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  • Joe Mungo Reed (bio) and
    Illustration by COREY BRICKLEY

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The camp was deserted when they trekked into it. The tall canvas tents were zipped and the big table in the midst of the glade was clear but for a monkey that looked up when Simon approached. The monkey bared its teeth and screeched. Simon stepped back. One of the creature’s eyes, he noticed, was partly closed. A line of scar tissue ran from brow to cheek, over the corner of the eyelid. Rayyan picked up a branch and jabbed at the animal until it climbed off the tabletop and loped in the direction of the trees on toes and knuckles. “Bad monkeys in this park,” said Rayyan. He took a cloth from his pocket and wiped the table before he invited Simon to sit. It was a rough wooden table, made of felled saplings knotted together. They sat opposite each other in canvas chairs and resumed their conversation about Rayyan’s favorite topic: Manchester United. “Antonio Valencia,” Rayyan said. He exhaled and shook his head slowly and sadly. “Always they put him in the wrong position.”

Nigel and Mike returned from filming an hour later, tramping out of the jungle, breathing heavily with the weight of the camera gear and the midday heat. They’d been in the jungle two days already. They’d set up the camp. They’d begun shooting. This was the first time Simon had worked with either man. Nigel was the boss on the job, a big guy who led with his gut. He’d all but sweated through his T-shirt, and damp patches spread from his armpits down from his collar and over his belly, leaving a bra-shaped dry patch across his chest. Mike [End Page 167] was smaller, neater; fashionable despite the jungle. His hair was styled. He pushed a pair of Ray-Bans up onto his forehead when he greeted Simon. Neither man mentioned the reason for Simon’s late arrival, and he was glad of that.

Two days previously, Simon had stood in a Kentish churchyard, under an autumnal sky, and watched as his father was lowered into a hole in the silty soil. Now he was out on a job. He felt the strangeness of this, of course. He’d thought of telling the producers that it had been his grandfather’s funeral, to downplay this sudden return to the field. But in the end he’d simply told them, and they’d made arrangements without comment

Mike nodded at Simon’s bag. “Nikon?” he said. It was important to start a working relationship with something solid, and what was more solid than tech?

“D3100,” Simon said.

“Yeah?” Mike said.

“It does a job,” Simon said. “Just for personal stuff, you know.”

They were filming a documentary about lizards. They were in the middle of a Malaysian jungle in search of the Blue-eyed Anglehead Lizard. Later, they’d try to film the Giant Gliding Lizard. Two years ago, Simon was filming baby bear cubs. Now he was doing lizards. Everything fluffy and playful had been done by some other outfit. They needed a niche, and so here they were, working with these nigh-on prehistoric things that looked most of all like leaf litter.

“How’s the job?” Simon asked.

“Fine,” Mike said. “The monkeys are fucking nuts. The monkeys are out of control.”

“They’re always scrounging around the camp,” said Nigel. “They’re after our food and they’re territorial. They’ll try and intimidate you, but just stand your ground.”

There was supposed to be a scientist with them. Simon fumbled for the correct term. “Where’s the reptile guy?” he asked. It came to him. “Where’s the herpetologist?”

“Your herpes playing up?” Nigel said, and winked. His bulk and age allowed him to carry off a wink. Simon offered a laugh. “He’s around,” Nigel said. “He’s off on a personal project. Snakes. He’s a German, postdoc. Clemens. He likes to be called Cley.”

It came back to Simon then, the sense of a new project looming ahead, a mix...


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pp. 167-176
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