"Isn't it about time you got yourself a nice girl, lad?"
Tintin sighed. It wasn't the first time the Captain had raised his least favourite subject and it was, he feared, unlikely to be the last. Furthermore, he knew his old friend meant well, but Haddock really did pick his moments.
"Captain, I don't think now is really the best time-"
Haddock snorted. "Ach, away with yeh! Yer just trying to change the subject again."
"Yes," Tintin curtly agreed. "That's exactly what I'm trying to do, considering my primary objective at this moment in time is keeping us both alive."
“Piffle! You always have an excuse.”
“As far as excuses go I think bullets are a fine one,” Tintin snapped, leading their hasty retreat down a winding alleyway.
Sniper fire zipped over their heads. The city was on the brink of erupting into civil war, thanks to the machinations of a corrupt political party funded by drug smugglers. After uncovering damning evidence of the party's dealings with the international crime lord Rastapopoulos, Tintin had been on his way to the embassy with Haddock and Snowy in tow, when they had come under fire.
A flash of movement reflected in the side mirror of a bullet-ridden old motorbike caught his attention. He grabbed both Haddock and Snowy by their scruffs and dragged them behind a half collapsed wall seconds before another hail of bullets shot up their path. The Captain sank gratefully against the wall, dabbing at his sweaty red face with a grimy handkerchief, and tried to to fill his lungs with greedy gulps of air.
"Nothin' but excuses and theatrics!” Haddock continued, trying to sound nonchalant through the sweat and the heat, and the gunfire peppering the city all around them. “All I'm saying is that when you spend all yer time gallivanting about the globe with an irritating wee dog, people talk."
"Really?" Tintin loaded his revolver and took aim through a small crack in the wall. “Well I can assure you my relationship with Snowy is strictly platonic.”
Snowy gave Haddock a disapproving grunt as his master fired. A shocked cry from further down the alley confirmed his shot had met its mark.
"Very funny." Haddock removed his fingers from his ears. “I'm not blind, Tintin. The Countess du Preen was like a dog with a bone hanging off yer every word at breakfast. Ahh what a bonnie wee pearl." Haddock stroked his beard with a wistful look, lamenting his lost youth, before turning a rueful look on Tintin. "Now you can't tell me there weren't sparks flying between the pair of you."
"Do you mean the one who's shooting at us right now?" Tintin asked, ducking further behind the wall as the gunfire recommenced. "Well I suppose that's one way to put it."
"Semantics!" Haddock countered as he handed Tintin another fully loaded magazine. "Got to love a girl with a bit of fire in her belly."
"That's all well and good," said Tintin, reloading his gun and taking careful aim through the dip in the wall. "But preferably not when that fire is aimed at us."
"Trust me lad, I know about these things." Haddock jabbed a thumb towards his own chest. "Keep waiting for the perfect woman and she'll waltz right by you."
With a short roll of his eyes, Tintin took aim and replied, "So long as she doesn't take my head off as she passes, that's fine by me."
The problem was once the Captain got an idea stuck in his head, he was worse than Snowy faced with an interesting dead thing - nothing would deter him from picking at it. Tintin wasn't quite sure where or why Haddock had picked up the notion that he should indulge in some kind of romantic dalliance, but his old friend's timing was starting to verge on the ridiculous.
"Have you ever been into Mrs Spigg's tea room?” His companion asked one day as they fled down a beach in Bali, ducking and swerving to avoid a hail of flaming coconuts raining down upon their heads. “You know the one, it's that wee eggshell painted place off the market square. Got a face like a bloodhound, but her daughter, och! What a beaut." Haddock hummed appreciatively. "Fair as the high sea and buttocks as high as noon tide! Unattached too, so I hear."
“What, her buttocks?” Tintin raised his eyebrows. “How unusual. Where on earth does she usually keep them?”
Haddock glared. “Yeh ken what I mean, yah cheeky wee devil.”
