The Free Press

By Bob Cram ( T.J. Coongate)

Angus Dealman muttered angrily under his breath.
“What’s that, yer say Angus?” Joe looked up from his plate of bacon and eggs. Angus was taking breakfast with me and Joe at the Five N’ Diner in beautiful downtown Mooseleuk. Now he picked up a copy of the local paper, the Mooseleuk Mouth, and shook it angrily in one ham-like fist.
“You read this drivel about Elton Philander? What the heck’s Yapp doing writing about a man’s private business?”
Before either Joe or I could answer, the door opened and Luze Yapp himself bounded into the room. Luze was editor and chief reporter of the small local paper. He was a wiry little man with abundant energy and flaming red hair. Everything interested him and he rarely ignored a story that claimed his interest. Now he hurried over to our table as Angus Dealman stood, his face turning a darker shade.
“Mornin’ gents, morning! Got any juicy tidbits for me today?” Yapp asked brightly.
“Speaking of tidbits, Yapp,” Angus spoke up. “What’s the idea of printing this backdoor stuff about Elton Philander? If he goes stepping around of an evening, it isn’t the business of every Tom, Dick and Harry on the street!”
“’Course it is,” Yapp replied loftily. “The public has a right to know!”
“Bull!”
“What?!” Yapp’s red hair bristled.
Dealman leaned over until he was right in the face of the smaller man.
“You show me anywhere in the Constitution, or any other American law, where it says the people got the right to know diddly-squat! That’s just some catchy sayin’ you idiots in the press thought up to justify sticking your noses everywhere they don’t belong! ‘I kin print anything I want about anybody because “the people got a right to know”.’” Dealman looked like he wanted to spit and Yapp was right in the line of fire. The reporter hastily backed away, but his hair was standing on end by now and he appeared ready to explode.
Then, all of a sudden, he seemed to deflate. A calculating look spread over his narrow face. “Me thinkest thou protesteth too much,” he misquoted softly.
“What?” Dealman’s scowl deepened. “What the hell are you talkin’ about now?”
“It just appears to me that you’re getting awfully worked up about a little yellow journalism that don’t even concern you.” Yapp looked at the big man slyly. “Seems like maybe you got a little something to hide yourself.”
Dealman’s eyes bulged. He snatched up the offending paper and crumpled it into a tiny ball before flinging it down on the table. A sausage-shaped finger suddenly appeared under Yapp’s nose.
“If I did have somethin’ to hide, it’d take more than a pint-sized nosey parker like you to find it out!” He threw a couple of bills on the table and stormed out, slamming the door behind him. Luze stared after him with a pensive expression on his face.
“Siddown and have some coffee, Luze,” Joe said hooking a chair with one foot and drawing it away from the table. The reporter sat down, turned over a cup and poured it full of the steaming brew. He sipped at the hot coffee appreciatively.
“Y’know, Luze, Angus has a point,” Joe said. “The public don’t got to know every little part of somebody’s private life.”
“Ah, but that’s what sells newspapers,” Yapp replied, delicately wiping his upper lip with a napkin. “And magazines and books too, for that matter.” He looked thoughtfully at the crumpled-up newspaper lying on the table.
“Freedom of the press has always been a two-edged sword, boys. You’re looking at one side of it, the side where some stories seem like an unwarranted intrusion into private lives. The alternative is having somebody decide for you what should be published and what shouldn’t. And everybody has a different idea about that. So who does the deciding? The government? A committee? Every time something like that’s been tried it’s led to censorship and unpopular restrictions on what people can read. Face it guys; in a free society it’s better to have too much information out there than have somebody else deciding what aren’t allowed to read.”
“I guess you’re probably right, Luze” I said thoughtfully. “But it’s an easy concept to push when you don’t have anything on the line. I’d probably feel better about the whole idea if more editors and publishers used a little more discretion in what they print.”
Luze finished his coffee and stood up. “I do use discretion. I try not to print out and out lies. And I don’t make up things to fill out a story.”
“Right now I got an idea ol’ Angus Dealman’s hiding something he doesn’t want me to know about. It just might be something worth printing. I’m going to keep an eye on Angus for the near future and see where the story leads me. See you boys later.”
It was toward the end of the week before we saw Angus Dealman again. He was on the sidewalk when we came out of the Emporium, where Joe had just purchased a new 14-inch cast iron frying pan.
“That’s a big pan, Joe. Hold a mess of trout.”
“Or perch…or deer meat for that matter,” Joe agreed.
