On the Beach


Things were different after the shooting.

Sara knew that; lived with it and marked it in her mind as sort of a milestone. She would always remember it, that was for sure; whether or not Brass would she didn’t know, and Grissom had never been big on specific dates.

An ambush, clear and simple; two gunmen in ski masks bursting into the Laundromat crime scene, spraying bullets that even now she could hear in her mind’s ear, relentlessly rattling as they hit the big washers and dryers of the place, an infernal racket. The yells and the blood; Brass shooting back, and the crystal chinkle of the big front window raining down on her and Grissom.

He never talked about that night.

Brass had tried to, once; Sara had let him mutter a few words and then pulled him into a hug that went on until they both needed to breathe. Then he was gone, and Sara understood.

So the thing to think about was the case. The who and the why of the thing. Sara had time to put her mind to it in the hospital. Lots of time. She and Grissom had had a pretty good idea of who; the shooting only confirmed how close they were.

Because it wasn’t random, and everyone on the Force knew it. Masked gunmen didn’t rob Laundromats. They didn’t blast fifteen rounds along linoleum folding tables and molded plastic chairs for any reason other than to kill people.

Like Sara and Brass and Grissom.

Especially Grissom.

Sara knew Sam Braun didn’t like her boss; hadn’t for years. Grissom didn’t take bribes or look the other way or lose inconvenient evidence. Catherine had the heartache, but Grissom had the balls, and Sam had always resented that. So when new evidence began building up against him, Braun took ruthless, necessary steps to remove it.

Or so he thought. And while the initial evidence was called into doubt by his lawyers, Sara knew that the matter had become personal for Braun; the Laundromat attack proved that. Afterwards she’d been told by both Ecklie and the sheriff that the matter was to be dropped and not pursued anymore. She rankled at the injustice of that for a long time.

But now it wasn’t important. Sam was suffering a hell of a lot, if her gossip was right. Two different cancers, eating him up inside so voraciously that he wasn’t expected to live more than a few more months. Sara hoped it hurt as she shifted in the plane seat, feeling lonely without Grissom. He’d gone on ahead on an earlier, cheaper flight and she knew she’d meet up with him soon.

The rugged hills and wrinkled stretch of desert down below her slowly gave way to greener hills, and wisps of clouds. Periodically the stewardesses came around to pass out peanuts. Sara closed her eyes and pretended to be asleep. She hadn’t taken any of her prescriptions yet, wanting to be clear for the flight.

The folks at the lab understood she needed some time. Nick had hugged her; Greg too. They’d all been hurt by this, ethically and emotionally. Catherine had already turned in her resignation although she was too savvy to the ways of money to cut her ties with Sam Braun.

Lindsay would be a rich granddaughter soon.

Sara hummed a little; a snatch of tune she remembered from before the shooting, when she and Grissom were still on the quiet in their relationship, unaware of what was to come. Neither she nor he played anything but the radio, but they both liked music, and this bit was one she remembered. Comforting.

*** *** ***


She rented a car at the airport and drove north, the MapQuest directions on the passenger seat beside her. Traffic was heavy and getting out of San Francisco was just the sort of annoyance she didn’t need. Only the thought of Grissom waiting for her and the beach itself kept her going. Sara gritted her teeth and kept going, ignoring the heat and the maddeningly slow pace. She crossed over the bridge and took Highway One north, feeling an ache in her chest at the familiar view of hills and cliffs tumbling down into a cold, vast Pacific.

It amused her even now to realize that she and Grissom had both grown up along this coastline; different generations to be sure, but both of them children of these waters. She carried the soft cadence of California in her speech, and Grissom had told her he loved the lilt in the way she dragged out certain syllables.

And she had to tease him about his flat Chicago intonation; how it clashed with his tan and his composure and somewhere in the teasing and accusations they’d wound up on the bed and halfway out of their clothes, dealing with a lot more than their voices and by God that had been a wonderful session.

Before the shooting, life had been like that.

Sara took the turn off, heading along Tiburon Rojo Drive now, catching sight of eucalyptus groves, the trees shedding their grey bark. She wondered if Grissom had arrived safely; the roads here were winding, and it was hard even for the little cars to navigate the twists and turns, let alone the vans and occasional delivery trucks she saw rattling along. The afternoon was bright though, not shot through with the foggy marine layer she remembered from so long ago and that made her happy. She knew it was the sort of thing that Grissom appreciated too.

An hour later she pulled up to the little cluster of ramshackle houses and pastel trailers close to the water’s edge. San Sebastian was still small and unspoiled; a tiny coast town that catered to tourists in summer and minded its own business the rest of the year. Shaggy-haired locals kept to themselves and only one or two looked up as she parked in the lot by the general store and stepped inside, amid the tee-shirts and bumper stickers and shelves of canned goods. Behind the counter a fat bleach blonde girl in a Hawaiian shirt pulled her iPod ear buds out before she spoke.

“Help ya?”

“Yeah, I’m here for the keys to cabin fifteen. And I’ve got some stuff to pick up too.”

“Oh yeah—you must be Ms Sidle, right? Sure, Got your keys and stuff right here. Lemme get the papers to sign . . . “ Waddling off the girl returned a moment later and plunked a receipt down. Sara had her sunglasses on, hiding a sudden and unexpected sting of tears.

She could smell the ocean now, the salty scent heavy on the air.

Soon.

The girl pulled up a cheap pen advertising “Surfy Sam’s Sandwich Shoppe” and handed it to Sara, who scribbled her name on the UPS receipt. She waited politely until the girl came back with the carton.

“So—need anything else? Groceries? Beer?”

Sara looked up over her shoulder to the rows of bottles over the bagged ice freezer, scanning them carefully, and nodded. “Scotch, please. A good single malt.”

