Title: Grasp All, Lose All
Summary: Classic love angst and a whole lot of money.
Word Count: 6,900 words
Warnings: Cursing and whatnot, drugs and drinking and a lot of money. Also, completely and utterly unrealistic.
It’s Karson’s idea at first, lounging in the back row of the lecture hall with acquaintance-friend Scarlett Pines; part-time sleeper and full-time procrastinator, an impassive mask of defined eyebrows and pale skin. They’re acquaintance-friends because they don’t spend enough time together to be called friends but have maintained a running conversation spanned over the course of weeks throwing back and forth ideas that might get the adrenaline flowing in their veins.
Karson slides down in his seat, resting his head against the wall, and turns to Scarlett. “Hey. Scarlett.” Scarlett is playing tetris on her phone. She doesn’t respond. Karson is used to this.
He continues. “I have an idea.” Scarlett’s interest is read in the drag of her eyes to Karson’s face and the little turn of her head, still impassive. Her thumb stills.
Karson sits up and leans towards her, elbow on the armrest, eager now. “How about robbing a bank?” Scarlett blinks.
According to Karson, they’re borrowing, temporary owners, sure to return it in the future; lifetimes away perhaps. According to Scarlett, Karson is full of shit and in moderate denial but tolerates it all the same because she’s in it for the thrill and the booze and Karson’s not-so-shitty break in plans. According to the rest of the world, they’re thieves, stealing the gold and silver of kings and the billions of Benjamin’s of CEO deceit and the blueprints to elaborate government plans they happened to stumble upon; a duet feared by those who have too much to lose. They are harmony at it’s best, vanishing into the shimmering air with lazy smiles and spotless thievery. At some point they are placed on United Nations Security Council agenda, International Thieves, invisible billionaires, cracking banks worldwide and fading into the mist, damp humidity clinging between uncomfortable business men’s blazers and the back of their necks.
The thrill has only gotten better since they first started, Scarlett loves the rush, she might even say she likes it more than sex or getting high or sleeping. Karson does it for the money and the entertainment, boredom spurring intricate plans and rewards in stacks of bills, ten thousands, hundred thousands, millions.
Karson suggests buying a fake gun, “It might work,” he says, scrunching his face in thought.
“It might not,” Scarlett answers, crossing it off their list. “Server hacking.”
“But that feels so anticlimactic,” Karson complains, flopping backwards on Scarlett’s bed and rolling around, impatient and itching to get a plan, any plan, in action.
The younger kicks him off the bed and wrinkles her nose, “Quit making a mess on my bed, you shithead.”
Karson frowns from the floor with squinty eyes and puffed out cheeks, Scarlett doesn’t cave. “We should just buy real guns and make this whole deal legit by busting in after they close and fucking with their system.”
Scarlett raises an eyebrow and looks down the slope of her nose at Karson, “Now that’s pretty fucked up, I didn’t know you were such a danger junkie,” she says slowly, smirk stretching the corner of her lips. Karson can’t help but like the way the sarcasm rolls off Scarlett’s tongue.
“Let’s do it.” He smirks. Scarlett can already feel the excitement simmer under his skin.
They become more than acquaintances after that, settling into friends, a team with twin guns and one hundred thousand dollar bills deep in their pockets, a heavenly adrenaline humming in their blood. Scarlett would say Karson is the genius, he’s the one who mapped security cameras and swivel timing and pointed out hidden crevices they later squeezed through to pluck stacks from heavy vaults. Karson knows that the reason why they have so many government blueprints is because Scarlett hacks firewalls in minutes leaving untraceable evidence and documents for surprise attacks from ally countries and changes in international investments; information men in pressed black suits stare holes through folders for and pay around two trillion in cash if need be.
They continue their lives as university students, watching with satisfaction as a reporter frowns at a recent bank robbery and hesitates when a missing two hundred thousand dollars is mentioned. Scarlett side eyes Karson flopped on the couch beside her with a smug grin, Karson snorts over his ramen bowl.
They always plan in Scarlett’s room because she has a single room and no visitors except for the occasional guy that insists on being referred to as unicorn that Karson has seen around campus. He is high nearly everyday and giggles like a madman, especially when Scarlett says the word glocks, “Dude it sounds like cocks,” he sniggers before wandering away, still high.
It’s Saturday night when Karson bursts into Scarlett’s room and crows, “Hey partner!” Karson slings an arm around Scarlett’s hunched shoulders. “Whaddaya say we blow some cash at that new club Blake was talking about tonight?”
