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commercial district, a sudden swarm of bicycles and scooters forced the car onto the sidewalk, within inches of street vendors crouched by their tarpaulin displays.

�Do these guys ever crash?" Trager asked.

"Beats the shit out of me," said Sundown. "I've never been here before."

The temperature fell a degree as the taxi turned into landscaped residential colony. Jacaranda trees shaded the road, and bougainvillea nodded over high garden walls. The driver pulled up at an open gate with a small brass plaque that read H.O.T./INDIA. Trager stepped out into air that was heavy with the smell of flowers.

�I really appreciate all this," he told Sundown. He extended his hand. There was an awkward moment as the other man tried to take it in the inverted clasp Trager had seen used by old hippies and Vietnam veterans. After a moment of jockeying arms back and forth, they settled on a conventional handshake.

"No problem," said Sundown. "Good luck with your trekking gig."

The car cruised away through the shade, paused at the corner, and vanished into the light and motion of a boulevard.

A servant in a stained shirt left Trager standing in a dim, airless hallway. A minute later a hatchet-faced man in a light blazer appeared through a heavy inner door. He spoke with high, clipped accent.

"Yes? I am Vasant Bagchee. What is it?" he asked.

"My name's Ansel Trager. Max Holz hired me to replace Freya Martens on the Springtime in Kashmir trek."

Springtime in Kashmir ©Talbot Bielefeldt 2020.

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