Antiquarian: A Choose Your Own Adventure Victorian Adventure!
Julia looked over the edge of her whiskey glass and sighed. Bored. Incredibly, damningly bored. She had barely left the house in what felt like years, but was actually just over a week, according to the newspaper scattered on her floor: Wednesday, November 2, 1870.
She looked around her study at all the relics from her travels: various antiques; exotic liquors; rare books; trinkets and knick-knacks from all over the globe. So many adventures had; so many mysteries solved; so many asses kicked. And now here she was, in her house, doing her least favorite thing: waiting. Waiting for the Queen to pardon her after the last, uh, incident, just over two weeks ago. It’s highly unfair that she should have to be sequestered in her home because of the accidental shooting of a diplomat in Spain. He was in her way; the jewel thief was getting away, and the diplomat wasn’t exactly stopping the thief! Plus, the guy was barely harmed; he only lost a toe. The Queen was still pissed, though, and trying to smooth things over with the Spanish embassy, and Julia was barred from traveling. Her gun and rights were gone, and she was stuck in her stupid house with nothing to do but drink and read. Maybe conduct some ill-advised scientific experiments if the mood struck her. At least she still has her secret swordcane.
Sighing yet again, she uncrosses her slipper-clad feet and stands up off of her favorite leather chair, peeling her legs off the seat and probably losing a layer of skin in the process. Time for more whiskey. Sure, maybe she shouldn’t be on her third glass of whiskey at 1 pm, but she wasn’t exactly doing anything else at the moment, so who cares? At least, she thinks it’s 1 pm; that’s what the grandfather clock just chimed, but winding clocks and remembering the time had never been important to her. It could actually be 8 am or 5 pm; whatever, it’s whiskey o’clock.
Plodding from the study to the kitchen for a fresh bottle, something outside the hallway window catches her eye. Across the street, a woman in a red coat seems to be watching her. At the very least, she’s standing still in the middle of the sidewalk, staring straight at Julia’s house. Julia nearly drops her glass. No, no, it can’t be! Her arch-nemesis wouldn’t just show up NOW, unprovoked, would she? Fuck, she totally would.
Julia hurries away back down the hall towards the front door, forgetting entirely that she’s not wearing anything except a short dressing gown and slippers (because who needs pants when your only plans for the day are to drink a lot of alcohol alone in the privacy of your own goddamn home?). She frantically opens the door and looks out. Nobody’s there. No sign of the woman in the red coat. Was she ever really there, or is Julia just starting to go insane?
She hears someone whistle, and that’s when she realizes she’s been standing blankly in her open doorway half-naked in her short dressing gown. “Oh, bite me, you pickle dick,” she yells at the man with the most obnoxious waxed mustache gliding by on his velocipede, aka, the source of the whistling. Closing the door, Julia decides to go get a glass of water to calm down. When that doesn’t work, she heads back to her study to smoke a pipe and read through her journal of old cases. Maybe there’s a clue there; something to confirm that she really did just see who she thought she saw outside.
Julia fills her pipe with fresh tobacco and lights it. Inhaling, she immediately feels a sense of calm. There. Everything will be okay. She walks to her bookcase to pull down her expensive journal … except it’s not there. In its place is a white envelope addressed to Julia. She frantically opens it. Inside is a single piece of paper. All it says is, “You’ll never catch me now.”
So it WAS her. Julia was right, and not (completely) crazy! Well, she had needed a case; looks like this time, it had come to her. But where to go? How will she find her? What’s the next step? Where the hell is that whiskey?!
Scent notes: sumptuous leather, old yellowed books, pipe tobacco, soft sandalwood, musk.
Suddenly, a stroke of brilliance flashed into Julia’s head. Of course! If Carmen had been able to get into the house and leave this clue, she might have left another.
Sprinting towards the door, Julia runs down the hall to her bedroom. Surely, she left something here! Julia enters the bedroom and promptly runs to her bed. Throwing off the pillows, she begins muttering to herself. “Where are you, come on, where are you?!” Ripping off her floral down comforter, then the sheets, then the bedskirt, she screams in frustration. Crawling under the bed, she pulls out the copper chamber pot. Oh, there’s something in there, but it’s not a clue. Bleh.
