M and his crew at the M&T Pony Detective Agency are back on the case — this time they are setting out to solve a 100-year-old murder case and clear an innocent man — er, horse.
by N.A. Souer
“What!” M snorted, tired of the nonsense from his QH neighbor, Tanner. “There is no such legal term as a ghost clause.”
“Well, my great-grandfather wrote one into his will,” Tanner said. “It says whoever inherits the land must prove my second-great uncle was innocent.”
“You cannot be serious!” M exclaimed. “You’re telling me that you have inherited a town supposedly haunted by your second-great uncle, Patch Mulligan Tanner, who was hanged for murder?”
M couldn’t believe what his mini sized ears were hearing.
The M&T Pony Detective Agency held office space in an equine senior living barn, and M often got insurance fraud, prescription drug, or occasional veterinarian malpractice work from his four-legged neighbors. However, cases involving ghosts were not the norm.
“We are a detective agency,” M protested, “not Ghostbusters.”
“But if you could just look into what happened to Great-Uncle Patch,” Tanner insisted.
“Whatever happened to your ancestor was over 100 years ago. There’s nothing to investigate.”
“But Patch confessed with his last breath he’d haunt the town until his name was cleared.”
M snorted with frustration.
He hated to come off so hard-nosed with his neighbors, but his business needed to make a profit. The Covid-19 Pasture Virus had taken a large bite out of his business, and he needed to be careful what cases he accepted. He also knew many of his neighbors were on a fixed income, and running up a bill doing nothing would not be in their best interest.
“Look,” M said, presenting a compromise, “one of my associates does genealogy as a hobby. If you want, I can ask if she’d like to look into this off the books.”
Tanner agreed and so M phoned Mama Kitty.
One week later, the staff of the M&T Pony Detective Agency was gathered in the feed room, which sometimes doubled as the office conference room.
“I had a visit this morning from a couple TB legal types,” M began. “They represent a big mining company, and claim to have a lien against Tanner’s property.”
“Can they do that?” Mama Kitty asked.
“Apparently,” M said. “It seems the taxes on the land have gone unpaid for years, and the mining company paid them in order to force any heirs to either sign over the deed or reimburse the money.”
“And 100 years of back taxes is a hefty bill?” Sasha said.
M nodded, then continued.
“A supposedly haunted property is a liability, and the township didn’t want the responsibility. It was easier to just not count on tax revenue.” M sighed, “It seems we have to take on this case for our friend, Tanner.”
“Thought you did not want to waste time on it?” Mama Kitty asked.
“I didn’t,” M replied, “but if a mining company from this century is suddenly interested in an old ghost town from the last century, I think there’s more to it than whether or not our friend’s second-great uncle haunts the place.” M paused, then looked around at the rest of his team. “So, we either prove Patch Mulligan Tanner was innocent, or help Tanner raise the tax bill.”
“Am I hearing this right?” Sasha asked. “Do you really think the place is haunted?”
The big QH mare stared down at her short boss, with teasing eyes.
“Why is it when a place stands empty everyone thinks it’s haunted?” he countered. “It’s more likely just an old set of buildings with an unpleasant past.” M looked back at Mama Kitty. “What have you learned?”
“Well, it’s quite interesting,” Mama Kitty said. She jumped up on the table and spread out a family tree chart. “As you can see, Patch Mulligan Tanner was our friend’s second-great uncle. Patch moved to the state of Minnesota in 1895 after deciding that ranch life was not for him back in Montana. He bought land in the Red River area, and intended to start his own carrot and apple farm. However, when the coal mining and timber industries started to boom, Patch built his own town and rented space to shopkeepers.”
“So was he framed for the murder because of his money?” Tweak asked.
“Not exactly,” Mama Kitty continued, “It seems there were geology reports at the time indicating rich deposits of minerals under the land where the town was built. Mine owners wanted to buy the land, demolish the town, and strip mine the whole area, but Patch refused to sell.”
“So, how did he end up getting hanged for murder?” Mousy asked, as he busily typed on his laptop.
“That all happened in 1902,” Mama Kitty answered, “when the body of Deputy Sheriff Ringo was found behind the blacksmith shop. Sherriff Ringo was a territorial deputy in the area and was known to take bribes from wealthy mine owners to look the other way when safety regulations were violated. On the night it happened, two witnesses stated they had seen Patch Mulligan Tanner trotting up main street.” Mama Kitty paused, then added, “Patch was hanged a week later, despite claiming innocence.”
“Hey, listen to this,” Mousy interrupted, staring down at the laptop screen. “A university study has found a possible solution to the gold shortage in the semiconductor industry. Preliminary findings show that combining shale geranium rock and bromide dust at a certain temperature fuses it together and forms a substance similar to real gold.”
“How is that related to our case?” Tweak asked
“If the land Tanner inherited has any of those substances,” Mousy said, “our friend could be rich and not even know it.”
