Rated: 13+ · Short Story · Mystery · #2293430
Some questions are too dangerous to ask.
|"Who is that man with the King?" asked Joe. |
Peter studied the dignitaries in front of him and wondered who Joe was talking about. The King was busy shaking hands and chatting with the people just three rows in front of them. The President of Germany was a little to the right doing the same. The people in between were quite short, so Peter and Joe had a good view. The King's wife Camila, Queen Consort, or was it Queen now, Peter forgot, was cased in a brolly, because of the rain, and followed her husband, smiling at all and sundry.
"Do you mean the German President, Steinmeier, or the Erste Bürgermeister, Tschentscher, or that guy in the kilt?" replied Peter, a little confused. There must have been thirty people in the King's entourage for his visit to Hamburg, Germany, in their field of view.
"No, the one standing right at the back with the turban," said Joe.
Peter noticed a rather nondescript bearded Indian man, maybe a Sikh given the turban. He had a military bearing and stood straight, His eyes were alert and probed the crowd, but apart from that he stood very still and Peter would probably not have noticed him if Joe had not pointed him out. In this crowd of VIPs, he had the quality of anonymity.
"I do not know. We can take a picture and use Google Lens to find him later," replied Peter.
Peter took a picture and studied the man for a moment. He was not a bodyguard, the King's main bodyguard was the man in the kilt, Major Jonathan Thompson of the 5th Battalion Royal Regiment of Scotland. He remembered this because his wife, who was a British ex-pat like himself, had sent him a picture with some comments about his legs and a rude joke from her friend's group about what a Scotsman wore under his kilt. Also, the turbaned man was too far away from the action. But the King had far more protection than that swirling around him and did not need another bodyguard. Those men and women were clear. They were either the ones with the penetrating eyes that missed no details, moving frantically around the King as he engaged with the crowd, or the ones in the background with the killer eyes who looked like they were ex-SAS. The latter had expressionless faces and stood like guards at a distance from the crowd, as if ready to spring into action. Like lions waiting to pounce on prey. While the movers at the front all looked a little grumpy and stressed, as if everyone had failed some kind of test they were applying. They were more like inquisitive birds looking for food, thought Peter, darting in and out of the normal beat cops standing in the line beside the crowd.
Peter noticed the foreign secretary, James Cleverly, standing with the "killers." He took a picture of him while shouting "God bless you, your Majesty" from the third row in the crowd to King Charles III. Cleverly turned to face Peter and studied him curiously. Peter remembered that the man was an atheist, but the look was also one of recognition.
Joe nudged Peter at the comment and Peter turned to see him rolling his eyes. He remembered that Joe, though a British ex-pat like himself, was a republican just here for the show. He flashed Joe a grin, saying to him, "Off with your head." Joe laughed in response.
The King left the crowd to move in through the grand entrance of the Town Hall along the red carpet laid out for him. The turbaned man looked Indian, though in practice he could have been third-generation British, as even the Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, was Indian in cosmopolitan Britain these days. The man now came alongside the King. He had a trimmed black beard and was dressed in a brown, anonymous Dhoti, and he whispered something in the King's ear. The King's head swiveled toward a nearby person and he then nodded to the man. Peter's impression, therefore, was that he seemed more like an advisor. He would check him out later.
Joe and Peter left shortly after the king disappeared into the building, though it was an effort to wade through the large and enthusiastic crowd that had gathered in the square. The crowd stayed for the balcony appearance, but Joe and Peter had already used up their lunch hour.
From the square, they returned to work, which was only a seven-minute walk away. They were Data Analysts at a local firm. The company DiamantSuch GmbH specialized in people searches, photo identification, and virtual private detective work. It was a small company working out of a shared building just off Jungfernstieg. There were three offices, the boss's office, a conference room and a small server room. They had more people in home office, mainly Python programmers working on web scraping, search bots and query tools. Most of their databases and servers were in the cloud, hosted on Azure somewhere in a big Microsoft data center in the Netherlands. This gave them all the computer power they needed for big searches through government databases or digital camera footage. It was entirely scalable to demand, which meant that they could scale up or down for whatever contract came along.
