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Excerpt

Five days passed. Now the nights crackled under their trellised galaxies and the air tarnished the bright-silver bodies of the rushing salmon. Now the corncobs had fattened and threatened to burst their husks like boys' shoulders in outgrown suits. Now the river and its catacombing sloughs remembered the glacial touch and the paddles and the armstrokes and the cries of the coast's human dead. And now darkness fell over the bloodfat evening light like an executioner's hood. Everything became night and pregnant silence. The heart copied the sun and went down in the body, and the body became driftwood on the same charged current.

Fishermen unable to sleep floated through the streets and along the riverbanks, their necks harnessed to the current. Some carried vials of battery acid to pour on the nets of scabs, while others paced the wharf beside their own boats, resisting the urge to throw their reputations away just to have that cold silver weight their palms. And every night, sirens rent the stillness, as something else - a netshed, a pile of fishboxes beside a cannery, a boathouse - went up in flames. Always now, somewhere in the kerosene black of the first hours after midnight, a fire would build silently until it finally raged to life and screamed awake the mute bedrooms of the town.

The river had opened again two days after Raskin had first gone out. And this time he was not the only fisherman to break the strike. The word had spread not only about his scabbing, but also about how many fish he'd hauled in. As a result, when the canneries held firm to their last offer, some non-union fishermen decided the risk of being blackballed was worth taking. As each day passed without a settlement, and the Stuart run peaked, fishermen eyed each other suspiciously, with a half-concealed hope in their bloodshot eyes, as if waiting for someone to say "Ah, what the hell, might as well make a set before they're all gone."

But no one would say it. Most just muttered into their fidgeting hands and tried to convince themselves that the strike would be settled any minute and that they wouldn't be forced into making a decision that would cost them their self-respect.

Meanwhile, the scabs were harassed, on the river and in the town. The government, at the request of the canners, sent police patrols onto the river to protect the men who were fishing, but after a while the protection wasn't necessary. Few of the strikers could stomach being on the river while others were hauling in fish, and fewer still believed so firmly in the union's position that they were prepared to face arrest. Slowly, hour by hour, the solidarity of the strike was dissolving under the magnetic pull of the salmon and the growing sense that the gillnetters were being sacrificed for the sake of the seiners. Only the older fishermen and a few of their sons held out with any conviction.

The town no longer moved in rhythm with the events of the fishery. The local newspaper decried the violence of the strikers, accused them of setting the fires, and called for the police to start making arrests. Much of the citizenry either agreed or was indifferent, the world of the river already fading into the clamour and rush of the daily commute to Vancouver. And for those who wanted a fresh salmon, one could always be bought on the black market the natives conducted through their ceremonial food fishery.

On the sixth day, there was a change. The union circulated word of a meeting to be held in Chilukthan Harbour that evening at nine o'clock. The Mawsons and all the remaining strikers could hardly contain their hopes. Vic and Corbett went out into the yard after supper and sat by the fire. All through the meal, they had speculated on whether the companies had made another offer or whether the union was just trying to keep its membership behind the strike. Despite the scabbing and the big catches, the majority of fishermen had remained tied up, so the canneries, feeling the pinch, might very well be wanting to settle.