Dinner At Six
(A WHIB for
“The High Riders”)
The pilot episode “The High Riders” (aka The Homecoming) seems to be a favorite among us. There are so many opportunities to speculate what may have happened before, in between, and after, and many excellent stories have been written on these very thoughts.
One of my favorite speculations is what occurred between the fire and the next morning in Scott’s bedroom, when Johnny pays his ‘big brother’ a visit. Obviously, they had to eat dinner. So, here are my thoughts on
The first “family” dinner, that very first day, at Lancer. . . .
15 minutes. I have 15 minutes, Scott Lancer sighed to himself as he glanced at the small, attractive clock in the room. He took in his reflection in the mirror as he straightened his tie.
Again. . . .
He combed a stray blonde hair off his forehead and adjusted his light-gray dinner jacket. Then he smiled at the handsome reflection in the mirror.
Satisfied he was as proper as he could be, he spared a few minutes and removed some items from his bags. He came across the prized picture of himself with General Phil Sheridan and proudly placed it on the dresser, next to the vase of wild flowers Teresa had put there before his arrival. He then gently sat on the side of his bed and allowed himself a few moments to breathe.
After all, it had been an “eventful” day. . . . .
From the early morning stage from Green River and the long ride to Morro Coyo, sharing a seat with a monk and a ‘real-live cowboy,’ to the tense meeting with his father, to the unexpected fire at his father’s ranch, and finally, a long, hot bath in his appointed room in said father’s home, Scott closed his eyes and breathed deeply. He cleared his mind of those events, in anticipation of an event he hadn’t really thought of—his first dinner with his father, Murdoch Lancer.
But the one event he couldn’t clear from his mind was the one that was announced to him by the girl shortly after he exited the stage—the announcement that the ‘real-live cowboy’ who had hitched a ride and annoyed him practically from Green River was in fact. . . .
His kid brother at that. . . .
And the fact that his brother. . Johnny. .Scott reminded himself, was just as surprised—and slightly amused—made Scott realize that Johnny had been kept in the dark as well, was never informed that he had an older brother.
I’ve got a few minutes yet, Scott thought. Teresa O’Brien, the perky young girl who had met Scott and his brother at the stage earlier that afternoon, had informed the young Bostonian, upon his return from fire-fighting, that dinner would be at 6:00. Sharp. ‘And Mr. Lancer is very strict on the time,’ she politely warned.
Well, Scott Lancer was used to such strict regiments. His Grandfather in Boston was a stickler for punctuality, and being an ex-cavalry officer instilled that trait in him all the deeper. But he was prepared, mentally this time, for a second meeting with the gruff, insensitive man who was his father. The hot bath after the fire fiasco had calmed his nerves and the short snooze had relaxed his mind where he felt a renewed energy to face the evening.
Plus he knew what to expect. From his father, anyway. . .
But what about. . .his brother?
No, he wasn’t prepared for Johnny yet.
But then, he hadn’t been prepared for his father’s offer to him—to them—of a 1/3 share of his ranch. And the young blonde man was still puzzled as to why he accepted the offer so quickly. He was usually very astute at asking the who, what, why, where, and when of things. So his rapid acceptance of a 1/3 share came as a shock, as did agreeing to fight ‘land pirates’—a new term to him, to be sure. He still couldn’t believe that men could come and drive another man off his land—land that one had worked his entire adult life for.
Maybe, he thought, that was the reason. Or, maybe it had something to do with. . .Johnny. Despite Scott’s formal education at Harvard, it was the seemingly uneducated, younger, dark-haired man with sapphire eyes and a soft drawl that, surprisingly, asked the questions. Maybe, Scott surmised, there was more to the ‘cowboy’ than met the eye.
But still, Scott was curious. About his brother. And Teresa. And everything. Yes, this ‘family’ dinner would indeed be interesting.
5:50 p.m. It’s time I make my presence known, Scott chuckled to himself. He took another deep breath, opened the door, and exited his room. And there, across the hall, was Johnny’s door. Johnny’s room.
Scott stood outside for a few seconds and listened, but only silence penetrated from behind the closed door.
Maybe he took the money and ran, he thought, and was surprised that the idea disappointed him—just a little. But he stood tall, stuck out his chin, and made his way toward the stairs.
For dinner with his father. . . . . . .
Scott stood on the landing and took in the elegance of his father’s home. He didn’t have a chance to look at it earlier. He, along with Johnny, had been swept into their father’s study, or great room, where the immediate tenseness in the air made the surroundings seemingly unimportant.
Then the fire came. . .
