Top Ten

( 10 )


Michaelangelo is an unusual killer, a man tortured by a painful past, mesmerized by a bizarre artistic vision, who believes he is an artist of transcendent and consummate talent. The FBI, frantic to discover something about his motives after he strikes at a small-town post office in upstate New York, assigns Ariel Grace to its task force. When Ariel sees the security video taken at the crime scene, she is convinced she's found the twisted logic behind his rage: his all-consuming shame at appearing at number ten ...
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Michaelangelo is an unusual killer, a man tortured by a painful past, mesmerized by a bizarre artistic vision, who believes he is an artist of transcendent and consummate talent. The FBI, frantic to discover something about his motives after he strikes at a small-town post office in upstate New York, assigns Ariel Grace to its task force. When Ariel sees the security video taken at the crime scene, she is convinced she's found the twisted logic behind his rage: his all-consuming shame at appearing at number ten on the FBI's Ten Most Wanted List.. "Unknown to either Michaelangelo or Grace, a deep-undercover FBI agent is posing as criminal number five, and he appears next in Michaelangelo's sights. Once the chase ensues and Grace learns she is the only one who can save her fellow agent, all three become desperate to catch their quarry before they are caught themselves.

Upset at being named public enemy No. 10--far too low in his opinion--a killer proceeds to murder criminals who outrank him. Lady FBI agent Ariel Grace goes after the killer, a budding artist who made a mobile from one of his victims.

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Editorial Reviews

Kirkus Reviews
Between Red Dragon and The Silence of the Lambs, Thomas Harris has a lot to answer for, having invented the serial-killer monster who specializes in ultragory, agonizing deaths. This latest from Pearson (Simple Simon, 1996, filmed as Bruce Willis's Mercury Rising) is a pale copy of Harris's method and characters, without a syllable of his stylishness. The Jodie Foster character here is FBI agent Ariel Grace, 29, who's working on Task Force Five when she's reassigned to Task Force Ten. Ariel considers this a terrible drop in prestige, but it happens because she got too close to unmasking the FBI's fifth most wanted killer on its list of the Top Ten. Number five is Mills DeVane (Teddy Donovan), an agent working undercover as a serial killer to help nab narcotics traffickers. Number ten on the list is Michaelangelo, a madman who prides himself as an artist at murder and sends descriptions of his "work" to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Who is this well-spoken villain? About halfway through, we discover that Michaelangelo is Mickey Strange, the victim of a drunken doctor who missed with his snippers when he went for the umbilical cord. Mickey's million-dollar award for his departed penis has grown to $11 million and will thus support his artistic endeavors, although he can't get over the childhood pain of being called "Mickey Dickless" and now likes to cut off, cut up, and creatively re-member his victims: one female postal worker's bloody parts, for instance, become a Calder mobile in her post office. And that's maybe the one death we can tell you about without getting laughably grotesque. You see, Mickey has set out to murder everyone on the Top Ten list, so he can be top serialkiller, as opposed to number ten. Not without storytelling energy. Sold to Warner Brothers, with a nod from the book clubs, and with foreign rights going like hotcakes.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780515129038
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
  • Publication date: 9/1/2000
  • Format: Mass Market Paperback
  • Edition description: REISSUE
  • Pages: 1
  • Product dimensions: 4.20 (w) x 6.74 (h) x 0.86 (d)

Meet the Author

Ryne Douglas Pearson is the author of several novels, including Cloudburst, October’s Ghost, Capitol Punishment, Simple Simon, Top Ten, The Donzerly Light, All For One, and Confessions. He is also author of the short story collection, Dark and Darker. His novel Simple Simon was made into the film Mercury Rising. As a screenwriter he has worked on numerous films. The film Knowing, based on his original script, was released in 2009 and opened #1 at the box office, going on to gross more than $180 million worldwide.

He lives in California with his wife, children, a Doberman Shepherd and a Beagle Vizsla.
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Read an Excerpt


He cut the woman to calm her down. Not deeply, mind you, just a quick flick with the tip of his blade high on her right cheek, something to clear her head, to focus her thoughts, to crystallize the reality of the situation.

As with the others, it worked like a charm.

He had waited most of the day for a few moments with this one, biding his time in the shrubs behind the small post office, listening to the waters of some nameless slough rustle toward Great Sacandaga Lake, occasionally drawing the blade of his knife slowly and silently across the whetstone always with him, watching as carrier after carrier returned from their routes and left for their homes or taverns they fancied or wherever the joy of an ended week might take them on a Friday evening. Waited and watched until just after seven, until the lights inside went low and just one car remained in the gravel lot. Until the building's rear door opened and the pretty clerk from whom he'd earlier purchased a single stamp backed out with her keys in hand and her eyes on the lock, a pleasant tune whistling from her lips. It was then that he'd grabbed her, from behind, initiating the expected struggle, keys and purse falling, arms flailing. But with the fast sting of his knife and the sight of her own blood upon its tip, lit to a creamy blackness by the moon, her struggling ceased. Her muscles grew taut with fear, with understanding. The scream that raged against the palm of his hand withered to a flurry of whimpering gasps.