Scarlett’s not the type to party, preferring the ecstasy when she’s sitting in Jace’s dorm with unicorn dude and cackling at every other line in Godfather that they’re watching on Jace’s laptop. It might be the ripped jeans that cling to Karson’s thighs or his fit black shirt creasing at the groves in his abdomen or his dark rich skin and thick lips that Scarlett considers it. Scarlett’s convinced it’s the desperate need for a hit and a burning shot of gin for their most recent claim on a good five hundred thousand dollars on a bank in Boston. She doesn’t get to answer because once Karson throws open the door, Scarlett is dragged out whether she likes it or not.
Scarlett throws on dark jeans, a loose gray shirt and brings her leather jacket for show. Karson strides out first, turning back, “Coming?”
Scarlett’s gulps as she meets Karson’s eyes. “Yeah.”
Another robbery of a bank in Boston breeches the news and they become an invisible two-man show, interests sparks in the United States, already making headlines with: Banks Robberies Rising Across the Nation, Millions Disappear Overnight. It’s safe to say they’re millionaires in the rising, they buy nicer cars for pulling up to the clubs, Scarlett opting for a classic black Mercedes-Benz and Karson blazing in a fire red Lamborghini Aventador. They use Scarlett’s car for the operations and Karson’s for the after parties. They shred cash over drinks and drugs and motorcycles they can store in Karson’s modern mansion in the residential district for aristocrats, a metropolis of money and finesse and perfect appearances.
The realtor had given them a skeptical look when Karson produced enough cash but relaxed when he gave a sad smile and said, “My grandmother just passed away and she wanted me to spend it wisely.” Scarlett faked her snort as a cough.
University becomes more interesting when people notice the Gucci wallet or Dolce and Gabbana blazer Karson struts around in, they start smiling a little wider and hovering a little closer, desperate to strike up conversation, to get their greasy fingers on “hard earned” cash. Scarlett saves her designer fabrics for the fine dining with Karson or strip clubs and V.I.P. rooms or every so often an outing she refuses to call dates despite Karson’s pestering.
“Calvin is not my date,” Scarlett insists.
Karson snorts. “The poor bastard is being friend-zoned before he’s even gotten to spend time with the queen herself,” Karson drapes an arm over Scarlett, walking her to the door. “Have a good time with your friend, partner.”
Scarlett slips through the door of their mansion at ten am the next morning and Karson’s still asleep in his bed, gentle tosses disturbing the chestnut hair that falls over eyes. Scarlett’s eating the omelet she threw together at the marble counter for lunch when Karson slouches into the kitchen.
“You guys fucked,” he croaks with heavy eyelids and a mischievous smile. He reaches for a plate and utensils to cut away half of Scarlett’s omelet and move it onto his plate. “Told you it was a date.”
“One night stand,” Scarlett interrupts, shooing away Karson’s fork. “Calvin is clinically insane, no joke.”
Karson grunts, too exhausted to agree.
Scarlett pushes into a small bar in Downtown Boston alone, having parted ways with Karson after hitting Bank of America. The moonlight glimmers, only a sliver of light in the black four am skies.There is no one in the bar except for her and the bartender, an older, slim man with a gentle wisdom about his graying beard and smiling eyes.
“Welcome,” he murmurs, wiping martini glasses to perfection. “What can I get you?”
“Something strong,” she sighs. He places a light blue mixture in front of her and she takes a sip. The alcohol stings but its flavor sets a fuzzy feeling in her navel.
“I feel like it’s too much sometimes,” she mumbles, resting her head on the counter. “But it’s addicting. Is it bad to want everything?”
The bartender tilts his head and gazes down on Scarlett’s exhausted profile, “My great uncle once told me, ‘Grasp all, Lose all and don’t you forget it.’ The world has a way of balancing itself out.” But Scarlett was already asleep.
They decide to drop out of university, feeding their parents dreams of life changing travels and self-discoverance. They fly out of the United States as Karson Lee and Scarlett King, faux passports are easy to come by when you have enough money to forge identities and seal lips in one swoop. Karson decides on London, and points out Lloyds Banking Group and HSBC during the plane trip, Scarlett sleeps through half of Karson’s excited whispers and watches Karson’s lips for the other half. They steal their way through London, picking up pounds by the hundred thousands from corporate accounts.
The crisp streets of London bring Kris and Michael, Scarlett screws around with both of them while Karson sticks to an “innocent” date with June; one that includes buying out the entire restaurant as one enormous V.I.P. room, food stylized in minimal bites, and waving an arm at the selection of thousand dollar wines he already bought out. Scarlett rolls her eyes at Karson’s extravagance, Karson rolls his eyes back at Scarlett’s offhanded flings and thrifty spending.
