Archibald Haddock was miserable.
His world was hazy and dark, rolling with the surge of the waves beneath the ship. Or, at least, he thought it was the ship; it might have been him that was rolling. When had they last made port?
The hum of the engines was ringing in his ears, trying to fill up all the silence lurking behind his eyes. But it couldn't. Allan was the only one who ever did that, who visited and spoke and gave out whiskey, but Allan wasn't here. Just poor old miserable Archibald Haddock.
He squinted through the black shadow someone had dropped over his eyes, looking for his glass of whiskey. Had someone taken it? He half rose from his chair, looking for the door. They'd rue the day they crossed Captain Haddock, the lily-livered bandits!
Oh no, there it was, attached to his arm. It was empty though, which just wouldn't do. His hands were rock steady as they poured more whiskey into his glass, just like they were when he was at the helm. Not that Allan let him do that anymore. Now his hands had nothing to do, just like him.
Maybe he'd play cards. He fumbled the deck and a spill of diamonds scattered across the floor. No matter. He didn't need them anyway.
Solitaire was hard. The symbols refused to stay still: they kept jumping off the cards and running for the door. Just like everyone else. Except his whiskey. It was still here, wasn't it?
Something smacked him hard in the back of the head and he reeled. Blue blistering barnacles, what had that been? Was someone here?
He checked. Nothing.
"Perhaps it's the whiskey," he said to himself, because things were truer when he said them aloud. He peered into the glass, curious.
Still nothing. Always nothing.
Then a young lad with a dog and a pistol tumbled into his cabin and it wasn't nothing anymore.
It was, in fact, the most important something that would ever happen to Archibald Haddock.
Bianca Castafiore telephoned the funny little captain's house first, because that was where one looked when they wanted to find Tintin.
"One moment please," the butler said when she asked. Just as she'd expected. Really, she had no idea why Tintin persisted in pretending that he lived in that dull little apartment of his.
"Tintin speaking," Tintin said a moment later, sounding as polite and earnest as ever.
Bianca smiled at that. "Cooeee, darling!" she trilled. "Tintin, amico mio, it's been too long!"
"Bianca Castafiore?" Tintin said, sounding stunned. Overcome with delight, the dear boy. "I... that is to say, it's lovely to hear from you. You're doing well, I hope?"
"Oh, well enough," she said modestly. "I've recently returned from a tour of Russia and the Marquês de Fontes has invited me to perform at his high gala at the end of the month. Oh, and I shan't even speak about the concert in Paris for at least another two weeks."
"It sounds like you've been very busy."
Bianca shrugged. "One of the prices of fame. Surely you understand. Now," she said then. "I have to speak with you about something terribly important."
"Whatever you need," Tintin said immediately. Such a gentle soul.
"Oh, no, it's quite the opposite!" Bianca told him. "You see, I've recently purchased a lovely little island in the Mediterranean. Oh, the locals still live there and do whatever it is they do, and the cost of the waterfront villa is rather exorbitant, but it's more than worth it for the simple pleasure of a home away from home, wouldn't you say?"
"I suppose so, yes," Tintin said, and Bianca smiled triumphantly.
"It's settled then! You really will love it, you know. I've told the housekeeping staff to expect you early next week." She paused as a thought occurred to her. "You will be able to arrange the flight in time, won't you, Tintin dear?"
Tintin making a choking sound. "What? Oh, no, Signora, that's not what I-"
Bianca tutted at him. "Now don't worry that you're putting me out, pet. It's absolutely my pleasure."
"I won't hear any arguments," she said. "You and your Captain Hammock absolutely must go. Consider it a vacation."
"That's very kind of you, Signora," Tintin said. "But I don't think the Captain is very interested in vacations."
Bianca laughed. "My dear boy," she said fondly. "That man followed you to the moon and back. He shall certainly go with you. I've left the directions and phone numbers with your butler," she continued, ignoring the telling silence on the other end of the line. "Do make sure to let the staff know when you're planning to arrive so they can have everything ready. Goodbye, Tintin darling!"
Captain Chester waited until the lad had retired for the night before leaning back in his chair and fixing Haddock with a grin. "So," he said. "Tintin."