"I'm sorry," he began, drawing her backward against him, the union almost an embrace, his words a warm whisper upon her ear. "I require your assistance for a while."

He kicked her purse and keys aside and forced her back through the door, into a dim and open space populated by mounded sacks of mail and ranks of head-high sorting bins. Surrounded by the tools of this woman's most banal trade, he paused, pulling her close, glove still over her mouth, and asked from behind, "Will we be interrupted?"

Her mind raced at the question, at what act it implied, and she stiffened, her chest heaving in a quick and shallow rhythm, the urge to fight, to flee, rising once again.

But there would be none of that. He spun her halfway around, keeping his gloved hand over her mouth and forcing her hard against the bare brick of the inside wall. The impact stunned her, forced her eyes shut for the briefest of moments, and when they fluttered open again it was there. The blade. She stared at it, transfixed, and hardly flinched when he flicked the blade once more and cut the soft flesh beneath her left eye, a slow trickle of blood tears upon both cheeks now, crimson drops that dragged wet red streaks down her face and onto the brown leather wrapping his hand.

"I can cut you in other ways, in other places," he assured her, stepping close, his slim and chiseled face in intimate proximity now, half-veiled in a shadow. "Shall I do that?"

Her head shook beneath his grasp.

"Again, then, will there be any interruptions?"

She answered with another shake of her head, weak this time, resigned. He smiled, it seemed, the mask of his face now showing a gleeless baring of teeth. The warning of a predator in sight of its prey.

She wet herself as he pulled her away from the wall.

He drew her close once again, his whole arm around her neck now and her mouth free, and moved toward the front of the building, leaving the sacks and sorting bins behind, traveling a corridor with a room on either side, packing materials filling one and a copy machine the other, its green ready light glowing. Through a doorway next and into the cramped station behind the front counter, where he had first encountered her, had handed over some change with no thought that soon they would be together again, and finally out into the modest public spaces of the post office where his plans for the day had changed in an instant. To the exact spot he took her, the high table against the wall where one could affix stamps to letters, or address an envelope with the pen that was anchored to the countertop with the flimsiest of chains. Almost nine hours earlier he had done both, then dropped his readied letter into the out of town slot next to the table. Those tasks completed, he would have been gone from the Pembry, New York, Post Office those seven hours now, gone from all of zip code 12078 for seven hours now, likely never to return.

Except for that glance.

Innocent, it was. Just the passing of his gaze, really, over the board above the table where notices were posted. The latest issues of interest to philatelists. Bold promises of low prices and on-time delivery of rush packages. And pictures.

Yes, pictures. Photos, actually, but for one. All upon one stiff piece of paper tacked to the board. A medley of faces and that single approximation that one very mediocre artist had rendered (if only the hack had been required to sign his work...). Ten in all. All men, though those of the fairer sex had been featured in the past, because deed, not gender, was the price of admission, and the deed must be bad. Very, very bad. The act or acts of criminals. The worst of the worst. And stamped upon the paper that bore this gallery of rogues, the very official seal of the entity that determined one's worthiness of such a low (or high) honor, none other than the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

"Look," he said, pressing the flat profile of her stomach to the table's edge and grabbing a bunch of hair with which he aimed her face at the offending scrap of paper. "Would you mind explaining this?"

She gulped air, sucked it fast and tried to understand what it was that he wanted, searching the wall and the notice board for something amiss, something that might need clarification. But she saw nothing. As hard as she tried, she saw nothing except the very, very ordinary. "Explain ... explain what?"

He released her hair and reached past her face to rip the paper from the board, bringing it right before her eyes so there could be no mistake this time. "Explain. Now."

The FBI bulletin filled her field of vision, but still she had no clue as to what it was she was supposed to explain to him. "It's the FBI's Ten Most Wanted poster. It's always on that board."

His breath on her neck grew hot in a few awkward seconds of silence, and when he spoke again the words came out in a growl. "I know what the fuck it is. But what is that on it?"

The blade came to her neck now. Her eyes began to puddle. "What is what?"


The scream jolted her, the blade close to slicing her now. "Numbers? Numbers?"

"ON THE FUCKING POSTER! THE NUMBERS! DO YOU SEE THEM?" He ground the paper to her face and pulled it back, the blood beneath her eyes smeared upon it. "DO YOU SEE THEM NOW? DO YOU?"

"Yes!" she cried out, suddenly focused by the sense that worse things than this insane interrogation might be close at hand. "Yes! I see them!"

"There are numbers!" he barked at her.

"Yes. Yes. Numbers."

"Numbers. One two three four five six seven eight nine ten."

