The Brave and the Bold
Times Past, 1943
The FBI sends a man undercover to protect Lucky Luciano while he is in prison, and he takes the name of a missing crook named “Eel” O’Brian. But just who is this brave man of mystery? And which bold young daredevil will provide him the crucial information he needs from the outside?
Washington, D.C., 1943:
“I’m certain there is no need to remind you that anything said here today is completely confidential.”
“Good. The reason you’ve been called to this meeting is that we have intercepted a message calling for the assassination of ‘Lucky’ Luciano.”
“I’m not sure I follow you. Assassination is wrong, regardless of who the target is, but why are we getting involved in this one? It seems like the government would be willing to look the other way this time.”
“Under normal circumstances, we would. This time, however, there are extenuating circumstances. Lucky has agreed to provide aid to the war effort. It appears he hates the Nazis as much as we do, so he’s agreed to use his ‘resources’ to help us keep tabs on the Germans in Italy. He’s also agreed to help keep the docks in New York free from saboteurs.”
“So, now he’s a patriot?”
“Think of him what you will. As far as we are concerned, he’s simply another resource to use against Hitler. Just make sure he stays alive.”
“Because of your rather unique abilities. Any other questions?”
“When do I go in?”
“As soon as you get your new face. Here’s a picture of your new identity.”
“Because, no one’s seen him for at least a year. If this doesn’t draw him out of hiding, then there are no hitches. If it does, well, you’ll have do the best you can.”
“Well, what are we waiting for?”
News of his capture spread like wildfire through Great Meadow Prison. Eel O’Brian had finally been caught, and he was headed for Comstock, New York. Why he was bound for Great Meadow instead of Dannemora was a mystery, but the inmates knew he wouldn’t be here very long. He wasn’t called “Eel” for nothing.
Eel O’Brian’s arrival at the prison was no different than any other prisoner’s. He arrived on a dismal early March morning, and was taken straight to the warden. In no uncertain terms, he was told that, despite his reputation on the outside, in here he was just another number.
“You’ll never even know I’m here,” was his only reply.
Within the hour, O’Brian was wearing his prison uniform and stretched out on his cot. His eyes were closed in feigned sleep when he heard a voice call his name from outside his cell.
“So, they finally caught you.”
Eel waited a few seconds until his name was spoken, then slowly opened his eyes. A man in a business suit stood outside his cell.
“Morning, Lansky,” Eel said. “I always figured I’d be looking at you through bars one day. I just figured our positions would be reversed.”
Meyer Lansky just grinned.
“I didn’t realize that I’d be getting visitors so soon,” Eel said.
“Actually, I’m not here to see you,” Meyer replied. “I just dropped in to pay a visit to your neighbor.”
“Oh, that’s right,” O’Brian said with as though he was just remembering something. “I remember hearing something about Lucky being transferred to Great Meadow. I always thought visits were done under supervision.”
Lansky smiled. “Let’s just say that special arrangements have been made. Since we’ve always gotten along, just let me know if you need anything. I try to stop by every few days.”
“Well, now that you mention it, the guards did confiscate my only can of hair cream.”
The man laughed. “I’ll see what I can do. Take care.”
Before leaving, Meyer Lansky nodded to the man in the next cell. “See you in a couple of days, Lucky.”
Once Meyer was gone, Eel heard the Italian accent of his neighbor. “We thought you had disappeared off the face of the earth,” Lucky Luciano said.
“I might just do that when I get out of here,” was Eel’s cryptic reply.
True to his word, Meyer Lansky brought Eel a new can of hair cream on his next visit, and each visit thereafter. He also supplied the two convicts with smokes, liquor, and, in Lucky’s case, female companionship.
O’Brian wasn’t without visitors of his own, however. Five days after his incarceration, he was led to a small room where a sandy-haired teenage boy was sitting at a table.
Upon seeing Eel, the boy jumped up from his seat and ran to embrace the man. “Poppa!”
The guard gave his prisoner a questioning look.
“What can I say?” O’Brian said, shrugging. “He takes after his mother.”
“Lucky kid,” the guard replied as he stepped outside and closed the door behind him.
Once he was sure they were alone, he spoke to his so-called son. “OK, kid, who are you?”
“I’m your contact,” the boy said. “I’ll keep you updated on what’s going on beyond these walls. Call me John.”
Eel nodded. “So, what’s the latest on the assassination plot?”
“All we know is that it will take place sometime by the middle of April,” the boy said. “I was told to tell you to be ready. That’s all the information we have right now.”
“At least now I know roughly how long I’ll be here,” O’Brian said.
“Do you have any messages for anyone on the outside?” the boy asked.
“Not really,” the man replied. “But I do have some advice for you.”
The boy raised his eyebrows. “Really? What’s that?”
“Take a picture of yourself before you take off your disguise. I’d hate for someone to notice that your freckles had a tendency to move.”
“Don’t worry,” John said. “I’ll look exactly like I do today. How did you know it was a disguise?”
“Disguises are my business.”
Three weeks passed, and Eel O’Brian kept a watchful eye on Lucky Luciano. During that time, the mob boss had a number of visitors, the most frequent being Meyer. No one escaped his scrutiny.
Eel, too, had weekly visits, but only from his son. Most of the news still required Eel to be alert for whatever might happen. True to his word, the boy’s appearance was consistent.
With two days left in the month of March, John made what he said was his last visit. He had the news Eel was waiting for.
“We finally know when the attempt is going to be made,” John said once the guard had left them alone.
“Any idea who the assassin is?”
“All we know is that it’s somebody already on the inside.”
Eel thought for a second. “So, when is the big day?”
