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.
* * *
The president seemed to really like the phrase ‘target-rich environment.’ He repeated it in tweets and public statements. “My lawyers tell me the Electoral College is a mess, it’s broken. They say it’s a target-rich environment.”
When Greg brought Ellen her breakfast, he found her as he had left her, still in bed, turned away, staring into space. He put down the tray and kissed her. “I know, it’s terribly depressing to hear a US president trash an American institution—especially one created by the founders in the Constitution. But it’s going to be all right, Ellen,” he said quietly. “You’ll see.” He caressed her. “Maybe if you had some coffee, it might pick you up a little? Hm? If you could just...” He tried to help her sit up, but she was limp.
He returned the tray to the kitchen and made a call. “Yeah, hi. Listen, I’m going to be in late. Yeah, she’s not doing great this morning... Yeah, I know, I am too. She was starting to come back, you know? But the news is just too... It just really gets to her... Yeah, if you could do that, that would be great. Tell him I’ll be in touch real soon, maybe this afternoon. Tell him, you know, reassure him, now that I’m back, we’ll get it done real soon. And you’ll let the others know too, okay? Let them know I’ll be working from here. If anyone needs to reach me, don’t hesitate... Yeah, you know the drill. I guess we’re getting practiced at it, huh. But, you know, I was so hopeful that we had turned the corner. Now... Yeah, thanks, I appreciate that. You’re the best... All right, talk to you later.”
He sighed, put her breakfast in the microwave, and opened his laptop. But when the microwave buzzed, he didn’t hear it. His face showed someone desperately struggling to manage their anger.
To Joanne’s killer, it was exhilarating. He was listening to the president while looking at the wall in his small, shabby living room that held all the pictures of Joanne. Some were pictures he had downloaded and printed, some he had taken himself. A photo of her in the campaign office, taken through the store window. A photo of her walking along the sidewalk. Some he had enlarged and cut away everything but her.
On the opposite wall was a picture of another woman. This one was smiling at the camera. The way he looked at her photo, it was clear he found her attractive. It was clear he was pondering something.
After the shocking Supreme Court announcement, there had been a small demonstration on the Indiana State U. campus, no more than a few dozen students. He had seen the poster on one of the outside bulletin boards and had gone. A couple of students spoke. One was the young woman. She was animated and articulate. She was pretty.
When the gathering was dispersing, he asked if he could get a photo of her for ‘the paper.’ She was flattered. She gave him her name and contact information.
When she left, he followed her.
* * *
“Well, it didn’t take long for Florida Republicans to pass the new law,” said one of the Fox commentators, clearly relishing the news.
“Only a few days,” said the expert brought in to discuss the new law. “Thanks to large Republican majorities in both houses of the legislature, plus a Republican governor. Thanks, also, it should be said, to the president’s expert legal team. They’ve been down there working around the clock.”
“And I believe it’s called the ‘Electoral College Freedom of Conscience Restoration Act,’ is that correct?”
“That is correct.”
“Could you help us understand what it does?”
“Certainly. So, what this law does—primarily, it has a number of provisions, but this is the big one—is eliminate the requirement that ‘electors’ appointed to the state’s Electoral College...”
“Whoa. ‘Electors,’ ‘Electoral College...’”
“Okay. The Electoral College was created by Article Two of the Constitution to provide for what we call the ‘indirect’ election of presidents. The people vote in the popular election, but then the electors of the Electoral College vote separately—I know, I’m getting there—to actually elect the president. Okay, what’s the Electoral College? Well, it’s not a college. It’s an electoral body, created for each presidential election, for the sole purpose of casting votes. How is this body formed? However each state’s legislature determines. Who becomes an elector in this body? Again, the legislature decides. The Constitution doesn’t prescribe a method, it leaves it up to the states, to each state, to work out its own method.”
“Well, could the legislature just name the electors, or do you need some kind of vote?”
“Good question. The Constitution doesn’t say, it’s silent on the issue—deliberately, I would say. This is what it says: ‘Each state shall appoint, in such manner as the legislature thereof may direct...’ That’s it.”
“Wow. Can I say ‘wow?’”