"Yes. One through ten. I see them."

"Why are there numbers there?"

Her wide eyes puzzled at his question. "Aren't there always numbers?"

He sneered at her stupidity. "No. No, no, no. There aren't always numbers. There weren't always numbers. There never have been numbers. No numbers. No numbers. It's always been just one big happy family, everybody the same. A club with no officers. No president, no vice president. No rank. No one better than anyone else." His stare probed the terror of her face. "Do you understand what I'm saying? What I'm trying to make clear to you? Do you?"

She didn't, but nodded nonetheless.

"You see, there are numbers on here now," he went on, holding the bulletin close to her wounded face once again. "And everyone has a number. Everyone is ranked. Why is that? Why have some people been made to feel special and others... WHY ARE THERE NUMBERS?!!"

"I don't know," she told him, the tears dripping from her eyes to sting the cuts upon her cheeks. "I don't know. We just get those and put them up whenever they come in."

He turned her head fully toward the bulletin. "Read me number one."

"Number one?"

He nodded and twisted the bunch of her hair. "His name, his crime. Read it."

Tears blurred her vision, and the ache of his grip upon her scalp was numbing, but she blinked hard and made herself focus. Made herself do this little thing that he wanted. "Alvaro Camacho..."

"Name and crime," he prompted.

"Alvaro Camacho, he ... he killed three agents of the Drug Enforcement Administration."


"He trafficked narcotics."

"Very good. Number two..."

"Desmond Grace. Bank robbery. Murder. Two counts of murder. Flight from persecution."

"Prosecution," he corrected her. "Number three..."

"Ahmed Faisal. Destruction of a civilian airliner. Murder."

"Number four..."

"Luke Mayweather. Flight from ... prosecution. Attempted murder of a police officer."

"And five..."

"Mills DeVane. Assault on a federal officer. Drug trafficking."


"Rudy 'Rooster' Coletti. Racketeering. Attempted murder."


"Robert Jack McCormack. Destruction of federal property. Arson. Assault on a federal officer."


"Lee Tran. Assault. Extortion. Racketeering."


"Francis Gunther. Bank robbery. Assault. Kidnapping."


The next recitation was about to slip past her lips when recognition dammed it there. Her eyes angled toward her captor.


Her lips began to quiver. "Please..."

He set the bulletin on the table and turned the woman around so that she faced him, gently guiding her to that position, his manner suddenly calm. "We needn't cover number ten, I suppose. Tell me, what is your name?"


"Without the stutter, I imagine."

"Please let me go," she begged in the most pitiful of whimpers, groveling most sincerely. "I have a child, and ... and ... and..."

His head shook silent regret. "You're not going to be able to help me after all, I see."

"My little boy, he's ... he's..."

He touched the knife to her lips and she fell instantly silent. "Don't tell me about your little boy, Doris."

Quiet came over him, a deep and settled stillness as he drifted off, to a better place where hushed corridors smelled of cool grace and sang with mad brilliance. Soon a twinkle danced on his gaze and he was back. Back and savoring the sight of sweet Doris.

"A thousand years ago Therata captured the nymph of Mygoria in marble," he told her, and she shuddered as the knife came suddenly to her left breast, the tip tracing across the thin material over her nipple. "Her mams were magnificent."

"Please.... Don't.... Not that.... Please...."

In the silence beyond her pleas he noted an amusing and incorrect assumption. A misconception so laughable that a grin curled one side of his mouth. "Oh, Doris, do you think I am going to violate you?"

Her breath wheezed in and out in fast, dry sobs, the point of the blade slowly circling the soft crest beneath her blouse.

"Doris, I am not a rapist," he said, and slipped the blade deep between her fifth and sixth ribs, puncturing her left lung and nicking the vital muscle that was her heart, withdrawing it quick and easy, like a palette knife from gouache. His free hand clamped over her mouth, pinning her to the wall and trapping the scream that rose, a cry for mercy that God might hear, but no one else.

"I am an artist."


His back was to her, but FBI Special Agent Ariel Grace knew precisely for whom her supervisor's comment was intended.

"Sixty friggin' agents, Lord knows how many blue suits, and to the last they're all just standing around waiting to get rained on." Jack Hale, Assistant Special Agent in Charge of the Bureau's Atlanta field office, lifted his gaze toward the threatening sky and shook his head. "Beautiful. I'd call this a well-executed operation, Grace."

"He was supposed to be here, sir," Ariel told the ASAC, with certainty so firm that he turned sharply toward her. "I'm positive of that."

Hale glared at her. "Then why isn't he?"

"Why don't you ask whoever left their ride parked on the boulevard?" Ariel suggested, gesturing with her head to a gaggle of agents milling about in front of the Proper Peach Motel. "A blind man wouldn't have missed those hubcaps and that antennae."

"There is no Bureau car on the boulevard," Hale challenged her. "I came from that direction."

