05 – In the Same Boat

Continued from Early Birds

“It is pleasant to have been to a place the way a river went.”
Henry David Thoreau

*******

For Sylvie. While perhaps not Mr. Darcy — and no, I still don’t get the whole obsession with Colin Firth in a wet shirt — I hope this doesn’t disappoint your imaginings. Bon voyage and mille mercis for continuing to endure and patiently correct my ever-horrid French.

*******

Although it was Saturday and bright and early in France frequently meant no earlier than 10 a.m., the traffic along the A8 was the usual madhouse.

And perhaps it was understandable that after having been more away in Vegas than not for the last seven months, Sara had when she opted to drive that morning failed to take into account the French penchant for turning any stretch of even remotely paved road into a practice course for their very own unofficial Grand Prix. It was an oversight she was seriously ruing at the moment.

For the usually polite, well-mannered français, gastronomic gourmands and firm believers in liberté, égalité, fraternité were nothing less than certifiable madmen and maniacs behind the wheel. Speed limits, road signs and cautions were treated merely as suggestions. Often with a cell phone in one hand and cigarette in the wildly gesticulating other, les automobilistes practiced hands-free driving more than anything else and all at breakneck speeds. Here, too, motorcyclists, like those in Paris, simply made their own lanes.

So unsurprisingly it took nearly all of Sara’s concentration to avoid being run over, run into or run off the road. And while the last place she’d expected to use what she’d learned was on une autoroute française, she was starting to be thankful that Ecklie had recently mandated a defensive driving refresher for all the CSI’s in the department.

Needless to say there wasn’t exactly a great deal of conversation in the car that morning. It was just safer that way.

For his part, having never seen Sara drive stick before, as both her Prius and the department SUVs in Vegas were automatics, Grissom regarded the adroit way his wife managed to change gears, downshift and keep track of the traffic all without missing a beat with more than a hefty measure of awe.

Having still as of yet not been informed of their ultimate destination, he settled on sitting back and attempting to simply survive the ride. He’d been surprised but not all that concerned when they blew past the Cannes exit. Hadn’t exactly expected them to get off at Fréjus or Saint-Raphaël. But when they only continued further and further inland beyond the turn off for Saint-Tropez, he couldn’t keep his baffled curiosity quiet any longer.

“Sara,” he began a little uneasily. “Wouldn’t boats be in the other direction?”

Her response of “It’s not that kind of boat,” however, only left him even more confused than before.

Sara shook her head at the patently perplexed stare he was now giving her and smirked, “And to think I thought you trusted me.”

Trust me. Few scarier words were ever heard.

Although the truth was Grissom did trust his wife. Had long before she’d even come to Vegas more than a decade ago. In fact, it had been how he’d first spoken of her to the rest of the team when they’d wondered who the hell Sara Sidle was: “She’s a CSI out of San Francisco. She’s a friend of mine, someone I trust.”

And Sara had certainly never given him reason to regret that trust. So yeah, he did trust her mind, body, heart and soul. He just really wasn’t all that accustomed, fond or comfortable being on the receiving end of surprises.

Seeming to sense this, Sara took advantage of a brief lull in traffic to turn to him and say, “Oh come on, Gil. You’re the crack investigator. You saw the packing list. What does the evidence tell you?

“You must have had some idea if you brought that hat,” she grinned. “So why don’t you tell me. Or have your powers of deduction been that seriously diminished by less than two years away?”

Grissom didn’t stoop to answer this. Instead he said, “Has something to do with bugs.”

“See, told you it was obvious.”

“I would hope so. I don’t think I want to know what you would have wanted to do with the nets or collecting boxes otherwise. But that doesn’t actually answer my original question.”

As he was going to find out all about it soon enough and with it perhaps better not to torment or try her husband’s almost legendary supply of patience any further, Sara opted to be more forthcoming than coy.

“You remember me telling you about the Vance Colton case from last month?” she began.

“Ex-CIA agent found dead in the river?” he replied, still not quite sure how it was related.

“Yeah.”

Except Sara suddenly realized that even if that conversation between her and Dr. Ray about the inherent difficulty in sinking canoes had been what had initially got her thinking about this whole excursion she and Grissom were about to embark upon, continuing with this explanation would mean her having to confess to her husband that she’d inadvertently let slip to Langston a little more than she’d meant to about that canoe trip she and Grissom had taken during their honeymoon. Which probably wasn’t the best of ideas.

It wasn’t that she thought Grissom would be upset, even if they both tended to keep mum about the more private aspects of their relationship and always had. It was more the ribbing she was likely to get from Grissom if he knew about her slip.

