"Thank you. Where is Uvula?"
"Getting herself beautiful for the big shoot. Want a cream soda?"
"What shoot? We're in the middle of a hurricane!"
"Yes. Isn't it glorious?" He widened his eyes in mimicry of that famous shot of a deranged Charlie Manson being led off to solitary.
"You already got your picture. Let's go home."
Kurtz laughed and clapped loudly, causing the jittery mandrills to bark and bare their teeth. "Listen to that storm," he exclaimed, and slapped me amiably across the back of the head.
After extracting my face from the sand, I had second thoughts about a beverage. Kurtz opened a soda and carefully poured some into my mouth. I noticed a portable PC on his lap.
"Pay attention, young man," he said, and slowly turned the screen so that I might see it. The photograph was achingly sublime. I gaped without reserve, thinking: Klein, Dooney and Ricks were right. There was no telling how many million magazines such a cover would sell. Forget "smoking hot"—this was molten. I describe it at length now because I am one of the few who ever saw it, a miscarriage for which I bear heavy responsibility.
Except for one detail, Kurtz's masterpiece did not resemble the image that had blazed itself into my consciousness during the trek up the creek. Uvula wore a swimsuit that was sea-mist green, not pale yellow as in my fantasy. Nor was she poised on a coral cliff, but rather she dangled by one lithe arm from the limb of an old banyan. The other arm was most alluringly positioned, her fist clutching the undone bikini top. Pinned in her navel was a small platinum skull, a gift (I would later learn) from Keith Richards. A single hulking mandrill was perched on the banyan branch, peering down at Uvula with an ominous curiosity. I have no idea how Kurtz enticed the beast to tolerate a derby hat and a pair of Oakleys, but I assure you that the effect was startling. Uvula's hungrily inquisitive expression was the only aspect of the shot that matched my daydream, and it was by far the most compelling. Since that terrible day on the island, I've researched thousands of photographs of the former Ms. Schoendienst, all the way back to her majorette days at South Ashtabula High, and found not one in which she duplicates that remarkable gaze. It is a fact that makes the outcome of my encounter with Kurtz all the more tragic.
He snapped the laptop shut and withdrew the diskette, which glinted like a gem in the firelight. Wordlessly he cut me loose, yanked me upright and hustled me past the chittering baboons, out of the grotto and into the weather.