"There was."

"You saw this?"

"No," she told the ASAC, hands going to her hips, the unbuttoned front of her windbreaker flapping in the stout breeze. "But Atlanta PD reported it. That would have spooked him, easy."

"Did Atlanta PD think enough of it to note the plate?" Hale asked.

"They described a Bureau car, sir," Ariel said, unwilling to give up ground on this.

A disgusted nod moved Hale's sour face. "Wonderful, Grace. Blame another agent. Blame their car, which you never eyeballed. Blame every last man or woman with a badge within a mile of here for Mills DeVane not showing up for this meeting you were sooo certain of. Blame everyone, Grace. You can even blame me, 'cause I'm the one who apparently was fool enough to let you run this case." He stepped close to her now, his six-five frame towering over her. "But whatever you do, don't blame yourself. No. Don't do that."

Ariel seethed, swallowing her desire to spit venom back at the ASAC. "My work on this case was solid."

Hale considered her for a long moment before looking away toward the taped-off front of the Proper Peach. "Solid? We just wasted a whole lot of dollars and time pissing off a motel full of people and busting one very unlucky junkie who chose to shoot up in the wrong place at the wrong time. That's an interesting take on 'solid."'

Lights from the TV trucks lined up on the boulevard glared suddenly to life. It was one minute 'til eleven.

"Congratulations, Grace," Hale said, giving the electronic vultures a desultory glance. "Looks like your solid police work is going to be the lead on the late news."

The first spots of mist began to brush her face as Hale turned to walk away.

"You're off this case, Grace," Jack Hale informed her, not even affording her a look as he delivered his decision. "Pick up your reassignment in the morning."

The ASAC turned to leave her there, but a hand on his arm stopped him cold. Her hand. He looked at it, then at her.

"Wait one minute, Jack," Ariel said, a weak smile on her face, as if she had just been the victim of some absurdly unfunny joke. "What the hell was that?"

"You want to get your hand off me?" the ASAC asked. It was not a question.

Ariel maintained her grip while the last bit of false smile drained from her face, then her hand slipped off of him. "What is going on, Jack?"

"You heard me."

"You're taking DeVane away from me?"


Was she hearing him right? Was she? "You're booting me all the way off this case?"

"You did hear me," Hale said. He glanced impatiently over his shoulder toward the camera crews. He needed to get to them. He wanted to get to them. Anything to get away from her. "So are we done now, Ariel?"

Her head cocked quizzically at him, that uncertain smile again. "Jack." She inched closer to him and spoke in soft, measured tones. She could be reasonable, he could be reasonable. Right? "Jack. Come on. You can't take DeVane away from me. I've worked this case like a dog. You know that. I'm on him, Jack. I'm close. I know it."

Hale stared at her briefly, then surveyed the scene. He looked back to her and shook his head, thinking of what to say. "I can't tolerate 'close,' Ariel. I'm sorry."

"Jack," she called to him as he turned and left her there, alone and on display, the stares of a hundred or so law enforcement brethren hot upon her as he went to the line of cameras and reporters, their mikes stabbing at him like daggers. She watched him for a moment, unable to move. This could not have happened. No way. Jack Hale could not have taken her case away. Would not have taken it away.

But he had.

"I was close, you idiot," she muttered to herself as she watched Jack Hale from a distance, doing his PR thing for the newsies, and then she could watch no more. She turned away. Through the front lot of the Proper Peach Motel she walked, toward the knots of agents waiting for the order to stand down, to pack up, to head home, an order she could no longer give, and so she waded through them. Through the debacle her meticulously planned fugitive warrant service had become. Some asked her what was going on; some averted their eyes, having shrewdly guessed exactly what was going on. The rest stepped silently aside as she hurried to her car.

She sat behind the wheel and stared through the skim of new rain sheeting down the windshield, asking herself the thousand whys. Why had Jack Hale done it? Booted her? For nothing? For one warrant service that would have gone down smooth as silk if that damned car hadn't been parked on the¤.¤.¤.

She stopped herself. Because she was starting to hate Jack Hale, and he was not the one who truly deserved the brunt of her enmity. Some, but the lion's share of it belonged to the man who was nowhere to be found. Who should have been in handcuffs in the seat behind her right then, but wasn't. The man whose capture was no longer her concern, but for whom she had a question. A single, simple question that she asked the night.

"Where the hell are you, Mills DeVane?"

The Atlantic night roared, thunder high in the weeping black sky and wind whipping a froth upon the dark and violent sea. Waves rolled at forty feet. The twin-engine Beech was at sixty.

The Beech had fought the storm to make the Florida coast after a fast flight from the north of Georgia, its pilot's departure premature and hasty, but nonetheless successful. The field attendant was on his payroll and would dispose of the stolen car left behind, and would remember nothing of any encounter with anyone remotely resembling the pilot, a generous man he simply called "Buddy."

