Three, four, nine.

Yes, that was the key, he realized, as the newscaster’s baritone droned on in the background.

That morning, Nancy, after eating her usual breakfast of raspberry jam on rye toast, had forgotten to turn the television off before leaving for work, an uncharacteristic lapse that had suited Hubert just fine, as it had allowed him more time to listen. To detect. To decipher.

The Message was in there, he knew with a certainty as solid as marble, but it was up to him to chisel it into relief. To free it from the media landscape it had been so unfairly buried in.

A blast of suspenseful music suddenly bellowed from the television’s speakers, indicating that a new segment was about to begin.

“Three, four, nine,” Hubert now said aloud to no one. To the empty kitchen. To the elegantly coiffed newscaster behind the glass. “Three, four, nine.”

When the face behind the glass began to speak, Hubert counted every word.

1. The

2. gruesome

3. murder

1. of

2. a

3. local

4. woman

1. has

2. prompted

3. police

4. to

5. hold

6. a

7. press

8. conference

9. tonight

Hubert knew what he had to do. And while the prospect of hurting Nancy, who he had lived with for so many years, gave him pause, who was he to deny the will of the Message?

When Nancy came home from work, she found Hubert perched in the kitchen, brooding, his eyes focused on the latch that held the cage door closed.

Nancy turned off the television.