"N-none of that, Chester," said Haddock, who wasn't yet drunk but wasn't quite sober either. "He's a good lad."
"Oh, aye," Chester agreed, because that was an easy thing to see. "Clever too. You wouldn't have seen me coming up with a plan like that."
"Tintin's always coming up with ec... exl... good ideas," Haddock said. Chester could hear the pride in his voice.
He arched an eyebrow. "Like sailing off into the Arctic looking for an impossible hunk of space rock?"
Haddock laughed. "Crazy, isn't it?" He tossed back the last of his whiskey and poured himself another glass without so much as glancing at the bottle of tonic water still on the table. Chester suspected that Haddock wasn't particularly good at the 'sober' part of the Society of Sober Sailors. "I must be mad to follow after him. You wouldn't believe the scrapes that lad gets us into."
Chester considered Haddock for a moment, taking in the fierce loyalty in his eyes and the unshakeable solidity lurking just below all that whiskey. It had been a long while since he'd seen a man with that sort of fire to him, with or without whiskey. Chester felt like he was finally meeting the man that Haddock was always meant to be.
Tintin might have been a marvel, but he was beyond lucky to have a man like Haddock at his side.
Chester said so and Haddock grinned like a man ten years his junior.
"D-darn right he is!" Haddock leaned across the table, elbows splaying wide and his glass lifted safely out of the way. "Thundering typhoons, I saved his life twice last year."
"Tell me about it," Chester said, because if there was anything a seafaring man could do, it was spin a story. And he had a feeling that any story about Haddock and Tintin was bound to be well worth the hearing. He signaled the barman for another bottle of whiskey and settled himself comfortably as Haddock started to speak.
Mr. Cutts was in the middle of measuring off a half kilo of shaved roast beef for Mrs. Durie when the young lad who lived up at Marlinspike Hall walked in with a small dog at his heels.
The boy smiled. "Good morning, Mr. Cutts. I was wondering if I might have a quick word?"
"I'll be with you in just a moment," Mr. Cutts answered.
"Oh, it's no hurry," the boy said.
Mrs. Durie clucked her tongue disapprovingly. "Oh, come now, Mr. Cutts, help the boy already. Don't keep him waiting."
"Very kind of you, madam," the boy said, with a polite nod of his head. "I've actually come to drop off some messages," he said to Mr. Cutts, pulling a sheaf of paper out of the pocket of his well-worn coat. His expression went vaguely apologetic as he said, "We get a fair number of phone calls for you up at Marlinspike Hall; it's quite the muddle, really. I thought I ought to pass on the details in case anyone was having trouble getting through to you."
Mr. Cutts was well aware of the unfortunate tendency of his customers to ring up Marlinspike Hall while trying to place their orders. He'd heard all about the extreme vitriol with which Haddock, the proprietor of Marlinspike, reacted to misdials. He'd even been on the receiving end of Haddock's ill temper more than once himself.
He could tell from this boy's expression that he knew all too well how Haddock had been treating his customers. This was probably his way of apologizing, which was awfully mature for a boy his age.
"My thanks," Mr. Cutts said, stripping off one of his gloves so he could accept the offered papers. "I appreciate you coming all the way down here."
The boy grinned at him. It was an honest, easy sort of expression that made Mr. Cutts want to smile back instinctively. "It's my pleasure. Come on, Snowy," the boy said to his dog, who'd been behaving remarkably well while they'd been talking. "Let's not take up any more of Mr. Cutts' time." He tilted his head respectfully in Mr. Cutts' direction, then at Mrs. Durie. "Mr. Cutts. Madam. Have a lovely day."
"What a nice young man," Mrs. Durie said, after the boy and his dog had left. "It does my heart a damage to think of him living up at Marlinspike Hall with no one but that drunken reprobate for company. I can't imagine why he does."
"Perhaps they're related," Mr. Cutts said, though he doubted it.
Mrs. Durie sniffed. "He's more likely to be related to his dog; at least the dog's fit for company. You know," she said thoughtfully. "I have a niece about his age. I should arrange a meeting."
