Karin sat in the last booth at the A-OK Cafe, precisely at 11:00 p.m., as directed. She placed the manilla envelope on the table and glanced around nervously.
The eatery was unexpectedly quiet. The lone bulb above the booth flickered ominously. Karin craned her neck, looking for a waitress.
Suddenly, the restroom door next to her swung open and a large man in a dark trench coat swooped into view and took to the seat across from her. He wore a wide-brimmed hat to match his coat, and his eyes glared at her from beneath its shadowy breadth.
“You have the package?” he muttered in a low voice.
She nodded, pointed to the envelope. He then placed a stack of hundred dollar bills on the table next to it. She reached to take them, but his heavy hand stopped her.
“Wait! I must confirm the item’s authenticity.”
His fingers shook slightly as he fumbled with the envelope, finally tearing it open in a fit of pique and dumping its brightly-colored contents onto the white formica.
“Oh … it’s more beautiful that I ever imagined!”
He removed his hat and placed it on the seat next to him. He was a portly man in his late 20s, with a thin beard and wire-frame glasses. As he delicately thumbed through the comic book, his lips moved as he spoke more words of wonder under his breath.
“So..,” Karin asked. “Are we good to go?”
“Oh, yes! Thank you so much! It’s perfect.”
She counted the money, folded the bills and tucked them into her purse. “Can I ask why this particular comic book is so valuable?”
“Oh!” He looked up, seemingly surprised she was still in the booth. “Archie #291 was a seminal issue in the Archie Comics canon. It’s the first comic in which Moose Mason and Jughead encounter the mysterious Eamon Dunkle, who would go on to become Captain Sprocket in the spinoff Archie’s Mad House.”
“Oh. I had no idea. It’s been in my dad’s old footlocker for fifty years.”
“I’m so glad I saw your ad on Craigslist! This is such a find! Worth every penny.”
“Glad to help. One more thing … why did we have to meet here?”
“I primarily collect superhero titles. I have a full run of Silver Age Green Lanterns. What do you think the others would say about me if they knew I was collecting Archie?”
“Uh … I don’t know?”
“Trust me. It would be mortifying. Like that time Richard and Miguel discovered I had all the original Care Bears. A true collector knows no boundaries! Nostalgia is a power that binds the past and makes us whole! We must keep and protect our heritage, and save it for future generations, am I right? What will our grandchildren think of us? Would you want to grow up not knowing about Archie comics? What kind of childhood would that be?”
Karin blinked once, then slid out of the booth and walked hurriedly out of the cafe.
The collector scarcely noticed. His mind was already back within the pages of Archie #291, in Riverdale, chuckling at the wholesome antics of its eternally-youthful denizens.