This story is dedicated to Friendships everywhere.
Disclaimer: Tintin and Friends do not belong to me. I make no money from these stories, which is kind of a shame considering there's thousands of people reading them and I could use the money.
it is by chance we met; by choice we became friends
- Henri Nouwen
It was with easy joviality that Tintin was able to persuade Snowy to accompany him on the fourth morning of their holiday in Vargése with Captain Haddock and Professor Calculus, even if both the Captain and the Professor flatly turned him down.
On the first day they'd spent their time by the pool, relaxing and soaking up the sun that the fine, Indian summer had granted them. By the second day, Tintin was raring to go and had joined a hike led by the resort's able and experienced guide. He'd enjoyed a gentle ramble through the sparser woods that clung to the to the foothills that faced the southern side of the Hotel des Sommets. It had been a fine walk, but slow, and Tintin had still felt restless afterwards.
That evening, while the Captain had propped up the expensive bar of the hotel's pub, Tintin had scaled the huge indoor rock wall. His time was twenty minutes, and given practice he'd probably beat the hotel's current record (15 minutes and 49 seconds). He had opted to do it freestyle, with only one safety rope (the anxious instructor had been adamant about that) and a helmet. He'd gotten about a third of the way up when he began to feel alive again. There was just him and the (admittedly fake) rock; he carefully and quickly felt for handholds and tested his footholds confidently, until the noise of the few rowdy teens and kids that haunted this part of the hotel's indoor resort were shut out and the only thing that existed was his increasing height and the obstacle in front of him.
As soon as he'd abseiled back down to the bottom the instructor had pulled him aside and drawn out a few rough maps of more challenging hikes around the area. They all started quite close to the hotel and the tourist village of Vargése and he was eager to try them out. He loved to climb. He didn't now why, but he did. In fact, Cuthbert was fond of calling him the Missing Link, and his fearlessness lent an extra edge to some of the pranks he played on the Captain.
Yesterday they'd visited the village and a nearby town that had a museum, and done a few touristy things to placate the Captain. But this morning Tintin had pulled on his hiking boots and set out, his backpack filled with a few emergency supplies, and set out with the morning hikers, splitting from them when they reached their first designated rest point to continue east, up out of the foothills and onto the mountain pass proper. At this low altitude there had even been a road, enclosed by a flimsy guard rail (and beyond that a sheer drop into either the valley below or the lake, depending on where you were: the road offered spectacular views of both) on one side and the steep, sheer rock walls of the mountain on the other.
Tintin and Snowy had walked all morning and it was early afternoon when they reached their promised reward: the little mountain village of Le va C'ancy - the last outpost of civilization in this part of the Alps. Once you left this place, striking upwards, you were on your own. It would take two days at best to reach Base Camp from here: the manned camp and medical center were higher up but further back, to the west. To go forward meant doubling back on a tricky trail that wasn't recommended for novice hikers and climbers. In fact, it would probably take less time to hike back to Vargése and take a different, more direct route to the Base Camp.
Le va C'ancy had a population of only 508 people. Most of them were workers employed by the telephone and internet companies to keep the phone lines up for as long as possible during the hard, winter months, and to repair them during the volatile springs, summers and autumns, when storms and high winds did a lot of damage. It was a hard job, but necessary, so important was Vargése to the tourist economy. A huge number of people from all over the world passed through this quiet, sleepy looking corner of the world: millions each year. From holiday makers that partied through the summer, to the determined campers and naturalists of autumn, not to forget the winter skiers and snowboarders and the relaxed, restful retirees of spring.
Many families lived in Le va C'ancy: hard jobs bring bigger paycheques, and the men and women that worked here stayed for years: for as long as they could. It was a job for life and the village was beautiful and remote, with a bus that ran to Vargése below several times a day. There was a good primary school in Vargése, and a decent high school, with an even better one in a town another short ride away, which accepted students as boarders. The only thing Le va C'ancy had was one of the oldest, and smallest, churches in France and a pub that was also - as Tintin learned when he went it to see if it served food - a general store, a post office, a restaurant and a comedy club.
