Jacobs the pharmacist looked up with a scowl from his newspaper, the Atlanta Constitution, as the door made its customary pinging noise, the kind of pinging noise pharmacists’ doors had been making since the days of Nostrodamus. He was annoyed, and the pinging was no salve to the headache he had induced by measuring out more than his usual dose of morphia the previous evening.
“Oh it’s you, doctor,” he said. “It is I”, replied Pemberton, rocking slightly on the balls of his feet, a grin spread across his bearded face. It was too much for Jacobs. “I don’t see what’s to be smiling about,” he said in that languid way favoured by morphia enthusiasts, and bade Pemberton cast his eye over an item in the Constitution which had just inflamed his headache. “This afternoon, of 7th May 1886, all individuals of moral conscience are called to march on the State House of Georgia”, read Pemberton aloud.
“It’s bad for business is what it is, doc,” said Jacobs. “These temperance lunatics have their way and we men of science are done for. It’ll be an end to Pemberton’s coca wine before you can say ‘and a half bottle for the missus, Mr Jacobs’.”
Pemberton, however, had his Gladstone bag on the counter by now and had removed the stopper from a curious-looking decanter. “I think we have a solution, Jacobs,” he said. “I have perfected a new concoction, one free of alcohol but every bit as moreish as coca wine. Even more moreish, you might say.”
Jacobs peered at the new liquid, which was by now fizzing away like blazes. It was black and heady. “Looks like you could descale the lavatory with this stuff,” he said. “I don’t suppose…”
“The recipe’s a secret,” said Pemberton, pouring him a draught. “All I will reveal is that there’s kola nuts, sugar and some other stuff in it. It’ll bring you off the morphia, for sure, and it’ll cure nervous prostration, distempers of the mind and irregularities of the kidneys. Oh, and impotence, too.”
The pharmacist held his glass aloft and regarded it with a beady eye, his left one; then, gingerly, he knocked it back. He let out a great “aaah”, and burped. “An extraordinary potion, Dr Pemberton,” he exclaimed. “My word, most extraordinary. I must have it for sale tomorrow. But how do you call it?”
“Hmm,” said Pemberton. “I hadn’t thought of that. Something alliterative, I think. Coca-Cobra, maybe, or Coma-Cola, or Holy Molar. I’ll get back to you on that.”