I do it—I hit play. I air the clip.
There’s no backing out now.
9-1-1 OPERATOR: 9-1-1. What’s your emergency?
MAN: God. I don’t . . . [sobbing] My wife . . .
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.
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?”
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. 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. “I’ll be here until the end of the hour. 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 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. 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. Instead of just playing random music to the empty airwaves for an hour, why not talk about something that matters?
When a phone line lights up bright red, I jump. No shock there—I’m jumpy.
It stays lit. I hesitate, then grab the receiver off the crusty landline on the desk.
“Macy—I mean, Mackenzie,” I answer, rolling my eyes at my own fumble. “Do you have a song you want to hear?”
Silence meets the question.
But someone is there. There’s no howling or heavy breathing. The silence stretches so tight, I imagine a rope between me and the person on the other end of the phone. Each of us pulling from our side.
“Hello?” I try again.
“You have it wrong. What if . . . What if the person who killed Peg Graham isn’t in prison?” The voice is male, deep. There’s a shake to the words.
“The murder. Peg Graham. Everyone thinks they know what happened, but it doesn’t add up.” Silence. “There’s more to it. Someone . . . You should look deeper.”
“How do you—” Before I can finish the question, there’s a click and the silence becomes a void.
I sit back in my chair, adrenaline surging.
No one else will be in tonight except the person who has the shift after mine, and so on. This is a campus building. The security guard is upstairs. I’m as safe as anyone can be. But the tips of my ears burn, and suddenly I feel . . . visible. Anyone listening knows exactly where I am right now.
The phone stays as quiet as a grave for the rest of the hour, the eerie melody of Leonard Cohen’s “Ballad of the Absent Mare” seeming to linger even after the last note plays.
When my shift ends, I pass the studio off to a girl with pink hair and a nose piercing. Upstairs, the long corridor is dark and empty, save the security guard inside the lobby booth.
“Macy Walker,” I tell him, and he gives me a long look, then scans a list, logs the time I’m leaving, and buzzes open the outside door. I try not to consider what a lone security guard manning the nighttime shift could get up to if he wanted.
Cool, steady rain pelts me on my walk to my car, my keys gripped between my knuckles. Just in case.
Cars cram every spot, including the two reserved for the college radio station—I used one for my hand-me-down Toyota, a gift from my mom. There are security cameras...