“You can say ‘wow.’ Now, Article Two didn’t work out so well. It was okay so long as George Washington was running for president, but as soon as he left, the Electoral College system broke down. Big time. The election of 1800, which pitted Thomas Jefferson against John Adams, former Secretary of State against former Vice President, both signers of the Declaration of Independence... And I do mean ‘pitted.’ The Electoral College produced no winner—neither had a majority—and so, under the rule laid out in the Constitution—same Article Two—the House of Representatives voted to determine the winner. Thirty-six ballots later—thirty-six—Jefferson was elected.”
“Did you say thirty-six...?”
The expert nodded. “Adams was seriously... let’s say ‘put out.’ He claimed Jefferson had stolen the election, they had a falling out—they had been close friends in the past—and didn’t speak to each other for 25 years.”
“More importantly for our story, no one was happy with the way things had worked. So along comes the 12th Amendment, drafted soon afterward and ratified a few years later, which improved the rules. But—big ‘but’—it doesn’t say anything about how electors are selected and how they can vote. You still with me? Okay, there’s one more chapter, before we jump to today.”
“Whatever you say, professor, you’re the expert.”
“Okay, to make a long story short, the idea of the Electoral College being independent of the popular vote didn’t sit well. So by, say, 30 years later, almost every state had passed a law requiring that the Electoral College vote in accordance with the popular vote. In effect it was more or less reduced to a rubber stamp. And so, roughly speaking, the matter stood until today—except a few days ago, Florida made history by returning us—well, returning Florida—to the original Constitutional system.”
“All right. So, thank you for the history lesson. So, just to be clear, where are we, in Florida I mean?”
“Again, the law eliminates the requirement that electors vote unanimously in favor of whoever won the popular vote in their state. Now they are free to vote their conscience, as the Constitution provides.”
“So, a question, professor. Given that this is what the Constitution provides, an independent Electoral College, how did the states—including Florida, I believe... I mean, how were all those state laws constitutional?”
“Good question. Excellent question, because that is precisely where we expect the Democrats to go.”
“Challenge the constitutionality of the new law in court.”
“And... do they have a case?”
The expert smiled again. “Depends who you ask.”
“All right, how about if we ask you.” The moderator laughed.
“My answer would be that they have a case, but not one that’s good enough to win.”
“And that’s because...”
“Well, here’s where it gets really wonky.”
“All right, that sounds like a good place to take a break. You heard it, folks. We’ll be right back, after this.”
“Did you hear that?” shouted Bob excitedly. “Did you hear that? Holy smokes, we’re gonna win this thing.”
“Sorry, I meant to say, ‘Well, I’ll be...’ We’re gonna win it. Just like the president said, you know?”
“How can you be so sure? ‘Vote their conscience.’ Well, a lot of people in Florida voted Democrat.”
“Because, hon, you heard what he said. They’re appointed by the legislature. That means the Republicans.”
“There are Democrats in the legislature, right?”
“Not a majority. These are going to be staunch Republicans, I’d bet my life on it. No, it’s in the bag. It’s as good as done.”
“Unless, when it goes to court...”
“You heard yourself, they’ll lose.”
Jillian looked doubtful. “Well, for your sake I hope you’re right.”
“Whoa. For my sake? Where’s this coming from? Jill?”
* * *
When they retrieved their targets, Chip was pissed. Dirk said, “Hey, dude, look on the bright side. If we both fire, you know one of us will hit the target.”
“Fuck you back. You liked showing off how much you knew about firearms, but you can’t stand that I’m the better shot. Well, get over it, dipshit.”
“What I can’t stand is you riding me all the time, just because you’re a year ahead in school. In case you don’t realize, asshole, that’s not an accomplishment.”
Dirk could see Chip was really upset and pulled back. “Don’t worry about it. You’ve been doing real well. They don’t call these ‘long shots’ for nothing. You said yourself, we’re nearing the accuracy range limit for these babies.” Chip was still sulking. “Come on, bro. Don’t forget I had three summers at NRA camp as a kid. That’s a lot of target practice.” They put up new targets and walked back. “You know what you’re doing. You’re torquing when you pull. Relax your mind and let the trigger surprise you.”
