Frontier General Store




Marcus never likes to go into a situation without the lay of the land. And something like this it's even more important to him. He hunkers down within sight of the Hardy cabin. He sees what had Elizabeth so freaked and thinks of his sister-- if she'd been in the same situation. Gia wouldn't have gone for help. Well probably not. He can picture Gia walking up to the cabin mouth a blazin' and mad as hell. Marcus shudders at the image. And then exhales softly.

"I'll take care of the horses." Carly hisses from behind him. "You take care of whomever is in the cabin. I'll make sure they can't get away."

"Carly! Damnit!" She'd already started moving off and doesn't stop at the frantic hiss from her neighbor.

"Spencer's." Stefan says grimly as if swearing, moving up next to Marcus. He should have anticipated just such a move. "Impulsive. Reckless."

"Yeah, yeah, all that. There will be hell to pay from Mrs. Hardy if there is a mess in her cabin. I'll draw them out." Marcus hands his rifle to Cassadine. "Cover me."

Stefan checks to see if it's loaded and nods. Jason moves up into the spot Marcus had vacated. He draws a half circle in the dirt at his feet. Stefan nods again.

Marcus strolls up to the cabin as if not a care in the world out of the corner of his eye he can see Carly by the far side of the corral slowly opening the gate. If they were friend well then they'd be able to get their horses back... the properties are barbed all around after all. If they were foe then well they'd be looking for those horses on foot. Carly eases up on one of the horses and urges it quietly toward the break in the corral. The horse sees the break in the fence and makes for it. The other horse follows. Carly gives a little wave to Marcus and then ducks behind the outbuilding out of sight.

He doesn't indicate in anyway that he's seen her but instead calls out. "Zander! Could have used your help this morning with those hogs!" Marcus gets up to the steps to the porch and then stops and calls out again. "Zander, you in there?" There was no way he was stepping foot in that cabin. Not when there were at least two people in there with unknown motives.

An older man with a well trimmed beard steps out onto the porch. "I'm afraid your friend isn't here. He told us to meet him here but..." The man shrugs. "And you are?"

"Marcus Taggart. I just live up the valley a piece."

"Why don't you come in and we can all wait for Zander." The man suggests.

"Don't think his missus would care for that."

"Yes, she is particular in her housekeeping isn't she? Always wanting to put her best foot forward." The man says cheerfully.

"Zander isn't married." Marcus says flatly. "He isn't expecting you. And I suggest you have whoever else is with you come on out. And I'd suggest that he leave whatever weapon he has in the cabin before he does."

The man laughs. "I have no idea what you're talking about, my good man."

"I think he's saying the jig is up, Da." A man with shaggy hair and unshaven face appears in the door. He keeps his hands in plain view and his eyes keep moving, narrowing when he sees that the horses are gone. "Do they still hang horse thieves in this part of the country?" He threatens.

"Guess we'd have to have ask that question along with housebreaking." Marcus counters. "Why don't you start talking? The truth this time."

"You know you might be a big black buck but that doesn't make our business yours. In case you haven't noticed you're a little outnumbered here. And who do you think anyone would believe... you or us?"

There is a cocking of a .45 at the back of the second man. "Yep, you got a point there." Jason says coldly. "Keep your hands where I can see them."

The man slowly puts his hands up and with the prodding of the pistol steps out onto the porch. As they walk out in tandem out onto the porch Stefan and AJ come out from their places in two different directions. The two intruders realize they had been surrounded unnoticed. Stefan hands the rifle back to Marcus. "You will tell us your intentions." Stefan says coldly. "Otherwise you will be lucky if all you get from this intrusion is a long walk back to the nearest town."

"Long walk to town my fan..." Carly cuts her comment off. "I like Lulu's idea much better."

"Stay out of it, Carly." Jason orders from behind the second man.

"Stay out of it!" Carly blusters with her hands on her hips. "It's our neighbor's home they've made themselves easy in, not yours." Carly turns to AJ. "Isn't it interesting that your having trouble on the creek from two bandits and two men show up here in the valley?"

AJ gives the two a considering look. "Isn't it."

"I have no idea what you are talking about." The older man defends. "My son and I just rode out from Charlestown. The man managing the store there said that this valley is currently being parceled for homesteading... and by all indications successfully."

"It's a little late in the year." Marcus says flatly.

"Not to get a head start on spring. My wife and younger son are in Charlestown making preparations to winter there."

"He ain't lying but he ain't telling the whole truth." Jason gives the son a poke with the .45.

"Who are you to call my father a liar?"