“April first,” the boy told him.
“I guess this is it, then,” O’Brian said as he stood. “It’s been good working with you, kid.”
“Thank you,” John replied. “I might as well ask one final time, since it’s become part of our ritual. Do you have any message for anyone on the outside?”
Expecting the usual no, the boy was surprised when he heard a yes.
“Tell Bruce he does good work.”
John’s mouth dropped open. “I’m not sure…”
“It’s OK, kid. Your secrets are safe with me,” Eel said, smiling.
“How did you know?” the boy asked with a whisper.
“I recognized his work. He’s improved on what I taught him, but it still has his touch.” O’Brian patted the boy on the shoulder. “I knew that the boys in the shadowed room wouldn’t send an untrained kid in here, so I figured it was someone who could handle a tight spot if one arose. While there are other sidekicks out there, only you-know-who would have a sidekick that could handle this type of situation.”
Dick Grayson didn’t know what to think. “Incredible.”
“I’m guessing John was your father’s name,” Eel said, and received a nod in response. “Well, you’d better go. Tell your partner I might look him up when I get out of here.”
“I will,” Dick said. “So, who are you under your disguise?”
O’Brian just laughed. “Ask Bruce.”
With one final hug to maintain the deception for the guard, Eel O’Brian told his son goodbye.
Eel glanced at the pocket watch Meyer had given him on one of his visits; it was 10:00 P.M.
Right on schedule, he heard a call for lights out. If anyone were going to make an attempt on Lucky before the first of the month was over, they would have to do it soon.
As he lay on his cot in the dark, O’Brian heard the footsteps of the guards making their rounds to make sure all the cell doors were secure. Within minutes, he heard someone tug on his door.
“Night, Pete,” he said to the guard as he pulled his blanket up around his neck.
“Pete’s sick,” the guard replied. “I’m his replacement for the night.”
Eel felt his body go tense. Thankfully, the darkness and his blanket prevented the guard from noticing anything. “Hope it’s nothing serious,” he said.
“Nei… uh, nothing serious. He should be back tomorrow night,” the guard replied. “Now, get to sleep.”
Surely he won’t try it yet, Eel thought. Not with so many of the other prisoners awake. He listened closely and heard Lucky say something as the guard checked his door, then continued on.
For the next hour, Eel lay in the darkness, listening to the growing chorus of snores. When he was finally convinced that everyone was asleep, he rolled out of bed and stepped farther back into the shadows of his cell.
Opening his mouth, he ran a finger along his gum-line until he found the edge of a piece of special adhesive. Normally, he would have used the adhesive to hold a pair of false teeth in place, but for the past month, it had a different use. Within seconds, he was holding a couple of small wires.
Cautiously, he approached the door and listened. Hearing nothing but the continued snores, he stuck his fingers through the bars and began to work on the lock. In no time, he heard a soft click. He slowly opened the door. In just under two minutes, he was slipping into Lucky’s cell.
The moment he clamped his hand over the gangster’s mouth, Lucky’s eyes opened. Eel motioned for him to stay still. After a hurried whisper, the man climbed out of bed and crept into Eel’s cell.
Fifteen minutes later, but too early for it to be time for the guards’ rounds, the two men heard footsteps approaching. They stopped just outside the cell now occupied by O’Brian.
Eel, lying on his back, watched as the guard’s hand slipped through the bars over his head. It was clutching a knife.
Before the would-be assassin realized what was happening, Eel’s own hands shot from beneath the covers and grabbed the man’s arm. With a violent jerk, he pulled the man face-first into the cell bars. In the next cell, Lucky gave a shout of alarm.
Immediately, lights began coming on throughout the cellblock.
The assassin, bleeding profusely from a gash on his forehead, struggled to escape Eel’s grasp. He felt the hold on his arm loosen just a bit and took a step back. Before he could take advantage of the situation, however, the grip was tightened, and he felt himself slam into the steel bars a second time.
Eel loosened his grip a second time and let the man fall to the floor. He rolled out of bed and stood up. He pushed the cell door open as the warden and several guards he recognized approached.
“What in Sam Hill is going on here?” the warden asked. He glanced at the man on the floor. “When did you figure out who your target was?”
Eel wiped his hands on his pants. “Tonight at lights out. I asked about Pete, and he told me Pete was sick. When I said I hoped it wasn’t serious, he almost answered in German.”
The warden motioned to the guards. “Get this piece of garbage into solitary confinement and call the Feds. Oh, and get a bandage on his head before he bleeds to death. I want him healthy enough to hang.”
Lucky pushed open the door to the cell he occupied. “If there’s ever anything you need, don’t hesitate to ask.”
“I’ll remember that,” Eel replied as he started to follow the warden back to his office.
Just before being put back in his cell, Lucky put his hand on his savior’s shoulder and whispered into his ear.
“You’re not really Eel O’Brian, are you?”
The man gave him a smile. “I never was.”
Bruce Wayne tossed the morning paper on the table where Dick Grayson sat eating his breakfast. The teenager put his juice down and read the headline.
LUCKY LUCIANO’S LUCK STILL HOLDS. EEL ESCAPES DURING ASSASSINATION ATTEMPT
“Now will you tell me who that man was?” Dick asked. “Are you sure we can trust him?”
Bruce smiled at his ward. “I don’t know his real name, but he can be trusted.”
“Is it true that he taught you about disguises?”
“Yes,” Bruce said as he took his place at the table. “Few people know more about the subject than him.”
“So, who is he?”
“All I’ve ever known him as,” Bruce said, “is Cosmo, the Phantom of Disguise.”