Return of the Zodiac Killer–A Murder Game Novella


I watched the low-budget film The Zodiac Killer (1971) one night on TV, which is a fictionalized production but based on a real case of a serial killer’s reign of terror during the ‘60s and ‘70s in northern California. Although the killer sent letters to the local newspapers with clues to his actions and whereabouts, he was never apprehended. They had a likely suspect, but they could never prove that he was “The Guy.” There are six other filmed versions of the story: The Zodiac (2005), Zodiac and Curse of the Zodiac, both of 2007, and Awakening the Zodiac (2017). The History Channel ran a series called “The Hunt for the Zodiac Killer” (also 2017), and there is the 2023 documentary called “The Myth of the Zodiac Killer,” which attempts to debunk what is previously regarded as the true facts of the case. The subject killer dubbed himself “The Zodiac,” which had nothing to do with his killings or the victims. So I got the idea for a new take on the Zodiac Killer by using astrology and the actual Zodiac to inspire the murders.

Rather than a standard whodunit, as the reader will know who the killer is, this crime story is rendered as a murder game. It is a mystery nonetheless, as you and the other characters won’t understand everything that is going on until it’s explained to them. I invite you to play along as well. Let’s see if you can discover the hidden clues before they are revealed to you. So as not to insult anyone’s intelligence, I purposely don’t explain everything. If you don’t understand a certain reference, I suggest that you find out what it means on your own. You can expect some surprises, too, I hope.

As this is contrived as a game for myself as well as the people in the story, I have chosen to employ certain rules and limitations. Although the names of the characters are made up, and any similarity to any real persons with those names is purely coincidental, the geographical locations used and all music and media references are real. I think that citing real places might give the story some degree of plausibility. The people who actually live in those towns might think they are safe, because “nothing ever happens here,” but may develop a new sense of dread and foreboding when they realize that they are not all that safe, and this could conceivably happen to them or anybody. Large, major cities are not the only places where heinous crimes occur. Psychopathic nuts can turn up anywhere. And do! Despite the grim subject matter, my goal is to entertain, enlighten and make you laugh. I don’t do anything that is entirely serious. I hope I don’t give anybody any ideas by ostensibly illustrating how to get away with murder.
–Cliff Townsend

Chapter 1

John Smith, the serial killer of the story, is 30-years-old and lives with his parents (but has his own private residence) on a sprawling estate in Southampton, Long Island, New York. John is well-off financially, being one of the co-founders of YouTube, and since 2005 he receives a very generous monthly salary from the corporation. John has the means to travel long distances, as he flies his own private jet, leaving no documented record of his comings and goings, and has the means to procure the items needed to carry out his elaborate murders. He also pays cash for everything, so as not to leave a paper trail of credit card or debit transactions.

Since he doesn’t have a real job, John has a lot of time on his hands to do the required research and to plan his murders. His victims are chosen with special criteria. It’s not at all personal. He doesn’t know them or have anything against any of them. It’s all just a self-indulgent game with him. First, he consults atlases and the directories of U.S. (and Canadian) cities and locales that are sun-sign-related in name, then he checks the town’s residents directory to find people’s names that have something to do with the Zodiac, and then picks one who was born under each particular sign. Next, he finds out all he can about his chosen victims to discover anything that he can use against them. Their nationality or ethnicity is mentioned only to denote that John does not discriminate but is an equal opportunity murderer. He is an egoistic megalomaniac who kills with no remorse. He is also charming and attractive, which helps him to gain his victims’ trust.

John is an only child and is what one would call a “mama’s boy.” His mother, Flora Aster Smith, is a world-renowned botanist who specializes in floristics. That’s the branch of botany dealing with the kinds and number of plant species in particular areas and their distribution. John helps his mother with her work, and now has become an expert himself in the field. He has knowledge of and access to many plants and flowers, as Flora maintains gardens, a nursery and a vast greenhouse facility that cultivates and houses said specimens. So as a tribute to Mom, a provided clue is John’s including an appropriate flower/plant or two with each of the bodies he dispatches.

John does have some daddy issues, though, which probably stem from the fact that his father has always seen John as a disappointment, although he is self-sufficient and does not depend on his parents for anything. Earl Smith is a high school football coach, and as John has never had any interest in team sports, he and his father don’t connect on an athletic level and don’t have much else in common. John’s activities involve using his brain instead of his brawn. While refusing to acknowledge his son’s genius, nothing John does is ever quite good enough for his dad. John does love his father and so much wants his respect and acceptance. So, since he doesn’t get approval from his perceivedly-uncaring father, John is attempting to get some degree of admirable appreciation from perfect strangers, even if it means killing innocent people in the process. He is testing his parents as well. How long will it take them to figure out that their son is a ruthless serial killer? In his mind, John thinks maybe that discovery and the fact that he is getting away with it, will finally impress his father. Yes, there is a bit of confused logic going on with this guy.

Since John allows a whole month between kills, it gives him plenty of time to plan. The only clues and tips the police team will get are from the murders themselves. He may leave a clue before his next murder, but as he does not leave specific whos, whens or wheres, they find out only after the fact. Even the victims themselves are all caught unawares, never suspecting that they are a potential target, until it‘s too late.

John is quite intelligent and is into games, puzzles and wordplay. He did attend Hofstra University for a few years on a music education and foreign languages program but didn’t finish. This was before he got rich and considered college to be a huge waste of money. He found that anything he wanted to know, he could learn on his own. So now he tends to be autodidactic and therefore well-read. John is also an avid movie buff and discophile with a vast and eclectic record collection. In keeping with the theme, he will leave an appropriate song or piece of music at each murder scene. You will find him to possess a wry sense of humor, too.

John is single and unattached. In fact, his sexual identity is a mystery. Even he doesn’t know what he is. You will discover, however, that he has picked up some campy lingo from somewhere along the way. John has never been romantically involved with anybody. A physical relationship has never been important to him; he instead prefers to connect with people cerebrally. Maybe that’s part of his problem. The child needs to get laid! Being a double Virgo, it appears that he has taken his sun sign to the literal extreme. John would like to find his intellectual equal, whether they be male or female. His desire is to discover if there is anyone in the country smart enough to figure out his game, sick as it is.

Chapter 2

A single, Jewish man named A. Reese Ramin, 37, runs a sheep farm in rural Ramsey, New Jersey. He has worked all week tending his small flock of ten sheep. Sheepherding is not as prevalent as it once was, but it still does exist in some places. Reese makes cheese from his sheep’s milk and sells their wool. Although an Easterner, Reese’s favorite sports team is the L.A. Rams. Its being Saturday night, April 1, 2023, and his birthday, Reese decides to go out and celebrate. In fact, this has become a regular ritual with him, to go out trashing on the weekend. He maintains a secure enclosure for his sheep, and as long as they have been properly fed, it is safe for them to be left alone for hours at a time.

Reese’s favorite leather bar, the Ramrod, where the cruising is usually pretty good, is located in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn. He drives there (in his Dodge Ram pickup truck) and parks in the small parking area behind the bar. When John selected Reese to be his first victim, he began to study him and follow him, in order to learn his behavior pattern. John is pretty sure that Reese will show up at his favorite bar on this particular night, and therefore is waiting for him when he arrives. There is nobody else there at the moment. It must be a slow night. In fact, and to John’s fortunate luck, nobody arrives or leaves the bar during this entire encounter, therefore no witnesses.

Reese gets out of his truck and notices John standing against his own vehicle, checking him out. (Ooh, he’s cute! And he looks as if he is on my case.) John speaks first.
“Hey, man, what’s up?”
“Oh, not a whole lot. It is my birthday, though.”
“Well, happy birthday! Come here. I have something for you.”
“You do? What is it?” Reese walks over to where John is standing. They don’t bother to introduce themselves.
“How would you like a fantastic birthday blow job?”
(Well! Okay. Why not? I never turn down a blow job…especially from someone so good-looking. This may turn out to be a good night after all.) (Or not.) John opens the hatch of his station wagon and tells Reese to get in and lie down on his back. Reese complies, as this is not the first time he’s had anonymous, outdoor sex. John is wearing gloves.
“Look, man, I am going to blindfold you. I have a surprise for you as well.”
“Ooh, kinky! Are you a freak?”
John mumbles under his breath, “You have no idea!”

After he blindfolds him, John then proceeds to pull off the other’s pants and briefs and pushes his legs up over his head, baring his behind. From a bag he takes out two ram’s horns that he purchased from a retail store and proceeds to insert one of them into Reese’s anal cavity. When Reese begins to moan with pleasure, John says, “Oh, you like that, do you! Well, try this on for size.” John then takes the other horn and proceeds to ram it down Reese’s throat, causing the poor man to choke and when he can no longer breathe, he suffocates to death. John had straddled his victim and held his arms down with his knees to prevent him from fighting back or defending himself. He next blows on the protruding end of both horns, therefore keeping his word of giving the guy a “blow job.“

After ramming both horns the rest of the way in, until only the rims are showing, John then removes the blindfold and deposits the body, along with the guy’s pants, on the ground next to his truck. Since John doesn’t need the money, he doesn’t rob any of his victims, as he wants the police to be able to identify them. The names are so important, after all. You know those lettered flash cards that are used to teach children or whomever the alphabet? Well, John will be leaving one at each of his crime scenes. This first card has the letter “A” on it. You will learn the significance of these letters in due course. John places some ramie and ramtil plants around the body. On a portable music player, John has chosen Paul McCartney‘s “Ram On” for his music clue. As John drives away, he utters to the corpse, “Mazel tov, you April Fool!”

Patrons from the bar soon discover the body, and the homicide division and coroner are summoned to the scene. They have no suspects. Some admit to having seen the victim before, but nobody really knows him. All the bar patrons questioned have undisputed alibis for the determined time of death. Besides, the killer would not be still on the premises, would he?
“Let’s just chalk it up as another unsolved murder. You know that these rough-trade faggots are always killing each other.”

In order to give the cops a heads-up that there is something to concern them and get them on board, John decides to leave another clue for them, in the form of a cryptic message. I mean, after all, he needs someone to play with him or what’s the point? In the middle of Sheep Meadow in New York’s Central Park later that night, placed there when no one is around, a printed sign, stuck in the ground, will be discovered the next day, which reads, “E PLURIBUS UNUM. THE GAME‘S AFOOT.” John is hoping that it will be realized that nothing he does is coincidental or insignificant and that everything is put where it is for a reason. It’s up to the cops to figure out what it all means. They shouldn’t take anything for granted.

Chapter 3

It took some doing, but John manages to round up the bulls that he needs for his next stunt. He visits every ranch and farm (except his victim’s, of course) in Bullhead City, Arizona and its surrounding area to purchase or lease some bulls. Eight should suffice. John does not meet any of the ranchers in person, only by telephone. Surprisingly, none of them seem to care why he wants them. They just take the money and don’t ask any questions. John does assure them, though, that the bulls won’t be harmed. He arranges to have their cash payment delivered to them and then have the bulls placed where he can pick them up himself without the owners’ assistance.

Ella Toro, 46, is a Mexican-American cattle rancher. As a young woman living in Nogales, Arizona, Ella was an occasional professional bullfighter. When she gave up that activity some years ago, she moved to Bullhead City and bought a ranch on which to raise cattle. As it’s her birthday, Tuesday, May 2nd, after feeding her stock, Ella decides to relax for the rest of the day. But always the multi-tasker, while watching a double feature of Bull Durham and Raging Bull on TV this morning, she repairs a chipped, beloved knickknack of hers with Elmer’s Glue and is now out in the yard of her ranch house, with her faithful bulldog, Bullseye, at her side, sipping a bullshot (a cocktail made of vodka and bouillon) while reading The Story of Ferdinand and listening to “The Lonely Bull“ by Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass on her mp3 player with her headphones, when she is attacked.

John has rented one of those huge Red Bull company delivery vans, onto which he has loaded the animals. They are packed in there like sardines. So naturally, when John opens the doors of the “bullpen” to let them out, they don’t hesitate to get out of there, which causes an ensuing stampede. John has a bullwhip handy to prod them, but he didn’t need to use it.

Ella doesn’t see or hear the van drive up, and as she is sitting with her back to the onslaught, she doesn’t realize what is happening until it is too late and the beasts are upon her. Even Ella’s own bulls decide to join the festivities. At least Bullseye had the sense to flee, so as not to be trampled herself. As there are no witnesses to the rampage, the hoof prints and horn holes on the body should determine the cause of death.

The bull herd all disperses to wherever. John does not attempt to retrieve them. He has paid for them, so it’s no longer his problem. If the original owners want their property back, they will have to find them themselves. John places the mangled corpse in the shovel blade of a bulldozer there on the premises, with some bullbrier and bulrushes strewn about the body. There are two gold coins included with her “O” letter card. John then gets back into the van and drives away. He returns the truck to where he got it and retrieves his plane at where he left it.

Ella’s body is discovered later that day when one of her neighbor friends drops by for a visit and is alerted by Bullseye’s distressful whimpering. She will hear Jacques Brel’s “The Bulls,” being played through a bullhorn used as a speaker, which John set up before he left. He put the recording on a loop to play over and over again. Ms. Toro’s favorite TV show was “Bull,“ by the way. She just loved that Michael Weatherly. Ella drove a Ford Taurus sedan, and being an avid sports fan, Ella was always partial to the Chicago Bulls, for some reason.

As an added clue before the next murders, and before returning to Long Island, John makes two additional stops–in Twin Bridges, Montana and Twinsburg, Ohio–to leave this appearing-to-be anonymous message on a roadside billboard in each place, which reads, “STUDY THE STARS.” John wants to see if whoever discovers it, first of all, will understand it to be a reference to the constellations and the astrology angle and make a connection to the previous as well as the subsequent murders. These clues should be enough to get them on track. The town’s names also will prove significant. The signs are not really anonymous either, for if anyone should examine them closely enough, they will find in the lower left corner of the billboards and on the previous sign in the Park as well, in small letters, “J.S.”, the killer’s initials! You see, although he wants to be helpful in finding him, he wants them to put in some real effort. This is a lot of work for John, so the police need to work as well.

Samantha Marlowe is a recent divorcee with a 10-year-old daughter named Ariel. A few weeks ago, on a Sunday, her day off from work, Samantha just happened to be in Central Park with Ariel and came upon John’s placed sign. Her being a curious person and somewhat suspicious about almost everything, she took the sign with her, suspecting that it must mean something, or else it would not be there. She could justify its removal as being litter or even graffiti.

Chapter 4

The times when John needs his car to execute his murders, he drives instead of flying to the location. He always returns home after each murder, as he has a cat to feed and to check in with his parents. Sometimes they are not even aware that he’s been away. They are still clueless about what is going on with their son. Since he flies his own plane and is always traveling somewhere, they don’t suspect that he’s doing anything out of the ordinary. On these particular occasions, John doesn’t tell his folks where he goes, and they seldom ask.

On a June Friday night John gets a room at the Copshy Motel in Minneapolis and signs his real name on the register. It is often assumed that that name is fake anyway, so in this case he feels that he doesn‘t need to make one up. Moreover, the name is common enough as not to be regarded as anything unusual or special. John is ready to crash, as he is quite exhausted, having driven directly there from Long Island.

The next victims are conjoined, Italian-American, identical twin brothers named Castor and Pollux Dioscuri, age 28. They hail from Syracuse, NY but now work as co-managers of the Minnesota Twins baseball team. The brothers are connected at the breastbone and share vital organs and blood vessels, making successful separation not possible.

Saturday, early afternoon, on their birthday, June 3rd, John makes a call to the Dioscuri Brothers at their office, posing as a maintenance man for Target Field, where the team plays their home games. There seems to be a serious mechanical problem in the team’s locker room that requires their immediate attention, he tells them. There is no game today and few people about, but all attending to other matters. The brothers agree to deal with the problem themselves. John is wearing typical work clothes, befitting a custodian or handyman.

When the twins arrive at the vacant locker room, John offers them some Doublemint chewing gum, which they accept, as it is their brand of choice. While they are casing the so-called “problem,” John overtakes them by surprise and kills them both by hacking through the connective tissue with a double-bladed axe, separating them as the result. The twins did not put up much resistance when John attacked them. It was as if they had been drugged.

John leaves the bloody axe in the locker room so that the cops will surmise where the brothers actually were killed and how. Of course, there are no fingerprints on the axe. John always wears gloves whenever he is required to handle a murder weapon. He also leaves three gum wrappers on the floor next to the axe. After wrapping each body in plastic to prevent their blood from getting on everything, again unseen, he manages to carry (or drag) the men’s bodies to his car, which is parked right outside the building.

Then to add to the depravity, on two of the several bridges that connect the “Twin Cities,” (he picked two that look pretty much identical), one body will be found on the Minneapolis side of one bridge and one on the St. Paul side of the other, hence the Twin Bridges reference. John decides to wait until early Sunday morning, the next day, when the traffic is at its lowest, to dump the bodies on the two bridges. In both instances, he waits for the precise moment, when he thinks it won’t be noticed. It really doesn’t matter to John which brother goes where, although when facing them, Castor was the one on the left and Pollux was on the right. Some twinberry and twinflowers are added for one and the other. Their featured songs are, “I Had Twins” from The Boys from Syracuse and “Twin Soliloquies” from South Pacific. Each brother gets a letter card with a “T” on it. The boys’ favorite TV show was “Twin Peaks.”

The brothers were not missed on Saturday. They were seen in their office earlier that day, and it was just assumed that they had left for the day. Their unexpected, horrible deaths is only learned about on the Sunday evening news.

Chapter 5

The next victim, Dr. Louise Crabbe, 50, is an oncologist (cancer specialist), originally from Baltimore, Maryland, but has her practice in Mattawa, Washington, the nearest town to Crab Creek Wildlife Area, where she is on a holiday/birthday picnic on Tuesday, July 4th with a few of her friends. John finds a convenient spot in the area to land and park his plane. He arrives early enough to hunt for the crabs he needs for his plan. He does find them and then proceeds to inject each one with a deadly serum. He discovers where the doctor will be spending the day and waits for her at the picnic grounds. Although this is supposed to be a party, Louise leaves her companions and finds a secluded area of the park where she can be by herself for a while. She will see them all later, she tells them. (She should have stayed with them.)

John seeks out the doc and to get her attention, poses as a strolling peddler, singing the “Crab Man Street Cry” from Porgy and Bess. Having a fondness for soft-shell crabs, Louise offers to buy one from him. She was just about to go down by the creek to look for some crabs herself, but this handsome, young man has now saved her the trouble. After introducing herself and informing him that it’s her birthday (which, of course, he already knew), John tells Louise that he will give her one of his crabs for free. He offers her four from which to choose, and of course, the one that she picks is one that kills her, although any choice would have rendered the same fatal result. While they are waiting for the crab to cook on her campfire, John starts to sing “Happy Birthday” to her and asks her to join in, which she does, tentatively at first.
“Sing out, Louise!”

Immediately after consuming the poisoned crab, Louise develops sarcomatous metastasis (a rapidly-spreading cancer organism) that destroys her vital, internal organs. John waits around in hiding until he is sure that his “gift” has accomplished its desired, fatal effect. An autopsy should provide the cause of death. A crab apple placed on a bed of crabgrass and crab cactus will be found with the body. John chooses John Williams’ “Dr. Crab’s Prize” from Memoirs of a Geisha over “The Legend of Miss Baltimore Crabs” from Hairspray as his song selection. Her letter card is another “O”.

Louise is discovered later when another camper happens by her campsite. Someone reports that they did hear some strange warbling in the distance, but they were too far away to see who was doing the singing. If anyone in the vicinity actually saw John, they didn’t pay him any attention and could offer no description or help when questioned later about it.

Chapter 6

It’s too bad that this next guy’s name is Leo Lyon. He is just asking to be on John’s hit list! It’s Saturday, August 5th. John seeks out Leo, 39, at the wild animal reserve where he works as a zookeeper in Lyons, Georgia. John’s putting some distance between murder locales also adds to the investigative confusion.

Posing as the talent scout for the traveling circus that is in town for a few days (how convenient), John offers Leo an enticing job. John explains to him that they are in need of a lion tamer for one day. Their current one is “indisposed,” and they need someone to fill in for her. They don’t want to cancel tonight’s performance, as this is one of their most popular acts. Because of his longtime experience working with the big cats, John thought that Leo would do well with the circus felines, he tells him. I think that John’s offer to pay Leo $500 in cash for about 15 minutes of work is probably what convinces him to accept the job. Leo considers this to be an unexpected, welcome birthday present. Even though John pays him in advance, he won’t get to spend any of it!

That night at the Big Top, and alone in the lion’s cage, Leo is all ready to meet his “charges.” The tent is packed with eager spectators. John has given Leo a tied bouquet of dandelions and asked him to place them down somewhere in the cage. Not realizing their real significance, he just takes it as a decorative gesture and complies with the request without question. John has kept the animals from him until now, and neither the owner of the circus nor the ringmaster has been informed of the personnel change.

It turns out that the real lion tamer, Sue Dellaso, has been abducted and held captive by John, unbeknownst to anybody. Earlier John had sneaked up behind the young woman while she was alone and put a rag containing chloroform over her mouth. When she came to, she found herself tied up, gagged and locked in a utility closet on the premises. Somebody at the circus will find her later and let her out, but only after the deadly deed has been done.

