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Tart of Darkness
Carl Hiaasen
February 18, 2003
A crazed photographer has kidnapped a beautiful model and the hottest swimsuit cover in history. It's a perilous job for the man sent to retrieve them, one that tests the limits of his sanity...and his expense account
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February 18, 2003

Tart Of Darkness

A crazed photographer has kidnapped a beautiful model and the hottest swimsuit cover in history. It's a perilous job for the man sent to retrieve them, one that tests the limits of his sanity...and his expense account

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"He went upriver to get more pictures," the clerk said. "But he's taken bad sick."

I told him that no river was visible on the map of the island.

"It's more of a stream," he allowed. "Very narrow and shallow. Ladyfish Creek we call it."

"You say Mr. Kurtz is ill. How do you mean—fever? Flu?"

"Sick in the head is how I mean. He ran off every guest in the hotel, him and those damn baboons. Wrecked the cabanas, poured absinthe in the lap pool...." With a weary sigh, he tossed my room key on the counter. "The minibar's unlocked. Go nuts."

After a hot shower, a deep-tissue massage and two Toblerones, I eased out to the veranda with a rumrunner and Klein's stack of files. The thickest one was Kurtz's, of course; three decades of acidulous memos, preposterous expense accounts and unforgettable photographs. The action shots were mythic—Reggie uncoiling for that third dinger in Game 6; Magic mid-hook, catching Bird with an elbow to the cheek; Dale Sr. smacking the wall at Daytona. Equally arresting were Kurtz's black and white shots: a ragged chunk of Evander Holyfield's ear on the canvas; Dan Marino's left knee, looking like a train map of Switzerland; a half-filled specimen cup marked L. TAYLOR.

Klein had included these photos to remind me of whom I was up against—not just an artist but a ruthless and clever competitor. None of Kurtz's legendary pictures had come easily. He'd had to fight his way to the right place at the right moment.

At the bottom of his file were the swimsuit folios, some dating back to the '70s. It was said that nobody got models to light up the way Kurtz could, that they all adored him. It was also said that he'd romanced a few, which explained his most egregious expense-report claims (the case of Chateau Mouton Rothschild 1986, for example, fedexed from Paris to Santorini).

My eyes ached from reading Kurtz's antic scribbles. I reached for another miniature of Captain Morgan's and freshened my drink. Night had fallen, strangely leaden and damp. On some preternatural cue the songbirds went silent and the metronomic tree frogs took over. In the distance I heard a southbound boat, probably one of the local ferries. As the rumble of its diesels faded I felt utterly alone, though of course I wasn't.

Kurtz. He was out there somewhere in the blackness and the heat....

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