9-1-1 OPERATOR: 9-1-1. What’s your emergency?
MAN: God. I don’t . . . [sobbing] My wife . . .
9-1-1 OPERATOR: Sir, can you tell me the nature of your emergency?
MAN: I came home and the horses were screaming and she must have—she must have been—
9-1-1 OPERATOR: Sir, I need you to breathe. Is your address 404 Man O’ War Highway? Can you give me your name?
MAN: Heart Stone Farm, send someone, please. This is . . . It’s Dick Carlisle.
9-1-1 OPERATOR: [long pause] I know this is hard, sir, but can you tell me what’s happened? Are you safe? Please stay on the line.
DICK CARLISLE: My Peg. The horses were so loud when I got home and . . . and then . . . In the house . . . She’s in the bedroom on the floor. There’s blood everywhere. Her hair’s sticky with it. She . . . I don’t . . .
9-1-1 OPERATOR: Are you still with me? Is this a medical emergency? Have you tried CPR?
DICK CARLISLE: No. No . . . She was dead when I came in. She’s dead. She’s gone.
[A CHILD cries in the background.]
I do it—I hit play. I air the clip.
There’s no backing out now.
I lean forward in the creaky rolling chair. Around me, the cramped broadcast booth of the University of Kentucky radio station has a fossil record’s worth of tattered band flyers and free show posters coating the walls. It’s the midnight shift, and I take some comfort in the knowledge that probably no one’s listening.
Even though I secretly hope someone is.
I press the button on the base of the microphone to go live. “You might be wondering what’s going on. Why did you just hear a 9-1-1 call instead of more mumbled indie rock lyrics? Should you, um, be worried?”
Um is for amateurs, but then, I am one. I rush ahead. “M is now for midnight, Mackenzie, and . . . murder. Welcome to Dead Air. In the weeks to come, I’ll be telling you all about the sordid tale of the murder of Margaret Heather Graham, known as Peg to her friends, and the bizarre twists and turns that led to the killer’s confession. Yes, at least you don’t have to worry about him showing up at your doorstep. He’s in prison.
“You just heard the 9-1-1 call made eighteen years ago tonight by Peg’s husband, Dick Carlisle. Peg was the founder of Heart Stone Farm’s thoroughbred dynasty, an outspoken advocate against doping, and a legendary trainer in the making. Until her untimely death three weeks before a Derby that Champion’s Heart, the horse she’d been training, was favored to win. The cause of death was a gunshot wound to the heart, simple enough. But strange details abound that include the screaming of Peg’s horses acres away in the barns and a horseshoe placed in her right hand.”
My nerves catch up with me. My heart gallops as hard as any racehorse. “I’ll be here until the end of the hour, playing some horse-themed tunes in memory of poor Peg. If there’s anyone listening, call in with your thoughts and requests, and tune in next time for more of the story. In the meantime . . . keep breathing.”
I hit play on the first track I have queued up, and the air fills with Tom Petty singing about a good girl who loves her mama, horses, and America, too. Just like Peg Graham.
I rock back and forth, strangely giddy. I can’t believe I went through with it.
I’ve always been Macy, short for Mackenzie. Macy, the quiet girl in the back of the lecture hall. The one you ask for the class notes, because you know she was there and took them. But on the radio, I might finally be Mackenzie, loud and cool and unafraid. Or that’s the experiment in progress, anyway: Mackenzie on Dead Air, talking true crime.
A midnight slot on the station twice a week has been mine since I came back for senior year after a leave of absence. I get an extra credit for audio production class for my trouble. In the two months I’ve been doing this, it feels like radio is dead, at least on college campuses—no one’s ever called in, not even with a song request, and so, in the quiet, I fell in love with this idea. Instead of just playing random music to the empty airwaves for an hour, why not talk about something that matters?
I spent my semester off on my parents’ couch watching true crime documentaries. The Staircase, Making a Murderer, The Jinx. I branched out into podcasts: Serial, S-Town, My Favorite Murder, Family Plots . . . After I exhausted all of those, I read articles, books. Websites with headers dripping blood, white type on black backgrounds. So. Many. Murders.
When a phone line lights up bright red, I jump. No shock there—I’m jumpy.
It stays lit. I hesitate, then grab the...