Mr. Cutts made an absent noise of agreement, more to appease Mrs. Durie than out of an expectation that it would be worth the effort. The boy was a reporter, he knew, and he and Haddock were often jetting off around the world for goodness only knew what reason. Which wasn't normal behaviour no matter how he sliced it. There was clearly more to the boy's relationship with Haddock than could be seen on the surface; Mr. Cutts doubted that something as mundane as a courtship would make any significant impact on it.
If the boy came back he'd have to ask his name. It was only good manners to get to know your neighbours, after all, and it seemed as though both Haddock and the boy were here for the duration.
Allan Thompson got people. He knew what motivated them, what would frighten them, what would buy them and, most importantly, what would break them. It was a talent that had saved his life more than once and had made him indispensable to some very powerful men. After all, when you knew how a man worked you could own him, and Allan was absolutely not above taking advantage of that.
Haddock had been easy to figure out. Honestly, Allan had no idea how the man had become a captain in the first place, he was such a disaster. He'd been drinking his way to an early grave long before Allan had come along and started making it easier for him. Most of the time, the drunken fool was so far gone that he wouldn't have noticed if Allan had scuttled the Karaboudjan right under him. Give him a bottle of whiskey and he'd happily drown in it, which made him easy to control and even easier to discount. Men like that didn't change.
Tintin, on the other hand, now Tintin was trouble. Young enough to be idealistic and self-righteous about it, and capable enough to be a very real threat. He was too foolish to know when to give up, but far too intelligent to be easily got rid of. More than once, Allan found himself wishing that he'd shot Tintin as soon as he'd first clapped eyes on him. Not only to save himself the frustration of having his well-laid plans ruined by the brat over and over and over again, but also to keep him from becoming the one thing that Haddock was more addicted to than whiskey. It was harder to discount a man when he didn't act like he was supposed to.
Men like Haddock didn't change. Unless, apparently, they had men like Tintin to make them want to. Allan hated them both.
Thompson and Thomson were at a bit of a loss.
“To be precise," Thomson said. "We’re lost.”
Their Jeep trundled through the sand, heading in a direction that was nearly almost certainly north-south-eastish. The desert stretched out endlessly in every direction and the baking heat of the sun was most unpleasant. Tintin and Snowy were asleep in the back of the Jeep, exhausted and still caked in thick sand from their near escape in that sandstorm.
“That’s the problem, exactly,” said Thompson, turning a frown on Thomson. The Jeep veered slightly to the right as his hands turned with him.
Thomson squinted at him through the glare. “What exact problem is that?”
The Jeep swung back to the left when Thompson removed one hand to wave it over his shoulder. "Finding Tintin all alone in-“
"Woah," Snowy said sleepily.
“Finding Tintin and Snowy all alone in the middle of a sandstorm,” Thompson amended.
"It is very strange," Thomson agreed, but Thompson shook his head.
"Sandstorms are very common in the desert," he said. "Nothing strange about that. What's strange is that the Captain isn't with them."
"He's not in Khemed."
"Clearly he should be." Thompson waved his arm irritably and nearly drove the Jeep straight into a mirage. Again. "Who's to stop Tintin and Snowy getting lost alone together in the desert when the Captain's not here?"
“Tintin hasn’t always had the Captain,” Thomson pointed out. “I distinctly recall there being at least one time when he was Captainless. So he might have got lost alone in some deserts with Snowy then.”
“But Tintin doesn’t need to be Captainless now,” Thompson persisted. "But he is."
Thomson considered that for a moment. "That is strange," he agreed.
Thompson nodded. “The Captain wouldn’t have let Tintin and Snowy get lost in the desert all alone."
“He would have got lost with them,” Thomson finished. “Then they all could have been lost alone together.”
“Precisely. Tintin without the Captain is like… a Thompson without a Thomson.”
Thomson nodded. “To be precise: a Thomson without a Thompson. I say," he said suddenly. “Is that the Captain over there?”
Thompson took a look. “I’m quite certain that that is a mirage.”
“Quite certain?” Thomson asked, squinting at the shape in the distance. “Very quite certain?”
“Absolutely quite certain."
“That’s a shame,” Thomson said. “We could have used a not-mirage Captain.”
