to bleed for freedom?”
“You?” he barked.
“Yes, sir!” snapped Dirk.
The man returned to press in front of him. “Are you ready to spill others’ blood for freedom?”
“Yes, sir!” he said again.
“Don’t bullshit me, little shit. You think this is some fucking game? I asked you, are you ready to kill a man for your country? Don’t look down!” Dirk snapped his eyes back to meet the man’s gaze. “I asked you a question.”
“Yes, sir, I am.” He held his eyes steady. “I am a patriot, and I will give my life for my country.”
“Will you kill for your country?”
“Yes, sir,” said Chip.
The man stepped back, and after another long stare at the two boys, he told them they were about to become part of a group of patriots who were going to take back their country from mongrels and faggots. “You were chosen. Not everyone was. You are about to be asked to take a step forward. You do not have to take that step. It’s not too late to run home to your mommies. But if you take that step, know this: We know all about you. Not just where you live, but how you jerk off and when you shit. We have no patience for cowards, or for those who hesitate or change their mind. Once you step forward, there is no stepping back. Am I clear?”
“You will not take that step to impress girls, or to show the jocks. That is because you will not breathe a word of any of this to anyone. If you do, you will be terminated. Please do not ask me what ‘terminated’ means. You will take that step for one reason and one reason only: to strike a blow for freedom. Any questions?” Both boys had lots of questions, but were afraid to speak. “I repeat: Are there any questions? No? All right. You will now either take a step forward or turn around and haul your asses out of here, no hard feelings, no questions asked.”
Both boys wanted desperately to look at each other, but were afraid. Chip stepped forward and then Dirk.
“Congratulations, gentlemen, in a little while you are going to be national heroes.” He stepped forward to shake their hands, and gave each a big friendly smile.
He then gave them some operational details. One, they must assume that they are under surveillance every waking moment. “You will be. If not by the government, then by us.” Two, they would be given instructions from time to time through the same channel that had gotten them to this point. Three, they were never to send a communication except in an emergency. They were given the code word to use for ‘emergency.’ Four, they would soon be furnished with weapons. Five, they were to follow all instructions to the letter. “To the letter, do not mistake me, gentlemen. You’re with the big boys now. Clear?”
Smiling again, he chatted with them for a while and said, “All right, get the hell out of here. Try not to act like fucking idiots, and make your country proud.”
They tried to return to the jeep with a military gait and climb in without grinning. Only when they were around the corner did they let go.
At the same time, Connor emerged from the covert entryway.
“How’d I do?” asked the man. In reply, he counted out money. “I thank you kindly, good sir. And you don’t have to tell me that if there’s a leak that gets traced to me, there’ll be two in the head. Now, unless there’s something else, I’ll bid you ‘good day’ and be on my way.”
“There is something else. You were pretty good back there. You look good, now we’ve got you cleaned up and into some new clothes. Why not take the opportunity? A guy like you doesn’t belong on the street. You’ve served your country.”
“Indeed I have. But has my country served me?”
“That’s what we’re going to fix.”
“And I wish you Godspeed. But my killing days are over.”
* * *
Everyone in the campaign office where Joanne was volunteering stayed after the result was announced, despite exhaustion, to celebrate a victory that seemed personal. So it was far later than she was used to leaving for her dorm when she set out, first in a group, but eventually alone. It felt a little weird, but the elation of victory, the joy of celebrating were dominant—until they weren’t. There came a time when she believed that someone might be following her. It didn’t take long for the thought that it might be so to turn into near certainty that it was.
Terrified, she increased her pace and then started running.
When she had to stop, gasping for breath, then breathing more quietly, she listened for the sounds of footsteps behind her, listened and heard nothing. Relieved, but not really relaxed, she started walking again, quickly. When she turned a corner, a man confronted her, and before she had time to react, he shot her in the face.
