From Duprass #3, Copyright 1987. Reprinted by permission of the author.

It was Monday night of Labor Day, the last day of the Confederation Worldcon. As I sat in the restaurant at the bottom of the Marriott's vast atrium and drank a diet Pepsi, I glanced upward at the magnificent view of 30 or 40 stories and the huge indoor space. If you were on the 30th floor or so, looking down, it looked just like the underground Krell city in Forbidden Planet. Looking up, it seemed a bit more like human-engineering, but it was still incredible.

Suddenly my reverie was cut short, as a thin, bespectacled fan wearing a Prisoner T-Shirt tapped me on the shoulder. His face was familiar, but like so many fans whom I know only casually, his name escaped me. And naturally his name badge was blank.

"You are a friend of Moshe Feder's, aren't you?" he said, pushing forward a Coke can.

I nodded reluctantly. Obviously I was going to be asked to pass this relic on to Moshe, a notorious Coke-memorabilia collector. I had no idea where to find him now that the convention was winding down and most people had checked out. And I hadn't even seen Moshe in the last couple of days. At least if I had to carry the can back to Philadelphia, the can didn't look heavy. I couldn't help but remember lugging a 6-pack around the Hawaiian Islands to take to Moshe. I wondered what made this can a collectible. It looked ordinary enough, unlike some of the Cokes Moshe owned--which ran the gamut from gold-plated to lettered-in-Japanese to pre-WWII green bottles.

"OK, I'll give it to him," I muttered, starting to put it in my purse.

"No, no." The guy grabbed it back, turned it upside down, and started shaking it. I winced as a few stray Coke drops splattered the slogan on my Bermuda in 88 T-Shirt.

"It's from him...or I think it is...or I don't know...look what's inside." At that moment out fell a package in a plastic baggie. "I found it in this Coke can I got from the Con Suite. Read it. It must be a hoax or something. You take it! You're his friend; I don't really know him. Take it."

He pushed the damp package into my hand and backed away, apparently glad to be rid of it.

"That's what you get for drinking Coke instead of Pepsi," I called after him. "Foreign matter in your can!"

I shook my head sorrowfully, wiped the Coke off my hand with a napkin,and started to toss away the bag, but curiosity got the better of me and I opened it. Inside were several pages of notebook paper crammed with tiny lines of handwriting that looked a lot like Moshe's. I doubted it was genuine, though--Moshe would never have put anything important in a can of New Coke, which he referred to as "wimpy coke"...unless he'd had no other choice. This is what it said:

To whomever finds this can--please pass it on to one of my friends so they can help me get out of here.

--Moshe Feder

Help!

It all started so innocently. A few months ago as I planned my trip to the Worldcon I realized that Atlanta was the home of the Coca-Cola Company. So I wrote them to see if I could go on a tour of their World Headquarters. I must admit I was surprised when, a few weeks before Labor Day, I received an engraved invitation by special messenger, inviting me to come on a Special Tour of the bottling plant and headquarters building.

I would have taken Lise Eisenberg along, but it specifically said "For Moshe Feder only--no other guests may accompany." But now I'm so glad that I didn't bring Lise. What would have happened to her? But I'm getting ahead of myself.

On Saturday of Confederation, I put on my best Coke T-Shirt and blue jeans, my Coca-Cola watch, my biggest Coke button, my Coke-logo belt buckle, and my Coke socks, caught a bus, and went to the World Headquarters of Coca-Cola. I entered by the side entrance marked "Board Members Only," as per instructions. The guard examined my invitation with extraordinary care, consulted someone by phone, and checked my ID and credit cards. I should have suspected something was wrong when he fingerprinted me as well, but I was too euphoric at the thought of a special tour and the possibility that they might give me some advertising posters as souvenirs to really care.

The guard ushered me to a secretary who passed me to a second secretary who took me to a huge oak door marked "Private--Authorized Personnel Only." On the other side was a huge reception area with various glass display cases filled with all sorts of Coke bottles, cups and glasses--it almost rivaled my collection.

I checked over the exhibit carefully, searching for the first bottle of Coke ever made. It was supposed to be in the Atlanta headquarters somewhere and I really wanted to see it. But unfortunately it wasn't in any of the cases.

After a few minutes of awe-struck inspection, I realized that someone else had entered the room--a rather gaunt, bald-headed gentleman wearing a futuristic-looking tunic. He leaned on a strange-looking cane or staff. He was inspecting me. When he realized I'd noticed his penetrating gaze, he stepped forward with surprising spryness and shook my hand.

"Moshe, my boy. You don't mind me calling you Moshe do you?"

I shrugged.

"I knew you'd look like this. What a fine outfit, what an excellent watch, what a nifty belt, and what magnificent socks! You are just what I expected. I'm Mr. Smythe, by the way."