But the home was beautiful. Different from the elegance of Boston homes, but elegant in a ‘western’ sort of way. He spied the long dining room table and noticed the silver candelabras with flickering flames, casting a soft glow on the fine china. Tasteful floral arrangements adorned the center and each end of the table, which was covered in a white tablecloth. Deep purple cloth napkins were decoratively placed inside expensive wine glasses.
I hope he’s not trying to impress me, Scott grudgingly thought. After all, he’d seen just as elegant of tables, if not more so, in Boston. But he surmised that the girl, Teresa, probably had a lot to do with the planning of the dinner, so he made a mental note to thank her for her efforts. And for the beautiful table.
He stepped off the landing and onto the main level, when Murdoch appeared from somewhere around the corner. Scott suddenly stiffened, as he met the unfriendly face of his father. An unfriendly face, yes. But the smoky blue eyes of his father showed a glimmer of warmth.
And joy. . . .
“Good evening, Sir,” Scott confidently greeted.
“Good evening. . . .Scott,” Murdoch responded, a clearing of the throat between the greeting and his son’s name.
After an awkward silence, Scott spoke. “You have a lovely home here, Sir. I didn’t have an opportunity to notice it earlier. But it’s very. . . .nice,” he said, at a loss for a more appropriate adjective.
“Thank you. It’s taken a lot of work. But a lot of the praise belongs to Teresa. She brings a. . .feminine touch. . .to the interior,” he managed to chuckle at the thought of his pretty, lively ward.
Murdoch walked over to the brandy cabinet and poured himself a drink. He looked at his older son and in a softer manner than he had displayed earlier, asked, “Care for a drink?”
Scott smiled. “Yes, I think I’ll take that drink now. Thank you.”
“Brandy?” Murdoch questioned.
“That’s fine,” was Scott’s response.
As Murdoch poured his son a drink, Scott made his way to the books that adorned an entire wall of the room. He perused the titles, impressed at the collection of books his father had acquired. As his hand made its way to one of the books, Scott looked at his father.
“Of course,” the older man gently responded.
Scott lifted the book from the shelf and admired the gold-trimmed edges. “ ‘David Copperfield.’ A classic,” Scott commented. “I did a thesis at Harvard on the social and political ramifications of Dickens’ writings. I received an “A” if I remember correctly,” Scott jibed.
His father said nothing, but a faint smile graced his face. Scott continued. “I never thought you would be a reader. Or, are these all for show?” he asked, skeptically.
“I’ve always been a reader, Scott, as was my mother. Your grandmother. I have read all of these books through the years. I’ve had a lot of lonely nights with nothing to do but read. . . .” the Old Man’s voice trailed off.
He quickly recovered, adding, “Please feel free, anytime, to read any book you like. And if there is a particular book you want to read that I don’t have, let me know. I can order it for you.”
“Well. . . .thank you. I’ll remember that,” Scott responded appreciatively.
Scott returned the book to its proper place on the shelf, and received the offered drink. The brandy was strong, but welcome to the young man, as his nerves were a bit on edge. Plus, he appreciated a good brandy when he had it.
“Good choice,” he commented.
Murdoch nodded his appreciation.
The two men sat down; Murdoch in his chair, Scott on the left side of the sofa. An uncomfortable silence joined them, but was mercifully broken by the arrival of the spunky Teresa as she bounded in from the kitchen.
“Maria wanted me to let you know dinner will be ready soon. She’s running a bit behind, with getting some quick Mexican dishes together for Johnny,” she beamed.
Scott rose immediately when Teresa entered the room. “Good evening, Teresa. You look very lovely this evening,” he greeted.
“Thank you, Scott.” After a pause, she asked, “Do you like your room? Is everything all right?”
“Oh yes. Everything is satisfactory. And, thank you again for the flowers. They added the right touch to the room,” Scott cheerfully advised.
“Flowers?” Murdoch asked, a little surprised.
“Yes, Murdoch. I thought flowers would look pretty in their rooms,” Teresa sweetly informed the gruff rancher.
Murdoch Lancer actually smiled. . . . .
As the two young people laughed and chatted, Maria, the Mexican housekeeper, entered the room with some goodies for the dinner table. She spied the young blonde man, and slowly made her way toward him. He looked at her, a puzzled expression on his handsome face.
Maria looked at Murdoch and asked, “Senor Scott?”
“Si, Maria. This is my older son, Scott.”