“At least I take care of my one-night stand because I can afford to,” Karson drawls, slumping over the loveseat in their shared deluxe suite. “You don’t even give yours a good show. God, I’d hate to go out with you.” He takes the bottle of wine he’d been nursing and downs the last bit with a savory hum. Scarlett can only fake an amused snort and suppress the bitter taste on her tongue.
To Karson, rising numbers in his myriad of bank accounts keeps him borrowing and selling the money and secrets; a solid purpose. Rising numbers means quality food and awed looks at his Prada jacket. Flowing capital means ruffled looking businessmen wiping sweat from their forehead, perspiration from the devastating numbers and constant worry. He relishes the glossy shine of wealth and seductive looks when he steps in the club, music dropping beats that sink into his bones and come alive in fluid movement.
To Scarlett, numbers are meaningless. Meaning comes in the hacking and the rush, the heightened senses, Karson’s august eyes. The initial baffled shock of the public and following scramble fills her with satisfaction, she relishes how the pressed and shaven men of Wall Street become more haggard and unkempt day by day. Most of the time though, things are a haze, defined by flickering lights and shapes of sound and the constant feeling of numbing bliss tingling on the edges of her fingertips, hints of Karson’s chocolate skin.
Next, they jet off to Italy.
Together, they get high and watch movies, Scarlett’s idea; get high and go clubbing, Karson’s idea. Prostitutes become a common thing in hotel rooms and mansions they purchase across the globe. White powders and rows of gin and whiskey sit behind cereal boxes and Karson’s stash of sour gummies. At some point, a private jet with pilots and flight attendants finds itself in Karson’s hangar in Rome, Scarlett raises an eyebrow at Karson as they glide away in Scarlett’s silver Aston Martin to ghost through UniCredit’s finest at midnight.
Italy is where shit gets weird though. They push into a club and, although Scarlett’s seen Karson dance plenty of times, she is mesmerized by the powerful curves and emotion rippling across the floor, loosened by multiple beers and a smoke in the alleyway. Scarlett joins in as best she can, fitting into Karson’s negative space, complementing the strength with smooth apathy. Karson is a mixture of anger, energy and release, Scarlett is sweet, cold, metallic temptation, the edge not quite the overflow. It’s an unshakeable feeling of complete wholeness when she swings and slides by Karson’s side, equal on a battlefield of electric energy and sizzling looks and entranced faces.
The song ends and they stumble off, dragging their feet toward the bathroom. Scarlett’s drinking the water from the faucet when Karson presses up behind her and cups a palm around her cheek, pulling her up from the sink. The muted murmur of “partner” is a transient breath in the lackluster bathroom, she doesn’t know who said it. Scarlett turns, back towards the mirror and Karson’s lowering his lips too soon. It’s hot and sweaty in the dim light, but Karson’s lips feel like silk, his mouth warm and sweet and tangy from alcohol.
Skin is silky smooth, tan against milky white hidden beneath blinds of alcohol and drugs, all thought lost between each kiss and moan and sigh. Fallen between thin sheets and hot tongues, Scarlett wakes up with a throbbing headache in a hotel room beside an unconscious Karson, dark smooth skin molding to careful dips and artfully protruding bones. Scarlett freezes; she can’t decide whether to groan or sigh or roll over and go back to sleep. She can’t say she didn’t see it coming, she just didn’t want to deal with the consequences. So she goes back to sleep.
The next time Scarlett wakes up, the sheets are cold and the imprint of Karson is erased beneath blue gray skies.
The line connects. “This is Elliot speaking.”
“I am in need of your services,” the voice is cold and soft. Elliot waits. “You are aware of the international thieves that have hit multiple corporations and stolen many confidential files? I have received intel that they are a duo, two Americans, mid twenties. Their next destination is Shanghai. Obtain their confidential files before the police do. Kill them while you’re at it.”
“And your offer?”
“Three billion dollars.” Elliot sighs, blowing out smoke.
“Deal.” He stamps out his cigarette.
“Is this a number I can contact to update my status?”
“Is there a name or alias I can label you by?”
A pause. “You can call me…”
Karson mentions nothing of Italy, the club, that night. It stings but Scarlett faces it with stoic masks of determination and robs banks a little more aggressively than normal. Within days, the sour taste of sweet and tangy dissolves on her tongue and she chooses to forget it. It’s only bitter now anyway.
The engine builds to a roar as the plane lifts off, service to Shanghai. Bank of China is scrawled in Karson’s lousy handwriting on the back of his boarding pass and Scarlett sleeps entirely through the flight. Karson doesn’t say a word, his gaze trained on the oceanic scenery, the swollen purple clouds.
Karson first meets Vivian at a bar in Shanghai near the business district. It’s pouring, blurring traffic lights and staining buildings with a damp, muted ambiance.