“That would explain why the mining company wants to force any heirs to sell,” M said.
“So our friend, Tanner, is rich!” Sasha said. “Now I feel bad for throwing one of my shoes at him.”
M smirked again at her, then looked back at Mama kitty. “What else did you find?”
“There were several old newspaper accounts of the crime,” Mama Kitty said, “but they conflict. Some say Sherriff Ringo was stabbed, others say he was shot. None of them say if the murder weapon was ever found.” She looked over at M. “It all seems flimsy evidence to hang someone with.”
“Do any of the original documents from the crime still exist?” M asked.
“If they do, they’d be at the courthouse,” Mama Kitty said. “I sent an e-mail to the county clerk, but have not heard back. In the meantime, I have an idea.”
“I’m listening,” M said.
“Several genealogy websites list DNA matches for Irene Piper.”
“Who is she?”
“Irene Piper was the secret object of Patch Mulligan Tanner’s affection, according to old family stories on genealogy websites. Irene was the daughter of one of the wealthy mine owners, a Reginald Piper, and his wife Isabel. They were a family of Arabian immigrants, originally from out west. It’s a long shot,” Mama Kitty concluded, “but maybe one of these people knows about their ancestors’ involvement.”
M nodded, then concluded the meeting.
Later across town, Mama Kitty and Sasha interviewed Sarah Piper in the lobby of a posh, equine health club.
Mama kitty went straight to the point, “Did you know anything about your second-great grandmother Irene before having your DNA tested?”
“Not really,” Sarah Piper began. “I sensed there was some dark secret no one talked about.”
“Did you ever find out what the secret was?” Sasha asked.
“Not for sure,” Sarah said. “When I read your e-mail about Patch Mulligan, I immediately thought of the diaries.”
Sarah pushed a small stack of worn, leather bound books across the table with her fine-boned nose, typical of her Arabian heritage.
My second great-grandmother was a prolific diary keeper, and she wrote a lot about the incident. I thought these might help you. Fortunately they were passed down to a cousin, otherwise anyone from my side of the family would have destroyed them.”
“Is this cousin still alive?” Sasha asked.
“No, she died a few years ago from colic. But she did tell me that great-great Grandma Irene confessed on her deathbed that Patch Mulligan did not kill the sheriff.”
“Did she say who did?” Sasha pressed
“She claimed her father, Reginald Piper, did. Nobody knows for sure.”
The next day, M addressed the team. “Where are we?”
“I’ve been going through Irene’s diaries,” Mama Kitty said, “and she talks about a special ax her father kept from his gold prospecting days. It disappeared around the time of the murder, and no one in the family knows what happened to it.”
“Interesting,” M said. He looked over at Mousy and asked, “Have you learned anything?”
“Yeah, I have been going through the history of the property,” Mousy said, “It passed to Patch Mulligan’s brother after the hanging, then down to his son.”
“Has the land been used for anything?” M asked
“The great-grandfather tried to grow wheat a couple years, and then his son and a few cousins later tried to sell the land a few times but the sale always fell through.”
“What do you mean?” Sasha asked.
“The land has been passed down to several relatives in Tanner’s family, and a few have tried to do something with it. But every time attempts were made, they were soon abandoned. I found old newspaper articles online that said workers reported strange things happening.”
“What kind of things?” Tweak asked
“Heavy equipment being knocked over or damaged, music coming from the old saloon in the middle of the night, and one article said a worker reported seeing a chestnut horse, covered in blood, run down the main street at dusk.”
Everyone was silent.
“Look,” M said, trying to refocus everyone, “we can tell stories all day. What we need are facts.”
“These are eyewitness accounts,” Mama Kitty said.
“Yeah, but after 100 years I’m sure a lot has been embellished,” M countered. “I think we need to visit the original crime scene.”
“What do you hope to find?” Mama Kitty asked.
“Oh, I don’t know,” M said, tongue in cheek. “Maybe Patch himself will help us out.” M looked back at Mama Kitty, “Does Irene say anything else in the diaries?
“She talks about Jerome Hammer,” Mama Kitty said. “He was the son of the wealthy railroad owner. Apparently an arranged marriage was planned for the two by their parents, and Irene was not happy about it because her true love was Patch. Irene writes she had seen Jerome Hammer and her father arguing by the well the night before the sheriff was found dead.”
“A suspect?” Tweak asked, looking over at M.
“Maybe,” M said,
The next day, M, Tweak, and Mousy arrived at the old town.
“This place is scary,” Tweak said, as lightning flashed in the distance of the dark, late afternoon sky.
“It only seems scary because a storm is brewing,” M said, “If it was a clear, sunny day it wouldn’t look scary.”
“What if a big puddle monster lives here?” Tweak pressed, “Then what?”
M and Mousy looked at each other, but said nothing. Tweak could find puddle monsters anywhere.