Not that she’d told Ray much of anything in the first place. Although what little she had had been enough to earn her a barely smothered suggestive sort of smirk from the good doctor.

Besides, she and Grissom hadn’t been up to anything scandalous. It had all been perfectly innocent, well mostly, as there wasn’t all that much actual mischief you really could get into in a canoe.

With a good half hour in the car to go and fully cognizant of the fact that her husband would just wait for her to continue, there was no way to just leave it at that, so she settled on saying, “Anyway, there was a canoe involved and I realized it’s been a while since you and I’ve been out. And as we usually seem to have a good time…”

Of course there had been more to it than just that, apart from what she’d said to Ray. The arresting sentiments in that letter Grissom had sent her a few weeks before had jolted the whole canoe trip idea from a purely theoretical into not only a practical but desirable solution to the question of what to do for Grissom’s spring school holidays.

Knowing all too well her husband’s — and her own for that matter — predilection for peace and quiet, as well as being able to do things on their own time and ways and pace, she quickly forwent any thought of an organized tour or some of the more wildly adventurous white water trips that traveled through the Verdon Gorge, even if the place was the French answer to America’s Grand Canyon. Instead, with its far more sedate drift, an unhurried canoe trip down the Argens River seemed decidedly more their style. Besides, Sara wasn’t all that keen on trying to compete or keep up with the college crowd.

From the fond way Grissom seemed to be regarding the prospect, it had been the right choice.

“A very good time,” he replied, thinking as he was back to their trek via canoe through the mangrove forests of Costa Rica. While it hadn’t been the last time they’d been out together, it had certainly been one of the most memorable. Of course honeymoons did tend to be that way — memorable to say the least.

“Should be plenty of bugs out this time of year,” Sara added then qualified, “but I thought we’d pass on the overnight outdoor camp-outs and fishing this time.”

“You have something against fishing?”

“No. I just like to eat.”

For however peaceful and almost Zen-like the experience had proven to be, Grissom’s first and last foray into fly-fishing hadn’t exactly been a success if you were interested in the actual catching of fish.

The multitudes of Renaults, Peugeots, BMWs, VWs and Mercedes along la route steadily beginning to thin as they continued further and further west and further and further it seemed from civilization proper finally gave Grissom and Sara the opportunity to enjoy a bit of the scenery.

The mountains continued to retain their Mediterranean character as they journeyed deeper into the rich lush verdancy that had led to the Départment du Var being best known as la Provence Verte, the green Provence. Pine trees towered; the canopies of cork, evergreens, oak and mimosas cast their shade. Even where the garrigue or limestone moors were so stony as to be inhospitable to large numbers of the hardiest of gorse and thistles, tiny pockets of thyme, lavender and wild rosemary could be found peeping between the rocks.

They left the A8 behind with very little regret. Recalling that the directions she’d pulled up on MapQuest before leaving Vegas had indicated that a complicated series of twists and turns lay ahead, Sara passed her iPhone over to Grissom who unsurprisingly proved to be a fairly competent navigator and they managed to reach the pretty medieval village of Entrecasteaux a little before ten.

With its narrow cobbled streets lined with an impressive collection of 16th Century houses and a striking 17th Century chateau, it seemed a shame not to be able to stop and wander about for a bit, but Sara however reluctantly had to insist that they had a schedule to keep.

By the time they reached the neatly marked car park for the canoe rental agency Sara had selected both she and Grissom were beyond thrilled to finally be able to get out and stretch their legs, especially after being trapped for nearly two hours in their rented VW Golf.

As they headed off in search of the office, Sara pointed to a truck trailer neatly piled with canoes and said with the snarky sort of smirk used for pointing out the obvious, “See, Gil, boats.”

They must have made quite a picture, the two of them, Sara adjusting her sunglasses; Grissom his ubiquitous straw hat and each of them dressed in their old camp clothes or what was left of them. Most of what they had worn in the rainforest they’d managed to wear out or into rags by the time they’d left. Still, Sara had slipped on an old pair of convertible khakis and partially buttoned a camp shirt over her tank top. Grissom dressed much to match. Neither of them really seemed to care that they weren’t the least bit fashionable. Although Sara did shake her head for the thousandth time about the hat.

“You might want to keep an eye on that,” she warned, motioning to his said not quite offending, yet bemusing all the same headgear. For he’d almost managed to lose it while out fishing during their honeymoon more than a year before.

