The detectives at the M&T Pony Detective Agency are back — and this time they’re searching the possibly haunted property of notorious gangster Al DaPony.
By N. A. Souer
“Anyone seen this?” M asked, motioning to the newspaper on the feed room table.
Tweak read the headline out loud, “Body Found of Missing Gangster Pony.”
“Yeah, I saw that online,” Mousy said. “Supposedly it’s Louie Lefty, the 1920s gangster that disappeared before Al DaPony was jailed for carrot tax evasion.”
“What does this have to do with us?” Sasha asked, looking down at her short boss with big, QH eyes.
“We have a new client,” M explained. “Her name is Angelina DaPony. She is the granddaughter of Vinnie DaPony.”
“Wasn’t he the half-brother of Al DaPony?” Mama Kitty asked.
“Yes,” M answered, just as someone knocked outside the door.
“Excuse me,” a posh, mini mare said. “Is this the M&T Pony Detective Agency?”
M invited their guest in and introduced the team.
“So, how can we help you?” M asked.
“I would like to hire your agency to find out why someone does not want me to sell the Meadow Hill property,” she said.
“What do you mean?” Tweak asked.
“My mother has Equine Alzheimers,” Angelina DaPony explained. “As her guardian I need to arrange care and my mother has no assets except the property from her late husband. In order to pay for her care I need to sell it.”
“What is stopping you?” Tweak pressed.
“Well, the ridiculous rumor that the place is haunted for one thing.”
“And, I suppose finding a dead body on the property does not help,” M added.
“Where was the body found?” Mousy asked. “The article online didn’t say.”
“It was found on the east side, in a swampy area that has dried up because of the recent drought.”
The Meadow Hill property was located in a rural part of Minnesota, where the Chicago mobster Al DaPony hid out in the late 1920s from authorities. In its prime, the big two-story building was a speakeasy barn known by local equines for illegal apple-juice alcohol and all sorts of other immoral activities. While not officially registered as a historical landmark, the property had enjoyed the notoriety of its past. The DaPony family had even operated it as a gangster theme park for a while in order to generate income from the property, until the public’s fascination for such history lost popularity. The property had set idle ever since.
“Are you sure you want to sell?” M asked. “The property could be fixed up to generate income for your mother’s care.”
“My family has had a history of illegal and disrespectful activities, and it’s a part of the past I would like to forget,” Angelina DaPony said.
“Is the place really haunted?” Sasha asked.
“No, the whole notion is preposterous,” Angelina DaPony said. “I’m sure it was only a marketing scheme to promote the theme park business that got out of hand.”
“But, the property has been vacant for some time,” M said.
“Yes, only because it was costing more to keep it running than it was making.”
“Have you had any serious offers?” M asked.
“Only one,” Angelina said, “from Benny Baloney and it was way under value.”
“Why does that name sound familiar?” Mama Kitty asked.
“He is the grandson of Bugsy Baloney, who was one of my grandfather’s cronies back in the day.”
She said this with a roll of her eyes.
“I take it you do not consider it a serious offer?” M asked.
“I do not want the property sold off to someone who will only perpetuate the dark history of our family,” she said. “It is time to move on.”
“How does your mother feel about it?” Sasha asked.
“My mother does not totally understand. It’s hard to say because her mind is so muddled, some days she wants to keep it in the family, and other times not.”
“We can look into it,” M said, “but we can’t make any promises.”
“I would appreciate it,” Angelina said. “I need to liquidate my mother’s assets as much as possible.”
After M got her hoof print on several contracts, Angelina DaPony left.
“Now what?” Tweak asked. “Where do we even start?”
First,” M said, “I want to know more about these characters.” He turned to Mousy. “See what you can find out about the guy Angelina mentioned, this Bugsy Baloney and his grandson, Benny.” M turned to Tweak. “See what you can find out about the body that was found.”
“What about us?” Mama Kitty asked, looking over from where she was perched on a saddle rack by Sasha’s shoulder.
“I’d like you girls to look into the genealogy side of both the DaPony family and the Baloney family.” M said. “See if there are any living descendants that would benefit from the property not being sold.”
* * *
The next day everyone gathered in the feed room.
“What do we know so far?” M asked.
“Well,” Mousy began, “I can tell you that Bugsy Baloney was a bad dude. He made most of his money from bootlegging, racketeering, and gambling operations. It looks like the grandson, Benny Baloney, has carried on the family business, only using more legitimate-looking fronts.”
“Does he have any connection to the guy they just found?” M asked
“Loosely,” Mousy said. “Back in the early twenties there was a bank robbery that Bugsy was supposedly tied into more as act of blackmail.”
“Yeah,” Tweak said, “I read about that. It was the Clover Street Bank robbery and they got away with $500K worth of gold bars. Louie Lefty, the guy they just found, was supposedly one of the robbers, but authorities could never prove it and the gold bars were never recovered.”
