Ninety-Five Percent

Submitted into Contest #222 in response to: Write about a mentor whose methods are controversial.... view prompt

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Fiction Crime Fantasy

Dickie Ryder parks his HELP van on the shoulder behind the stranded Mercedes Benz. Pulling his Baltimore Oriole cap down to hide his boyish features, he steps out of the vehicle.

Olive Rothchild, a wealthy real estate agent fretting over arriving late for her own dinner party, feels relieved when she sees a scruffy man in an army jacket and work boots ambling toward her.

“Thank goodness you came along,” she says. “I’ve always thought that having an emergency repair vehicle along this long stretch of road was a good idea. I never thought I’d need your help, though.”

Dickie glances at Olive’s flat rear tire.

“I’ll have you fixed up in a jiffy. You got a spare?”

Turning her back on Dickie, Olive opens her trunk, peering inside. “I don’t see one.”

“Look under the carpet.”

Peeling back the carpet, Olive laughs to herself, revealing the spare tire.

She’s about to turn around when Dickie covers her mouth with a rag.

Chief Roscoe Roan moves the papers around on his desk like a psychic manipulating an Ouija board, finally locating his favorite pen.

“I’m teaming you up with Nolan Harris. You’ve come a long way in two years, Ty, and you deserve to work with the best. You’ll learn a lot from him.”

A short-term detective, Tyler Albright already knows how to use his athletic build and flirtatious personality to satisfy his professional and personal needs.

“I haven’t had much of a chance to talk with Harris, but I hear he’s a little unorthodox,” Tyler says.

A slim six-footer who looks younger than his forty-one years, Nolan Harris is the most experienced detective in Nothing Special, Wyoming. With little over a thousand people spread out along empty real estate on Route 11A, Nothing Special’s main tourist attractions are its neon sign museum and annual Skip-A-Rock Contest.

Chief Roan tries to write with the pen. Realizing it’s out of ink, his pale cheeks turn rosy with frustration as he tosses it aside. “Nolan sometimes lets his wife help him.”

“Isn’t it against department regulations to let a civilian work cases?” Tyler asks.

“The brass doesn’t mind because we don’t pay her. I don’t mind because Nolan’s got a ninety-five percent clearance rate. Sometimes I think I should have hired her instead of him. But the two of them make Holmes and Watson look like Laurel and Hardy.”

“What’s her secret?”

“She’s clairvoyant.”

Adjusting his bifocals, Clarence Coffin, the County Medical Examiner, pulls back the sheet covering Olive Rothchild’s body.

“Why’s she shriveled up like that?” Tyler asks.

“Her blood was drained. Almost every drop,” Coffin responds grimly.

“So, she gets a flat and she someone stops and drains her like sand in an hourglass,” Tyler comments.

“There’s also this,” Coffin adds, pointing at Olive’s neck.

“Rope burns,” Nolan surmises.

Tyler glances at Officer Ginger Gurvitz as the redheaded rookie slips behind a nearby giant oak tree.

“What’s he doing?”

“I’d say relieving himself,” Nolan responds. “What’s the matter with you, Gurvitz? You could be contaminating evidence!”

Gurvitz lets out a yelp. Quickly zipping up, he points at the tree.

Nolan and Tyler hurry to his side.

“Another victim,” Nolan says, examining the remains. “She’s in the same condition as Olive Rothchild. You’d think if someone was draining their blood here this scene would be a mess. Obviously, they were both killed elsewhere and dumped here.”

Tyler grimaces. “Any I.D. on this one?”

“No. But we’ve only had one missing person case in the last four months.”

“Dorie Nash. She’s just a kid,” Tyler replies.

They’re distracted when the HELP van roars onto the scene.

Dickie notices Olive’s covered corpse.

“What’s goin’ on here? You need me to look at that car?”

“No. It’s evidence. We’ll arrange to have it towed.”

“Okey dokey.”

A Gothic-looking woman with her brunette hair in dreadlocks exits the EMS van, walking toward the detectives.

“Will you be needing us?”

“No. They’re both dead,” Nolan replies. “We’ll make arrangements with the M.E. to get them to the morgue.”

Dickie eagerly leans out of his van. “Hey, Bonnie! How’s it goin’, beautiful!”

Bonnie ignores Dickie, smiling coyly at Tyler.