The name of the company, DiamantSuch, suggested they looked for special diamonds, but mainly they foraged for common stones in the dirt, Peter reflected. They would basically collate profiles of individuals of interest from their internet footprint and then also add some analysis of those profiles. Their clients ranged from disgruntled spouses looking for dirt on their partners, to media companies that wanted an analysis of pictures taken in war zones. They even had some government contracts with the German government to find people of interest, refugees due for deportation but now missing, and wanted criminals. These days, the tools generally available online, like Google Lens, were getting better and better. But so were also the misinformation techniques and deep fakes out there. The DiamantSuch business model could still yield better and more authoritative results than these casual public services with more informed questions and analysis models. With the sheer volume of fake news in circulation, they were booming in the current market. They were part of the larger multinational group F5, which specialized in security products and was based, like many IT companies, in Seattle, Washington. DiamantSuch was only a small part of the larger company's portfolio.
Well, business was slow today as they had come in early to clear their backlog before going off to see the King. So Peter downloaded the pictures from his phone and put the image of the turbaned man into his search tool. Unsurprisingly, the man came up in UK visits of the King to various sites, but more surprisingly, he also came up in state visits by the previous Queen. But the man was not on any social media, and had no business app profiles on Linked In or Xing, in fact outside of his association with the monarchy he did not seem to exist. That just made Peter even more curious and he widened the parameters of the search to include old photos of the monarchy going back to 1842, to see when the first picture of him occurred and it was then that he found his precious gem. It was an old picture of Queen Victoria, Empress of India, watching the troops file by on her Diamond Jubilee in 1897. This was generally regarded as a peak moment in British imperial history and was from a time when India was still in the Empire. And there was the man standing two rows back from the Queen in the stands. Same age, with the same facial triangulation points, just a different colored turban and dressed in a military uniform of some sort from the British Indian army of the Raj.
Peter showed Joe the results and the two pictures using his iPad to display them.
"Hey Joe, you were right about that man, good eye. There is apparently a lot more to him than was obvious at first sight."
Joe studied the Victorian photo and then the original. "Wow, let's show the boss, I think this is saleable."
They marched to the boss's office and the boss, seeing the look of excitement on their faces, studied the iPad.
"Well done guys, a good find, I doubt if he is actually more than a century old, perhaps it is just a close relative, but this sort of close match would definitely sell newsprint. Send me the email and I will pass it on," said his boss.
The boss sent the photos and analysis to sales. They sent it to a German newspaper known for its enthusiasm for royals and royal visits, and they bought the picture and built a sensational story headline around it for tomorrow's paper. "Who is this mystery man!" read the headline.
The boss was pleased with Peter and Joe and praised them for their work. So they got to leave slightly early that day, had a pint together in a local bar and then made their way home.
The following day, both of them turned up to work at the normal time, expecting to see the headline on the newspaper pile by the door of the office. Except there was nothing, just some pictures of the King on the balcony waving to the crowd and some comments about his visit to the Nikolai. He had gone to the burned-out cathedral, at the heart of the city, to show the healing between the two countries since Operation Gomorrah, which had devasted Hamburg in World War Two and killed 40,000 people in just a few days. All the papers were focused on that act of reconciliation rather than their mystery man.
The boss summoned them into the office with a grim look on his face.
"I just got stamped on from on high, that picture brought a lot of heat down on us. My bosses wanted you fired but I stood up for you. I am sorry, but I have to suspend you for a couple of weeks without pay until things calm down. Don't fight this, the people pushing it are way above our pay grades and I have never seen my American bosses so terrified. I had a video call from the American CEO of F5 at about 8 p.m. last night on my home phone and he looked scared out of his wits. We are lucky to still have jobs in fact."
Peter and Joe exchanged a worried look, There was a moment of silence and then Peter asked the obvious question, "Who is this man?"
"Well, that is a question too dangerous for us to ask, so leave it. You have families, I am telling you this is completely radioactive."
The boss showed them to the door.