Maria grabbed Scott’s shoulders gently, a tear in her soft, brown eyes. She looked at him up and down, and smiled her approval. She began speaking to him in Spanish. Scott had no idea what she said, but he thought it must be something good. She gave him a loving tap on his stomach, smiled, and went back to her work.
Murdoch smiled and informed Scott, “That is Maria, our cook, housekeeper, peacekeeper, and a good friend. She’s married to Cipriano who you met earlier. She’s been here a. . . .long time.”
“You don’t know Spanish, do you?” Teresa teased.
“No, I’m afraid not. I’m proficient in French and Latin, though,” Scott sighed.
“Do you want to know what she said about you?” Without waiting for an answer, Teresa told Scott that Maria thought he was very handsome. She liked his ‘golden’ hair and white skin, and said she would take good care of the Patron’s oldest. She also vowed to ‘fatten’ him up, as he was entirely too thin.
Scott laughed. “Her cooking is that good?”
“Better than good,” Teresa responded.
As Scott and Teresa sat down on the sofa and exchanged some chatter, the grandfather clock chimed. Six times. The chiming went unnoticed by the two younger people, but not to the older man.
Where the hell is he? Keeping me waiting. . .just like his mother, Murdoch seethed.
Uncharacteristically, Murdoch interrupted his ward in mid-sentence as she conversed with Scott. “Teresa, you did inform John that dinner was at 6:00? Sharp?”
“Yes, Murdoch, I did,” Teresa quietly responded.
Scott interjected. “Sir, maybe he fell asleep or something. We were both tired today, long trip and all. I’m sure he’ll be down soon.” He was surprised at the words coming from his mouth, as he realized he was sticking up for his newly-found brother against their father. He had no way to know it was the first of many times he would do so.
“I doubt it,” Murdoch groaned. And there he sat, stone-faced, waiting for his younger son to make an appearance.
Johnny Madrid did what his brother did a half-hour or so earlier. He looked at his handsome reflection in the mirror. And smiled.
He fluffed his long, black hair and straightened the turquoise Indian beads he had placed around his neck. He managed to remove most of the soot from his tightly fit, brown jeans, but he did break down and put on a clean, white shirt. He nixed his jacket and hat. His mother had told him, somewhere along the line, never to wear a hat to dinner, and he remembered that bit of unimportant advice.
He had spent a good part of the afternoon shining his hardware, and he was proud of how his gun looked, set low around his lean hips. He laughed softly when he thought that the Old Man would be none to pleased with his wearing his rig to dinner.
But he didn’t care what the Old Man thought. Johnny had gotten what he came for. His $1,000.00. He thought he’d be long gone by now, and he wasn’t sure why he was still here.
‘Yeah you do, Johnny-Boy. You can never turn down a good meal,’ he said to himself.
He sat down on the comfortable bed in the nicely-furnished, pleasant bedroom he had been assigned, and chuckled to himself as he remembered the girl’s visit earlier. He had been hot, tired, and dirty from the fire, and the bath that was placed in his room beckoned him. He had stripped off his hardware, and his shirt, and his pants were ready to follow, when the door opened and she bounded in.
Bearing wild flowers. . . .
“Hello. . .” she chirped. Still dirty from her own efforts at fire-fighting, she handed him an attractive vase filled with the colorful flowers. “These are for you. Sorry they weren’t all ready here, but, well, you surprised us. And since I put flowers in Scott’s room this morning, I. . .didn’t want you to feel left out,” she said, a bit regretful.
He smiled that smile.
He placed the flowers on the dresser, next to a $20.00 gold piece.
Then slowly she asked, “Do you like your room?”
“I like it just fine,” he softly drawled.
“This was your room, you know,” she chatted. “It’s been closed up for years. Mr. Lancer wouldn’t let anyone in it. When we found out you were coming, I had to clean almost 20 years worth of dust out of it.”
“Is that a fact?” he coolly asked, but inside his heart was pounding. “Well, you did good. It looks mighty fine. Now, if you don’t mind. . . .” he said, nodding to the tub of steaming water.
“Oh, well, silly me,” Teresa giggled, as if realizing for the first time what she had almost walked in on. “What I wanted to tell you was that dinner is at 6:00. Sharp. Don’t be late. Mr. Lancer is very strict about dinner,” she warned him as she had his brother a few minutes earlier.
“Does everyone jump when the Old Man says to?” he asked, sarcastically.
Teresa frowned. “Don’t talk that way about Mr. Lancer. He’s special to me. If it weren’t for him, I don’t know what I would of done after my father died,” she advised firmly.
“Sorry,” Johnny softly said. “I’ll be there. .for dinner,” he informed as he scooted her out of the door.
