04 – Nightlife

Continued from On the Meaning Behind Mementos.

Unlike the gradual, almost imperceptible way the day faded from light into dark when night fell in Vegas, in the Costa Rican rainforest night crashed — abrupt and utterly. And in the interval before the stars began to blink on in earnest and the moon rose to cast everything in its silvery glow, that night was thick with all the impenetrable darkness of Indian ink.

Grissom had forgotten just how dark it could be after all the years he had lived beneath the harsh glaring neon lights. It was a startling and yet welcome change.

However, the darkness did not bring silence with it. The forest was full of night noises – hum, buzz and chirrup, the whisper of insect wings and the creeping of critters that did not emerge until night. Nor was the camp itself precisely quiet. Quite the reverse in fact. The place bustled with activity. But there was an underlying sense of order to all the chaos; a measure of routine that Grissom was still in the process of working out, but was certain was there.

Introductions had been hurriedly and perfunctorily made in the midst of supplies being put away and the dinner preparations begun. Although Ana had stopped long enough to shake hands and lean in to tell Grissom that she knew he had to be special from the way Sara’s face lit up every time she spoke of him. Sara had merely shrugged at this and hurried him off to go help set the table.

Grissom measured out the plates, “Ana, Stephen, Bridget, Luis, Bernie, you and I…” He turned to Sara and asked, “Am I missing anyone?”

She counted the people out. “Six – no seven – that’s right. I’m still getting used to there being another person,” she replied with a slight smile. “By the way, don’t let Luis and Bernie fool you with all of their apologies about how bad their English is,” Sara added. “Their English is just fine and certainly a lot better than my Spanish.

“I am still trying to figure out exactly how to get them back for a trick they played on me the first week I got here. I made the mistake of asking them how to ask for baby oil in one of the shops. Let’s just say I got a lot of snickers until a friendly Tico politely informed me I was asking for something else entirely.”

Grissom grinned at this, felt half-amused half-sorry for the two young men. For he knew all too well the dangers of pissing Sara off.

“Baby oil?” he queried after a moment.

Sara rolled her eyes. “Get your mind out of the gutter, Gil. You mix it with a dettol to make insect repellent,” she explained. “It’s an old bushman recipe Bridget picked up that actually works, believe it or not, and is a lot more environmentally friendly and better for your skin than DEET.”

“I see,” he said, but didn’t sound entirely convinced.

Sara shook her head and over the clink of the enamelware plates and mugs upon the tabletop told him to “Just remember that forensics really isn’t polite dinner conversation for most of the rest of the world.”

“So no dead bodies at the dinner table?”

“Right.”

“Fine with me,” he readily concurred. Murder and mayhem were the last things he wanted to talk about these days. “What about bugs?” he asked.

Sara paused in the act of laying out the cutlery to consider it. She settled on, “Fine within reason.”

“Within reason?” he echoed.

“Nothing gross. Gross by normal people’s standards,” she hurriedly amended, remembering exactly whom she was talking to and the fact that Grissom’s gross- out threshold exceeded pretty much everyone’s on the planet apart from a few nine year old boys. “And just in case you’re tempted,” she warned. “Remember that I know just as many embarrassing stories about you as you do about me.”

That did give him a moment’s pause.

“Which reminds me,” he finally said. “What exactly did you tell them?”

“About you?” Sara asked. “Nothing too mortifying.”

Considering the grin she was currently wearing, he wasn’t entirely reassured.

********

It wasn’t long before Grissom realized that Sara hadn’t been joking when she had told him that she hoped he liked beans and rice. Gallo pinto featured heavily at dinner along with platters of patacones – fried plantains – and fresh homemade tortillas. It was simple food, but hearty and delicious.

Although Grissom noticed that midway through the meal, much of it remained on Sara’s plate and she hadn’t taken much to eat to begin with. She had been quiet, too, more quiet than he would have thought her to be. But no one else seemed to notice.

Over the cover of Ana and the two younger Ticos engaged in what was rapidly becoming a heated discussion on the superiority of each of their own abuela’s recipes for Christmas tamales, he gave her a concerned glance and mouthed, Butterflies? Sara nodded. He gave her a knowing smile in reply and a slight wink that only she could see, and was pleased to observe that she perked up a great deal after that.

He wasn’t quite sure how it happened, but somehow he had avoided what he thought would be the inevitable and equally awkward twenty questions that new people always seemed to have showered upon them when they first arrived. It was an interpersonal ritual he had never been all that fond of as he wasn’t crazy about being the center of attention.

It wasn’t as if they ignored him either though. Rather it was as if the group already considered him a longstanding member instead of an interloper who had suddenly appeared in their midst.