Karson notices the soft heart-shaped lips and wide eyes pulled together with gentle black curls and a black pantsuit. He sits beside Vivian who is observing the crowd and sipping scotch. Karson makes a tentative guess and speaks in English.
“See anyone you like?” Vivian turns her doe-like eyes to Karson’s get up, white, black and high end. When Vivian doesn’t answer, Karson hesitates, perhaps he should’ve given stilted Mandarin a shot instead. However, he worries no further as Vivian replies.
“Nope.” She turns away, finishing her scotch and leaving the bar without another word and a polite nod.
Scarlett forces laugh a when Karson flies into their hotel room looking frazzled and drenched, muttering about a mysterious woman who looked sexy and how he absolutely had to have her.
“Of course you’re attracted to a girl who doesn’t acknowledge your existence. You’re just that fucking lucky,” Scarlett walks to the bathroom shaking her head and chuckling, something in her chest clenches.
Karson hangs around bars in the business district, searching for dark curls and wide eyes. Scarlett remains bent over blueprints for their next hit. They’ve never done Shanghai before, security is tighter than she expected.
Karson catches a taxi to the same bar, the sixth time he’ll be swinging by. And finally, the second time he sees Vivian sipping a glass of scotch.
“Karson, Karson Kim.” Karson skips greetings and dives straight to the point.
Karson breathes out and smiles, ordering a whiskey. “What brings you to China?”
“Business. You?” Vivian turns to look at him, eyebrows raised, mild regard.
“Business too.” Vivian nods and returns to her drink, unintrigued.
Karson clears his throat, angling his face and purring into Vivian’s ear, “Can I interest you in a good time?” Vivian’s eyebrows rise a tiny bit further. He has Vivian’s attention now.
They take a taxi back to Karson and Scarlett’s hotel room, kissing in the backseat of a taxi and continuing in the elevator, licking and tugging at hair and clothes.
The door slams open and Scarlett looks up. “Oh Karson I–” She stops.
Karson is currently locking lips with Vivian, pressing and grinding her against the wall as the door slams shut. The Vivian’s eyes fly open at Scarlett’s voice and finds Scarlett sitting in the chair on the other side of the room. She pushes Karson off, panting and flushing.
“What–oh hey partner, I found her,” Karson smiles and jerks a thumb at Vivian. “Meet Vivian Sawyer, the woman I am going to fuck right now so if you could please give us some privacy that’d be great. Or watch, I don’t care.”
Vivian pales at that but Scarlett interrupts, standing and gathering her papers. “No,” she hurries. “I was just going. Bye.” She bolts.
Vivian opens her mouth, “Who–” But Karson cuts him off with his lips and guides her towards the bed.
Elliot finds Scarlett in a convenience store, browsing the cigarette selection. Something about the thin face and defined eyebrows and pale skin strikes him so he approaches. “I suggest the Virginia Slims, they’re my favorite.”
Scarlett jumps, dropping the package of Capris she was holding. “I’m sorry?”
Elliot blinks, it’s English. “Marlboros are for cowboys,” Elliot says this in English now and watches Scarlett, amused. Scarlett’s eyes widen at the Shanghai accented words tumbling from this Chinese man’s lips.
“And Virginia Slims are for women, aren’t they?” Scarlett counters, fingering a box of them.
“Virginia Slims are better. I’m Elliot, nice to meet you…?” He puts out a hand tentatively, an incline at the end of his introduction. Scarlett takes it, it’s warm.
Elliot gestures at the pack. “First time smoking? Virginia Slims are the best.” Scarlett hums with a bob of the head and drops her gaze down to the white box.
“Do you—are you free to do something right now?”
Scarlett looks up and meets Elliot’s eyes, the lights making them glimmer. Elliot’s lips curve into a soft smile.”Care to join me for some food right now?”
There’s something about the smile on his face that compels Scarlett to accept the offer, something a little like the spark of adrenaline relighting in her veins and fading august eyes. Scarlett buys the pack of Virginia Slims, lighting one with Elliot’s zippo as they wind through the busy streets of Shanghai, street vendors selling all sorts of meat and buns and treats. She lets the sweet smoke intoxicate her brain and cloak her worries. They stop to share chicken, steamed buns, and noodles, Elliot conversing in Mandarin; slurred z’s and x’s, melodic and honeyed, with the vendor people.
She learns that Elliot is four years older than her, already out of university, having studied at Brown in Providence, Rhode Island. He’s back in China taking up translating and other part time jobs while he finds a stable job with his Bachelor’s Degree in English as a tutor in university or something like that, he adds with a wave of his hand.
