Steering me forward, I Kurtz pressed his chin to my ear so that he could be heard over the storm.
"Focus groups," he hissed. "That's what they've done to our craft, Jimmy. They show our best stuff to a panel of anonymous googans and ask, Which do you like the best, the blonde on the chaise or the redhead on the boogie board? As if they were taste-testing colas!" He cackled acidly. "Art by committee, my friend. Art by consensus. What choice do I have but to save my darlings?"
I shouted back that it was the same brainless trend in newspapers, but Kurtz took no comfort from these words. To hasten the pace he gave me a swift shot to the kidney. Following a narrow coral ridge, we lowered our heads and muscled against the storm. Eventually the ridge ended at an exposed promontory from which I could hear the concussion of monstrous, thundering breakers. A steep rain-slickened path led us down to a beach that was being pummeled by the sea.
Ahead we spotted a flash of color, and Kurtz waved in a loopy exaggerated way. It was Uvula, wind-whipped and drenched, though in surprisingly good spirits. To keep from being swept away, she had resourcefully tethered herself to the trunk of a gumbo limbo tree with a Randolph Duke halter. She looked spectral and flawless, but for a small vermillion mark high on the inside of her left thigh.
"Aw, don't tell me," I said.
Kurtz chuckled. "Tarts. All the great ones have 'em. Didn't you know?"
Then he darted into the lee of a boulder. I was about to inform Uvula of my intention to rescue her when she said, "Quit starin' at my butt, mate."
"The tattoo," I blurted. It was a perky little cardinal, familiar to every baseball fan in Missouri. I asked, inanely, if it was a tribute to Red, and she smiled. When she spoke again there was no trace of the Aussie accent: "He was one helluva second baseman."
"Tell me about it. I bought his rookie card on eBay for $400."