Dead Level

Dead Level
is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

Copyright © 2011 by Sarah Graves

All rights reserved.

Published in the United States by Bantam Books, an imprint of The Random House Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc., New York.

BANTAM BOOKS and the rooster colophon are registered trademarks of Random House, Inc.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Graves, Sarah.
Dead level : a home repair is homicide mystery / Sarah Graves.
p. cm.
eISBN: 978-0-345-53456-9
1. Tiptree, Jacobia (Fictitious character)—Fiction. 2. Women detectives—Fiction. 3. Dwellings—Maintenance and repair—Fiction. 4. Eastport (Me.)—Fiction. I. Title.
PS3557.R2897D43 2012
813′.54—dc23         2011035914

Jacket design: Jamie S. Warren
Jacket images (beaver and dam): Jupiterimages/Getty




Title Page



Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Other Books by This Author

About the Author


ours after inmate Dewey Hooper, seven years into a twenty-year sentence for manslaughter, escaped from the prison system’s medium-security facility at Lakesmith, Maine, guard Jeff Rohrbach got his orders. He was to collect up all of Hooper’s personal belongings, including books, papers, writings, drawings, and anything else that might give a hint as to the missing man’s whereabouts.

, Rohrbach thought scornfully.
Like that’s gonna happen. Guy decides to pull a runner, he’s gonna leave clues. Little map, maybe, X marks the spot on it. Jeeze, you’d think some of these supervisors had never seen the inside of a prison before. But:

Mine is not to reason why
, Rohrbach told himself resignedly, stopping at the door to “D” corridor and turning his face up so that the guy watching the surveillance camera could see him. The locked corridor, called a pod, held a group of a dozen cells that constituted a prisoner’s neighborhood.

While he was here, Hooper had been a good citizen of his neighborhood, or at least a relatively trouble-free one. Took his orders without backchat, no fights, no contraband discoveries. It was as if Hooper had been relieved, really, to have someone else telling him what to do for a change. Arriving for his shift this morning, Rohrbach had been amazed to hear that Hooper had taken the initiative to attempt an escape;
that the inmate had actually made it out Rohrbach thought was just short of miraculous.

He waited patiently while the guard monitoring the camera opened the pod door’s electronic lock:
when it opened,
again when it closed behind him.

Inside, the brightly lit corridor featured identical doors, each pierced with a small window. At this hour of the morning, the cells were empty, their occupants all out at various scheduled activities: work, school, exercise, and so on. Except for Hooper; what activity he might be engaged in this fine morning was still anyone’s guess.

Rohrbach entered Hooper’s cell, which looked just like all the others: a ten-by-fourteen-foot cubicle with white walls, a white linoleum floor, and a slot window too narrow for a man to get even half his face through, much less his body. The bed was a shelf built into the wall; the combination washstand and toilet was brushed steel, also built in. A desk-shelf with a molded plastic chair tucked under it was the only other furniture. The mattress on the bed was a thin blue plastic pad.

Brackets in the wall above the bed showed where another bunk could be hung, if necessary. There was nothing else in the room: no books, no pictures on the wall, no calendar. A blanket and a towel, neatly folded, were on the neatly made bed, atop Hooper’s pillow. Cell and corridor smelled the same, like Clorox, sweeping compound, cheap air freshener, and men’s sweat.

The cell’s stark impersonality came as no surprise. Others on the corridor, in defiance of regulations, had taped clippings of newspaper stories, their kids’ artwork, and other items that were personally important to them on the walls. But Hooper had been, Rohrbach recalled again grimly, a model prisoner, and when the order came down that all prisoner belongings should be stowed in footlockers, not displayed on the walls as if these were college dorm rooms, Hooper, unlike most of the other inmates, had complied at once.

Rohrbach thought the regulation was stupid. A comfortable inmate was a calm inmate, and a calm inmate was a safe inmate, in his
opinion. And unlike the administrators who sat on their butts all day thinking up ways to make Rohrbach’s job harder, when you worked among guys whose nerves were already severely on edge, the last thing you wanted was to make them even more angry, agitated, and resentful.

But that wasn’t Rohrbach’s call to make, either. His job was to root through that footlocker, dig out whatever Hooper-locating secrets it might hold. The idea that Hooper might’ve left a trail of breadcrumbs in the form of a map or a diary was still stupid; hell, the guy was barely literate, as far as Rohrbach could tell.

On the other hand, it wasn’t like they had anything else to go on. The prisoner had simply evaporated. Gone like a fart in the wind, as the onetime head of another Maine prison had been known to say.

Rohrbach pulled the gray molded-plastic box from under the bed. Inmates couldn’t have locks, so it opened easily.
Might as well ask a Ouija board where Dewey Hooper is
, Rohrbach thought. But when he looked inside the box …

“Holy mackerel,” he breathed. Notebooks. The footlocker was filled to the top with notebooks, the kind prisoners were allowed to buy with their small work-detail earnings: tape bindings, no plastic or metal, cardboard covers removed in case weapons might somehow be fashioned from them.

Alert for sharp objects that might be rusty or contaminated—some inmates hid blades, needles, and other dangerous things in footlockers, and although he didn’t expect any such problem from Hooper’s belongings, you never knew—Rohrbach removed one of the notebooks and opened it.

A limp four-leaf clover fluttered out; as it fell to the floor Rohrbach recalled Hooper’s only idiosyncrasy: superstition. You could make the guy turn his cell into a plain white box, no problem, but don’t try to make him walk under a ladder. Then, as what he was seeing sank in:

“Man, oh, man,” Rohrbach said to himself, recalling again the passive little guy who’d seemed to live only for work detail, his eagerness
for new assignments seeming to suggest he was enrolled in a training program for running a prison, not confined in one.

Rohrbach flipped quickly through the pages, then slowed, turning them wonderingly:

They were all the same. Page after page, over and over …

Day after day. Year after year. Hundreds of times, thousands of times … 
I guess still waters really do run deep
, Rohrbach thought, and then a sound from the corridor made him turn.

It was Charlie Theriault, here for armed robbery, nine years into a seven-to-fifteen. “Hey,” Charlie said.

“Hey,” Rohrbach greeted the man in return. Charlie was all right. A little moody but not a problem. The inmate entered his cell, came out with his towel.

Rohrbach looked back down at the notebooks. “Charlie,” he said, “do you recall her name? Hooper’s wife, the one he—”

Killed. Beat to death
. He didn’t want to say it, though. Putting violent images in an inmate’s head was never a good idea. And as it turned out, he didn’t have to; Charlie remembered.

“Marianne,” said Charlie, confirming what Rohrbach thought.

As he had expected, the notebooks gave no clue as to Hooper’s whereabouts. What had been on his mind, though, through all those quiet years of him being a model prisoner—

Oh, that was crystal clear.
Marianne Marianne
, read the first line of the first notebook in childishly rounded cursive script, like the writing of a small boy. And the next line and the next, on both sides of the page.

Marianne Marianne Marianne …

Page after page, notebook after notebook. Year after year:



arold had Facebook, and LiveJournal, and Twitter. He had a BlackBerry, an iPad, an iPod, and a third-generation Kindle.

He had a pain, mild but constant, a fluttery twinge in the soft tissue just above his left eye, deep in the hollow where you’d put your thumb if you were going to try lifting him by his cranium. Sometimes late at night, in his tiny apartment in a grimly forgotten, perpetually unfashionable corner of Lower Manhattan, he would find himself Googling:
twinge, eye, flutter
. Or:
thumb, skull

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