Of course he didn’t believe for a moment that there wouldn’t be questions later. But that didn’t keep him from enjoying both the meal and the company.

One certainly couldn’t regard the conversation as dull. If anything it was several notches above boisterous that evening. The great tamale debate was just the beginning. Sensing that a change in topic was in order before the discussion of the various virtues of tamales got out of hand, Stephen deftly changed the subject and upon his instigation, Ana began regaling the group with a retelling of her exploits in town in a mixture of English and very colorful Spanish that had everyone including Grissom and Sara grinning, if not practically dying of laughter by the end.

Luis, who was sitting on Grissom’s left, leaned in conspiratorially and began to relate to him a story about the camp’s encounter with a huge tarantula that had decided a few weeks back to make its home in one of the showers much to everyone chagrin, except Sara’s, whom Luis explained merely calmly and collectedly went to locate a large pot, nonchalantly captured up the hairy eight-legged monster in one swift single stroke and proceeded to take it down by the river to set it free as if it were the most natural and normal thing to do in all the world. Sara shrugged and countered that the spider hadn’t been THAT big, especially when compared to a couple of the ones in Grissom’s collection back home that for some unknown reason had a nasty tendency to like to pull a Houdini every once in a while.

After a while, the group began to excuse themselves in ones and twos. They all it seemed suddenly had something they needed or wanted to do before heading off to bed. Bridget grumbled about having to finish up a letter home to her grandfather, whom as he believed that computers were evil, refused to correspond via e-mail. As he was covering most of her expenses while she was in graduate school, Bridget reluctantly complied with what she regarded as his horribly old-fashioned requests for updates via snail mail. Bernie and Luis headed back to their tent, hoping to catch a game of futbol on their shortwave radio. Stephen insisted on taking Sara’s dish duty that night and Ana disappeared off to reluctantly handle some grant paperwork she said she had long been procrastinating on completing. Grissom, Sara was amused to see, seemed to appreciate Ana’s rue, but then Grissom had in all the years she had known him never been a huge fan of that particular task.

This left the two of them sitting alone at the table.

“And I actually thought they liked you,” Sara quipped in response to the rest of the camp’s abrupt disappearing act. Grissom’s eyes narrowed, but once he realized it was an attempt at a tease more than anything, he merely gave her a grin in reply.

“You okay?” he said after a few minutes.

“Yeah.”

“You seemed a little… preoccupied earlier.”

“No,” she replied with the hint of a smile. “Just distracted.”

“Fair enough.”

Although the truth was, she had been both preoccupied and distracted by his presence across the table from her at dinner — distracted by him merely being there and equally preoccupied with the still whole seemingly unreality of it.

Grissom glanced down at his wristwatch and was surprised to find that it wasn’t too long after eight o’clock.

“Does everyone always go to bed this early?” he asked curiously.

Sara shook her head in bemusement. “No, but I think they all thought we might like to.”

“I see.”

“You have to be exhausted.”

He shrugged noncommittally.

“Still too wound up?” she said, more as a statement than a real question and then continued with a sigh, “I don’t think they quite realize how hard it can be to fall asleep at night after working the graveyard shift for so long.

“So how about a walk,” Sara suggested.

At night, in the rainforest? his incredulous expression seemed to ask.

“We won’t go too far and it’s still early enough that you don’t have to worry too much about getting eaten,” she answered. When he continued to look concerned, she added, “There hasn’t been a large carnivore sighting in this part of the park for a very long time. The worst you have to worry about are the mosquitoes and at this time of year not even those really. Besides, Ana did tell you to bring a jacket, right?”

He nodded.

“Good,” she replied. “It would seem,” and she paused as if searching for the right word and apparently deciding in favor of strange continued,  “To see you without a jacket I mean.”

He thought back on all the times she had goaded him about his wearing a jacket in what she seemed to regard as the most inappropriate weather, and had a hard time hiding his amusement. Sara for her part never could understand how it could be ninety degrees out and Grissom would still don a coat as if it were no warmer than fifty.

Which was about the temperature it was at the moment. Just as with deserts, people never thought that the rainforest could be cool — even cold — at night.

The warming effect of dinner and the hot tea they had consumed during the meal had already begun to wear off. Grissom had long ago unrolled his shirtsleeves to cover his arms.

“It was snowing in Vegas right before I left,” he told her as she began to lead the way back to their tent.

“Snowing?” she queried in disbelief.

“Yes.”

“As in actually snowing?”

“Yes,” he said again.

Real stick on the ground snow?”

“More than three inches of accumulation on the Strip. Henderson and the outlying areas had more than eight,” replied Grissom. “It was the largest snowfall on record for almost a century.  They had to shut down McCarran. The city was practically at a standstill.”

