It was slightly cooler outside, but still in excess of 40°C. As soon as my eyes had adjusted to the glare – not even my faithful sunnies did much good against such enthusiastic sunlight – I solved the short-lived but compelling mystery of the missing administrator’s office chair. The administrator, erstwhile owner of the horribly stuffy navy-felt coat and the antique – or more accurately cutting-edge – rifle, was sitting in the minimal shade of the roof overhang, having dragged his chair out there with him.
The painfully-dapper, shirt-and-trousers-and-braces-and-boots-and-moustache-and-crisp-hairdo look of the fellow told me all I needed to know about when I was. There were historical recreationists sufficiently dedicated to verisimilitude to wear clothes this moronic on a day this scorching, but not many of them. And of those, very few would have it in them to add muttonchop sideburns.
The man – I decided to call him Colonel McOldentimes until his actual name presented itself – was smoking a pipe, because of course he was. He looked up at me with a slight look of surprise but not, I had to say, as much of a look of surprise as you might expect a person to assume when said person is confronted with somebody appearing from a room the aforementioned person must have been certain was empty. Particularly somebody dressed in bizarre clothing, with what probably looked like black snow goggles or something over his eyes.
Colonel McOldentimes looked, then he went back to puffing on his pipe and gazing out over the dusty ground with a quintessentially grizzled squint that – along with his attire and pipe and moustache and muttonchops – made it really easy to forget that he was probably only about twenty-five years old. And that this made him basically middle-aged.
“Hi,” I said.
Colonel McOldentimes puffed and squinted, squinted and puffed. This part of the yard was empty aside from a couple of sheds similar to the administration office, right out to a distant fence of some kind that didn’t look like it could hold in even the least athletic convict – but then, the basic principle of prison yards at this time, in this part of the world, wasn’t so much “walls and towers and guards” as “this is the only place with drinkable water, where are they going to go exactly?” The sounds of galahs and chain-gang workers were drifting mournfully across the red-hot sand and into the blazing blue magnifying-glass of the sky from somewhere on the other side of the building I’d just exited.
“So,” Colonel McOldentimes said eventually. “You’d be looking for that old bird who came through a few minutes back.”