Rose’s father sat down before a huge a platter of ham, eggs, and steaming biscuits. The kitchen was filled with the rich sent scents Rose known all her life. But these giant farm breakfasts were certainly not old hat with Charlie. His mouth was watering. He watched Virgil glance away from the turkey platter and smile as Rose and then Megan. He didn’t know Virgil well enough to guess what he was thinking, but he assumed the smile was a sign of good things to come. Rose returned his smile, but she waited for him to break the silence. With a practiced hand, he added fresh cream to his coffee and then spent too much time stirring it in before raising the cup to his lips and tasting it.
“We’re going to take another run at this college thing, but with some stricter rules,” he finally said, his eyes holding Rose’s gaze for the longest half-minute Charlie had ever experienced.
“Okay. Whatever you think is best, Daddy,” she replied.
“I don’t have much cash on hand, this being Sunday. So I called our banker, at his home this morning. He confirmed that there is a branch in Lawrence, so first thing tomorrow morning your mother and I will open an account for you. You will have free access to the funds therein, but I don’t want you carrying more than $20. Are we in agreement on that?”
“Yes, Daddy, but what about the $200 that was stolen?”
“It’s gone Rose. The money is gone.”
“Couldn’t your attorney help?”
“Yes, I could have John look into it, but in the end he wouldn’t be able to recover the money either. It’s gone. It would just cost more money to learn what we already know.”
“I’m sorry, Daddy,” she replied.
“That’s history. We’ve learned a valuable lesson from that. I’ll give you enough cash for gas and eats, enough to get you by. You and Megan will be free to head back to Lawrence when you’re ready.”
“What about those strange numbers I heard on the ham radio before I left campus yesterday? Do you know anymore about them?” asked Rose, turning her attention to Charlie.
“No, I didn’t learn anymore. It might have been a natural phenomenon. Propagation starts changing this time of year. Daytime bands grow weaker, and the nighttime bands grow stronger. Sometimes they switch back and forth several times. It’s my guess what you heard was bits of a traffic net. Propagation flipped and you may have heard a house number.”
“Oh, okay,” Rose said. She was certain she’d heard more than one number group, but maybe she was mistaken.
Later that afternoon Rose and Megan set out for college. Charlie returned to the shop, powered up his radio station, and listened for the signal Rose had reported. He knew he was probably chasing a ghost, but the days of World War II still haunted him.
He remembered the tough conditions they worked under in Iceland – snow pellets striking the antennas generated their own noise. Then there were atmospheric conditions creating still more interference, sometimes creating an echoes and screeches. As if that wasn’t enough, the Nazis had their jamming machines running. He’d heard signals of every description while stationed in Iceland. Hearing numbers was nothing new to him.
Other than having a daily QSO with Rose his week was routine – transmissions, engines, brakes. No matter what the job, he kept his station on and the receiver gain loud enough that he could hear it anywhere in the shop.
Thursday afternoon while he was removing a transmission from a Chevrolet pickup Charlie heard Rose’s 8312, plus more. Fortunately, he always kept a pad in his shirt pocket. He copied 1321 4895 2715 8312 at about 20 words per minute. As suddenly as it began, it was over. There was no call sign at the beginning or the end, no identification of any kind. The last four numbers were the same as Rose had scribbled on the sheet of paper she’d given him – 8312. Strange. If it had been United States military transmitting there should have been a call sign preceding the numbers. If it was amateur a call sign should have followed the 8312. If this was a clandestine station and not some bootlegger, the 8312 might be a signature or defining a location. He had no direction finding equipment, so there was no way of knowing the direction from which the numbers came.
During those years he served in Iceland he retransmitted thousands of messages similar to this, numbers that seemingly had no value. They were coded messages embedded in Morse. It was not his job to decode them. However, during slack times when conditions made radio communications impossible he sometimes cracked a few simple messages only to discover they were weather reports. Now he wondered if that was what they really were.
The weekend rolled around and late Friday evening Rose called Charlie on the radio, telling him she was headed home.
The following day, Saturday, they worked a NTS booth at the Lord’s Acre Sale in Hume. It brought memories into focus. He recalled the first time he’d seen her reflection in the meter glass at the county fair. She was still the prettiest girl he’d ever laid eyes on.
The rest of the weekend they stayed on the farm. But he was still pondered the numbers he’d intercepted earlier in the week.