He'd taken it up fast and kept it low, skimming the trees all the way to the beach. Out to sea, then a turn to the south to parallel the coast forty miles out, all the way to where he was now, giving all he had to a sixty-knot headwind, gusts to almost ninety, throttles firewalled against the maelstrom. A major and monumental bitch if ever there was one.

But what could one expect flying in a hurricane?

He went feet dry barely above a stall and hopped his way inland just above the trees, beacons left and right of his course telling him that JAX was to his south and TLH was almost due east. But neither Jacksonville nor Tallahassee was his destination, nor any of the smaller fields like Hilliard, which was coming up fast as he crossed the black and desolate strip of pavement below that was I-95. No, the point of termination for this flight was like that for most he had ever flown_just a strip of terra firma long enough to land on and not too short to take off from. All navigation beacons aside, his gut and his fuel gauge told him that he was going to be putting in pretty damn soon, one way or another.

He flipped a switch on the overhead console and an electronic display buzzed to life on the instrument panel before him. The darkened cockpit glowed green.

"Where's the tree?" the pilot asked the display, his eyes moving between it and the windshield as his plane trembled through the storm's weakening fringe. "Come on, tree. Come on."

The earth below was a jumble of featureless blacks and grays occasionally lit by bolts of lightning, but not on the display. The small screen the pilot used to find his way showed the terrain not as it was, but as it might be through the eyes of some nocturnal bird of prey adapted to squeeze even the faintest bit of light from the night, though these eagle eyes had cost seventy thousand dollars. And right then he was wishing for every penny's worth of what it could do to find his landmark. That damn hundred-and-twenty-foot southern yellow_

"Shit!" he screamed, looking up from the night-vision display just in time to heel the Beech hard over to the right, missing the enormous pine by scant feet, cutting power and lowering flaps and gear as he caught his breath and put his plane wings-level in a shallow descent, his heart thudding, adrenaline stoking it, but everything fine, just fine. The field should be straight ahead now, and his expensive night eyes would have no trouble guiding him there, but a quick glance out the windshield told him that would not be necessary. In the dark distance he could make out a line of flares right where his centerline should be.

Someone was expecting him.

That could be good news or bad, but right then it didn't matter because his right engine began sputtering, its lifeblood almost spent. The pilot cut it all the way back and fought the squirrelly winds toward the beacons, clearing the last of the trees just as his left engine started to hack. That one, too, he cut back, both props deadweight now, the Beech vibrating as he brought it down, down, down, the white-hot flares closer, coming up at him, faster, faster, faster, the earth and he about to meet just as he brought the stick back, nose up, setting the wheels down almost gently in the muddy grass.

Momentum carried the plane almost to the far end of the flare line before it stopped, the pilot turning off his systems before the batteries were drained. He undid his safety harness and had the small side door open just as the flashlight found his face.

"Who the fuck is that?" Mills DeVane asked, shielding his eyes with his hand, hard rain pecking at him.

"Hey there, number five," the voice behind the light said.


The light clicked off and Mills could see rain cascading off Gareth Dean Hoag's dark green poncho and gathering in the deep scruff of his gray-black beard. And he could see that the light that had blinded him was fixed beneath the barrel of one substantial scattergun.

"I'm in no mood to get shot, Gareth," Mills said, and the man who paid him handsomely lowered the weapon. "How'd you know I'd be here?"

"Oh, I thought you might be back early after seeing the news," Gareth said, as the night pulsed with lightning. One white hot finger struck a tree and exploded with a crack. "You are one lucky flyboy."

Mills glanced skyward as he hopped from the Beech and closed its door. "This? I can get it up in any weather."

"I'm not talking 'bout the rain," Gareth told him, cradling the shotgun across his chest as two people approached from a barnlike building and began stamping out the flares in the soupy mud. "I'm talking about the party you missed in the city. It was all over the news."

Mills bent to look under his wings. "Not a big deal, Gareth."

"A lot of people waiting for you at that party," Gareth said. Mills stood and zipped his parka against the rain slanting at him. "Imagine their surprise when the guest of honor didn't show up."

"Imagine," Mills agreed, grinning cautiously.

"Imagine my relief, as well."

Mills nodded, and Gareth raised the shotgun fast and put its barrel against his employee's face, forcing him back against the Beech.

"Jesus, Gareth, take it easy," Mills said, twisting his face away from the weapon as best he could, eyeing the unexpected threat sideways.

"Do not take the Lord's name in vain," Gareth warned him.

"Sorry. Sorry."

"You were in Atlanta."


"You were not in Atlanta on my business."


"Then why were you in Atlanta?"

"You know I have other customers."

"None who pay you like I do."

"You contracted me two years ago saying you had a year's worth of deliveries. Two years. You think I can't do the math, Gareth? You're not going to be paying me forever."

"Thinking about the future, are you?"

