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.
* * *
“Earlier today, the FBI announced that it is taking over the investigation of the Joanne Maybridge case, that’s the young woman murdered—Democratic campaign volunteer—on election night. They say there is evidence to suggest this may have been an act of domestic terrorism. Do you have a comment, Mister President?”
“We don’t know what it was. Maybe it was this, maybe it was that. I don’t know any more than the FBI, and neither do you. Let’s let them do their job for a change. See what they come up with. But personally I doubt it. I mean, come on. And I think I would know. I think I would know. And, by the way, let’s face it, what was she doing out on the street at, what, 5 am, a young woman by herself? Stayed up all night partying—a party they should never have had, since they didn’t win. Right? Now we’re finding out about all the fraud. All the shenanigans, and cutting corners, and looking the other way. Do I feel sorry for the family? Sure. Tough to lose a kid that way. But that doesn’t make it terrorism.”
When he was asked whether he took any responsibility for the climate of hate that has consumed the nation, he made a face and replied, “Next question. You.”
When the next question was asked, he ignored it and returned to the prior question. He claimed that the real danger to America was not terrorism, it was the Democrats trying to steal the election. “If you ask me, that’s the real terrorism. I think my... very able... vice president can elaborate on that.”
When he reached the podium, he thanked the president for his great leadership at a difficult moment for the nation, and said that what was at stake. the contest of the vote, was more important than who won the presidency. “What is at stake,” he continued in his serious, resonating voice, “is the integrity of our democracy, making sure that the will of the American people is expressed and accurately received. Time is important, but it is even more important that every vote is counted and counted accurately. Because there’s something very special about our process that depends totally on the American people having a chance to express their will without any intervening interference. That’s really what is at stake here.”
* * *
With heavy wet snow and ice clinging to everything, New Jersey had downed trees all over the place, with widespread power outages. On one hand, that meant it would be worth the trip. On the other hand, it meant checking into a cold, dark motel. It had been a long day’s drive, more or less non-stop, taking turns at the wheel. “Sorry I can’t offer you better,” said the tired, overweight guy who checked them in.
“Not your fault,” said Bob.
“We’ve thought about a generator. It’s hard enough to keep the place going as it is, though—what with the chains forcing your prices down.”
They would have gone to one of the chains, but the pricey ones cut into profits, and the inexpensive ones were booked up by the power companies for their emergency crews. There would be guys all the way from Florida.
“How’d you know we even had a vacancy? With the sign being out, I mean.”
“We didn’t. Just took a chance and got lucky. We should have you back up this time tomorrow.”
The guy shrugged like he was doubtful. “Remember Sandy? Took a good five days. You miss the TV, you know? Say, the vending machine don’t work, but I can get you some...”
“We’re fine, thanks,” said Eric.
“Or extra blankets.”
“We come prepared.”
They set up in the room without saying a word and crawled into sleeping bags to unwind. “I don’t care what you say,” said Eric, “I think the president will stay president if the election isn’t decided by the inauguration.”
“No, you’re saying the vice president becomes the president, but the president will still be able to stay in charge. Right? Isn’t that what you were yapping about all the way across Pennsylvania?”
“Well,” said Eric, “the Twelfth Amendment says the vice president becomes the president.”
“But, see, right there, that doesn’t make any sense. The president should stay the president. Why the vice president?”
“They say that’s what the Constitution says.”
“I don’t believe it, it doesn’t make any sense.”
“Well, that’s what they’re saying.”
“You’re telling me that Fox is saying that.” Eric nodded. “Well, okay, assuming you heard it right... But I still say it doesn’t make any sense, and I think the president knows that—so what needs to happen is for the Supreme Court to rule on it.”
“How does the Supreme Court get to change the Constitution?”
“They don’t. They just say that, if the vice president is technically the new president, because the election didn’t decide who won... And if the president is, like, the real president, because he’s telling the vice president what to do... Then isn’t it just common sense to let the president do his job?”
“I hear you. But who the... Last time I checked, neither of us is a lawyer.”
“Well, I think they’ll work it out. It’s the only thing that makes sense—especially since the Democrats obviously tried to steal the election. And it’s what the country needs, obviously.”
* * *
“That’s not his real name,” pronounced Chip, as they were speeding away from the meeting.
“Oh, like you know,” challenged Dirk.
“Think about it, Shit-for-brains, of course he wouldn’t use his real name.”
Butch, the homeless vet hired by Connor to impersonate him, had warned the two young recruits—threatened them, in fact—not to tell anyone anything. “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.” But of course neither of them could keep it in. Within minutes they were fantasizing about how kids in school would react when they told them.
The mood passed. The warning stayed.