He clapped me on the back, smiled profusely, and led me through the inner door to a tour of the Coke headquarters. We visited the bottling plant, the shipping department, the advertising department, the mailroom, the offices, the boardroom, even the executive washroom--the whole building from top to bottom. Meanwhile Mr. Smythe prattled away, telling me all sorts of facts and figures on production and distribution--almost more than I already knew.

He also had an annoying habit of asking me questions, like "Who invented Coke?"1 "Did Coke ever own Pepsi?"2 "Is there really cocaine in Coke?"3, and so on, and he seemed to take extraordinary glee every time I knew an answer, and naturally, I knew the answers to all his questions.

After a wonderful lunch in the executive dining room, Mr. Smythe took me into one of the testing laboratories. "My boy," he said, "it is time for you to take the final test. I know you can pass, and if you do, I'm going to take you into the vault room where only members of the Board of Directors are normally allowed."

Final Test? I wondered what he meant. But the moment seemed somehow solemn and special, so I accepted the first unmarked cup without questioning him. There was another cup, then another.

When I finished I carefully pointed to the left cup. "Pepsi," I said. I pointed to the middle: "New Coke." Then I picked up the rightmost cup and drank the remainder down with gusto. "Coke Classic, of course."

The lab technicians smiled and Mr. Smythe beamed broadly and clapped his hands.

"My boy--I knew you could do it! I bet you can even tell me where that Classic Coke was bottled."

"Sure, it's from the plant in Vicksburg, Mississippi--that's the town where the first bottle of Coke was made." Everyone looked so pleased at my remarkable sense of taste and knowledge that I added proudly, "and the second bottler was in Chattanooga, Tennessee."

Smythe looked at me ecstatically and patted me on the back again.

"Err...do you think I could see that very first bottle now?"

"Certainly, my boy, it's down in the vault."

Smythe escorted me down the hall to a special elevator that took us to the basement. We walked casually past guards armed with machine guns to a giant vault.

"The secret of Coke is inside!" Mr. Smythe whispered. "And the very first bottle ever made."

He carefully fed in the combination. Then he led me inside the vault.

I was surprised to find myself inside a giant room, perhaps as large as a football field. There were thousands of showcases and framed displays. They appeared to contain every type of Coke memorabilia in existence--trays, mirrors, signs, bottles, bottle caps, glasses, games and toys, ice picks, clothing, promotional candies and cigars, Coke vending machines and ice chests, frisbees, watch fobs and cigarette lighters embossed with the famed lettering, neon lights, tiffany lamps, paperweights, ashtrays, thermometers, radios, posters, coasters--you name it and it was there. It was even bigger than my collection.

I wandered around in a daze darting from exhibit to exhibit, unable to believe I was really seeing some of the items I'd only read about. Mr. Smythe followed quietly behind me, still smiling broadly.

After what must have been several hours we came to the end of the hall, and another huge vault door. Just in front was a small glass case. Inside stood the very first bottle. It was more bulbous than later bottles, and did indeed resemble the shape of a cocoa pod. I smiled, remembering how the designer had gotten confused between coca (the plant that produced cocaine) and cocoa (the plant that produces chocolate) and had looked up the wrong thing. Originally he'd intended to make the bottle in the shape of one of the ingredients, the cola nut, but couldn't find a picture. So he'd tried looking up coca. Well he got confused, but the shape was pleasing and stuck.

I stared into the case with a mixture of ecstasy and a collector's envy.

"I knew you'd love seeing this room, my boy," said Smythe, "what with your extensive Coke collection. I must say, I really enjoyed reading about it in DUPRASS."

"DUPRASS? You're a fan?" I asked, somewhat taken aback.

"No, I'm an air conditioner!" Mr. Smythe replied laughing. "No, no I'm not one of you sci-fi people. But we make a point of getting everything that relates to Coke, and when we read it we decided to learn more about you. Then we received your letter asking for a tour, so we knew our interest in you was justified."

"Interest in me?" I muttered to myself as Smythe unlocked the second vault.

"Oh yes, after we read your article we became quite intrigued. You seemed like just the sort of young man we have been looking for. We know all about you and your interest in Coke. In fact, we have done quite a bit of research on you--we know all about your job with the Science Fiction Book Club, your rollercoaster romance with Miss Eisenberg, your life at home with your family. In fact we even know your real name, the one you hate to reveal to anyone, even though it is on your birth certificate."

"Oh no, not that!"4

Then the vault door swung open and he led me into another football-field sized room. But the contents of this one were even more astonishing than the first.

Sitting, standing, and in some instances swimming, were hundreds of the symbols of corporate America, but they were all real, apparently made of flesh and blood. Wearing her red bandana and huge hoop skirt, Aunt Jemima smiled shyly at me. There was the little Morton Salt girl standing under her umbrella. A tiny "Speedy" in his Alka-Seltzer hat played chess with the Pillsbury dough boy.

