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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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The attack was primitive perfection, and a complete surprise. Rounding another bend, I found myself under a rainbow fusillade of what appeared to be darts, or possibly miniature arrows. And although they bounced harmlessly off my chest and arms, I instinctively let go of the wheel and began slapping them away, as if they were wasps. It was then the skiff creased a shoal and began a severe clockwise slide that flung me backward against the transom.

Among the few things I remember: the sting of salt in my eyes, the god-awful whine of the Evinrude overheating, the screak of branches against the hull, the reek of gasoline....

The impact itself I cannot recall, nor for how long I lay unconscious. I awoke on a curved finger of bleached sand; scattered all around me were the little multicolored missiles that had been launched at my boat. Scooping up a handful, I saw that they were actually swizzle sticks—red, blue, green and amber—imprinted with the whimsical logo of the Lonely Palms Resort, a flamingo sipping a martini.

It was then I understood that I was dealing with a fiend.

Ladyfish Creek had shrunk to a braided trickle, unnavigable, yet there was no sign of my skiff or my gear. With mad resolve I stood and headed upstream. Ahead lay the soul of the storm, and worse.

For how long I followed that wretched excuse for a creek, it's impossible to say. A dull exhaustion set in, combined with a thirst so desperate that I found myself lapping at the falling raindrops like some demented old coyote. Kurtz never left my thoughts, but what kept me going, I confess, was an image of Uvula. It flashed like heat lightning in the back of my consciousness, a nanosecond of electric clarity in which I saw—or convinced myself I did—the very photo that was the object of my journey. She was posed on a coral cliff above a sapphire pool. Her swimsuit was the palest shade of yellow, and virtually translucent. One hand gripped a rocky outcrop; the other hand rested on her left hip, a finger hooked mischievously through the suing that held together the scant bottom triangles of the suit. Her hair was dripping and swept back, as if she'd ducked through a wave. Diamond-sized droplets sparkled from her arms and legs, which were the color of caramel. At her feet lay an iguana, its head cocked skeptically toward the lens—a touch that was pure Kurtz. Yet what made the apparition so gripping was Uvula's expression. It was one of intrigued surprise, as if a secret swim had been interrupted. She wore the beginning of a killer smile, and in her denim-blue eyes, the softest promise of....

Was it real? I chose to believe so, for otherwise I couldn't have taken another step. The storm would have hurled me down and beaten me spiritless.

Eventually the creek broke free of the mangroves and meandered along hills of emerald grass. The transition was so sudden and surreal that I took it for an hallucination, until a wind-borne coconut on a lamentable trajectory struck me between the legs. I had staggered no more than 50 yards before a figure appeared out of the rain. Cloaked in a blaze-orange poncho, the hunched form was whaling the ground with some soil of stick, as if killing a snake. No notice was taken of my weaving and ponderous approach.

"Jen!" I gasped.

She blinked once and broke into a most curious grin. "You finally made it, Jimmy."

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