Jake Benveniste is a complex and
contradictory man who has come to the coastal Olympic Peninsula town of
Port Talbot to teach high school. But he is really there for another
purpose: revenge. How he does it, and why, plays out against the
backdrop of a logging town in economic decline; Jake's friendship with
Emo Butts, the town's newspaper editor, and Ronald Lanier, a forest
service wildlife biologist; and the attentions of two women, fellow
teacher Janet Webster and student Helen Thomas, who love him. Integral
to the crime that Jake has sworn to avenge is Olin Soams, a researcher
in quest of Bigfoot, mythical creature of the forest, and the discovery
of a software solution for the Year 2000 [Y2K] computer glitch.
These people serve as foils to Jake's
plans. In each he finds a mirror to another part of his nature and
learns as Heraclitus, the Greek philosopher, said, "A man's
character is his fate." The secrets these people hide from each
other eventually have tragic results.
The story opens in the past with a
victory demonstration held by a forest activist organization. They are
celebrating the closure of a sawmill which has been milling old growth
trees. Owen Owens, owner of a competing mill, Billy Budd, a logger, and
Walter Payne, a photography teacher at the high school watch the
proceedings. They are discussing many things; in particular the impact
the closure will have on the town and the smoke bomb they have planted
in the lead demonstrator's car in order to scare them. Later, the car
catches fire and one of the demonstrators is killed. The other is
Three years pass by and Jake now teaches
at Port Talbot High. It's the week before Easter vacation and the
school's annual talent show. Recently, Billy Budd has been seriously
injured in an automobile accident and Walter Payne killed in an
explosion in his darkroom on campus. From information received secretly,
newspaper editor Emo Butts believes there is a connection between these
latest events, the explosion three years previous, and a warehouse fire
in Seattle which destroyed millions of copies of software designed to
remedy the Y2K problem. All involved magnesium and black powder:
photographer's flashpowder. Somehow, he thinks Jake is implicated.
For a man who will soon enter his sixth
decade of life, Jake has retained the rare ability to remember what it
was like to be a teenager. Incorporating the ecological issues of
logging and forest preservation into his classes, Jake encourages his
students to think about their community and the impacts people have had
in the surrounding environment. He doesn't equivocate about his
anti-logging feelings or anything else and his students like and respect
him for that.
Janet Webster, who would like to be
Jake's lover, thinks he is treading on thin ice. She has warned him that
opinions like his have led to trouble in the past. Janet was born and
raised in Port Talbot and thinks she knows her neighbors better than
Jake but imploring him to be careful only incites him. When an argument
shatters their friendship, Jake realizes just how close to Janet he has
Returning from an anti-logging rally in
Seattle with Ronald Lanier, Jake is surprised to find one of his
students, Helen Thomas, in his bed. The girl professes her love for him
and Jake leaves his house, stunned, and walks out into a raging storm.
He reflects upon his actions with Helen, which serve as a metaphor for
his real purpose in Port Talbot and decides he must have a heart of
In his capacity as a forest ecologist for
the Peninsula National Forest, Ronald Lanier has succeeded in stopping
logging because the law forbids cutting trees in the habitat of the
endangered Spotted Owl. In his need to create publicity to drive home
the issue of saving trees, Ronald perpetrates a fraud by staging the
violent death of an owl (actually using a chicken). Jake borrows the
"owl" from the forest service, held in evidence of a crime, to
use in one of his classroom demonstrations.
Olin Soams, ostensibly a researcher
looking for the mythical Bigfoot, is actually an insurance detective
investigating the fire which destroyed software vital to fixing the Y2K
glitch. Soams, Lanier, and Jake have encountered each other in the woods
and all appear to share an interest in ecology and saving trees.
Jake has discovered Lanier's deception
and confronts his friend. In the midst of this, the two men see Olin
involved in some unusual behavior. When they investigate they are forced
to help Soams subdue Owen Owens. Owens is attacking David McAllister,
the erstwhile Y2K software developer who Olin Soams has been following.
McAllister had hired Owens to destroy his warehouse because his software
fix has failed and McAllister faces financial ruin. Owens hired his old
high school pals, Budd and Payne, to help with the same method used
three years ago on the demonstrators.
Jake and Janet Webster have resolved
their differences and Jake has seen his love for his friend grow into a
beautiful relationship. He asks Janet to marry him and she says yes.
They take a day trip on Janet's boat. For the first time since his wife
was killed and his brother crippled by a bomb blast in Port Talbot three
years ago, Jake feels at peace with himself and the world. He has
punished Billy Budd and Walter Payne for their part in the bombing and
has helped Olin Soams in presenting evidence that will imprison Owen
Owns for a very long time.
During their cruise Janet admits to
having had a part in the bombing conspiracy. She doesn't realize Jake's
connection to the event until too late. Jake is paralyzed by rage that
the woman he loves was partially responsible for the death of his wife.
An accident capsizes the boat and Janet drowns. Jake is rescued and
learns that revenge does nothing more than corrupt his soul and affirm
that a man's character is his fate. Too late for him to do anything
about it, Jake's heart of stone is broken.