The Last Stand – Excerpt from Chapter 21 – The Takeover
As soon as he was back in Eureka, Bill Bertain began constructing yet another last-ditch strategy. Bertain was a serious practicing Catholic, making daily prayers and often attending Mass twice or three times a week, and he felt that of the three theological virtues – faith, hope, and charity – hope was the least understood. Because hope was the affirmation of possibility from which all good flowed, he considered it all the more important to practice hope when running against the drift of events. In the immediate moment, his hope was that he might muster some of the local community governments to join in a suit under the theory that Hurwitz’s merger would violate the PL [Pacific Lumber Company] bylaws’ requirements that the local area’s welfare be considered on at least an equal footing with the financial rewards of the shareholders. Using the connections he’d made over the years in Humboldt County Republican party politics, Bill began calling mayors and city councilmen.
He found almost everyone increasingly distracted. By Thursday, the day after the Murphys’ latest disaster in Schwarzer’s court, Humboldt had been hit by the scattered northern edge of a major weather front driving hard off the Pacific. In Mendocino and Sonoma Counties to the south, which bore the brunt of the storm, some locations received as much as eighteen inches of rain in the space of twenty-four hours. And many of those were along the watershed of the mighty Eel. By Friday, the river was rising steadily as it reeled north, tumbling through the Coast Range, around the elbow at Scotia, and out onto the coastal flat. The current was the color of milk chocolate and carried logs floated off their moorings and uprooted trees swept away in the mad rush to the sea. By Saturday morning, at Fernbridge, north of Scotia in the Eel delta, the river was almost over its banks and all day Saturday, the coast was battered with the heaviest rains yet. Until Sunday, of course, when the rainfall was even heavier. By then, the dairies around Fernbridge were under several feet of water.
Scotia was still dry but Bertain was worried. At Mass Sunday morning, he prayed for the family laundry, situated at one of Scotia’s lowest points, separated from the river bank by little more than the embankment supporting PL’s railroad spur. The laundry had been covered by four feet of water in the great flood of 1964. Sunday night, Bill and his fiancée, Rebecca Holmes, headed up there to have a look. They parked his old Oldsmobile at the laundry and walked along the tracks to the ball park near which, after 1964, the company had erected a gauge to measure the Eel’s depth. Though still below its natural bank, the river was over forty feet deep and had spread to cover the entirety of the bed, which, in August, had been acres of bone-dry gravel. As it careened through the elbow around Scotia, the Eel roared like several full-speed freight trains side by side and its surface, rife with flotsam, broke into riffles deep enough to swallow a house. Bill and Rebecca stared, awestruck. Eventually they noticed another figure watching the river from avantage point closer to the ballpark. Bill finally recognized the burly shape backlit by the night lights at the mill as John Campbell, all by himself, contemplating the possibility of flood. The two men did not exchange greetings.
Had the circumstances been different, the sight of Campbell alone, silhouetted against the mill and flanked by raging waters, might well have touched Bertain’s charitable impulses. There was an aura of sadness around John these days. His isolation inside Scotia was, if not complete, nearly so. And that had been further compounded several weeks earlier when his wife, Cindy, had officially separated from him and begun preparations to file for divorce. There were a lot of stories flying around town about what precipitated the split but John himself gave a great deal of credit to the furor over Hurwitz’s takeover and his own cooperation with it. In any case, he had sustained considerable personal damage over the last four months.
But if Bertain felt sorry for PL’s executive vice president, the feeling was only fleeting. He figured Campbell deserved what he was getting and, while it might be sad, his ostracism was just. Bill also recognized that in his final desperate Humboldt County attempt to thwart the scheduled merger, John Campbell was his principal immediate opposition. Indeed, the two men were on the verge of locking horns in a battle over the loyalties of Rio Dell. There, across the mighty Eel from Pacific Lumber’s Mill A, Bertain would make his last stand against Hurwitz’s assault.