There is an apartment in the southeast expressly rented to house a vintage, mint-condition seventies hi-fi set. The set is kept in the otherwise bare living room, in a corner. The room is so bare that it lacks even a bulb in the ceiling. The walls are yellowed with nicotine and age, and the carpet is a little mouldy around the edges. Cleaning the room, however, is not an option. There are always at least two acolytes in residence in the apartment. One sleeps while the other sits or stands along in the bar room, listening to the city’s only numbers station.
Unlike other numbers stations, this one can only be picked up by the hi-fi, and it is the only station the hi-fi can pick up. It comes in crystal clear no matter what is going on, although there is rarely anything to hear. If you are ever tapped to take over the onerous duty of listening, you will have to know what to listen for. The station consists of a single voice repeating the following phrase: “nine nine nine (beat) nine nine nine nine” over and over again. The voice, which has been variously described as a small boy’s, an old woman’s, a baritone opera singer’s and a gravelly rasp, reads the phrase ceaselessly without stopping for breath.
Sometimes though, a single number in a single repetition of the phrase is different. When this happens, walk, don’t run, walk into the hall closet. You will find a rotary telephone with the receiver off the hook. Lift it and repeat the phrase. Then wake your partner and begin to pray.