It might have been the altitude, it might have been the whiskey the night before, either way my headache was splitting. The sun was just a touch too bright, despite my sunglasses best efforts. I rubbed my temples and tried to breath in the cool mountain air that sat in thin wisps upon the rooftop, rustling the curtains that were hung about for effect.
The butter tea was helping, if only as a placebo. I tried to focus, listening to the man on the sitar in the corner play his morning jams for we cafe goers. This sort of scene with the music and the overpriced tea would never be my scene. Hell, I’ve lived under the shadow of the surrounding peaks for the last two years and I only vaguely knew this place even existed. When my contact asked to meet me here I honestly asked ‘why?’
He was an Indian army contact and I was his link to good old Uncle Sam. What he was doing wasn’t strictly treason towards Mother India, but I’d guess she’d think he’s cheating on her. When he walked up he always managed to take a perfectly normal looking situation and make it look shifty. He was a shitty informant in general, but most of the Border Security forces never venture far from the actual lines of control, and even as close as we are, beggars can’t be choosers.
He sat down and I slid him the tea I’d ordered him, that was now probably colder than expected. I had hoped my sunglasses would hide my hungover eyes, but his greeting ‘You look like Hell’ proved otherwise. I told him he didn’t look so great himself.
“I need you to get a message to your bosses.” He said ignoring the tea and leaning in close.
“Everything you tell me goes to them,” I said with I’m sure more condescension than I intended.
“No, this is urgent, they need to know, I don’t want anything in return for this, this is for India’s sake too.”
“The Chinese, they are going to invade.”
“What? How the fuck do you know that?”
“One of my patrols got lost in a sudden snow storm, they blow in all the time up there. When they came out of it they were on a hillside inside the Chinese side, in the clearing they saw a huge army, gigantic, stretching in all directions. A massed invasion force if there’d ever been one.“
“No way, first they commies wouldn’t do that, a giant force all in one area would be way too easy for everyone to spot from space, It’d be dumb, and they wouldn’t do something that stupid. And on the off chance they had, we’ve have seen it. Your men must have been seeing shit. They were just in a snowstorm in the fucking stratosphere practically, they were probably hallucinating.“
“They must have thought the clouds would hide them from your satellites and maybe it did. But it didn’t hide them from my men.” He took a white envelope out of his jacket and slid it over to me. He nodded for me to look inside. I took a look and saw, in full color, a massive Chinese army seeming poised to strike imminently. Wide eyed I looked up at him. “Fuck.”
“Go. Now. Send the message. I’ll pay for the tea.” I got up and was in a sprint back to my apartment by the time I hit the streets. When I turned the corner of my street a couple minutes later I heard the high, distant roar and deep boom of supersonic missiles passing overhead.
Years later, standing in front of the war monument in Delhi I always imagined my informant talking time to sip his tea after I left. Closing his eyes and enjoying each sip of the now cold tea, savoring the spice with the pluck of the sitar- before going off to fight a battle he knew would cost him his life. I wish I could have told him his information was what caused the US to intervene in time and for this monument to be built to a victory not a defeat. Somehow, though, I’ve always guessed that after he calmly settled the bill and walked out into the missile trail clouded sky, he already knew.