“I was hoping to be able to catch a ride with you,” Tyler says. “But we don’t need a couple of murders to bring us together. How about we meet at the diner tonight around seven?”

Bonnie smiles approvingly. “I’ve heard your trouble, Albright.”

“Nah. If we break the law, I know people. And if I have a heart attack from all the excitement, you can pull me through. We’re perfect for each other.”

Bonnie laughs loudly as she heads back to the EMS van.

“Captain Roan said you were a Romeo, Albright,” Nolan comments. “But scoring a date at a murder scene is operating on a whole different level.”

“…Wait a minute, Bonnie,” Dickie whispers weakly to himself as Bonnie departs. “What about me?”

Pulling his Oriole cap down over his eyes, Dickie slinks along the street avoiding the streetlights and ignoring the passersby who chuckle at his disheveled appearance. Looking across the street, he sees Tyler and Bonnie at a table staring into one another’s eyes.

“That should be me,” he says. “I protected you from Mister Bitter, and what do you do? You two-time me. You’ll be sorry, Bonnie.”

Nolan pulls his car into his driveway. His wife, Gemma, and their eleven-year-old daughter, Saffron, are playing badminton. 

Tyler’s jaw drops as he watches Gemma score a point. “I thought you said she was blind.”

“She is.”

“Then how is she able…”

“I don’t know. But I’m glad she can.”

Gemma and Saffron gravitate towards Nolan, hugging him.

“How’s my girls?”

“Mom’s been seeing things again,” Saffron says.

 “I read Gemma the Rothchild and Nash files. She touched the photos,” Nolan says to Tyler.

“And I saw something,” Gemma says.

“Saffron, how about getting us a couple of Cokes,” Nolan says.

“In other words, get lost because you’re going to talk about something gruesome.”

Gemma sighs. “She’s growing up.”

Nolan puts a supportive arm around Gemma, who is visibly shaken.

“They’re not ritual killings,” Gemma says.

Tyler huffs, smirking.

“Don’t mock me.”

Tyler waves his hand in front of her sunglasses.

“Satisfied?” she asks.

“Gemma’s blind but her sensory perception is off the charts,” Nolan says.

“I believe in facts, not hocus pocus.”

“I have a ninety-five percent clearance rate,” Nolan reminds him.

Tyler eyes the pretty blonde suspiciously. “All right, I’m game. What did you sense about the victims?”

“They didn’t feel threatened by the man who abducted them.”

“Ginger Gurvitz could figure that out and he’s as blind as you. Sorry.”

“I also sensed conflicting emotions. The desire to be noticed, guilt, conflict. But there’s one emotion that dominates all the others.”

“What’s that?”


Tyler takes a sip off his Coke.

“Where do we stand?” Nolan asks as they head to the station.

“Still. There was no blood trail at the scene, no fingerprints, not even any strands from the rope he used. Dorie Nash was a party girl who came from a broken home. She never had a dime and slept on friends’ couches when she wasn’t an overnight guest in our jail. Olive Rothchild was the picture of a successful career woman, She owned her own home, drove a Benz, and sent her kids to private school. I don’t see a connection between them.”

“The murderer made one,” Nolan replies.

“Ninety-five percent, eh?”

“I‘ve broken dozens of cases on my own. But once in a while, a dose of psychic energy has helped solve a seemingly unsolvable case. Last year, we found a guy lying in a field next to an axe, shot through the head. The bullet he was killed with was a type they used in the 1800s.”

“So, Gemma said a ghost killed him?”

“Of course not. When I showed Gemma the bullet, she kept getting the word ‘tree.’ I remembered the victim was lying next to a dead maple tree. When I examined the tree, I could see marks from where he’d chopped it with the axe. I found a bullet hole near one of the marks. Apparently, someone had fired a live round into the tree a few hundred years ago. The victim struck it with his axe, and the bullet killed him. Gemma’s visions aren’t always precise, but they’ve helped point me in the right direction.”

“Gemma said she was getting conflicting emotions. Could that mean they’re two people involved?” Tyler asks.

“That’s my guess. One picks out the victims and lures them to the killer for his ‘revenge.’ Around here that could mean getting even for anything like getting cut up in a bar fight to getting shot at for trespassing. But nothing happens here that’s severe enough to kill for.”