Elliot asks her about herself, Scarlett tells him she dropped out of university to travel abroad with a friend who is currently occupying their shared hotel room with someone else. “They’re probably fucking right now. In my room. Ew.” Scarlett wrinkles her nose and Elliot laughs.
Scarlett likes Elliot’s laughter, crinkling eyes and bright teeth and soft, glowing skin. She appreciates the city skyline when Elliot’s silhouette moves across it with glittering eyes and gesturing hands. Between nights out beneath warm lanterns and languid Mandarin, Shanghai backstreets and food vendors and Elliot’s lovely laughs, Karson fades away, a stranger in a hotel room with a lover beside abandoned blueprints and a suitcase of money.
A fortnight has passed, a fortnight of food, drinks, Elliot’s dusty studio apartment, and drunken walks through the parks of Shanghai. Elliot has pushed Karson out of Scarlett’s mind, replacing a clenched heart with afternoons in bed with Elliot, gentle mornings waking up to Elliot cooking or out on the balcony or on the phone talking quietly to a certain V.V. Company. These escapades from the chains of responsibility lead to more sex, lead to drinking, lead to Scarlett stumbling back to her hotel room at two am, Elliot hot on her lips. The door flies open and an oddly familiar scene unfolds.
“Jesus Christ Scarlett, I thought–” Karson stops short, looking up from his bed to catch Scarlett’s hand tangled in Elliot’s hair, the other around his waist, mid kiss until Scarlett drags away, making eye contact with Karson. Scarlett glares at Karson, who stares back, something unreadable in his eyes.
Finally, he scrambles up and for the first time Scarlett actually hears Karson stutter, “I’ll-I’ll, um, I’m going now.” He finds the door and shoots past them.
Elliot gives her a worried look, “Was that your friend? I hope we didn’t scare him off.”
Scarlett snorts. “He’ll be fine.” And she tugs Elliot closer, tipping her head up to capture his lips again.
Scarlett wakes up to the pale curtains fluttering, Elliot beside her breathing soundly, a delicate veil of haze settling over the room creating a gentle shadowed glow. Scarlett starts when she sees Karson sitting in the corner of the room, scribbling away. His hair is tangled and mussed, as if tugged in frustration and concentration.
Scarlett slides out of bed, wearing only a slip and approaches, leaning over Karson’s scrawling handwriting. It’s the blueprints, more details penciled in beside Scarlett’s scribbles from weeks before. She speaks and her voice is a little hoarse, “What are you doing?”
Karson sits back and looks up at her. “Let’s make our next hit and get out of here.”
Scarlett flashes a warning look at Karson. “I’m not leaving. Not now.”
Karson pulls out a cigarette, a Marlboro she notes, taking a drag and blowing smoke in her face, “Fuck him, let’s go. You can always find another guy somewhere else.”
“No,” Scarlett tenses. “I like Elliot and Elliot likes me, I’m staying.” Scarlett likes Elliot alright. Elliot is the best distraction she’s had in a long time.
“We can only rob so many banks in Shanghai, Scarlett.” She freezes, glancing back to Elliot’s sleeping form. Karson breaths smoke out, his eyes rolling. “Calm down, he’s sleeping for Christ’s sake. Who the fuck is he anyway?”
“He’s Elliot.” A pointed look.
“Scarlett, we are world class criminals. We have money to make and secrets to sell, I’m not going to throw away our plans for some dumbass fling with a Chinese Ken doll. Get your fucking shit together or I’m out.”
Scarlett narrows her eyes. “What about Vivian? What about how you left me all those nights we could have been planning for that woman?” Karson rakes a hand through wilted chestnut hair, smoke distorts his figure as his gaze falls to his hands. Scarlett waits, eyes searching.
“Karson, Karson, look at me. What happened with Vivian?”
The older looks up, shrugging. “We fucked.” He shrugs. “She left. The end.” He takes a drag then exhales clouds of gray.
Scarlett looks away, trying not to choke on the smoke. Karson’s voice strains when he adds quietly, “Turns out, she likes to leave people hanging the next morning, couldn’t even bother to say goodbye all four times. That bitch.”
Scarlett nods. “Ignorance is bliss.”
Karson gathers his coat, tucking away their plans. “I’m going for a walk. Get your doll out of here by eleven, we’re breaking Bank of China tonight.” Scarlett follows Karson to the door, seeing him out with a noncommittal hum and steps into the shower once the door clicks shut.
When Scarlett walks out of the bathroom in jeans and a black shirt, Elliot has occupied Karson’s previous seat, fully dressed, hair ruffled. A gun rests in one hand, the other holds a freshly lit Virginia Slim. Scarlett thinks déjà vu strikes one time too many.
