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.
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“They didn’t cover the president’s huge rally yesterday, and now they show this... piddly thing?” Bob and Eric were in a small-town bar in Minnesota, where a freak storm had downed large numbers of trees. Bob continued, “He had, what, 20,000 people there yesterday? They don’t have 2,000.”
“That’s why they call it the ‘lame-stream’ media,” said Eric.
The television showed a march along a highway that looked like it might in fact be a couple of thousand people—the reporters described it as ‘hundreds.’ It was the usual TV format, reporter on the scene talking live to anchor in the studio, explaining that this was the first day of a four-day trek to the Florida state capital of Tallahassee.
It was a hastily-organized protest of the new Electoral College law, passed three days earlier on a strict party-line vote and immediately signed by a Republican governor, which allowed Electoral College ‘electors’ to ‘vote their conscience rather than rubber-stamp the popular vote.’ Everyone understood that in practice this meant that the win by the Democrat would be replaced by a win for the Republican. And with that reversal of the popular vote, the president would be re-elected, a feat considered impossible five weeks earlier, when the election results were announced.
“You know,” added Eric, “screw all those hair-balls. What difference does it make, they lost. You want to walk to the capital, knock yourselves out. A lot of good it’ll do you.”
The next evening, when they ‘reconvened’ over their beer, the number of marchers had swelled by a very large amount. Said the reporter, “People I’ve interviewed make clear that they’ve come from all over Florida, and a good number have come from neighboring states.” The march had been dubbed—no one knew for sure by whom—the ‘Tallahassee Trek.’ Helicopters showed a queue of people two, three, four abreast and miles long, which supported the ecstatic claims of organizers that they were now ‘at least 20,000 strong.’ Much was also made of the fact that they came ‘from all walks of life,’ made evident from the close-ups and interviews.
Bob and Eric watched sullenly.
By the third evening the Tallahassee Trek had become a national event. At least 50,000-strong by all accounts, with people continuing to arrive from all over the country, it was being compared to the famous Selma-to-Montgomery civil rights march of 1965. People were starting to call it a ‘political rights’ march.
There were reports of ‘near frantic’ efforts by march organizers and public safety officials to accommodate the huge mass of people expected to arrive in Tallahassee the next day. It was not impossible that the number would match the 250,000 who came to the Lincoln Memorial in 1963 to call for ‘jobs and freedom’ and listen to a man who had a dream.
Also the next day, at the same time as the rally, the Florida electors of the Electoral College would be voting in the Capitol. Actually, they would be voting in both capitols. “Tania, the Republicans decided that for the event they would move to the Old Capital, so they can drape themselves with what they have come to call ‘the mantle of history.’”
“It’s an historic building?”
“Let’s call it an elegant building, at least for 1845.”
“And the Democrats?”
“They are determined to convene their own electors, in defiance of the new law—in the current capitol, a faceless tower I doubt anyone would call elegant.”
Later reports indicated that the Democrats would be operating with questionable legality, for late in the afternoon, before the vote, the Florida Supreme Court had ruled against their challenge to the new law. The president-elect’s lawyers had requested an emergency injunction to prevent the Republicans from creating a Republican slate of electors. They made two claims, either of which, they said, demanded a stay of execution. The first was that the law was unconstitutional. The second was that, even if the court later found it not to be unconstitutional, it could not be applied retroactively.
As to the first, the court’s all-Republican bench unanimously found no ‘first impression’ evidence that the law was unconstitutional. As to the second, the court disagreed that the law would be applied retroactively, because though it had been introduced and enacted after the election, it was before the convening of the Electoral College.
The court noted that the law had been enacted “no later than the date prescribed in 3 USC Section 5 rules pursuant to the 12th Amendment.” This provided that a state’s electoral vote “shall be conclusive” if “its final determination of any controversy or contest concerning the appointment of electors... shall have been made at least six days before the time fixed for the meeting of the electors.” The electors were to meet on December 14, and the law was enacted December 8.
