I read a story, perhaps 25 years ago, where caffeine is illegal and the main character is a police officer/detective who tracks down "caff-heads": caffeine addicts. The story ends with a memorable scene where the detective visits a fast food restaurant and orders a burger and something to go with it. (I'm hopefully avoiding a spoiler here.)

I thought the story was in Analog or Asimov's, and for some reason the title "King of All" comes to mind. But all of my searches have failed.

Does anyone remember this story? Or am I just hallucinating from a caff overdose?

Update: Wow! Thank you everyone for the help tracking down this great old Harry Turtledove story. For anyone who is curious about it, you can read it right now on the Internet Archive.

The screen cut to a closeup of plastic bags full of white powder.

Sandars rolled his eyes. His opinion of TV news coverage of drug abuse was, to say the least, unkind. So was almost any cop's.

He perked up when one of the gray-haired newsmen said, "Our feature tonight, Kristin, ties in with one of the day's big stories. Federal agents today seized more than a hundred kilograms of uncut caffeine, with a street value of almost $8,000,000, in a raid on a ship tied up at San Pedro Harbor.

I'll leave the twist ending for you to read for yourself. (I was pretty close; it was a Sausage McMuffin, not a burger.) The story is short, and a good read.

There was a discussion in the comments about what the street value of that 100 kilos of uncut caffeine would be in our own timeline.

One estimate was a possible value of $2500-$3000, with an article from 2015 showing a slightly higher price: $10 for a 100 gram container of uncut caffeine, or $10,000 for the 100 kilos.

That would not be a very impressive number for the nightly news. We need a bigger number, and since we're using "street value" we can honestly justify a much higher number. Most caff users don't buy it in uncut form or in 100 gram containers. We'll use the price that more typical individual addicts pay for the final product they consume, after the drug is cut, processed, packaged, distributed, and marked up each step of the way.

In our world, we could use the price of NoDoz caffeine tablets. A package of 60 NoDoz with 200mg caffeine each (12 grams total caffeine) sells on Amazon for $12.78 right now, or just over $1/gram. So enough NoDoz to contain 100 kilograms of pure caffeine would be a bit more than $100,000.

Now we're getting somewhere! But we can do better. Most caffheads prefer to consume their drug as a beverage, and that gives us a much more impressive street value.

This "brewed" caff arrives through a different distribution path - it isn't turned into pure caffeine powder and then back again - but it does give us the most realistic picture of the price a typical caffhead pays for each milligram of the drug.

The street price of a 12oz cup from your local caff dealer may be around $3 with tip, and it contains about 150mg of caffeine. This puts us at $20/gram for the caffeine content.

So the street value of our 100 kilograms of uncut caffeine in beverage form is $2,000,000. Now that's a newsworthy number!

And not too far from the street value in our story.

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    Don't worry about posting spoilers in story id questions. Some degree of spoilage is inevitable. See I'm asking a Story-ID question. Should I include spoilers? for more on this. Jan 27, 2018 at 7:55
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    Michael, the ISFDB is always a good starting point for searches. In this case doing a fiction title search for King of All finds your story. Jan 27, 2018 at 8:11
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    @MichaelGeary I'm never going to read that story so please spoil it for me: WHAT DID THE COP HAVE WITH HIS BURGER?
    – user14111
    Jan 27, 2018 at 8:51
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    @user14111 My bad, it wasn't a burger, it was a Sausage McMuffin at McDonald's. And yes, you are going to read that story, so I don't need to spoil it for you. See the Internet Archive link I added above. ;-) Jan 27, 2018 at 9:20
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    Hmmm. Thinking about this, we probably ought to send copies of this story to all the politicians and religious leaders who back the current drug policies. Not that I'm in favor of everybody running around on dope, but because the "war on drugs" is just a damned silly way of fixing the problem. Reduce the stress on the population and they'll be less inclined to turn to drugs to escape their unbearable lives.
    – JRE
    Jan 27, 2018 at 13:02

2 Answers 2


That would indeed be King of All by Harry Turtledove.

The story is exactly as you describe it. It was (according to the info at the linked site) only published once. Like you, I thought I had read it in a copy of Asimov's science fiction magazine. It wasn't. It was published in an anthology named "New Destinies VI." That book was, oddly enough, dedicated to Robert Heinlein and contained many essays about him. Odd that "King of All" got mixed in there.

Since I was so convinced I had read it in a magazine, I went and dug out my copy of "New Destinies VI" and there it was. Page 247, "King of All." The very story you described. It even has a short historical blurb at the beginning that explains the origin of the title.

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    Bingo! Thanks so much, I'm glad to know that it was not just my caff addiction making me imagine things. I think I will have a burger tomorrow and a little something special to go with it. Jan 27, 2018 at 8:38

"King of All", a short story by Harry Turtledove in New Destinies Volume VI, Winter 1988, available at the Internet Archive. Here is a synopsis from the Harry Turtledove Wiki:

The story concerns Detective Ralph Sandars of the Hawthorne, California drug squad during the 16 hours between the end of one shift and the start of his next. Police have been dealing with a new drug scourge, caffeine, and the story reflects Sandars' thoughts on the matter. It ends with an O. Henry style twist ending.

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