Tintin sighed. “Unfortunately so.”
They threw themselves over the edge of a particularly steep sand dune as another barrage of flaming coconuts pounded the hot sand around them. Snowy whined at their feet before burrowing his snout into the dune, his little tail wagging nervously under the hot sun.
"Where would you rather be, eh?" Haddock continued as he tried to pat out the little pockets of flames springing to life all over his turtle-neck. "Back home in Mrs Spigg's tea room having a drink with her lovely daughter, or on this sweltering confounded beach in Bali playing nutty war games with the locals?"
"Is that a rhetorical question?" Tintin grinned cheekily as he picked up a coconut and tossed it in one hand. "I think we both know the answer."
The only response he got was a gruff and grumbled "Hrmph!"
Occasionally the Captain wondered if Tintin's interest simply wasn't turned towards the fairer sex. That was fine by him, of course; Haddock had seen far stranger things at sea. But in all their adventures together, his intrepid young companion had never shown the slightest bit of attraction towards anyone, male or female. He was beginning to suspect Tintin had simply been born old. And this would have been fine too, if not for one irritating thing.
"Thunderin' typhoons, it's like dying of thirst beside a drowning man," he groaned.
"Pardon?" Tintin enquired, looking bemused at Haddock as they meandered around the edges of the busy ballroom.
"And worse!" he bellowed. "You're oblivious to the attentions! It's like going to dinner with a ruddy vegetarian!"
"Captain, be quiet," Tintin hissed. "You're drawing attention."
"Pins and liver, if only!"
They passed a group of pretty young débutantes, who bent their heads together and whispered excitedly as they passed, bright eyes lingering on the famous young journalist. Haddock scowled. He had reluctantly agreed to attend the débutantes ball at the bequest of Mademoiselle Castafiore, who characteristically refused to accept his protestations. Thus far, he had spent a miserable evening ducking out of the opera singer's sight and baring witness to Tintin's increasingly less charming obliviousness.
"I feel like your decrepit old Grandaddy,” Haddock grumbled into his beard. “I have been rendered invisible. Obsolete. Inaquaduct!"
"Inadequate," Tintin corrected, taking a sip of his champagne, clearly unmoved by his friend's emotional theatrics. "And you're being dramatic."
"I might as well be chopped liver." Haddock stuck a thumb towards himself and puffed out his chest. "But I'll have you know in my day I made many a lass quiver at the knee."
"Oh? Were they sailing with you at the time?" Tintin quipped.
"Don't get clever."
Tintin idly rolled the stem of his glass between his thumb and forefinger, his mind wandering. “What do you think of this business about the thief who broke into the Uffizi Gallery last week?”
“You're trying to change the subject.”
“To something more interesting, yes,” Tintin conceded.
Haddock waved him off. “Blundering bilge rats, what's so interesting about another jumped up wee thief? It's all anyone's been harping on about tonight.”
“Mmh, he certainly has captured the imagination of the public,” Tintin agreed. “The papers are thoroughly enjoying the spectacle. They've even dubbed him 'Kaitou Red'.”
“Kaitou Red?!” Haddock threw his shaggy head back with a loud guffaw. “What a load of codswallop! Give a man a gimmick and he'll think he rules the world. I'm telling you right now, you wouldn't catch that glory hog pulling one over me!”
Haddock's face immediately brightened at the proffered drinks balancing on the waiter's tray.
“Och, well, don't mind if I do!” he said, snatching the entire tray from the waiter's hands. “Now, where was I? Ah yes - no cock-sure, sneak thief, lolly-goggling, landlubber could ever pull the eyes over Captain Archibald Haddock's wool!”
“Captain... Weren't you carrying a silver pocket watch this evening?”
“Of course I am, Tintin. I always carry me Grandaddy's pocket watch,” Haddock declared, patting his breast pocket. “Keep it on me at all tim.... BLISTERIN' BARNACLES!”
“The waiter, Captain, quickly! After him!”
