Salvatore Petrovici wiped the sweat from his brow, the dust and stone grit like sandpaper. The sun beat down on him fiercely as he worked the rock face, hotter than he ever remembered the sun in his native Italy to shine. A stonemason, he and many others had been hired by the Heartstone Mining Company to come to the Arizona Territory and cut rock.
The task for the last week was to large pieces to use at mine entrances. It was always a danger with these. A stone half the size he just finished cutting would crush a man to death if it wasn’t removed from the quarry wall with care. He finished attaching the cables to the stone and waved to the crane operator. The rock channeler, now blessedly silent, sat behind him. The crane sitting on the quarry floor made enough noise all by itself. Sal, as the American’s called him, stood back ten feet, out of the way, but close enough to see the rock as it was lifted from the track.
The crane operator waved back. Sal watched the tension increase on the cables while the rock groaned, cracked and popped, clearly heard over the whine of the crane engines. The cut stone rose one inch, then two. Higher the crane took it, then swung slowly to the right, away from Sal. Wait! The operator hadn’t raised the stone far enough, it was going to hit the quarry face.
Sal waved wildly, but the operator wasn’t looking at him. Shouting was useless—he was too far away to be heard over the roar of the crane engine. CRACK! The stone hit the rock face. It bounced back toward Sal, swinging now, out of control. He had little room to run—the channeler took up the whole width of the ledge behind him. The cables groaned as the crane operator tried to control the stone, now a pendulum, heading straight for Sal. He dived for the ledge floor, hoping the groaning cables would continue to hold the stone the three feet off of the ledge. He flattened himself and whispered prayers to Jesus and the Mother Mary as the stone passed six inches over his head.
The crane operator jerked the stone both up and back and just missed crushing the channeler. The stone swung back, higher than the first pass though Sal felt the breeze of it passing on his cheek. This time it cleared the rock face and the crane operator got the swinging stone back under control. Lying on the ledge, Sal watched as the stone was lowered to the waiting wagon and waited for his heart to slow its panicked beating.
He rose from the ledge, covered in rock dust, and crossed himself as he offered a second prayer of thanks. The quitting whistle sounded and Sal was glad. He was too shaken to work after that close call.
In the bar that night, the crane operator apologized. “I’m so sorry, Sal. The gears jammed. I had all I could do to get that damned rock under control.”
Sal clapped the man on the shoulder, a fellow immigrant from the north of Italy. “You did fine. I’m still here, you’re still here. It’s good.”
The man bought Sal a glass of wine shipped it in from the mother country by the mining company just for the Italian workers. Both men were toasting when the mining supervisor burst through the door. “Drinks on us, boys. We found another vein of copper!”
Cheers went up all around the room. Several of the miners broke into dance at the news. A new mine meant more work for all of them. Sal sighed as he sipped his dark red wine and watched the copper dance. He missed his wife and children. It was time to bring them over from the old country. It looked as though there would be work here for a long time.
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