Sara couldn’t recall exactly how the hat had ended up in the water in the first place, but they’d both gone tromping through the shallows in attempts to catch it before the current completely whisked it away.  By the time Sara had snatched it up, they’d each been fairly well soaked and had needless to say made enough of a ruckus to frighten off all the fish. And that was before Sara hadn’t freely handed the hat over.

“You were lucky to get it back last time,” she insisted. “And there is no way I’m going after it again, not with how cold the water is here.”

“Is that why you didn’t have me pack your swimsuit?”

“That water’s not even 50 degrees. Going for a swim is the last thing on my mind.”

“That’s too bad,” Grissom replied.

It was Sara’s turn to goggle after him.

*******

In preparation for departure, Grissom and Sara were loading up their supplies for the day in the series of watertight containers the rental group provided when he paused to regard the bottle of rum his wife had slipped inside with a rather dubious eye.

“Didn’t anyone ever warn you that boating and alcohol don’t mix, dear?” he teased.

She gave him a pursed lipped you know me better than that glare before replying, “It isn’t for me — or you. Pour les papillones, chéri.”

Although peach schnapps seemed to be the preferred imbibition of choice for the Lepidopteran set.

“Except,” Grissom replied, “I don’t recall seeing you pick that up at the market.”

For despite their hurry that morning, that hadn’t been a good enough reason to skip petit déjeuner. So they’d made a brief stop at Nice’s famed Cours Saleya before heading out, rubbing elbows as they did so at that hour in the market more with the eagle-eyed gossiping local housewives than tourists as they picked up fresh beignets aux pommes raisins secs for breakfast as well as all the accouterments for a hearty lunchtime pique-nique.

“Didn’t. Duty-free shop in Rome,” she supplied.

He gave her an impressed, “Thought of everything, I see.”

To which she replied with a matter of fact, “Learned from the best.”

Gesturing to the boat and river and trees all around them Grissom asked, “So how did you manage to arrange all this from Vegas? More dinner party connections?”

Even if they weren’t all that fond of having to attend the various and frequent obligatory soirées that came as part of Grissom’s guest lectureship, neither of them could deny that the events and the requisite socializing they entailed did come in handy from time to time, particularly when you wanted inside information or to be able to get your hands on highly coveted and hard to find items such as tickets to the Opera Bastille. But not this time.

With another smug sort of smirk, Sara said, “Didn’t you know, Gil, Google is a girl’s best friend.”

Which prompted him to lean in to say, with equal parts gaieté et sincérité, Je t’adore.

I adore you.

It hadn’t taken Grissom all that long to discover that there were just some things easier to convey in la langue français. For while it wasn’t that he worried or had any doubts when it came to Sara’s feelings for him, or even his own for her, he was still relatively new at expressing those sorts of things out loud. It was a habit, he supposed, not unlike his long practiced custom of choosing to pull from his ample repertoire of notable quotations when wishing to make a point or better express himself.

In any case, Sara didn’t seem to mind, for she beamed at him for a long moment before murmuring in return, “Definitely sexy, even if it isn’t the weather.”

Grissom gave her a genuinely baffled expression by way of reply, but as the young owner and local tour guide was on his way back with a water-resistant map and two paddles in hand, she only mouthed, “Tell you later.”

*******

With the last of their mandatory Canoeing Basics 101 lectures complete, Grissom gave her a grin as he handed Sara her paddle. “Perhaps I should steer this time,” he said.

Precipitating the more than a hint of a challenge in Sara’s subsequent, “Are you complaining about my driving?”

“Your driving is just fine,” he countered. “It’s your steering I’m concerned about.”

“At least I never almost sunk a canoe.”

“You really can’t sink a modern canoe.”

“Yeah, so I’ve heard. But then how did we end up in the river?”

To this Grissom didn’t seem to have a ready rejoinder.

Even if the answer was easy, if difficult to pronounce: Rhodopygia hinei.

The vivid, almost blood red bodied dragonfly had seemed to enjoy taunting them that day in Costa Rica, constantly hovering just out of reach like most Odonata species were wont to do. Grissom had made one lunge too many and….

Back in the forested woodland of la Provence Verte, with it very rapidly becoming apparent that no response was likely to ever be forthcoming on her husband’s end, Sara simply handed him the small waterproof camera they regularly used for their various riverine adventures with a, “I suppose I can trust you with this this time.”

“Of course,” he said with that same sort of abject cluelessness he’d just displayed about the canoe.

With a heavy sigh and equally ponderous shake of the head, Sara muttered, “Vita longa, memoria brevis, Gilbert?”