“I can imagine,” Sara said, trying to remember the last time she could recall Vegas getting anything more than a dusting, even a dusting, and was coming up blank. She shrugged her shoulders and quipped, “I guess it is true what they say. Hell really does occasionally freeze over.”

“It wasn’t all bad,” Grissom maintained.

“No,” she readily conceded. “It wasn’t.”

And it hadn’t been.

While Vegas was Vegas and Sin City never did seem to sleep or take a break from its frenetic insanity, she had frequently found a measure of peace there, too. It had been the first time she had ever really known a home. But the city had just gotten to be too much – too much noise and neon, too much hate and anger, too much death and destruction on a daily basis, and since they had moved to separate shifts per Ecklie’s edict, they had so infrequently seen each other in those last few months leading up to the first time she had left Vegas that she hadn’t even had Grissom’s reassuring presence to help mitigate the madness.

His voice cut across her thoughts, for which she was immensely grateful. “All that snow, it was…” began Grissom.

“Strange?” she supplied.

“Beautiful,” he answered. “Although Hank wasn’t all that keen on it, or having to go out in the cold.”

“Now that doesn’t surprise me at all,” she said and then suddenly stopped dead in her tracks. “Hank!” she cried as if suddenly remembering an important detail that had somehow managed to slip her mind until that moment.

“What?” Grissom asked, not quite sure what she was suddenly so concerned about.

“What did you do with Hank?”

Grissom gave her a reassuring smile. “He’s with Robin. For now.”

“I sure hope you gave her a nice holiday bonus this year,” Sara said, thinking about how even when she was still in Vegas Hank had probably spent more time at the dog sitter’s than he ever did with either her or Grissom.

“She sends her best by the way,” Grissom was saying as they resumed their trek back to the tent. “And at least Hank was beginning to perk up by the time I left,” he said. “I wasn’t sure he was ever going to forgive me.”

“For leaving him behind?”

“No,” he replied with a shake of the head. “For letting you go.”

Which caused Sara to stop short again.

“He misses you.”

“He misses that I used to sneak him extra treats when you weren’t looking,” countered Sara with a laugh, covering the last few meters between them and the tent in several large measured strides as she did so.

“No,” he said with a more determined shake of the head. “He misses you.”

For it was far too easy for him to recall the despondency that seemed to settle over Hank’s features every time he had shown up alone to pick him up from the sitter’s. Grissom honestly hadn’t known what to do about the dog’s listlessness and lack of appetite nor his increasing tendency to lurk and hover about his heels. Nor did he have a suitable answer — any answer even — for the forlorn and baleful questioning expression that Hank had begun to perpetually wear.

But the dog really had seemed to perk up just before Grissom left, as if he could sense that change for the better was in the air.

Or perhaps he had just imagined it or was merely projected his own sense and feelings on his canine companion.

He was lost without you around, Grissom thought, but did not say. He was lost without you around and so was I.

Instead, he let his hand settle on the small of her back. Sara relished the quiet intimacy expressed in that simple touch and was struck yet once again that day momentarily speechless when he said, “I missed you. Everyday.”

*******

Sometime later, when Grissom seemed to be dawdling in the act of slipping on his jacket, Sara turned to him and said, “You do trust me, Gilbert, not to get you lost on your first night here?”

When she put it that way, he really couldn’t protest.

“Come on,” she urged, picking up her electric lantern again and extending her other hand to him. “There is something I want to show you.”

He took it and she tugged him down one of the paths she hadn’t shown him earlier during their what she had tongue-in-cheek labeled ten-cent tour. They could for a little while yet still hear Bernie’s radio warbling off in the distance. Grissom shook his head and recalling what Greg had been like when he first started at the lab, was beginning to honestly believe that the desire to drown out the silence with whatever noise they could find was merely a trait of the young who had not yet learned how to prize the quiet.

Of course the forest wasn’t particularly mute either. As they retreated farther and farther away from camp, the rustle of their feet became more crash and crunching the thicker and denser the brush and undergrowth grew. The hum and buzz of the insects’ almost deafening white noise was punctuated with the occasional unfamiliar cry — whether of birds or something more mammalian, Grissom wasn’t sure.

“I would ask you to fill me in on all the gossip,” Sara said with a measure of mischief in her voice. “But as this is you we are talking about after all. And I know you never gossip.”

“Actually, I do have some news,” he retorted. His stress on the last word both emphasizing and reiterating the fact that he didn’t stoop to such things as rumormongering.

“How is everyone?”

“Good. Busy. Vegas is Vegas.”

“And some things never change,” Sara finished rather ruefully. “How did everyone take the news?”

