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Beyond the Zodiac

Laura slowed her car down and pointed through the open window at a small path.
‘Wait up there,’ she said as she adjusted the microphone. ‘And as soon as you hear anything that sounds in the least suspicious, you jump out of your car and come up to the house!’

She walked up to the small shack and knocked at the door. Nobody answered, and after a little while she knocked again. When nobody replied, she waited for another few minutes and then went to the window, trying to peep in.
At that moment she heard a car pull up behind her, and an elderly man got out. ‘Miss Winter? I’m terribly sorry I’m late, my shopping took a little longer than expected.’
‘That’s all right, Mr Paradice.’
‘Oh please, call me Peter. Would you be so kind as to help me get the shopping bags in?’
Inside he offered her a seat and a coffee. ‘I also have a bit of my birthday cake left, would you like some?’ he asked.
‘Sure, thank you.’
Laura looked around at the sparsely decorated room and got the impression that some ornaments had been removed prior to her arrival.
‘You play checkers?’ she asked as she saw the board on the kitchen table.
‘Whenever I get someone to play with me,’ he replied. ‘Would you like a game?’
‘I’d love to, but let’s do the interview first,’ she said as she dug into the cake.
‘So you want to write a column on the former janitor at William Ide College on the occasion of his 60th birthday, thirty years after he left Vallejo? Do you think anyone remembers me?’
‘Of course the former students remember you!’
‘Let’s cut to the chase. How did you crack the cipher?'
‘Nobody remembers me. I wouldn’t remember me either,’ he smiled and added, ‘Just for that line American Beauty is worth watching. Besides, you are not a columnist, you are the local crime reporter. You came here because after 37 years you are the first person to have cracked the famous My name is cipher. How did you do it?’
Laura froze. However, this was the cue for Tony, and she expected him to burst in and wield his gun at Peter Paradice any second now.
‘Why did you kill all these people?’ she asked after she caught her breath.
‘You tell me how you solved the cryptograph first, then I’ll tell you all about it.’
‘I suppose I started out like most others, just playing with common first and surnames and seeing whether they fit in and sound plausible, like Shane Pete Gast, Thomas Alarotl or Ave Tamara Sear. But after a while I was convinced that there was more to it, and that there would be a clue in your other communications.
What always struck me was your frequent misspelling of the word paradise. Since I know Paradice as a surname, I figured that you may only have pretended to be dyslexic so you could use your actual surname without being too obvious, and that you only invented the story about collecting slaves for the afterlife so you could mention it in the first cipher which you claimed contained your identity.
Then I checked for Paradice in your ‘My name is -' cryptogram, but it didn’t match. So I reversed the symbols and – voila, if the cipher is read backwards, Paradice is the surname. With that part solved, I also had four of the five letters of the first name which begins with PEI and ends with an A. The only name fitting that pattern is the Australian boy’s name Peita. I wondered whether you chose an alternative spelling of Peter in order to make it more difficult, but I imagine you’d consider that cheating. Apart from that, an Australian background would also explain your use of a somewhat more British vocabulary. I’d say Peita Paradice is the name on your birth certificate, isn’t it?’
Peter nodded.

Where was Tony? If he had fallen asleep, Laura thought, she’d kill him. She had her own gun in her handbag, but she was sure she wouldn’t have time to get it out. Neither would she be able to make it to the door. As calm as Peter was, he was very alert, and she was fully aware that any sudden move would have ended in tragedy.
‘I don’t know what came over me when I posted that letter. It was like Jeffrey Dahmer allowing his victim to escape or Harold Shipman forging his victim’s will. Maybe it is the feeling of invincibility, or maybe it is the urge to get caught and bring the whole thing to an end. I suppose it was a bit of both.
A few hours after I mailed it, I went back to the mailbox and tried all kinds of techniques to fish it out again until I was interrupted. I really believed that was the end of my career.
It all started back when I was at college in Riverside. I was fascinated with this fellow student called Cheri Jo – she was such a pretty thing, but there was something quite dark about her. Of course she didn’t give me the time of day, just like any other girl.
She had a habit of pulling her sleeves over her wrists all the time. I became obsessed with the idea that she was hiding a scar from a suicide attempt. She had tried to take her life with a knife, I thought, but she didn’t have the guts. She needs help!
I wrote a poem for her which I scratched into a desk in the library. I signed it with RH for Robin Hood – I was quite a romantic back then.