The pub had seating out back: a small enclosed smoking area, but it faced out onto the village square, which was simply spectacular. A fountain bubbled up in the exact middle, and beyond it was a small picnic area with wooden tables and benches. To the right was a one storwy, lazy-looking building that was both the Town Hall and the library. To the left was the small church, a pretty little grey building decorated by hanging baskets and planters filled with late blooming Autumn flowers like wild roses and a strange, purple-headed flower that Tintin couldn't place but which grew wild in the forest down below.
But the real reason Tintin had chosen to eat out here lay beyond the picnic tables and the low, grey stone wall: the view of the Alps towering up and tumbled down around the valley itself. The harsh grey bled into the cold brown of the foothills. In turn, the browns turned to green, like the russet Autumn descent made solid. The trees in the forest shivered below clinging to their foliage for as long as possible. The lake, immense and as smooth as glass at this distance, sprawled down into the valley's bed. Vargése clung to south end of it, nestled securely between some of the greatest forces of nature; a man-made stamp that declared the resilient optimism of the human race.
He savored a bowl of chili and allowed himself a half a pint of a locally brewed beer. Nursing both, he and Snowy lingered for at least two hours. Tintin spent the time enjoying the feeling of aliveness that had bubbled up and threatened to overspill, while Snowy had slaked his thirst with the fountain, relieved himself on a flowerbed, and fell asleep at his master's feet, completely indifferent to the scenery.
Tintin was sure he could lure the Captain up here, with the combined promise of an easy road and a cosy pub at the other end. The hardest part would be convincing him to try the hike to the Base Camp, but it could probably be done.
'Come on, you.' He poked Snowy awake and began getting his own luggage together. The dog reluctantly got up, torn between the happy feeling of going for a walk and his tiredness. Happiness won out for a little while, though, and he bounded ahead, snuffling the road and chasing the Autumn insects until the day grew longer and he fell back to his master's side, panting heavily and longing for Home.
The Hotel des Sommets was set in the town of Vargése at the foot of the French side of the Alps. Captain Haddock had booked three weeks here because it was remote and quiet and safe (as long as one wasn't a complete idiot), while still offering something for an adrenaline junkie like Tintin.
They'd needed a holiday. They'd been pushed from pillar to post recently. First, the Captain had been redeployed with the navy when the threat of a new World War had loomed - gone were words like 'skirmish' and 'war on terror': it was flat out who-blinks-first-gets-nuked-WAR - while Tintin had done that thing in the middle east that seemed to settle the situation firmly back into the realm of Common Sense and diplomacy. Then there'd been the space thing, and after that Tintin had moved in to Marlinspike Hall - Finally! - but their restful summer had been cut short by Cuthbert getting abducted and held by the Bordurian government, which had resulted in a frantic chase that took them all over Europe, from Belgium to Borduria over in the Baltic southeast. No sooner were they back then that horror Abdullah had landed on their doorstep, and the less said about that the better.
Poor Nestor. This holiday was more for him than anyone else. Captain Haddock, safe on the back deck of the hotel, which overlooked the lake and the small, rocky beach, shuddered and finished his pint. A powerful thirst had come upon him in the last hour or so, and the very pretty waitress had been trotting back and forth to the bar for him ever since.
She was a very obliging young lady, he had to say. Then again, he'd been tipping her €5 per drink, so it was in her best interest to be obliging. He looked around in the hopes of summoning her now but she was already ready for him, slipping out of the long, wide glass doors of the bar with a fresh bottle and a new glass, the condensation standing out like cold beads of sweat on the bottle. She winked at him, he winked back, and an extra €5 note found its way to the palm of her hand. She'd just made twenty quid* in tips in an hour, and she was happy. She bounced away, quietly exuberant, and he let himself look at her bottom as it sashayed away. She must have been at least 25, so he didn't feel like a total pervert for admiring her. The only pang of shame came when he realised that he was now at the age where he automatically called anyone under the age of 30 a 'boy' or 'girl' because - Let's face it, he thought grimly - they're all still kids at that age.
The waitress held herself a little differently, straightening her posture and accentuating her natural sway as she walked by Tintin. The boy's head was turned, of course, but only for a moment. He grinned at the Captain as he neared the table. 'Good view, no?'
'Not bad,' the Captain agreed.