The court passed silently over the other requirement in the rule, that this “final determination” shall be “by laws enacted prior to the day fixed for the appointment of the electors.” The president-elect argued that “the day fixed” was election day, and further that the phrase “by laws enacted” meant ‘shall be,’ that is ‘must be’ based on then-current law. The court did not reply on the substance.
“The decision of the court, which closely followed the defeats in the two lower courts, has hit the marchers like a cold downpour on a parade. The singing and chanting and exhilarated banter have stopped. Smiles have disappeared.” The same reporter said later, “Efforts have been made to revive the mood. A semblance of it has returned, but in the main cheery optimism has yielded to grim determination.”
The mood in the bar was tense. It wasn’t just Bob and Eric, it was everybody, at least everybody except the bartender, who was working too hard to pay attention, even though by request he had turned up the volume. There were only two small TVs, one at each end of the bar, and gradually the clientele separated into two groups. Two groups that turned to face each other. Two groups that bantered with each other, then traded barbs, then began chanting. When it started to go beyond chanting, the bartender called the police.
* * *
After the terrifying confrontation with her brother, Kaylee was tormented with indecision, not just during the bus-ride back to school, but that evening and most of the night. The panic she took to bed awaited her the moment she awoke from a few hours of disturbed sleep. “If he’s even half telling the truth,” she told Joanne, “his life’s in danger. So my first duty is to try to save my brother’s life, right? Or is it to prevent him from doing harm?”
But even a few hours of disturbed sleep sometimes has a way to reset fears, and so it was that while she was brushing her teeth, it came to her what she should do.
When Chip wasn’t angry, he bragged. Before she had left, he had bragged that he communicated with the person or people he was communicating with through a secure chatroom embedded in a public site. “I know his search history. I know he mostly visits a few sites.” It wasn’t much, but it was enough to let her breathe. She heaved a big sigh.
There was a Libertarian Society on campus. She quickly reached the contact person and asked if he knew “a privacy fanatic who’s also a computer geek.”
“What do you need him for, is it illegal?”
“Of course not. I don’t think so. I’m pretty sure... No, how could it be illegal to search the Internet?”
“Oh, that’s too bad,” he said, sounding truly disappointed.
“Wow, you people really are as weird as they say.”
“Thank you!” he exclaimed, sounding truly happy. “So, come on, tell me what you need. Or do you think we should pass coded messages through a dead drop?”
“Of course not. I don’t think so. I’m pretty sure. Come on, are you gonna tell me what’s on your mind?”
She sighed again. “I need somebody to help me get into a secure chatroom.”
“Seriously? You’re not just trying to make my day, are you?”
“What? No. Yes, I’m serious.”
“Cool!” he said and then said no more.
“Well, do you know someone who could help me?”
“Could you give me his contact info?”
“You already have it.”
“No, I... Oh,” she said in a suddenly less strained voice, “I get it. You’re saying you can help me, right?”
“Wow, you’re fast. I think I like you. So when do you want to meet? Because I was mostly kidding about the safe drop, but I’m not when I say, ‘Don’t say another word on the phone, and don’t send me an email.’ So when do you want to meet?”
She went straight to his dorm. He came down to meet her and told her to come with him.
“I thought we could just do it here.”
“Are you crazy? No way. Come on.”
She followed him—neither said a word—to a noisy student hang-out on the edge of campus. It was loud, but it wasn’t busy, so they found seats at a table where they could sit beside each other with their backs to the wall. “Are you serious about this, or are you just trying to scare me or impress me or something?”
“Um... I don’t really want to scare you. Just a little, maybe. I’d really like to impress you. Mostly, though, it’s something. I’m a privacy nut, remember? So, tell me why we’re here.” She said that first she needed to swear him to secrecy. “Oh, wow, this is so cool!”
“Even better! No, really,” he added, suddenly serious, “nothing you tell me or show me will ever get past me, I promise. That’s the whole idea of privacy rights, right?” He looked at her to let her know he was done kidding. She sighed again. “It’s okay, really.”
“Promise. You are getting me pretty excited, though.”
“We’ll need his password.”
“And we need it why?”