“I know how to pull a trigger.”
“Hey, suit yourself, I’m just trying to help. We don’t have a lot of time, you know.”
“I’ll give you that. I just need more time.” He proposed taking the rifles with them.
Dirk looked doubtful. “I don’t know about that, bro. Butch wouldn’t...”
“Butch wants us to be ready when the time comes. I want to be ready. And, by the way, it’s not like you’re grouping in the bull’s-eye.”
The conversation quickly centered on where they could hide them. Chip thought of a spot outside of town, a place he could reach quickly on his bike. “Nobody’ll find them, and then we don’t have to drive into Haute to get them, drive out here to shoot, then back to the warehouse, then back home...”
They drove toward home but turned onto a side road where there was an abandoned silo. “We can stash them in there.”
“There’s room for both?”
“Easily. And nobody would ever go in there.”
“Not even to screw?”
“Not unless you want rats running over you.” Adjacent to the silo was a large corn field, all in stubble this time of year, flat and open. “We can put up targets at any distance we want. And we can set up there,” he added, indicating a blind of trees along the edge of the field.
“No one comes around here?”
“Hardly anyone. This time of year? A few hunters, maybe. Small game, no big deal.”
Dirk looked doubtful. “Two teens with assault rifles? Not to mention suppressors, which we don’t have permits for.”
“That’s what the blind is for, to stay out of sight. With suppressors, no one will hear us. And if they do, it’s just muffled rifle-fire, so what? We’re just two kids, target practicing.”
“I like it,” pronounced Dirk.
“Yeah?” Chip was pleased.
“Hell yeah.” He nodded for emphasis. “In fact, let’s try it out.”
When they were driving home, an unexpected silence overtook them, which made both of them uncomfortable. Finally Dirk said, “I guess we’re really gonna do this.”
Chip didn’t reply at first, then just said, “When the call comes,” and shrugged.
There was another long silence before Dirk asked, “I’m just asking, okay? You really see yourself doing this?”
“You mean taking a head shot at 500 yards? That’s what we signed up for, right?”
“Oh, for sure. I was just...”
“You’re getting cold feet, aren’t you? You’re scared. Mister Bigshot.”
“Hey, I’m not scared. Fuck you if you think that. I’m just saying.”
“Exactly what are you saying, bro?”
He didn’t answer right away. “Think about it. We have to get in—let’s say the rifles have been planted already, I’m pretty sure that’s how they do it—but we have to evade security, get in, set up...”
“Separate locations, don’t forget.”
“Right, of course. So we take the shot, then we’ve got probably less than a minute to shut down, stow the weapon, and get the hell out of there.”
“While looking calm, so as not to alert security.” Dirk nodded. “Don’t forget, when you’re in combat, you discover skills you didn’t know you had.”
“Oh, Mister Experience talking. Yeah, I heard Butch say that too.”
“Admit it, you’re scared.”
“You’re choking. Relax your mind and let the trigger surprise you.”
“I intend to. At least I have the guts to admit...”
“Admit you’re scared?”
“Admit we’re into some serious shit.”
“That’s what I love about it. It’s real, man. School is like so far away. If we pull this off, we’ll be in history books.”
* * *
“You want to know the weird part?” Kaylee had said to Joanne, late one night. “You’re the only person I can confide in. And a couple of months ago, I didn’t even know you.” Joanne didn’t reply. “That’s weird, right?”
“You mean that you have no one else? I don’t know.” After a pause, she continued. “I should say I’m honored. It’s kind of an awful responsibility though.”
“I guess... I never thought of it that way. Sorry.”
“Don’t be sorry. It’s kind of cool. I mean we’re so different. And yet...”
“You really think we’re different?”
“I guess I meant we come from such different backgrounds.”
“Different worlds. Yeah, I get that.” They both fell silent.
With Joanne gone, Kaylee was pretending she was still there. She even talked out loud—in her room, late at night, quietly—as if she was still there with that honest face, that compassion. “I felt better after praying with the minister, but it didn’t last long. Wow, you are weird, Kaylee. Do you realize you’re talking to yourself out loud? That’s like...” But she returned to Joanne. “It didn’t last long because I realized how scared I was, and how I couldn’t confide in him, in a minister of all people. And I went there on purpose because he didn’t know me. And then to see that he couldn’t even begin to wrap his mind...”
