Madison turned off her car and looked at the cabin before her. She double-checked the address, and the number matched the crooked digits hanging next to the door. The front door opened, and Lucas waved to her. She smiled, reached into the passenger seat to grab the gift bag, and got out of the car.
“Hey,” she said, stepping across the threshold into the warm room. There was a small wood stove in the corner working overtime against the cold December day. The interior was unfinished, and the random assortment of furniture had that found-on-the-side-of-the-road look. “Nice place,” she said.
Lucas laughed. “You’re a good liar. I bet you get that from me.”
She handed him the gift bag and pulled out her phone to check the time. No signal. “You have Wi-Fi here?” she asked.
“Nope. Cable don’t make it this far out. And there’s no phone coverage either. We’re off the grid.”
“Nah. I’m not one of them tinfoil hat guys or anything. It’s just I don’t have much money and the rent on this place is cheap as hell. Can I get you something to drink? I got juice, milk, pop. No beer, obviously. Can’t have that stuff around.”
“I’ll just have water,” she said. “Thanks.”
He went to the sink and drew a glass of water from the tap. “Tap water is actually real good here. There’s a well out back. Not too hard, not too soft.”
She accepted the glass and took a tiny sip. She scanned the room and saw no TV. There was a small, old fashioned radio on the kitchen counter next to the toaster oven. “So what do you do out here? I can’t imagine how I’d pass the time without my phone.”
He pointed at the wall. There were shelves fashioned from planks and cinder blocks, stretching all the way to the ceiling, completely filled with books. She walked over to inspect them. “Have you read all of these?” she asked.
“Not yet. Most of them. There’s a book swap at a community center I used to go to in the city, and every now and then I’ll load up some books and switch up my inventory. Top two shelves are my to-do list.”
The books covered every conceivable genre, from pulp romance to biographies. She notice the lower shelves had a lot of books on eastern religion. “Are you a Buddhist?” she asked.
“Not really. But I like the way they think. I told you I do meditation, right?”
“You did,” she said, still inspecting the book spines.
“Doc taught me how to do it when I was inside,” he said. “It’s a big part of how I keep clean. And those fellas in India practically invented it. So I like to read what they have to say about it. Chakras and stuff. There’s way more to know than I’ll ever be able to take in, but I’m learning.”
Madison settled into a comfortable chair and crossed her legs. “This chair is great,” she said.
“Not much to look at, but I like it a lot. Sometimes I fall asleep reading and spend the whole night in that chair.”
She ran her hand along the arm and squeezed it. She imagined what her father would look like asleep in the chair. A book open on his chest. “You should open your present,” she said.
He snatched the gift bag from the table where he’d placed it and removed the tissue paper. “Hey! Nice socks! I definitely needed some new ones,” he said.
Madison laughed. “I see what you mean about the lying. We are on what Mom calls the extreme austerity program at my house. Everyone is getting socks this year. Look inside.”
He looked in the bag, which was empty, and then at the sock in his hand. He reached into it and pulled out a gift card. “Oh! That’s super nice of you,” he said.
“I like their coffee,” she said. “It’s that place we went to in the mall.”
“Yeah, that’s great. Hang on, I got something for you, too,” he said. He moved a few things off a footlocker that was doing double-duty as a side table. He reached in and pulled out a rectangular package, nicely wrapped in shiny silver paper.
“Oh, you didn’t need to do that!” Madison said. She tore open the paper. It was a hardcover book. All The President’s Men.
“Have you read it?” he asked.
“I haven’t! I know about it, though. My journalism teacher talks about Watergate all the time. Thank you so much!”
“You’re welcome. It ain’t new, but I think it’s in pretty good shape. And if you slip that paper cover off, the hardcover looks like a law book or something. They don’t make books like that anymore.”
Madison slipped the outer cover off and looked at the spine, then she put the protective paper back on. “Yeah, it definitely looks better without Nixon’s face on it, huh?” She laughed.
“My folks hated that guy,” Lucas said. “I was just a little kid, so I don’t remember it much, but my old man was so pissed when Ford pardoned him. He wanted Nixon to rot in jail.”
“I guess I don’t know anything about your family,” Madison said.
“Not much to know. They both passed a while back. Had to learn about it in the paper, on account of they don’t want nothing to do with me. Didn’t, I mean. Anyway, no brothers or sisters. So I’m afraid you ain’t got no rich uncle on my side that’s gonna croak and leave you set for life.”
Madison smiled, “Too bad. I could use one of those.”
“Yeah, me too. So I figured since you’re a reporter, you’d be into that book. It’s about those guys Woodward and Bernstein. They were super famous back in the seventies. I can see you getting famous like that someday.”
Madison’s smile broadened. “That’s very sweet of you to say. I don’t care about being famous, but if I got famous for writing a story that’s important, that’d be cool.”
“Very cool,” he agreed. “This story you’re working on about CLP. You think it’ll be important like that?”
She shrugged. “Could be. Honestly, I don’t know if it’ll ever see the light of day. I’m working on it anyway, but I crossed a few lines I shouldn’t have crossed pursuing it.”
“Ain’t never met a line I wouldn’t cross,” he laughed. “You get that from me, too.”
“Maybe I do. Definitely doesn’t come from mom,” she laughed.
“We were such a strange pair. She was way too good for me, your mom was. Way out of my league. I guess I was her bad boy, rebellious phase. Your Grampa was a piece of work when she was growing up. Pretty sure we were together mostly because it pissed him off. I guess they get along okay now, though, huh?”
“Seems that way,” Madison said. She was curious what Lucas meant about Grampa but didn’t feel comfortable probing deeper on that subject.
“I’m really glad you came by, kiddo,” Lucas said. “I feel like we could talk all day and only scratch the surface.”
“I agree,” she said. She sat back in the comfortable chair, sipped her water, and looked at the cover of her new book.