The Ten Ten
By A.F. Knott
Merle jerked the Impala door open
swung the canvas bag into the back. He peeled up his purple ski mask and as
soon as it cleared his mouth, he started to chatter.
“OK, I’m ready. The
guard was being all
Hero-Sheegie, so I had to bust him.”
Francine wrung the steering wheel.
dyed her hair pink the night before and looked like a match stick. Francine
stopped trying to explain her art pictures to Merle because he never took what
she said seriously and ended up spouting off some shit that wasn’t even funny
like the Hiroshige reference; it wasn’t anything.
“Is that our pizza pan you’re
Francine dragged it out from under
seat while he’d been in the bank. Merle was going to say something more but his
door hadn’t shut. He turned and pulled it in harder; it bounced out again so he
had to lean over the top and jerk. He’d been doing that the last couple of
weeks and had made a mental note to fix the latch before the bank but forgot.
The 85 Impala’s engine ran smooth, but the locks and rusty frame were ready for
the nursing home. Merle wasn’t sure if he heard the lock click. The door was
staying shut so he looked down at his watch.
He pushed his wrist under Francine’s
nose. She moved her head away. He brought it back down to his lap and focussed:
10:07. He left the bank at 10:06 and 30 seconds.
“To the fucking minute.”
Merle leaned over again and squinted
the dash board. The car was in Park. They should have been at the end of the
block and half way down Elmford.
“We need to fucking go.”
Francine half turned. Merle recognized
the posture, what he called her box of Corn Flakes and she was giving him the
full unopened version, on top of that, tapping the steering wheel. Merle’s head
jerked to one side as if she’d stuck a fork in one of his ears. He knew how
much time it took to unravel one of her moods; like waiting for a pizza
delivery on a Friday night. He looked into the side view. The bank doors were
still closed. The guard had been sprawled on the floor after he hit him with
the coin bag but began moving a little right before Merle left. He had turned
to make sure everybody was still lying down with hands over their heads like he
told them and that’s when he saw the guard, looking like a sleepy dog rubbing a
paw over one ear.
Merle kicked the glove compartment.
“So it seems like I’m
getting it from
both sides. On one side Hero Sheegie, on the other side, you. You might as well
be a guard too, a goddamn prison guard accusing me of something I didn’t do.
You know I can’t stand that. And I know you have no clue what I just went
through in there.”
Merle realized at that moment he’d
better reel himself in or they weren’t going anywhere. He looked at his watch
and couldn’t see the numbers. His hand was shaking. Merle started speaking
fast, like a squirrel.
“I got more than we planned
for. I got
bills, I got a bag of coins and six wallets. We need to talk but we need to do
that talking in the goddamn trailer!”
He couldn’t stop himself
and looked into the side view a second time. The doors were still closed. He
took a deep breath.
“The guard tried to be Yul
Brynner so I
yelled at him, ‘Stay down, Yul!’ You would have liked that one.” Francine
gripped the wheel tighter: She knew Merle was going to start spouting what he
thought was intellectual. It wasn’t; it was garbage. “The truth was, that guard
couldn’t be King of Siam in that uniform. I could tell right away he didn’t
know me. He could never know anything about me or my philosophies. He didn’t
know the whys and was judging me for things I never did.”
Merle parroted a lot of what Francine
had told him as if they were his own thoughts.
“The guard wasn’t going
to get my whys
and there are always whys. He’s not going to get them because he’s a guard in a
bank, not living the hand-crafted life of his choosing. He’s not a free man
When he swung the bag of coins,
guard’s head cracked against the edge of the manager’s desk and sounded more
like a cantaloupe than a watermelon to Merle.
Merle tried looking at his watch
but the shaking still hadn’t stopped. All he knew, they should have been around
the corner and down two blocks already turned onto Commercial heading toward
the left turn three lights up that would lead them past the railroad crossing.
He told Francine the night before they needed to be on Commercial by 10:08 and
30 seconds. He told her three times as it was that important. The train came
through at 10:10 on the dot every Wednesday morning.
“OK. I don’t know what’s
“You’ve been talking
Merle turned beet red: He knew
she was talking about.
“Now that’s one of
those things . . .”
Merle couldn’t speak for
a moment and
kicked the glove compartment. The little door swung open and he kept coming
down on it with his heel until it snapped off.
“. . . being accused of something
didn’t do. This is one of those times I’m being accused of something I didn’t
do, and this isn’t a good time to be accused of that, I’m telling you right
“When would be a good time
She was using her calm voice and
felt like he was suffocating inside the same old paper bag, trying to punch his
way out. He knew right off what had happened: She’d seen the torn picture. He
laid it out on top of the TV then had to go in the kitchen and forgot all about
it. When he remembered he hadn’t put it back in his box of saved shit, he
almost crapped himself. She asked him to throw it out months ago, but he never
did. Two days before the robbery he’d been looking for his watch with the
second hand and found the picture sandwiched between some receipts and old
lottery tickets. He’d been surprised to see her face – the woman had fucked him
evil, real evil, while they lay on all of Francine’s shit. She even held him
down by his throat. The woman scared Merle more than Francine did but last he
heard, she’d been bitched at Mable Bassett in Oklahoma.
“I haven’t talked to
“I know how you get.”