“THIEF! LAND PIRATE! I'LL RING YER SCRAWNY NECK!"
Tick... tick... tick...
Haddock's eye twitched in beat to the dull, relentless ticking from the grandfather clock in Marlinspike's hall. He was convinced the blasted old clock had obtained a supernatural ability to slow time – or perhaps Calculus had been fiddling around again. He wouldn't put it past the old goat to invent a time machine out of his furnishings.
Irritation thrummed in Haddock's old sea-bones. He clenched the morning paper and growled in fury as the clock finally struck the hour.
"That confounded contraption!" He folded his paper and thrust it aside. "Thunderin' typhoons! How is a man supposed to hear his own thoughts on this blasted deck?!"
"Well, you could stop yelling for one," Tintin replied drolly, without taking his eyes off his own copy of the local rag. The white fox terrier curled at his feet seemed to snort his agreement.
Captain Haddock glared at them both, but his expression cooled when he took in the fresh bandages crowning Tintin's head and the dark circle around the lad's right eye. He felt his anger melt away to reveal the real source of his irritation that morning.
“How's yer head doing?” he asked in a slightly less gruff voice.
Tintin took a sip of his tea, but his bright eyes never left his paper. “Still attached, thanks.”
Haddock snorted. “Hmph, that's as may be, but it's sure no' screwed on right.”
Tintin finally put down his paper and gave his friend a concerned look. “Captain, is there something on your mind? You're not still sore about your pocket watch are you? I retrieved it from the thief, after all.”
“Aye, but not before the bloodsucking blaggard gave you that shiner and escaped into the night,” Haddock grumbled.
“Don't worry. I have a feeling that wasn't the last time we'll see our nimble little friend,” Tintin said, wryly.
Haddock didn't quite see how that was good news. "If you were a cat you'd be on yer ninth life."
"Good thing I'm more of a dog person then, isn't it? Eh, Snowy?" Tintin gave the fox terrier at his feet a scratch behind the ear. The dog gave a huff of agreement.
"Ach, yeh ken whit I mean!"
Tintin hid his smile behind his paper. The Captain always got more Scottish when he was irritable.
Haddock gave another low grunt in D minor, before pretending to busy himself with his paper again. It was a British broad paper, with large black headlines forewarning imminent conflict between Borduria and Syldavia. His grip tore the paper in two. Tintin drew him a speculating look, but Haddock pretended not to notice and shuffled the single pages into a neat stack on his lap, as if he'd meant to do that all along.
Archibald Haddock had never wanted children. How could a man who had never grown up himself be expected to raise a bairn, anyway? The sort of wisdom he had to offer was not fit for children (though it came in very handy during a game of blackjack).
At the start of his odd friendship with the famous "boy reporter", Tintin had often complained about Haddock's less than savoury methods and spoiled pearls of wisdom. Haddock, for his part, had retorted that Tintin had been born old and needed to loosen up a bit. For all his reckless adventuring, the lad could be a real fuddy duddy.
But he had understood from the very beginning that Tintin was a truly amazing young man; self-effacing, honest, brave and compassionate, with a sense of moral duty that Haddock had never owned. Together they had travelled to the farthest reaches of the globe, witnessed marvellous things, and cheated death more times than he cared to count. But every now and again something would betray Tintin's youth; a naïve comment, perhaps, or the way he would grow so childishly excited over a potential developing story. At twenty-two, the “boy reporter” was a young man now, but Haddock had grown to understand that Tintin was still just another orphaned lad cheated out of a childhood.
A grizzly old sea Captain with a penchant for whisky might be a poor excuse for a father figure, but if that's what Tintin needed, then Haddock would be damned if he didn't rise to the challenge. And if parenthood meant nudging Tintin off the path of destruction and towards the safety of home, then so be it.