“Scarlett Pines, one of the most wanted criminals in the world. Who knew?” The safety is released with a tiny click.
Scarlett’s eyes narrow. She takes a step closer, eyes darting between the gun in Elliot’s hand the thin trail of smoke coiling in the hotel room. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Elliot’s lip pull into a calm smile, and he looks up through soft eyelashes at Scarlett. He rises to his feet, crushing the cigarette in an ashtray, and approaches Scarlett, bringing the gun up to trail along Scarlett’s temples. It’s cold against her moist cheek, almost as cold as the gleam in Elliot’s eyes.
The door opens behind her and Karson freezes in the doorway when Scarlett sees that Elliot has already pulled out another gun on him.
“Close the door Karson Kim. Come here and join us.” The curve of Elliot’s lips reminds Scarlett of just hours ago when they were slick and heated on her neck, just days ago when they revealed a bright smile beneath street lights and Mandarin clamor. Scarlett’s eyes dart to Karson for a split second. Karson has an impassive mask over madly whirring gears in his head, plotting and strategizing their escape plan. Just one look and Scarlett will (hopefully) know what to do. She brings her gaze back to Elliot who’s standing before them, a gun aimed at each of their hearts.
“It’s a pleasure to finally make your acquaintance.” The silence presses on Scarlett’s eyeballs, her windpipe; magnifying the nerves tingling at her fingertips.
Karson snorts, “Sure picked a nice one didn’t you, partner?”
This is it.
They both bolt forward, snapping forward to wrestle the guns out of Elliot’s hold. Elliot reacts quickly, drawing back and firing, however only hitting the walls as Scarlett and Karson are able to redirect his aim. Karson successfully lands a blow that knocks Elliot out cold, falling limply to the ground. Karson raises the gun towards Elliot’s dyed auburn curls but Scarlett stops him, a pale hand on tanned forearm.
“Don’t. Let’s just go.” Scarlett turns away, picking up the duffel bag and hoisting it over a shoulder.
“Scarlett, he knows. He will come after us.” Karson’s voice is merciless, jaded and detached.
“Damn it Karson.” Her voice feels brittle, uncontrollable. “We have to get out of here before hotel security comes. He won’t find us, we’ll disappear like we always do.” Scarlett catches Karson’s wrist and pulls him towards the balcony. “Come on, the fire escape.” Scarlett’s voice cracks and she nearly trips on the narrow iron ladder when her vision becomes blurry. Her surroundings fade into heavy breaths and the clangs of the ladder as it shudders under their weight.
They drop down into a side alley and dive into a main street, Karson tugging Scarlett towards the subway and onto a line headed towards the international airport. Scarlett sags against Karson’s shoulder, eyes fluttering closed.
“Sir? Sir? Are you alright? Can you hear me sir?” He groans as cracks his eyes open as a police officer crouches beside him. “Sir, we’re going to have to take you down to the station for questioning.” Elliot notices the clots in her mascara and the poorly hidden bags beneath her eyes. Further inspection of his current situation finds him on the floor of a hotel room with a gun in closer than comfortable proximity with police and emergency hospital responders.
“I’d rather not if that’s okay,” he says stiffly, struggling to rise to his feet. It’s been a while since he’s been so forcefully stricken to the point of unconsciousness.
“Sir, I’m really sorry but it’s procedure. After the ambulance helps you with your head injury, you’re coming with me.” She looks sympathetic and he almost scoffs in her face. Instead he walks slowly towards the bathroom, the emergency responders rushing to his side, asking him to please sit down and what is your name and please tilt your head. The phone is his pocket buzzes and he answers it immediately, pushing through the gauze and tape towards the bathroom and locking the door.
“You were right, Karson Kim and Scarlett Pines. They…escaped.”
“I see you’ve failed. There are police and ambulance swarming the place.”
“My apologies, ma’am, they are better trained that I expected. It will not happen again.”
“No, it won’t.” The line is dead and Elliot turns to the sink. His fuck up might cost him his life, he’s not quite sure if V.V. was implying death with that last comment. The police officer is knocking on the door. He heaves a deep breath and opens the door.
Karson and Scarlett settle into their seats, the scrawl of Bank of China has been striked through on the back of Karson’s boarding pass. After hours of silence, the plane breaks through the clouds to reveal a murky atmosphere clinging to Boston’s skyscrapers. Karson leans over Scarlett to look out the window, watching as little swarming dots flesh into cars and people and they’re finally connecting with the ground of their roots, the beginnings of it all.
Once they’re dragged themselves into Karson’s mansion and flopped onto the couch, Scarlett speaks. “What now?”
