The jungle was savage, crawling with strange insects and uncatalogued monsters, vast trees and dense undergrowth, and the spiky metal cell phone towers that the cannibalistic Verizon-men would raise.
“Please,” said Claire, fending off a gigantic crab-thing with a branch, cell phone gripped between her shoulder and her ear. “Please. I have to reach Mr. Dunborough immediately.”
“He’s not available, Ms. Williams.”
“This . . .”
She grunted. The crab had taken the branch in its pincers now and was pushing her backwards; she was braced against it, standing at a lean.
“This cannot be the right location,” Claire explained.
“I understand, Ms. Williams,” said the voice at the other end of the line, “but Mr. Dunborough is not available. We’ve been unable to reach him all morning.”
The crab’s claws sheared through the branch. Claire staggered, then smacked it in the eyestalk. It gave a horrible, polytonal hiss and reeled away.
“There’s not very good reception up where he’s staying,” the voice explained.
“Maeve, you’ve sent me out to the middle of a goddamned jungle,” Claire said.
“Satellite imaging says that you’re close,” the voice said, chipper. “Practically on top of the customer’s location.”
“Fine,” Claire said. She glowered at the crab monster. “I’ll get an aerial view and call you back. Get in touch with Mr. Dunborough.”
“I’ll do what I can, ma’am, but—”
Claire hung up, juggled the phone into her free hand, and tucked it away in the slim handbag at her side. “Come on, then,” she said, to the crab-thing.
The trees were full of spiders. Some of them, she thought gloomily, were probably venomous. Maybe even the ones that had bit her; or, of course, possibly not.
She pulled herself exhaustedly up onto a branch. She lay over it for a moment before dragging herself to her feet, unsteady on the wooden limb. She glared around.
“Practically on top of it,” she said. “Why can’t I see it?”
Convulsively she dragged her phone out again. She rang the office. “I need Dunborough,” she said, without even introducing herself. “He’s the only one who knows where the client is.”
“Satellite imaging says north,” Maeve said.
“I can’t go north,” Claire said. “North is a screaming plummet into what appears to be some sort of gigantic ant-lion pit.”
“Well,” Maeve said, hedging a little bit, “Northish.”
“That’s very helpful.”
“Mr. Dunborough’s location is out of service.”
“He can’t be out of service,” Claire said. “He’s just in Wales. Wales has cell phone reception.”
“Not where he’s staying, Ms. Williams. It’s kind of in the middle of nowhere.”
“No,” Claire said. “Listen. The animals here don’t even recognize humanity as dangerous. You want the middle of nowhere? I’m staring straight at a tree goat, and I’ve got bars out the wazoo.”
“I don’t know what to tell you,” Maeve said. “Maybe he’s stuck in a tunnel?”
“I’ll have to call you back,” said Claire. “Goat’s getting feisty.”
“Understood—” Maeve responded, but the line was already dead.
She found it eventually—though she could have stumbled around in the jungle for days, she thought, and not seen it, save for the stroke of luck that was a moment of sunlight glinting off of its glass. Even then she’d almost—almost—dismissed it as one of the baelbeasts, the glowing lizards that had bulled her car off the road, before she understood what she’d seen.
Then it was as if a burden dropped from her.
Then she was staggering gladly to the customer’s door, hammering on it, and finally bursting in through it when he did not respond—with fortuitous timing, as it happened, as he was currently engaged in wrestling for his life with a strangling tumbleweed that had gotten in through the vents.
Working together, they peeled it off of him; stuffed it into the incinerator chute; and collapsed backwards into two of his sitting room’s wooden chairs.
“This place is impossible to find,” she told him, when she’d gotten her breath back.
“Ah,” he said, apologetically. “Sorry.”
“No,” she said. “It’s OK. Just . . . seriously. A little out of the way here. Y’know? I mean, why would you—why would anybody even choose to live here?”
“It’s a bit hard on my allergies,” he admitted.
“Oh, God,” she said, “don’t remind me.”
“And a little far from the road.”
“And it’s overrun with monsters,” she pointed out.
“But seriously!” he said. “You get such great cell phone reception!”
His face was rapturous; his eyes turned upwards towards Heaven. “It’s all the cannibals,” he said. “They make it clear as a bell!”