She had no choice but to tell him. She shrugged. “I guess you’re gonna find out anyhow.” He nodded, still staring at her. She told him that her brother seemed to have somehow gotten involved with white supremacists and that they seemed to be planning some act of terrorism. She expected an extreme reaction of some sort, but he only nodded. “And you don’t even...” She was almost disturbed. He asked for the website URL and she considered leaving.
“Up to you,” he said calmly. “You want to leave, no hard feelings. I might try to kill myself, though, because you’re kind of hot.” She gave him her computer and told him the address and he quickly typed it in. “And here’s the chatroom. Username.”
“My dad’s a tree guy.”
He typed it in. “Okay,” he said decisively, “it’s time to play, ‘Guess the password!’ How old is your brother?”
“Great. Sixteen-year-old guys never make robust passwords. Upper case, lower case... They’re in too much of a rush to get to their porn. Sorry. But you knew that, right? Okay, what does he call the operation? It has to have a name. Did he ever...?”
She tried to recall and suddenly nodded. “The name he uses for... for whatever they’re planning, it’s ‘swan-dive.’”
“And they’re off! ‘Swandive,’ all lower case. Now, numbers and symbols. ‘2020!’” He was in. “Fantastic, has to be a record! Damn, I wish I’d timed it.” He found her staring at him. “I made it on the first try,” he said, like he was talking to a child. “Do you have any idea... No, you don’t, of course you don’t.”
“I’m impressed,” she said to make him feel good.
“Yeah, you look impressed,” he said facetiously. “On the other hand, I’d be the first to admit... You might think a conspiracy to overthrow the United States government deserves a robust password, not to mention robust encryption, but not if you’ve met these people. They’re not smart scary, they’re crazy scary. And crazy makes for dumb, even when you’re smart. I don’t know which is scarier. Trust me, I know, I used to be something of a patriot militia fanatic in high school.”
“You’ve met these people?”
“‘Met’ is too... Let’s say I’ve been in the same room with them. Got the hell out of there, I can tell you, but don’t get me started.”
He showed her what to do so her computer couldn’t be traced, and how to create an avatar so she couldn’t be identified. “You know what to do now, right?” She nodded, and he closed the computer and pushed it over to her.
“Is there any other way I can make your day?”
“You didn’t even read anything. You don’t even seem shocked.”
“Did you want me to, do you want me to? Just kidding. Seriously, we’re done. All I did was help you guess the password. You’re on your own now—unless of course you’d like me to help you with it. Which I’m willing to do, okay, I’d really like to do it, given certain facts expressed earlier.”
* * *
The judgment of the media was that, though there was a ‘very large’ crowd in Tallahassee, it was far short of the hoped-for 250,000. Therefore the ‘story’ became, not why some 100,000 people had come to Tallahassee—on the spur of the moment—from all over the country, but why more of them had not come. That, plus the desperate effort of the president-elect to claim the state’s electoral vote, a process occurring at the same time, a stone’s throw away from the demonstrators, made it hard to sustain optimism, much less a feeling of triumph.
Jillian and her friend Mary Beth were aware of what was happening—it was hard not to be aware, with news outlets talking about little else—as they nursed coffees after Jillian’s shift. Mary Beth said, “The Democrats have made no secret of their intention to turn the whole thing into a circus.”
“It’s a difficult situation,” replied Jillian, “I’ll give you that.”
“‘Shameful’ is the word I would use. First they lose in court. Then they lose again. Then they lose a third time. And now they’re going ahead with their Electoral College vote anyway—and then they have the gall to call on the governor to ‘do the right thing?’ I don’t think so.”
Jillian just nodded, sipped her cold coffee.
“If that don’t beat all! I mean come on! They’ve been out in front of the cameras for days.” She noticed Jillian. “I guess you don’t agree. You think, when they invited the Republican legislators to join their session, they should have come? Don’t you think they should have joined the Republicans?”
“I know,” said Jillian slowly. “The thing of it is, is that the whole thing hinges on that law. If it’s wrong...”
“Hon, three courts have just said it’s not wrong. What’s come over you? You turning into a liberal?”
“To tell you the truth, Mary Beth, I don’t know what’s come over me. But I’m pretty sure I haven’t turned into a liberal.”