"Not the guy that was breaking into cabins. Figure that puts you in the wrong from the get go." Jason prods him again.

"That is a simple misunderstanding. This is the first cabin we came across after the trek and we were simply waiting for the owner to return. We would of course compensate him for his hospitality. Our only intention was to investigate available homesteads." The older man delivers his explanation to Stefan figuring him for the leader of the group. "Let us try to correct this misunderstanding. My name is John Jacks and this is my son, Jerald... Jerry. And you are...?"

"Waiting for the owner of this property to make a decision on your disposition." Stefan says flatly. "Caroline?"

Stefan's verbal prompting interrupts Carly's glare at the intruders. "Yeah?"

"We need someone here who can tell us if anything is missing."

Carly starts walking back toward the Taggart's then turns around. "You aren't going to kill them while I'm gone are ya?" John and Jerry hold their breaths waiting for Stefan's answer. And breathe a little easier at his no. But break out in a sweat at Carly's reply before heading up the valley. "Good. You'd better wait until I get back!"

"You know this wouldn't take so long if you people would ride horses like normal folks." Jason points out from behind Jerry. He sees a cloud of dust coming from up the valley. "See what I mean."

Nikolas and Emily have arrived.




Carly arrives at the Taggart's where everyone is still waiting on the porch for something, not knowing quite what but something. Zander is the first to demand. "Well?"

"Two guys named Jacks. Father and Son. Tried to feed Mr. Marcus a line about being here to see you."

"Never heard of them." Zander denies shaking his head.

"Didn't think you had." Carly nods with some satisfaction. "Mr. Cassadine wants someone familiar with Mrs. Hardy's place to make sure that nothing is missing."

"Everyone is okay?" Flo asks worriedly.

"Oh yeah, went like clockwork... no shots fired."

Zander looks at Audrey's two granddaughters and makes the decision. "Lets go."

"Shouldn't we wait for Gram?" Sarah asks.

"Doesn't look like we have to." Liz looks up the path and sees Audrey coming down the way in a hurry.




Bobbie runs into the house to get her pistol after hearing Lulu's rushed recitation of what had happened. There had been no gun fire from down the valley which she took as a good sign but of course this would happen while Luke and Lucky were out hunting.

Laura has Lulu by the collar of her coat out by the fire where they'd been rendering down the lard. "Oh no missy, you aren't going anywhere!"

"But Mama..."

"No but Mamas. Mrs. Hardy will handle it and let us know who the visitors are. All we'd be doing is getting in the way."

Bobbie comes back out to the fire and pats her pocket significantly when she catches Laura's gaze. "With your Daddy and Lucky out hunting we have to protect the cabin, Lulu. You know that."

"But Carly..."

"Carly will be back to let us know what happened when she knows." Bobbie declares but bites her lip in worry. She wouldn't put it past her daughter to be up to her ears in this.





The situation seemed to be in hand. Jason had the draw on the two newcomers. Mr. Cassadine, Mr. Taggart and AJ all are keeping a careful eye on them waiting for Mrs. Hardy or the girls to arrive. Emily eyes the empty corral and pulls her horse up next to AJ. "Where are their horses?"

"Caroline set them loose so those two couldn't get away." AJ doesn't take his eyes off the two.

Em nods. "I'll go get them." She backs her horse away from AJ and then sets her heels to her mount urging it toward the back pasture.

Nikolas swings down from Sheba and leads him by the reins to where his uncle is standing. "Mrs. Hardy is following on foot."

"Good. Caroline went to the Taggart's to tell the rest." Stefan says quietly.

"Might as well get comfortable." Marcus suggests to John and Jerry indicating the bench on the porch. "You aren't going anywhere until we get the all clear from the owner of this homestead."

"This really isn't very neighborly." Jerry protests even as he takes a seat on the bench. He addresses his comment to Stefan but it is Marcus that answers.

"You got that right." Marcus agrees with a nod. "Not neighborly at all. Kinda like walking in uninvited and making yourself at home. Amazing how like begets like." Marcus isn't surprised to see his wagon coming from the up the way with Zander driving the team and the Hardy women all aboard with Carly. Thank goodness Gia and Ma had decided to stay home.

As Zander pulls the team to a halt, Carly and Liz jump down. Liz grabs riley from the bed of the wagon and sets him on the ground. Nikolas comes over and assists Sarah and Mrs. Hardy down from the wagon. Zander does his one footed landing and grabs his crutches from under the drivers seat tucking them under his arms. He goes over to Marcus standing by him and examining the newcomers with interest. "Never saw them before. They mentioned me by name?"