“Been brushing up on your Latin while you’ve been gone, dear?” came his rather blithe reply.

“Get in the boat, Gil.”

Gil Grissom knew when it was best to do as he was told.

*******

It didn’t take long for the two of them to settle into the customary easy rhythm that came from more than a few excursions out on the water together. Not that they really needed to focus on paddling all that much. The current was strong enough to take them all the way back to la Mer Méditerranée if they’d wanted to go that far. But they were more than content to indulge in the simple pleasures of an unhurried journey.

They certainly couldn’t have asked for better weather: sunny, but not hot, with the tickle of a breeze and the sky that brilliant blue Provence was so famous for. And with it yet being early spring and well before the cramped and chaotic heights of the August tourist season, apart from the occasional grey heron or flash of orange and blue of a brightly hued kingfisher, they practically had the river to themselves.

All the better to enjoy the companionable solitude. And all the easier to leave the rest of the world, particularly Vegas behind.

Above their heads the sun dappled gold amongst the leaves. It sparkled diamonds on the surface of water so crystalline you could make out the pike, perch and carp swimming beneath the nearly perfect reflections of tall grasses, silvery willows and stately poplars.

All around them, it was stillness surrounded by sound, of river rush, the flutter and flap of wings, the riots of song from birds more often heard than seen, the constant chirr of crickets.

They originally mistook the sleek reddish-brown shape floating effortlessly along the shore for an otter. But drifting nearer, they soon discovered it to be Coypu myocastor, what the French called a ragondin, but was more frequently known as a nutria, a meter-long semi-aquatic rodent who was practically as far away from home as they were. The species, originally native to South America, had been brought over, introduced and farm-raised in France for its highly prized rich velvety grey under fur more than a century before.

Grissom dealt with his disappointment in being several months too early for the annual summer concerts of les cigales with his usual aplomb. The fact that he’d manage to spot, or rather catch a whiff of — although how anyone could miss the smell of carrion it used to attract their bluebottle pollinators — a remarkable example of an asclepiad hadn’t hurt.

There was certainly no dearth of insects, particularly if one chose to linger amongst the tall grasses of the calm culverts where battalions of dragonflies regularly buzzed.

Upon first arriving in France, Grissom had been surprised and more than a little disappointed to find that the French weren’t any more fond or open-minded about bugs than folks were back home. By now that open-mouthed dumbfounded stare he’d encountered upon informing the men he’d run into in the lobby the night before that he was un entomologiste was pretty de rigueur or normale as they tended to say in Southern France.

It didn’t matter that le laboratoire d’Entomologie du Musée National d’Histoire Naturelle housed more than twenty insect specimens for every one of Paris’s two million human inhabitants. Perhaps just not quite enough time had passed since the 1860’s when a particularly pernicious infestation of Phylloxera beetles killed off virtually every vine in France.

When he’d lamented as much to her, Sara had confessed to finding information on the best places to go for insect hunting in France dishearteningly lacking. And for once, even her trusty Google hadn’t had all that much to say on the subject.

Of course what baffled Grissom most was that the French didn’t eat them. Although arthropods such as snails, lobster and crab regularly featured in la cuisine français and the French weren’t the least bit shy about eating cuisses de grenouille (frog legs), cervelle (brains), tripes, mole (marrow), ris de veau (sweetbreads), foie gras and a host of other delicacies that would make even many a non-vegetarian American pause. During one of the sieges of the city, when even cheval or horsemeat was hard to get, parisiens even went so far as to dine on cat and dog and even rat, although only the rich could afford the spices and seasonings to make the latter palatable. But entomophagy in any form was practically unheard of.

The French colons of Algeria may have brought back with them plenty of the local culture, customs and cuisine, but not it seemed the consuming of insectes like locusts, despite their high protein and nutritional values.

While Sara was usually a patient and active listener when it came to all things Grissom, the mere thought, let alone talking about eating insects always made her a little green. The one and only time she’d ever done it, and chocolate covered grasshoppers weren’t really all that exotic of bug fare, had been more than enough for her and had been the end of her ever betting against Grissom.

So after the first five minutes or so, she let her mind begin to wander. At first, it seemed to go unnoticed. One of the benefits of sitting in the front of a canoe was that it made glassy-eyed lack of interest hard to spot.

But even Gil Grissom wasn’t that clueless. Not even in the midst of bug talk.

Reasoning that perhaps he’d dulled his wife into stupefaction, he opted to rouse her by sending a cascade of water down his paddle and along the back of her exposed neck.

It certainly had that effect.

For Sara spun on him spluttering, “You did that on purpose!”

