After The Fire by Mary B

Word Count 2,385

A Missing Scene from The High Riders

Scott towel dried his hair and brushed it into place. He then looked at his reflection in the mirror and took a breath. He gave a small smile. Well, at least the smoke smell was diminished if not completely eliminated. When he turned to look at his clothes, laid out on the bed, his smile turned into a frustrated frown.

He had absolutely no idea what he was expected to wear to dinner. The total extent of his information was, and he mentally quoted, ‘You have time to clean up. Dinner is at six.’

Off the top of his head, he could come up with seven or eight different social scenarios back in Boston and what would be the correct dress for each. And on that rare occasion that he was not completely familiar with the expectations, he knew exactly who to ask.

But so far he had not seen anyone who appeared to hold the same function as a butler or gentleman’s gentleman in his father’s household. Who could he ask? The girl , Teresa, seemed to know all about the ranch, but he was distinctly uncomfortable asking her about what he should wear. His father? Hardly. The man was barely civil, and Scott had no intention of making himself look less competent in his eyes.

That left…


Johnny was towel drying his hair when a knock came on the door connecting his room to…Lancer’s other son.

He dropped the towel down around his bare shoulders and sauntered over to open the door. He stood, eyeing the blond man for a moment before finally asking, “You lookin’ for something?”

Scott automatically straightened at the challenging tone. “Actually, I was wondering what you planned to wear to dinner. I’m not familiar with dining customs here.”

Johnny leaned against the doorframe and grinned. “Well, Boston, I own two shirts. And since one of them smells like burnt alfalfa, I plan on wearin’ the other one.”

Scott blinked. “Two shirts. I see. I didn’t realize…”

“I got a saddlebag, not a travel trunk,” he interrupted coolly.

“I meant no offense. I am really just attempting to understand the culture out here,” Scott explained in a carefully neutral voice.

“Your ‘out here’ is my ‘up here’,” Johnny said with a hint of the former smile. “I didn’t grow up around here, either, ya know. Anywhere I usually eat don’t have any rules about what to wear, so I can’t help you.”

“I see,” Scott repeated. “Thanks anyway.” He turned to go.

“Except…” Johnny began, then stopped.

Scott turned back. “Except, what?”

“Well, you know that suit you was wearin’ before?”

“The brand new suit that was completely ruined by the fire? Yes, I know the one. What about it?”

“Got anything not so…fancy?”

Scott thought over his entire wardrobe of dinner clothes. The traveling suit was the most simple suit he had. Used to have. “I’m afraid not. The only thing less…fancy…is my riding clothes which I do not intend on wearing to dinner.”

Johnny shrugged. “Suit yourself,” he said, then grinned at his own pun.

“I will try,” Scott told him. “See you at dinner.”

“Bye…,” Johnny drawled the word out and with another grin, slowly shut the door.

At a minute until six, Murdoch Lancer stood behind his chair at the dinner table, hands resting on its back. There was actually a formal dining room in the large hacienda, but in all years he had lived there, it had only been used twice. This table in the Great Room held ten if necessary and that was plenty for his needs.

In fact, since Paul’s death last year, it had been only Teresa and himself at meals. Breakfast was usually eaten in the kitchen, lunch as well…when he was here. But dinner was always at this table and always at six.

He sat at the head, with Teresa at his right hand. But tonight there were two more place settings. One at his left and another beyond Teresa’s. Murdoch took a deep breath as he looked at those plates and thought about what they meant. For the very first time he would sit down to dinner with his two sons. He knew that Teresa, and Maria the part time cook and housekeeper, had worked hard to prepare a special meal. He only hoped the knots in his stomach would let him eat it.

His ward came in from the doorway behind him and went to her accustomed place. She took his hand and squeezed it in support, giving him a smile that warmed his heart and loosened some of the knots just a little.