'I take it you had a good day?' Tintin asked as he took his rucksack off.
'Marvellous,' the Captain declared. 'What about you? You must be knackered** by now.'
'A bit tired, I must say.' Tintin did his best not to drop into the seat opposite his friend too heavily. At his feet, Snowy had no qualms about flopping unceremoniously onto the warm wood of the deck. Still panting, when he looked up at them he looked as though he was smiling in delight.
'I'm on top of the world,' Tintin said warmly. 'The mountains are superb, and the air is like champagne. You should come with me sometime.'
The Captain interrupted him with a loud snort. Tintin grinned good naturedly.
'Not on your life! I don't mind mountains as scenery, but this passion for clambering over big piles of rocks? That's what gets me! Anyway, you go up, spend a few minutes having a look around, and then you have to come back down again. I mean, what's the flaming point?
'Nobody ever thinks of the risks either. Y'can break your neck as quick as anything up there, and you're always seeing accidents in the papers, aren't you? Mountain drama here; Alpine disaster there... You'd think folks would learn their lesson but they never bloody do. Naaaaah!' He shook his head vehemently. 'Mountains should be abolished.'
Tintin couldn't help but laugh. 'How can you abolish a mountain?'
'I dunno. That's for Them to figure out,' the Captain said with a sniff.
'Who's "them"?' Tintin asked.
'Eh, boffins? The government? I don't know. Anyway, at least it would stop all those airplanes from bumping into every other peak. Look, it's happened again.' The Captain tapped the folded up newspaper before sliding it over to Tintin. 'In Nepal this time. I've just finished reading it, so you can take it if you like.'
Tintin opened the newspaper and flicked through it until he found the story the Captain was talking about.
NEPAL AIR DISASTER
It was a small enough piece, and Tintin read it quickly.
"The DC3 missing since the late hours of the weekend, on a flight from Patna to Katmandu, is reported to have crashed in the Gosain Than Massif. It is believed that the plane, belonging to AirIndia, was driven towards the Himalayas by a violent storm. Yesterday, a search and rescue plane spotted the wreckage of the aircraft in a remote and dangerous area. As soon as the news was received, a rescue party set out for the peak where the aircraft crashed.
The aircraft is known to have carried fourteen passengers and four crew. Their fate remains unknown."
'Those poor people,' Tintin murmured even as his eye was drawn to the bigger story below (Daring Diamond Heist in Vienna!) 'What a terrible place to crash. They wouldn't stand a chance up there.'
'That's mountains for you,' the Captain said darkly. Somewhere up high on the outer wall of the hotel a soft, tinkling chime began to sound.
'There's dinner!' the Captain said happily. 'Come on: I'm absolutely famished.'
Later it would secretly alarm Tintin how quickly he was able to disregard the crash, how quickly he pushed it from his thoughts as he followed the Captain into the luxurious dining room, his mind already turned toward the waiting meal, the good conversation and the relaxing evening that lay ahead of him.
* A quid has been mentioned in Tintin before. The Thompsons chewed a 'quid' of tobacco in Red Rackham's Treasure. However, in this instance, a quid is slang for a Pound Sterling, the currency of England. I'm not sure if I've specifically mentioned it, but in this world the Captain is from York in England.
** Knackered is UK and Irish slang for tired (it also means a member of the gypsy community - knacker - or a testicle. In this instance, the Captain means money. He gave her twenty pounds in tips.
Author's Note: There's going to be something in this story that a lot of fans won't like: Tintin's embarrassment at the Captain*. Now, it's no secret that I try to keep Modern!Tintin as true to real life as I can. And - to be fair - it isn't beyond the realm of possibility for a teenager to be embarrassed by their dad (and I do consider Captain Haddock to be Tintin's 'dad'). It isn't raised in this chapter but, on reading the real book, the Captain does things that are embarrassing several times during the adventure. If you don't like Tintin being embarrassed by the Captain's actions, that's fair enough. But the pay off is more than worth it It fits in to the story I'm telling, and it fits with the version of the characters that I write. Please remember that when posting your reviews.
*Imagine your dad dancing at a wedding, and multiply that by a million. Remember that embarrassment? Yeah, that's Tintin's. Times a million.