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El Tiro di Gracia

By Colin Cameron

Our readers in the Southwest know the meaning of this title. In city pavement language it is "The Mercy Shot" delivered only when a wounded man or beast faces the slow, tortuous travail of Death.

IN the sun-baked flag station of Palomas, Bob Gilroy sat on the edge of the loading chute of the cattle corrals and smoked a brown paper cigarette. Half an hour before, the crawling freight had picked up the five carloads of steers he and his ranch hands had loaded that afternoon, and his Mexican foreman and three cowhands had accompanied the cattle southward to Torreon. Presently, after resting, smoking and cogitating, Bob Gilroy would also depart, heading home straight across country for his rancho. It was a forty-mile ride and a rough one at best.

Meanwhile, he watched the languid preparations of Juan Urbalejo, his Yaqui herd boss, and two Indian cooks make ready to depart for the hacienda. It would be an all-night drive for them, with their two mules and the chuck wagon.

His muscles relaxed in pleasing lassitude, his Stetson hat pulled well down across his eyes to shade them from the westering sun, Bob Gilroy leaned back against the lip of the loading chute and meditated pleasantly on the fact that he had prodded two hundred bawling longhorns into the dinky cattle cars of the Mexican National that day. And that was that. A smile touched his lean, weather-bitten face as he tossed away his cigarette and climbed stiffly down from the corral.

Making his final notations and checks in his notebook of the shipment, he gave a few last directions to the Yaqui range boss, saddled his pony and prepared to depart. He would cut straight across country, lessening the forty miles to his rancho considerably. But his way would lie across that brassy oven of Coahuila known as El Valle del Diabolo, a harsh, unlovely and lonely plain, dotted with sage, cactus and yerba santa, and home of prowling coyotes and lobos. Hard pan it was, an impassable slough in wet weather, now arid and parched by a splintering sun.

Gilroy lifted his pony into an easy lope. Faraway to the west loomed his home beacon, two solitary buttes on the horizon that reared their jagged heads into the sunset. They rose crimson as blood in the dying rays of the sun; long lances of gold lay across the valle, the scent of sage and yerba santa came pleasantly to his nostrils. A Shambo thrush whistled faintly, far across the plain.

Gilroy filled his lungs with the scents of the sage as he swung rapidly across the pan. He was getting a little showing for his two hard years in Mexico; that shipment of steers should bring him a pretty penny in Torreon. And besides, he was thoroughly pleased with the bargain he had made for his pony.

A damn good bargain, that. He certainly liked its comfortable, easy gait—this little roan who was an Irish hunter crossed with a Hermosillo range pony. Idly he wondered why Doc Koons had sold it to him so cheap; had sold it at all, in fact. Doc was a pretty astute dealer where horse-flesh was concerned, and he made shrewd bargains over there in his corrals at Monclova. And fifty dollars....

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