The big wide world had never been safe, particularly not for the likes of the curious and idealistic, two categories Tintin happily occupied. But between the Germans, the Spanish civil war, and the tensions rising between Borduria and Syldavia again, the stakes seemed higher than ever. Even the most civilised European cities and haunts of the upper classes were set on edge. A heaviness permeated every town and city they visited these days. The very air thrummed with an electrical anticipation, as if every brick and soul was poised for war to spill onto their doorstep.
Distracting Tintin with a nice young lady who would keep him out of trouble for a while seemed like an easy solution, for what better way to lure a red-blooded boy from the frontline than by a pair of pretty dark eyes (this, Haddock thought ruefully, he knew from experience)?
"It's not that I haven't thought about it," Tintin said suddenly, breaking his reverie.
Baffled, Haddock blinked at him stupidly.
"Eh? What are you on about now?"
"Relationships." When Haddock continued to stare blankly, Tintin shot him an impatient look and added bluntly, "That is what you're worrying about, I expect?"
Haddock felt foolish and a little ashamed at his lack of more substantive response, but he was taken aback (and truth be told a little touched) that Tintin knew him well enough to understand what had been bothering him. Instinct told him now was the time to keep his big hairy trap shut and let the lad continue.
"The truth is I'm perfectly content with my life the way it is," Tintin went on, though his gaze had turned inward. "The world holds too many wondrous things to explore, and too many people without a voice whose stories must be heard. My life is my work, Captain, and it is often dangerous work. I've made enemies. That isn't the kind of life I would want to impose on another person. Does that make sense?"
Haddock's smile turned warm and broad as he looked over the boy he knew as his son in all ways that mattered. "Aye laddie. That it does."
Of course it did. Tintin prized his freedom as much as he did. It's why they remained such kindred spirits, despite their many differences. In a way, Haddock was relieved he didn't have to share the lad with anyone else just yet. But the worry still lingered.
"As for companionship, I have all I need at Marlinspike Hall.” Tintin gave him an earnest smile, the kind lit with genuine warmth and honesty. “I suppose I've come to think of you and the professor as something like family."
Haddock gave another muffled grunt, though secretly touched by the compliment.
"Aye, well, don't expect me to be carryin' yeh down the aisle any time soon."
Tintin returned to his paper. "That's a pity. You'd look marvellous in a dress."
Before Haddock could let loose a stream of colourful invectives that would make the Bird brothers blush, Tintin raised a hand to shush him.
"Hold that rant, Captain - look at this!" Tintin turned the front page of the newspaper towards him. Halfway down in urgent bold lettering were the words:
KAITOU RED STRIKES ANTWERP - FEARS BRUSSELS TO BE STRUCK NEXT!
"Thunderin typhoons," Haddock groaned and slumped into his armchair with a roll of his eyes. "I've had one too many encounters with that sauced-up cheap sideshow this week."
Ignoring his old friend, Tintin read on. "'The infamous thief, who goes by the moniker Kaitou Red, has issued Interpol a card declaring his intentions to kidnap the Jade Cross - a medieval relic currently held at the Hotel Metropole under the ownership of one Nicholai von Hertz. Kaitou Red earned international fame last year after successfully procuring the Pharaoh's Tooth from Japanese oil magnate and oyabun of the Yakuza faction of Kyushu island, Jiro Takamura.'" His bright eyes shot up from the paper, glittering with excitement. "He's going to strike Brussels."
“He struck Brussels already!” Haddock protested. “He struck my breast pocket and pinched my grandaddy's pocket watch!”
A slow smile spread like butter across the young reporter's face. “Ah, I believe that was merely his means of getting our attention.”
"Oh no. I know that look." Haddock crossed his arms obstinately. "Whatever you have planned I want no part of it, yeh hear?"
"Captain, this is our chance to take on one of the greatest thieves of the 20th century. It's the story of a lifetime!"
Haddock grunted. "You said that five lifetimes ago and all of them came back bruised."
But he knew his pleas would fall on deaf ears. The game was already afoot.