“So, if that’s the well,” M said, pointing to a crumbling circle of well-aged bricks, in the center of the old main street, “Where was the body found?”
Mousy pointed to an eerie building, with a hard to read sign that proclaimed “Blacksmith” in faded lettering, at the end of the town.
“Behind there,” Mousy said.
They started to walk over.
All of a sudden, lightning lit up the sky, thunder crashed, and rain poured.
“Come on,” M cried out, breaking into run, “take cover. “
They ran toward the closest building.
Without warning, M stumbled.
“Darn,” he cursed to himself, “I should’ve scheduled the farrier sooner.”
M scrambled back up and tried to lunge forward without success.
A chestnut colored horse suddenly stood over him, pawing and snorting angrily.
The animal had a black patch over one eye and turned his head to meet M’s gaze with the opposite eye.
“A-A-Are you Mr. Patch Mulligan Tanner?” M babbled. “My name is M from the M&T Pony Detective Agency. We’re trying to find out what happened to you.”
The chestnut blew an angry, ear piercing snort.
“Look,” M said, now fully spooked by the apparition. “I know the last 100 years have been frustrating, but if you could just show us something. Like where the murder weapon is. There’s new technology now, and… “
What am I doing? M thought, I’m talking to a ghost!
The chestnut horse ran over to the well, then reared and pawed frantically at the air.
M watch speechless, as the animal faded with the flashes of lightning overhead.
I have got to give up the late night treats, M thought.
“Come on, M,” Tweak called from inside the saloon doorway. “Get out of the rain.”
M looked back at the well where he’d seen the ghost horse, then trotted over to the others.
“Why did you stop?” Mousy asked.
“Didn’t you see him?” M asked.
“See what?” Tweak asked
Mousy and Tweak looked at each other.
“M,” Mousy pressed, “what did you see out there?”
“Nothing.” M said, downplaying the incident. “I just have to get my feet trimmed.”
Now M knew he had to give up the late night treats. They were messing with his head.
Once the sky cleared, they walked over to the crumbling set of bricks, assembled in a makeshift circle.
“This looks like the place where a puddle monster would live,” Tweak said.
M started to say something, but stopped. Who was he to judge the existence of puddle monsters? After all, he had just talked to a ghost.
“So, if Irene’s diary says that Reginald Piper and Jerome Hammer were arguing by the well,” M said, “let’s take a look.”
M switched on the cell phone flashlight, attached to his halter.
“What do you expect to find?” Tweak asked.
“Not sure,” M replied, shining the light down, but wells are good places to hide things.”
Mousy jumped up to see better.
“Be careful,” Tweak cautioned.
The words were no sooner spoken then an ancient brick broke loose, and bounced against the walls. As it did, something flashed below.
“What was that? M exclaimed. “Are you okay Mousy?”
“Yeah, but that was close,” Mousy replied.
M shined the light downward again
“Sounded like something metal,” Tweak said.
Mousy looked down, scanning the darkness with his feline, night vision eyes.
“It looks like the head of an ax,” Mousy said, “but the handle is gone.”
M smiled and glanced back at the deserted old town. Quietly, he whispered, “Thank you, Mr. Patch.”
“How are we going to get it out?” Tweak asked.
“Got an idea,” M said, “Follow me”
In the blacksmith shop, they pieced together old leather parts to make a harness small enough to fit Mousy. Back at the well, Mousy was lowered down enough to dislodge the old ax and bring it to the surface.
“It’s pretty rusty,” Tweak said, once they could see it clearly.
“I don’t think that’s rust,” Mousy said, sniffing the object. “It smells like very old blood.”
M smiled, and then said, “We may have just found a 100-year-old murder weapon.”
Back at the barn the following week, Tanner asked, “What happens now?”
“Not much,” M explained. “The DNA on the ax head was a definite match to descendants of both Sherriff Ringo and Reginald Piper, but since both are dead it will likely not go any further. My associate will write letters to the state historical societies to share what we have learned, but the main thing is your second great uncle was innocent.” Tanner nodded with satisfaction. “The question now is, what are you going to do?”
“Well,” Tanner said, “I talked it over with my Grandma, and we have decided to sell the land, but retain the mineral rights.”
“That will generate a lot of money for you in the future.”
“Yes,” Tanner said. “We’d like to use it move to a different barn, somewhere that we can spend more time together. And, we’d like to start a charity of some kind to help elderly horses and ponies, in memory of both Great Uncle Patch and his lost love, Irene Piper.”
Something caught M’s eye, just beyond the barn doorway. At the end of the driveway, by the old apple tree, a big chestnut horse stood, wearing a black patch over one eye, with a white, fine-boned, Arabian mare standing by his side. The chestnut horse wore a pleased, content expression, and seemed to nod approval in M’s direction.
“You know, Tanner,” M said, “I think your Great Uncle Patch would be very pleased with that plan. I really do!”