Karson doesn’t respond immediately, just stares at the high ceiling and blinks slowly. After some silence, “First, explain what happened.”
Scarlett speaks to the arched ceiling, her voice flat. “We went to Shanghai. You met Vivian, I met Elliot. Our job got postponed. Elliot tried to kill us both but we miraculously escaped. Lost of bad decisions. I’m chalking this up to the conclusion that Shanghai was a bad decision in general.” Scarlett sighs and rolls over to face Karson on the adjoining couch. “So, what now?”
Karson grunts and mumbles, “Nap time,” and promptly dozes off.
There has never been much routine in their lives, they thrive off the sporadic flow of money and the inconsistency in where they end up sleeping every night. The biggest question now that they’ve returned to the start of it all, was whether or not to continue hitting the banks. As of current, they have enough money to live in high style for a long time, even get jobs and settle into nine to five lives.
Instead, they spend the following week going out to various clubs and getting smashed, often bringing home a person or three all of which are unceremoniously shoved out the door the next afternoon.
Scarlett blinks up at the white washed ceiling, afternoon light pools dappling through the window as a she breaths slowly, sinking back into warm white sheets. The buzz in the back of her head is still there, a gentle hum of effervescent life pulsing through her veins. The buzz that melts away the responsibilities and worries. The buzz that fuzzed up her vision on the edges but it was okay.
She hears muted voices; then front door slamming shut echoes through the halls. She rises from the bed, face puffy with exhaustion. After sweeping through the house twice, Karson is nowhere to be seen, not in his bed or eating gummy bears in the den; Scarlett is completely alone. She finds herself back in the living room, staring aimlessly at the ceiling when the tiny blinking light of the land line voice message system catches her eye.
The recorder beeps under Scarlett’s gaze and a vaguely familiar voice clears her throat and says, “Uh, Karson? It’s Vivian Sawyer. I’m back in Boston and hoping you were too. Want to meet up? I’ll be hanging around downtown. Call me, my number is…” Scarlett remembers Vivian. Dark curls and round eyes, the innocent business woman, the source of Karson’s desperation. Vivian Sawyer. Vivian. V.V.
Something clicks. Something that sounds a lot like the click of a safety from the gun held to her heart, Elliot appears as a shimmering mirage before her.
Elliot on the balcony.
Elliot speaking with a certain V.V.
The quiet murmurs of yes, I’m working on it, and yes, it’s almost time.
A cold poison runs through her veins, the scream of an adrenaline she’s never felt before, the fear for Karson’s life because it all makes sense. She calls Karson’s number over and over as she revs the engine to her Aston Martin and tears out of the driveway, speeding towards downtown Boston.
The streets are sluggish, congested with sedans and people, and street vendors and artists and such. She parks her car haphazardly in a garage on the outskirts of downtown, on foot will be easier than honking through waves of people. She hits Karson’s favorite bars, loud and uproarious, but no Karson. No Vivian.
She passes through clubs, a little sparse due to the sun still low in the sky. No Karson. No Vivian. She’s running out of places to look, scanning crowds for Karson’s figure. She calls, again and again. She stands in the middle of the largest public center, the phone clutched in her hand. The phone rings once. Twice. Again and again, he’s lost count. Voicemail each time.
She catches a glimpse of chocolate brown hair, tanned skin beside a head of black wavy hair in the peripherals of her eye. She sees the gun Vivian is fingering behind Karson’s back.
“KARSON!” Scarlett screams, starting in a mad dash through the crowd. “KARSON GET AWAY FROM HER!” Karson turns, his eyes widen and there is a deafening shot.
The crowd collectively ducks and scatters, screams dissipating in the air. Scarlett blinks and then she’s lying on her side, a hot liquid flowing from pain in her lower back and abdomen. Elliot’s face drops into view as Elliot pushes her onto her back with his foot. Karson drops by her side seconds later, tears rolling down his cheeks as he presses Scarlett’s abdomen.
“Scarlett, you’re going to be okay. You’re going to be just fine,” Karson is wheezing. Scarlett spots Vivian behind Karson, a gun pressed to his head. “Scarlett, Scarlett, Scarlett, stay with me.” Somewhere between Karson’s constant repeat of Scarlett’s name, his voice breaks and becomes a hoarse whisper.
“Karson Kim, you’re going to tell me where you keep all of your intel on the Exo Corporations or Scarlett is going to die.”
Karson tells Vivian, his mansion, the study, the underground basement, he tells them everything, anything to get Scarlett back. It all comes in flashes, she can’t see clearly, can’t think straight.