With no one officially in charge, John has managed to starve the lions all day, plus the fact that they don’t know Leo, and for added measure, John has smeared raw meat all over Leo’s costume! John then situates himself among the spectators, so that he may witness the result of his nefarious manipulations. When a circus hand opens the door of the cage where the five lions are being kept, they immediately pounce on Leo, chomp on him and maul him to death, to the utter horror of the crowd. The circus personnel are asking each other, “Who in blazes is that?!” and “Where in the hell is Sue?” Nobody has a clue. They were all tending to their own business and chores before showtime, so no one noticed the switch.

By this time John has skulked off the premises unnoticed. Leo’s letter card is “S”. The song that they find on the music player, placed there earlier in the day, is Julie Andrews singing, “Don‘t Go in the Lion‘s Cage Tonight.” It’s too late now to heed the warning! Of course, Leo was a member of the local branch of the Lions Club, and his favorite football team was the Detroit Lions.

Chapter 7

Miss Donna Athena Parthenopolos is a 16-year-old, chaste, high school student from San Francisco, now a devout Catholic, having converted from Greek Orthodox (she even has a tattoo of Mary on her arm) and plays a virginal. Donna with her mom and dad have flown on Virgin America Airlines to spend Labor Day week with her grandparents in their hometown of Virgin, Utah, before Donna has to resume school in a couple of days back in San Francisco. She would have been a junior. John is overjoyed when he learned where his next victim would be spending her fateful day, as it will suit his purpose perfectly.

On Wednesday, September 6th, while the adults are busy preparing for the family birthday celebration, Donna is in her room enjoying a glass of Newman’s Own Virgin Lemonade. Finding nothing of interest on the TV, she decides to go out for a stroll by herself, not telling her folks where she is going. Once outside, she is soon approached by John, who has been lying in wait for her, as he was pretty sure, or at least hoping, that she would leave the house at some point. He immediately lays on the charm. He compliments her, wishes her a happy, sweet sixteen birthday and her finding him friendly and really cute, he gains her trust.
“I had a birthday myself just yesterday. I’d like to show you something. Come walk with me down to the river, lovely miss.” (The Virgin River) When he gets the young girl there, alone, he proceeds to strangle her with a striped scarf made of virgin wool that’s been soaked with virgin olive oil and leaves the body there on the riverbank for her distraught parents to find later, when they discovered their daughter gone and went looking for her.

The scarf is still around her neck, as it is another clue for the police. Virgin’s-bower and some Virginia creeper are also found with the body. Her letter card has a “U” on it. On the music player they will get Florence Price-Langston Hughes‘ “Song to the Dark Virgin,” which reflects Donna’s darkened complexion as the result of her strangulation.

Chapter 8

It is late September. By now somebody should smell a proverbial rat. Come on, these specialized murders can’t all be mere coincidence and unrelated. But are they? At least one savvy, Afro-American, Manhattan homicide detective, by the name of Samantha Marlowe, 38, is starting to make a connection. When news reports start coming into the precinct about some bizarre deaths occurring in various parts of the country the last few months, it has piqued her interest that they may be connected in some way, and she has requested to look into it and head the investigation, even though it may be out of their jurisdiction. A man was killed with ram’s horns in April. A woman was attacked by bulls in May. A pair of twins were hacked to death in June. Say! Does she detect a theme here? Samantha did further checking and learned that this past July a woman developed terminal cancer from eating a poisoned crab.
“And get a load of this, guys.“ Samantha tells her crime team, “In August a man in Lyons, Georgia, by the name of Leo Lyon, I kid you not, was mauled to death and eaten by a pride of lions. I don’t believe that all those deaths could be coincidental. I think we may have another, but real this time, Zodiac serial killer on the loose.” (But could only one person be responsible for such a complex undertaking? Might it be a group effort perhaps, a conspiracy? There is nary a suspect yet. If it is just one person and assuming it is a man, no one even has an idea where he lives, as his murders occur all over the country. Hmm.) “Hey, wait a second! Maybe I know more than I think I do. I just had a thought. Let me take a look at that sign again. I didn’t see it before, but now it’s making some sense. What if this sign was put there by the killer to get our attention? See here? ‘E pluribus Unum‘–one, out of many. That could mean that he has already killed one and there will be more to come. He knows Latin, so he could be a scholar. It’s our nation’s motto, too, so might we assume that he is an American? And ‘The game’s afoot’. That’s what Sherlock Holmes often would say when he took on a new case. That sounds like a challenge to me. He’s playing with us. But who would go through all that trouble planning and carrying out these intricate murders for the sake of a game? How bizarre is that? Wait! What’s this? J.S. Could that be their initials?”
Jerry Olson (a 45-year-old Afro-American man): “Hey, Sammy! Where did you find this sign anyway?”
“In Central Park.“
“But where exactly?“
“Oh. In Sheep Meadow. Ahh! Okay, I get it now. I‘ll bet that he had just killed that guy in Brooklyn and then left this sign to let us know that it was he.”
Colin Spenser (a 42-year-old Americanized Brit): “Should we also assume that he is a New Yorker, then?”
“He could well be. So this case may be our business after all. I wonder if this guy has left us any more clues somewhere that may be relevant? Let‘s examine these murders further. We have some detailed reports here. Who are the murdered victims? What do we know about them? Do they have anything in common with each other? The first guy, if he was the first, is A. Reese Ramin.”
Danny Gates (44-years-old): “Come on! For real?”
“Yep, that’s his name. And he actually was an Aries, and a shepherd, to boot!”
Danny: “Git outta town!”
Colin: “So then, Sheep Meadow was the perfect place to put that sign, alerting us to his murder.”
“That’s right. Did you know that it’s named thus because once upon a time sheep used to graze there? But get this. The ‘A’ in his name stands for Abel, who you will recall is the first Biblical murder victim and who happens to have been a shepherd!”
Colin: “Blimey!”
“Consider, too, that the murder weapons, ram’s horns, which were used for ramming, were obtained from the heads of male sheep, rams, alluding to where he was killed–the Ramrod Bar, frequented exclusively by males, in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn!”
Colin: “Amazing!”
“Plus, his being Jewish, you know, don’t you, that that particular horn, or shofar, as it’s called, is used in Jewish religious services? The killer made sure to use ram’s horn shofars, rather than ones made from kudu, as ‘battering rams.’ There is no way to determine where they were purchased. Anybody want to guess what kind of vehicle he drove?”
Jerry: “Is that important to know?”
“No, not really. But as he was gay, for cruising purposes, I think that a Dodge Ram ‘pickup’ truck would prove useful, don‘t you?“ They all laugh.
Jerry: “Sammy, be nice.”
“I’m just sayin’. The song playing on a portable music player was Paul McCartney’s ‘Ram On.’”
Danny: “Hmm. In that poor man’s case, it should be ‘Ram In.’”
Samantha: “Danny!” They all laugh.
Danny: “Like his name, in fact. Let me see that.” He takes the paper from her. “Here’s one that occurred in Bullhead City, Arizona. She was a cattle rancher named Ella Toro.”
Colin (with an Italian accent): “You mean, like el(a) toro, the bull?”
“Uh-huh. Along with the holes made by their horns, her body was riddled with multiple hoof prints, as if she had been gored and trampled by a stampede.”
Danny: “Of solely bulls, it was determined, when some of them were recovered later. She might have had a better chance in Pamplona. At least there she would have gotten a head start.”
Jerry: “I hear you, man. But speaking of head… As it was with the rams, this Toro woman was killed by the heads of bulls, and it all took place in Bullhead City! What do you think of that?”
Colin: “That is ‘bully,’ mate.”
Danny: “Ha-ha! Yes, she certainly ‘took the bull by the horns,’ didn’t she? It also says here that her mangled body was found placed on the blade of a bulldozer, and a song was playing through a bullhorn speaker. What was it, Sam? I don‘t think I know it.“
“It’s a song by Jacques Brel, appropriately called, ’The Bulls.’ Not much stock was taken about the gold coins they found, but I don’t see it as insignificant. They were put there for a reason, as another theme clue, if nothing else. From their description I believe those coins to be bullions.”
Danny: “Of course they are. It was reported by several motorists that they spied a huge Red Bull truck on the highway at about the same time. That must be how the animals were transported.”
Jerry: “Hmm. A single cattle rancher. And it says here that she was also a former bullfighter. I wonder if she was a ‘bulldagger’ (or ‘bulldyke’) as well?”
Danny: ”Ha-ha! That would complete the picture, wouldn’t it?”
Samantha: “Although, with the subsequent murders, we shouldn’t assume that the killer is targeting gays. That first guy just happened to be an unfortunate victim of circumstance.”
Colin: “But which is why those Brooklyn cops didn’t bother to follow up with an investigation. Apparently they don’t care about some dead sodomite.”
“So it would seem. The killer was probably counting on them to have that very attitude. By nobody looking for him, it gave him a better chance to proceed with his next killing.”
Colin: “I’m sure you’re right, Sam.”
“Get this one, fellas. The bodies of those separated, conjoined twins were found in both Minneapolis and St. Paul, collectively known as ’The Twin Cities.’ Check out their names, though. Castor and Pollux Dioscuri!”
Danny: “Why, that’s the names of the Gemini twins of the constellation!”
“Exactly. And they were co-managers of the Minnesota Twins baseball team. Do you know where they were from originally? Syracuse, New York.”
Jerry: “Is that significant of something?”
The Boys from Syracuse! It’s a Rodgers and Hart musical based on Shakespeare’s A Comedy of Errors, about two sets of misplaced twins. That’s where the song ‘I Had Twins‘ is from. He had twins, all right. He had them separated and killed! It was determined that they were killed in Target Field’s locker room. That’s where were found some gum wrappers and the purported murder weapon, a double-bladed axe.”
Danny: “That makes sense.”
“I suppose the brothers had their own ‘separate’ thoughts while they were being slaughtered, hence the ‘Twin Soliloquies.’ During a routine examination of their bodies, chewing gum was found in both of their mouths, and there were traces of ketamine in their systems, which is a drug that causes bodily weakness and confusion. That must be how the killer was able to overtake them so easily in order to kill them. It probably was administered via the gum, which must have been laced with the stuff. Anybody care to guess what gum brand it was?”
“I’ll take a stab, Sammy. Let me see. Was it, uh…Doublemint, by any chance?”
“You got, it, Jere! That was good thinking.”
“I’m beginning to understand this killer’s trip. Just like, and I am assuming that there isn’t or he would have used it, I’ll bet he wishes there were a Lyons, Maine and that Leo Lyon lived there. You know what I‘m sayin‘?”
“Ha-ha. You’re probably right. You can’t have everything. You just do with what you got, I guess. I learned that none of those circus people knew who the hell Leo was. Unbeknownst to anybody, the killer apparently had substituted him for their real lion tamer, a Ms. Sue Delasso, whom he had drugged and hidden in a supply closet somewhere. She, then, was no help, and of course, they couldn’t ask Leo how he happened to be there or who hired him. It is all still a mystery to them. They don’t know what to think. So far it appears what the victims have in common is that they all relate to the Zodiac in some way. The towns and places where his murders occur are also significant. Since the killer left a clue after the first murder, might he have left another one after the second, just in case we missed the first one? I’m curious. You know me. This is only a hunch, mind you. Give me a minute.” Samantha goes to her computer and googles “U.S. towns that have ‘twin’ in their names.” What comes up: Twin Bridges, Montana, Twin Falls, Idaho and Twinsburg, Ohio.
“Uh, huh! Maybe the killer has cited one or more of these particular towns in which to leave a clue. Let’s check it out.” Samantha picks up her phone and dials directory assistance to get the number of the Twin Bridges, Montana Sheriff’s department. She dials the number, and a man answers.
“Sheriff’s office.”
“Hello, this is Captain Samantha Marlowe of the NYPD Major Crimes Unit. To whom am I speaking?”
“This is Sheriff Jasper Wright. How may I help you, Captain?”
“Well, Sheriff, this may seem like a strange question to ask you, but have you yourself come across or has anybody reported seeing a mysterious sign of some sort around town that you or they don’t understand?”
“Lord, it’s funny that you would ask that, because there is something here that has caused the townsfolk pause. It was the first week in May when somebody put up a roadside billboard with a message on it. We don’t know who rented it, but they paid six months in advance for it, so it hasn’t been taken it down yet. I don’t know if it’s some kind of ad or what it is.”
“Sheriff Wright, will you tell me what the sign says, please?”
“All it says is, ’Study the stars.’ What does that mean?”
(Just what it says, I would think.) “I have an idea. But first I need to know if there is anything else written on the sign anywhere. Anything at all.”
“Well, I don’t know for sure. I would have to look at it again. Can I call you back?”
“You certainly can. Please do.” She gives him her number. “Look at the lower left-hand corner, if you will, Sheriff. Goodbye for now.” Samantha hangs up and dials directory assistance to get the number of the police department in Twin Falls, Idaho. But when she dials the number, she gets an answering machine message telling her that the station is closed for the day and to leave a message, if desired. As she would need questions answered on the spot, Samantha refrains from saying anything and just hangs up. She next tries to reach somebody in Twinsburg, Ohio. When the police sergeant there, Garth Loomis, answers and she has identified herself, Samantha asks him the same question that she had asked Sheriff Wright. They, too, have a mysterious billboard that cropped up the first week in May. This time Samantha tells the sergeant what is written on the billboard. “By any chance, is the message, ‘Study the stars.‘?”
“Well, I’ll be horn-swoggled! That’s exactly what it says. How in the world could you know that?”
“It was a lucky guess. Sergeant, it’s too much to go into right now. I don’t have all the facts yet myself. The message is merely a clue for a case that I am working on, but I am sure that you don’t have anything to worry about. I appreciate your help and cooperation. Bye, now.”
Jerry: “So, what was that all about, Sammy?”
“Well, I’ll tell you. Listen to this. This guy, whoever he is, took the trouble to put up twin billboards in the towns of Twin Bridges and Twinsburg, suggesting that we study the stars–astrology being the study of stars, you see–and then murders a pair of twins named after a constellation and deposits their corpses, not in either of those places, but on twin bridges in the Twin Cities. How is that for calculated, organized sick? Although I do have to admire his clever wit and attention to detail. The message is subtle but quite direct. It alerts us to the astrology angle to this whole thing, in case somebody missed it.”
“Hey, mates! It wasn’t those unfortunate Dioscuri blokes but some other ones. Do you know why the American conjoined (at the hip) twins moved to England?”
Danny: “No, why, Colin?”
“To give the other one a chance to drive.” They all laugh.
“How considerate. What about the Louise Crabbe report? Somebody heard someone singing out there at Crab Creek but was too far away to see who it was. They did make out the words, however. They heard, ‘She crab, devil crab, I‘m talkin’ about the food I sells…’ Is that from something, Sam?”
“I know that one, Danny Boy! It‘s the ‘Crab Man Street Cry’ from Porgy and Bess.”
“You’re right, Jere.”
“So, she herself was the crab, hence her name, and I‘ll bet you that he sold her the tainted ‘devil’ crab that later killed her, as he alluded to in the song.”
“Yeah, that was ‘Dr. Crab’s Prize,’ although it turned out to be lethal. But I suspect that he gave her the crab for free, as a birthday present, perhaps. I mean, why make her pay for her own murder weapon? I suspect he doesn‘t need the money. By the way, since Dr. Crabbe’s music example was entirely instrumental, our killer had the decency to identify it for us. Otherwise, even I wouldn’t have known what it was. They used one of those devices that distort one’s voice, so we can’t even tell for sure if it is male or female.”
Danny: “Well, we can see that they are no dummy. They really know their stuff and has done their homework.”
Colin: “I think that clinches it, then. This bloke is the real Zodiac Killer, no doubt about that.”

Sheriff Wright calls back ten minutes later. “Well, Captain Marlowe, I did go look at that sign like you asked, and there really is something written on there, right where you said it would be, too. In very small print, the letters J and S.” Of course, Samantha already knew that before he told her. “So, you think that means something, eh?” Samantha tells him what she had told the other officer, that it’s just a clue to a case and that it does not concern him in any way. Samantha thanks him for his trouble and cooperation. After she hangs up the phone, Samantha tells her colleagues that she is now convinced that the sign that she found in the Park and those billboards were rendered by the same person, someone with the initials, J.S.
“We don’t need to call Twin Falls again. I think we found out what we wanted to know. We apparently got the right towns. Although one could say that the twins did take a fall when they were dropped onto the bridges.”
“Hah! That’s deep. Only you would think of that, Sammy.”
“I’m just sayin’. The game is indeed afoot, guys.”

Chapter 9

So now that he has accomplished the first half of his murder game successfully, John thought that he would do something different, complicate things a little more. Libra’s being the only inanimate sign, poses a challenge in itself. Roman Pound, 33, a single, Japanese-American (he was adopted) accountant, balances books for The Balance Point Corporation in Kansas City, Missouri (a real company). As John would like to execute (pardon the pun) this stunt at the more preferable Balance Point in Newfoundland, Canada, he will need to get Roman there somehow.

John gets Roman’s boss, Frank Abrams, to send him on a special assignment for his company, as Roman is his top accountant. Of course, he doesn’t know that he is sending his most valued employee to his death. All communication is done through written correspondence via their laptops. John and Frank never meet face-to-face or even speak on the telephone. This time he does use a fake name. John offers to cover all of Roman’s expenses–he even will get weekend overtime pay–and will fly him to Canada himself in his private jet. How can they refuse such generosity?

In addition and in advance, John has paid some construction men in Newfoundland to build a balance beam high in the air over a secluded deep, dry gorge (that he found during his scouting of the area), according to his specifications. As long as they are being well-paid, nobody asks any questions. It seems that people with money can get folks to do just about anything. John himself provided and put the scale in place at an earlier time.

The bogus assignment has something to do with establishing some kind of association with the namesake area and obtain statistical data that Abrams can use to procure a development contract or some such nonsense. Abrams thinks that he will greatly benefit from the deal, which is why he so willingly goes along with it. John is posing as a liaison for Abrams. His having to take care of local concerns, John agrees to stand in for him and convinces them both that he needs Roman to handle any business transactions that may occur.

John arranges to meet Roman alone at his home in Kansas City for their trip to Canada. As Roman tends to be a man of few words, there isn’t much talking during the flight. Roman chooses to relax–reading and dozing most of the way. Besides, whatever does transpire between them, Roman won’t be able to tell about it, will he? When they arrive at the death site on Saturday, October 7th, they find that a large scale has been placed (balanced) on a balance beam. It never occurs to Roman to ask how that beam got to be there, who put it there, or even why they are there, for that matter. Isn’t he at least a little bit curious?

The stunt that John is planning for Roman will involve a libratory endurance test that will require his willing participation. Maybe Roman’s knowledge of yoga and skill at martial arts will help him somewhat. But first John has to trick the man somehow into getting up there on that beam and scale. He learned that Roman is somewhat of a thrill seeker, daredevil and gambler, so he will use those to his advantage.
“Hey, Roman! It’s your birthday today, isn’t it?.”
“Yeah, but how do you know that?”
“Oh, I make it a point to learn all I can about the people I work with. So, happy birthday, my good man.”
“Say, let’s have a little fun, shall we, and make use of the situation here. I have an idea. Since you are a Libra, let’s celebrate by doing a sun-sign-related stunt. I’d like to see if you can balance yourself on that balance beam and scale there. I’ll even make it worth your while. How about this? I will bet you that you can’t balance yourself up there for, let’s say, just seven minutes. If you can’t do it, that’s all right. You won’t owe me anything. (Because you’ll be dead!) But if you succeed, I will pay you $700 in cash. That’s in addition to what I’m paying you for the assignment. I am good for it. Now that‘s an offer you can‘t refuse.”
“I think I can do that. It’s worth the try, anyway. I certainly can use the extra money.”
“That’s the spirit! Here, put on these headphones. This is for your listening pleasure while you’re up there. Do you like Burt Bacharach?”
“I do, actually.”
“Good! He is a favorite of mine, too.”

Roman takes the headphones and player and proceeds to climb the precipice to the balance beam and situates himself on the scale. Amazingly, Roman accomplishes the feat. He even seemed to enjoy the two songs provided for him, which are Burt Bacharach singing his and Hal David’s “The Balance of Nature” and John Bucchino’s “Until the Balance Tips,” which, prophetically, is still playing when just as he is about to climb down off of the scale, after seven minutes, it does tip a little, he loses his footing, and he falls to his death. (Lummox!) This delights John, as it was his intention all along for the man to fail (and fall). Too bad. Something ventured, nothing gained. This time John was glad to keep the money that he had offered Roman, as he has spent enough on this endeavor already.

The terrain below is anything but smooth and unencumbered. The guy’s body is “dashed to bits on the jagged rocks below.” There is no flower this time, but instead a blank ledger, or notebook, is placed with the body. You see, the Latin word for book is liber, which originally meant the inner bark of a tree, thus justifying the botanical connection, however subtle. It might be assumed that it’s Roman’s notebook, who brought it along to take, well, notes. The scale found with the body should be a more obvious clue. Roman’s letter card is a “P”.

Having not heard a word from him in a couple of days, Frank Abrams tries to reach Roman several times by phone, but never gets an answer. Of course, John can’t be found either. The guy that Frank was in touch with now doesn’t even exist. He subsequently contacts the local authorities in Newfoundland to report Roman missing. They have no idea where to look, as it is a big area out there.

Roman’s body is eventually found after several days of searching. Nobody knows for sure what really happened out there, but it’s suspected that some foul play was definitely involved. It even took considerable effort to track down the beam builders for some insight, but they were of no help. They never met their anonymous employer in person but only received written instructions and were paid in cash by a messenger service.