“Something’s sure eating at you though.” Jillian nodded and sighed.
The Democrats were in fact not far from the cameras, and when cameras couldn’t be admitted to the chamber, legislators came out to the hall constantly to address them. The mood was serious. They made it clear, in word and manner, that they, not the Republicans, had properly convened the legislature, and that it was their electors, not the Republicans’, who had properly voted.
Next, the ‘certificates’ of the votes, prescribed by the federal rules of procedure, were created. At that point, the work of the chamber having been completed, everyone solemnly filed out and proceeded to the final order of business. “That,” explained their spokeswoman, “is to submit the certificates to the governor, so that he may, pursuant to the rules, attach his ‘certificate of ascertainment’ and apply the seal of the great State of Florida.”
Then, accompanied by the media—though the TV crews took the elevators—the crowd descended three flights of stairs to the ground floor, where the governor’s office was located.
No one seemed surprised that he was not in his office, nor was anyone shocked when a staffer professed ignorance of his current location, saying only that he was ‘suddenly called away on an urgent matter.’ They went next to the Old Capitol, where there was also an office for the governor, but it was locked and dark. Finally, they went to the Governor’s Mansion, a fleet of buses having magically appeared to transport the entire Democratic caucus, not just the electors, as well as any media people who didn’t have their own transportation.
They were met at the gate by a large squadron of state police, arrayed just inside, whose commander politely announced that the mansion was ‘currently closed to all visitors.’
“We are here on official business,” said the spokesperson. “Kindly call the governor and inform him that the duly appointed electors of the Florida Electoral College are here on official business.”
“I am instructed to tell you that the governor is already aware of the purpose of your visit, but is currently unavailable.”
“Please be so kind as to make the call. I’d be more than happy to speak to him myself.”
The governor was called, a few words were exchanged, and the phone was passed through the grill. “Thank you for you taking my call, governor,” she began.
That was all she got to say. The governor thanked her for her service, but noted that the work of the Electoral College had already been completed, ‘pursuant to the letter of the law,’ and therefore nothing further was required. Before she could reply, the call was terminated.
She announced to the media people what had just occurred, then added that the rules pertaining to ‘ascertainment’ referred to a state’s ‘executive,’ not its governor. “Therefore, this state’s governor, having just declared himself unavailable, calls will now be made on the state’s executives next in line.” These, she explained, were the lieutenant governor, the attorney general, and the secretary of state. “We shall see if one of them will ascertain the certificates of Florida’s electors.”
“But they are all Republicans,” immediately shouted one of the reporters.
“No, sir. They may be Republicans, but they are also officers of the state, elected by the people—all the people, not just Republicans.”
“Do you really think...”
The speaker ostentatiously turned to a phone offered by an aide, who had just inputted the number. “With whom am I speaking?” she began. And so went the spectacle all the way to the predictable conclusion. At that point, she made a patriotic speech about the sanctity of elections and indicated that ‘the electors duly appointed by the legislature would appeal to the courts for the proper enforcement of the constitutional rules.’
“I’m troubled, Mary Beth. I’m troubled by what’s happening in Florida.”
“So am I. But I get the feeling we’re not troubled by the same thing.”
Jillian thought about what she was going to say. “Let me ask you something. It doesn’t trouble you...? I’m not talking about legality now, because what do I know about that? But it doesn’t trouble you that we passed a law—after the election—to change the election? If the Democrats had done that, would we be okay with it?” Mary Beth didn’t answer. “That’s what I’m talking about.”
Mary Beth thought hard. “Except... Well... That assumes the Democrats really won in Florida.”
“Well, the Supreme Court said they did. They gave the president a bunch of states, but that one they didn’t.”
“Yeah, I don’t know. The president said he won.”
“And we believe whatever he says. Even when the Supreme Court disagrees.”
“Well, gee, Jillian, are we just supposed to sit back and let the liberals take over the country?” She stared at Jillian as if it might help her figure out what was wrong with her. “Jillian, you’re my best friend in the whole world, I just love you to death, and there’s nothing I wouldn’t do for you—but I got to say I don’t know what’s come over you.”