And locked it.
He thought about what Teresa had told him. My room, he sighed. He thought back to the hole-in-the-walls he and his mother had called home, and sadness overtook him thinking he had this room waiting for him.
To come home. . . . .
His reverie was broken and he put on his boots. There. He was ready for dinner. And he hated to admit it, but he didn’t feel this nervous in front of the firing squad.
Johnny knew he could handle the girl; after all, she was young and impressionable. He’d simply charm her. He was good at that. But his brother. Scott. . .Johnny reminded himself. He wasn’t sure about him yet. But he knew there was more to the Boston dandy than the fancy clothes and fancy talk, for he had stood up to the Old Man. And Johnny liked that.
And as for the Old Man himself? Johnny had no idea. He would just fake him out, get into his mind, see what made him tick.
He surmised it had been about 15 minutes since he heard the clock from downstairs chime. And he figured it was time he graced Mr. Murdoch Lancer with his presence.
Johnny looked at his handsome reflection in the mirror one more time. And smiled.
As he made his way out of his bedroom, he said to himself, ‘Well, Madrid. . .this is going to be one hell of an evening. . . .’
The sound of spurs making their way down the stairs caught the attention of the three people in the great room. The young man stopped on the landing and took a quick survey of the room.
Pretty damn nice, he thought.
“Evenin,” he greeted as he made his way into the great room. Scott smiled and nodded.
Johnny walked up to Teresa. “You look very pretty, Miss Teresa,” he drawled, and gently took her hand and brought it to his lips. “I’m honored to have dinner with such a pretty young lady.”
“Thank you, Johnny,” she gushed, as her heart raced inside her.
Oh brother, Scott thought, and rolled his eyes.
Murdoch Lancer had spoken.
“Well, so I am,” Johnny said with a grin as he looked at the grandfather clock. “But since I don’t have a clock in my room, I guess I wasn’t aware of the time. But then, I’m not one much for keeping track of it anyway.”
Murdoch quickly surmised that Johnny’s room indeed did not have a clock. After all, it had been unoccupied for years.
“I’ll have a clock put in your room first thing tomorrow,” he barked. “And don’t be late again. ”
A staring contest occurred between father and son. . . .
After a few seconds, Murdoch decided to extend Johnny the same courtesy he had to Scott. “Care for a drink?”
After a short pause, Johnny responded. “Yeah. I’ll have some tequila. . . . Please.” he added.
There was silence and a clearing of Murdoch’s throat. “We. . . I. . .don’t have any tequila. Haven’t for years.”
You mean you have all these Mexicans working for you, you were married to one, your kid is half-Mex, and you ain’t got no tequila? What kind of a ranch do you run, Old Man? Johnny wanted to say. Instead, he sighed heavily.
Teresa interjected. “Johnny, Mr. Lancer. . .Murdoch. . .has some very fine brandies, and wines, that you might like.”
Johnny smiled at the girl. “No, thank you. I wanted tequila. . . .and Johnny Madrid always gets what he wants.”
Before Murdoch could open his mouth, Johnny continued. “Seems to me if you’re so willin’ to get a clock for me to keep track of the time, you’d be just as willin’ to buy some tequila. For good measure, Old Man. .” his voice was soft. And cold.
Murdoch had had enough of the younger man’s total lack of respect. Staring down at his son, he advised him, “Whether you like it or not, young man, I am your father, and as long as you’re in this house, my home, you will treat me with respect. If you don’t want to call me Murdoch, Mr. Lancer will do. . .Do I make myself clear?”
“Crystal. . .” was the younger man’s terse reply.
Johnny Madrid couldn’t explain it, but he feared Murdoch Lancer. Former opponents didn’t intimidate the gunfighter as much as this man—his own father—did.
Dammit, he’s good.
After glaring at one another for what seemed like an eternity, Murdoch simply said, “The tequila will be ordered first thing in the morning.”
Johnny nodded his acknowledgement.
Scott and Teresa sat glued to the sofa, wanting to say something—do something—to lighten the heavy atmosphere of the room. It was a blessing when Maria came out of the kitchen, announcing that she was ready to serve dinner when everyone was present. It was then that she spied Johnny.
She walked toward him, but her eyes were on his father. No question needed to be asked; Murdoch simply said, “Si Maria. Is. . . .Juanito.”
She approached Johnny where he stood and softly placed her hands on his face. As with Scott minutes earlier, Johnny displayed an expression of puzzlement. She ran her hands through his dark hair, and gently pinched his cheek. They began to converse softly in Spanish.