As we walked down the aisle past Mr. Clean, The Man from Glad, Betty Crocker, and Mrs. Butterworth, I finally noticed that all of them were chained to the floor. Then I spotted Peter Pan shackled to a wall.

I started to ask what was going on, but Mr. Smythe put a firm hand on my arm and propelled me forward. "You'll have the secret in a moment," he whispered.

We passed a huge tank where "Charlie," the Star-Kist tuna, argued with the Chicken of the Sea mermaid, and veered right by the Tidy-Bowl man (gee, he was small!), wisely avoiding Tony the Tiger, the Dreyfus lion, and the Merrill Lynch bull.

"Here we are," exclaimed Smythe. He pointed to an empty chair.

"Huh?" I looked questioningly at the Marlborough man and his horse, but he just shrugged and blew some smoke in my face.

As I coughed, Smythe grabbed me and thrust me into the chair. His hands seemed incredibly strong for someone of his apparent age. As I struggled he knocked me back with his staff, stunning me. Before I could react he'd pulled a chain from behind the chair and shackled me to the floor.

"What...what are you doing? Are you crazy..."

Mr. Smythe smiled. "Oh, come now my boy, you are dealing with the Coca-Cola Company, and we always know exactly what we are doing!"

"What about New Coke?" I shouted.

"Ah...an unfortunate marketing mixup," for a second time the smile almost slipped, but Smythe quickly recovered and grinned at me again, "but it worked out for the best in the long run--our sales are higher than ever! And soon they will be higher still, with your help."

"Mine? Why have you chained me up?"

"Oh haven't figured that out yet, Moshe? The Coca-Cola Company has decided that we need a new corporate symbol. We have been searching for one for some time, and now we have one--you have passed all the tests. Welcome to our organization, Mr. Coke."

"Mr. Coke?"

"Of course--you are our new Mr. Coke. Our new advertising campaign is about to start. Soon your image will be on Coke cans and bottles all over the world! A wonderful new bunch of items to collect, eh? And we'll collect them all for you!"

"Great!" I said sardonically as I pulled at the unyielding chain. "This is some secret you had to tell me."

Mr. Smythe beamed. "Oh no, that part isn't the secret-- this is the secret."

He reached into his breast pocket, pulled out a slip of paper and showed it to me--it was an incomprehensible series of equations.

"It's the Coke formula, my boy! The whole world has wondered about it, and you and I are the only ones to have seen it. And I'll tell you something else--there is no cocaine in Coke, but there is an addicting substance..." He pointed at the formula, "this part here is addicting. That's why millions of consumers can't get enough of our product."

Then he walked away happily whistling the tune to "I'd like to teach the world to sing..."

That was two days ago, and I can't get out! I happened to have some paper with me and I got Snap, Crackle and Pop to smuggle this note into a shipment of Coke they think is going to the Con Suite. Fans are Slans they say, so I know you'll find a way to get me out. Please hurry, I'm chained next to Mr. Whipple, and all day long he keeps asking me to squeeze his Charmin.

--Moshe (soon to be known as Mr. Coke) Feder

[end of manuscript]

I'm sure this is just a hoax, probably one that Moshe has perpetrated. Of course I haven't seen him at any cons lately; but come on... "Mr. Coke"--Moshe? And is he going to be Mr. Classic Coke or Mr. New Coke?

I told him he should drink Pepsi!

1Mr. John Styth Pemberton, an Atlanta druggist.

2No. But at one point Coke had the chance to buy the almost bankrupt Pepsi Company and turned it down. Loft Candy Company bought Pepsi instead, after Coca-Cola wouldn't give them a discount on the syrup they used to make Coke in their candy stores. This was probably the biggest mistake Coke ever made.

3Not any longer. Mr. Pemberton originally developed "French Wine Coca" as a beverage with tonic effects. In the Spring of 1886, he removed the wine and added a pinch of caffeine, extract of cola nut, and other flavoring oils to his beverage. He changed its name to Coca-Cola, based on two of its ingredients, cola from the cola nut and coca from whole coca leaves. The inclusion of coca resulted in a small quantity of cocaine in the beverage. But actually the amount was so small it would not have had any addicting effect. The large amounts of caffeine, and especially sugar, had much more addicting effects. (In fact at one point the Food and Drug Administration said there should be more coca for it to be called Coca-Cola.) Later anticipating the Pure Food and Drug Act, the Coca-Cola company substituted decocainized coca leaves for the unprocessed ones. The cocaine produced as a byproduct of this process is currently sold to legitimate drug manufacturers to make morphine. So no cocaine is left in Coca-Cola. [Above footnotes were attached to the manuscript found in the coke can.]

4I know Moshe's real name and will reveal it for a price. [Linda]

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