Her chest started to heave. “He couldn’t even begin to wrap his mind around what I was implying! Oh, Jesus. Jesus, help me.” She pulled herself together. “This is crazy. I should talk to Dennis. But I can’t, because whatever I tell him is sure to get back home. Also, if I’m honest, the fact is we’re drifting apart. Did I tell you we took oaths in high school to stay true in college? But we had no idea what ISU would be like. It’s not temptation. Okay, it’s not only temptation. You see new things. You change. Maybe you question.”
She sighed deeply. She stayed silent for a long time, walking aimlessly around the room. Eventually, though, something compelled her to speak the thought out loud. “Maybe it’s so you can hear it. You can hear it, right, Joanne? The fact is that I know what I should do. ‘If you see something, say something,’ right? But what if what you see is your brother? Do you still call the FBI?”
She picked up her phone and found the number for the local office. “Wow, it’s practically on campus. Does that not seem like someone is sending me a message? Okay, I’ll call in the morning. And they’ll find out that my dear brother is just blustering, and I can breathe again.” Her face added what she couldn’t say, even silently: What if it wasn’t just bluster?
She wrote on a scrap of paper, “What might happen to him.” Beneath it she wrote, “The idea that he would hurt someone.”
In the morning she called Chip instead. It went to voicemail. So did the next ten calls. When he finally picked up, he snapped, “Howdy doo, sis, what can I do for you?” When she pressed him to tell her what was happening, he disconnected angrily and again didn’t take her calls.
She went straight to the bus station. An hour and a half later she was in his room, but he wouldn’t even look at her. She said he left her no choice but to tell mom and dad that he had gotten caught up in something... something bad. He looked at her then, looked right at her and said, “If you tell them, and they tell someone else... If the people I’m involved with find out, and they find out I was the leak, they will come for me.”
“When you say ‘come for you...’”
“These people don’t fuck around.”
“My God, Chip, how could you...”
“You don’t get it. I’m a patriot. I’m proud to serve my country and my race.”
She left quickly, before her mother got home. On the bus, to keep herself from crying, she took out a sheet of paper and wrote, “Tell parents?” From there she drew an arrow and wrote, “Puts them in impossible position.” Two more arrows, one to, “Turn him in,” the other to, “Consequences for not turning him in.”
* * *
“Ellen,” whispered Greg, Joanne’s father, “I have some good news for you. The president-elect’s lawyers are suing.” She didn’t respond. “Of course it doesn’t mean they’ll win, and there’s very little time, but still it’s good news, Ellen. You could take heart from it, maybe. Maybe it would help you get up.” She didn’t respond.
“I’m talking about Florida, about the law the Republicans just passed. The Democrats are seeking an injunction to stop it. Isn’t that good news, Ellen?” She didn’t respond. “If we get it, that’s the end of the president. Ellen, please. I know it’s not certain, but we have to take whatever good news there is. Don’t you agree?”
* * *
“Hey,” said Eric, Bob’s business partner. “listen to what I just got. ‘I will be holding my BIGGEST RALLY EVER in Tallahassee in two days, to celebrate great victory in Florida. Great new law, freedom returns to America! Lying, fake news Democrats tried to steal the election but failed like always. Pathetic. 100,000 true Americans will be there!’ Man, I love that guy.”
They were on the Interstate and were just passing a sign that put them an hour away from their next destination in upstate New York.
“Oh, man,” said Bob, “I wish I could go. You think...”
“Well, we could ditch work.”
“Yeah, no way. Funny thing about bills, they never stop.”
“I hear you. Plus, I don’t know about you, but my clothes could stand up by themselves.”
“Can I confess something? I don’t love the guy. I just think he’s what the country needs right now. Still... I mean you can just imagine it, right? The energy? Just once, you know, I wish I could get away.”
Eric nodded. “Day after tomorrow. No way we’ll be out of here by then. Not to mention Florida’s
a bit of a detour.”
“You think? What is it, thousand miles?”
“More. What can you do?”