“Those eyes. . .just like your papa’s. And that face. . .I would know you anywhere child. You are beautiful. . .just like your mama. . .” Maria said, tears gently running down her cheeks.
“You knew my Mama?” Johnny softly asked.
“Si. She was like. . .a daughter to me. And you. . .you were like the child I could never have. I have missed you so much, but you are here now, with your papa. Where you belong. . .”
“Si. . .” was his quiet response.
Maria stood on her toes and gently kissed the young man’s cheek. “Your papa has missed you. . .he loves you so,” she whispered in his ear. Johnny gently took her hands in his, and kissed them.
“Gracias. .” was all he could think to say, as a small tear found its way down his cheek.
Maria looked lovingly at Johnny for a few more seconds, then wiped her eyes and announced that “the special dinner for the Patron’s sons was ready.” Scott and Teresa glanced at one another, and sensing the need for his father and brother to be alone, Scott took her arm in his, leading her to the elegant dining room table.
Johnny stared at his father, but the stare was not one of anger. Or insolence. Rather, a questioning look; a look that softened the heart of Murdoch Lancer as he recognized, for the first time, the face of his son. . .Johnny Lancer.
“That was. . .Maria. She is my housekeeper, cook, and friend. . .to everyone. She was here when you. . .were born. She took care of you. . .and your mother,” Murdoch slowly, and thoughtfully, explained.
“She is treated well? With respect?” Johnny asked slowly, and a bit harshly.
“They. . .all are?” Johnny questioned, his voice softer and almost pleading.
“Yes, . .” Murdoch gently replied.
“They. . .she. . . .better be. .” was Johnny’s stern warning to his father.
Murdoch nodded his understanding, and Johnny nodded his in return. No words were needed between father and son.
Murdoch cleared his throat, and advised dinner was ready. Johnny took two steps forward, then paused, and in an automatic show of manners, gave the older man the opportunity to go ahead of him. Murdoch saw this, and waved for Johnny to go ahead.
He does have some manners at that, Murdoch sighed.
Scott had helped Teresa to her chair and he stood, not knowing where to sit. Murdoch, of course, sat at the head of the table, and Teresa asked Scott to sit across from her. Which left Johnny sitting next to Teresa, to her left.
The young gunhawk had regained his composure after his touching encounter with Maria, and teased, “Guess I got the best seat at the table, next to the prettiest girl this side of the Rio Grande,” he laughed.
“Oh, Johnny. . .” Teresa gushed.
Murdoch smiled to himself. Scott rolled his eyes. . . .
As they sat at the table, Maria and two other Mexican ladies, Rosa and Sophia, served soup in small bowls. It was the first time Johnny had actually looked at the table, and he was a bit unnerved.
White tablecloth? Dios! If anyone spills anything on it, it will be me. . . he thought. An unaccustomed nervousness came upon him. He noticed the others removing the deep purple cloth napkins from the glasses they were arranged in, so he followed suit, and began to put it under his chin. . . .
Until he noticed Scott, Teresa, and even the old man, placing the napkins on their laps. He did likewise, thinking it was kind of dumb because if something was going to drip, it would drip on his shirt, not his lap. . . . .
Sophia passed by with a pitcher and poured water into one of the glasses; Maria followed pouring a deep burgundy liquid into the fancy wine glasses.
Red wine? With this white tablecloth? Damn, I could use a shot of tequila right now. . . .Johnny silently groaned.
He watched as Murdoch sampled the wine, swirling it in his mouth.
“Excellent,” he advised Maria, and took another sip.
Johnny picked up one of the spoons—he didn’t know why there were two spoons and two forks—and began sipping the soup.
Chicken. . .he thought, disappointedly. Reminds me of the broth I eat when I’m sick. . .or shot. . . .
Just then, Teresa looked at Murdoch and asked, a bit firmly, “Excuse me, Murdoch? Shouldn’t we say. . .grace?”
Murdoch just looked at his ward. Grace was never said, except at Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners.
“After all,” she smiled, realizing he wasn’t at all happy with her, “you have a lot to be thankful for. Scott and Johnny are here,” she cheerily announced.
Johnny quickly stopped sipping the soup and the spoon dropped into the bowl. With a clang. . . . .
He felt his face redden. Sure is warm in here, he thought.
The four people around the table draped their fingers together and bowed their heads as the Lancer patriarch said grace. . .
Or an imitation of grace anyway.
“Dear Father in Heaven, thank you for this food we are about to receive. And. . .for the safe return. . .of . .Scott and . . . .John. .ny. . .to Lancer.”