Chip’s generally low mood persisted. Kaylee, fighting more or less the same mood, called from college. That was something she rarely did, and she had done it because, as she explained, she was ‘terrified’ by what she had discovered on his computer.
“Wait a minute, how do you...? You spied on me?”
“Oh, come off it! I think you wanted... I think you wanted mom to find it. But it was me who found it. And I’m worried about you.”
“You don’t need to worry about me. You should be worrying about yourself.”
“I’m worried about that, too. But... What are you doing, Chip? What are you getting into?”
“You don’t know a thing about what I’m getting into.”
“I know that. That’s why I’m calling.”
“It’s none of your God-damn business what I’m getting into.”
She was practically sobbing when she begged him not to use such ‘vile language.’
Despite his best efforts, he was stricken. He said quietly, “It’s none of your business what I’m getting into.”
There was a pause. “You sound sad, Chip. You sound... like depressed.”
“So do you.”
Faltering, she finally said, “With everything going on... Joanne, the country, other things...”
“What other things?”
“Well, you, for one.”
“You’re worried about your own faith, aren’t you?” She had to admit that that was true. “So you want to put it on me.”
“No,” she said forcefully. “No. I’m worried about you. Those... horrid things on your computer...”
He tried to explain that there were people—true patriots—prepared to act to protect liberty. To make sure that America was for real Americans. But he wasn’t excited, agitated, belligerent, like he had been. She tried to argue with him, to make him see that white supremacy was not the answer to America’s problems, that all that angry talk about starting a race war, overthrowing the government...
“It’s not just talk,” he interrupted.
After a frightened pause, she whispered, “How do you know?”
He didn’t hesitate long before he replied, “I know.”
“I don’t believe you.”
“I don’t give a... I don’t care whether you believe me or not.” He said he knew for a fact that it wasn’t just talk. She was going to ask how, when he said that he was ‘into something big.’ He said it in an odd voice, at once exultant and depressed.
She started to cry. “What have you done, Chip? What have you got yourself into? I’m begging you to get out before it’s too late.”
His belligerent defiance returned. “You don’t know what the fuck you’re talking about, sis. I’m a patriot. God only knows what you are.”
“Chip, please.” She was sobbing.
“‘Chip, please,’” he mocked. “I’m going to be a hero. And in a few weeks, everybody will know it.”
* * *
The alarm went off well before dawn, and Bob and Eric got up and out as efficiently and silently as they had gotten in. Bob drove while Eric navigated, seeking, rather than avoiding, roads that were closed due to fallen trees, because that was where they would find their first job. And they wanted main roads, thoroughfares, because that was where the restoration work would begin. Eric was well practiced at this, and it was still dark when they picked up a convoy of utility trucks. “Great,” he said, “we’ll be climbing the first tree at sun-up.”
* * *
“This just in: The Circuit Court of Appeals for Washington DC has ruled that the president’s request for new votes to be held in 6 contested states is denied. The court, sitting ‘en banc,’ meaning with all justices sitting for the appeal, issued a split 5 to 4 decision. And note, Ryan, this reverses a 2 to 1 decision of a panel of the same court, which was issued only last week. So this is certainly an unusual, not to say extraordinary, turn of events. The White House has not yet released a statement, but one is expected.”
“Susan, what does this mean for the president’s legal strategy?”
“The decision set aside the question of whether the recount processes should be terminated. But by denying the president a new vote, the court has effectively dealt a major blow to his legal challenge.”
“And that’s because...”
“That’s because no recount has so far changed the original results, though vote totals have modestly changed.”
“So, given that, what do you think is next for the president?”
“Well, an appeal to the Supreme Court is all but certain. That is what we expect for sure, and we further expect that the court will almost certainly take the case, given its historic importance.”
Only a few hours later, the president held a rally in Grand Rapids, Michigan. On the one hand he minimized the loss, talking about how he would be redeemed by the Supreme Court, and bragging about how many justices he had appointed. He also accused the five judges, those who had ruled against him in the circuit court, of bias. “They should have recused themselves, they’re all Democrats, all Democrats. They should have recused themselves.”
The crowd booed loudly. He then returned to how great the Supreme Court had been, and how
great they would be when they handed him another great victory. The crowd cheered loudly.
On the other hand, he launched into a lengthy tirade of personal attacks against the Democratic president-elect, whom he repeatedly called ‘the loser.’ The crowd booed loudly. He extended his attacks to all Democrats, to anyone who voted against him, whom he accused of defrauding the election. “They’re stealing your election. Plain and simple, that’s what it is. It’s theft. It’s robbery. What else can you call it? If a guy robs a bank, do we say he won the money in a free and fair... No, he robbed the bank. What do you do to a guy who robs a bank? Make him the president?”