The night before Halloween I met her on her way to the library, and I told her about the poem. As she went in to study, I went outside, disabled her car and waited for her. She came storming out in horror after reading the poem, and the rest, shall we say, is history.
I dropped out of college, moved to Vallejo and took on a couple of menial jobs before I became janitor at William Ide College.
While I worked there, I witnessed how, thanks to the liberal female students on campus, everybody enjoyed a most fulfilling sex life – the male students, the lecturers, the assistants and even the groundskeeper. That is, everybody except me.
I became increasingly jealous of any young couple, and one evening, just before Christmas, and just after one of my rare approaches to a female had been met with ridicule again, I decided to act on it. I drove out to Lake Herman Road where you always find some of them and shot me a couple.
Of course nobody connected Cheri Jo and the Lake Herman Road killings because they happened so far apart. I wanted to be credited, though, and since both were committed close to a public holiday, I decided to strike again on July 4th, hoping to be named the Holiday Butcher or something like that.
Besides this, I kept writing letters to police stations and newspapers, but to no avail.
I started frequenting a bar called The Huntsman, if I remember correctly. It used to be the watering hole for real hunters as well as for cops, and I always got a few updates on my file by having conversations or, as in most cases, just overhearing them. I didn’t want to arouse suspicion by being too curious.
Since we both didn’t really have any friends, I kind of befriended a hunter called Don. He was a bit of a bore, not to mention a weirdo, but I soon found that he was a wishing well for my career ambitions.
Don had a hunter friend called Arthur Leigh Allen who was fascinated by the string of recent murders. He kept on talking about the thrill of hunting people instead of game and frequently referred to a short story called The Most Dangerous Game. Of course, I got the story as soon as Don mentioned it, so I could refer to it as well.
But the best thing was yet to come. After Leigh’s mother gave him a Zodiac brand watch for Christmas, he told everybody that if he was the murderer he’d call himself the Zodiac Killer.
Could any psycho ask for more? Not only was he supplying me with ideas, he also supplied me with enough information to lead the cops right to his doorstep. And to this day I never laid eyes on the man!
I scrapped the Holiday Butcher idea in favour of the Zodiac Killer. Without voicing too much interest – Don volunteered all the information without need of encouragement – I started acting the way Leigh was thinking. Furthermore, his habit of deliberate misspellings just for the fun of it sounded very appealing – and inspired the Paradice Slave concept.
I constantly tried to add a bit of spice to the killings. For example, I would stay around afterwards to see the police at work, or tell them about a double murder from a phone booth in front of their station, or I’d see whether a girl would tie up her boyfriend, even though she knows I’ll shoot them both, anyway.
Don often asked me to go hunting with him. To be honest, I loved the idea; but after all, being a hunter would have brought me too close to the attention of the authorities.
For a while, I kept on killing and writing letters and cryptograms. I couldn’t believe the publicity I got after giving myself a trade name, and I have to admit that I thoroughly enjoyed it.
When Leigh moved to attend Sonoma State University, I decided to keep a low profile. I only wrote occasionally, and when I felt like killing students, I did it in Sonoma County.
Then came the day when Leigh was arrested for child molestation – not the first time, as Don told me. In the meantime, the cops were convinced that Leigh was also the Zodiac, and I didn’t want to disappoint them. So I decided to cease all communications, and to make sure my new murders wouldn’t be associated with the Zodiac killings.
When he was released after three years, I thought about picking up where I had left off. But my mission was already accomplished – even thirty years later, I am still known as one of the most notorious serial killers, so there was no need to promote myself any more.
Officially, the case remains open to this day, but the authorities are so convinced that it was Arthur Leigh Allen that they hardly put any effort into following other leads, especially after he died fifteen years ago.’
‘I never understood how anybody could be born with a complete lack of conscience. Did you never try to put yourself into the position of your victims?'
‘Nobody is born with a conscience, my dear. By birth we are all wild animals who don’t think of anyone but ourselves. What you call conscience is a self-protecting mechanism that was developed at the dawn of mankind and separates the majority of humans from beast.
