“Why – why, look! It’s Harkness Rorholm, the church organist and intrepid, three-time Pulitzer Prize-winning, crusading freelance photographer!”
Rorholm smiled at the young man, accustomed to being recognized by well-informed people wherever he went; his handsome Aryan features and naturally wavy blond hair were every bit as familiar to those in the know as his work.
“The very same,” he quipped. He fished a business card from a pocket of his perfectly pressed suit and gave it to the fellow as a souvenir:
Senior Organist (All Saints Episcopal)
Three-Time Pulitzer Prize Winner
Intrepid, Crusading Freelance Photographer
and it was already autographed.
“Gosh, thanks, Mr. Rorholm!” the youth gushed. Rorholm, still smiling at him, walked on down the sidewalk.
He stopped suddenly, his sensitive nose smelling something burning just as he heard a cry for help. He looked across the street at an open window six stories up in an apartment building where a wisp of smoke lazily trailed out.
He aimed his camera at the window and the altered viewfinder showed him what danger lay inside.
The appeal from the window came louder, and people on the street looked up. Rorholm took advantage of their inattention and swiftly vaulted upward and onto the roof of the building he had been standing in front of. There, under the shade of a water tower, he doffed the outer garments of the organist and freelance photographer and became something even more — Captain SuperMiracle.
* * *
Six years earlier, a younger Harkness Rorholm, eager to make his name as a crusading photographer, stood on the wrong side of a chain-link fence at the back end of the massive Chemkyll site. He was rapidly taking photos of the chemical company’s illegal toxic dump.
Suddenly, a low flying meteor passed overhead, drawing one small pool of the toxic soup upward into a swirling pillar — not, he realized, unlike the pillars of cloud and fire with which God led the Children of Israel out of bondage in Egypt. Awed but diligent, Rorholm plied his camera as the pillar rose ever higher. Then it upended itself onto Rorholm, saturating his every pore and seeping through his skin. In that instant he and his camera (which could now see and take pictures through walls) were changed forever. He was possessed of otherworldly powers, and he vowed to use them for good as Captain SuperMiracle.
Rorholm fashioned an attention-getting costume to accompany his alter ego. He created a red one-piece costume with dark blue trunks; his cape was also dark blue and his domino mask the red of his suit. On the chest he emblazoned his emblem: a large silver army captain’s bars with a black S on the left and an M on the right. To this he added a khaki belt with a brass buckle upon which he engraved his emblem. For ease of changing during an emergency, Rorholm took to wearing black square-toed boots full-time — except when he removed them to play the church organ.
As proof that what had happened at the toxic site (the photos of which won him his first Pulitzer Prize) had been no accident, no emergency requiring the services of Captain SuperMiracle ever occurred while he played the great pipe organ at his church.
For six years, he had been the scourge of evildoers and the help of the helpless. Mighty villains rose to challenge him, and each was defeated in his turn. No force could long stand against Captain SuperMiracle. The Roaring Twenties were never again the same.
* * *
Leaving behind the accouterments of his more conventionally wonderful self, Captain SuperMiracle took a running start and flung himself off the building. He turned around in midair to sail feet first through the open window on the other side of the street and make a perfect landing.
He saw just what his camera had first shown him: a young mother shrieked on one side of the small apartment as her young daughter did the same on the other side. The little girl had been playing with matches — she still held the box — and had ignited a full wastepaper basket. A set of curtains was also beginning to burn.
Summoning his hurricane powers, Captain SuperMiracle whipped up a rainstorm that quickly doused the flames and blew the remaining smoke out of the window.
The mother and daughter stopped wailing and cried with one voice, “Captain SuperMiracle!”
“You’ve saved us,” the mother said.
“That’s what I do,” the Captain reminded her. He strode manfully over to the little girl and plucked the matches from her grasp. “You must never play with these again.”
“I won’t, Captain SuperMiracle. I promise.”
He nodded at her and marched back to the mother, setting the matches on the kitchen table. “You must make me a promise as well, ma’am.” He reached up and patted the radio, which was tuned into a popular soap company-sponsored program. “You must pay less attention to your entertainment and more attention to your daughter. Children must be constantly supervised.” With that, he removed his hand from the radio set and, with the amazing power of his chemically altered mind, clicked the switch off.
“You have my word, Captain SuperMiracle. I’ll be a better mother from now on.”
“I’m glad to hear it. Be safe, and love America!”
He took two steps and leaped out of the window. He flew upward and surveyed the great city he called home. As long as he was dressed for this sort of action, he might as well do a quick patrol.
As ever, he heard the people below call out.
“Look! It’s Captain SuperMiracle! He’s amazing!”
It was certainly pleasant to be loved as both versions of himself, he mused.
He soared above the tall buildings until he noticed a policeman far below, waving furiously at him. He dived swiftly and landed next to the agent of the law.
“Officer, how can I help you?” he asked courteously.
“Captain SuperMiracle, the Chief just got word to all us flatfoots to be on the watch for you — and for Dr. Kri Min-al.”
“Dr. Kri Min-al! My nemesis!”
“That’s right,” the officer admitted. “You know he escaped from Song Sung Prison recently, and he’s been reported lurking in the city.”
“That nefarious evildoer cannot be permitted to wander freely among decent people,” Captain SuperMiracle pronounced. “Doubtless he’s working feverishly on some hideous plot to take over America. But never fear, good Officer: I’ll find him and I’ll stop him!”
“I’m sure of that, Captain SuperMiracle. I’ll let the Chief know you’re on the case.”