When Abrams receives word of his friend’s demise, he is devastated and wracked with abject guilt, understandably. Frank will never forgive himself for his blind trust and relinquishing that young man over to some unsubstantiated, mysterious stranger.

Chapter 10

An Afro-American woman named Dr. Nge Antares (she has a Ph.D.), 41, is an ethologist (that’s the study of animal behavior) with a fondness for scorpions, in particular. Dr. Antares’ second job is activities coordinator for guests staying at the local bed and breakfast inn in Monroe, Washington (a suburb of Seattle). She arranges hiking tours of nearby Scorpion Mountain (her favorite venue), located in the Central Cascades, where she meets her eventual demise on November 8th, a Wednesday.

Around noon on the day in question, the tour group travels the 34 miles from Monroe to the Central Cascades camping area by chartered bus. Nge does not mind working on her birthday, as it will be a fun outing as well, she hopes. They are to stay overnight. John flies out to Washington from New York and lands his plane in a secluded area within walking distance of Scorpion Mountain. He has already found out the tour schedule and knows when the group will be arriving and where they will be bivouacking. In the meantime, John goes scorpion hunting. He finds them to be all over the place, which is probably how the area got its name. For his purposes, he needs only eight, which he has no trouble obtaining. He has a large, zippered bag with a mesh panel to put them all in. He manages to remain out of sight (in his plane) until it’s safe to emerge.

After accomplishing their guided tour of the area, having dinner and a fun evening of socializing and lively and entertaining conversation, Nge and everyone else eventually retire to their designated tents to sleep or whatever. John is in hiding nearby, watching to see to where his targeted victim retreats. He waits until all is quiet and everyone is settled in before making his move. Ms. Antares is relaxing in her tent alone, watching an episode of “Scorpion” on her iPad, when John creeps in unannounced. Before she can even react to his sudden intrusion, he sticks a rag in her mouth, so that her cries and screams will be dampened. John then dumps his bag containing his collection of deadly scorpions onto Nge’s head and body and watches in fascinated glee as the creatures sting her to death. (“Them!“) The paralysis caused by the scorpions’ toxic venom renders the woman unable to move or escape the attack. This time for his music clues John chooses Paul McCartney’s “I Got Stung” and leaves a compact disc of Deadly Sting by the Scorpions, along with some stinging nettles and eglantine, a species of prickly rose. Nge gets an “H” letter card.

John returns to his plane where he parked it and flies back to Long Island. The tour guide’s body is discovered the next morning when someone goes to her tent to alert her that it is time to go back to the B&B in Monroe. Needless to say, they are shocked and horrified by what they find. From the nest of scorpions still present, it is deduced what happened to Nge. They know that the woman had a thing for scorpions, but she wouldn’t have done that to herself, would she? Could somebody in the present group be responsible? But it turns out that everyone is accounted for the whole time there. Then who did it, and why? Nobody has the vaguest notion.

Chapter 11

Cupid’s Retreat, located in Tell City, Indiana, is an archery club, health spa, school and recreational facility for archery enthusiasts. Members can practice their archery skills alone or in competition events with others. Beginners can take classes to learn the sport. The complex also offers a dating service for singles looking for partners with common interests. Fletcher S. Bowman, 36, an American Indian of the Shawnee tribe and who manages the club, has finished teaching for the day, is closing up the place and is about to leave to go home to regroup, so he can celebrate his Saturday birthday, December 9th, with friends. He is there alone, as everyone has left.

Just as with the earlier bulls, John has managed to rent a horse from a local riding stable without meeting the owner in person. Singing the famous strain from the William Tell Overture, John comes riding up on horseback to where Fletcher is standing, just outside the front door of the main entrance. This time John will leave at the crime scene a selfie video of him committing the slaughter. Although it is cold out, for the sake of the film, he is without a coat but in costume instead, disguised as Robin Hood, carrying a quiver full of arrows and wearing a mask. He happens to have dabbled in archery as a youth.

After felling Fletcher with the first arrow, through his heart, John continues to riddle the poor guy’s body with eight more arrows. He rides away muttering, “Number 9…number 9…number 9…number 9…” Arrowroot and arrowwood along with an “I” letter card will be found at the scene. Fletcher’s favorite TV shows were “Archer” and “Arrow.” John’s featured song, appropriately, is “Arrow Through the Heart” by the Bee Gees.

When Fletcher does not show up for his party that evening, his concerned friends set about to look for him. When he doesn’t answer his phone after several attempts, they go to Cupid’s Retreat to see what is up. Again, what they find shocks and horrifies them all. And again, no one has a clue as to who is responsible. A seriously disgruntled club member, perhaps? But who? And why? All his associates and clients seem to have liked him. And what’s with what looks like horse poop all over the place? Was there a horse here? Where is Quackser Fortune when you need him? None of them got to look at the placed video of the slaughter, as they all knew not to touch anything before the police arrived to the scene.

Chapter 12

Female victim, Billie Capra, 24, from Capreol, Ontario and who works as a nanny, looks after two young children of a working Canadian couple. She was on call everyday throughout the recent holidays, and she finally gets some time off during the second week after the New Year. Even though it is the height of winter, Billie has always wanted to visit Niagara Falls, which is on the opposite side of the province where she lives. She plans on spending a couple of days there, to partake of all the regular tourist attractions. Early on Wednesday, Jan. 10, 2024, which happens to be her birthday, Billie drives down there alone and subsequently checks for overnight accommodations on the U.S. side of the Falls. She did not make prior reservations, because she wasn’t sure where she wanted to stay, until she got there.

John somehow gets wind of her plans and is waiting for her when she arrives. He finds Billie in the tourist area shopping for souvenirs, and posing as a freelance photographer, John approaches her and talks her into going with him over to Goat Island to take some candid shots of her in the natural settings. He tells her how beautiful she is–he rates her a “10,”…
(Hey, you’re pretty fly yourself!)
…and since it is her birthday, he won’t even charge her for the photos. This trusting young woman apparently has not learned that nothing is free, and that there must be a catch. As an added plus, John tells her that there even will be some goats on the island, having learned that goats are her favorite animals. (Chacun à son goût.) “Oh, what fun! Let’s do it!” she agrees.

When they arrive there, Billie is delighted to see, just as John had assured her, a trip of goats frolicking freely. Billie proceeds to pet some of them while John takes a couple of pictures of her posing with them. Soon John’s kind demeanor turns sinister. He forcibly attacks the young woman, tears her clothes off, ties her to a tree and orders the ten “horny” billy goats there with them to attack her and butt her to death. They then take their turn raping her, as they are all male and in heat.

John has chartered the island for the day, so no tourists are allowed in the area, therefore no witnesses to the attack. The park officials seemed not to care why he wanted the island. As usual, they just took his money, no questions asked. The arrangements were done by written correspondence, so nobody ever met John in person. He has apparently trained the goats to kill and rut on his command. John has placed goatsbeard and goat’s-rue flowers with the body. For her song, he’s going with “Billy Goat Hill” by The Kingston Trio, and her letter card contains an “N”.

By the time the body is discovered, John will be long gone. The goats are still there, however. Will they solely be held responsible for her death? But why is she there anyway, unless she is the person who chartered the island? It seems more likely, though, that someone must have lured her here in order to kill her. Then the question remains. Who, and why?

Chapter 13

Since it is not convenient to travel to all the different places where the murders have taken place, our crime team has to rely on the media and submitted police reports to get information on the cases. Samantha has contacted every murder locale to inquire about everything connected with the murders, the victims themselves, where and when exactly they were found, every aspect of the crime scene, no detail, no matter how minor, should be ignored or overlooked. It appears that nobody else is displaying the diligence to investigate all these murders. Since there are no follow-up murders in the same place and no suspects to pursue, why even bother? Even though Samantha has shared what she knows with the other police teams, they don’t seem interested enough to pursue the search. Each case is closed, as far as they are concerned. One would think that at least the FBI would have shown some interest, but the Bureau has no jurisdiction in local cases, unless it involves a kidnapping. So Samantha and her team have taken it upon themselves to be the ones to find this guy and bring him to justice.

Now that they know what to look for, a lot of it is making more sense. Reports are still coming in every month suggesting another Zodiac-themed murder, all of which are occurring in Zodiacal order, by the way. In September, a 16-year-old virgin was strangled on the banks of the Virgin River in Virgin, Utah with a virgin wool scarf soaked in virgin olive oil, no less! Samantha learned some other interesting things about her.
“Her name is Donna Athena Parthenopolos from San Francisco. Although it’s from 50 years ago, the lyrics of the song ‘Donna’ from Hair, sounds as if they were written for and about our girl here. Do any of you know the song? No? ’Lookin’ for my Donna (Madonna)…there was a sixteen-year-old virgin…San Francisco psychedelic urchin…Have you seen my sixteen-year-old tattooed woman? Heard a story, she got busted for her beauty.’ The girl did have a tattoo of Mary (another purported virgin) on her arm.”
Danny: “Well, Hair was a little before our time. And yours, too, wasn’t it, Sam?” He chuckles.
“Well, sure it was, but my parents were ‘60s free-spirit hippies, and they loved that show! I heard the Broadway Cast album often while growing up. But, I beg your pardon, Danny. Many musicals are before my time. What does that have to do with the price of eggs in China? With available recordings and revivals, I can still be familiar with them, can’t I? You all know what a musical nut I am.”
Colin: “No!”
Danny: “Really?!”
Jerry: “No shit, Sherlock!” The men laugh.
“Oh, now. Also, the girl’s middle name, Athena, is attributed to the virgin goddess, whose statue stands in the Parthenon, built in her honor.”
“You don‘t say! I hope her parents didn‘t expect their daughter to remain a virgin for her entire life.”
Colin: “Yeah, how about that? But as it turned out, Danny, she did!”
“You got that right. How did the killer know for certain that this girl was really a virgin?”
“With his obviously unlimited resources, he must have made sure somehow. Guys, I am greatly distressed by this murder in particular. Of course, the deaths of all of the others are not any more deserving, but to kill an innocent child for no reason is totally unforgivable. This guy seems to have no conscience whatsoever. I keep thinking that that could have been my Ariel, if being a virgin was the main qualification.”
Danny: “No, Sam, your daughter doesn’t meet the name or birthday requirements. So, she was completely safe, thank goodness. But you can still be grateful just the same, I suppose.”
“Hey, Sammy! What in hell is a virginal? I see here that this girl played one.”
“It’s a keyboard instrument, Jere, similar to a harpsichord. Yes, of the vast number of instruments she could have chosen to learn how to play, this one picked a virginal, of all things.”
Danny: “Hey, guys! Do you know from where they get virgin wool?”
Jerry: “I‘m not sure. Where?”
“From very ugly sheep.” The others have to think about that for a moment. Then they all get it and laugh.
Colin: “Baa! Humbug!” More laughter.
Jerry: “I knew this fast gal in high school named Virginia. They called her ‘Virgin’ for short…but not for long.”
Danny: “Oh-oh!“ More laughter.
“You guys are so bad! Now this next guy, Roman Pound, is posing a bit of a mystery for me.”
Colin: “How so?”
“Well, he was found all broken up at the bottom of a gorge up in Canada, and there was this narrow, makeshift platform extended high up across the crevice from which he could have fallen, I suppose. But why was he up there, I wonder? Did the killer push him off, or did he fall on his own volition? So, if he fell on his own, was it really murder? Did he go up there voluntarily or was he forced? I‘m thinking that this killer must be quite a charmer. It appears that he somehow must gain his victims‘ trust, to be able to get them alone somewhere to kill them.”
Colin: “What is the Zodiac connection with this guy, then?”
“Well, as this one would be Libra, the Balance (or Scales), the biggest tip-off was the scale that was found next to the body, and my guess is that the elevated platform was a ‘balance beam.’ The locale is referred to as Balance Point. He must have picked that locale just because of its name. Then I found out that he worked for a technology company in Kansas City, also named the Balance Point Corporation. And what do you think he did there?”
Danny: “Tell us.”
“He was an accountant. He balanced their books, of course!”
Colin: “Ah, so! I guess that does make him the Libra victim, then.”
“In addition, it appears that what led up to his fatal fall involved libration, which is the act of balancing. But check this out. Are you aware that the abbreviation for the unit of weight, the pound, that is, lb., stands for libra, and that libra is also an ancient ‘Roman’ unit of weight, equal to about 12 ounces?”
Colin: “So, that’s it, then! I’ve always wondered about that.”
Jerry: “What do we know about the Scorpio death, Sammy?”
“I found this one interesting as well, guys. This woman was a scientist who studied animal behavior, and according to her friends who were questioned, she had a special fascination, practically an obsession, with scorpions. She even changed her name to honor that passion. ‘Nge’ is Swahili for scorpion, and Antares is a star in the constellation Scorpius! Appropriately, her murder took place at Scorpion Mountain out in Washington state.”
Colin: “O Death, where is thy Gordon Sumner?”
“Well, Sting might have been on the music player singing ‘Desert Rose,’ Colin, but with “I Got Stung” and the Scorpions’ Deadly Sting CD there, perhaps our killer considered that would have been a bit much. You know, ‘overkill,’ if you will pardon the expression.”
Jerry: “Yeah, it’s enough that the poor woman was gang-stang to death. And it seems that Billie Capra was very fond of goats, but that didn’t matter to them. They killed her anyway.“
Danny: “You got that right! I suppose it’s no coincidence that Billie was killed on a hill on Goat Island and the chosen song was ’Billy Goat Hill.’ But for her, it was more like ‘Billy Goat Hell!’”
“I hear you, man! Hey, Sammy, are you getting as big a kick as I am about how all of these victims were chosen because of their names?”
“I sure am, Jere. The relevance is quite astonishing and revealing. We’ve already dished A. Reese Ramin, Ella Toro and the Gemini Twins. Let’s now throw some more shade on Louise Crabbe.”
Jerry: “Oh, her.”
“The last name is apparent, but if you take the ‘i’ out of Louise, you get ‘louse,’ as in crab louse.”
Danny: “Ha-ha! That’s precious! She did die in a lousy way, didn’t she?”
Jerry: “Word!”
“Take your Billie Capra. Other than her living in Capreol, Ontario, the Capra part itself suggests ‘goat.’ So then you have ‘billy goat.’ And as she worked as a nanny, you also have ‘nanny goat.’ Ain’t that a pisser?”
Danny: “Oh, you kid!” They all groan and then laugh. “Hold on! We haven’t yet discussed the Sagittarius murder.”
Colin: “Yeah, what‘s the lowdown on that one, then?”
“I really like this one, guys, I’m sorry to say. Sagittarius is the Archer, and the killer finds somebody who runs an archery club, so the victim is an archer himself by profession. And his name just happens to be Fletcher Bowman. You guys are aware, aren’t you, that a fletcher is an arrow maker? He worked at Cupid’s Retreat, an appropriate name, as Cupid is an archer of sorts, and the facility offers a dating service for its members. I am glad that they sent us that video found at the scene. It shows somebody in a Robin Hood getup and a mask to disguise his face, who is obviously the killer himself. I’m only guessing that it’s supposed to be Robin Hood. He is dressed as he is usually depicted, in period costume, and Robin, too, was an archer, and is on horseback. You see, Sagittarius is also a centaur, half man, half horse. A horseman. Get it? Plus, this all takes place in Tell City, alluding to William Tell, who also was an archer! I mean, this guy is good!”
Colin: “But who made the film, then? I am assuming that there were only the two of them there.”
“Well, I suppose that the killer must have set up the video camera ahead of time, before Bowman came outside and after everybody else had left. He must have had remote operation capabilities. You know with these newfangled contraptions, you can do virtually anything now.”
“You’re right about that, Sammy.”
“There’s something about the way in which he was killed that is also significant, guys.”
Colin: “How’s that, then?”
“The Christian martyr St. Sebastian is usually depicted with his body riddled with arrows. It’s no coincidence that Fletcher Bowman’s middle name is Sebastian!”
Danny: “Well, how do you like that!”
Jerry: “How about the song he picked for poor Bowman? I mean, ’Arrow Through the Heart’? How fitting.”

But even though finally they have figured out the killer’s sick but ingenious game, it’s no use if they cannot predict the next victim in order to prevent his murder. Where will this guy strike next, for one thing? They have discerned at least that the next one, Aquarius, will have something to do with water, most likely, and it should be a man, if in keeping with the killer‘s alternating gender pattern, and they can surmise the date as well. Even from the earlier-provided video, they are not absolutely sure that the killer is a man. Samantha, thinking out loud while checking her atlas…
“Let’s see. There is a Waterbury in New Hampshire and Vermont, a Watertown in South Dakota and Wisconsin, both a Waterbury and Watertown in Connecticut, a Waterville in Arkansas, Maine, Ohio and Washington, an Atwater in California, a Chugwater in Wyoming, Clearwater in Florida, Coldwater in Kansas, Michigan and Ohio, and he might consider having him killed in a rest room in Waterloo, Illinois, Iowa, New York or Quebec. Get it, Colin? I’m starting even to think like him now!”
“I got it, Sam. Cute.”
“New York State also has a Watertown, Waterville, Watervliet and a Stillwater, to boot! He could throw us off the track further by venturing into Aguascalientes, Mexico or to Canada for Clearwater, British Columbia and Manitoba, Coldwater in Ontario, and Bridgewater or New Waterford in Nova Scotia. Then there are your ‘Creeks’ and ‘Falls’ and ‘Lakes’ and ‘Rivers’ and ‘Shoals’ and ‘Springs,’ too. So many possibilities. Hell, he might even lure him to the Watergate Hotel in DC to kill him! There is just no way to determine which or even whom he will choose. By returning to the same state more than once (New York and Washington, for instance) is another way to throw us off, if we expect a different state each time. ‘Is a puzzlement.’”

Chapter 14

Barry Waters, 21, drives a truck that delivers Aquafina bottled water to its various distributors and general customers. During his research, after selecting him to be his next victim, John discovers that Barry is a local boy who grew up in Waterbury, New Hampshire. A regular childhood activity was for him and his homeboys to climb the town’s water tower and play up there. Of course, it was supposed to be off-limits, but you know that kids rarely heed legal restrictions and are not concerned with potential dangers or harm to themselves. So the boys got away with it for years. Barry’s workdays are Friday through Tuesday, and he has Wednesdays and Thursdays off. For New Hampshire this time of year, the weather is unusually mild.

John learns Barry’s Sunday (February 11) delivery schedule and seeks him out, with the ploy of wanting to purchase a water jug from him, directly off his truck. As usual, he is taking a casual, non-threatening approach.
“Uh, excuse me, young man. I would like to purchase one of your 5-gallon bottles of water, if I may. I just moved into this neighborhood, and my plumbing is not quite up to par just yet. I will pay cash, if that’s okay.”
“Certainly, sir.” Barry fetches a jug off the truck and hands it to John, who is wearing gloves, as usual. “With the sales tax, that’ll be eleven dollars even, please.” John pays the man with all singles, and Barry pockets the bills.
“Do you need a receipt, sir?”
“No, that won’t be necessary. Say, you are Barry Waters, aren’t you?”
“Yeah, but who are you? Do I know you?”
“Well, no. My name is John Smith. But listen. I’m going to tell you something that you are not supposed to know. I was in your Pizza Hut earlier today, and I overheard a couple of your friends planning a surprise birthday party for you. Today is your birthday, is it not?”
“It is!”
“Well, happy birthday, Barry! Anyway, since they didn’t know me, they didn’t bother to whisper, so I heard everything they were saying. I heard that you and your friends used to play up on your water tower when you were kids. So, for old times’ sake, they thought it would be nostalgic and fun for a bunch of your friends to throw you a party up there tonight. But they want it to be a surprise. I went over to their table and volunteered to get you there when you get off from work. They will be already up there waiting for you. They told me that you drive a bottled water delivery truck and even told me where I could find you. And here you are!”
“Who was it that you spoke to?”
“I don’t know. I didn’t get their names. But they must know you, don’t they?”
“It was probably Howard and Stanley. Those crazy guys! They are always doing shit like that. Well, I guess I shouldn’t spoil their little scheme, should I? I have one more delivery, and then I‘m done for the day. It should take no more than fifteen minutes? You can ride with me, if you want.”
“No. You go finish your work. I have stuff to do myself. I’ll just meet you there in a bit. Just climb on up when you get there, okay? As I said, they‘ll be waiting.” (Sucker!)

Of course, this is all bullshit on John’s part. He hasn’t spoken to anyone in town. He’s made the whole thing up. And clueless Barry is buying it all. It’s too bad that some people are so gullible. If it’s supposed to be a surprise, why is this guy spoiling it all for him? He is believing the word of a perfect stranger, without any corroboration. John then goes to preset his props for later. It wasn’t easy lugging that water jug up the ladder with him, but he managed somehow.

Twenty minutes later, Barry arrives at the water tower. It’s dark by now, so nobody can see him climbing the ladder. When he gets up to the landing platform, Barry is expecting his buds to emerge from somewhere and yell, “Surprise!” But instead, it’s John who gives him the surprise. After knocking him down on his back and straddling him, he produces the 5-gallon plastic water bottle, which he just purchased a little while ago.
“So, Barry Waters, since you are a water bearer, let’s just see how much water you can bear!” And with that, he turns the young man into a human trough. John sticks the nozzle of the bottle in Barry’s mouth and proceeds to pour the contents down his throat. It doesn’t take long for the poor guy to choke and gag, and he is dead by drowning even before the container is empty.