“Maybe the real Captain will turn up as well,” Thompson said. "He certainly can't be the Captain without a Tintin."
"To be precise: he's certainly the Captain Tintin." Thomson looked again at the Captain mirage. "You might drive around him all the same. It seems rude to run the Captain down, even if he is a mirage."
Tintin looked up from his book when the front door slammed open on a veritable torrent of profanity, and glanced at the clock.
Not quite two hours; that was poor even by the Captain's standards. He must be in quite the mood.
"I'm in the sitting room, Captain!" Tintin called, finishing the paragraph he was on and setting his book aside. Snowy raised his head from where it had been pillowed on his forepaws before breathing out a disinterested huff and settling back down again.
The Captain appeared in the doorway wearing a face like a thundercloud.
"Not a good trip, then?" Tintin asked mildly.
Ignoring him completely, the Captain stomped across the room to the liquor cabinet, fished out a glass and a mostly-full bottle of whiskey, and stomped back to throw himself into his chair. "Next time I decide to do that, remind me to shoot myself in the head ahead of time and save myself the trouble," he growled.
Tintin bit back a smile. "There's no need to be so dramatic, you know, Captain. You've faced far worse threats than a little bit of holiday shopping."
"And I'd happily face them all again if it got me out of all that claptrap," the Captain said, pouring himself a generous glass. "Thundering typhoons, this wretched season can't be over too soon."
"Oh, come now, Captain," Tintin said. "Where's your Christmas spirit?"
"Bah humbug," Haddock retorted. He threw back his drink and immediately poured himself another. "You're welcome to fight with all those soulless kleptomaniacs if you want. I'm barricading myself inside Marlinspike until January."
Tintin took a moment to look the Captain over, taking in his furrowed brow and the irritation radiating off him in waves. It was a rather extreme reaction to Christmas shopping, Tintin had to admit.
"So?" Tintin asked. "What is it that's got you so wound up?"
Annoyance flashed across the Captain's face. "The Ostragoth at the store asked me if I needed a gift for my charming young ward," he said, laying heavy emphasis on the last words.
"Abdulla?" Tintin guessed innocently and the Captain shot him a sour look.
"If that little jackanapes never comes back here it'll be too soon. Blistering barnacles, I'd rather have Jolyon Wagg and Bianca Castafiore descend on us than deal with the Emir's precious angel again."
Tintin grinned. "That would certainly be a Christmas to remember."
"Hah," the Captain muttered and reached for the bottle again.
"Captain," Tintin said, with a gently chiding look. A few drinks was all well and good, but it wouldn't do for the Captain to be overdoing it this early in the afternoon.
And the Captain grumbled at him, but obediently left the bottle alone.
"So what did you tell her?" Tintin asked then, curious despite himself. "The woman at the shop?"
The Captain snorted. "I told her that my 'ward' would be happier about getting kidnapped by smugglers, again, than being given a new wristwatch. And that I felt sorry for any man who had a lad like you for a ward."
Tintin threw back his head and laughed. "Goodness, you make me sound like an absolute menace, Captain."
"You are," the Captain said, though the indulgent edge to his voice took out any possible sting to the accusation. "Which is why you're not getting an international incident for Christmas."
"You sure?" Tintin asked, pulling a disappointed face. "You must admit that it's been a while since we went abroad. And I'm sure that, if we ask him nicely, General Alcazar could find us a dictator to depose."
"Thundering typhoons, Tintin, anyone would think you wanted to get us both killed."
"Not at all," Tintin said. He tilted his head thoughtfully. "Although if you'd rather spend the holidays here, I'm sure I can convince Jolyon and Signora Castafiore to stop in for-"
"Enough, you mercenary," Haddock growled. He sighed in a deliberately put-upon manner and slumped lower in his chair. "I'll look in the paper tomorrow and see if I can find a political uprising for you to get caught up in, alright?"
"For us to get caught up in," Tintin corrected. He grinned. "Right, Captain?"
Haddock rolled his eyes. "As if I'm going to leave you to get killed on your own. You're not getting rid of Captain Haddock that easily, Tintin."
Tintin's smile widened. "I wouldn't have it any other way."