“Wow,” M said thinking out loud. “Imagine what that would be worth now.”
“Yeah,” Tweak said, “if someone found them, it’d be a way better than any 401k.”
“What else do we know about Louie Lefty?” M asked.
“There’s not a lot known,” Tweak said. “He was a small time thug for Bugsy Baloney in the twenties and early thirties.”
“What about a connection to the robbery?” M asked.
“From what I can piece together,” Mousy said, “the robbery was an act of retribution. Bugsy Baloney was running a protection racket back in the twenties, and tried to extort money out of the bank president, a guy called Herbert PhatKat III. When PhatKat refused to pay up, Bugsy Baloney supposedly arranged for his bank to be robbed out of spite.”
“And, what about Louie Lefty? How was he involved?”
“Not clear. Another thug implicated Louie Lefty a few years later, but the police could never get any solid evidence to make an arrest.”
“How long do they figure he’s been dead?”
“I talked to a friend down at the crime lab, and they figure he’s been dead since the early 30s. They also confirmed it was definitely an old time gangster hit.”
“Ordered by Bugsy Baloney?”
“There’s no way of knowing at this point.”
“What a tangled web they lived?” Mama Kitty said, shaking her head.
M turned to Mama Kitty and asked, “Have you and Sasha learned anything?”
“Some,” Mama Kitty said. “Bugsy Baloney never married, but he had a long time affair with a young, flapper filly, who he had one daughter with. The daughter lived a sad life, had a colt out of wedlock, and died of a Bute overdose.”
“And that colt is Benny Baloney?”
“Yes,” Mama Kitty continued. “After his daughter died, Bugsy Baloney raised his grandson, at least up to the time he went to prison.”
“What does all this ancient history have to do with our client?” Sasha asked.
“Not sure yet,” M said. “But sometimes you have to go backwards before you can go forwards.”
“Meaning you think something happened back then still matters today?”
“Maybe. It seems strange Benny Baloney is the only one trying to buy the property. Why haven’t there been any other offers?”
“I wondered about that too,” Mousy said. “I talked to a real-estate agent in the area and he said the property is jinxed.”
“What do you mean jinxed?” M asked
“It seems every agent that listed the property for the DaPony family suddenly had some kind of misfortune.”
“Car crashes, skiing accidents, fatal food poisonings. No real-estate agent in the state is willing to list the property.”
“That would explain why Angela DaPony came to us.”
“Do you think it might really be haunted?” Sasha asked
“Or,” Tweak added, “maybe the place is infested with puddle monsters that are causing all the trouble.”
M smirked at Tweak.
“I don’t know,” M said, with an exasperated sigh. “They lived such twisted lives. It’s hard to say. I don’t think ghosts could be threatening the real estate agents, but I do think it’s time we go actually see the place.”
“Why?” Mama Kitty asked.
“Because there has got to be a reason someone does not want it changing ownership.”
* * *
The next day the team arrived at the front door to the old, abandon barn on the Meadow Hill property.
“It doesn’t look like much,” Mousy said.
“Yeah,” Tweak said, “just a broken down, old building.”
“This was the place to be in its prime,” M said.
“Not anymore,” Sasha said. “This place gives me the creeps.”
“The local feral cats must do pretty well for mice,” Mama Kitty said.
The group walked up to the main door and M pushed it open with one hoof.
“Shall we go inside?” he said.
“I don’t know about this,” Tweak said.
“Come on,” M said, stepping in. “It’s just an old, abandoned building.”
“Sure,” Sasha said, “an old, haunted building.”
“What was that?” Mousy exclaimed, his feline ears detecting a sound.
The others heard it too.
“Up there,” Mousy said, pointing with his tail. “It looks like some kind of camera.”
All of a sudden, loud noises echoed through the building and voices could be heard.
“Louie, you disgraced the family,” one voice said. “I can’t overlook that.”
“Please, Big Al,” another voice pleaded. “I’ll get the job done. Give me another chance.”
“You know how it is Louie. When I send you to do a job I expect it done right.”
Then loud machine gun fire rang out.
“Run,” Tweak screeched, then darted for the door. “Puddle monster ghosts!”
Mama Kitty catapulted up onto Sasha’s back. The pair bolted out the door. Mousy and M scurried after them. They ran to the edge of the road.
“What the heck just happened?” M exclaimed.
“It was the ghost,” Tweak said, wide-eyed and panting for air.
Sasha glared down at M.
“I don’t care how much you pay me,” she said, “I am not going back into that building! I just ran off at least 50 pounds.”
“Calm down,” M said, struggling to catch his own breath. “There’s got to be an explanation.”
“Maybe some things are better left unknown,” Mama Kitty said, still perched on Sasha’s back, clutching her mane.
Tweak and Sasha nodded agreement.