“Ugh. This was a stupid idea.” Julia sighs again, sliding the chamber pot back under the bed. She looks up at her nightstand and her well-read copy of Madame Bovary. She could just make out the edge of a letter sticking out of the bottom.
Bolting upright, Julia grabs the book and opens it to the note. It says: “Do you remember? You’ll find me there.”
Of course she remembered; how could she forget? Carmen had been her best friend. Their trips to Paris years ago had been some of the best adventures of her life. Goddamn idiot; of course she’s on her way to Paris. Where else could she even be? Nevermind the trouble with the Queen; time to put on the travelin’ corset and get to work! And grab the swordcane, just in case.
Later that evening, Julia finds herself on the train to Paris. Passing by fields of lavender, she takes a deep breath in and pretend she can smell it, rather than the stench of the man sitting across the aisle from her. Does nobody take a regular bath anymore? He catches her looking at him, but mistakes it for interest. “Oy, dollface, you doing anything tonight?”
“Not you, you tedious, odiferous shit,” Julia says with the sweetest smile she can muster. Undeterred, he reaches towards his pants, and begins undoing his fly. Julia sees this, and digs something out of her bag. Right as he’s about to expose himself, Julia flashes a huge grin. This happens just enough that she’s always prepared. Was she doing this? Oh yeah, she was doing this.
She shoves a flashcard in his face.
“Right, see the sores on this one? They call it genital herpes. See how raw and red they are? Ick. Looks like you might have that. Or maybe, no, CRABS! Look at those little guys all over this little guy.” She’s shuffling through the deck of dicks, shoving them into his face.
“Lady, what the hell are you DOING?” he asks indignantly.
She plops down into the seat next to him with a cheerful ‘Scoot!’, forcing him to scramble over next to the window.
“...Are we not showing each other our dicks? I have a whole stack here! I’m not a medical professional, but I keep these on hand in case a gentleman decides he wants to expose himself to me. I can only assume you think I’m a doctor, and that there’s a mighty amount of pus or bumps or lesions on your genitals that you need diagnosing!” She quickly looks into his lap.
“Oh goodness, that does NOT look healthy. You should definitely see a real doctor about that soon.” Looking around at the half-empty carriage, she cheerfully yells out, “Is there a doctor here? Preferably a male doctor? This man has something seriously wrong with his penis! I’m not a doctor, but he insisted on showing me; please, could a male medical professional help with this? I can barely see the thing!” Around the carriage, people have started to laugh.
She looks into his face, which has gone green with a mix of embarrassment, anger, and shame. Behind him, through the window, she sees they’ve just pulled into her station.
“Look, we’re here! Goodbye sir. Good luck with your… penile problems. I would go see a doctor if I were you, though; that absolutely MUST itch like the Dickens!” She grabbed her bags and bounded off the train, smiling.
Folies-Bergere was her destination, but she took her time walking there. Why rush about in Paris? Better to stroll and enjoy her (hopefully short) trip to the city to catch her former best friend, that thieving, conniving slut. Damn, Julia missed her.
Walking through the 18th arrondissement, sniffing the tobacco-scented air, she skipped right past the Moulin Rouge. Yes, of course, it was absolutely packed. Every tourist goes to see the dancers and sow their oats at the Rouge, drink the watered-down liquor and the cheap drugs; she was interested in something darker, more hidden, and much more glamorous and opulent.
Popping into a cafe for a quick croissant and espresso, Julia made sure to scan everyone in the room to see if Carmen was there in plain sight. She didn’t see her. Sighing, Julia sat down to eat. She was about to go to a place with gorgeous burlesque dancers, lots of absinthe, and a wild atmosphere, and she needed to keep her spirits up in order to fit in. Plus, all that butter will help absorb the booze she’ll be imbibing all night. Ostensibly, of course, she’s there to catch her former friend, but she’s going to have fun doing it.
Sure enough, Folies-Bergere was just as she’d remembered: the can-can dancers, the smell of peppermint and anise wafting through the rafters, men wearing too much musk giddly chasing after courtesans… it was like coming home for Julia. The whole place was dark; every table and window was covered in thick black velvet. Every woman was dressed in her skintight best, and every man wore an impeccable suit, and everyone wore a mask (they handed them to you as you walked in). Not that you could tell; the place was scarcely lit. In order to see the person you were talking to, you had to lean in so close that you were nearly kissing. It was exquisite.
