The only way to be sure Pete doesn’t eat all the doughnuts before he gets back from the coffee bar is to send a chaperone - but the only way to be sure Claudia doesn’t help Pete eat them all on the way back is for someone else to go with just one of them. Today, Claudia and Steve drew the short straw, but that’s not so bad; hopefully it’ll mean Artie’s already grumping along by the time they get to the Warehouse and will leave them alone after claiming his bear claw.
They get in line, and a group of five or six people around Claudia’s age follow suit - she vaguely recognises a couple of them from the couple of open mics she’s hung out at so far. But it’s not enough of an acquaintance for her to feel comfortable saying anything, and besides, talking to the locals gets kinda weird, what with the whole IRS cover story and all.
“Oh, no,” one of the girls in the group says. “This is bad. This is not good at all!”
Steve turns to face the group and raises an eyebrow. “What happened?”
“I left without my credit card,” the girl says. “I left without my piece of plastic which functions as a stand-in for money.”
Steve frowns, and Claudia does too, but before either of them can get a word in edgewise, one of the guys says, “Did you bring cash? Did you bring bills and coins?”
“Yes, but I don’t have enough to get the doughnuts for our party. We won’t have doughnuts for our festive gathering.”
“How many were you planning to get?” Claudia says. “And why are you all saying everything twice?”
“Forty,” the girl says, completely ignoring the second question.
“That’s as many as five eights,” another of her buddies adds.
“‘And that’s terrible,’” Claudia says to herself, as the pattern finally clicks.
“No, doughnuts are wonderful! They are very good!”
“Dude, no argument there, but... Steve? Any of this sound at all familiar to you?”
Steve frowns some more. “Can’t say that it does, sorry. Why, are you used to people getting all... weirdly redundant like this?”
“No, I just have a hunch here.” Claudia turns back to the cardless girl and says, “So what’s your party for?”
“The Univille Comic Book Society. We’re celebrating the first issue of Superman. We’re marking the occasion--”
“--Of the release of Action Comics number one, yeah, yeah, I got it, but - which one of you just bought a first edition of the Super Dictionary?”
There’s a long pause, long enough that Claudia starts to think her hunch was wrong, but then one of the girls at the back of the group sheepishly raises her hand. After that, she’s torn between laughing and facepalming into infinity, but neither would be very professional.
“And of course you passed it around your club,” she says. “I’m gonna... need to see that, when we’re done here. Actually, how about now, and then you can get your credit card, you’ll have your Superman’s-birthday doughnuts, there will be much rejoicing.”
Half an hour later, they’re finally headed back to the Warehouse, doughnuts safely in their box and book safely in its static bag.
“Do Artifacts usually turn up in town like that?” Steve says.
Claudia shakes her head. “I think Artie said they have a system set up to prevent that, or at least give him some kind of early warning that there is one in play, but I guess we beat him to the punch. Just as well, he wouldn’t have known what to do with it.”
“Good thing you did. I mean, if it’s a comic book thing, Pete probably would’ve too--”
“Oh, definitely. The Super Dictionary’s classic comic book insanity. I’d introduce you now, but I really don’t want to be talking like that all week.”
Steve laughs. “It’s okay, Claud, I think I’ll take your word for it.”