The Shirt by Desert Sun

Word count 3,040

(Note:  This is a missing scene for the High Riders’ episode.  I started to write this in November  of 2005.  I finally completed it on August 4, 2013 and posted it at that time to the Lancer_Writers group on Yahoo.  I made some minor revisions prior to archiving it at the Lancer FanFiction group on Facebook on January 23, 2015.)

*~*~*~*~*

The door hinges creaked.

Johnny Madrid hesitated, his heart racing.  When he didn’t hear anything, he widened the crack until he could peer inside.  Luck was on his side.  The lamp on the bedside table had been left burning on low.

In the dim light, Johnny could see that no one was there.  He pushed the door on open and sauntered in.    The room wasn’t much different than his.  Other than being a little bigger, it had an extra table in the middle, one more chest of drawers, and a second door.

As Johnny walked by the foot of the bed, he glanced into the small trunk that lay open on the striped bedspread.  The white item on top looked promising.  He’d check it out as soon as he made sure he wouldn’t be caught.

He went to the door that was in the wall opposite the bed, pressed his ear against it, and listened.  Good.  It sounded quiet on that side, too.

Johnny eased the door open and glanced up and down the hallway.  It never paid to take chances.  That was a lesson he had learned well.

All was clear.  Johnny let out his breath and pushed the door most of the way shut.  It wouldn’t hurt to leave it open a crack so he would have a little warning if someone came down that hall.  Snooping in another man’s gear was a good way to get shot.

Johnny went to the bedside table and turned up the lamp.  Then he moved to the open trunk.  He picked up the neatly folded white piece of cloth he’d spotted earlier and gave it a shake.  Just what he thought–a shirt.  He grasped it by the shoulders, held it up to his chest, and smiled.  It should fit.

He turned the shirt so he could see the front and held it out at arms length.  Delicate stitching decorated the edge of the collar and half way down each side of the row of buttons.  It was a lot like his red one.  Soft too.  Yep.  It’d do just fine.

Johnny laid the shirt to one side and frowned.  What was an eastern dandy doing with a Mexican-style shirt?  He quickly pushed the thought from his mind and dug deeper.  What he needed was a pair of pants.

His fingers touched one frilly shirt after another.  He smirked.  No one would catch him wearing one of those, not even if he was dead.  Didn’t they wear anything in Boston that didn’t have ruffles down the front and on the sleeves?  From the looks of it, Scott must have picked up that other shirt somewhere along the trip out west.

Below the shirts, Johnny felt something softer and thicker.  He rolled the shirts back to get a better look and wrinkled his nose.  The color brought to mind a calf with the scours.  What was it anyway?

He dragged it out and held it up.  The stretchy shirt had long sleeves, no buttons, and an opening at the neck that looked snug enough to make a man feel like he was in a noose.

Johnny shuddered and rubbed his throat.   He tossed the shirt onto the pile and kept digging.  All he found were a couple more of the same kind.  They sort of looked like tops to pairs of long johns, but there weren’t any pants to go with them.  Where were they?

He looked over at the larger trunk that was on the floor beside the wardrobe cabinet.  The pants had to be in that.

Johnny moved closer and paused to listen for footsteps.  Scott could show up any minute.  All was quiet, so he crouched to where he could reach the latch.  It snapped right open for him.  He lifted the lid and found more neatly-folded clothes.  It looked like his new-found brother planned on staying a while.

The first item was a coat made of rich, black cloth and looked to be waist length.  Johnny lifted it up, higher and higher, and stared as long tails stretched downward from the back of the coat.  He choked back a laugh, stood up, and twirled around.  What kind of outfit was this?  The thing would hang to his knees.

This wasn’t a good time to dawdle.  Johnny halfway folded the coat, dropped it into the curved lid of the trunk and pulled out a couple more coats: one tan with a dark-brown collar and the other a black sleeveless affair with a cape attached.  With a shake of his head and a few more snickers, he tossed them on top of the other coat.  It looked like his brother had also come prepared for burying.

His gut clenched.  If Scott tangled with Pardee, he might need those fancy duds sooner than expected.

Johnny refused to dwell on the thought, or his reaction, and went on with his search.    A moment later, he smiled.  Pants!  Looked like several pairs.  He should be able to find something he could wear.

The first two pairs were a nice dark-brown in color.  He pulled them out for a better look and tossed them aside.  Horse hair would stick to them and the Manzanita would rip them to shreds.  They looked a little on the skinny side, anyway.

He pulled another pair from the stack.  His mouth sagged open.  The cloth reminded him of the plaid jacket he had seen on a traveling salesman one time, but he’d never seen a pair of pants like them before.  Why would anyone, alive or dead, wear something like that?

Heels tapped somewhere on a tile floor.

Johnny dropped the pants and hurried to the bed.  He snatched up the white shirt he’d set to one side and headed for the open door that would take him the shortest way back to his room.  His hand was on the doorknob when the footsteps stopped and the other door creaked. 