“What’s in the bottle?” He pointed at the pint bottle sticking out of a paper bag under Joe’s arm.
“Peanut oil. Got to season ‘er up right before you can cook in it.”
“I’ve heard about seasoning cast iron, but I never knew how it was done. And peanut oil?”
“Used to use salt pork fat, but it ain’t real good for you. Peanut oil stands high heat without scorchin’. I was an’ dry the new pan real good. Then pour about an inch of peanut oil in it and rub it all over the inside. Then I stick her in the oven. Keep the oven about 200, 250 degrees an’ leave ‘er there three or four hours if you can. Take the pan out after that an’ pour off the excess oil. Wipe it dry. You’ll find the inside is still shiny with oil.
“Cast iron got little fine pores in it. The hot oil fills them pores. Every time you cook in it you wipe it clean an’ rub a little oil all over the inside with your finger before storin’ it. In a little while you’ll find nothin’ you cook sticks to it, just like a Teflon pan. Only with cast iron, it lends a special flavor to everything you cook.”
“And don’t ever use soap when you wash it,” I added.
“Don’t use soap?” Angus asked in surprise. “Then how do you get it clean?”
“Soap will taint the oil and give what you cook a bad taste,” Joe said. “It’ll also take off the surface oil an’ make things stick afterward. To clean a cast iron pan you use salt.”
“Salt?” Angus looked confused. Joe grinned.
“Wash out the pan best you kin with scalding water. Then take a paper towel an’ scrunch up one end of it. Or a dish cloth, for that matter. Just wet the cloth or paper towel. Then pour a little mound of table salt in the middle of the pan. Press the wet cloth into the salt and use it to scour the pan. When the salt gits wet it acts just like sandpaper under that cloth. It’ll scrub that pan squeaky clean. Then just dump out the salt and rinse the pan with hot water. Dry it and rub a little oil on the inside. She’ll be ready for the next time.”
“Well I’ll be darned,” Dealman grinned and shook his head. “Learn something every day.” He turned suddenly serious Looking carefully around, he stepped closer.
“Look, boys…you got to help me with that Luze Yapp.”
“What’s the matter, Angus?” Joe asked.
“He’s followin’ me everywhere I go. I can’t get nothing done, can’t…meet with people. Everywhere I go I spot him skulkin’ around with a camera hangin’ from his neck.” Suddenly, he stiffened like a bird dog on point. “See! There he is now.”
We looked around to where Angus was pointing and spotted the grinning face of Luze Yapp peering around the corner of the barber shop across the street. He did, indeed, have a camera suspended on a strap around his neck.
“Angus,” Joe said slowly. “Luze thinks you got something to hide…something he can write about.”
Angus flushed. “If I got somethin’ to hide…well…it ain’t none of his business. An,’ anyway, it ain’t got nothin’ to do with…well…meetin’ with people, like he thinks it does.
“Look, guys,” he said desperately, “how about tellin’ Yapp I’ve gone over to Ashland on business? He’s sure to ask after I leave an’ he’ll believe you.”
“Ain’t gonna life for you, Angus,” Joe said slowly. “But we’ll do the best we can.”
“Knew I could count on you,” Angus said gratefully. He turned and strode off down the street.
Seconds later Luze Yapp was beside us.
“Did he confide in you? Maybe tell you what he’s hiding?” Luze asked.
“Nope. Don’t even know if he is hidin’ somethin’.” Joe replied.
“Well, where’s he going now? Did he say?”
“Might be going to Ashland,” I said carefully.
“Or it might be Masardis,” Joe added.
“Did he actually say that?” Luze looked back and forth between us.
“Well,” Joe drawled, “He didn’t actually say it. But you know…” He winked slyly.
“Thanks guys!” Luze hurried off along the sidewalk.
It was late the next afternoon when Angus Dealman showed up at Joe’s cabin. We had both doors and all the windows open, with the screens keeping out the occasional black fly.
The newly seasoned cast iron frying pan was on the stove, laden with a big mess of white perch fillets. The aroma was heavenly.
“Yore just in time, Angus,” Joe said, wielding a spatula. “Grab a plate an’ sit. These perch is almost done.”
“Don’t feel much like eatin’,” Angus said as he sank down at the table.
Joe glanced at me. “What’s the matter, Angus? You sick or somethin’?”
“It’s that danged Yapp. Snuck up on me yesterday afternoon. While I was talkin’ to some…friends. He took some pictures an’…”
At that moment the screen door opened and Luze Yapp stepped in, a look of triumph on his thin face.