John then skips and dances around the perimeter of the landing, scattering a plethora of his mother’s flowers. “Flores! Flores para los muertos! Flores!” This time John has gone all out by decorating the water tower with water-chestnut, water chinquapin, water gum, water hemlock, water hyacinth, waterleaf, water milfoil, water pepper, water pimpernel, water plantain and water purslane. He also leaves the empty water bottle next to the body. There are many water songs to choose from, but John settles on “Pouring Water on a Drowning Man” by James Carr. His letter card is an “M”.

When Barry does not show up for work for two days, it begins an inquiry as to his whereabouts. (# Water boy, where are you hiding? #) Nobody saw him at all yesterday. On Tuesday, Chuck Forrest, a friend of Barry, happens to be walking by the water tower and sees the Aquafina truck parked on the street. (Is that Barry’s truck?) He goes over to look and does not see anyone inside. He next notices that the ground around the base of the tower is muddy and damp. It hasn’t rained or snowed, so why is the ground wet here? Out of curiosity, Chuck then proceeds to climb the ladder, which he had done many times before as a kid. (Feh! What is that awful smell?!) What he finds at the top is a real shocker. Barry’s body looks like a bloated seal.

Chapter 15

Jerry: “Well, our friend, the Zodiac Killer, has struck again!”
Samantha: “Yeah, so I understand. Of course, we expected it. We just didn’t know who it would be or where it would happen.”
Danny: “Is it true that this most recent one, Aquarius, the Water Bearer, the guy really was a water bearer, so to speak, and his name is Barry Waters?”
“That’s right. His sun sign is both his occupation and his cause of death.”
Colin: “Note that the water tower, too, where he was killed, is a water bearer of sorts, then.”
“Yeah, I didn’t even consider that as a possible murder site, not that it would have mattered. There are water towers all over the place.”
Jerry: “And don’t forget that he was from Waterbury, New Hampshire!”
“Yeah, but who knew which ‘water’ town the killer would choose?”
Danny: “That is too much. I mean, I drink a lot of water myself, but I guess one can overdo anything, can’t they? There is only so much one can bear.“
Colin: “That was the test after all, wasn’t it? What do you want to bet that it was Waters who provided his killer with his own murder weapon? He most likely got the water bottle directly from Barry himself.”
Jerry: “I’m sure you’re right, mate. Oh, the irony! How about his song choice, too–’Pouring Water on a Drowning Man’? You know? There seems to be a song for every situation in life.”
Jerry: “And death, too, I believe. This reminds me of when Patsy Cline died in a plane crash, and when it was announced on the radio, they paid tribute to her by playing ‘I Fall to Pieces.'” They all laugh.
Colin: “Although I guess we shouldn’t laugh. My favorite song appropriation occurred when I attended a church service on January 1st one year, which is the Feast of the Circumcision, and the congregational hymn on that occasion was ‘O Sacred Head Now Wounded.'” More laughter.
Danny: “That’s precious. I love it.”
Samantha: “This guy is obviously a music lover with a vast and diverse record collection. Dame Julie Andrews advised Leo Lyon, ‘Don’t Go in the Lion’s Cage Tonight.’ It’s too bad that he didn’t get the warning early enough to heed it, not that he probably would have anyway. That’s rather a sick joke, to warn somebody of something after the fact, when it’s too late to do anything about it. And when they found Donna Parthenopolos, she had turned blue from being strangled, and there was an obscure song on the music player entitled, “Song to the Dark Virgin.”
Colin: “The chap does possess a rather twisted sense of humor, then, doesn‘t he?“
Danny: “He does at that. And to go to all that trouble to purchase all those portable music players to place at each murder scene. That calls for real dedication, doesn’t it?”
Samantha: “It sure does. He’s quite conscientious. He has actually turned mass murder into a new art form. I just hope it doesn’t start a trend. I mean, this is a major production, with on-location sets, scenery, props, costumes, music, the whole bit. For Leo, he even provided an audience. It’s classic grand guignol, but for real. He is also the director and occasionally is acting in it as well.”
Jerry: “Yeah, he’s just a homicidal Woody Allen, Clint Eastwood or Tyler Perry, isn‘t he?”
Samantha: “With those that he had direct contact, he must have portrayed clever and convincing con men.”
Colin: “How about the fact that with Bowman’s murder we got to see the ‘daily rushes’ for an actual snuff film?”
Danny: “Ain’t that the truth! As the producer he is incurring all expenses and serving as his own casting director, too. It must require a lot of research and work to find these people that fit his special criteria, don’t you think, Sam?”
“It really does. That is what’s so fascinating about this whole thing. This guy apparently has a whole lot of time on his hands. He also must be self-sufficient financially. This has proven to be a very expensive undertaking. He probably flies his own private plane. He wouldn’t risk taking commercial flights, which could be traced. So other than fuel and the items that he needs, he‘s had to pay off a lot of people to help him carry out his murder plans, plus the fact that he must pay cash for everything, so as not to leave a paper trail of credit card or debit transactions. He has succeeded in covering his tracks, as there has been no witnesses to the murders, at least those that he actually committed himself, and he leaves no fingerprints anywhere. He’s a phantom. He strikes, and then he’s gone. All we have are the clues that he leaves behind. But that‘s not enough, it seems. It‘s so frustrating!”
Danny: “I have to hand it to him. This guy has actually found a way to get away with murder, I am sorry to say.”
“He’ll slip up somewhere, though. They always do somehow.”
“Not always, Jerry. We still don’t know for sure who Jack the Ripper really was, for instance. And how do we know that this guy is not the original so-called Zodiac Killer, who was never caught? Maybe he took a break for some reason and now has decided to resume his killing and do it the real way this time.”
“I suppose we can’t rule out that possibility. But speaking of Jack the Ripper, Danny, and why he was never caught… You must know about the long-standing theory that the notorious Ripper was actually Prince Albert Victor, Queen Victoria’s grandson.”
Danny: “Yeah, I have heard that story, Colin.”
“So, in addition to his having diplomatic immunity, when it was eventually discovered that the Prince was the killer, undoubtedly there was a major cover-up by the Royal Court, and they would have had to put him out of commission, too, then. I don’t believe it myself, however. The whole thing is merely of urban legend status today, based not even on any circumstantial evidence.”
Jerry: “Well, our guy may be almost done. I hope he will quit after dispatching Pisces.”
Samantha: “Yeah. It will be March 12th, if he keeps to his strict schedule.”

Chapter 16

The last victim, Bonita Whiting, 35, an ichthyologist, is your true ichthyophile. I mean, she loves all kinds of fish–but in their live state, that is. She’s merely a collector. She doesn’t eat them or use harmful hooks to catch them. She’s like Don Knotts’ character in The Incredible Mr. Limpet (1964). She often wishes that she were a fish. (Be careful what you wish for.) So it is not surprising that she would devote her life and career to pisciculture. Bonita, a single lady, is confined to a wheelchair as a result of incurable paralysis from the waist down. Twelve years ago at a friend’s party, she tripped and fell down a long flight of stairs (Lummox!) and severely damaged her spinal column, rendering her a permanent paraplegic.

Bonita maintains a large aquarium at her home in Fishkill, New York, where she can view and study her collection of various fish species. She has all the common varieties as well as the less-common and tropical specimens. She has a few humuhumunukunukuapuaa, a Portuguese man-of-war, and even the very rare coelacanth latimeria. The predator varieties, like sharks, barracudas and such, are in separate containers, as are her school of Brazilian piranha. As dangerous as these creatures are, still Bonita is fascinated by them. When John found Ms. Whiting, he was delighted that she lives in Fishkill. It will suit his purpose perfectly.

Just as she is pondering what she would like to do for her birthday today (Monday, March 12th), Bonita receives an unexpected visit from John Smith, posing as a reporter for Field and Stream magazine, telling her that they want to do a story on her and about her piscine avocation. Finding John to be quite attractive, Bonita welcomes him into her house, is flattered by his expressed interest in her and glad to have the company, as she seldom entertains. She enjoys showing people her fish collection, and John feigns interest during the tour, until he asks her if she has any piranha. He already knows that she does.
“Oh, I certainly do! Do you have a special interest in them, too, Mr. Smith?”
“I do indeed, dear lady. Where are they? I would love to see them.” Bonita then leads him over to the piranha tank, which is situated in the floor and requires that they be viewed from above. There is a thin glass covering on the tank and a light inside to be able to see the contents.
(Bonnie…you in danger, gurl!) “How many are there? Do you know?”
“At last count, I believe there are twelve.”
(Perfect.) As they are peering down into the tank, Bonita casually mentions that her babies have not been fed today.
“Oh, really? Well, let’s feed them, then!“ And with that, John grabs the handles of her wheelchair and pushes it forward and over, causing her to land on the top of the tank, which breaks the glass, and she falls into the water, which immediately turns red as the ravenous fish devour her in twelve minutes’ time. Before he leaves, he drops some seaweed into the tank. Since this is his last one (probably), he needn’t go to too much trouble with the plant thing. Her letter card is an “L”. For her song selection, John has chosen the prophetic “Fish Bite” by Ramsey Lewis. “Fait accompli.“ (Mission accomplished) John notes the time to be 12 noon. He returns home and decides just to wait and see what will happen.

Chapter 17

“So, where have you been, boy? We haven‘t seen much of you lately.”
(Well, that’s typical. I have been all over the country and even to Canada killing people for the past year, and he’s just now asking me where I’ve been.) “Oh, here and there, Dad. What do you care anyway?”
“I don’t care. It’s your mother who is concerned. She’s the one who frets when she doesn’t see you most of any day.”

John finds his mother in her kitchen, preparing dinner.
“Hello, Mother. How are you?”
“John, where have you been? I haven’t seen you all day.”
“I just made a little trip upstate. It was nothing special. Do you need me for anything?”
“No, not at the moment. I am finished working for the day. I just miss having you around, helping me in the gardens. Is everything okay with you, son? You know I don’t like to pry, but you seem to be a bit preoccupied lately. For several months, actually. You tend to keep to yourself a lot. That’s all right, I suppose. You’re grown, and you have your own life. I shouldn’t complain. Forgive me.”
“Oh, Mother, don’t go on so. I’m all right. I’ve just been working on a new project that has taken up a lot of my time. But it’s done now, so I will be able to spend more time with you. Okay?” (Until I no longer can, that is.)
“I’m sorry, baby. I’m just an old worrywart. Don’t pay me any mind. You know that I love you, don’t you?”
“Yes, Mother. I know you do. And I love you, too. You know that.”
John can’t help wondering, (Why hasn’t anybody figured me out yet? What do I have to do, turn myself in? I certainly have left them enough clues. They have everything they need to catch me. What is taking them so long? What’s up with the law enforcement venue in this country? So, have I gotten away with it all? Well, that’s no fun. What’s the point if I don’t get the proper acknowledgment? It all will be for nothing.)

Chapter 18

It is now Friday, March 16.
Jerry: “So, the son-of-a-bitch got away with it again, dammit!”
Colin: “It’s too bad that we couldn’t do anything to stop it. I feel so helpless.”
Danny: “That poor woman! What a horrible way to die. Can you imagine being fatally attacked by piranha?”
Samantha: “All those deaths were truly horrendous, in my opinion. But don’t beat yourself up, fellas. I feel bad, too. We were bested by a superior mastermind. I, for one, am not going to give up, however. I am going to catch that monster, if it’s the last thing I do! I hope you’ll help me.”
“Of course, we all are here for you, Sammy. What are we doing? Have we learned anything new that might help the case?”
“Actually, Jere, in hindsight I understand more, but only after the fact. We know that all the victims were killed by some element of their sign. Well, now it makes sense that this last one would occur in Fishkill. The obvious choice, right? But how were we to know? Plus, the victim’s name is Bonita Whiting. Both bonito and whiting are kinds of fish. Thus, two fishes. Are you aware that the sign Pisces is always depicted as two fishes? In addition, since Pisces is a water sign, too, she died by drowning in water while being devoured by fishes. There’s something else.”
Colin: “What’s that, then?”
“Being another instrumental selection, the killer announced the song to be “Fish Bite,” and the musical artist is Ramsey Lewis. Do you see the significance of that?”
Danny: ”No, no more than the obvious. What do you mean, Sam?”
“Ramsey, New Jersey is where our first victim came from, and Fishkill is in New York state, where the first murder took place. Don’t you see? He has come full circle, in a way, as the Zodiac is a cycle, after all. I tell you, the guy is an absolute genius!”
Colin: “That is quite something, then.”
“I have a question, Sammy. How did they know what happened to Bonita Whiting and how she died, since the fish had eaten her all up?”
“Well, since the woman was an invalid, lived alone, her wheelchair was right there next to the busted fish tank, and now she‘s missing, so what could have happened to her? She couldn‘t have gone anywhere, and we don’t think she was abducted. Besides, she was not disposed of entirely, Jere. There were some skeletal remains in the water along with scraps of fabric, which one of her friends identified as pieces from a familiar garment of hers.”
Jerry: “Jeez!”
Colin: “I wonder what is to become of her fish collection, then? That‘s quite the responsibility for anyone to take on.”
Samantha: “I suppose they will be donated to a zoo aquarium somewhere.”
“Or they could throw a major neighborhood Fish Fry.”
Danny: “Ha-ha! Waste not, want not, eh, Jerry? What about Reese Ramin’s sheep, too? In fact, all of the victims had to leave behind their possessions and their businesses. They were all unprepared, not knowing that it was to be the last day of their life.”
“Which is why I try to impress upon everyone I know to make out a will, regardless of their age. You never know when your time is up.”
Jerry: “You sure are right about that, Sammy.”
Colin: “Do you think he wants to be caught, then, Sam?”
“I am sure that he does. Do you think he would go through all of this and then not receive any recognition for it? I mean, what would be the point? If this were not a game for him, then why all the clues and help along the way? He as easily could have not left any clues, and we would be even less close to finding him. No, he’s daring somebody to catch him, and that person is going to be me. I have to meet this guy.”
“Hey, it sounds like you have a thing for this nut, Sammy”
“Well, it’s more of a mental attraction really, Jere. We seem to connect on an intellectual level. Aside from his penchant for killing, I love how he thinks. Deciphering all his clues and references has been a real treat for me, I must admit.”
Danny: “Your obvious delight and enthusiasm did not escape any of us, Sam.”
“No, I don’t suppose it did. I would like to know what makes this guy tick, what would cause him to do such a thing. I’ve been doing a lot of analyzing. My favorite line from Shakespeare’s Hamlet is, ‘Hoist with his own petard,’ which means to be done in with the very device you had intended for somebody else. By the same token, in several of these cases, particularly the animal signs, the killer used the very objects of these people’s occupations and/or obsessions against them.”
“I see what you mean, Sammy. Like Ella Toro being killed by the very animals that she used to fight and undoubtedly killed in her former profession. You know, what goes around, comes around, doesn’t it? The obsessed ones would be Dr. Antares and her scorpions, Billie Capra with her goats and Bonita Whiting and her fish.”
Samantha: “Then look at how he used differing aspects of the sun signs for his murders. Those who were killed by the animal signs are Taurus, Cancer, Leo, Scorpio, Capricorn and Pisces. Some signs were the actual victims: Gemini, Virgo and Aquarius. Sagittarius was both the killer and the victim! In addition, his actual hands-on murders were Aquarius, Sagittarius, Gemini, Virgo and Aries, the latter two using elements of the signs, that is, a virgin wool scarf and the horns of a ram, rather than the actual animal. Moreover, we could say that Cancer and Libra voluntarily killed themselves, she, inadvertently and he, I am assuming, by suggestive coercion.”
Colin: “Yes, instead of a common M.O., this guy prefers variety then, doesn’t he?”
“So it appears. The killer managed to locate and go to wherever his chosen victims happened to be on their fatal day. Some he lured to private locales. He personally must have transported Roman Pound to Newfoundland, where he died, and a few he dared to dispatch at their place of employment. In the case of Ella Toro and Bonita Whiting, he managed to kill them at their homes. Ms. Whiting was offed right inside her house, using her own property as the murder weapons!”
Danny: “The noive of that guy!”
“Right? Realize, fellas, that the local law officials in each place that this killer’s murders occurred don’t know the whole story as we do. They are thrown off by thinking that the killer would do the same thing every time. They cannot establish a motive for any of the victims, therefore there are no suspects even to pursue. They all are under the assumption that there is always a motive to murder. But in these cases, there isn’t. These unfortunate individuals were killed for simply being born at the wrong time and having the wrong names. It wasn’t personal at all.”
Danny: “Another bizarre factor that all the victims have in common is that they all were killed on their birthdays, which happens to be the date of the number of their individual sun sign! How incredible is that?”
Samantha: “We see that the killer doesn’t discriminate either. We’ve had white, black, Hispanic, Asian, American Indian, Jewish, men and women, young and middle-aged, able-bodied and physically-challenged, gay and presumedly-straight. He didn’t care. When the name and situation were right, anybody was up for grabs. But the fact that all of the murdered victims were single says something, too. If there were other candidates, at least the killer chose those who were without loving spouses and offspring to grieve them.”
Colin: “To hell with other family members and friends, then, huh?”
Jerry: “Word!”
Danny: “I wonder if he will stop killing now, or maybe he’s too far gone and is unable to help himself. He might be thinking, ‘I got away with that, so why not keep it going with another project?’”
Colin: “Yeah, he might consider taking on the Chinese Zodiac, for instance.”
Samantha: “I sure hope not. Anyway, if we assume that he is through killing, at least for the time being, we should have all that we need to catch him. It appears that he has been straightforward with us the whole time. As far as we know, he never was misleading. Everything he did means something and has important relevance.”
“Like those letter cards, for instance, Sammy? Now that we have them all, presumably, might the letters together spell out something significant?”
“I’m sure they do, Jere. He is into wordplay. There are 13 letters, one for each victim. A-H-I-L-M-N-O-O-P-S-T-T-U. Let’s see if we can make something out of this. Do you want to help me?”
“Sure.” After several minutes and a number of attempts, they finally came up with a likely solution.
Samantha: “Hey, I think this is it. SOUTHAMPTON, L.I. What do you want to bet that’s where he lives? I mean, how much more direct can he be?”
Danny: “So he is a New Yorker, as we suspected.”
Colin: “And we know that he comes from money.”
“You know what, guys? I just realized some other 13 references from earlier that I didn’t get at the time. Do you remember that first sign I found? The killer told us how many killings there would be with his ‘E pluribus Unum’ message. You see, the Latin phrase consists of 13 letters. And get this. ‘The game‘s afoot’ also has 13 letters! So does ‘Study the stars.’”
Danny: “Wow! You said that everything that guy does has some significance.”
Colin: “Not only that, but we see that his clues tend to have multiple meanings.”
Danny: “He must like the number 13, you think?”
Samantha: “Not necessarily. That’s just how it worked out in that instance.”
“So, how about all those flowers at the murder scenes, Sammy? That’s been a constant throughout, too. It must mean something as well, don’t you think?”
“Why, Jere, I was just about to address that issue this very minute. They might prove to be the most important clues of all.”

Samantha has had experience with other serial killers in the past, and she learned that they invariably take something from their victims as a souvenir. This guy has taken the other approach. Instead of taking something from them, he leaves certain items with his victims. Other than the music clues and letter cards left at each crime scene, Samantha discovered that all but one of them were found with some kind of flower present. Nobody thought anything of it at first, because each one was different. But then they decided to do some research to identify these placed items. Fortunately, the local authorities in each place had the good sense not to destroy anything, just in case they proved to be important evidence. But not being privy to the whole story, none of them knows what to make of it. Samantha insisted that they all share everything that they find with her team, but she doesn’t think they did that with each other.

In keeping with his Zodiacal theme, Samantha learned that Reese Ramin was found with ramie and ramtil, Ella Toro with bullbrier and bulrushes, the twins with twinberry and twinflowers, Louise Crabbe with crabgrass and crab cactus, Leo Lyon with dandelions, and Donna, the virgin, had some virgin’s-bower and Virginia creeper. Dr. Antares, the scorpion fanatic, was found with stinging nettles and eglantine. Samantha learned further that Eglantine was Nge’s real name before she changed it. She expects the killer knows that little fact, too. Fletcher Bowman had arrowroot and arrowwood with him, and goatsbeard and goat’s-rue flowers were found with Billie Capra. There was a huge assortment of water plants with Barry Waters.

Samantha explains to her team about the derivation of dandelion. “It’s from Old French, ‘dent de lion,’ which means ‘tooth of the lion,’ so called from its jagged leaves. So then, it was the lion’s teeth that killed Leo Lyon, hence those dandelions were the perfect floral representative and metaphor. They found seaweed in the piranha tank, by the way. Either the killer put it there, or it was already there.”

Initially, there was a problem with Roman Pound. “There was no plant of any kind found with his body. I thought it strange that the killer would deviate from his modus operandi that one time. Maybe he couldn‘t find an appropriate example. But would he just give up like that?” So, she tracked down the man in charge, George Ferguson, to ask him if there was anything else with the body, other than that scale, the letter card and the music player. He told her that there was a book at the scene.
“A book, you say? What kind of book?”
“Well, it’s a ledger, really, I guess you could call it. It has ‘LOG BOOK’ written on the cover. But there is no writing in it anywhere. It‘s completely blank.” Samantha thought for a moment. (Okay. A ledger is a type of book.) Then it struck her. (The Latin word for book is liber, which originally meant the inner bark of a tree, the surface of which could be written upon. Plus, it is a ‘log’ book. Aha! There is his botanical connection! Is this guy sneaky, or what?!) Out of curiosity, Samantha asked Ferguson if he happened to know how much the book weighed.
“Yes, I have that information, Captain. It comes to 340 grams in weight. It is rather thick.”
“Do you happen to know what that is in ounces, George?”
“Oh, pardon me, Captain. You would want the U.S. equivalent, wouldn’t you? Then that would be approximately…12 ounces. Is that important?“
“It is to me, George. Thanks for telling me.“ (Twelve ounces. The same as the Roman libra, or pound!) Samantha again finds herself drawn to this unknown, erudite genius. If he weren’t such a remorseless killer, she could really go for him, big time! Samantha has now concluded that this guy must be some kind of botany expert with access to all these different specimens. (These things don’t just grow anywhere. There must be a common source. Where did he obtain them, then? Internet time!)