Grissom liked Glen Fidditch; he’d appreciate the choice. After a few more innocuous selections, Sara carried everything out to the car, the groceries in the back, the package on the front seat. She pulled out of the lot and made her way up the hill to the last cabin along the cul de sac. Cabin fifteen faced the water, and the public access stairway was just across from it, down to the tiny sliver of beach below.

Sara sighed. She carefully brought in the supplies and after they were taken care of, she drew a breath and turned to the package. With gentle hands, she took a knife and cut along the seam of the carton, carefully pulling the flaps open and brushing away the packing Styrofoam pieces until the top of the ceramic jar came into view. With cool, gentle hands, Sara lifted it out, blinking a bit as the familiar curve of the blue glazed sides and little enamel cross on the front came into view.

“Hey babe,” she murmured, her fingers tightening on it.

*** *** ***


The moon was full, which was good. Sara hadn’t wanted to bring a flashlight which would have attracted attention. She made her way down the old wooden stairs, feeling their sweet dampness under her bare feet. The rush of the waves was a slow and ceaseless roar on the edge of hearing, and her lips were already salty. It was tricky to go down with her arms full, but Sara took her time, breathing deeply, letting the cool air fill her lungs with each breath, adding to the sense of curious lightness in her head.

They’d talked about this. One of those conversations that had always been tinged with a sense of unreality, because the “When it happens” weren’t supposed to happen—at least not for a long time. That was the theory; that was why you talked about them—saying it out loud meant it wouldn’t happen.

Just like processing a Laundromat was supposed to be uneventful.

Sara tightened her grip on Grissom. The thin line of the breaking waves glowed with bioluminescence, a ghostly wash of foam under the cool light of the moon. She stepped onto the sand, finally, and the last heat of the day touched her soles, radiating up warmly. Sara managed a grin, and slowly walked across the sand, hugging Grissom close to her chest, and letting the plastic bag dangle off her other wrist. She strode down to the point just at the edge of the wave line; between the wet and dry sand before she looked carefully at the waves. Good. The tide was coming in, ripples of waves dancing with reflected light from the moon.

She sat down. Carefully, Sara set the urn in the sand, letting the cross face towards the water. She’d gotten into the habit of considering it Grissom’s front now; his face, in a way. Not that she’d ever forget his face: the pellucid blue of his eyes, the tiny quirk of his smile. Always with her, in her mind and memory.

Carefully she folded up her long legs, tugging on the faded jeans as she looked the bag. Not many items here: the bottle of scotch was the heaviest of course, followed by the prescriptions, and the First Aid kit. Sara anchored the bag under the kit, and looked out over the water.

Perfect. It was then that the peaceful sense of rightness flooded through her, followed by pangs of such intense bittersweetness that she couldn’t hold the sob in. It escaped Sara, mingling with the sound of the waves. A lonely sound, lost in the expanse of the horizon, a cry she’d been holding back for over a year now.

Sara dropped her head, drew up her knees and cried.

*** *** ***


After a long while, a stretch of dead time when she floated between staying here forever and moving, Sara felt the cool brush of the plastic bag against her leg. Turning her head, she stared at it. Moving gently, she grabbed it, upending the bag so that the two little bottles fell onto the sand. Sara stared at them.

She drew in a deep, deep breath, and it was good.

But it wasn’t as good as the hot, stale air of Las Vegas, a year ago. The air that had gusted against her bare shoulder, exhaled by the man she loved in a quiet bedroom before they were called in to process a routine robbery.

Sara opened the pill bottle and poured out the contents. She didn’t bother counting as she brought them up to her mouth and swallowed. Fishing for the Scotch, she pried it open and took a mouthful of that as well; the sharp sting made her choke a little, made her eyes water. Sara coughed, but swallowed the bitterness. She took another, and then set the bottle down.

There were things to do first.

She still had enough coordination left, as long as she gave up some modesty. Sara laughed at the thought now—did it matter? The cool press of pottery against her chest, the little painful scratch of the cross between her breasts.

He was so light now, where he had been so heavy once.

And then it was time for more prescription and more scotch, one alternating with the other as she looked up into the night sky, watching the stars brighten against the vast velvet blackness.

Sara was cold now. She rose up and caught her balance, feeling muzzy about everything but the little jar in her arms. The little jar strapped to her chest, resting against her heart. On tottery legs she moved towards the water, one foot after another until the first wave washed over her bare toes, the chill a quick shock.

She hesitated.

Then she slid her arms up around the smooth urn, cradling it tightly, her eyes stinging once more with tears. Slowly Sara walked forward.

Knee deep, the brine and foam soaking her pantlegs.

Thigh-deep, and the dark coldness was seeping in against her vulnerable skin, making it pucker; she shivered uncontrollably at the chill even as her legs numbed.

Forward.

The black water surged around her, shifting her. Underfoot rocks bit into her steps and she nearly stumbled. It was hard to keep her eyes open now. The rush of the water cradled her as the shocking coldness pressed through the muscles, striving for the bone.

Sara relaxed.

The next wave, surging at rib level, knocked her feet out from under her, and she went under the dark water, sucking it in deeply, her hands clawing upward through the icy chill. Clouds of bubbles escaped her in desperate blurts even as the current swept her down, turning her, twisting her. Sara’s heart pounded and in a last desolate gesture one arm clutched the urn strapped to her chest even as a final gurgle of air broke from her lips to rise to the surface.

Triedwithout you . . .Ican’t. Love . . . you . . . .

Sightless, boneless under the depths, her long body folded around the urn.

After a few hours she rose to the surface, and the moonlight silvered the floating strands of her drifting hair as the tide continued to roll in.


end


                                             
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