Scarlett’s hair is soft between his fingers. The blare of police cars and the ambulance. Scarlett’s cloudy eyes, drinking in Karson’s tear smudged features. Elliot and Vivian, gone. Scarlett’s loosening grip on Karson’s hand. The flashing lights. The blood, pooling out underneath them. Scarlett being lifted away, Karson guided into the back of an ambulance beside Scarlett. Scarlett face losing color under the ambulance lights and oxygen mask.
The clock on the wall is agony. The white walls are blank unknowns. The plastic chairs are pain. The hunched figure is tearing himself apart with the steady rhythmic tick tick tick beside lit up red block letters, IN OPERATION.
It’s been six hours and a half hours. Three hundred and ninety-two minutes to be exact. Twenty-three thousand five hundred and twenty seconds and counting. It’s nearing midnight. Karson doesn’t know what to do but wait. Wait for them to return Scarlett to him. Scarlett’s parents had come and gone, Karson couldn’t explain the gunshot wound, only witnessed the dismissive attitude of Mr. Pines’ pacing; talking business on his bluetooth while standing before his daughter’s operating room and Mrs. Pines’ constant make up adjustments; a woman who lived for her reflection. They were long gone now, Mrs. Pines probably fast asleep in a king bed and Mr. Pines talking still more business.
The red light shuts off. The door was pushed open and an exhausted surgeon stepped out, pulling his mask down from his face. Karson rose from his chair, praying for good news. “We’ve been able to stop the internal bleeding and stitch the wound. She’s currently in shock and unconscious but her heart’s still beating, she’s still very unstable though. We’ll be keeping her for a few days, go home and sleep, eat, come back tomorrow and check in on her.”
“Can I see her now? Please?” His voice is raw and unused.
“No, I’m sorry. Come back tomorrow during visiting hours tomorrow and she might wake up.”
Scarlett has yet to awake, lying pale and small beneath crisp white sheets. Her cheeks are sunken and her lips are dry, her hair looks windswept from her forehead and curling in a mess around her shoulders, washed free of the pooling blood Karson remembers seeping into her hair. Karson comes in the mornings; waiting, brushing back Scarlett’s hair and squeezing her limp hand before being asked out by the nurse at the conclusion of visiting hours.
On the fourth day sometime in the afternoon, when Karson returns from the bathroom he walks in on Scarlett blinking slowly and struggling to sit up. He breaks into a wide grin and sweeps in to hug her gently.
“I’m,” she sounds raspy, “I’m alive.” Karson breathes out, releasing her and helping her sit up against the pillows.
“Yeah, yeah you are alive, thank God.”
She frowns at her hands, “What happened? After…you know.”
Karson shifted his gaze out the window, following the brittle leaves on almost barren trees as they clung to the last hints of summer. “Vivian and Elliot were working together, they threatened to kill you or take everything. I don’t think the FBI knows anything yet, but it would be any day now that Vivian secures her assets and exposes us. I want to get us out of here, escape before we’re caught.”
Scarlett nods slowly, “We’re pretty good at escaping, wouldn’t you say?” And her lips curl into a wry smile.
Two days later Scarlett’s sitting in an old Chevy at a gas station between Raleigh and Fayetteville while Karson scrubs the windshield free of bug mush. They made a break from the hospital yesterday morning, using Karson’s second uncle’s old truck with their last stash of bills saved from Vivian’s ransack of their mansion, and hitting the highways on route to Miami. They plan to reach Miami by nightfall and catch the first red eye out of the country.
Upon arriving at the Miami International Airport, the first flight they catch is the five hour flight to Lima, Peru. “I hope you studied a little Spanish in school,” Karson mutters, “Because I sure didn’t.” Scarlett wonders if she should be concerned.
They manage to rent an apartment in the outskirts of Lima for a couple months and settle into the shabby space with minor discomforts, including Karson’s bewilderment about the toilet paper situation, “What do you mean we can’t flush the toilet paper?!” To which Scarlett could only raise her eyes to the ceiling and pray that Karson keeps his shit together.
Living in Lima tears them down in more ways than one, they find low paying jobs with the limited Spanish skills they possess, while also combating the dreadful pull in their veins for relief, drugs, alcohol, anything to soften the mind-wrenching pain that clings to their temples.
Days end in exhaustion and collapsing together in a thin mattress. Somewhere between the early mornings and hard hours of labor and the late nights eating cheap take out, they reconnect with a passion reminiscent of Italy. Where Karson’s august eyes trace the contour of her cheekbones and wrists and Scarlett flutters a hand across his solid forearm and warm chest. They escape reality in the night, realizing that it wasn’t the adrenaline from laser beam traps and clicking safe dials that they needed, but the fiery warmth that pumps through their blood when their eyes meet.