Back to the team, a few minutes later. “I have decided to pursue the botanical angle. Maybe that will get us somewhere.” (Well, it’s about time!) “There is a branch of botany called floristics, which deals with the kinds and number of plant species in particular areas and their distribution. I just did some checking and learned that the leading specialist in the field is a woman by the name of Flora Aster–ha-ha! Another appropriate name! According to her web page, she is the world authority on the subject. She is a horticulturist, a consultant, a distributor, the go-to person for anything botanical. Anybody want to take a guess where she lives?”
Jerry: “Uh, in Southampton, by any chance?”
Samantha: “Did Rose Kennedy own a black dress? Yes, in Southampton!”
Colin: “Well, what do you know. Wait a second! Do you think the killer could be a woman, then?”
“Well, again, at this point we shouldn’t rule out the possibility, guys. We have to keep an open mind. I neglected to ask but I have wondered how they were able to identify all those flower specimens for their report. As there was no mention of Flora Aster, I suppose they could have consulted an illustrated plant guide for the answers. But then, there was no follow-up, apparently. I think it would behoove us to pay this Aster woman a visit, anyway. It’s being a rather small community, if she is not the killer, she could very well know who it is. Who wants to go with me?”
Danny: “I can’t, Sam. I have a previous commitment with the wife this evening that I can‘t get out of. Sorry.”
Jerry: “I can’t either, Sammy. Junior has a game that I promised to be at.”
Colin: “I’m free, Captain. I’ll go out there with you, then.”
“Thanks, Colin. I would like the company. I‘m free as well. Ted has Ariel for the weekend. I have the address. Let’s roll, partner!”
“All righty, then. Tally-ho!”

Chapter 19

It was 3:00 when they left, and it took two hours for Samantha and Colin to drive out to Southampton on Long Island from their police precinct in midtown Manhattan. They find their way to the Smith-Aster estate. They also notice what appears to be a hangar on the premises. As Flora is in the main house alone–John is in his own quarters across the way, and Earl is still at the high school–she answers the door when Samantha rings the bell. Flora does not employ any servants, as she prefers to do her own cooking and housework. She has the time. She is one who likes things done her way and contends to the adage that if you want something done right, do it yourself. Incidentally, Flora goes by her maiden name in her work and business, hence the Aster.
”Yes, hello. May I help you?”
“We hope that you can, Ms. Aster.” They flash their badges. “I am Captain Samantha Marlowe of the NYPD, and this is Detective Colin Spenser. We would like to ask you a few questions, if we may. May we come in?”
”Certainly, Captain. Come right in. What is this about?”
“We are working on a case which may require your help. We understand that you are a world authority in the field of floristics.”
“That is true.”
“Let me try to explain what is going on. We are on the trail of an elusive serial killer. They have killed 12 people in the last 12 months, and each murder corresponds to a sign of the Zodiac. Thus, they have been dubbed the Zodiac Killer. You probably haven’t heard much about it, because the murders have occurred in different places all over the country and even Canada, so the local authorities in each city naturally assume that their murder is an isolated incident and not part of a bigger conspiracy.”
“My goodness, that’s terrible! But what does any of that have to do with me?”
“Well, here’s the thing, Ms. Aster…”
“Oh, please, call me Flora.”
“Thank you. Here’s the thing, Flora. At each murder scene was found a flower or plant that corresponds to the signs of the Zodiac. Just bear with me, please. Let me know if you are familiar with any of these (she reads from a note pad): ramtil, bullbrier, twinberry, crab cactus, virgin’s-bower, stinging nettles, arrowroot, goatsbeard, water purslane, to name a few.”
“Yes, I am familiar with all of those that you named, but I still don’t understand.”
“Well, my point is, or rather my question is, these are things that the average person would not know about, let alone have access to, so where did they get them?”
“Oh, yes, I see. Wait! You don’t think I have anything to do with those awful murders, do you?”
“I don’t know what to think at the moment. That is why I am asking the questions. Do you have any of the specimens that I mentioned in your possession, Flora?”
“I don’t think I should say any more. You have made me very frightened.”
“There is no need to be alarmed, Flora. We don’t think that you’re the killer. You are married, aren’t you? Where is your husband, by the way?”
“My husband? You suspect him now?”
“Well, if you have any of this merchandise, and I think that you do–your husband would have ready access to it as well. You are all we’ve got to go on so far.”
“Will you kindly leave my house, Detectives. I have nothing else to say. Please.”
“All right. We’ll leave. We don’t have a search warrant anyway. But we will be back. You can be sure of that. This is not over.” Flora shows the detectives to the door, and they leave.

“So, what are you thinking, Sam?
“I think I want to talk to Mr. Aster.”
“But, Sam, his name is not Aster. It’s Earl Smith. Aster is Flora’s maiden name.”
“Dammit! Of course, it is. I know that. I just had a temporary brain fart is all. So, you’re not so useless after all, are you?”
“Well, thank you and fuck you, then!…Bitch!” They both laugh.

Chapter 20

A greatly distraught Flora Aster Smith hies it to her greenhouse and decides to take a thorough inventory, which she had not done in quite a while. She did notice almost immediately that some of the rarer specimens of the plants that the detective mentioned to her are indeed missing! She is pretty sure that few, if any, people would have water purslane lying around their house. It grows only in watery, muddy places. She grows it here under special conditions. It had to have come from here. She could no longer resist the incredible notion. (Could my baby be a mass murderer? It‘s hard to believe, but if not he, then who? John is as well-versed on the subject as I am. It certainly can’t be Earl. He doesn’t know a daisy from a dahlia. Besides, I am always aware of his whereabouts. He doesn’t go anywhere except to school. John is the one who is gone a lot, sometimes whole days at a time. He has his own plane and his own money. He certainly could pull off something like that. He has access to this facility, and I can’t be here 24/7. It would explain why he has been so preoccupied. He said that he has just finished a project. Is that it? Going around the country killing people? I can‘t just get rid of everything. This is my life‘s work. Damn you, John! Lord, what am I going to do?)

Flora walks over to John’s bungalow. He is there watching an old movie on television. “John, honey? I would like a word with you.”
“Why, hello, Mother. How are you?”
“I am very upset. Very upset indeed.”
“Why? What’s the matter, love?” Flora sits on the couch with her son.
“Two New York police detectives were just here to speak to me.” John visibly winces.
(Well, I guess they have finally tracked me down.) Feigning ignorance, “Why? What did they want with you?”
“Never mind that right now. Is there something you’d like to tell me, son?”
“I don’t know what you mean.”
“What is this secretive project that has kept you so busy for, let’s say, the last 12 months!?”
“What are you getting at, Mother?”
“Just answer the question, John! What have you been doing?”
“I don’t know what you want me to say. What do you mean, what have I been doing?”
“What is this ‘project’ that you just finished? And don‘t lie to me. I want the truth.”
(‘You can‘t handle the truth!’) “Uh, I don’t want to tell you.”
“Well, then, let me tell you something. I think that you are the Zodiac serial killer. How about that?”
John gasps and clutches his pearls. “What are you talking about? Where did you get an idea like that?”
“It’s not my idea, Sonny Boy! That’s why the police were here. They know, John! They came here asking about the flowers that you left at your murder scenes. How could you be so careless? Nobody except me has virgin’s-bower lying around their house, for Christ‘s sake! Of course, they would come here!”
“All right, Mother! There’s no use lying to you. I admit it. C‘est moi (he purposely pronounces it ‘sest moy‘). I am the Zodiac Killer.”
“Oh, John! I was so hoping that they were mistaken. How could this be? I am totally undone!” Flora begins to sob.
“I’m sorry, Mother.”
“Sorry about what? That you did it, or sorry that I found out? John only shrugs. “But still, son, I don’t understand how you could do such a thing. You’re such a good boy. Did you really kill all those innocent people? Did you even know any of them? Why, John?”
“It was just a self-indulgent game. I was bored, I guess. I wanted to match wits with somebody, to see if anyone on the police force is as smart as I am. I never expected that I would pull it off completely. They could have stopped me at any time, but they didn’t. I left them plenty of clues. And I wasn‘t being careless. I left those things there on purpose.”
“But why? Do you want to get caught?”
“I guess I do, Mother. How else will I get the credit for my magnum opus?” Flora wrings her hands in exasperation.
“John, they say that you killed 12 people. How is that even possible?”
“Uh, well, it was thirteen, actually. I guess they neglected to count both twins.”
“Oh, John!”
“Mother, it really wasn’t all that difficult. And for the record, they weren’t all that innocent either. Some people are just too trusting. And they will do most anything for money, or when they think they are getting something for free.”
“Please spare me the gory details. I don’t want to know. I’m still too upset. My son, my beautiful boy, a mass murderer. It‘s absolutely mind-boggling!”
“I think another reason why I did it is because of Dad.”
“What do you mean by that?”
“Well, you know that I am not his biggest fan. You’ve heard how he puts me down, like I don‘t even matter. He has never told me that he loves me or that he is proud of me. I got rich from an innovation, and that didn’t do it for him. I was hoping that if he learned that I pulled off such an elaborate coup as this, he would finally take notice and show me some respect.”
“By killing people, John? That makes no sense at all. I doubt very much that that is the way to win over your father.”
“Well, that’s how I feel anyway. So, where are they? Why haven’t they questioned me, then?”
“I asked them to leave. They don’t know about you, specifically. I think they might suspect your father.”
“Oh, please! Are they serious? Dad doesn’t know a daisy from a dahlia.” Flora had to smile at that.
“They said that they would be back. What are we going to do?”
“You said that they don’t know about me. They must not have any proof, or else they would have arrested me. You’re not going to turn me in, are you, Mother?”
“What do you care? You just said that you want to get caught.”
“Yes, but I want them to catch me. Your turning me in or my turning myself in is not the same thing. It has to be on their diligence. How else will I know who won the game?”
She sighs. “Okay, John. Have it your way. I won’t say anything, then.”
“I would appreciate that. Merci, ma mere. Let’s just wait and see what happens.” They hear a car drive up.
“Your father’s home.”

Chapter 21

Both feeling a bit peckish, instead of going back to Manhattan, Samantha and Colin decided to get some dinner in town before going back to the Smiths. This time Earl Smith answers the door.
“Mr. Smith?”
“Yes?” They show their badges and introduce themselves.
“We were here earlier and spoke with your wife, and now we would like to have a word with you.”
“What is this about, Officers?”
“Uh, didn’t your wife fill you in?”
“No, I just got home a little while ago. I haven’t spoken to my wife. She‘s probably in the greenhouse with her flowers.”
(Doing inventory, I would imagine. I hope she’s not destroying evidence. We still don‘t have a search warrant, but maybe we won‘t need it.)) “Well, what this is about and what we explained to your wife…Look, I’m going to be quite frank with you, Mr. Smith. We have reason to believe that she, and/or you, have something to do with the recent crime spree that we are investigating.”
“What are you talking about? What crime spree?”
“To be specific, it’s the Zodiac Killer case.”
“Excuse me? The what?”
“During the last twelve months, there has been a gruesome murder, one every month, each one in a different city and locale, and each one corresponding to one of the signs of the Zodiac.”
“Yes, I think I heard something about that on the news, although I didn’t get the whole story. But what does any of that have to do with us?”
“You see, the killer, whoever it is, took the approach to be helpful in finding them, by placing all sorts of clues, one of them being that they left a plant specimen at each crime scene, some which are quite unusual and rare, which is why we came to talk to your wife.”
“Well, I can understand that. Flora is the expert on that sort of thing, after all. But you can‘t possibly think that she‘s guilty of killing all those people!”
“Well, no, we don’t think she did it.”
“What, you’re not accusing me, are you?”
“Well, sir, we have concluded that the plant specimens must have come from here. Nobody else that we know of has such a collection.”
“I understand that. But hell, I don’t know a daisy from a dahlia! And how could either of us have accomplished such a thing? My wife hardly goes anywhere, except to the supermarket. She’s always here working in her gardens and the nursery. And I coach football at the local high school. When I get off from work every day, I’m right back here. I don’t go anywhere either.”
“Well, it does seem rather unlikely that either of you would have the means or opportunity.” (Or the inclination.)
“Have you spoken with our son? Was he able to help you?”
“Uh, pardon me? You have a son?”
“Why, yes. John.” Samantha and Colin cast a glance at each other.
Colin: “So, your son is John Smith, then?” (J.S.!)
“That’s right.”
Samantha: “Is your son at home, Mr. Smith?”
“Well, I have not seen him since I got home, but he’s probably here. He lives in that bungalow out back.”
“We would very much like to speak to him, sir.”
“Fine. I’ll take you to him.”