They both turned at the sound of footsteps coming down the front stairs. Scott stepped into the room looking dapper and dashing. He was wearing a dark colored dinner jacket and silk shirt, but had forgone the typical waistcoat and formal tie. Murdoch recognized it for what it was, a compromise of Eastern and Western styles and smiled in appreciation of the effort. Yes, this was Catherine’s son, ready to adapt to any situation.

A jingling of spurs followed shortly and Johnny entered. His black concho studded pants, and silver trimmed jacket were the same as before, but had obviously had as much road dust and fire grime cleaned off as possible. He was actually rather handsome in his embroidered white shirt, setting off his black hair and olive skin. Now the knot in Murdoch’s stomach was joined by a lump in his throat.

Until he glanced at Johnny’s hip and the low slung gun hanging there. He knew who and what his son had become, and why. But knowing the facts and accepting them were two different things. His defenses once again came up.

“You’re not wearing a gun to my table,” he barked out.

Johnny didn’t even blink. “Okay,’ he agreed easily. “Where else do you want me to eat?”

Murdoch paused long enough to tamper his outrage down to anger. “I want you to take it off.”

“Ain’t happenin’.”

“I will not…” he began but Johnny overrode him.

“You got people attackin’ this place day and night for a year, stealin’, killin’, burnin’ you out, and runnin’ your men off and you want me to sit here defenseless?”

Murdoch’s jaw worked as he considered the point.

“Unless you got that in writin’ somewhere, too, that you don’t get attacked at six while you’re eatin’ your dinner,” Johnny continued.

Scott watched the interplay between his father and his…brother. There, he had used the word even if only to himself. Murdoch Lancer looked ready to spit nails rather than back down. Johnny, however, just stood there in casual challenge. In fact he looked as if he could continue standing there as long as necessary.

Scott could’ve laughed. And here he was worried about what jacket to wear. Although seeing Murdoch wearing a jacket and string tie, evidently what passed for formal attire ‘out here’, he was glad he had chosen what he had.

He also had to admit that Johnny (and did he always go by the diminutive? It seemed the equivalent of his grandfather calling him ‘Scotty’, which he hated) made a striking appearance in his Hispanic influenced outfit. Faint residual smoke smell notwithstanding.

But breakfast had been a long time ago, and lunch non existent, and that red wine on the table looked quite inviting, so he hoped this stand off, as amusing as it was , would be resolved soon.


Johnny stood in his best casual looking stance, belying the fact that every nerve and muscle was straining with tension. If this old man was stupid enough to throw money and shares of his ranch at him, then not let him protect himself, or them, then it was over. He had the cash. He could go back upstairs, get his stuff and…what? Steal a horse? He supposed he could use some of the thousand to buy one from the ranch.

But breakfast had been a cup of coffee, and lunch a bite of jerky, and all those dishes on the table promised a meal better than he’d seen in a long time. If only the…his…old man would back off.

Murdoch truly, truly hated giving in. But they couldn’t stand here glaring at each other all night. Another squeeze from Teresa, silently pleading for resolution, swayed him. “No, I don’t have it in writing,” he conceded tersely. “Let’s just eat now while dinner is still warm.”

Still not a blink. “Fine by me.”

The next contest was for seating. Scott automatically went to Teresa, intending to pull out her chair for her and take the seat beside her. However, as she sat, giving him an enchanting smile, Johnny slid into the chair he had hoped to claim.

When he raised an eyebrow in question at the move, Johnny merely mumbled, “I don’t sit with my back to an open room.” His second brow joined the first, but he nodded acceptance and smoothly took the remaining seat at his father’s left.

However, as Johnny was obviously not looking at Murdoch, Scott assumed his real motive was to sit as far from his…their…father as possible.


Teresa sat and watched as the meal began in silence. Even though she had been the one to inform both young men that their father would probably not tell them how much he wanted them there, she had devoutly hoped she would be wrong. Evidently not.

With Scott sitting across from her it was easy to watch him without being caught staring, His table manners were impeccable. Every shift of his fork or sip of his wine was like a choreographed step in a dance. And yet he did not seem pretentious or ‘uppity’ as she had at first feared. On the contrary, although he appeared very formal, he felt relaxed and comfortable.

