Maureen decided we’d redecorate the lounge. Our decor was no longer “chic”. I didn’t know what that meant but I argued it was quite chic indeed if it meant I didn’t have to tear up a perfectly good shag carpet. “It’s very ‘65, you know,” she said with disdain as if ’65 was universally agreed to be the new peak of anti-chic-ness. Barely 1970, it didn’t seem a problem to me. I accused her of just trying to keep up with our neighbours the Edwardson’s, who I resented with every inch of my being, but she made a good point that I just wanted to be left alone to mull over the puzzles in the paper. Though she was wrong about the crosswords and sudokus, I’d recently found them rather stale since being provided with a new challenge from the San Francisco Chronicle. My puzzle time on the toilet trebled, causing havoc with my posture not to mention the confusion my bowel movements suffered as I endeavoured to solve this Zodiac Killer’s codes which he was insisting they print under threat of yet more murders in the city.
I LIKE KILLING PEOPLE BECAUSE IT IS SO MUCH FUN IT IS MORE FUN THAN KILLING WILD GAME BECAUSE MAN IS THE MOST DANGEROUE ANAMAL OF ALL.
Someone had got to the latest cypher before I could solve it. I read about it over my cereal, two teachers cracked it together. “See, Maureen, if you helped me we may have got there first!” She still had no interest in the Zodiac other than calling her close friends and family to check they made it home safe.
TO KILL SOMETHING GIVES ME THE MOST THRILLING EXPERENCE IT IS EVEN BETER THAN GETTING YOUR ROCKS OFF WITH A GIRL THE BEST OF IT IS THAE WHEN I DIE I WILL BE REBORN IN PARADICE.
After a period of silence, another code was published.
THIS IS THE ZODIAC SPEAKING BY THE WAY HAVE YOU CRACKED THE LAST CIPHER I SENT YOU? MY NAME IS…”
followed by a series of symbols. I bravely ripped my belt from my waist and prepared myself for a big session. I would achieve haemorrhoids before year’s end.
“Are you alright in there? I have some wallpaper samples to run through when you have a second”, Maureen called in through the door. I gave enough of a response to get rid of her without sacrificing too much attention from the paper. Zodiac had been saying he’d target a school bus and PICK OFF THE KIDDIES AS THEY COME BOUNCING OUT. Initially, he seemed to target couples. I had joked with Maureen “don’t hold my hand!” when we left the movie theatre after seeing Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. She didn’t laugh. She was already giving me the cold shoulder for bringing my mini-torch along so I could tinker with the cryptograms. I could never take western’s seriously at the best of times. Though I thought Paul Newman was very watchable.
We visited the Edwardson’s for dinner by Maureen’s insistence. Ben and Lucy. They really were dreadful. She drank too much, he was a bore of the highest calibre, and neither of them could cook. Not to mention he’d borrowed my lawnmower when they first moved in and never returned it. With my Chronicle tucked discreetly into my pocket I imagined if I greedily shovelled down enough of the tasteless muck they put in front of me, unbuckled my belt and declared “Phwoar! What a meal, that was a humdinger!” it wouldn’t arouse suspicion when I went to the toilet for 15 minutes to work on it. I launched my home-decor conversation rocket, setting Maureen off with Lucy. Ben could just sit there quietly and wait for me to come back for all I cared.
There were thirteen characters in the Zodiac’s identity. Thirteen. The symbols resembled Egyptian hieroglyphics. I knew nothing about Egyptian history, so this was a whole new ball game to the word jumble. I was on the verge of throwing in the towel and checking out this Rubix cube someone had recommended. Or handing myself in as the Zodiac so there was at least a conclusion to this endless puzzle. Another few minutes of hearing the Edwardson’s ramble on about their holidays to their family on the East coast or their bowling team they would “just love us to join” and I’d welcome a lifetime in solitary confinement. I could even bludgeon them myself right now and do away with framing myself as the Zodiac entirely.
“Please god spare us the details!” Maureen said, interrupting me, as I finally returned to the table. “I keep telling him he has medical issues! You should get that looked at you know, you’ve been on that thing for 25 minutes!”
“Oh… Have I? Sorry.”
Ben was cleaning his glasses and instantly tried to pick up where he left off talking about something I couldn’t care less about.
“Thirteen. Thirteen.” I mumbled it to myself over and over. Counting letters on my hands. Sounding it out “B-e-n. Ed-ward-son…E-d…w-a…Do you… hunt, at all, Ben?”
“A little.” He gestured to a giant deer head mounted on the wall.
“Oh… Have you always had that? I never… never noticed”
Maureen butted in. “How would you with your head always stuck into that damn newspaper.”
“Yes. I… I suppose…” I slid the Chronicle from my pocket. “You don’t have any kids, Ben. Are you… against them?”
“We made the decision not to start a family. We just felt-”
“-violently against them, would you say?”
“I don’t know what that means.”
“What about horoscopes. Do you read the horoscopes?
“I do actually, yes.”
My whole body tensed. “May I ask, what is your… Zodiac sign?”
“Cancer. A July baby!”
“So am I. Cancer, indeed. Why don’t we take a look?” I turned to page 13. Taking a breath to stabilize my speech. “Cancer… Here we go… ‘Finding your voice is of utmost importance under Monday’s skies. Expect people to be reaching out to you, as they’re looking to engage and hear your perspective…’ What does that mean?”
“Hmm. I’d think about it for a while. They tend to resonate after you’ve mulled them over a bit.”
“Might take some time to… crack the code… you might say…”
“Jesus, are you okay?” Maureen called over to me, “you look positively awful?”
“Yes, dear, not to worry. I think it’s just my… my chronic diarrhoea… that’s all…”
I didn’t tell Maureen about it when we got home, or that I was going to make the anonymous call to the police identifying Ben Edwardson as the Zodiac killer. She would have tried to talk me out of it. She’d say I was warped by this infernal puzzle I’d carried around in my pocket for years. She would have been right to stop me though, he had airtight alibis for at least 3 of the murders. At the time of one of them, he was even at my own house for dinner, apparently. His reputation in the neighbourhood was ruined though. It’s difficult to recover from being marched, handcuffed, across your lawn at 7.30 in the morning in your underwear. Since then, I’ve made anonymous calls to police and newspapers accusing Ben of loads of stuff. From little petty things right up to the really heinous crimes. As long as I alternate who I call I tend to find some type of law enforcement or news reporters rush right down and bash on his door, making a big fuss for all the neighbours to see I LIKE GETTING HIM IN TROUBLE IT IS MORE FUN THAN COMPLAINING ABOUT HIM AND IGNORING HIS BORING CONVERSATIONS.
Will Bateman is a writer of screenplays and short fiction. His most recent work is a collection of short stories, illustrations, and photography. He is based in London.
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