Chapter 22

Earl opens the unlocked door to John’s house without knocking. They are in the kitchen/dining area.
“John, come here! Where are you?” John and Flora emerge from the other room.
“Hi, Dad! I didn’t know that you were home.” He lied.
“I got in just a little while ago. Hello, Flora, my dear.”
“Evening, Earl.”
(They’re here!)
“John, these people are from the New York Police Department. This is Captain Marlowe and her associate, Detective…I’m sorry, I forgot your name.”
Colin: “It’s Spenser, sir.”
“How do you do, Detectives?” They shake hands.
“Quite well, Mr. Smith. We are very pleased to meet you. Very.” She gives John an admiring and rather flirtatious smile. (Oh, great! He would have to be good-looking, too!)
“And I, you, Captain Marlowe.” John gives Samantha a furtive wink that is unseen by the others in the room, then does a graceful bow. “Komomai no kaua ika hale welakahao. That just means, roughly, ‘Welcome to my humble abode.’ May I offer you good folks something to drink?”
(And polite, too! Yeah, he’s a charmer, that one.)
Samantha: “No, thank you. I’m fine. Actually, I would like to speak to John in private. Would that be all right?”
“Certainment, Captain.” On purpose, John pronounces the word like it’s spelled. “I would like that very much.”
Colin: “I would like a spot of tea, then, if it’s not too much trouble.”
“You will forgive me for being a little cop shy. Mother, would you get our guest some tea? You know where everything is. Follow me, please.”
Samantha: “This shouldn’t take too long.”
“Enter!” John leads Samantha into his adjoining living room and closes the door behind them. He is dressed casually in a light shirt, denim jeans and canvas sneakers. The whole house is immaculate, everything so neat and in its place. This is a spacious room, and the walls are covered with shelved cases that contain thousands of books, photo albums/scrapbooks, LPs, cassette tapes, CDs and DVDs. About the room are several file cabinets, containing his personal papers and keepsakes, as well as a large, flat-screen TV and stereo system with components. A large, ornate Persian rug adorns the polished hardwood floor. There is a laptop computer on a desk. On one wall hangs a beautiful portrait painting of John holding a cat. Samantha notices a very handsome black cat with large green eyes over in the corner, lounging on its pallet. There is a white baby grand piano on one side of the room. Acknowledging it, Samantha inquires, “Do you play?”
“Yes, I do, somewhat. I did study, but I don’t consider myself a virtuoso by any means. I still do tinkle on it occasionally and when I need to check pitches. Let’s make ourselves comfortable, shall we?” They sit on a large, black leather couch, which is in the middle of the room. “May I know your first name, Captain?”
“It’s Samantha.”
“May I call you Samantha? And of course, you may call me John.”
“I don‘t see why not. There’s no need to be formal. Although we only just have met, I feel as if I already know you.”
“Oh, really now! And how is that?”
“We’ll get to that in just a bit.” Samantha looks around the room. “What a dump!” John gives a pleased chuckle. “No, I don‘t mean that, of course. You have a beautiful home, John.”
“Come on, I know what you meant. You were just quoting Bette Davis’ famous line from Beyond the Forest.”
“Very good, John. Not many people know that. Albee didn’t even identify the film source when he used the line in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
“It was the last feature that Bette made for Warner Brothers in 1949.”
“That’s right! Who did your portrait there?“
“It’s by an Italian-Argentinian artist named Leonardo.”
“He’s very good. Wow! And what a record collection you have, too!”
“I have virtually every type of music genre you can name. My musical tastes are quite varied.”
“I have no doubt about that. You must be well-read, too.”
“I am. Are you fond of musicals, Broadway and otherwise, by any chance, Samantha?”
“I am indeed. I love ‘em. One of my fun diversions is quoting song lyrics and lines from shows and movies and playing What’s-That-From? with the people I’m with.”
(Yes, indeed. I am liking her more and more. This should be fun.)
“Uh, let‘s not beat around the bush, John. I know that you are the Zodiac Killer.”
”Well, duh! I know that you know. Why else would you be here?”
“You mean you are admitting it, just like that?”
“Why deny it? Who else could it be? You must have ruled out my parents. I had opportunity, means and the know-how to pull it off. By the way, what took you so long to track me down? I left you enough clues along the way, didn‘t I?”
(He does have a point. What did take us so long? I have to think about that.) “Oh, you were quite helpful in that respect, but challenging at the same time.”
“Well, thank you, Samantha. I wanted to be fair without making it too easy. I mean, where‘s the fun in that?”
“So, this was just all a game with you, then?”
“Yeah, that’s what it was, basically. (And still is, really.) I needed someone to play with. That’s why I sent out the invitations. I trust that you did find my notes and figured them out?”
“You mean the sign in Central Park and the two billboards. Yeah, I got them. The 13-letter phrases indicating how many you were planning to kill. You were even gracious enough to sign them with your initials, and you told us where you live via those letter cards!”
“Good. You got that, too. I am very impressed, Samantha. Well, you know that artists always sign their works. How did you discover my billboards anyway?”
“It was purely on a hunch. I wondered if ‘twin cities’ had more than one meaning, so I called those towns, made an inquiry and discovered that it did. Now, your Central Park sign I just happened upon inadvertently. I took it, and retained it, out of curiosity and because it should not have been there. Of course, as it turned out, I am glad that I did.”
“Yeah, I went there a couple of days later, and it was already gone. I wondered who had removed it.”
“‘It was MEEE!'”
“Ha-ha! That’s from Liar Liar, when Jim Carrey’s character admits to farting in a crowded elevator.”
“Right again. I think that was one of Carrey’s best performances.”
“I agree. I am indeed impressed, Samantha. You must be the only person who put the whole thing together.”
“I suppose I am. The way you killed those people, following a specialized theme, was truly inspired. Your esoteric references and wordplay. The ‘log’ book instead of a flower left at the Libra scene and weighing just 12 ounces was a stroke of genius. I hate to admit what a kick I had figuring it all out. It’s your attention to the little details that I so admire, John.”
“Why, thank you! I was so hoping that somebody somewhere would figure out the game plan and get on board with me. Otherwise, it all would have been for naught. I am pleased that that person is you, Samantha. Your admiration and praise are greatly appreciated. And I am so glad that you are not afraid and feel at ease with me. I assure you that I would not harm you for the world.”
“Yes, John, I do believe that. I’m not so easily intimidated. You wouldn’t kill me here anyway, even if you could. This time you have witnesses. You shouldn’t have anything against me personally (Other than the fact that I am the one who will have to arrest your crazy butt!), and not to any of the people you killed, for that matter. They all were just convenient victims of circumstance.”
“Exactly. I see that you understand.”
“Of course, I do. My crime team and I also enjoyed your music clues and the sometimes sick humor suggested by them.”
“Well, what is life without some levity, Samantha?”
“I quite agree. John, to me you don’t seem to be an evil person. Help me to understand why you would do what you did. Will you explain that to me, please?”
“I’ll try. I guess it was that murder is considered to be the most heinous of crimes and the most difficult to accomplish without eventual discovery. So this was a challenge to myself as well. I wanted to see how far I could go with it before I was found out. Then to make it more interesting for all concerned, I decided to make a game of it.”
“Okay. But why the Zodiac as your theme?”
“Well, it hadn’t been done before, for one thing. That other so-called Zodiac Killer was a fraudulent misnomer. I decided to do it for real. In the words of Stephen Sondheim, ‘You gotta get a gimmick.’” Samantha chuckles. (Gypsy, of course.)
“So that was mine. Thanks for acknowledging my efforts with that referential name, by the way. So, the Zodiac provides many possibilities and variety, which I like, but it has its limitations as well. I didn’t want this to go on indefinitely. And it is a cycle, as you probably figured out. It required a lot of work, research and expense, as you well know. I had selected all of my victims even before I started. I think that was the most fun for me–finding these special people and then deciding and figuring out how to dispatch them. I got the idea right after New Year’s. I was bored and needed a project to occupy my free time. Other than my mother, I don’t have any close friends to hang out with, not even any siblings. I am very much a loner. Of course, to do everything in strict order, I waited until April to start. I didn‘t expect to complete the mission, though. I thought I would be stopped at some point. I assumed that my many clues would be a sure giveaway. But nobody stopped me, so I kept going until the end.”
“Well, I have to take some responsibility for that, I guess. Maybe we did allow it to go on longer than it should have, and I have to live with that.”
“Yeah, but even so, it appears that you and your partner are the only ones who persevered and figured it all out.”
“Well, I wasn’t going to give up. I just had to meet you. I, too, am an only child, by the way. I expect that you have your own private plane, John. I did notice the hangar out there as we were driving up.”
“Mais oui, Madame. How do you think I got to all those disparate places? I couldn’t drive everywhere. I do have to make contact with Air Traffic Control whenever I fly somewhere, but all they require is a handle, which I can make up if I choose, or even a number to which to refer to me. They direct our flights, but they don’t keep track of where everybody goes. I am not the only one flying at any one time, after all. I think that I covered my tracks in all instances.”
“That, you did. You were very thorough, in fact. No witnesses and no fingerprints. I loved your centaur Robin Hood, by the way, and your St. Sebastian tribute. I trust you’ve had some archery training?”
“I have. I thought it might come in handy someday. It was about the same time that I was learning how to fly, to get my pilot‘s license. I discovered that I have a knack for animal training, too. I did train those goats to attack on my command. What‘s the use of having special skills and talents if you don‘t put them to practical use?”
“I can’t argue with that. I have to hand it to you, John. As misguided as you seem to be, you have a brilliant mind.”
“Uh, well, thanks…I guess.”
“I’m sorry, John, but you must know that what you did is not something to be regarded favorably.”
“All right. I will give you that.” The cat saunters over to where they are sitting and jumps up on John’s lap. She is basically black with white patches on her chin and underbelly.
“My, what a pretty cat!”
“Isn’t she, though?”
“What’s her name?”
“Why, that’s Indonesian for ’cat,’ isn’t it?”
“That’s right! How do you know that, Samantha?”
“Oh, I manage to pick up things here and there. I am very much interested in languages, as I take it you have studied a few as well.”
“I have indeed. Latin, Spanish and French, in particular.”
“So, does your mother feed Kutjing when you are away for extended periods of time?“
“No. It‘s not necessary. I always leave plenty of food for her. But she doesn’t eat a lot anyway. Cats can be quite self-sufficient when they need to be. Do you own a cat, Samantha?“
“No, I don’t. I don’t have any pets. I don’t have the time to give them the proper care that they require. It’s enough that I have a young daughter to look after.”
“So, you’re married?”
“No, I am divorced.” The cat gets up and goes to settle herself on Samantha.
“Well, look at that! That’s her way of greeting you and accepting you. She must like you, Samantha.” (As do I.) Samantha pets the cat, who is purring.
“She seems very sweet. How old is she?”
“She’s ten. I’ve had her since she was a kitten.”
“Oh, the same age as my daughter, Ariel.”
“Really! Ariel, huh? Was that inspired by The Little Mermaid, by any chance?”
“Yeah, it was. It’s one of my favorites, and now, one of hers as well. The name is quite fitting, too, as it turns out. My Ariel loves the water. She was born in it, in fact, which may have something to do with it, I suppose. Yes, we actually did the aquatic childbirth experience. Plus, she is a Pisces, who astrologically-speaking, tends to have a special penchant for water. Ariel really is a little mermaid.”
“How very interesting.”
“John, I am guessing that you are a Virgo. Am I right?“
“Why, Samantha, I do declare! I am. Why would you think that?”
“Elementary, my dear Watson. Oh, your acute methodology, your attention to detail. I’ll just bet that your books and records are arranged in alphabetical order.”
“But of course, they are. How would I be able to find anything otherwise? I believe in everything in its place. I hate to have to look for stuff.”
“I quite agree. I am the same way. Because I am, too, I guess it takes one to know one.”
“Hey, wouldn’t it be a hoot if we have the same birthday? Come on, let’s say it together.”
Both simultaneously: “September 5th!”
John: “Too much!”
“That‘s amazing! I suppose that I do have a few more years on you, though. How old are you, John, about 30?”
“Exactly. I see that you are a Sherlock Holmes fan as well, Samantha.”
“I am indeed. And you are a real life Professor Moriarty, aren’t you?”
“Ha-ha! You flatter me. So, maybe our competing as intellectual opponents was meant to be, then.“
“You may be right, John.”
“Uh, Samantha. You must have realized, too, that I have a special interest in names. So you must know that the significance of your name with your profession has not escaped me. Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe are both fictional detectives, and the fact that you are a detective–and an excellent one at that, I might add–and share both of their names, couldn‘t be merely coincidence, is it?”
“John, your astuteness astounds me. And thank you for the kind compliment. You see, my father, Phillip Marlowe–he spells his name with two ’l’s’–is a big fan of vintage mystery novels. He happens to be a retired cop. Thankfully, both my parents are highly ‘edumacated’, something that I am grateful they instilled in me. When my dad gave up his frivolous life as a free spirit, he decided to go into law enforcement. When he discovered that Raymond Chandler had created a character with his name, he naturally deemed him one of his favorites. Then when I came along and turned out to be a girl, Daddy figured that Sam, after Sam Spade, another favorite, would still work as a girl‘s name, even though my full name would be Samantha. After my divorce I reclaimed my maiden name. The fact that I became a detective myself is, I guess, serendipitous and just meant to be.”
“That is truly fascinating.”
“I could say the same about your mother, John. I mean, Flora Aster, the flowers expert?”
“Ha-ha! Touché!”
“It’s fifteen years for me on the police force, I am proud to say.”
“You should be proud.”
“Crime-solving often involves puzzle-solving and considerable deductive reasoning, which is one of the reasons why I enjoy my job, and why I found your case, in particular, so interesting and challenging. But while we are discussing names… That Donna girl is right out of Hair, isn’t she? Including the tattoo!”
“Isn’t that something? I didn’t know if anyone would get that reference.”
“I did. And I trust that you know that Eglantine is Nge Antares’ real first name?”
“But of course, I do. I thought it only fitting that I would honor her with her namesake flower.”
(Not that she got to appreciate it. But isn’t that white of you to do that.)
“Here’s one for you, Samantha. Where would you find a Disney character named Eglantine?”
“Let’s see. You must be referring to the amateur witch, Eglantine Price, portrayed by Dame Angela Lansbury in Bedknobs and Broomsticks.”
“That’s the one! Very good, Samantha. Then you must know the song about her.”
“Oh, you mean…” Samantha starts to sing, and John joins in with her. “# Eglantine, Eglantine, oh, how you’ll shine! / Your lot and my lot have got to combine… #” They both laugh.
“That’s it! Samantha, you are ‘on fleek,’ Girlfriend!”
“So are you, John.” They laugh again. Kutjing hops off of Samantha and goes to another part of the room. “I have another question for you. Where did your enormous wealth come from? You obviously don’t have a regular job, and you probably did not inherit it.”
“No. I happen to be one of the co-founders of YouTube and own a large share in the corporation. Its success has done very well for me, as you can see. I receive a big check from them every month since I was eighteen. You may not know this, Samantha, but YouTube originally was intended to be an online dating service, and it was I who steered them in the other direction. There were already several dating sites but nothing for music videos and the like. You see that my suggestion has paid off.”
“I see it has. No, I didn’t know that. That‘s remarkable, John. So then, this project of yours was not a financial burden for you at all, was it?”
“Hardly. I have no dependents. I have more than enough money to live on. Instead of paying rent, I do give my mother a monthly allowance to help with her business expenses, and she does not have to pay me for working with her, so it all works out well for both of us.”
“So, now tell me something else. What I would like to know is, how you managed to commit your murders seemingly so easily?”
“Hmm. As I tried to explain to my mother just before you came back…”
“You told your mother?”
“Actually, she told me. She knows that neither she nor my father did it, so who does that leave? She figured it out only after you spoke with her, however. Until then, she didn’t have a clue to what was going on right under her nose. Anyway, I was telling her how those foolish people–most of them, anyway–aided in their own demise. I couldn’t have done it without their cooperation. It takes two to tango, you know. They were so trusting and gullible or otherwise just unaware or merely mercenary. They believed anything I told them without question. If I said it, it must be so. I never once told them to trust me, but they all did anyway. They didn’t know me from Adam but went anywhere I told them to go and bought every story that I gave them.”
“So, are you saying that it’s your victims’ fault that they trusted you?”
“Yes, it is, in a way. You can be betrayed only by someone you trust. Take Louise Crabbe, for instance. Her stupidity did her in. Samantha, would you eat something that a perfect stranger on the street offered you? Oh, I suppose a hungry, homeless person would, but I wouldn‘t. But then again, I have heard of street bums accepting food handouts from strangers which turned out to be tampered with in some way, so you can’t trust anybody. I would tell myself, I‘m not eating that. I don‘t know whence it came. I don’t even buy anything from those public food vendors. And the fact that someone is giving it away for free would make me suspicious. I did give Louise a choice of four crabs, by the way. I take you to be a suspicious person, Samantha. You would have to be, in your line of work.”
“You are not too wrong about that, John. Dr. Louise did make a wrong and foolish decision, I agree. By the way, John, where did you get the poison that killed the doc? The pathologist said that it was some unknown substance with which he was totally unfamiliar.”
“Oh, that was my own concoction. I did my homework. I found the ingredients that would have the desired effect I wanted, and I made a serum of them myself. I have also studied chemistry.”
“Well, that explains that, then. So, are you saying that people who trust others deserve to die?”
“No, not necessarily, but their naiveté does have its consequences, and I guess I did take advantage of it. To survive in this world, one needs to be more vigilant and discerning. They shouldn’t just accept everything at face value. That might sound a little cynical but having that attitude could have saved those people’s lives. I suppose it’s okay to take certain chances in life, but with that, you also have to accept the results of the risks you take. Okay, I will admit, too, that a few of them I did take by surprise, to no fault of their own, like Ella Toro, Nge Antares and Fletcher Bowman. The others, however, had the choice not to believe my malarkey, but instead did. I told the twins that there was a ‘mechanical problem’ in their locker room. They could have told me, ‘But you are supposed to the handy man. Figure it out and fix it. What do you need us for?’ Leo Lyon agreed to risk his very life on my word alone, just because I offered him some money. Bonita Whiting, for another example, just let me, a perfect stranger, into her house and didn’t even bother to check my credentials or anything. It was the same with that teenager and Billie Capra and Barry Waters, too. They just blindly followed me, no verification requested.”
“I suspect that your appearance and apparent allure undoubtedly have something to do with their unbridled compliance. John, you are a very good-looking man. And with that, you automatically receive unmitigated, though at times unwarranted, trust from people. Too many contend that physical attractiveness carries with it absolute ethical righteousness. They think, ‘How could somebody this fine be up to no good?’ But that is where they often make their mistakes. It worked in Ted Bundy’s case, for another example. One’s appearance has nothing to do with their moral character, which they all found out too late. Knowing how I am, and despite your winning charm and cuteness, I believe I would have been on to you right away.”
“Of course, you would, Samantha. Even I didn’t believe the inane bullshit I was feeding them.”
“I know that you work those assets to your advantage.”
“Well, maybe I do. So, you think I’m cute, huh?”
“Oh, stop it. You know you are.” John gives her a self-satisfied smirk. “I do have to agree with you, though, about people’s being too trusting. I am one who never contends that a certain person would not ever kill or commit a crime. I don’t put anything past anybody. I don’t care who they are. That’s why I am good at my job. I even suspected both of your parents until I was satisfied of their innocence.”
“I appreciate that and your attitude, Samantha. But anyway, I never tried to mislead you. All the clues I left you were valid. There were no red herrings. I think you know that. Otherwise, you wouldn’t have found your way right to me.”
“And I can appreciate that. It was I who disregarded the obvious longer than I should have.”
“I also told my mother that I was hoping for some approval recognition from my father. He‘s always regarded me as a disappointment, and nothing I do is ever good enough for him. I acquired a fortune on my own, making me self-reliant. I don’t have to ask him for anything. And yet he treats me like I don’t matter for shit. I thought maybe if he can get past the killing thing, he might consider the fact that I accomplished a virtually impossible endeavor, all by myself, and so far have gotten away with it, I would finally get from him a ’Good job, Son. Well done.’”
“There is some logic to that, I suppose (twisted, albeit), but it still doesn’t excuse your predilection for murder.”
“I hope that you, at least, can recognize the ars magna involved, Samantha.”
“Great art, John? Is that what you want to call it? I admit that I enjoyed the process, planning and organization of what you did, so I guess there is a certain artistic aspect about it all, but you seem to have enjoyed the actual killings.”
“Well, one should enjoy what they do or why do it at all? Wouldn’t you agree, Samantha?“
“I don’t quite know how to answer that, John.”
“As I got into this…project, I came to realize the personal element of it all, by employing my passion for music and botany. I was hoping to educate as well as entertain by introducing little-known plants to interested parties and displaying my eclectic taste in music. I originally considered using Chanticleer’s recording of Josquin‘s ‘O Virgo Virginum’ for young Donna, but I decided on the more wry selection instead, when given the choice.”
“So, this whole thing was basically about you, then?”
“Well, duh!”
“But don‘t you have any qualms about the people you killed?”
(Ala Edith Piaf:) “# Non, je ne regrette rien.# You see, Samantha, I don’t do anything that I think I will be sorry for later on. If I feel that way about something, then I won’t do it at all. As a result, I am never sorry about the choices I make in life. I will admit, though, that the first kill was the hardest. But I found it to be true that after your first one, it does gets easier.”
“But John, not that you care, apparently, it seems so heartless to kill these people on their birthdays.”
“Why? That’s as good a day as any. The way I see it, I helped them to celebrate the day of their birth by making it also the day of their death. What could be more fitting?” Samantha just stares at him in pained bewilderment.
“So, even strangling that little girl, that didn’t bother you at all, John?”
“Um, not really. She was just in the scheme of things. So, no. What’s done is done anyway. Que será será. Hakuna matata.”
(I wouldn’t say that. Actually, you have a whole lot to worry about, I would think.)
John: “So, what happens now?”
“Well, I’m going to have to take you in, of course.”
“Uh, excuse me? Take me in for what, exactly?”
“For what? You just confessed to being the Zodiac Killer!”
“Yeah, but can you prove it? Do you have any physical evidence that connects me personally to any of the murders? Of course, you now know the truth, but those flowers could have been put there by somebody else. Nobody saw me put them there or kill anybody. Can you place me at the scene of any of the murders? An admission is not real proof. Sure, I told you, and my parents know–I’m sure by now my father has been told–but I will deny it if anyone else asks. It’s still my word against yours. I am not being recorded, am I?”
“Unfortunately, no, John.”
“Well, then. Besides, if you arrest me, I can pay any bail that they should impose, so they can‘t hold me.”
(Yeah, especially if you have money and are white. So, he is correct. We can’t hold him on suspicion alone, if there is no actual proof.)
“So, until you can prove, beyond a doubt, that I am your perp, we are at a stalemate. We’re not done quite yet anyway, Samantha.“
“You mean we’re still playing, then?”
“We are indeed. The game definitely is still on. There are still more clues out there to be discerned. I’ve given you all that you need. It’s now up to you to put it all together. Actually, I will be disappointed if you don’t find the proof to convict me. It‘s not over until the fat lady sings.”
“You sound as if you want to be convicted.”
“Well, goodness gracious, Samantha! I killed 13 people–you forgot to count both twins, by the way–so I think I deserve some kind of punishment, don‘t you? It’s only fair that I be willing to accept the consequences of my actions.”
“Actually, John, I did count the twins. It’s Roman Pound that I didn’t count, because I’m not all that sure that you killed him. Did you push him off that beam, or did he fall? And then, did you force him to go up there in the first place? I mean, did you hold a gun to his head, or threaten him or anything?”
“Hmm. That is a very good point, Samantha. I never considered that. I did not force him to go up on that beam. He went up there voluntarily.”
“But why on earth would he do such a thing?”
“I bet him that he couldn’t balance himself up there for just seven minutes, offered him a lot of money, and his hubristic ego…
(Well, that’s the pot calling the kettle beige!)
…and greed wouldn’t allow him to turn down the bet. He did meet the challenge, by the way, but then he slipped and fell just the same, which I was hoping he would. So, I guess I didn’t kill him after all, did I? He killed himself–but with my help, albeit. I still have to take responsibility for putting the man in that position. It is possible to kill by compulsion, I suppose. I mean, I took him there, and directed the scene, so I guess it’s partially my fault that he happened to die while performing the stunt. Incidentally, Samantha, this is another prime example of blind compliance from my victim. I mean, this guy just went along with everything without objection. He didn’t even ask how the beam got there or who put it there. His boss, Frank Abrams, too, didn’t know anything about me. We never met in person, we never even spoke. He apparently didn’t bother to check my credentials to see if I was on the level, not that it would have mattered, since he wouldn’t have been able to find me anyway. He and Roman both just saw dollar signs dangled before them, and that’s all they cared about. Abrams just let his employee and friend go off to parts unknown with a total stranger. So, should I be blamed for people’s unbridled stupidity? You know, Libra was my greatest challenge. Other than being the only inanimate sign, it’s the only one that doesn‘t even have a real plant reference, which is why I had to get more creative. I think it‘s rather ironic that the one that required the most work and preparation, and considerable expense as well, is the one that I can‘t take real credit for, that is, Roman‘s actual demise. Thank you, Samantha. I guess I still can call it a ‘baker’s dozen’ though, can’t I? And for the record, I don’t do guns. That‘s not my thing at all.”
(But you don’t mind riddling a person’s body with a barrage of arrows, or strangling a helpless child to death, do you?)
“Well, John, if it’s retribution you want, we’ll see what we can do for you. You know, it just occurred to me that you have something in common with another famous serial killer–Albert DeSalvo, the Boston Strangler.”
“Oh, you must mean that DeSalvo was accused of killing 13 people, but all women, in his case, and that he was a fellow Virgo…September 3rd?”
“That’s it! So, you are aware of that, then.”
“Of course. Samantha, I would like to know something. You came here originally to speak to my mother. She didn’t tell you about me, did she?”
“No. It was your father.”
“Oh, really! Hmm. That is interesting.” (Dear old Dad, huh?)
“Before then, we didn’t know about you at all. It came as quite a surprise, in fact. Unfortunately for us, your mother’s webpage doesn’t give any of her family information. So, I initially suspected Earl.”
“Say, may I try this little poser on you, just for fun?”
“This has nothing to do with the Zodiac. It’s something else entirely. I’m sure you will get it, though.
Somewhere in midtown Manhattan
Amidst couturier toil,
A statue sits there a-tattin‘.
Might it be Motel Kamzoil?”
“Did you just make that up, John?”
“Yeah, I did. Can you remember it, Samantha? If I had left you a clue at that mystery location, would you know where to look?”
“Hmm. I’ll have to think about that for a bit. But yes, John, I’ll remember it. I should have an answer for you the next time I see you. By then I will have figured out all your other clues as well.”
“I have no doubt that you will, Captain.”
“I am going to leave you now. I did so enjoy our little chat. I find you utterly fascinating.”
“Well, the feeling is mutual, my good woman. The pleasure was ours.” They get up, and John walks Samantha to the door.
“Oh. One last thing before you go. Do you like Alfred Hitchcock, Samantha?”
“Yes. I enjoy his work. Why do you ask?”
“Oh, no reason. I just wondered.” Samantha happens to notice that even though the door to the room opens to the right, and it would have been more natural to use the right hand to open it, he opens it with his left hand.
(Aha! So, he is left-handed, as I suspected.) “Colin, let’s go. We’re done here for the time being. John, I must tell you not to leave town. ‘I’ll be back.’ Thank you all for your time and cooperation.”
Colin: “Flora, the tea was lovely. Thank you.”
“You are quite welcome, Detective.”
Earl: “Pleased to have met you both.”
As they leave, “Flora, Mr. Smith, John. We bid you all adieu for now. Good evening.”
John: “So long, Dearie!”