Unlike Johnny beside her. To be honest she had worried he would have no table manners at all, but was pleasantly surprised in that. He had casual manners and simple courtesy. He appeared at first glance to be relaxed and at ease, yet felt tense, as if always waiting for something.

The two brothers could not be more opposite. Her father had told her of their vastly different mothers, and their upbringing was worlds apart. But they both shared their father’s blood. Surely that gave all three men some sort of common ground. Didn’t it?

Darn it, Murdoch! Say something! Oh well, if he wasn’t…

“It was quite a surprise seeing you both on the same stage today,” she opened.

The two of them eyed each other briefly.

“Indeed,” Scott agreed.

Still nothing from Murdoch.

She tried again. “How long had you been traveling together?”

“About ten miles,” Scott again supplied.

That got a reaction from Murdoch. “I beg your pardon?”

“I got on about ten miles outside of Morro Coyo,” Johnny explained, a bit carefully, she thought.

Murdoch frowned. “Why?”

“Got tired of walkin’.”

Scott paused just long enough before taking a sip of wine to smile his appreciation of the sardonic answer. Johnny saw it she was sure, but thankfully, Murdoch did not.

“No,” he said irritably, “why did you get on there? Why were you walking?”

“My horse went down a few miles before that. I had started walking cross country, but when I heard the stage coming, I figured it would be more comfortable.”

“For some of us,” Scott quipped. And they shared an open smile, as if at a private joke.

“Oh, I’m sorry about your horse,” Teresa sympathized, knowing what ‘down’ probably meant.

Johnny shrugged. “Wasn’t originally my horse. And he did get me all the way from Mexico.”

“We’ll get you both suitable mounts tomorrow,” Murdoch told them and went back to eating quietly.

Scott nodded thanks and also resumed eating silently.

Johnny glanced at Murdoch, then glanced at Scott and said nothing.

Teresa sighed in defeat and ate her dinner.


The after dinner brandy was nearly as strained. Starting with Johnny’s dislike of the drink and asking for tequila.

“I don’t have any,” Murdoch told him. “There is Scotch in the cabinet if you prefer.”

At that he put down his sifter and helped himself to the scotch. Apparently better pleased he sat on the couch at the opposite end from Scott.

Murdoch sat in a leather chair by the fireplace and leaned his head back as if resting.

Scott and Johnny exchanged looks again. Johnny gave a ‘don’t ask me’ shrug and knocked back his drink. Scott swirled and sipped his appropriately.

The silence stretched, broken only by the occasional crackle of the fire. Finally Murdoch seemed to remember they were there, lifted his head and sat up in the chair.

Scott took that as an opening. “Is there an agenda for tomorrow?”

Murdoch gave them both a brief look. “We’ll get you horses like I said. And any supplies you need.”


“Clothes and such,” Murdoch answered vaguely.

Johnny smiled suddenly. “Yeh, cause with the fire and all, Boston’s runnin’ low on dinner jackets.”

“In case it has escaped your attention, my name is actually Scott,” he said, sounding a bit annoyed by the childish nickname.

“My mistake…Scott,” he pronounced the name in an imitation of his brother’s accent. He then stood up and set his glass down. “I’m gonna take a walk outside and then head up to the finest looking bed I’ve seen in a mighty long time.” And with nothing more than a nod at Teresa who had entered from the kitchen just then, he walked out.

“Where’s Johnny going?” she asked.

“I have no idea,” Murdoch told her with a sigh.

She looked to Scott for more information.

“He said he was going to take a walk, by which I presume he is recovered from the one earlier today. I on the other hand,” he stood and set his glass down carefully, “am going to take the opportunity to unpack. Thank you again for a delicious meal,” he said to her, then gave a rather formal nod to his father. “Sir.”


After he had also left the room, Murdoch and Teresa looked at each other. She gave him a hopeful smile. He sighed again, and finished his drink, thinking perhaps he should have poured himself something a little stronger.

~end ~


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