Mills nodded, the muzzle of the shotgun scraping his cheek.

"Who were you flying for tonight?"

Mills swallowed and said nothing. The muzzle pulled back from his face and the light blazed at him once again. He squinted at the glare.

"Who were you flying for?" Gareth repeated.

"I can't tell you that."

"Moreno? Teddy Franks? Who were you flying for?"

How the hell did he know about them? "I'm not going to tell you."

Silence from behind the light, a long silence, then the sound of the safety being thrown. The light went black and the weapon came down.

"Good answer," Gareth said. Mills reached up and touched his cheek. A small round circle indented the flesh. "There were a hundred officers of the law waiting for you tonight, every one of them with a question like that for you, I'd imagine."

"You think I'd talk?" Mills challenged his employer.

"I think I can't afford to take that chance," Gareth said, and the gun he cradled drew a long gaze from Mills.

"You gonna kill me, Gareth?"

"I'm going to counsel you," Gareth corrected. "Against the error of your ways."

"I'm not stopping my sidelines, Gareth. Some of those people would kill me if I tried."

"Drug dealers are a dangerous lot," Gareth said with asnicker, and again Mills's gaze was drawn to the shotgun.

"Anyone can be, I guess."

To that Gareth nodded. "I suppose."

"You know," Mills began, "you have other pilots."

Thunder shook the night, and Gareth glanced toward its source. "None who can fly in stuff like this. Or would."

Mills looked down the makeshift runway as the last of the flares was stamped out, just the blackening trail of his touchdown and rollout leading back toward the trees. In daylight it could be seen as a field, one where sugar beets had grown some time ago, but long gone fallow now. Gareth Dean Hoag owned it, and the hundred twelve acres around it. Rotten land, the locals said it was. But Gareth had seen some value in it. It and the barn big enough to park a plane in.

"Did they spell my name right this time?" Mills asked. "Big D, big V?"

Gareth nodded. "But that picture they got still doesn't do you justice."

"Good. Make it harder for the federales."

"You were lucky tonight, number five. But you need to be careful. Especially now."

"What do you mean?"

"I got another deposit coming up," Gareth explained. "Special things after that. I don't want to lose you."

"Skunky or Lane could take it," Mills suggested, but Gareth shook his head. The two who'd put out the flares joined them now, Nita Berry and Lionel Price, Gareth's "other" halves.

"You can get in and out of anywhere," Gareth told him, and Mills knew he should be pleased. But what he was was tired. "Better than anyone."

"I always told you so."

The night exploded and lit them with white hot radiance. Gareth cast a joyous face to the raging sky. "Soon, number five. Big things are coming soon."

"He shits you not," Lionel said. Nita tucked her hand in Gareth's front pocket and agreed with a nod.

Mills wiped his eyes, the night spitting hard at him now, a squall line moving through.

"Big things," Gareth repeated, laughing now as the heavens dumped on them.

Troopers Jimmy Nance and Kyle Callahan of the New York State Police were cruising down Roseland Road toward the coffee shop at the Pembry Lanes, the former extolling to his rookie partner of three weeks the utter magnificence of the Lanes' lemon meringue pie and how fantastic it was with a good cup of coffee, when the sweep of their unit's headlights lit up the front of the town post office.

"Ho-ly Moses," Trooper Kyle Callahan exclaimed calmly from behind the wheel, slowing the dark blue Chevy Caprice to a stop at the curb as his partner put a spotlight on the building. "Ain't teenagers got nothing better to do on a Friday night?"

"You call it in," Nance instructed as he swung the passenger-side door open. "I'll have a look-see at what the fine young citizens of Pembry have cooked up this time."

And cooked up was a darn good way to put it, Nance thought as he stepped from the warmth of his cruiser and took his flashlight from its place on his Sam Browne. The last time the kids from Hollister High had gotten some beer and stupidity in them at the start of a weekend, two Dumpsters and an empty shed had gone up in smoke. And though there was nary a hint of smoke or flame coming from inside the Pembry Post Office, there was going to be damage inside. Oh, yes. That Jimmy Nance could tell quite plainly as he got to the top step and shined his flashlight on the twin glass doors that let into the building.

"Hooligans," he commented, shaking his head and playing the light over the display that had been plastered upon the inside of the glass. "Where the hell are your parents when you're pulling this crap?"

"Someone's gonna call the postmaster," Callahan said as he reached his partner's side. He took his own flashlight in hand and added its beam to the mix. "Creative little buggers."

"It don't take much creativity to photocopy your teat, Callahan," Nance said, and illuminated one of the three dozen or so pieces of paper taped to the inside of the glass doors, each a small section of a human_a very naked human_body that had been arranged into a garish mosaic of the female form. "Sick little punks."