"Yeah, after I did." Marcus tells him not taking his eyes off the newcomers.

Emily rides up with the reins of the two horses in one hand.

Mrs. Hardy goes into the cabin keeping her distance from the two men on the bench of her cabin. She quickly looks thru the small cabin and checks her hidey hole where she's keeps the nest egg that was going to tide them over the lean times and help them expand the herd of sheep come spring. The only thing that has been touched is the pot of tea on the table and all the leftover cinnamon rolls that she hadn't taken to the Cassadines are gone. "Nothing is missing, Mr. Marcus." Audrey says with some relief as she comes back out.

"I told you. We're just out here from Charlestown to check out the homesteading parcels. Maybe get a head start on spring. Didn't want to bring my wife and boy out here this close to winter." John pleads his case to the woman who'd just arrived. "This is all just a misunderstanding."

"Well I don't know." Audrey looks from the men to Marcus and then to Zander.

"It's up to you, Mrs. Hardy." Marcus tells her.

"If they are going to be our neighbors... this is scarcely starting out on the good foot." Audrey mutters. The men hadn't taken anything that she wouldn't have offered freely if she'd been at home.

Stefan pulls Zander aside and has a quick conference.

Zander grimaces at what he is saying but nods then steps up. "Nobody is staying at my cabin right now. You're welcome to stay there... for a couple of days so you can check the parcels out."

"What?!" Carly protests. "No way. First you won't bury 'em in the back, now they don't even have to walk back to town? What's next hand them the keys and kill the fatted calf or something?! It's bull... Where the hell is Uncle Luke when we need him?! He'd know how to handle this!"

"Mr. Smith, with your permission, Nikolas will show the Misters Jacks to your cabin." Stefan says over Carly's protest.

Nikolas doesn't like it either but figures that his uncle has a plan. He always has a plan. "Gentlemen." Nikolas points to the horses that Emily has the reins of.

As soon as they are back in the saddle and on up the road following Nikolas. Marcus turns to Stefan. "What the hell are you thinking?"

"I'm telling you those guys are probably the bandits that have harassing the miners!" Carly protests again. "And you have them all cozy up in Zander's cabin! In the property right next to mine."

"And mine as well, Miss Spencer." Stefan reminds. "The better we can both keep an eye on them. We lack information to make an informed decision."

"What kind of information are you looking for, Mr. Cassadine?" Audrey asks her neighbor.

Marcus is the one that answers nodding. "If there is a missus in town. If the store manager really sent them out here..."

"If they match the very sketchy description of the bandits I've gotten from the miners." AJ nods. "If they do anything but check out parcels it would pretty much confirm what you suspect, Miss Spencer."

"You're setting a trap." Liz speaks up. Stefan nods.

Carly shakes her head in disgust. "I'm outta here. We already had them in a perfectly good trap and you cut them loose. I have to head home and let Mama and Aunt Laura know to bolt the door."

"I'll walk back with you." Jason offers then turns back to Marcus and Stefan. "Then I'll be heading into town."

AJ grimaces. "I guess I'll be heading up to the mine. McParland is up there still. Let him know what we suspect."

"Come on, AJ. I'll give you a lift." Em takes her foot out of her stirrup so that AJ can get a leg up. Just what AJ hadn't wanted since he'd planned on walking back to the Spencer place with Carly and Jason to make sure they didn't disappear again but he can't protest without revealing his suspicions to the others. Something he wouldn't risk Miss Spencer's reputation on.




Nikolas escorts the two men to Zander's cabin without any pretense of small talk. "This is it. Zander will be moving back in as soon as his leg is healed."

"Appreciate it." John says swinging down from his horse and looking at the small soddy. It's small but it's better than the camping out they'd been doing.

"The Cassadine homestead is the next up." Nikolas points to the house in the distance with the lamp in the window. "If you need anything please come up to us. I wouldn't recommend going to the homestead we just passed."

"Oh?" Jerry asks. He's seen a pretty redhead there he'd planned on checking out.

"The young lady who was thirsting for your blood lives there with her family. I'm sure she is dissatisfied with the outcome and is in a frame to shoot first and ask questions later."

"Gotcha." Jerry nods and mentally swears. Well he'd just find a way around that. Nikolas nods and gives his heels to Sheba continuing up the valley to home. Jerry turns to his father. "This is a fine mess. We should have head into town."

John shakes his head. "This is more... centrally located for what we want. Your mum has been wanting a place of her own anyway and tires of staying in hotels. It's a shame though that all the spreads on this side are taken. We can make it look good. Let's get a fire started, son."


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