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Explore your true crime obsession in a whole new way with Serial Box’s latest multimedia innovation in storytelling from three of today’s hottest storytellers, Gwenda Bond, New York Times-bestselling author Rachel Caine, and New York Times-bestselling author Carrie Ryan.
"Fast-paced, captivating, and completely surprising, prepare to stay up way too late—you won’t be able to put this down." -Megan Miranda, New York Times-bestselling author of All the Missing Girls and The Perfect Stranger
This is episode 1 of Dead Air, where M is for midnight, Mackenzie...and murder.
Mackenzie Walker wasn’t planning on using her college radio show to solve a decades-old murder, but when she receives an anonymous tip that the wrong man may have taken the fall, she can’t resist digging deeper.
It doesn’t take long for Mackenzie to discover gaps in the official story. Several potential witnesses conveniently disappeared soon after the murder. The victim, a glamorous heiress and founder of a Kentucky horse-racing dynasty, left behind plenty of enemies. And the cops don’t seem particularly interested in discussing any of it.
But when the threats begin, Mackenzie knows she’s onto something. Someone out there would prefer to keep old secrets buried and they seem willing to bury Mackenzie with them. Thankfully, she’s getting help from a very unexpected source: the victim’s son, Ryan. The closer she gets to him, however, the more important it is for Mackenzie to uncover the truth before he gets buried alongside her.
Read or listen to the ebook and audiobook of the serial novel Dead Air, and then check out Mackenzie’s podcast for a uniquely immersive experience. Does the truth lie in the serial, the podcast...or somewhere in-between?
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About the Author
Read an Excerpt
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 receiver off the crusty landline on the desk.
“Macy—I mean, Mackenzie,” I answer, rolling my eyes at my own fumble. Apparently I can’t instinctively hold on to my radio persona when I’m not on the air yet. “Do you have a song you want to hear?”
Silence meets the question.
“I’d like to request some farts. Your farts!” This emphatic declaration is followed by howls of laughter.
Haha, so clever. “Um,” I say, and a blush heats my cheeks. They hang up before I do.
What was I thinking? Of course the only people out there listening are part of the prank-call-in-for-farts brigade.
Instead of talking more, I play another track. A “Wild Horses” cover by Iron&Wine, which will buy me six minutes to get over the thought of prank callers being my only audience.
I have lots more sound at home for the next show. I don’t want to back out now, but maybe I’m kidding myself that I can do this . . . or that this is worth doing.
When the phone rings again a few minutes later, I consider not answering. But I refuse to be defeated by people with such a boring concept of humor.
“Hello,” I say. “This is Mackenzie.”
But someone is there. There’s no howling or heavy breathing. This call has a different feel to it. 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.
“Excuse me?” I ask, wondering if I misheard.
“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. The rope between me and the caller has snapped.
I sit back in my chair, adrenaline surging.
The station offices outside the control booth are all haunted darkness. 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.
Only Mackenzie is visible, I reassure myself. You’re still Macy.
I wait for the caller to psych himself up to phone in again, to say more, to give a reason. I navigate to the pictures of Peg Graham bookmarked on my phone. In the first, she stands in front of an open spot on the fireplace mantel in her office, about to fill it with the heart-shaped lump of rock she named her farm after. Her smile stretches a mile wide. Effortlessly happy.
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. Of course, like everyone’s, my show will be archived online as a podcast once it’s over. So in that way it will linger.
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.
Sometimes you just have to pretend to trust people and hope for the best. But I feel his eyes on me every step of the way toward the doors.
Cool, steady rain pelts me on my walk to my car, my keys gripped between my knuckles. Just in case.
I know that the parking lot’s appearance of safety is just a convincing lie. The lack of enough parking on campus means that even at this hour, 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. A regular patrol of ticketers for those without a permit come and go through the night. There are security cameras sprinkled around the lot and above the building doors. Red emergency call boxes on well-lit poles in case of a would-be attacker.
But it’s one in the morning, and I’ve heard too many stories about a nice-seeming guy with a tale about a lost dog or lack of jumper cables . . .
By the time they figure out what happened to the sweet girl who helped him, it’s always too late. Sure, I’ve taken a few self-defense classes, but I’ve never been put to the test. So I stop and look up into the nearest security camera, providing a helpful mug shot for a crime show to use if I disappear tonight.
Yes, this is the way my brain works now—ever since my cousin Delilah died in a hotel room last year. Her phone was missing, never recovered.
I unlock the door to the Toyota and slide behind the wheel. It still feels like someone is watching me. There’s a sense of expectation in the night.
Sure, the call could be another prank. The Peg Graham case is long closed. A man confessed to Peg’s murder and willingly went to prison. Who would do that if they weren’t guilty?
But . . . I could take a look. If I find something, maybe everyone will listen.