"Can you imagine the positions she must've had to get into to get all her parts on the glass?" Callahan asked, taking a moment to survey the creation, stepping back to take it in whole as one might a museum piece, noting the careful mating of all the sections of the body into a whole and how the assembled black-and- white image seemed to him to be of a woman cut out of midair, arms and legs outstretched as if falling, the picture oddly intriguing and disturbing. "So how come there's no head, Jimmy?"

Nance shook his head at his trainee's question. "These kids are stupid, Kyle_not dumb. They're not going to put a damn photocopy of one of their faces up there."

"True," Callahan agreed, catching the logic he should never have missed. But then, it was the obvious that tripped you up sometimes. It was that way with criminals, especially. Folks would do something they shouldn't in a place they shouldn't be, they'd wipe down the doorknobs and light switches to get rid of their fingerprints, but they'd forget that they leaned against a doorjamb or a banister or some other thing like---oh, yes, like that! "Jimmy, we might just have a line on these little shits."


Callahan shined his light at the weird mosaic's right hand, which was palm and fingerpads down and clear as the October sky above them. "We got ourselves some prints."

"I'll be..." Trooper Jimmy Nance never finished the exclamation. Not when his own light shined upon the figure's right hand, from a sharper angle than his partner's, and lit up what was covered by the overlapping piece of the paper above it. His free hand went to his pistol and he said, "Oh, goddamnit, Kyle! Damnit! Look!"

Callahan sidestepped toward his partner and peered under the obscuring flap of paper as best he could, which was plenty good enough to see that when the copy of the hand had been made, the appendage had not been connected to any arm. The ragged cut just at the wrist was indisputable.

This was no case of vandalism. At least none like they'd ever seen.

"Mother, mother, mother, what the hell is this?" Callahan asked himself as he stared wide-eyed at the macabre image.

"Call it in, Kyle," Jimmy Nance instructed, his hand wrapping tight around the grip of his holstered pistol now. Breath puffed from him like the white exhaust of an ancient locomotive at speed, fast and furious.

"What the hell do we call in?" Callahan asked.

"I don't know," Nance answered and put his light close to the captured image of the severed hand. Close enough that it touched the glass and moved the door.

He drew his weapon now and took a step back. "Kyle, it's open."

Callahan stepped back as well, drawing his own weapon and reaching up to the mike attached near his collar. "Trooper Ten, we have an open door, Pembry Post Office. Can you roll us a backup?"

The acknowledgment came from dispatch, and Nance reached for the door.

"Shouldn't we wait, Jimmy?" Callahan reminded his partner.

"I know folks that work here, Kyle. Let's just see what we got."

"Yeah, but backup'll be here in five minutes."

"If there's anything that looks bad, we'll pull back," Nance said, and crouched low next to the right door. "Okay."

Callahan assumed an entry position as well next to the left door. "Okay."

"We go fast and cover the sides," Nance said, and got a nod from his partner. "On me. Ready?" Another nod. And a breath. And another. And another. And¤.¤.¤. "Go."

They pushed each swinging door inward in sync, Nance going right and Callahan left, the aim of their weapons tracking the sweep of their flashlights over the dark inside of the Pembry Post Office's lobby.

"I got nothing, Kyle," Nance told his partner in a hushed tone, the beam of his flashlight scanning the ranks of dull metal P.O. boxes filling the east wall.


"Yeah?" Nance answered, crouched low still, not advancing yet as he lit up a dark corner behind a waste can.




Finally Nance just looked over his shoulder, toward his partner, but saw instead what Kyle Callahan's unmoving flashlight had lit up on the west wall. "No, Jesus. No."

The lettering was stark under the harsh beam. Big and bold and red upon the white wall next to the courtesy table and bulletin board. Four words splashed there. One distressing message born of the grotesque mosaic they had stumbled upon.

she went to pieces

"This is not good," Callahan said so quietly that his partner could barely hear him. "Not good, partner."

"No, not good at all," Nance concurred, and duckwalked the few steps toward his partner. Almost there his boot slipped on something slick. He shined his light on the old linoleum floor and saw thick red shoe prints leading both directions from their place at the front entrance to the side of the service counter. "We got a lot of blood, Kyle."

Callahan looked, and lit up a second trail of bloody prints going back and forth from the writing on the wall to the service counter. "Jimmy, let's back off now and wait for backup."

Nance did not reply immediately, though his intention was now to agree with his partner and get some more manpower on scene before pressing their entry any further. But in the near silence before he could reply, he heard something. A soft and rhythmic sound. Maybe a clicking. Definitely mechanical.

"You hear that?" Nance asked.

"Jimmy, let's back off."


Callahan did, and he could hear it, too, but right then he would have still wanted to wait for backup if what he'd heard was the Lord Himself saying "Come on down, Kyle."


Nance rose slowly out of his crouch and aimed his light and his weapon north at the far end of the lobby, covering the service counter and the hidden spaces beyond it. Just part of a doorway was visible, leading to a hallway it seemed from this vantage, and down that hallway there appeared to be...