“You stealing that . . . or just borrowing it?” a voice softly demanded.

Johnny sucked in his breath, heart seeming to leap into his throat.  Slowly, he turned, leaned against the edge of the door, and sized up the fair-haired man standing in the other doorway.

 Scott Lancer looked like he’d been dragged by a horse.  His face and shirt were covered with black streaks from the ashes of the fire that Pardee and his men had set.  Johnny had to admit, for a city fellow, this brother of his had worked as hard as anyone else.

“Well, which is it?”  Scott stepped forward to the round table that was in the middle of the room and put his hands behind his back.

“Borrowin’ it.”   Johnny cocked his head slightly to one side and rested his right hand on the butt of his pistol.  “Ya wanna make somethin’ of it?”

Scott’s chin rose.  He looked Johnny up and down and gazed again into his face.  “Where I come from, you ask before taking another man’s possessions.”

Johnny flashed a wicked grin and patted the handle of his gun, not that he intended to use it.  “Yeah . . . well, where I come from, Boston, ya take what ya want.  Know what I mean?”

Scott held Johnny’s gaze for moment.  Then his brows hitched upward, he tipped his head, and swept his hand from the direction of one pile of clothes to the other.  “Then by all means . . . help yourself.”

Johnny waved the shirt.  “Thanks, but this’ll do.  I ain’t lookin’ to get shot . . . or buried.  Just don’t wanna look like somethin’ the cat drug in when I sit down to supper.”  He paused and flashed a smile.  “It seems my luggage hasn’t arrived, yet.”

“In that case, you’ll need some clean pants, won’t you?”  Scott showed no visible sign of anger.

Johnny shook his head.  “Mine’ll do.  Yours ain’t quite my, uh . . . size.”

Scott shrugged.  “Suit yourself.  Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’d like to–“

“I’m goin’.”  Johnny turned and went out the door.  Once it was closed behind him, he grinned.  For all of his big talk about finding the enemy and destroying him, Scott sure hadn’t shown any grit.  Their old man would’ve been better off leaving that son in Boston.  All he was going to do was get himself killed.

*~*~*~*~*

Scott Lancer rubbed his aching shoulder and gazed at his trunks.  The disarray of his once neatly-folded articles of clothing reminded him of the aftermath he had seen from a Kansas twister that had touched down outside of Abilene while he had been stationed there during his time in the cavalry after the war had ended.  Apparently, he needed to teach this newly-discovered brother of his to have more respect for another’s personal belongings.

Any lessons in proper manners, Scott decided would have to wait for another day, as would setting right the mess Johnny had made.  At the moment, he was too exhausted from fighting the field fire.  Besides that, there wasn’t time to do much more than get cleaned up and dressed.  He had to be in the dining room within the half-hour.

A bath was out of the question, as Scott had found out before coming to his room.  Everyone had been out at the fire.  There was no hot water available and it would take too long to heat any.  That meant making do with the wash basin and pitcher of water on the bureau.

 Scott selected the least wrinkled of his white shirts and laid it out on the bed along with his black poplin dress coat, a pair of black cashmere trousers, and a grey silk waistcoat.  To finish the outfit, he chose a black pair of shoes and a black tie that he could tie in a bow over the detachable collar for his shirt.

As he changed clothes, Scott wondered if his brother actually had any luggage coming.  It didn’t seem likely, considering the circumstances under which they had met earlier that day and the fact that Johnny hadn’t mentioned during the ride to the ranch that he had any in route.  Luggage would have to come by stage.  Wouldn’t he have chosen the same mode of transportation?

Johnny’s wardrobe, or rather the lack thereof, dredged up other questions.  Why had his mother left?  What was the story Johnny had heard?  Was his knowledge of Pardee’s profession hearsay, or more personal, as his words had hinted?  And what about his remark to their father about gun money?  Had he been hiring out as a mercenary of some sort?   His actions a few minutes ago seemed to suggest that he was used to relying on his handgun to back him up.      

Scott ran his comb through his hair, put on his tie, and studied himself in the mirror.  Was his waistcoat sufficient, or should he put on his outer coat as well?  What would his father be wearing?

Habits ingrained since his youth refused to be ignored.  Scott turned, picked up the dress coat, and slipped it on.  He could always take it off after he reached the dining room should he found he was terribly overdressed.

A few minutes later, Scott walked into the same room he had entered earlier that day.  The long table in front of the bookcases had been set for four people.  However, not one chair was occupied.

Scott let out a sigh.  He would have to be the first to arrive.  What should he do?  It wasn’t proper to sit at the table until his host had taken a seat.  If he sat in one of those comfortable looking blue chairs, he might fall asleep.  Walking around was out of the question, too.  He might look like he was snooping.