“Thank you, Murdoch,” Teresa acknowledged.
After the soup, a plate of lettuce was placed in front of everyone. Johnny thought it was for the tacos, but everyone began putting something called ‘dressing’ on it, and began eating it with the smaller fork.
“This salad dressing is wonderful,” Scott commented, and for the next ten minutes Scott and Teresa discussed various kinds of sauces called ‘dressin.’
After that, the main courses were served. There was the traditional meal prepared for Scott—roast beef, potatoes, carrots, the works. Johnny thought this was real fine, but then the meal prepared for him began to appear.
Maria and the other ladies had spent the afternoon preparing tacos, fajitas, quesadillas, and chips and salsas. Johnny thought he had died and gone to heaven. He did save a place for the roast beef, though, and he thought to himself if there was one reason for him to stay and put up with the old man, this was it.
Scott and Teresa chatted about this and that. About Scott’s trips to Europe. About the New York plays. About the beauty of New England in the fall. Scott was worried that he was bragging, with all his talk about Boston high society. But Teresa had asked, and he was merely responding to her queries.
The conversation at the dinner table had taken a unique pattern—Teresa to Scott, Scott to Teresa. Teresa to Murdoch, Murdoch to Teresa, and Scott noticed this. He also noticed that Johnny was just about forgotten, though it didn’t seem like the younger man cared. He was too busy eating.
He’s a bottomless pit, Scott thought, a bit appalled.
Murdoch also noticed his younger son devouring his meal, and he knew that Johnny had been in a Mexican prison since before Christmas, awaiting death by firing squad.
Probably the first decent meal he’s had in months, he sadly acknowledged.
Halfway through dinner, Murdoch noticed Johnny looking around at the table, then at the kitchen, as if looking for something.
“Was there something you wanted?” the deep voice echoed.
Three faces turned to Murdoch, but the embarrassed face with the sapphire eyes knew who the question was asked of.
“I don’t suppose you have any milk on this estancia? Or do you have to order that, too?” Johnny questioned.
“Maria!” the older man bellowed. As she came through the door, Murdoch asked her, in Spanish, to please bring some milk for Juanito. She happily obliged, at which time Johnny received some teasing from the girl sitting next to him.
And he realized it was the first time he had been spoken to all through dinner. . . .
Considering the unusual circumstances, and the fact that Day Pardee was not far from anyone’s mind, the dinner had turned out quite well. An array of desserts were offered to Murdoch, his ward, and his sons, at which time Johnny had cheerfully advised, “Well hot damn, if I eat another bite I’ll bust a rivet!”
He saw three faces glare at him. The girl was shocked, the younger man slightly amused, and the “old man”. . . . .Well, if looks could kill. . . .
“Sorry,” Johnny smirked as he bowed his head, not really meaning it.
He’s so. . . . .unrefined, but delightfully charming, Scott chuckled to himself about his brother.
Scott complimented Teresa and Maria on the wonderful dinner and beautiful table. Johnny did as well, but truthfully, he could of eaten at a wooden box and it wouldn’t of mattered.
Johnny then walked up to Maria as she began to clear the table, and told her softly in Spanish, so the old man couldn’t hear, “Those were the best fajitas I’ve had since. . . . .well, Mama used to make them that good.” Maria looked at him and smiled. “Who do you think taught her to make them like that?”
“You? Oh, Maria. . . .you are something,” Johnny wickedly teased, to which Maria playfully responded by slapping him with the towel she was holding.
“What are they talking about?” Scott inquired of Teresa, still perturbed he never studied Spanish while at Harvard.
“I’m not quite sure, but Johnny just told Maria she was something,” Teresa explained, a bit annoyed at not knowing the entire conversation.
Just then, Murdoch took Teresa aside and asked if she and the ladies would clear the table and wait until the morning to finish, as he wanted to speak with his sons privately. He gave her a loving kiss on the forehead and thanked her for the wonderful “homecoming” dinner for his two sons.
Teresa saw the love in his eyes as he mentioned his sons; the love he wouldn’t dare show to them.
The two young men entered the great room; Scott sat on the left side of the sofa where he was earlier, and Johnny sat in the chair opposite the sofa, with his feet propped up on the table. There was a silence in the room that was not so much from arrogance; rather, from two men who at the moment were awkward in each other’s presence.
Murdoch strode in and glared at Johnny. “Please remember that we do not prop our feet on the furniture. .” the voice bellowed. Murdoch was amazed at the nerve of this young man. . .his son. .
Johnny mumbled. In Spanish.