"Kyle, you see that?"

Callahan stood and looked in the direction of his partner's light, just as Nance clicked the beam briefly off. In the din that followed, he could plainly see what had caught his partner's eye. "What is that?"

"I don't know," Nance told him, studying the flashing light coming from the opening on the right side of the hallway, its rhythm long with but a brief burst of darkness between sustained pulses. Pulses that seemed synced to that sound. "But let's find out."

Callahan would have protested again, but his partner was already moving, his light back on and scouring the area before him. There was nothing to do but follow.

They made it to the service counter and carefully checked behind, finding only more footprints there, dark red under the glow of their flashlights. Nance moved first, trying to straddle the bloody trail as he stepped behind the counter and peered down the hall, seeing the pulsing light more clearly now, and hearing the clicking with near full clarity, both things mating in a deduction that was confirmed by what he saw fluttering from the doorway on the right. Paper.

"Copy machine's running," he told Callahan in a hushed tone.

"Copy machine?"

Nance nodded and shined his light on the floor outside the doorway. Hundreds of sheets of paper were piled there, another one settling atop the uneven mound every few seconds, enough so that the bloody trail was obscured from view. Some pure white, and others showing something on their surface, depending on whether they were landing faceup or facedown.

"It's copying something," Nance told his partner.

"Oh, Jimmy, you don't think..."

But he did think, exactly what his partner could not voice, and for some reason even he did not understand Trooper James Fitzgerald Nance had to know. Had to see. Had to lay his gaze upon what he knew, just knew, was in that small room off the right of the hallway. Maybe to convince himself that this was real, or unreal, or something in between, some macabre scene come to life, to his life. And so he started down the hallway, his partner hanging back now, covering from where he waited. Stepping with care on either side of the ghastly trail, nearing the pile of papers, new ones shooting out from the doorway one after the other, one floating earthward and slipping down the side of the mound and landing faceup at Trooper Nance's feet. He shined his light down upon it and swallowed hard.

A dead face stared back at him in black and white.

It was what they'd feared, and he'd seen the image captured, but not the truth from which it had been cast, and so he took one more step forward and looked through the doorway and saw the copy machine pushed almost out into the hall, its lid angled half open and resting upon the severed head of a woman, light flashing beneath it every second or so, blood and tissue dripping from the ragged edge of the neck, pooling in large, slick clumps on the glass.

"Oh, Jesus," Nance said, stepping back, the sight his now for all time. "Oh, dear sweet Jesus."

"Jimmy," Callahan said as he watched his partner back away from the door and through another opposite it. "Jimmy!"

But Trooper Nance wasn't hearing his partner. His senses were tuned to what was across the hall from him now, that face, that head, the machine chugging along, its rhythm seeming the echo of a dead heart's beating, and nothing could have drawn him from his rapt fixation.

Nothing but the hand that brushed his cheek and sent him reeling.

He spun in place in the darkened space, the hand tapping him, and another, the beam of his flashlight slicing the din, tracking fast across the hand, and an arm, and a leg, a breast, all seeming to be floating about his head. He swatted at the passive assault and his hand came back wet with blood.


He fell to the floor and scooted his way through a slick puddle, driving himself into a corner as his partner made it to the doorway and lit up the space with his own flashlight.

"Oh, my God," was all Trooper Kyle Callahan could say at the sight of his partner. "Oh, my God. God. God."

"He's not here," Trooper Jimmy Nance said, laughing and weeping, hugging himself.

From Top Ten by Ryne Douglas Pearson. (c) October 1999. Ryne Douglas Pearson used by permission.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 10 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 10 Customer Reviews
  • Posted July 13, 2011

    Great book

    My first Ryan novel, am very happy with it. A little gross and tricky at times nut kept me wantimg to turn the page.. again thanks. For my reading experience...

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 28, 2001


    This book is great. Michaelangelo is a great serial killer, Ariel makes a great heroine, and Mills' sideplot is also interesting. I am a huge fan of this genre, having read it since I was ten (I am now 16). This book is one of the best that I have ever read.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 13, 2001

    Best Thriller I have Read Yet

    I know being 14 myself doesnt make me an expert on books, let alone tell you that is the best book under the sun, but it is definitley one of the best thrillers I have ever read. You see, I love thriler books and any time I see one that catches my eye, I have to buy it. Top Ten was one of these books. Its got suspense and gruesome detials that would make Poe's skin crawl. I love the book and I think anyone who loves thriller books should pick this one up today. Like I said earlier, I may only be 14, but I love to read and I'm telling you, this book is one of the best. Definitley gets my 5 stars!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 11, 2000

    Don't listen to all other reviews - GREAT READING

    I've seen many negative reviews about this book, but I must say it is one of the best in its genre that I've read in a long time. It is creepy, fast-paced and has a lot of guts. I couldn't put it down.

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