A fire glowed in the fireplace, so Scott decided to go stand by it.  He had barely turned his back to the hearth when the door at the far end of the bookcases opened and in walked his brother looking rather dashing in the ornate shirt purchased in a small shop in Sacramento while Scott had waited for the arrival of the stage that would take him south.   The shirt was a perfect fit and contrasted well with Johnny’s dark complexion.  Scott scowled at this thought.

Johnny stopped at the end of the table.  He slowly turned in Scott’s direction and ran a hand over the back of the nearest chair.  “Guess we’re early.”

“So it seems.””  Scott spoke in an abrupt manner.

A smile played at the corners of Johnny’s lips as he sauntered closer.

Scott stiffened.  ““Is something funny?”

Johnny stopped near the end of the floral sofa and rolled his eyes.  “Nope.”  He tipped his head and brushed his hand against the side of his leg where his holster had hung earlier.  Then he looked up and held his arm out to the side.  “Not a bad fit.  Where’d you get it?  I mean, this ain’t exactly the style in Boston, is it?”

“I got in Sacramento.  Keep it, if you like.”  The last words tumbled out before Scott could stop them, and he frowned.  What had possessed him to say that?

Johnny looked up and his jaw sagged.  “You mean it?”  His eyes narrowed and he put his hands behind his back.  “Why?”

Scott shrugged.  “Call it a present.”

“You’re sure?”  Johnny looked skeptical.

“If I wasn’t, I wouldn’t have said it.”  Scott hoped Johnny would believe the lie.  “I only bought it to kill some time while waiting for the stage.  Besides, it’s more your style than mine.”

Johnny flashed a tentative smile.  “Thanks.”

Scott dismissed his brother’s gratitude with the wave of a hand.  “Think nothing of it.  I’m sure you’ll get much more use out of it than I ever would.”

The tap of a cane mixed with footsteps sounded in the foyer.  Shortly thereafter, Murdoch Lancer limped into the room.

Scott breathed a sigh of relief.  His collar felt tight and unfamiliar emotions were waging war inside of him.  What would it have been like to have grown up here with Johnny?  Could they ever be close like brothers should be?  He had a fleeting hope that they would.

*~*~*~*~*

The next morning, Johnny Madrid sat eating his breakfast at the table in his room.  One thought after another tumbled through his mind.  Dinner the night before had gone better than he had thought it would.  Quieter anyway.  His old man had hardly said a word.  Murdoch hadn’t eaten much, either, and had excused himself from the table early on.  Scott had been quiet, too, and had gone to his room a short while later.  Teresa O’Brien was the only one whose tongue hadn’t seemed to be tied.  She had hardly stopped chattering once they were alone.

Now that he thought about it, nothing that day had gone as he had expected.  First his horse had gone lame.  He’d thought his luck had changed when he caught the stage going to Morro Coyo.  Then he’d fallen into that duded up fellow’s lap, first thing, and had to sit next to him for ten miles.

Johnny shook his head.  Finding out him and Boston were brothers sure had been a surprise.  He hadn’t expected to be offered a third of a one hundred-thousand-acre ranch with a house the size of Texas, either.  All the way from Mexico, he’d had one thought.  Collect his thousand-dollar listening money and give Murdoch Lancer a chance to outdraw him.  That didn’t look to be in the cards.  Scott might poke his nose into the fracas, and shooting his brother had never been part of the plan even though he hadn’t known he had one at the time.  Then there was the ranch to think about.  It might be nice to have a place to call home.

Johnny pushed his empty plate away.  It was well past daylight.  If he didn’t shake a leg, his old man might come looking for him.

He frowned.  His old man wasn’t what he’d pictured, either.  Lancer sure was a mountain of a man.  How old was he?  From the color of his hair, he could be sixty.  That didn’t figure out too well.  His mamma would have been twenty years younger than Murdoch.

Johnny got up and looked at the white shirt he’d hung on the back of the chair the night before.  How old was Scott?  From what their old man had said, they couldn’t be more than three or four years apart.

This brought up another question.  Why had Scott given the shirt to him?  Was it out of pity?  Well, Johnny Madrid didn’t need nobody’s pity.  The sooner Scott figured that out, the better.

Johnny tugged his boots on, fastened the bottom buttons on his calzoneras, and grabbed up the shirt.  He didn’t want anybody’s charity.  Scott could have his shirt back right now.

At his brother’s door, Johnny stopped with his hand on the knob and ran the fingers of his other hand across the shirt draped over his arm.  It sure fit nice.  If he gave it back, what was he going to wear?  Teresa had insisted on taking his red one to have it washed.

With his jaw set, Johnny twisted the knob, and pulled the door open.  He was returning the shirt, and that was that.

Scott Lancer looked up–his eyes meeting Johnny’s.  Then he walked toward the dresser by the window.

Johnny’s resolve slipped.  Maybe now wasn’t a good time to look a gift horse in the mouth.  They had a big enough fight coming up without having trouble amongst themselves.  And he did need the shirt.

He slipped his arm into one sleeve and sauntered into the room.  “You sleep well?”

*~ The End~*

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