Adjusting her golden peacock mask, Julia drifts over to an empty table near the back corner. The stage is the most brightly lit part of the whole club; currently, two women were performing a burlesque number, and were down to their final corsets (Julia could see at least three for each woman littered about the stage). She scanned the balconies, and the nearby tables, but it was so dark she could hardly make out any faces. Oh well. Best to get her drink on and blend in with the crowd, she thought, flagging over a waiter.
Several glasses of whiskey and absinthe later, Julia was having a grand old time, hooting and hollering with the other patrons as the onstage entertainment got more and more naked, and everyone else became increasingly intoxicated. She had nearly forgotten why she’d come at all, except to have a great time and get plastered.
And then, a familiar voice whispered in her ear. “Having fun, darling?”
Whipping around, she comes face-to-face with Carmen, who’s wearing a luscious red velvet gown and wearing a matching mask and gloves. She looks incredible. Julia instinctually hugs her, before letting go and backing two steps away.
“I knew you’d be here! I knew it! Why did you steal from me?!”
Carmen smiles, her red lips curling upward. “Why, darling, I would never take something of yours! That book is ours; it’s filled with our memories, and our friendship. I have as much right to it as you do.”
Julia clenches her hands into fists, ready to punch her former friend if need be.
“Oh, so you want it back?” Carmen asks, seeing how upset Julia is. “Fine. I’ll give it to you. Just give me a moment, won’t you?” Before Julia’s alcohol-soaked brain can respond, Carmen turns and hustles behind a velvet curtain. Five seconds later, Julia realizes her mistake, grabs her things, and dashes behind the curtain to get Carmen.
But she’s too late. Darting through the dark hallways of the back of the club, and out the back door, she realizes that Carmen is gone.
“NO!” she screams, taking out her swordcane and stabbing the night air in frustration. “No, no, no, NO, NO-”
She’s mid-upward jab when she hears footsteps; swinging wildly, she nearly stabs a waiter who had heard the commotion and come outside, thinking Julia was in danger.
“Whoa, hey, stop it! Stop! Are you okay?”
“NO I AM NOT OKAY, THANKS, GET ME WHISKEY.”
“Well, we’re outside, so I can’t do that, but how about you take a deep breath and put that… cane-sword thing down so you don’t accidentally almost kill someone?”
Glaring at him and re-sheathing her cane, Julia takes a deep breath in, then out. She’s just realized that it’s absolutely freezing outside, and she begins to shiver.
“Hey, okay, that’s better. Can I walk you somewhere? Would you like my jacket?”
She nods, gratefully accepts the jacket. “Thank you. I can get to my hotel, I just need to warm up for a minute. What’s your name?”
He smiles. “Pierre, mademoiselle. My name is Pierre.”
She laughs. “Of course it is.”
They stand there talking for a minute, when she realizes that there’s an envelope inside the jacket pocket. No, there is no way in hell she slipped a note to this random waiter who just so happened to… no.
She stops talking, reaches in, and pulls out the note. “Julia” is written in perfect script on top.
“ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME?!” she screams, wild-eyed, looking at Pierre accusingly. He’s clearly confused and just as bewildered as she is.
“What? Where did that come from?”
“Oh, I know EXACTLY where this came from. Run along, Pierre; you’ve played your part in this game. And I’m keeping your jacket.”
Pierre sulks inside; it was not the first time a woman had chastised and belittled him that night, and it probably wouldn’t be the last. It wasn’t his first jacket, either.
Julia opens the letter, reads it, and screams one last time. Of course she escaped again, OF COURSE, this is what she does! She was so close to getting her, and Carmen just… vanished. This letter, though, was different.
My dearest Julia,
Of course it can’t be this easy; you know that. You must look farther for me; try a little harder; prove that you miss me and our friendship. This isn’t just about an album, we both know that. You’re a detective; find me. You always have before. I swear, this is the last time. But it won’t be close by. You know I hate the cold…
X O, Carmen
Scent Notes: Swirls of absinthe and pipe tobacco, a drop of peppermint, base of warm amber and white musk and a light feminine touch of Egyptian geranium