Heart of Stone
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 seriously injured.
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
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
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 become.
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 stone.
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.
first three chapters of HEART OF STONE are available for
reading in PDF format