“Mind if I join the party boys? Got a little somethin’ I’d like to show Angus, here.” He pulled out a chair and sat down without further invitation. From a pocket inside his coat he drew a sheaf of pictures.
“Thought you’d fooled me with that talk about Ashland and Masardis, didn’t you?” He looked at me and Joe.
“Good thing I met that car on the Pinkham Road and recognized one of the men in it. All I had to do is turn around and follow them to where they met you, Angus. The rest was easy. I just followed you to that land you own on the top of Bald Knob. That’s the man I recognized.” He plunked a finger down on one of the photos. Me and Joe leaned over to examine the print. It clearly showed three men standing with Angus Dealman as he pointed to something in the distance.
“I recognize that guy too,” I said, looking closer. “That’s Ralph Stymie. He’s on the board of the Land Use Regulation Commission.”
“That’s right,” Yapp agreed. “Once I recognized him, I got in contact with a guy I know in Augusta. He did some checking Guess what I found out?”
Dealman just glared at him.
“I found out you’re planning on building some kind of resort up there on your land.”
“It’s a set of camps spread over the Knob,” Angus said softly. “It’s called Bald Knob after that old burn years ago. You guys know they’s a lot of trees there now. We want to build log cabins in amongst the trees. Low impact on the woods. The cabins will have all the amenities, but still be rustic. Poultice Lake is just below for fishing and swimming. And that stand of old growth pine is just to the north. A lot of people like to see those things. It can work.”
“Of course it can work, Angus,” Luze agreed. “You should have told me about it. I could have helped you advertise. Instead, I had to go all around Robin Hood’s barn to find out your little secret.”
“The other two men are investors. They and one other man agreed to invest but the guy who isn’t in the picture didn’t want any publicity until the deal went through.”
“Who’s the other guy?” Luze leaned forward eagerly. “You might as well tell me now. This story will be front page news in the Mouth tomorrow anyway.”
Angus looked up slowly and the trace of a smile spread across his face.
“All right, Luze, if you have to know. The other man, the one who didn’t want any publicity? That man is Ralston Journal.”
“Yapp’s jaw dropped. A look of dismay came over his face. Joe started to grin.
“Well, now… correct me if I’m wrong here, Luze, but among all the other publications that Ralston Journal owns, isn’t one of them the Mooseleuk Mouth?”
“Well, there you have it, Luze,” Angus’s grin widened. “You’ve got the whole story you wanted so desperately. We’re all just waitin’ to see if you’ve got guts enough to print it.”
Yapp flushed a deep red. But suddenly he sat up straight and a look of firm resolve spread across his narrow features. Quickly he began to gather up the prints.
“I believe I have a current photo of Mr. Journal in my files to go with these ones. You may be assured that the story will be in tomorrow’s paper, just like I said. The people have a right to know!” His face now ashen, Yapp strode out of the cabin, leaving the screen door to slam behind him.
Angus Dealman looked after his retreating figure. “Suppose he’ll actually print the story.”
“I expect he will,” I answered. “Say what you want about Luze…he believes in what he says. He’ll print the story and take his chances with his job.”
“Oh, I doubt if Rals Journal will fire him. The deal’s about done anyway. I was just tryin’ to keep it a secret because that’s the way Ralston wanted it.”
“Well,” Joe said, “I guess it’s kind of too bad that Luze did finally find out the secret you didn’t want to let out.”
Angus looked puzzled, then he shook his head. “No, no…that wasn’t the secret I didn’t want him to know about. No, my secret was a lot worse.” He looked back and forth between us. You fellers keep this just between the three of us, okay? I wouldn’t want nobody to find out about it.”
We both nodded in the affirmative
“Well…” Angus looked down at his hands. “In 1973 I poached a deer. It’s the most shameful thing I have ever done. I’ve had to live with it all these years.” He looked up. “You boy’s won’t look down on me will you?”
Joe looked stunned. “No, no…course we won’t Angus. Yer secret’s safe with us.”
Angus looked grateful. He thanked us for our support, then rose and walked slowly out of the cabin. We listened until the sound of his pickup died slowly away.
“Well,” I said, a slow grin spreading across my face. “So that was Angus’s dirty secret. That’s shameful. Imagine poaching a deer. And having it bother you for over 30 years.”
Joe, who had practically lived on poached deer meat for the first 20 years of his life, before he gave up his evil ways, scowled at me.
“Why don’t you shut yer pie hole and go tend them perch? They’s about to scorch.”

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