He made no reply, mostly because he was too busy trying to hide his own smirk beneath a carefully constructed façade of innocence which didn’t fool Sara in the slightest. She knew that he knew that they both knew enough about how the principles of cast off worked for his silent disavowal to be the least bit credible.

Still, despite Sara giving him a look that plainly screamed You know I will, Grissom dared to persevere with his guiltless act.

So in a tone heavy with one last warning, she said, “You are familiar with the phrase, ‘Up a creek without a paddle,’ aren’t you, Gil?”

At his wordless riposte of Go ahead, she next replied, “Fine, two can play at that game,” and splashed him soundly.

It wasn’t long before they were drenched from head to toe.

Not that that stopped either of them.

Their tomfoolery continued to escalate until Grissom raised both his hands and paddle in the air in surrender, shouting, “Whoa, truce. Truce.”

“Worried?” queried Sara. “Weren’t you the one who keeps maintaining that you can’t sink a canoe?”

“Sink no, capsize, yes,” he corrected.

“And we’d be any more wet now how?”

As there wasn’t much point in arguing this or that after all the commotion the two of them had been making, they really weren’t likely to see much of anything for a while, and with it being well past noon, a break seemed to be in order. Grissom steered the canoe towards a promising bit of sunlit bank.

The two of them hopped out into the calf-high water to tug the boat ashore, adding soaked socks inside damp boots to their already long list of water-induced discomforts.

Grissom suggested lunch, but Sara was still a little squeamish after their a little too recent discussion about dining on insects. That and she really wanted to get out of her wet clothes more than anything.

Which presented a bit of a problem. For while she should have known better from what mischief had occasioned during their previous canoe trips, she’d neglected to pack a spare change of dry clothes or even towels.

At least in Costa Rica the weather and the water had been considerably warmer. In fact, though she would never admit it to her husband in a million years, their unexpected dip that day had actually been quite refreshing after all the heat of the morning.

“I thought,” rued Sara as she peeled off her sopping over shirt and draped it atop a nearby tree branch to dry in the sun, “I told you I wasn’t planning on getting wet today.”

Grissom shrugged before slipping off his own shirt to do the same. “‘The best laid plans…,’” he intoned with all the usual loftiness he reserved for quotations.

“Yeah, I know. But you started it. And don’t you even think about it,” she cautioned, having registered that her husband was currently holding their camera. Not often prone to vanity or no, Sara didn’t relish the idea of being captured looking as she imagined she did like a half-drown rat.

“Wouldn’t dream of it, dear,” he returned with a smile, the thought honestly having not occurred to him until she mentioned it.

But as they still had several days of traveling together yet to go and the Golf wasn’t that large of a car, not to mention he still had no clue where they were actually supposed to be going in the first place, all coupled with him being all too aware of what his wife’s usual forms of payback entailed, Grissom choose to prevail upon discretion, that better part of valor.

Instead, as Sara was shivering slightly from the sudden chill of the water, he came over and attempted to warm the goosebumps from her bare arms with his hands.

A soft smile tugged at her lips. It was usually hard for her to stay irritated at her husband for long, especially when he was touching her like that. So she simply closed her eyes and relished in the long awaited contact of skin on skin.

“I love you,” she sighed.

Thinking her far off tone presaged something more, Grissom asked, “But?”

When she next peered up at him, her eyes relayed the same simple message her next words conveyed: “No buts. I love you.”

Grissom grinned. There were just some things that were nice to hear, even if you already knew them.

Nice too he mused that all the wet had rendered the tank top she was currently wearing far more revealing than concealing.

“Although,” Sara said after a moment, “I’m starting to think we really would have gotten less wet if we’d actually gone swimming.”

Then, not the least bit ignorant as to the way her husband was admiring her, she added, amused and rueful all at once, “And you don’t look very sorry.”

He didn’t and wasn’t.

And considering that she was neither immune nor oblivious to the observation that as he’d been as thoroughly soaked as she, Grissom’s thin, white cotton undershirt concealed even less, Sara found she wasn’t really either.

*******

Continued in (Another) Unexpected Change of Plans

1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. mbonthecorner
    Jul 27, 2010 @ 17:45:11

    Hi Karen-I wanted to let you know how much I enjoyed your latest story(with very good French!) I was pleased to find it waiting when we returned from our cruise (internet access was something like .65 a minute, so we did not indulge) We had a wonderful, lazy trip with plenty of sun and snorkeling. Take care, I’m sure you are hard at work on the next installment of Gil and Sara’s adventure! -Marcia

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