Waves of outraged cries of ‘no’ swept the crowd. “You take back the money he stole and you put him in jail. Maybe you do more than put him in jail. This is our democracy we’re talking about. This is our country.”
* * *
“May I ask... ‘Kaylee’ is it? I don’t think we’ve seen you here before, so welcome.” Sheepishly, Kaylee explained that she had been frequenting the other evangelical ministries on campus, but they didn’t offer counseling services. “Well that’s just fine, Kaylee, I’m happy that you found your way to us.” He took a few minutes to try to reduce her obvious anxiety, before working around to asking how he might help.
She chose her words carefully—or tried to. Confused, he backed up and asked her questions about where she came from, how she was finding college life, whether she attended services regularly... “Then your family belongs to a church.”
“Oh yes,” she replied, and told him how much she liked Pastor Whitcomb, with whom she had practically grown up. But then he asked if she had approached Pastor Whitcomb about whatever was troubling her. Again her reply was not clear, but the gist of it was that she had thought it better to talk to someone on campus, since her concern was about someone on campus, not back home.
“So,” he ventured, “you’re here out of concern for someone else.”
“Right, yeah. Well, sort of... I do have a concern about someone else... and I don’t know what to do about that—about that concern.”
“Maybe you could tell me a little bit about the nature of that concern. Well, for example, is this a friend of yours? Okay. A close friend? All right, good. And... would you say the concern is spiritual in nature, or perhaps has more to do with a moral issue? Personal conduct, for example.”
“I’m not sure how to describe it, you know? It’s kind of both.”
The minister explained that it was not unusual for new students to face questions about social life that they hadn’t had to confront before. “This is a big campus, after all, and students come here from a wide variety of faiths and backgrounds.”
Kaylee started to see where he was going and tried to redirect him. “It’s not personal conduct, reverend. Well, it is, but not what you...” She took a breath and started over. “I have a friend who... I’ve discovered that a friend—someone I care about—may be involved with... I guess you’d call it illegal political activity.”
Now the minister, expecting a concern about sex or drugs or a challenge to faith, was totally confused. “Political activity. I’m not sure there is anything on campus that’s illegal.”
“Well, it would be if it involved violence.”
“Yes, I would agree with you there.” He waited.
“You know about Joanne Maybridge. Well, she was my roommate.”
“Oh, dear Lord,” he exclaimed, believing he suddenly understood her distress. Immediately he began to speak in soothing terms about loss and grief.
Increasingly frustrated, Kaylee finally interrupted him. “Excuse me, reverend, but that’s not why I came.” Seeing his expression, she resolved to speak plainly at last—without being specific.
“Let me see if I understand you. You are concerned that a friend of yours—here on campus, another student—may be involved in some sort of plot—involving violence—that has something to do with the election.”
“With overturning the result, yes,” she said, relieved that it was finally out.
“May I ask how you came to have knowledge of a plot?”
“They pretty much told me.”
“Your friend told you.”
“Yes. I saw websites and I confronted him. And he said things... that scared me.” She repeated what Chip had told her, about patriotism, being part of something big, about to become a hero. Now concerned himself, he asked if she had reported this to the authorities. “You mean like the FBI?” She shook her head. “I’m afraid of getting this person in trouble.”
“Well, I should think, under the circumstances...”
“It’s possible he’s just bragging. He does that.”
“How well do you know this person?”
“Very well,” she blurted out.
“Is this person a person of faith?”
“He used to be. That’s part of the problem. No, wait.” She took a breath. “Whoever killed Joanne... The police think she was promiscuous and brought it on herself. Yeah, they do, they questioned me for like an hour, and that’s all they wanted to talk about.”
“But the FBI... Sorry to interrupt, but the FBI thinks it was terrorism.”
“Really? I didn’t know that.”
“That’s why they took over the case.”
“I didn’t know that. See, I knew the police were wrong. Joanne wasn’t like that. Okay, she experimented a bit... Like you said, you come to college... But I think she was killed because she worked for the opposition. The violence is real. And now my... my friend.”
The minister did not fail to catch that near slip of the tongue. “I’m curious, then... Don’t misunderstand me, I’m glad you’re here, I really am. On the other hand, you’ve indicated that you’ve known Pastor Whitcomb for a good part of your life. A matter as... as charged as this seems to be... Yet you come to see me, a stranger after all.”
She repeated that since this was a campus matter and had nothing whatsoever to do with anybody back home...
He nodded, but only so as not to betray his distress, and recommended that she call the FBI. “Granted it’s no longer what it was, what with its assaults on the president. Still, it is the relevant authority for matters like what you’re...”
Shaking her head, Kaylee said she was afraid to do that, in case her concern was overblown. “Like I said, he brags. It might just be a sick joke.”