“Look, let’s go at this a different way,” M said, looking up at Sasha and Mama Kitty. “You girls go back to the office and call Angelina DaPony. Find out if security cameras were ever installed.”
“What are you going to do?” Mama Kitty asked.
“Go back in,” M said.
“But someone has just been murdered,” Mama Kitty said with alarm. “We should call the police.”
“And say what?” M countered. “One ghost just rubbed out the other ghost?”
“No one has been murdered,” Mousy said. “Before all the noise started I noticed strange wiring up in the rafters.”
“Speaker system?” M asked.
“Not sure,” Mousy said. “I’d like another look.”
“Okay, let’s go.” M said, then turned to Tweak, “Are you coming?”
“Well,” Tweak hesitated.
M noticed the brown streak running down the backside of his friend, then said tactfully, “Why don’t you go back with the girls. Someone should make sure they get back safely.”
* * *
Once inside the old building, Mousy said, “There’s got to be a trigger at the main door.”
The pair cautiously moved inside. Several feet in, M felt a loose board under his hoof.
Suddenly they heard the same sounds above, followed by the same voices and gunfire they’d heard before, then total silence.
“That has got to be a recording,” Mousy said, sniffing at the board M had just stepped on. “There’s something under there.” M pawed the board up and Mousy inspected the underside. “I knew it,” he said. “It’s a wireless switch. That means there’s a receiving device somewhere that turns on the recording.”
“Who would go to all this trouble?” M said.
“I don’t know,” Mousy said. “But did you notice those voices mention the names Big Al and Louie?”
“So,” M said.
“The DaPony family and Louie Lefty were never associated with each other. Louie was a thug for Bugsy Bologna. So other than his body being dumped here, Lefty Louie had nothing to do with the DaPony family.”
“Good observation,” M said. “So the recording was likely made to scare anyone away from this property.” M thought a second, then added, “I wonder if whoever made the recording knew Louie Lefty’s body was here?”
“Hard to say,” Mousy replied, eyeing a ledge several feet above.
Mousy jumped towards the ledge, but the ancient wood gave way. Mousy tumbled backwards, hitting a dust covered, brick wall nearby.
“Are you okay?” M asked with alarm, when Mousy didn’t move right away.
Mousy slowly got up and shook off the dust, more embarrassed than hurt.
“I’m all right,” he said. “But getting up to look at the wiring might be easier said than done.”
“That was quite a crash you took against the wall,” M said. “That’s odd,” he added, walking over to the brick wall where Mousy had fallen. “The bricks in this wall are different than the ones over there.” M pointed with his nose to the foundation brickwork on the outer wall. “Those bricks are bigger than these.”
“Maybe that was the building style back then?” Mousy said.
M pawed the wall with his foot. After several swipes with the edge of his hoof something shiny appeared under the layers of ancient dust.
“Maybe this is why someone does not want this property sold,” M said.
“Is that what I think it is?” Mousy asked.
“I don’t know if it’s the whole $500K, but it’s definitely some.”
* * *
A week later, everyone was gathered in the feed room for a meeting with Angelina DaPony, and someone they had never met before.
“This is Albert PhatKat,” Angelina said, introducing the stranger. “He is the current president of the Clover Street Bank in Chicago.”
Mr. PhatKat, a tall bay, Arabian looking pony, cleared his throat nervously.
“I would like to personally thank you with this token of appreciation,” he said, handing M a check, “for your effort to locate the missing gold after all these years.”
M didn’t know what to say. The check was made out to the M&T Pony Detective Agency for the amount of $50,000.
“I don’t understand,” M said. “This is an awful lot of money.”
“My great-grandfather offered a reward at the time that was never paid out,” Mr. PhatKat explained, “and as you can see it has grown over time.”
M turned to Angelina DaPony.
“But, the gold was found on your property,” he said.
“Yes,” Angelina said, “but my mother and I would like your agency have the reward money. You have more than earned it! And, now we will be able to sell the property.”
M was speechless by her generosity.
“That’s very nice of you,” he finally said.
Everyone nodded agreement.
“Does anyone know how the gold bars got there?”
“No, and we probably never will,”Angelina DaPony said. “The important thing is that it has been found and returned to the Clover Street Bank.”
After their guests left, M announced there would be a bonus in everyone’s next paycheck. The whole staff was elated!
* * *
The next day’s headline stunned M.
Grandson of Gangster Pony Found Dead
“Have you read this?” Mousy asked. M shook his head. “The body of Benny Baloney was found this morning by a demolition crew Angelina DaPony had hired. It was in the same place where they found Louie Lefty. Police say the victim had been gunned down with a 1920’s machine gun.” Mousy paused and looked over at M. “Maybe we should have called the cops?” he said.
“You saw that place,” M said. “No one was there.” M paused, then added. “Look, I don’t know what’s really going on out there, but the DaPony family can deal with their own ghosts. We did what we were hired for. Case closed.”