When Homo sapiens first started to live in larger communities than just their extended families, everybody could do anything to anyone else. They could steal from each other or even kill one another without having to fear the rest of the community – except maybe the victims’ families.
The downside was that they could have the same things done to themselves. And in order to prevent this from happening, the communities came to an understanding that it was wrong to rob, hurt or kill anybody else in the tribe, and to have the community punish anyone who went against this understanding.
As the communities grew larger, this understanding applied to larger units, such as cities, counties and finally nations. But there were always those who were excluded from this understanding, even if they lived in the community, on grounds of their race, religion, caste, thraldom etc.
In this globalised day and age, this understanding covers the vast majority of mankind, although still a lot of exceptions are made.’
‘Exceptions? Like what?’
‘In the East, for example, they still have so-called honour killings, and in this country you’ll find that most people think that abortions and crusades are perfectly all right.
So conscience, as you call it, is something people learn in their early years, usually from their parents and teachers. They grow up with “Don’t do unto others...”, and most of them will live by that doctrine to a greater or lesser extent.
Conscience is like a parapet that protects us from the wilful acts of others, just as it protects others from wilful acts by us. Of course this system is not foolproof: in some cases, the parapet might be built too late, it might collapse, or it might even become superfluous – someone in a position of power may not have to fear any of the things he does to others and therefore needn’t show any empathy.
You will find that many of us psychopaths had a rather disturbed childhood. Some grew up without parents or – even worse – with negligent and abusive parents, were shoved from one guardian to the next, or may simply have realised that their supposed role models are hypocrites who do the opposite of what they’re teaching – be it to others or to their own children and wards. These children are at danger of not developing a conscience, and when they’ve grown up, it will be too late.’
‘But you grew up in a stable god-fearing home, as far as I could find out.’
‘The emphasis being on fearing. I was scared stiff of that tyrant in the sky whom I couldn’t please, no matter how hard I tried. Desiring my friend’s toys was a sin, reading detective novels was a sin, listening to Rock’n’Roll was a sin, going to the pictures was a sin, having sexual thoughts about a woman was a sin, touching myself was a sin... and all the time he was watching me and my thoughts, knowing that I didn’t have a chance in hell – no pun intended. I soon realised that I wouldn’t be able to live by his standards and beat all the demons in me; and you know what they recommend if you can’t beat them.
As a teenager, I secretly bought my first shotgun which I hid in the shed. Every time I got upset, which happened on a regular basis, I went out to shoot something - birds and squirrels in the beginning, later cats and dogs. My game had to be bigger every single time, and in the end I shot a bull. I was disappointed that it wasn’t even mentioned in the local paper. It seems you can kill any animal you like; it’s wrong, but it still isn’t a big deal. So I decided to make a difference.
The next morning I watched Cheri Jo in class, and I knew what I would do with my life. I like to think that I gave birth to the 3rd millennium.’
Realising that Tony, for whichever reason, wouldn’t come to her aid, Laura took out the microphone with trembling hands and showed it to Peter.
‘I’m afraid we taped you. My boyfriend Tony is waiting outside, and he has listened to our entire conversation.’
‘Tony?’ Peter repeated. ‘Would that be the young man in the red convertible who has just been shot with a silencer?’
Laura knew this wasn’t a game – at least not for her. For Peter Paradice life itself was a game.
‘Of course my colleagues know where I am as well. If I’m not back in the morning, you’ll have the whole place swarming with police.’
‘They don’t know where you are. You couldn’t stand the embarrassment of being wrong, and you wouldn’t share the triumph of being right. I’m surprised you went as far as involving your boyfriend.’
Peter took her handbag and put it on the kitchen counter. ‘It’ll be safer up there,’ he smiled.
She finally decided to make a dash for the door, but found it difficult to get up.
‘So how do you plan to kill me?’ she asked.
‘I already did,’ he sneered. ‘So far I have only shot and stabbed people, so I decided to try something new and settled on rat poison.
Hey, how about that game of checkers while we wait?’

© 6252 RT (2011 CE) by Frank L. Ludwig