While strapping on the new helmet, Serge covered the short distance at a sprint. Leaping over exploded remnants of sheet metal, his eyes grew large. A yawning mine shaft had been hidden within the shed, a hand-painted sign clinging to the edge of the hole—#13. Unlucky 13. He noticed a cable, a toppled wench.
From over his shoulder he heard dueling voices. First Vezzoni, “You can’t go down there!” then his wife crying desperately, “It was you! It was always you!” With a final, long stride he leapt over the edge and caught the cable with his thick, rawhide glove, disappearing into the mouth.
“Sì?” Both Serge and Dino swiveled on their stools.
“Not you. Him.” The upset stranger jerked his head toward the younger Marcon—Dino. Serge shrugged and took another gulp from his beer. He placed the sweating mug back on the circle of condensation it had formed on the bar.
Dino sparked to life, a champion smile on his face. “Amico, what can I do you for?” He walloped the man playfully on the shoulder, sending a poof of coal dust into the air. But instead of loosening up, the man crouched wearily, ready for a fight.
“Dino Marcon, you danced with my girl.” He snarled.
“Congratulazioni!” Dino flashed his pearly whites without missing a beat. “How did you two kids meet?”
With furrowed brow the burley miner straightened up, unsure of how to proceed. “Last night—”
“Just last night? Amico, surely you kid.” Dino lifted his mug. “Have a stool and share the story with us all.” He chugged several ounces of the barely malt. Wiping his mouth, he slapped the empty stool beside him.
Serge smiled as he watched the confused anger work its way from the miner’s brain to his fists. It always went this way with Dino. As a young man, Serge had fought his little brother’s fights for him, saved his neck a dozen times after their father had died and their mum taken ill. But the twerp had grown into a man.
The miner pounded the bar. Expectantly, Serge had lifted his mug to keep it from sloshing. “You oily son of a bitch. Get up and fight.”
“Ah! I must have misunderstood you, amico. So it’s not a celebration you’re looking for.” Dino spun around to face the man and hand his beer to his brother. “Could you look after this…” With a quick jab to the throat he took the miner’s breath before grabbing the unfortunate man by the ears and bouncing his forehead off the bar.
“Dino,” the barkeep warned the younger Marcon with a snarl.
“Never you mind, Luigi. My new friend here just wanted to announce his unfurled passions for his future bride.”
“Hear, hear!” Serge handed his brothers’ beer back to him with a grin. The dazed miner blinked furiously, trying to shake the cobwebs.
Holding the miner in a headlock, Dino leaned in close to his ear. “Amico, tell me again. What was your fiancée’s name?”
“Fiancée? I, you—” Serge slapped him lightly on the cheek and shook his head. “Uh, Magdalena.”
“Everyone,” Dino straightened up. “Oh, and your name?”
Confused, the miner looked at Serge, who only nodded his head in affirmation. “Um, Este.”
Serge looked around the dingy, horseshoe-shaped bar. Every man in the place watched Dino, half of them with a knowing smirk. They all understood the play unfolding, and they knew what came next. How could you not love Dino?
“Everyone! Our friend, Este, proudly announces his intentions to wed the beautiful,” he leaned close to Este’s ear, “and graceful I might add,” then to the whole bar, “Magdalena.” Este snarled again. “And as the new best mate, the next round’s on me!”
“Hear, hear!” A cheer went up from every man in the bar.
Dino released Este’s head, and the miner straightened up, still looking at Serge. Serge shrugged. “Congratulazioni.”
With the taught cable smoking through his gloved hands as he sank into the swirling gases of the shaft, Serge knew this time his younger brother needed his help. Whatever had passed between Dino and Phebe, it was as much his own fault. Dino was only being Dino. And when Phebe needed passion and spark, well, maybe it wasn’t too late.