Chapter 23

(“Lucy, you’ve got some ‘splainin’ to do!”)
“So, what happened? Why didn’t they arrest you?”
“Arrest me for what, Daddy-O?”
“Arrest you for what?! That Spenser guy thinks you are the notorious Zodiac Killer! Is he wrong?”
“’Maybe. And maybe not, too.’ No, he’s not wrong.”
“Then what? Those cops apparently think that it’s you.”
“They can think anything they want. They have to be able to prove it.”
“John, I am greatly disappointed in you!”
“Really, Dad? So, what else is new?”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“I’ve always been a great disappointment to you. Why should this time be any different?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about. I’ve always been proud of you, son. Your achievements, your intelligence, independence and self-reliance…”
“That’s the first time I’ve heard it. You’ve never said any of that to me before.”
“Why should I have to say it? You should know how I feel.”
“How would I know if you don’t express it? I can’t read your mind.”
“I love you, John. Don’t you know that?”
“I wasn‘t sure. It’s the first time you’ve ever said it.”
“I’m so sorry, son. I had no idea that you were harboring these dark feelings. Is that why you killed all those people, just to get back at me?”
“No, not entirely. But I guess you are part of the reason.”
“Now, what does that mean?!”
“Dad, I created this fantastic…thing. I don’t even know what to call it exactly. It was quite a production. Artistic in every way. It took me a whole year to execute. I set it up as a game and invited interested parties to play with me. Samantha Marlowe is the only person who took up the challenge and figured the whole thing out. She’s quite a woman, Dad. So a few stupid people died in the process, it still turned out to be a brilliant exhibition. Samantha said as much herself. This was sort of a test for you and Mother, too. I wanted to see how long it would take you to figure out what I was doing. And since you found out only today after it was all over, means that you both failed the test miserably. You didn’t even find out on your own but had to be told. Samantha was way over in Manhattan and was on to me, and my own parents, whom I live with, had no idea.”
“You’re not blaming us for doing what you did, are you?”
“Of course, I’m not blaming you. But the fact that you didn’t know what was going on under your own roof, says something about you, wouldn’t you agree? I do appreciate your respecting my privacy, but as my parents, I also expect you to show some interest in my activities outside of my work here. Dad, the other day was the first time in ages that you asked me where I have been. And then you said that you didn’t care. I confessed to Mother only because she asked me point-blank if I was the killer, and I chose not to lie to her. Oh, Mother, by the way. The flower thing is a tribute to you and our work together. So, I would like to know, Dad, now that I actually pulled it off…I mean, come on, so far I am getting away with multiple murder! Aren‘t you even a little bit impressed?”
“Are you serious right now, John? Do you really expect me to be impressed?! I can’t believe that a son of mine could do such a despicable thing! I don’t know how anybody could do such a thing. You must be insane, John!”
“There he is! That’s the dad I’m used to. You couldn‘t let me have this one thing, could you? And by the way, Father! Every killer and every other kind of criminal is somebody‘s son or daughter. So why should you be exempt from having one? What makes you so special?” Earl harrumphs and shakes his head in disbelief. “And another thing, Daddy Dearest! I learned that it was you who ratted me out to the police. They were not even aware of my existence until you opened your big mouth.”
“Oh, I am sorry about that, son. But how was I to know that you were who they were looking for?”
“Well, Mom figured it out soon enough and had the good sense to keep her trap shut. You know, there are no accidents. Maybe you gave me up on purpose. When they accused you of being the killer, you said, ‘It‘s not me! Why don‘t you speak to John!’”
“That’s not what happened.”
“That’s exactly what happened! You brought them right here to my house!”
“I don’t know what else to say, John.”
“I think you have said quite enough, Dad.”
“Flora, you’re awfully quiet over there.”
“I’m still in shock. I am stunned by what I’m hearing. I don‘t think I will ever get over this. Earl, our son is a killer! I thought I knew you, John, but I don‘t know you at all.”
“Sure, you do, Mother dear. I’m your darling little boy. But aside from that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did enjoy the play?”
“Oh, John! Now he‘s making light of it. How can you be so cruel and unfeeling?” Her sobbing continues.

Chapter 24

Samantha and Colin are driving back to Manhattan.
“Well! You two must have had quite the discourse, didn’t you, then?” Colin sings. “# What’s the buzz? Tell me what’s happening. What’s the buzz?… #”
Jesus Christ Superstar! Are you an Andrew Lloyd Webber fan, Colin?”
“I am, actually, Sam. We attended the same prep school in England. Westminster. Different years, of course.”
“Is that right? I like his stuff as well. That guy is loaded! But, to address your query… Our little powwow did take longer than I thought it would. I love talking with him. Colin, John Smith is some piece of work, honey! After confessing to me that he is the killer, he had the audacity to dare me to try to prove it.”
“He didn’t!”
“Well, we did the ‘mutual admiration society’ bit. He was so pleased that I, well, we, figured out his clues. He admitted that that was the whole point–to ’get’ him, you see. I find it quite disturbing, though, that he has no feeling about the people that he killed, no remorse whatsoever. It‘s just a non-issue with him. It’s rather unsettling that he is so cold and unfeeling about human life. But he’s really nice. It just doesn’t make sense. He even tried to justify it by blaming his victims for their own deaths, because they were gullible enough to believe anything he told them. Although there is some validity to that, it doesn’t excuse him from taking advantage of those people’s blind trust. I do have him figured out somewhat, though. John is your classic sociopath with a narcissistic complex. These killings were all about his satisfying his own self-indulgent ego. And the game aspect and providing the clues is to show the world how smart he is and to receive the much-desired recognition and admiration for his efforts. But that being said, he is willing to take responsibility for and accept the consequences of his actions. He is so conflicted. He wants us to apprehend him, but he doesn’t want to give himself up voluntarily. I almost feel sorry for the guy. Colin, would you believe that we have the same birthday?”
“You don’t say! Hmm. So you two must have some sort of astral connection, then, don‘t you?”
“Apparently, we do.”
“Yeah, we heard you two singing and laughing in there. You seemed to be having a good time with each other.”
“I really like the guy. He’s charming and funny and pleasant to be around. I think he’s very lonely, Colin. He has no friends. He seemed so pleased to have someone to talk to and with whom to play his mind games. I don’t suppose that his cat provides any stimulating entertainment for him. I am convinced that the main reason for doing this terrible thing was for the hope of meeting someone like me. He pretty much admitted that. If it weren’t for the killer thing, we possibly could have something there. We might even be soul mates. He’s just 30, by the way. You know how I sometimes mispronounce certain words on purpose? Well, John does that, too! He also is into musicals and foreign phrases. It’s uncanny how much we have in common. Oh, well! I guess it just isn’t meant to be. So, what did I miss with the parents?”
“Those poor blokes! They just can’t believe it. I feel sorry for them, too. Mr. Smith insisted that I be up front with him. I didn’t say definitely, only that we strongly suspect that John is the Zodiac Killer. Flora didn’t say anything, even though I‘m sure that she knows. She’s just trying to protect her son and not incriminate him.”
“How did Earl respond to the news?”
“Just stunned disbelief, basically. He asked me, ’Who is he supposed to have killed?’”

“As far as we know, in every case it was random strangers whom he didn’t know personally, but they fit into his special qualifications.”
“I don’t follow you, Spenser.”
“Are you sure you want to hear this, sir? It‘s quite grisly.” Earl nods his head. “All right, then. His Aries victim was killed by having ram’s horns rammed down his throat and up his bum. He hacked a pair of conjoined twins to death with a double-bladed axe, separating them in the process. That was his Gemini kill. He fed a woman a poisoned crab that gave her terminal cancer. He strangled a teenage virgin. He drowned his Aquarius victim. Others were killed by actual bulls, lions, scorpions, goats and arrows, all provided by him. For his last kill, Pisces, he flung a crippled woman into a tank filled with piranha–her own, I might add.” Throughout Colin’s account, there is audible distress from Flora.
Earl: “Stop! We’ve heard enough!”
“Well, you asked. So, there was a specific theme to be followed, you see.”
“I’ve never heard anything so depraved in my life! And you think our John did all that?”
“He is our only suspect. And his flower trail is what lead us here. That must be what he wanted. I realize that is hard to accept, Mr. Smith, but that’s how it looks.”
[End of flashback]

“The rest of the time we just did small talk. I drank my tea and Earl had a beer. We talked sports, I asked Earl about his job. Poor Flora was still too upset to contribute to the conversation. How did you leave things with John, then?”
“Well, he reminded me that we don’t have any direct evidence to connect him to any of the murders, and he’s right. He told me that the game is not over until we can prove it. So we still have our work cut out for us. He said that there are still some clues out there that we apparently have overlooked. We won’t do any more work tonight, however. I’m beat. I’m going home. But I will be at the station bright and early tomorrow, and we can continue our investigation.”
“That sounds like a plan, then.”
“Remember, it’s the early bird that gets the worm.”
“Yeah, but it’s the second mouse that gets the cheese.” They both chuckle.

Chapter 25

“So, how are my guys this morning?”
Jerry: “I’m great, Sammy! Junior won his game!”
Colin and Danny: “Yay!”
Samantha: “Way to go, Junior!”
Danny: “I’m good, too, Sam. How did it go with the Asters yesterday? She is married, isn’t she?”
“Uh, Smiths, as it turns out. It’s Earl and Flora Smith. Aster is Flora’s maiden name.”
Danny: “You don‘t say. So, is Earl the Killer, then?”
Jerry: “Or are they both in it together?”
Colin: “Nope. They are both innocent. But guess what, mates? They have a 30-year-old son.”
Jerry: “Oh, really?! So, what‘s his story?”
Colin: “His story is that his name is John.”
Danny: “What?! John Smith? As in, ‘J.S.’, John Smith?”
Colin: “You got it.”
Danny: “Holy shit! So, he‘s The Guy?!”
Colin: “Oh, he’s The Guy, then.”
Jerry: “Did he confess? He didn‘t actually confess, did he?”
Colin: “Oh, yes. He confessed all right.”
Jerry: “So, then you arrested him and brought him in.”
Samantha: “Not quite, fellas.”
Danny: “What do you mean? Why not?”
“Because we can’t prove it…yet. We can‘t physically link him to any of the murders. All we can offer is suspicion, and that‘s not proof.”
Colin: “And he knows that. That is why he was so forthcoming. He practically dared Sam to find the proof to convict him. He wants her to, in fact.”
“And that’s why we are here today. John told me that the game is not over until we can prove his guilt.”
Jerry: “Goodness! What chutzpah!”
Colin: “You got that right.”
“I have a confession, too. I trust you guys and hope that you won‘t judge me too harshly for what I am about to say.”
Colin: “What is it, dear girl?”
“As terrible as it was, I am not sorry that he got to finish his project. It would have been a shame not to complete his masterpiece. Do you all think less of me now for thinking this way?”
Danny: “Of course not, Sam. In fact, I kinda feel the same way as you do. You must have noticed that we haven’t done a whole lot to help solve the case. You’ve done practically all of the work yourself. We all have enjoyed listening to you analyze the clues and how much fun you seemed to be having doing so. We can’t fault you for that. Shoot, once we got so much involved in the case, I, for one, secretly wanted to know how it all would turn out.”
Jerry: “I agree with Danny. I have learned so much this past year. You are a brilliant broad, Sammy. You amaze us every day with all the shit that you know. No, we don’t fault you at all.”
Colin: “Count me in, too, then.”
“I do appreciate what you’re saying. The thing is, though, I think on a subconscious level, we didn‘t want to stop him just yet. It was John who called me on it yesterday, wondering why it took us so long to find him. I had to think about that. I mean, we all knew about the botanical thing and could have pursued it long before we did. That was, after all, how we eventually found him. But we farted around and didn’t do anything, like, we were waiting for him to finish up first. So I sort of feel guilty for allowing all those people to be murdered, when we possibly could have prevented some of it.”
Danny: “Then we all need to accept responsibility, as we are all guilty. I remember all of us anticipating the Pisces kill, for example, wondering who it would be and how he would do it. So this isn’t just on you, Sam.”
Jerry: “Don’t you worry your little head, darlin’. We are with you all the way.”
“Aww, I love you guys. I just didn’t want you to think bad of me for expressing such admiration for a serial killer.”
Danny: “Are you kidding? This is the most fun I’ve had in a long time!”
“Thanks. I feel a little better now. Realize, though, that if he had not been as helpful as he was, leaving us all those clues, we never would have found him. He would have gotten away with it entirely. We caught him only because he wanted us to. Before yesterday, we still had no idea even who he was. Think about that.”
Jerry: “Yeah, I hear you, Sammy.”
Colin: “But, mates, have you considered that we are the only ones who stayed on the case at all? Nobody else seemed to be interested. If it weren’t for us, he would have gotten away with it.”
“You know? John made that very acknowledgment to me yesterday.”
“So we should give ourselves some credit, then.”
Danny: “That’s a very good point, Colin. But that’s all behind us. So, what now? He’s had his fun. It’s up to us now. How do we get that conniving, arrogant bastard?”
“Well, he intimated that there are still some clues out there that we have overlooked. So that’s what we need to find. Anybody got any ideas?” They all think for a moment.
Danny: “Do we know for sure that some place that he went this past year, he didn’t leave any indication that he was there? Maybe he stayed overnight somewhere, and there is a sign-in record of his being there.”
Jerry: “You know? That’s not a bad idea. We never pursued that line of inquiry.”
Samantha: “That’s true. I don’t think that he flew everywhere. He must have driven to the closer locales, or when he needed a car. He couldn’t very well rent one without using a credit card.”
Danny: “You’re right. Living out where he does, I am assuming that he drives. Then let’s figure out where he might have stayed overnight and had to use local accommodations. We just might get lucky.”
Colin: “So, we know that he didn’t stay in Brooklyn that first night, because he went to Central Park to place that sign. Besides, that’s so close to his home. But how about Bullhead City, Arizona, then?”
Jerry: “Why would he need to stay? If his cattle rustling was accomplished all in one day, after he killed Ella Toro, it was time to fly back home.”
Samantha: “But not right away. Remember that he made those two stops in Montana and Ohio first.”
Jerry: “Oh, that’s right. I forgot about that.”
“But he probably did not stay overnight in either place. Why would he?”
Jerry: “Well, I don’t know about that, Danny. I suppose that ordering a billboard could be accomplished in one day. But I am assuming that he signed them himself, so even if he had to stay there a few days apiece, he could have slept in his plane, instead of going to a motel.”
Colin: “That sounds feasible, mate. Consider, too, that the entire gesture might have been for naught anyway, as he couldn’t know for sure if anyone would even find his signs or understand them.”
Samantha: “We still don’t know if he visited Twin Falls in Idaho. I neglected to ask about that one.”
Jerry: “Now Minneapolis-St. Paul is a possibility, though. He must have had his car, in order to transport those bodies to the bridges. He even might have arrived the day before, so that he would be well rested for his big kill the next day.”
Colin: “I like that, Jerry.”
Danny: “You know, something else just occurred to me. How did he deposit those bodies on the bridges without anybody seeing him? Inquiring minds want to know. Can somebody enlighten me?”
Samantha: “It must have required perfect timing. Maybe there was a lull in the traffic. And for one brief moment, or two, actually, when nobody was on the bridge, he dumped them.”
Danny: “I guess that’s possible.”
“So, with that then, here’s another thought. Although he killed those twins on a Saturday, which would have been their birthday, he must have waited until early Sunday to dispose of them, when there wouldn’t be as much traffic. That is when the bodies were discovered after all.”
“Hmm. That’s good thinking, Jere. So where did he sleep those two nights? I am going to do a check of the hotels and motels in the Twin Cities. Maybe he stayed in one of them.”
Jerry: “My guess is that he would pick a minor, low-profile motel rather than some fancy, mainstream hotel.”
Danny: “I agree. There would be fewer people to deal with, for one thing.”
Samantha: “And now that we know how his mind works, I’ll bet he would have picked one whose name has special significance.” Samantha googled Minneapolis-St. Paul accommodations. Quite a few listings came up, but one in particular caught her attention. Copshy Motel in Minneapolis. (Why does that seem familiar somehow?) She thought and thought. Then it hit her.
“Well, I’ll be damned! Viola! [sic] I’ll bet you that’s it!”
Jerry: “What’s it, Sammy?”
“The Copshy Motel! He actually told us last night. Colin, you were there. Just as we were going to have our private conversation, he said to us, ’You will forgive me for being a little cop shy.’ Do you remember him saying that?”
“Yes, I do, now that you mention it. I thought it was merely a non sequitur. I didn’t take any stock in it.”
“I took it to mean that he felt timid around police officers, although he certainly didn’t seem to be. But what he was doing was giving us another clue, subtle as it was. I am calling the Copshy Motel right now.” Samantha found the number of the motel and dialed it. She pushed the speaker button, so that they all could hear. They picked up after two rings.
”Copshy Motel. This is Amber Anston speaking. How may I help you?”
“Ms. Anston, is it?”
“My name is Captain Samantha Marlowe of the New York City Police Department. I would like to ask you a few questions, if I may.”
“Certainly, Captain. I am pleased to help. What do you want to know?”
“Were you there at your motel on June 2nd of last year?”
“Most likely I was. I’m always here. This is my motel. I run the place. I live here as well.”
“Then let me pick your brain. Do you remember on that day, June 2nd, checking in a young man about 30, Caucasian, very handsome? He may have signed the register ‘John Smith’ or some other name. Does that ring a bell, by any chance?”
“I do indeed remember him, Captain. I don’t even have to consult my register. That is the name he signed in with. It was at night. Firstly, I naturally did assume that he was giving me a fake name. That’s the name a lot of men use when they are sneaking around. But we tend to be discreet here, and I don’t judge or pry into anybody‘s business. He did appear to be alone, though. Are you telling me that John Smith is his real name?”
“Yes, it really is, as strange as that may seem. Is there anything else?”
“There is. I also remember him, because I noticed that he was a lefty, like me. I even commented on it. I said, ‘Oh, a fellow southpaw! We’re very special people, you know.’ And yes, indeed, I, too, thought he was quite good-looking.”
”Is that all?”
“No. There was one other thing we discussed. It’s something that I ask all my guests who come here.”
“What would that be?”
“I asked him if he was into anagrams. And he replied, ’I must be. Why do you think I chose this particular motel?’ That was it. He went to his room, and that was the last time I saw him. According to my maid, he did stay with us for two nights, though, and must have checked out early Sunday morning. Since he had paid cash, he didn’t need to come by the front desk. Does that help you at all, Captain?”
“You have been extremely helpful. Now, Ms. Anston, if you will pardon me for what I am about to ask you. I don’t mean to offend you, but this is rather important that you give me an honest answer. Okay?”
“Okay, I think. What is it, Captain?”
“Would you be considered a full-figured gal?”
“Well, that’s putting it mildly. Most people consider me fat. But I have learned to live with it. No offense taken.”
“Well, thank you for your candor. You have just solved a major murder case, my dear.”
“I did?”
“You must have heard about those murdered twins last year?”
“Why, yes, of course. That was awful. People here are still talking about it.”
“Well, you have just given us the proof we need that it was John Smith who killed them.”
“What?! My goodness! So, I was harboring a murderer? He seemed like such a nice young man, too. That just goes to show you that you can’t always assess a person by their appearance, can you?”
“You are certainly right about that. I will let you go, Ms. Anston. Thank you so much for your help. Goodbye, now.” They hang up.
Danny: “Well, how do you like them apples?!”
Jerry: “So, I was right. Does that mean we got him now?”
“Well, we shattered one of his alibis, anyway. We can’t place him at the actual scene, but he was in the city on the day of the murders. I just thought of something else that John hinted at. He didn’t say that we couldn’t place him at any of the murder scenes. He posed it as a challenge by saying, ‘Can you place me at the scene of any of the murders?’, meaning that it will give us the proof that he was there. And that is what we just did.”
Colin: “I think it’s enough for an arrest, then. We can make a case after he’s in custody.”
“So, that was his big mistake, signing in with his real name.”
“But was it a mistake, Danny? I think that John is too smart to slip up like that. He could have given any name. I contend that he did that on purpose, with the hope that nobody would put it together, or conversely, that somebody would. He did lead us to that motel, after all. Realize that everything he does is a test, for us and for the sake of the game. He actually could have slept in his car, or anywhere, if he had wanted to. He didn’t have to go to a motel, necessarily.”
Colin: “I think you’re right, Sam.”
Danny: “He must have hidden those bodies in his car for all that time. Ugh!”
Jerry: “Hey, Sammy! What made you ask that Anston dame about her size?”
“It’s because of something John said to me when he was suggesting that we were still playing his game. He said that it wasn’t over until the fat lady sings. I asked only out of curiosity. We see now that he was referring to Amber Anston. John tends to make even common expressions literal.”
Danny: “So, does finding out that he’s a lefty matter for anything, Sam?
“Well, it establishes the fact that the man at that motel in Minneapolis is the same man we met yesterday. That’s when I actually confirmed what I already suspected. I saw John open the door to his room with his left hand. Either he did it on purpose, wanting me to notice, or it was instinctive, not thinking about it. But my first tip-off that he was left-handed was from his Central Park sign and the billboards.”
Danny: “What do you mean?”
“In each case he signed his initials in the left-hand corner. I told you that everything he did was relevant and intentional.”
Colin: “Blimey, Sam! You don’t miss a trick, do you?”
Danny: “She never ceases to amaze me. Her phenomenal memory is also a great asset.”
Jerry: “Yeah, you go, gurl!
“Look at how much he told us about himself, even before we knew who he was. He gave us his initials, told us where he lives, let us know that he’s left-handed, that he’s rich, very smart, musically-inclined and an expert in floristics. He was being as helpful as he could for us to find him. It is we who didn’t put it all together as soon as we should have. He’s still trying to be helpful, in fact.”
“Of course, you are right, Sam. So, our corpulent informant mentioned something about anagrams. What’s that all about, then?”
”I am working on that right now, Colin. Actually, I should have asked her what she meant by that, but I think we can figure it out for ourselves. That John! He is so sneaky with his clues and wordplay. I see now that all his remaining hidden clues are verbal rather than visual. During our conversation yesterday, he suggested that I recognize the ars magna in all of this, which means ‘great art.’ I thought he was just showing off by using the Latin instead of English, but I realize now is that what he was doing was throwing me another clue. You see, the Latin phrase itself is an anagram of ‘anagrams’! So he was telling me to look for anagrams. John told Ms. Anston that he had picked that motel because of its name. I’ll just bet you the name is an anagram. I’m scrambling the letters. Let’s see what we get.”
“Would you like some help with that, Sammy?”
“No, I got it, Jere. But thanks anyhow.” Samantha starts to rearrange the letters. “SHY COP? No, I don’t think that’s it.” (Scramble) “S-P-Y-H-O-C. No.” (Again) “P-O-S-H-C-Y. Nope. How about…” (Another combination) “H-O-S-P-Y-C? Uh, no. Let me try…” (One more time) “P-S-Y-C-H-O. Hello! Psycho!”
Jerry: “Psycho?”
“Of course. Don’t you see? John did pick that motel because of its name.” Samantha smacks herself upside the head. “Well, shut my mouth and call me dumb, and beat me; I‘m a kettle drum!”
Colin: “What is it, Sam?”
“Well, it’s from Carmen Jones, for one thing. But I just had another epiphany. Remember that earlier comment? He wasn’t just saying, ’Forgive me for being a little cop shy.’ He was also actually saying, ’Forgive me for being a little psycho‘!”
Danny: “Oooh! And the truth shall set you free!”
Jerry: “Halleluyer!”
Colin: “Bob’s your uncle!”
Danny: “But ya are, Blanche! Ya are a psycho!” They all laugh.
Jerry: “Can I get a ‘amen’ up in here?!”
All: “Amen!”
“So, he admits that he‘s a blooming psycho. He may be crazy, but he’s by no means stupid. You know, Sam, maybe John has a bit of a conscience after all. He recognizes the fact that he is a sick man but would like us all to excuse him for it.”
“I think you may be right about that, Colin. But even that reveals his psychosis. He’s saying, ‘Yeah, I know that I am a nutcase, but so what? Love me anyway. I have other redeeming qualities.’ Which he does, I’ll admit. Listen to this. Psycho can be a noun, short for psychopath, or an adjective, as in psycho killer, but it can also be a combining form for psychotic, psychodramatic, psychodynamic, psychogenetic, psychokinetic, psychoneurotic, psychosocial and psychosomatic, all of which I think apply to our John. He also might be psychosexual, although we didn’t get into that part of his character during our little tête-à-tête. He did admit to having no friends, no romantic relationship with anyone or ever having one. He even may be a virgin, taking his own sun sign to heart. Who knows? He might have a secret fantasy of maybe losing his purported virginity to a bunch of brutish inmates in prison. Can you imagine what will happen to him in there, being as hot as he is?”
Danny: “Maybe he will get the chance to find out. It’ll serve him right.”
“I’m sure that comment was also meant for his parents, who were present at the time as well. They didn’t get it, however, as they don’t know what we know. He even tried to explain why he did it, but his logic was self-serving and unconvincing to me. There appears to be some unresolved issues with his father. Although John did not want Earl to take the credit for his own actions, he seemed pleased somewhat that we did consider him at least. He also seemed disappointed that his parents were not even vaguely aware of what he was doing. Short of his confessing to them himself, what were they supposed to do if they had found out? Would they have done their own investigation to verify his claim? How would they go about that? Then what? Would they tell him to stop, turn him in or protect his secret? It’s their child after all. Not exposing him would have made them both accessories after the fact. You know, while we’re at it, I am a bit suspicious of Amber Anston, too…her name, I mean. John made the comment to me that I was a suspicious person. Perhaps that was a hint, too. And he did imply ‘anagrams,‘ plural. So there must be more than just the one somewhere. Might she also be an anagram?” After trying several combinations, “This is too much! You guys won’t believe this.”
Danny: “What did you get?”
“Drum roll, please!” The men do a paradiddle on their desks. “I present to you…Norman Bates!”
Jerry: “No way! Are you shitting us, Sammy?”
Danny: “You don’t mean Norman Bates, like the guy from Psycho?”
Samantha: “That’s the one!”
Jerry: “Now, there has to be more to that story.”
Danny: “You think?”
Jerry: “Yeah, I do. There is truly something up with that broad.”
“Colin, I am in total awe of that John. He was dropping subtle hints left and right. Do you know what he said to me just as we were leaving his room?”
“No, what?”
“He asked me if I liked Alfred Hitchcock. That was another clue! He again was directing me to check out the ‘Bates Psycho’ Motel.”
“I’m sure he will be thrilled that you figured it all out. Sam, do you think that Amber knows that about her name and the motel’s name, too, for that matter?”
”It was she herself who said that she was into anagrams, so how could she not know? And with John’s admitted fascination for names, I’m sure that he is on to her as well. By now it probably has dawned on her why John chose her motel at which to stay.”
Danny: “Like, their being kindred spirits and fellow psychos, perhaps?”
Jerry: “Ha! Could be. One never knows. Do one?”
Colin: “So, I guess we should go pick him up, then.”
Danny: “I want to go this time. I have to meet this guy.”
Jerry: “So do I. Let’s all go!”
Danny: “Yes, he may not want to come along peacefully.”

