I have seen the killer of Laura Palmer.

Relax -- so have you, assuming you watched all the episodes of "Twin Peaks" that aired last season on ABC. "Yes, you actually have seen Laura's killer," promises Mark Frost, who produces the deeply spooky soap opera with filmmaker David Lynch.

But who is it? Who, who, who? That may or may not be made clear when the series returns tonight with a two-hour premiere, directed by Lynch, that begins another mystifying, perhaps even dumbfounding "Twin Peaks" season. Or half season, if the ratings are bad; ABC has placed a firm order for only 13 episodes.

Unfortunately for Washington viewers, quixotic Channel 7 (WJLA) is momentarily suspending its affiliation with the ABC Television Network again, this time for another Redskins game. That means the "Twin Peaks" premiere won't air until 11:30 or later. Baltimore's Channel 13 will carry it at the scheduled time of 9 p.m.

Neither ABC nor Lynch-Frost Productions is offering many clues about what will transpire as the new season gets going. Newsweek irked Frost and Lynch by printing plot developments in last week's issue; some were leaked on purpose, a "Peaks" spokesman says, but others were gleaned from a purloined script.

Most ABC executives weren't permitted their "Peaks" until Friday, although top honcho Robert Iger, president of ABC Entertainment, did get to see a rough cut two weeks ago.

Frost won't reveal plot details -- do you really want him to? -- but does say that several new characters will be introduced, among them Dick Tremayne, manager of men's designer clothing at Horne's department store and Deputy Andy Brennan's new rival for the affections of sweet, ditsy Lucy, the receptionist (Kimmy Robertson).

"Another character very early Sunday will cause quite a stir," says Frost, who wrote tonight's episode. "You'll know him the minute you see him." How? "He's very tall -- a giant." In fact, he's The Giant, played by Carel Struycken. Frost also promises that Miguel Ferrer will be back as Albert Rosenfield, that very rude FBI pathologist who got his comeuppance in Twin Peaks last season and didn't seem eager to come up again.

In addition, Lynch and Frost will pop up in cameo roles in the "Peaks" weeks ahead.

Frost won't promise that all of the endangered characters left cliffhanging at season's end last year will indeed survive. "Nobody's really safe in Twin Peaks -- that's the upshot of that, I guess," he says. We can safely assume that FBI Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) was wearing something under his shirt when that mysterious intruder pumped him full of lead, however.

Now stop reading here if you don't want any more poop about what might be happening on "Peaks," because Frost indicated there are some clues to the identity of Laura's killer in an alternate version of the original two-hour "Twin Peaks" pilot prepared for home video sales in Europe.

Lynch had to shoot a "resolved" ending for this release but -- as a recent screening of a bootleg copy revealed -- it's about as unresolved as a resolution can be.

Everything is the same until the ending. After Sheriff Harry S Truman (Michael Ontkean) shows Cooper the table full of doughnuts ("a policeman's dream!") and the wild boys bark in their jail cells and the stoplight turns from red to green, the story continues.

In the first new scene, Lucy is sitting at home on her couch in a silk negligee while boyfriend Andy plays the trumpet. They are interrupted in this merriment by a feverish call from Laura's exceedingly bereaved father, Leland (Ray Wise), directing Lucy to contact Truman and tell him to rush over to the hospital.

"And just when we were getting ready for bed," Lucy complains to Andy.

Agent Cooper also rushes to the hospital. When all three men arrive, they meet a weird loony named Mike who tells them about his friend Bob, an even weirder loony. "We lived among the people," above a convenience store, Mike tells them. But now, he says, Bob lives in the basement of the hospital.

Mike recites a poem ending, "Fire, walk with me."

Everybody heads for the basement and there they find the long-haired and wild-eyed Bob (Frank Silva) near a ring of burning candles. "I promise I will kill again," he says, raving, and then Mike shoots him dead. From this, the story flashes forward 25 years and guess where that leads us: to the same absurdist dream sequence seen as the finale to the third episode of "Twin Peaks" last year.

You remember -- the one where the funny little man (Michael J. Anderson) did his funny little dance and uttered the immortal line: "I've got good news. That gum you like is going to come back in style." This was, said a film critic, "the scene that separated the men from the boys" -- the point at which loyal viewers dug in and others bailed out.

So now, Mark Frost, we put it to you: Do the rococo antics in the European version have any relevance to the story as it will be played out this season? "Yes," says Frost. "It has a great deal of relevance. You're going to find out to a certain extent who the killer might be on Sunday.

"There's a part of 'Twin Peaks' that is sort of a hinged doorway to another, stranger place, if you can imagine such a thing," Frost says. "You'll be seeing more of that this season."

Michael Saltzman, the show's beleaguered publicist, puts it this way: "We're heading in a very interesting direction. I'm glad; it's a very weird idea. I've never seen an angle like this happen. I know it will get people talking about a very interesting subject."

What subject, Michael? What, what, what? Oh darn, he won't say. Maybe the show is going to travel so far into outer space that it will lose all bearings, and most viewers. Frost makes this vow: "We hope everything we initiate will have its own crystal-clear internal logic."

Frost is asked if he sometimes feels as though he and Lynch created a Peakenstein -- a monster they have a hard time controlling. "It is interesting the way you create something and send it out into the culture and then the culture kind of goes berserk," he says. Does he ever wish he'd never even met this Lynch guy? "Not for a second."

"Twin Peaks" was expected to sweep the Emmys this year the way "Hill Street Blues" did in its day, but in a shocker of a shutout, the series won no major awards, only a couple of technical trophies. Frost and Lynch both went to the ceremony along with many members of the cast.

"I wasn't disappointed at all," Frost insists. "In fact, losing kind of reaffirmed our radicalism in terms of what we're trying to do. Most award-giving processes are more full of holes than Swiss cheese, this one included. We had a great party afterwards. There was a feeling of, if they went this far out of their way to snub us, we must be doing something right."

"Twin Peaks" may seem like definitive Odd TV, but there've been other shows over the years that have been quirky and inscrutable -- shows like "The Prisoner" with Patrick McGoohan, 17 episodes of which were produced in 1968. This Kafkaesque puzzle is a hot item on home video even today.

Even so, it's not likely we'll see a weirder network show than "Twin Peaks" before the century's out -- although Saddam Hussein's mondo-bizarro version of "Baghdad Cafe" may be a very close runner-up.

Perhaps that helps explain the appeal of Twin Peaking. The so-called real world seems ever more surreal -- more illogical, more threatening, more unjust, more nuts. We visit Twin Peaks to be reassured that fiction still has the capacity to be at least a tiny bit stranger than truth.

To experience the alternative insanity of "Twin Peaks" is to escape, albeit briefly, the everyday insanity in which we exist. The challenge for the producers of "Twin Peaks," of course, is to stay a few steps ahead.

It can't be easy. But isn't it wonderful watching them try?