“But you’re here because you fear it might not.”
She nodded. “I don’t know what to do, reverend. I think I have to take it seriously. Before I came here, I confided in a friend... and he said, ‘What if it’s real and you didn’t report it?’”
“Sometimes the right path is broad and straight, and lies right before us, well paved and brightly lit. Other times it’s not like that, is it? It’s narrow and out of the way and the light is dim. I believe you know what to do in a case like that, don’t you?”
“You mean ask Jesus?”
“Shall we pray together?”
When she nodded, he took her hand, they closed their eyes, and he began, “Jesus, we come to you to seek guidance. We are confused and our souls are perturbed. We beseech you in our humility to help us find the right path.”
Afterward she thanked him and he invited her to return after she had had time to reflect.
* * *
The next time Chip and Dirk met Butch, he took them inside the warehouse to show them a shipping box on a makeshift table. He said it contained the components for two military-class assault rifles with telescopic sights, and asked if they could assemble them. Chip said yes, Dirk shook his head. “You’re in charge,” said Butch to Chip. “Teach him to do it.”
When that was done, Butch told Chip to teach Dirk how to load, aim, and fire. “Shit, I can do that,” he said.
“No you can’t, so shut the fuck up.”
“Yes, I can,” he insisted and grabbed the rifle. When he was done, Butch nodded, and he said he’d been sport shooting since he was nine.
He showed them where to hide the rifles. There was a large supply of bullets there. Chip asked if they were 77-grain hollow point. He nodded and explained to Dirk that they were designed for penetration at long range.
He asked if they knew how to zero the scopes. When they both nodded, he asked Dirk to explain how it was done.
He told them they needed to find a place where they could practice on a target at 700 yards. “That’s kind of long for this rifle, isn’t it?” asked Chip.
“You will practice every day. You will start at 100 yards and increase to 700 yards. Yes, that is long for this rifle. Especially if you’re dealing with elevation or wind conditions. But if you place on a target at 700—better, if you can group at 700—you can count on making your shot at proper range, say 500, 600 max.”
He told them that, since they would be coming to the warehouse every day, it was important that they vary their pattern. “Don’t drive straight here every day after school. Okay? Try not to act like knuckleheads.” He told them how to make sure they weren’t being followed. “Obviously, if you are followed, you don’t come here. Take them to one of your usual spots, the mall or whatever.” He told them how to lose a tail, but said that took some practice.
He shook their hands, like he had the first time, and told them to beat it, then waited for Connor to appear. “Okay?”
“These are sweet pieces. Where the hell did you...?” He looked on the box for the return address. There was no name, just an address in Houston.
* * *
When the woman the DEA agent knew as Natasha returned to the Russian consulate, she reported to her boss (in Russian, obviously) on the progress she had made. When he was satisfied, he said he would authorize the next payment. “You’ll deliver it as usual, in person?”
She caught the look in his eye, the one he thought she couldn’t see. “Yes, he still enjoys his payments.” She stared at him till he was forced to look away, pretending to study a document on his desk.
When he looked up, he was all business—at least he thought he was. “The payments are still sufficient to keep him in line?”
“Yes, commander. I would remind you that our agent is not only motivated by desire—nor fear of exposure, should he try to bolt. He thinks of himself as a patriot, not a traitor. Today he told me that he is simply following the man he calls ‘my president and commander-in-chief,’ who, he says, has repeatedly affirmed that Russia is America’s close friend.”
“This was not a joke?”
“No, commander, I am certain that he was serious. I believe he was joking when he asked if the American president has closer dealings with our government than he himself does.”
He smiled. “Perhaps the American president is the joke.”
“Yes, commander.” She did not smile.
When she turned and walked to the door, she knew he was staring at her ass. It didn’t please her—he was a pig—but she didn’t mind. She counted on it.
* * *
Throughout their brief meeting, the president repeatedly told his lawyers how confident he was that he would ultimately win in the Supreme Court. “The lower courts don’t matter. They don’t matter. All that matters is the Supreme Court. You guys should know that, you all went to law school, I didn’t. All that studying, memorizing... And they owe me. I put half of them there, for Christ sake.”
“What he means is,” said the first one who dared to speak after they left the Oval Office, “‘Don’t fuck up at the SCOTUS.’”
“After his DEFCON-1 tantrum when the DC Circuit decided against us, I’d say we just missed the mother of all shit-storms.”
They huddled around their conference table, told any assistant who tried to say anything to ‘shut the fuck up,’ and assigned the remaining tasks for the short time before oral arguments were set to begin.
“Cross your frigging fingers, people,” said one of the senior partners as they were breaking up.
“Cross your fingers?” said another. “If there weren’t ladies present, I’d advise everyone to tie their dicks in a knot.”