Chapter 26

The crime team all pile into Samantha’s car and drive back out to the Smiths in Southampton. On the way there, Samantha and her colleagues discuss an additional discovery about the case.
“Another intriguing thought has occurred to me since yesterday.”
“What is it, Sammy?”
“Well, it’s some offhanded comments that John made during our conversation that got me to thinking. It’s not really more clues, just an added element to his gameplay. In addition to the victims’ birthdays being the same as the number of their individual sun sign, it appears that corresponding numbers have played a part in all the murder scenarios.”
Colin: “What do you mean?”
“Okay. Let’s go through them one by one. So, A. Reese Ramin (Abel) was Victim No. 1. On John’s first sign he said, ’one out of many,’ referring to Reese. The card left at the murder scene had an A on it, which is the first letter of the alphabet. There were two bullion coins found with Ella Toro. Although they were not placed together, we know now that there are two ‘O’ cards, Ella‘s and Louise‘s, the first two female victims. He followed that with the two billboard signs, which led to his double murder of the twins, including the two ‘T’ cards, which most likely stands for ‘twins’.”
“T for two, then. Heh-heh!”
“Colin! There were three “twin” towns, that we know of, that he could have used, and there were three chewing gum wrappers at their murder scene. And we recently learned that John spent part of three days in Minneapolis–Friday, Saturday and Sunday, the only place and time that he did that.”
Jerry: “Yes, I see where you’re going with this.“
“The autopsy report on Dr. Crabbe mentions that only four of her internal organs were damaged by the cancer–her stomach, her lungs, liver and kidneys. Since the serum was custom-made by John, he somehow figured out how to make it affect only those organs. John told me that he had offered her four crabs from which to choose, but, of course, they all were tainted. Not only was it five lions that killed Leo, the dandelion bouquet also numbered five. But did you know that five $100 bills were found in his pocket?”
Danny: “You don’t say! That must be how much John paid him for the circus gig.“
Jerry: “Which turned out to be a real dead end job, didn’t it?”
Danny: “Ha-ha! You got that right. We wouldn’t know about the money if John had not paid him in advance, which must have been intentional for that purpose. Leo didn‘t get to spend it, but somebody must have kept the money. Please continue, Sam.”
“We all are aware of the many virgin references. ‘Virgin’ has six letters. The coroner in Donna’s case deduced from the distinct markings on the girl’s throat, that John had squeezed it six times by which to choke her to death. And get this. The scarf he used was made up of six stripes!”
Jerry: “No shit!”
“John also told me that the bet he made with Roman Pound was that he could not balance himself on that scale for seven minutes. He did, as a matter of fact, but then he fell anyway. If we disregard the initial article, the two song titles he chose for Roman, ‘Balance of Nature’ / ‘Until the Balance Tips’, are made up of seven words. John used exactly eight scorpions to kill Nge Antares, and her ‘H’ card denotes the eighth letter of the alphabet. Nine arrows were found stuck in Fletcher Bowman’s body, the killer’s and victim’s names, that is, John Smith/’Robin Hood’ and Sebastian, all contain nine letters, and his ‘I’ card is the ninth letter of the alphabet. There was a total of ten goats on Goat Island, which has ten letters. There were eleven different plant specimens left with Barry Waters, whose name has eleven letters, and eleven dollars were found in his pocket, which I believe is what John paid for the water bottle that he purchased from Barry. Somebody counted twelve piranha in Bonita’s fish tank, and her ‘L’ card is the 12th letter of the alphabet. Without naming them all, I have figured that John’s murder mission required him to visit 11 U.S. states and one Canadian province, making 12. And of course, we already cited some of the number ’13’ references. There may be other number citations that we are not aware of that only John knows about.”
“That is truly amazing. But couldn’t some of it just be mere coincidence, Sam?”
“Well, Danny, we know that John didn’t leave much to chance. Much of it was definitely deliberate on his part. I contend that he knew exactly what he was doing every step of the way. You see that even those letter cards were not just randomly-assigned. However, having said that, I can believe also that some of it was not always intentional. But those inadvertent coincidences are part of the fun and amazement, don’t you think? I’m sure that John would agree. It appears that he did make an exception with his Taurus kill. Whereas all the other animals he used to kill his victims were the same number as their particular sign, he chose to employ more than just two bulls for that one, because only two bulls would hardly constitute a stampede, would it?”
“Definitely not.”
“Hey, Sammy, you missed one.”
“What, where?”
“I noticed that ‘Waterbury NH’ also has 11 letters.”
“Well, what do you know. Jere, you sly dog! Your observational skills are greatly improving, I see.”
“Why, thank you, Sammy! I’m learning.”

Chapter 27

John is not sure when the detectives will be back there to arrest him, but he has already taken precautions, just in case. Flora has agreed to look after Kutjing while he is away, but everything else will remain right where it is, in the event that he does get to return at some point. As the house itself is his storage area, nothing needs to be moved anywhere.

Jerry: “I hope he hasn’t flown the coop.”
Danny: “He had better not.” When they arrive at the estate, they go directly to John’s bungalow. Samantha knocks, and John answers the door.
“Well! Back so soon!”
“John, may we come in?”
“By all means. Come right in.” He steps aside and allows them all to enter.
”John, this is the rest of my team, whom you haven’t met. Detectives Gates and Olson. John Smith, as you know.”
“How do you do, Gentlemen.”
Danny: “Pleased to meet ya.”
Jerry: “Charmed, I’m sure.”
“May I offer you gentlemen and the lady anything to drink?” The men all refuse.
Samantha: “No, nothing. We’re fine. We won’t be staying long. John, we came to tell you that we had a little chat this morning with Amber Anston at the Copshy Motel. Or should I say, the ‘Psycho’ Motel? It’s over, John. The fat lady ‘sang,’ so to speak.” John applauds.
“Brava, Samantha! My, that was fast! It didn’t take you long at all to ferret out my new clues. I congratulate you and your colleagues on a job well done.” He sings. “# You did it, you did it, you said that you would do it, and indeed you did! #”
“Well, just you wait, ‘Enry ‘Iggins. What that means is, with ‘Norman Bates,’ I mean, Amber Anston as a witness, we can now place you in the city on the very day that your double murder occurred. You no longer have an alibi. Plus, you had means and opportunity. And with your confession, I believe we can get you your conviction. Your denying it won‘t hold up anymore, as too many people know that you’re guilty. There are the four of us and your parents. With a subpoena, they won‘t be able to lie for you, in the event they have to testify. Consider this, too, John. Even though we can‘t prove that you were in any of the other places where your murders occurred, your mother’s flowers were there. And ruling out your parents, that leaves only you, as a direct link. I‘m afraid it‘s checkmate, my friend. It’s time for you to hang up your jock.”
“’Curses! Foiled again!’ ‘You got me!’ ‘It‘s coitains!’ ‘Mr. De Mille, I am ready for my close-up.’ ‘What do you think I asked you here for…company?!’ ‘We don’t need no stinkin’ badges!’ ‘Klaatu barada nikto!’ ‘Putinontheriiiiitz!!’ ‘Fiddle-dee-dee! After all, tomorrow is another day.’ ‘Get the hook!’ ‘Damn you! Damn you all to hell!’ ‘Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.’ In the words of Adolfo Pirelli, ‘I give-a da up.’”
Jerry, whispering to Colin: “Mercy! What was all that? Is this dude off his rocker, or what?”
“Quite balmy, I’ll say, then. But we had determined that about him already, hadn’t we?”
“No, he’s all right, guys. It’s just a bunch of famous movie quotes, for my benefit. There is another song from The Boys from Syracuse that seems appropriate for this moment, John. It’s called, ‘Come With Me to Jail.’”
”Ah, yes, # I remember it well. # ‘Play it, Sam.’”
“Maybe later. Will you place your hands behind your back, Gigi, I mean, John. We have to handcuff you. It‘s procedure. You understand. Besides, we can‘t trust you. You are definitely and literally a flight risk.” As Danny proceeds to read John his Miranda rights, he puts the cuffs on him, purposely locking them a little too tightly on his wrists.
“Hey! Not so tight, man!”
“I beg your pardon?”
“Do I look like I give a flying fuck?!”
“Oh. ’You‘re so strict.’ Where is that from, Samantha?“
“Heh-heh! Harvey Korman says that to Cloris Leachman as Nurse Diesel in High Anxiety, when she deprives him of his fruit cup because he is just 30 seconds late for dinner. That happens to be my favorite Mel Brooks film, by the way.”
“Ha! It’s mine as well! And of course, you’re right again. I can’t seem to stump you, can I?”
“Well, you can try. You did get me on a couple of your submitted songs, John. I didn’t know ‘Dr. Crab’s Prize’ or ‘Fish Bite,’ for example. Both smart choices, by the way.”
“Why, thank you, Samantha.“
“Colin, why don’t you fetch a jacket for John. It’s a bit chilly out.” Colin finds a nearby closet, takes out an appropriate jacket and places it around John‘s shoulders, then proceeds to escort him out of the house.
“John, would you like to say goodbye to your parents before we cart you away?”
“They are both away at the moment–shopping, I believe.”
“Well, you will have to see them later, then.”
“Who in the hell is Adolfo Pirelli?”
“He’s a character from Sweeney Todd, Jere. The first one that Sweeney kills, in fact.” (He would be referencing another mass murderer!)
“Well, excuse me!” They all get into Samantha’s car. She decides to ride in the back with Colin and John in the middle, and Jerry is in the front with Danny, who is driving. John is not very comfortable in a crowded car with his arms tightly handcuffed behind his back, but the others don’t feel all that sorry for him. Let him endure a little unpleasant discomfort as a mild punishment for his prior actions.
“Samantha, I would like to tell you how doubly impressed I am with your extraordinary acumen–in that you managed to solve the entire case without even going to any of the murder locales. It’s like when Miss Jane Marple solves a murder, which occurred elsewhere, while she is laid up in bed at home with a broken leg in The Mirror Crack‘d, or when Adrian Monk, after seeing a mention about it in his newspaper, solved a murder which occurred in Paris, France, while he was in San Francisco!”
Danny: “And the cops who were at the actual locations didn’t know who or how they did it.”
“Yes, you are quite amazing, Samantha.”
“Aw, shucks, fellas! It was nothing. But thanks anyway for the lovely compliment, John.”
Danny: “I would deem her to be as brilliant as that literary character Robert Langdon.”
Colin: “Hah! I think that she is smarter than Langdon. He knows only what his creator, Dan Brown, knows, and that‘s limited at best. Samantha‘s vast knowledge goes far beyond his. In his Angels & Demons, for instance, he thought that ‘seraphim’ is a singular noun.”
John: “Then I take it she is the one who discovered Amber Anston’s other identity?
“Uh, I’m right here, guys.”
“But I wonder if you good folks know the whole story?”
Danny: “Ooh, the plot thickens.”
“Now, you know that I am not one to gossip, but… What if I tell you that your Amber Anston used to be a man, and Norman Bates is actually their real name!?”
Samantha: “What?! Well, I’ll be!”
Jerry: “A goddamn tranny!? Didn’t I tell you that there was something up with that…person? The voice was a giveaway for me.”
“Yeah, I sorta sensed it, too, Jere. I just wasn’t sure. How do you know that, anyway, John?”
“I could have stayed anywhere in town. When I came across that motel, the name intrigued me, for one thing, and when I met that odd-looking proprietor, I was compelled to learn more about her, although her sexual demeanor did seem rather apparent to me. I even signed in with my real name, and with my subtle hints, I had hoped to point you, or whomever, in her direction.” Samantha and her partners all shoot a nodding glance at each other. “I wanted you to meet her as well. It’s another case of a person’s name influencing their occupational destiny. In addition, I noticed that there is a spooky-looking house on a hill behind the motel.”
Danny: “Oh-oh! Life imitating art, huh?”
Samantha: “So, it would appear. I wonder, though, if this Norman became his mother!”
Colin: “I suppose that anything is possible, Sam.”
John: “‘A boy’s best friend is his mother.'”
(Yeah, you would say that, wouldn’t you?) Incidentally, John, because of the hints you dropped yesterday, I am also on to your little numbers game. You know what I’m talking about. And I figured out your riddle, too. It’s quite clever. It came to me right after I left you.” Before revealing the answer, though, she relays the quatrain to her guys, but none of them get it right away.
“Somewhere in midtown Manhattan
Amidst couturier toil,
A statue sits there a-tattin‘.
Might it be Motel Kamzoil?”
(Hah! She did remember it, word for word. Amazing!.)
“Anyone? No? Okay, here it is. In Manhattan’s so-called Fashion District, at the corner of 7th Avenue and 39th Street, there is a sculpture entitled The Garment Worker, a Jewish man (most likely, as he is wearing a yarmulke) sitting at his sewing machine. Therefore, the reference must be to Motel Kamzoil, Tevye’s son-in-law in Fiddler on the Roof, who happens to be a tailor.”
“Very good, Samantha. I knew you wouldn’t fail me.”
Danny: “I know of what you speak. I just never made that connection before.”
John: “It occurred to me the first time I saw it. Motel Kamzoil is one of my favorite character names–along with Cruella De Vil, Howdy Doody, Elmer Fudd, Foghorn Leghorn, Scrooge McDuck, Strangé, Truly Scrumptious, Pootie Tang and Darth Vader.”
Samantha: “Ha-ha! That is too much! Would you believe that those are mine, too, John?”
“Really. Let’s see if you know this little bit of esoterica, Samantha.” He sings, “# Skid a lit day, skid a lit day. Ratty boo. #”
“Oh, please! That’s from Leonard Bernstein’s one-act opera Trouble in Tahiti (or A Quiet Place), another one of my favorites.”
“Damn, gurl! You sure do know your stuff!”
Danny: “Utterly astounding!” They all shake their heads with awed admiration.
“‘My heart is full.‘ Where is that line from, John?”
“Hmm. Okay, I will give you two answers. Other than part of Hattie McDaniel’s Oscar acceptance speech, which her studio execs wrote for her, by the way, the line is also Joanne Woodward’s simple acknowledgment speech when her real-life daughter, Nell Potts, wins her school’s Science Fair award in The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds, directed by her husband, Paul Newman.”
“You are right on both counts, John. That was an Oscar-worthy performance, too, in my opinion.”
“I quite agree, Samantha. I love her in that. Drat the luck! Just when I finally have found my true soul mate and intellectual equal. Oh, well. Next!”
Danny: “You know what? You two are something else. Pardon me for saying so, Sam, but I now see why you like this guy. You are so much alike.”
Jerry: “I’ll help you say.”
“It’s true. I really do like you, John. Getting to know you for this brief period has been quite a treat–playing What’s That From? and all your little word and number games. But, unfortunately, we have our job to do. I wish this could have turned out differently. I must leave your fate to the courts and justice system. No doubt you now will gain the fame, or rather notoriety, and receive the recognition that you so desire, although you shouldn‘t expect any appreciative admiration from anyone other than me. I am pretty sure that the families and friends of the people you killed will all hold you in ignominious indignation. And I seriously doubt that you will find any defense attorneys who will be able to get you off, no matter how much you pay them. With that methodical mind of yours, I doubt that anyone will consider an insanity defense for you. I wouldn’t even bother with a trial. The purpose of a trial is to prove your innocence. And since you are not, why don’t you just confess to it all, plead guilty and accept your punishment. It would save a lot of time and expense. Your one saving grace is that New York does not have an automatic death penalty. I’m afraid that you are going away for a long time, Buddy Boy. I don’t think that even good behavior will cut it in your case. That’s such a shame, too. ‘You could have been a contender. You could have been somebody.’ ‘All this time, we could have been friends.’ Thanks for the game anyway. It was great fun. Nobody actually won, as it turns out. Although our delayed diligence allowed you to accomplish all of your intended kills, due to our unrelenting perseverence, you won’t be getting away with it. And just one more thing, John. I want you to know that I do forgive you for being a little psycho.“
Jerry: “Ooh, shade!”


The previous story was inspired by the other movies and TV dramas that feature a series of murders executed by following a certain pattern or theme. Kevin Spacey in Se7en (1995) kills perceived sinners via the Seven Deadly Sins. Vincent Price as The Abominable Dr. Phibes (1971) uses the Plagues of Egypt to dispose of the surgical team who operated unsuccessfully on his wife, and in Theater of Blood (1973) Price, as an egomaniacal, Shakespearean actor, dispatches members of the Drama Critics Circle who passed him over for an acting award, by incorporating death scenes from the Shakespeare plays he appeared in. The Bishop Murder Case (1930) uses Mother Goose nursery rhymes, Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None (1945) incorporates “The Ten Little Indians” song, and her The ABC Murders is rather self-explanatory. Murder Under the Mistletoe, a Miss Fisher Mystery, employs “The 12 Days of Christmas.“ The serial killer in The Raven (2012) gets his murders from those found in the stories of Edgar Allan Poe, and the one in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (2011) is inspired by certain verses from the Bible book of Leviticus. In Dan Brown’s Angels & Demons (2009) there is a natural elements (earth, air, fire and water) serial murder plot. The killer in The Spiral Staircase (1946) and its 1975 remake cannot abide imperfection in people and goes about the town murdering women who have some physical disability, like blindness, deafness, mutism, being crippled, whatever. In Copycat (1995) some sick individual is copying the modus operandi of other famous serial killers!

8,583 thoughts on “Return of the Zodiac Killer–A Murder Game Novella”

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