“Are you always this difficult?” Murdoch asked, sounding a bit exasperated at Johnny’s flamboyance.
“Oh, much more so. I’m on my best behavior this evenin’,” the young man grinned, sapphire eyes sparkling.
Murdoch sighed heavily.
A discussion ensued between Murdoch and Scott about Pardee; their ideas on how to handle the impending melee. Scott had asked when Murdoch thought it would happen; Murdoch responded “within the next few days, I think.”
Johnny’s eyes searched the great room, taking in its beauty; the books, the model ship, the expensive possessions of his father. I wonder if any of these things belonged to my mother, he sighed.
At the same time, his ears were glued to the conversation between the other two men in the room. And although the topic of Day Pardee was not entirely interesting to the gunhawk, he listened with some amusement at the thoughts his father and brother shared.
It’ll never work, he said to himself. But it didn’t matter. For he had already devised his own plan, as he sat in his room earlier that day and shined his Colt. But his plan would be just that. . .his. . . and would not be told to anyone.
The subject then turned to horses; Murdoch advised that Cipriano would be choosing some horses for them the next morning. Johnny’s ears perked up, as this was the most interesting thing he’d heard all evening.
“Any particular ones?” he questioned.
“Why?” Murdoch asked, surprised at the sudden interest from his son.
“I saw that Palomino earlier. I want him,” Johnny flatly replied.
“And you always get what you want, right?” Scott quipped.
“Hey, fast learner. I like that in a man. And yeah, I want that horse, and I’ll get him. Any problems with that, Old. . . . . ?”
Murdoch frowned. “No. But he’s wild. He was caught about a month ago, and my top hands can’t break him. I’m just about to let him go,” Murdoch replied.
“No need to,” came the soft drawl. “I’ll break him.”
“You’ll break your legs first,” Murdoch argued.
“And wouldn’t you just love that? Then I wouldn’t be able to play in your little land war now, would I?” Johnny spat back. No one questioned the ability of Johnny Madrid with horses. Not even his ‘Old Man.’
As he had that afternoon and evening, Scott watched and listened to the confrontation between his father and brother.
And wondered who would come out on top.
No Son, I just don’t want you to get hurt, was what went through Murdoch’s mind. But what came out of his mouth was, “Fine. Give it a shot. But don’t expect me to come running if something happens. . .”
“Never had you to run to before, Old Man. I don’t need you, or anybody. I can take care of myself.”
“You haven’t done a very good job so far, have you?” Murdoch angrily asked.
“Done just fine, Old Man. I’m livin,’ I’m breathin.’ No thanks to you. I call my own shots, do my own number. Grew up fast. I know what I want, and I’ll do what I have to to get it.”
“Even if it means ending up in front of a firing squad?” Murdoch regretted the words he spit at Johnny.
There was silence, and Scott’s eyes widened. A firing squad? What the hell. . . .
Johnny’s eyes burned through Murdoch, but he remained cool and calm. “Well, Old Man, I’d do it all again just to see what your reaction was when you found out. . who I was. .and what I was. Seems like you need me now, though, so I wouldn’t put down what I do. ‘Cause like I said earlier. .Pardee’s good. But I’m better. . .Now, if you don’t mind, I need my rest. I got a horse to break in the mornin. . . .”
He looked at Scott and nodded. “Boston. . . .” then turned and cockily walked up the steps, the sound of spurs turning in the air, and finally, the gentle slamming of his bedroom door.
That went well, Scott thought, slightly amused. Murdoch didn’t miss the small smile that graced his older son’s lips.
“You like him, don’t you?” the older man gruffly asked Scott.
“Well, Sir, I don’t really know him. He’s just. . .different. .from anyone I’ve ever met.”
“He’s more than different. He’s rude, disrespectful, unnerving. . .he’s insolent. He’s. . .”
“He’s my brother,” Scott said, cutting Murdoch off. Real quick. “Whether I know him or not, or even like him, the fact remains. . he is my brother. And that means something to me. Besides,” the Bostonian reminded his father, “you weren’t exactly. . .congeal. . .this afternoon. When Johnny and I got here. You were a bit. . .hostile. . .”
Murdoch glared at the younger man, then cleared his throat. Gruffly he said, “It’s been a long day. I suggest we turn in.”
“Fine,” Scott agreed harshly. On a softer tone, he thanked his father for the pleasant dinner, and added, “this evening was one I shall not forget in a long time. . . .Sir.”
At that, Scott turned and made his way up the stairs to his room, with a quiet closing of the door.