“Until now. So, Gemma senses things by touching the evidence. How does that stand up in court?” Tyler asks.

“We’ve never had to find out. The suspects I’ve confronted have all admitted their guilt.”

“Must be a heavy load for Gemma to bear, dealing with all those visions and emotions,” Tyler says. “Has she always been able to sense things?”

Nolan stares forlornly at the road ahead. “It’s my fault. I was a beat cop in Vegas. We responded to a hostage situation at the mall. By the time we got there, a couple of other officers had subdued the guy. But as they were taking him away, he grabbed one of their guns and took a shot at me. A stranger, Gemma, pushed me out of the way and took the bullet meant for me. When Gemma recovered, we got married and moved here. The bullet blinded her, but she says it gave her the ability to feel or see things in her mind, like a movie.”

“Let’s hope this movie doesn’t have a third act,” Tyler says.

Bonnie looks in her rearview mirror at the flashing lights drawing closer to her car.

She swallows dryly, pulling onto the shoulder.

A scruffy man wearing a Baltimore Oriole cap taps on the window.

“Hey, Bonnie!”

Lowering the window, Bonnie curses at Dickie.

“You imbecile! I thought you were a cop. Don’t you know only cops are supposed to flash their lights like that?”

“What are you mad at? Aren’t you seein’ a cop?”

“A detective and that’s my business. What the hell’s wrong with you?”

Muttering nervously, Dickie manages to say, “I just wanted to tell you that your tail lights are out.”

Getting out of the car, Bonnie is surprised to see her lights are on.

She manages to get the words, “…What are you talking…” before Dickie stuffs a chloroformed rag in her mouth.

“Turn me down for some pretty boy,” Dickie says indignantly. “Let's see if your Five-O friend can save you from Bitter’s revenge.”

Tyler bites his lower lip as he watches the crime team examine Bonnie’s car.

“I’ve called her half a dozen times, and it goes straight to voicemail.”

“Don’t worry, Tyler. I hear the force has got its two best men on the case.”

The HELP vehicle pulls onto the shoulder, producing a cloud of dust as it stops.

Dickie shuffles toward them, kicking up dust with his boots.

Nolan admonishes him. “You’re trampling on our crime scene, Dickie.”

“Sorry, Detective. I just stopped to ask if you want me to fix that stranded car.”

“No. We’ll take care of it.”

“Okey dokey.”

The slovenly HELP driver turns on his worn boots, lumbering back toward his truck.

“Hey, wait a minute!” Nolan calls after him. “How did you know that’s Bonnie’s car?”

“Everybody knows her car,” Dickie replies nervously.

“When did you first notice her car sitting here?”

“About an hour ago, just before you got here.”

“So, it wasn’t out here all night?” Tyler asks.


“When was the last time you saw Bonnie?”

“Two nights ago. She was hangin’ all over her boyfriend. That’d be you,” Dickie says snidely, walking away.

“There’s something about that dude that sets my teeth on edge,” Tyler says.

“He’s harmless,” Nolan replies. “Kind of sad. He drives up and down the same road twelve hours a day, six days a week, He doesn’t exactly lead the glamorous life of Smokey and the Bandit.”

“Yeah. He wouldn’t recognize a clue because he doesn’t have one.”

Nolan bends down. Sifting through the dirt near the trunk of the car, he finds a necklace, holding it up.

“Dickie may not have a clue, but we do.”

Gemma holds the necklace up in front of her sightless eyes.

“Is it Bonnie’s?”

“Yes,” Tyler says. “Do you feel anything?”

“…A struggle. It fell off during a struggle…”

Gemma coughs, gasping for air.

Nolan runs to her side, holding her.

“…Choking… She was choking.”

Tyler buries his head in his hands. “Oh, God. He killed her.”

“No…He drugged her,” Gemma says. “He took her…”

“Who?” Nolan asks.

“Langford Bitter.”

Tyler slams his hand against his desk in frustration, running his hand through his hair.

“No luck?” Nolan asks.

“There’s no Langford Bitter on the tax rolls or any of the other town records.”

Passing their desks, Captain Roan abruptly halts.

“Did you say, Langford Bitter? Wow, I haven’t heard that name since I was a kid.”

“You knew him?” Tyler asks.

