8! Here is a remarkable story taken from the book Father Flanagan of Boys Town by Fulton & Will Oursler One winter night a long-distance phone call came to Boys Town. “Father Flanagan? This is Sheriff Hosey from Virginia. Got any room for another boy – immediately?” “Where is he now?” “In jail. He’s a desperate character – robbed a bank, held up three stores with a revolver…” “How old is he? “Eight and a half!” “He’s what?” “Don’t let his age fool you. He’s all I said he was and more. Will you take him off our hands?” “If I can’t manage an 8½ year old child by this time, I ought to quit. Bring him out.” Three days later, Sheriff Hosey and his wife set down their prisoner in Father’s office. He was no higher than the desk; frowzy hair of chocolate brown dangled over the pinched and freckled face. From one side of his mouth a smoldering cigarette drooped at a theatrical angle. “Don’t mind the smoking. We had to bribe him with cigarettes to behave himself.” Meanwhile the wife laid a long envelope on the desk. “There’s a complete report. This good-for-nothing criminal is not worth helping – it’s my opinion he ain’t even human.” Father thought that never had he seen such a mixture of the comical and the utterly squalid and tragic. But he could not foresee that during the next year all Boys Town would be plagued with the same godless mixture of belly laugh and heartbreak. The priest turned on the desk lamp and began to read. It seemed that people had forgotten the boy’s last name; he was just Eddie. Born in a slum, he had lost father and mother in a flu epidemic before he was four. In water-front flats he was shunted from one family to another, living like a hungry and desperate animal. Hardship had sharpened his cunning and his will. It was literally true that at the age of eight he became the boss of a gang of boys, some nearly twice his age. He dominated them, as older toughs of the neighborhood taught him to do; he browbeat them into petty crimes which he planned in logical detail. But about six months before the law caught up with Eddie, his rule was challenged by a new member of the gang: “You never do anything yourself. You’re no leader.” “I’ll show you. I’ll do something you wouldn’t dare…I’m going to rob a bank.” When most of the clerks were away at lunch, Eddie lowered himself through a window, entered unseen, and crossed to an unattended slot of the cashier cage. So small that he had to chin himself up, he then seized a packet of green bills, and hid them in his jacket. With complete sang-froid he walked into the street to divide $200 among his comrades. But the exploit was a flop, the bank concealed the theft, and there were no headlines. “You’re only cracking your jaw,” the gang jeered. “You found that dough somewhere.” For several days Eddie vanished. Some vicious oldster had sold him a Colt revolver and stuffed his pockets with bullets; for two days Eddie stayed in the fields beyond town, practicing marksmanship. This time the local front pages were full of him. Slouching into a restaurant at an empty hour, he aimed his gun at the terrified counterman while his other palm received a day’s take from the cash register. Next he dragged a cabbage of bills from the pants pocket of a shivering tailor. His third call was on an old lady who kept a candy store. “Put down that thing,” the grandmother cried, “before you hurt yourself!” She smacked the gun out of his hand and grabbed him by the hair. He might have killed her, but her screams brought policemen. Putting aside the manuscript, Father looked musingly at the villain of the piece. From this night on the past must be a closed book; the idea was to forget it and start over. But certain things were already clear. This was not a villain but a victim. Born under another roof, Eddie could have been another kind of boy, knowing the sweetness of home, birthday candles, Christmas parcels, mother’s tender vigilance – yes, and the strong, wise counsel of a father’s pride. Something else showed in the report: Eddie had resourcefulness and a realistic brain; one must respect his intelligence and appeal to it. “No matter what he says or does,” Father resolved, “I’ll never give up until I’ve won him over.” As Father watched, the child produced a small piece of white paper and a sack of Bull Durham. One-hand-cowboy fashion, he deliberately rolled his own cigarette and, having lighted it, thumbnail to match, he blew a plume of smoke billowing across the desk. Then long eyelashes lifted for a flash, to see how the priest was taking the exhibition; Father Flanagan’s first sight of those bright brown eyes. “Eddie, you are welcome here. The whole place is run by the fellows, you know. Boy mayor. Boy city council. Boy chief of police.” “Where’s the jail?” “We haven’t a jail. You are going to take a bath and then get supper. Tomorrow you start in school. You and I can become real friends – it’s strictly up to you. I love you and someday I hope I can take you to my heart. I know you’re a good boy!” The reply came in a single shocking syllable. About eleven o’clock next morning Father was looking over the inventory of Eddie’s bundle – a few odds and ends of shirts, unmatching socks, a fresh pair of drawers and a white rabbit’s foot – when the door to the office opened and the new pupil swaggered in. His hair had been cut and neatly combed and he was clean. With an air of great unconcern he tossed on the desk a note from one of the teachers: Dear Father Flanagan: We have heard you say a thousand times that there is no such thing as a bad boy. Would you mind telling me what you call this one? To be continued on the 27th. Jezu, ufam Tobie.

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