‘Me either, Son,’ Murdoch said to himself as he sat in the great room. Alone. Just as he had so many nights through the years. . . . .
But he wasn’t alone now. They were here. Home. In their rooms. And Murdoch could have kicked himself for the way he had treated them. He treated townsfolk better than he treated his own sons.
Talk about Johnny being rude. . . . .the old man had no room to talk. . . . .
But he had been taken aback when he saw both of them standing there. And at that moment, he didn’t see Scott and John. . .he saw Catherine and Maria. And every emotion he held deep within him for the past 25 years erupted. Anger. Sadness. Regret. And. . .
Guilt. . . .
He couldn’t worry about that now, though. Murdoch only had one thing on his mind. And that was saving his ‘first love’. . . .Lancer. After Pardee was defeated and his land was back in his hands, his control, only then would he allow himself to begin to feel something for the two young men who had come home.
But he realized that thought was for not, because Murdoch Lancer felt something for them already. What he had always felt for them. . . .
Scott removed his clothes—it felt good to take off the jacket, the tie, the fancy shirt. He washed his face, and the water tingled his skin. Dressed only in his underclothes, he unmade the bed and slipped under the cool, white sheets.
God, this feels good. . .
He turned down the lamp until only a soft glow remained. He closed his eyes, but sleep did not immediately come, for there were too many things going through his mind. The least being that he knew no more tonight about his mother and father or their relationship then he had the night before. In fact, he had more questions. About his. . .brother.
Like, why did he call himself Madrid? And what was Murdoch’s comment about a firing squad? Was Johnny in front of one? Is he a gunfighter? What kind of a man is he, really?
Scott’s mind was tired, and he knew he needed some sleep. So he used a technique he had learned at Libby to help himself relax. . .and it worked.
Within a few minutes, Scott Lancer was asleep. And preparing himself for the next day. . and night. . . .that lay ahead.
When Johnny entered his room a half-hour earlier, the first thing he did was lock his door.
Don’t want that sweet young thing bargin’ in on me. . . .she couldn’t handle it, he thought with a wry smile.
He had removed his gun belt and plopped down on the bed, for just a few minutes. He dozed; not fully awake but not asleep; just enough to be aware of his surroundings, and it felt good to let his body relax, his muscles loosen, his mind wander.
In his relaxed state, it had suddenly hit him like a lightning bolt—the realization that he had a brother. The older brother I always wanted, he thought. He wondered if it would work between them, and decided that the man from Boston (wherever that was), would have no need for a half-breed gunhawk for a brother. Besides, he’ll probably never make it through the fight with Pardee, anyway, he sighed.
Well, Johnny had other ideas. . . .he didn’t know why, but he decided then he’d watch out for his brother; wouldn’t let anything happen to him.
‘Course, he can’t know what I’m doin. . . . Johnny slyly thought.
His relaxed mind was startled when he heard the grandfather clock chime—and chime—and chime—10 times to be exact, and Johnny Madrid was ready to put a bullet through its face as it disturbed his peaceful doze.
He sat up on the edge of the bed and removed his boots, leaving them to lie as he dropped them. Then he removed his shirt and pants, dropping them on the floor. As an afterthought, he removed his underclothes and dropped them on the floor as well.
He retrieved his gun and placed it under his pillow, then the muscled, naked body made its way under the crisp sheets. He found the quilt and brought it up around him. And this one night, he knew there was no one in the world who could hurt him, since as far as the world was concerned, Johnny Madrid died ten days ago in Mexico. . . .
But for some other reason he couldn’t explain, Johnny felt safe here. In this room. In this bed.
Suddenly, he heard heavy footsteps in the hall; they grew louder and finally stopped by his door. And his brother’s door . . . . . .
Johnny knew who it was. . .the Old Man. After a pause, the footsteps retreated down the hall; then he heard a door close. He knew it was his father’s bedroom door, the room next to his. And although he didn’t want to, although he fought it with everything he had, Johnny felt comforted by the thought that his father was in the very next room. . . .
And that was the last thought he had, for a few seconds later, Johnny Madrid was fast asleep, blissfully unaware of the circumstances that would bring him full circle with his father and brother. . . . .
As the grandfather clock struck midnight, a calmness surrounded the Lancer ranch as it prepared itself for the upcoming battle. And the house that for so long had stood as a shrine for the man that lived there was preparing itself as well.
To become a home. . . .
For a father and his two sons were together for the first time, under the same roof, preparing themselves for the dawn of a new day. . . . . .and a new life. . . . .
Together. . .
THE END. . . . .OF THE BEGINNING. . .