“No, about him. Parents used to scare us with stories about him. He lived here in the late 1800s. Had a farm on Big Oak Road on the outskirts of town. The story goes that a lot of dead cows and goats were found on his property. The townspeople were frightened because they were drained of blood. Then two little girls were found dead. Their bodies were also drained of blood. A rumor started that Bitter was a warlock. The townspeople stormed his house and hung him from an oak tree.”

“Like the one near the crime scene,” Nolan says.

“Before he died, he said he was innocent and he swore that someday he’d come back and avenge himself against the families that lynched him, Anytime somebody’s cow dropped dead, or we’d pass by some roadkill, we’d say Langford Bitter did it.”

Nolan pulls their car onto the shoulder of the road near the oak tree.

Reaching into his jacket pocket, he pulls out a glycine envelope. Inside are two sprigs of a yellow plant.

Nolan hands Tyler one of the plants.

“What’s with the weed?”

“It’s called rue. Gemma gave it to me. It’s for protection.”

“Is she a witch too?” Tyler jokes.

Nolan gives Tyler a grim look as they get out of the car.

The pair look up at the bare oak tree.

“So, this is the tree where Langford Bitter met his end,” Tyler comments.

Nolan’s phone pings.

“Message from Gemma. She’s doing some research for us. Two families tried living in the Bitter’s house after Langford was lynched. It was said to be haunted so it was abandoned in the 1930s. Gemma also found a connection between our victims. They’re both descendants of the families who lynched Langford Bitter.”

Nolan passes his phone to Tyler.

“Here’s the list of families involved in the lynching.”

Tyler’s pulse quickens. “Bonnie’s family is on the list.”

Nolan turns off his lights as they pull up to the Bitter’s house.

“Somebody’s on the porch,” Tyler says.

A figure runs into the tall weeds bordering the property.

“I’ll get Dickie, you search the house,” Nolan says.

Nolan follows Dickie across a dense field and into a thick forest.

“Police! Don’t be a fool! STOP!”

Despite the darkness, Nolan can make out the shape of Dickie’s middle finger as he turns to laugh at him.

Dickie runs face-first into the giant oak tree, splitting his skull open.

Nolan gags as he looks down at Dickie’s ruined features.

“It’s my fault…,” Dickie gasps. “I read the chant that brought him back. He was supposed to be my servant... But I ended up being his… All I wanted was for Bonnie to notice me…”

Dickie lets out a ragged breath, shutting his eyes.

“And the oak tree claims another victim.”

Tyler hears a woman scream.

Rushing into the house, Tyler runs past dusty, broken furniture to one of the cobweb-infested back rooms.

Bonnie is curled up in a protective ball on a filthy mattress, her eyes wide with fear.

Hovering over her is a vaporous mist. It coalesces into the shape of a white-haired man with a wild, enraged stare, and sharp, rabid teeth, his square jaw clenched in determination.

“Get away from her, Bitter!”

“…Not until I have my vengeance…,” Bitter rasps.

“You want to kill the descendants of the people who lynched you? Look over here. My name’s Tyler Albright. My family lived here. They were a part of it.”

“I don’t recognize your name.”

“That’s because the family changed it after they moved to Arizona. When they lived here it was Albrecht.”

Bitter’s whispery form sweeps in front of Tyler, his sharp fangs promising pain.

“Your family was the first to accuse me. I will enjoy killing you. Then I will hang your corpse from the same tree where my life ended.”

Tyler pulls the rue from his collar, waving it Bitter.

“I say you deserved to hang, Come and get me, Bitter.”

Langford Bitter’s translucent apparition circles Tyler, but the rue keeps him at bay.

Tyler turns to Bonnie.

“Run. And don’t stop until you get to Nolan.”

Bonnie sprints out of the ruined house. Speeding across the dusty ground, she slams into Nolan.

“Inside! Inside!”

Tyler presses the rue against the apparition’s wraithlike form, smiling as it begins to burn. Summoning his remaining strength, Langford Bitter squeezes Tyler’s neck until it breaks.

Nolan and Bonnie turn toward the house as Tyler screams.

“Stay here,” Nolan commands, cautiously entering the house.

Entering the back room, he finds Tyler’s bloodless, shriveled body stretched out on the bed, a rope burn around his neck.

November 02, 2023 17:31

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1 comment

Mary Bendickson
20:11 Nov 06, 2023

Well, that'd left me hanging in there.


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