“I don’t either, and that’s the truth. I’ve asked Jesus... I’ve prayed for guidance...”
“Have you talked to the minister?”
“I don’t need to. I can tell you right now what he’ll say. He’ll tell me the president is God’s man, and we can’t let some of his wayward comments blind us to that fact.”
“Well, isn’t that the truth?”
“Is it the truth?” Mary Beth fell silent and Jillian pressed forward. “Mary Beth, tell me the truth. If that man was just some stranger and he came to your house, behaving the way he does, would you let him come in? I wouldn’t. I don’t want him near me, I don’t want him near my daughter. Does that sound like he’s God’s man?”
“You know the answer to that, hon. The Lord works in mysterious ways. Who are we to second-guess God?”
“I can’t say I know the answer to that. But I do know God gave us a brain. He must have done it for a reason.”
After a long pause, Mary Beth asked if Jillian had voted for the president. She nodded. “So you believed in him then.”
She shrugged. “Maybe I was just afraid to leave the fold. But even if I did... What he’s doing, trying to change the election, even when the Supreme Court said he lost... I don’t know if I can live with that.”
“You’d rather see America turn into a Godless country.”
“No, that scares the heck out of me.”
“But there’s also this: If the will of the people is subverted—by the president, no less—then what is left of our democracy?”
* * *
When Kaylee got back to her room, she immediately logged into the chatroom and started reading. Nicky had told her how to decrypt it. “You see this,” he’d said, pointing to the gibberish on the screen. “Oh, dear me, how are we ever going to decrypt this?” he said with fake alarm. “Well, I’ll show you how, you dipshits,” he said yelling at the computer, “like this. Boop boop boop, and there it is, ladies and gentlemen.”
“Can you show me how you did that?” asked Kaylee. “It went by kind of fast.”
He showed her, then she tried it. “Easy, right? So what are the possibilities? (A), they’re dumb,
by which I mean computer illiterate. (2), they’re stupid, meaning they don’t care.” He weighed the alternatives with open palms. “Dumb, stupid, dumb, stupid. Hard to tell.”
After reading for what seemed a long time, she considered another possibility: That after all they really weren’t serious. In fact, maybe the whole thing was a sick game, a bunch of teenage boys acting like... teenage boys.
She reviewed a bunch of posts she had read, and the tension and fear in her face turned to scorn. She was making faces at the computer, shaking her head with disdain. “RAHOWA!” she saw in caps and bold and underlined. It was a word she’d learned from Chip.
“‘Racial holy war,’” he’d said, staring at her in hopes of a reaction. When he didn’t get it, he added, “The war to end degeneracy, race-mixing, atheism, and communism. Return America to white people.”
“You don’t even mean that. You mean Anglo-Saxon Protestant men.”
He still stared at her.
She snorted at her computer. “I’m sorry,” she told it, “but serious people don’t take ridiculous ideas like this seriously. ‘Racial holy war,’” she said in a mocking voice. “Give me a break.”
She reviewed other posts that had so upset her earlier. Posts that praised the young man who burst into a church during a service in Charleston, South Carolina in 2015 and murdered nine people, all African-Americans. Posts that praised the young man who drove his car into a crowd of peaceful counter-protesters at an ‘Alt-right’ rally in Charlottesville, Virginia in 2017, injuring dozens and killing a woman. Posts that praised the young man who entered a Walmart Supercenter frequented by Hispanics in El Paso, Texas in 2019, killing 23 and wounding 23 more. Her conclusion: “This is disgusting, and shame on my brother, but it isn’t a reason to ruin his life by telling the FBI he’s a terrorist.”
She felt better. Much better.
She heaved a huge sigh of relief and walked around the room. Suddenly she laughed. She shook her head. She sighed again.
“Okay, Kaylee,” she said to herself, “how about you do a little schoolwork.” She shook her head again. “To think what dad and mom are going through to keep me here.”
She logged out of the chatroom and opened an assignment. Later, for no apparent reason, she laughed again, shook her head again, sighed again.