* * *
The president’s address to the nation was a political bomb that exploded all over the country. The rally he held the very next day in Orlando, Florida was massively picketed. The day after that, the Democrats demonstrated in all six contested states, and wherever they demonstrated, there were large numbers of counter-demonstrators. Each side vilified the other for trying to steal the election, with signage, with public statements, and at the peripheries of many gatherings, with direct confrontations that began with verbal assaults and escalated in the predictable way.
* * *
Jillian stared at Chip’s room from the doorway, shaking her head at the mess. Then she went into her bedroom, to the closet, where Bob stored the guns and extra ammunition. They were in two safes, one for each, but only the second was locked. The one with loaded guns he insisted on keeping unlocked. “Lose precious seconds, just when some doped-up wacko with a gun is coming up the stairs?”
She sat on the bed and stared at it. Bob had taken his two pistols with him, his Glock-19, which he kept in the truck, and his Beretta-M9A1, which he wore in a concealed holster when he was working. The Glock, he’d told her, was a great pistol, not expensive. The Beretta had been a bit of a splurge, but the military had been issuing it for years as a carry weapon. Those were all he had, and he was proud of the fact that he didn’t accumulate weapons like some did. “It’s not that I love to look at guns, these are for self-defense. One on me, one in the vehicle, what else, scatter them around the house? I know some guys do that, but to me that’s overkill—pardon the expression.” He wasn’t a sport hunter either. It was just about self-defense. So no rifles, no fancy gadgets.
Her pistol, though, was facing her in the safe. He had bought it for her as a birthday present, one of the Sig Sauer P365’s. “Small and light enough to carry in a pocketbook, but a great weapon for self-defense.” He added, “You hear about 9 mil being too small for home defense, but I say what you might lose in stopping power, you gain in accuracy.” She knew all three pistols chambered 9 mm rounds, because he loved to defend that decision.
She locked the safe, then sat back on the bed, staring at it. The kids they had decided to keep out of it. Chip was obviously too young to be trusted with a weapon, and Kaylee had declined. In any case, her college was gun-free, though that was expected to change, or at least people were demanding it change (on the grounds that the policy violated the state’s concealed carry law—not to mention the Constitution). She re-opened the safe and removed the pistol, then looked for a place to hide it. Wherever she put it suddenly seemed like just the place where someone—Chip—would find it.
She returned it to the safe, which she re-locked, and wrestled the whole thing to the basement. There she tried to find a place to hide it. With no place where it could never be discovered, she finally put it behind a pile of stuff that hadn’t been touched in years, but was too good to throw away.
She stepped back, hesitated, but finally went upstairs. As she went, she said out loud, “Jillian, don’t forget to put it back before Bob gets home.”
* * *
Even though Memorial Park is inside the rim-road around central Houston, it’s far enough away from downtown to be in an upscale residential zone. And because it’s so large (and partly wooded), one can escape from the city’s noise and bustle. At noon a man was sitting on one of the benches, eating lunch, when a woman, taking a break from walking her dog, sat at the other end. They didn’t even seem to notice each other at first, she talking to her dog, he focused on his sandwich. When he finished it and sat back, he noticed her. “Not too bad, right? The weather?”
“Not too bad.”
After a pause, he asked, “Come here often?”
After another pause, he said, “If you don’t mind me asking, do you always walk your dog in high heels?”
“I believe you have expression, ‘a girl likes to look her best.’” She had a Russian accent.
He nodded. “Been here long?”
“So how do you like ‘the lone star state?’”
They appeared to ignore each other after that, until he said, a propos of nothing, “I needed this. Take a break, I mean.” He stretched his arms to make the point. “Yup, been working pretty hard.”
“You work near to here?”
“Just down the street. DEA. Sorry, that’s Drug Enforcement Agency. And I’m going to guess—wait, don’t tell me—that you work at the Russian consulate.”
“This is correct.”
“Well, I guess we’re neighbors, then. Yup, we’ve been trying to put together this group. Just got it done. Now all we need is the okay from upstairs, and we’re good to go.”
“Is good then, yes?”
“Is very good. No problem.”
They fell silent again, until she rose suddenly and said, “You have nice day.”
He looked at her and replied, “You have nice legs.”