Bob shook his head. “Still, just once, you know?”
* * *
“You sound surprised.”
“Well, if I am, it’s a happy surprise. It’s good to hear from you, Jillian. It’s more than good.”
“How are you, Richard?”
“I’m good, how are you?”
“I’m...” Hearing how ridiculous this was, she laughed.
He laughed too. “I guess that was kind of...”
They started talking, and a half hour later were still talking. She asked him what he thought about the Republicans in Florida changing the vote. He laughed. “Ah. After a half hour, I find out why you called.”
There was a time when that might have angered her, but this time she laughed. “Seriously, though.”
“Seriously, well, I’m not sure you’ll want to hear this, but what choice did they have, after the way the recount was messed up?”
“‘Ahuh’ means you don’t agree, right?”
“I don’t know if I agree. I don’t know what I know anymore. I think that’s why I called. You know, you can’t talk to anyone about this. It’s like, they look at you like you’re some kind of...”
“Thank you. I don’t feel like a traitor.”
“I don’t think you are. I admire you for... You know, for thinking for yourself.”
* * *
It was again lunchtime when a certain agent from the Drug Enforcement Agency was having lunch on a bench in Memorial Park, Houston. Again, a Russian he had come to know as Natasha happened to stroll by walking her dog and sat at the same bench. “Hello again,” he said jovially.
“Hello, Russ,” she replied with a friendly smile.
“Not ‘Roose.’ ‘Russ.’ That accent of yours makes me sound like a Russky.”
“‘Russky.’ I like this. I must call you ‘Russky.’”
“If you must, but don’t say it too loud, okay?”
She put a finger across her lips. “How is every thing?”
“Could not be better. At least for those of us who support the president.”
“Ah. You refer to new law from Florida, yes?”
“I refer to new law from Florida, yes. Good law, very good,” he added in a fake Russian accent, “for follower of president.” Then back to normal: “How much do you know about our Electoral College?”
“Before, I know nothing. Now...”
He chuckled. “Every American could say the same.” He sat back with a smile and scanned the park, breathing the fresh air. “So now, every American is wondering what’s going to happen next week in Florida when the Electoral College votes. No matter what, though, it looks a whole lot better for us than for them.”
“You believe Democrats lose in court?”
“No question. Just look at the courts in Florida. Even if they win in the lower courts—which is doubtful—they can’t win in state Supreme Court.”
“This is because...”
“This is because all of the judges—let me repeat, all of the judges—are Republicans. Plus, like I said, it’s less than a week till the vote. They don’t have to litigate the whole thing by then, but they need an injunction to stop it, and I don’t see them getting it. Either the courts will schedule hearings—and potentially they have to go to three courts, if they don’t get it—and it eats up the time... Or, they just say no. Either way, I don’t see the vote being stopped. Whether the law is ultimately struck down—which I doubt—but if it is, that would affect future votes, not this one.”
“Yes, we think this too.”
“Yes, we do. But,” she added emphatically, “we cannot be certain.”
He thought briefly. “Well, that’s interesting, because... You see, it just so happens that I am up for a big promotion... You know what a ‘promotion’ is?” She nodded and he continued. “But there’s a problem. I don’t want to fuck it up. You know what ‘fuck it up’ means?” She gave him a fake smile. “So here’s the thing. Depending on what happens next week, things are either going to be the same or I’m going to see a changing of the guard. You know what ‘changing of the guard’ means?”
“Shut up,” she said politely.
“So, question to self, do I keep my plans in place—because, you know, there are things I have to do, to keep myself in the running—or do I rest easy, because nothing will change and I’ve got it in the bag. Do you know what...”
“Shut up,” she said insistently, but still smiling. “You want my advice?”
“You’re the boss.”
“You keep all options on table. Yes? Americans love this expression. Then you are ready, either way.”
“Roger that. Do you know what...”
“Stop that! Stop,” she added quietly, “this is not way to get in my pants. Do you know what ‘get in my pants’ means?”
“Indeed I do.”
“Then listen to me. To get promotion, certain steps must be taken. However, at same time, you must not take any step that is... Oh!”
“Yes, irreversible. Do you understand?”
“A hundred percent.”