“Do that, Officer. Be safe, and love America!” And he hurled himself into the air once more to begin his search. He had a pretty good idea of where to find his prey.
In a large warehouse not far from the docks, a wizened man of indeterminate ancestry and middling stature was addressing his two henchmen. He directed their attention to two large, shining, conical devices.
“My latest invention: the Brass Ear!” he announced. “I can listen to anyone, anywhere, within five hundred feet.” He cradled his work lovingly in both hands. “My Brass Ear cups lift and separate any conversation from the masses and bring it to the tip of recognition. I can keep abreast of all that goes on, say in Congress or on Wall Street, and I can milk it for all it is worth.”
Captain SuperMiracle had heard enough. He, of course, had his own special hearing abilities, but he was on the side of law and order. He kicked down the door.
“The only milk you’ll be enjoying will be the powdered stuff they serve in prison, Dr. Kri Min-al!”
“Oaths! Curses!” the villain cried. “How did you find me?”
Captain SuperMiracle frowned at the fiend. “You own this building. You always come here.”
“Yes, of course; my one weakness is for my own property.”
“No, your weakness is that you covet everyone else’s property.”
“Be that as it may, I’m going to uncover your weakness, Captain SuperMiracle!” He yanked open a drawer and quickly withdrew a tommy gun. He loosed the entire clip at the hero. The henchmen watched with fading hope as the hero’s magnificent physique shattered the bullets. Finally, the terrible machine finally clicked empty.
Captain SuperMiracle yawned theatrically. “If you’re done tickling me, we’ll take you back to Song Sung Prison now.”
“But I’m not done, Corporal SmartyMouth! That was just to distract you … from this!” He reached behind him and stabbed at a large button.
Above the place where Captain SuperMiracle stood, an oversized showerhead began to spray multicolored chemicals on him.
“Augh!” the hero cried. “Feeling … weak.”
“Yes,” Dr. Kri Min-al gloated. “I surmised that this admixture of acids would affect even you. And I was right! Die, you do-gooding wretch, die!” The scofflaw and his assistants brayed at the sight of the upholder of goodness and decency writhing in agony.
Knowing he had bare moments to overcome the cascade of liquid death, Captain SuperMiracle summoned his remaining strength and leaped a yard and a half away from the acid bath. Feeling too puny to summon a cleansing storm, he made himself spin, faster and faster, gradually becoming a blur, until he had spun the cataclysmic chemicals away from him and was dry once more. Then he put his arms out to his sides to slow his whirling to a stop.
“Ha! I’ve defeated your evil plan. My strength has returned. And now to prove it.”
Captain SuperMiracle grabbed a spare barrel of acid and threw it at the two henchmen, knocking them down and out. Then he ran toward the table between himself and his enemy. He pushed it, sweeping the evil doctor into a corner.
“Ooof!” the twisted genius said as the table butted up against his midsection.
With his super miraculous might, Captain SuperMiracle forced the table a couple of inches into the floor. Dr. Kri Min-al was trapped.
The great hero went to the wall phone and clicked for the operator. “Get me the police, urgent.” He waited only a moment. “This is Captain SuperMiracle. I’ve captured Dr. Kri Min-al and his gang. Send a paddy wagon to the usual address on Warehouse Street near the docks. And have Dr. Preston Eminent come to take charge of Dr. Kri Min-al’s latest scientific work of evil.”
“I’ll get you one day, you overbearing force for good!” Dr. Kri Min-al shouted.
“Good will always triumph over evil,” the hero retorted. He walked through the open doorway and left the ranting maniac, not wasting his usual parting line on someone to whom it would mean nothing.
The sun was beginning to sink, and Captain SuperMiracle knew that Harkness Rorholm needed to attend the church choir practice in an hour. He flew toward the rooftop where Rorholm’s garments had been left in a neat pile. But before he got there, something caught his attention. He swooped downward.
Three boys stood in an alley, surveying their find.
“A whole bottle of beer! Unopened!” Clarence exulted.
“This is gonna be great!” Herman said.
“C’mon, c’mon,” Cecil urged. “Open it.”
Clarence put a bottle opener to the lip of the bottle. Before he could apply any pressure, the boys heard a thud behind them. They slowly turned around and looked up.
“Captain SuperMiracle!” they said as one.
“Hello, boys. Feeling a little dry?”
“Uh, yeah,” Herman said.
The hero held out his hand, and Clarence grudgingly surrendered their prize.
“Boys, I used to enjoy a couple of cocktails when my day’s work was done. But that was before Prohibition.” He gave a little squeeze of his hand and the bottle crumbled to dust and the forbidden beverage spilled to the ground. “Now we must obey the law and avoid this terrible temptation.”
“Yes, Captain SuperMiracle,” they said dutifully, if a little sullenly.
The big man brushed off his hands. “From now on, stick to cherry phosphates when you’re thirsty. It’s a good way to be safe, and love America!” He flew straight up into the brilliant blue sky.
“At least he didn’t see this pack of cigarettes we found,” Clarence said.
“Yeah!” Cecil agreed. “Light one up!”
From his lofty vantage point, Captain SuperMiracle chuckled. He had heard them, naturally, but he flew on. “I suppose I’ve ruined enough of their fun for one day.”
Back under the little water tower, Captain SuperMiracle donned the garb of his original persona, church organist and intrepid, three-time Pulitzer Prize-winning, crusading freelance photographer Harkness Rorholm. Rorholm had ivories to tickle in the Lord’s service.
But whenever evil and danger dared rear their heads, Captain SuperMiracle would always be near to hand.