Merle heard Francine’s tone
drift down a
notch and wasn’t sure which way it was all going. He knew why he hadn’t thrown
the picture away and knew Francine knew as well. Merle looked at his watch
again. This time he could see the face: 10:08.
“The train crosses at 10:10.
I told you
that. This whole thing is . . . “
Merle told Francine over and over
all about the freight train what he called his thing of beauty. The ten-ten
pulled one hundred seventy cars, was more than a mile and a half long, and took
ten sometimes fifteen minutes to pass by that particular crossing gate. Merle
had timed it. Francine cut him off:
“I don’t care about
Merle looked in the sideview for
third time, took a hard swallow and could barely speak.
“I got ten thousand in bills,
hundred in coins and at least six wallets.”
“We didn’t discuss
the route. I’m the
one driving and you didn’t ask me about the route.”
Merle knew this was “that”
Merle didn’t listen and couples discussed things. Merle started bellowing.
“OK. Look at me. I don’t fucking listen. I admit that. I
should have asked you about the route. And the other thing was I hate that
fucking cunt worse than I hate you. I fucking hate you but I would cut off her
head off and stick it on a post in the middle of the street. Or stick it on a
flag pole and wave it through the air, have Lady Liberty carry her head on top
of her flag pole. But I wouldn’t stick your head on a flagpole. I wouldn’t do
that to you but would to her.”
Merle had been looking over her
at the Delacroix painting the night before after Francine had come out of the
bathroom with her haired dyed pink. She told Merle she did it because she was
wanting a change. Merle hadn’t even
asked her what kind of change and shrugged. While they sat there, Francine pointed
out Gavroche, the kid running beside Lady Liberty. She said Gavroche looked
like her brother when he was that age. Her brother lived over in Fresno.
Francine yanked the
gear stick into reverse, stamped down on the gas and said,
“You really need to start
Merle’s head jerked, smacking against the dashboard. He
and chirped, “We should be going that way. . . “
“No, we shouldn’t.”
Francine dragged the right side of the steering wheel down,
swerving the Impala backwards into the alley beside the bank, throwing Merle
against the door which swung all the way open. He had to reach out and grab for
the handle, pulling it in right before the car careened into the narrow lane
and she mashed down on the gas again. The Impala swerved and swiveled from side
to side like a steel ball moving through a pin ball machine, garbage cans
slamming into the bumper one after another. Merle reached for his seat belt. It
jerked up short. He tried tugging it a little softer, but it jerked again, and
he slammed the buckle against the door. The buckle ricocheted and cracked Merle
in the temple, right about where he had smacked the guard with the coin sack.
After that, he gripped the handle above the passenger window and turned to look
out the back window at road getting bigger in the rectangle at the end of the
alley. Sun was shining on a sliver of sidewalk. Francine was doing fifty in
“Sidewalk, sidewalk, sidewalk,” he spoke through his
teeth, shoulders rising and practically touching his ears.
The Impala hit the concrete lip at the end of the alley and
launched three inches over the pavement and into the road, missing a dump truck
passing within a hair of the rear bumper. She yanked the left side of the
wheel, spun the Impala again and Merle heard the train whistle as well as the
sirens. They’d ended up on Sutpin, not Commercial, jammed the accelerator and
ran the next intersection. Merle giraffe-necked and saw the train behind them.
He tried to hold up his watch but couldn’t focus. She shot across the next
intersection, the car becoming airborne again. His head bounced against the
roof when they landed, and his door creaked open a little, swinging back and
When Merle heard the “ding ding ding,” he understood
shortcut. The Impala was headed straight for the train crossing with about four
seconds to spare. Francine floored it as the conductor saw the car and laid on
his air horn. Merle started whooping and yelling at the top of his lungs,
knowing they were going to make it. The Impala hit the little incline of
asphalt at seventy just as the crossing gates were coming down. Francine
swiveled on the pizza pan, like the BMX mid-air bike trick she watched her
brother do, brought both knees up to her chest, and mule kicked Merle out the
door and onto the tracks. She swiveled back, both hands still on the wheel. The
Impala’s shocks crunched as the car came down, the muffler scraping and
sparking against the concrete.
Francine reached up and twisted the rear view, so she could
watch the train cars passing, one after another, all filled with coal or
gravel. The conductor sat on his horn, the air brakes squealing like a hundred
pigs were being slaughtered at the same time. She knew twenty cars would pass
before the train came to a stop. Merle had been right about his thing of
beauty: The ten-ten was the best cover they could have asked for.
In twenty minutes, she turned onto the farm road, puffing her
e-cig and knew she’d be at the barn in another five to swap cars. They wouldn’t
have even gotten around to looking under the train by then and she’d be in
Fresno by the time they started putting Merle into bags.
Francine had stuck all her
shit in the Impala’s trunk the night before, all her art books which was
everything that mattered to her. She was looking forward to a couple months of
peace and quiet, really looking forward to it.
Anthony Knott is a burned-out individual who gave up everything
to write stories of mayhem and do collage— so that's what he’s doing. Novel
Number Two was published in 2016 by Hekate: Ramonst, the dark story of an East
Tennessee teenage serial killer's summer of 1970. The way Knott sees it, it's a
matter of finding your voice in life; although he'll have to die first to
confirm that. Writing site: afknott.com.
Collage site: afknottcollage.com.