Uvula hastily pinned his arms while I dug through his shorts. When I found the diskette, Kurtz wailed as if mortally stricken—then violently thrashed free of our hold. The fight moved higher and higher up the rock wall, toward the promontory; Uvula, clinging catlike to Kurtz's shoulders as he grabbed desperately at the diskette, which I clasped to my chest.
By now the storm had resumed in full its assault. I found myself supine, with Kurtz on me, hammering both fists against my ribs. His expression was a mixture of rage and puzzlement as his beloved Uvula raked his naked skull with fingernails as red as hibiscus. Blindly he continued punching until I could absorb no more, and wilted with a helpless croak. Never will I forget Kurtz's triumphant smile as he stood up in that choking rain, shaking off Uvula as if she were a flimsy overcoat. Pinched like a sacrament between two of his fingers was the precious silvery wafer that contained her picture. The picture.
Displaying the spunk if not the innate athleticism of the Schoendienst clan, Uvula began jumping up and down in an effort to snatch the shiny prize. Kurtz seemed to gloat as he raised it higher, out of her reach. I took advantage of the distraction to catch my breath and slowly coil myself into a crouch. As I sprang toward him, time unfolded in segments, like a cruel slide show. In one frame I was grasping at the upraised diskette, and in the next frame it had vanished from his hand—plucked away by the storm.
The three of us watched it flutter and then soar like a dainty chrome hummingbird, out toward the roiling sea. Kurtz's face was a mask of indescribable grief, for I believe it was never his true intent to destroy that astonishing photograph. Now he had nothing with which to bargain against the bean-counting trolls at the magazine; worse, he had no cover shot.
Buffeted by an exceptionally powerful gust, we all locked arms to avert being swept off the out-crop. In that awkward brush of closeness Kurtz whispered something in my ear, a voice so raw and abraded with anguish that the recollection gives me chills.
Before I could respond, he was gone.
To this day I cannot say whether he leaped, or Uvula pushed him. What I do know is that no mere hurricane could have blown him away.
That night, as Uvula and I huddled in the firelit shelter of the grotto, she said, "What were his very last words? Repeat them."
I could hardly look at her. In our absence Kurtz's rented baboons had trashed the campsite, destroying his laptop with a malicious application of Kalik beer and melted chocolates.
She said, "I want something—something to live with."