“Of my leaving? With a generous measure of incredulity.”

“Can you blame them?” she asked for she had certainly felt that way when he had told her.

“The lab will be in good hands with Catherine in charge,” he insisted. “Of that I have no doubt.”

“Neither do I.”

While she and Catherine may have spent a great deal of time stepping on each other’s toes and getting on each other’s nerves over the years, Sara never once doubted her colleagues’ abilities. Although she may have sometimes questioned her means and methodologies.

“She was always better at playing politics than I was,” Grissom was saying.  “Which should come in handy as they made Ecklie under-sheriff.”

“That actually sounds fortuitous,” replied Sara. “So now he shouldn’t be in Catherine’s hair too much. Or busy loosing bodies,” she added with an impish sort of lilt to her voice. Conrad Ecklie had never been one of her favorite people.

Grissom couldn’t help but smile, remembering all too well one of the last occasions Ecklie had pulled actual field duty. He had to admit the whole thing had been rather amusing to say the least, except perhaps for Doc and David whom Ecklie had readily blamed for the missing Mr. Billmeyer.

“Well, they did have the last laugh,” he replied. And they had, as had pretty much everyone else in the lab once the story of the body showing up on a bench in front of CSI decked in a party hat and with a cigar hanging out of his mouth had made the rounds.

“I’m surprised they let you go,” Sara sighed. “I thought Grave was short staffed as it was.”

“Not for too much longer,” he answered. “I have a good feeling about someone who could fill the open position. They decided to make it for a level one, but I think he’ll fit right in.”

“Oh?” she queried.

“Pathologist turned academic,” Grissom offered.

Her tone turned incredulous. “As a level one?”

He nodded. “I have a feeling he’d be amenable to the change.”

“Kindred spirit?” she said, musing that Grissom had pretty much done the same thing.

“Of a sort, yes. So I doubt the position will be open for long. And Riley’s seemed to have settled in well.”

When Sara cocked her head in puzzlement, Grissom added, “Riley Adams. CSI level two. Came from St. Louis toward the end of October. A little impetuous, but the no-nonsense type. Perhaps a bit too much no-nonsense.”

Sara smirked. “You mean there is actually someone out there who can resist the Grissom charm?”

While Grissom’s brow furrowed at this, he continued as if he hadn’t heard her, “She’s good and the guys seem to like her. Doc, too. But she’s not you.”

It was Sara’s turn to be taken aback. “Flattery will get you everywhere, you know,” she said after a turn. “But the guys like her you say.”

“She and Greg seemed to have evolved an interesting relationship.”

Sara’s quizzical look was obvious even in the faint lamplight.

“Not like that, dear,” he hurriedly amended. “At least I don’t think so. But they tease and taunt each other in a way that drives Nick crazy. Or so I’ve heard.”

“Well I bet Greg is really enjoying no longer being the low man on the totem pole.”

“He made CSI level three a few weeks ago.”

“Against all odds,” Sara laughed. “Who would have thought?”

“I admit I had my reservations at the time. But I was wrong to doubt him.”

“I’m sorry, what was that again?” she inquired.

“I was wrong,” Grissom replied. “Greg turned into a first rate CSI.” Although when she continued to appear skeptical, it was his turn to ask, “What?”

“I’ll have to remember this day,” she said, giving his hand a slight squeeze. It was now his turn to gape in puzzlement. “Gil Grissom admitted he was wrong about something,” she offered.

“You make it sound like that’s a rarity,” he retorted, a slight frown tugging at his cheeks. His feet were suddenly firmly rooted where he stood.

“Well, it is,” Sara rejoined. “But mostly because you’re usually not wrong.”

“I suppose I was hoping you might find it memorable for other reasons.”

She smiled and tugged him forward. “Come on,” she urged. “We’re almost there.”

There turned out to be a small clearing where a fallen chicle tree had left a portion of the canopy open to the sky.

Sara switched off the lantern. For a long moment they just stood there waiting for their eyes to readjust to the darkness. When they finally had, the two of them peered up.

It was a cloudless night and while the stars themselves had had plenty of time to wink and blink into existence, the moon hadn’t yet risen to cast its silvery pall on everything, so there was nothing to diminish the spectacle.

And spectacle — and spectacular — it was. For the sky was indeed alive with stars — more stars than Grissom had seen for a very long time. A veritable ocean of them stretched as far as their eyes could see.

“I’d invite you to sit,” Sara was saying. “But you have to be careful about that. Not all the bugs are friendly around here. But the view is….”

“Breathtaking,” he breathed, although he was looking at her when he said it.

To be continued in An Unusual, but Particularly Effective Cure for Insomnia.

********

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