May 30, 2000
Settlers Hill Daily Tribune
A three-day manhunt for four missing children—Maura Bennett, Charles Mitchell, Sawyer Swenson, and Gregory Fitzpatrick—has come to a happy ending. All four children have been found alive in Settlers Hill, New York. The children are currently recovering at Mountain View Medical Center. At this time, police have declined to comment other than to say that they do have a suspect in custody. Sheriff Harvey Barton will give a press conference at Settlers Hill Town Hall tomorrow evening at 6 p.m.
“Stop it! You’re going to kill him!” Charlie Mitchell screamed, his fists vibrating by his side. He watched Boyd Barton pummel his friend Greg Fitzpatrick into the dirt for the second time that week. Greg's red hair fell in ribbons over his brow. His cheeks flushed in between his freckles so he rolled beneath Boyd’s fist like a bruised orange.
Boyd glanced up from his victim momentarily. He let out a cackle, his trademark chipped tooth glistening in the sunlight. “So, what? I’d like to see you try to stop—”
Boyd’s words were cut short when a set of knuckles slammed into his front teeth. He fell back, clenching his mouth as blood trickled between his fingers. His chipped tooth landed in the mud beside him.
Maura Bennett stood over Boyd and wiped her blood-covered knuckles over her yellow sundress, staining its blue flowers red. She pulled the hem of her dress just above her knees and knelt down in the mud beside him. Gripping the frosted tips of his spiked brown hair, she leaned in further and whispered, “Leave them alone or I’ll gut you like a fish.”
Maura could feel a presence behind her before she turned to see who it was. “What the hell is going on over here?” Coach Carlsen, the football coach, boomed as he reached out his hand to Boyd to help him up. Everything about Carlsen was large. His height, his voice, even the frown he was scowling down at Maura. She tried to say something, but her voice got caught in her throat at the sight of him.
Once upright, Boyd cupped his free hand over his bleeding mouth then spit the blood out into the mud. “You all right, kid?” Carlsen asked Boyd. He didn’t bother asking Maura if she was all right or who’d started the scuffle. That was because Maura wasn’t his up and coming start player.
“Boyd was picki—” she started before Carlsen cut her off.
“Doesn’t look to me like Boyd was the one doing the picking,” he growled.
Boyd played up the victim card, moaning quietly and leaning up against his Coach.
Carlsen pointed a finger at Maura. “You’re going to be in Principal Jenning’s office first thing in the morning. Get out of here.” He waved her off. “Scat!”
Greg had made a run for it when he saw Coach Carlsen approaching. Greg knew Carlsen didn’t like him ever since he quit the middle school’s football team after one practice. He felt bad leaving Maura by herself but she could handle Boyd better than anyone.
Maura was the only one who didn't take any of Boyd’s crap. It wasn’t the first time she’d hit him, just as it wasn’t the first time Boyd had pummeled Greg. Greg was Boyd’s favorite and easiest target. Maura sighed. A part of her wished her friend Sawyer has been there to see her level Boyd, but he always had to go home right after school to get his homework done. His moms were strict like that.
By the time Maura reached the soccer fields where Greg and Charlie had retreated, a crowd surrounded Greg and Charlie. Eager faces, hungry for gossip, regarded Charlie as he reported the news. As she got closer, she heard Charlie yelp out, “…and then she lit him up! Right in the mouth!”
Some laughed and others cheered. Boyd had a lot of enemies—all of his own creation.
Greg washed the remainder of the blood from his face in a nearby puddle, leaving a thin film of dirt on his skin as it dried. “I could have taken him. You didn’t need to do that,” he shouted back to Maura as they headed to Sawyer’s house. They took the path just beyond the soccer fields and around the small traffic circle at the center of town. It was a long walk, but the adrenaline from the fight was the wind at their backs.
Charlie walked beside Maura. Greg was sulking, licking his wounds, and lagging a few feet behind. Patting Maura on the shoulder, Charlie shouted backward, “Get a grip, Greg! You were as good as dead!”
“And fine! If you really want me to leave you, next time I’ll let Boyd Barton have you all to himself!” Maura laughed. She knew that time would never come. There was no way she could stand back and watch one of her best friends take a beating without stepping in. She rubbed her fingers together as she walked. Boyd’s dried blood felt like chalk on her skin.
Greg leapt forward to catch up and pivoted in front of Charlie and Maura. He bounced his finger between them. “The two of you aren't going to tell Sawyer, ok?”
Maura and Charlie nodded their heads in congruence. Greg turned and continued to walk. And Maura and Charlie shot each other a menacing smile.
Greg, first to the porch, rang the doorbell and Sawyer answered the door. Sawyer had just entered a major growth spurt and it seemed to Greg, Maura and Charlie that he looked an inch taller every time they saw him.
Greg shifted from one foot to the other, trying to peek around Sawyer's shoulders. “Where are Shelly and Ramona?”
Sawyer rolled his eyes, grabbed his backpack and closed the door behind him, “You know they don't like it when you call them by their first names.”
When Maura and Charlie reached the porch, Maura pushed past Greg. “Let me just wash my hands before we go.” She reached for the doorknob behind Sawyer.
Sawyer grabbed her hand and turned her around. “I wouldn't go in there.”
Maura snickered, “Why not?” She had never been denied entry into Sawyer’s house before.
Greg’s home was a different story. Greg’s mother, Bea, was the town judge and a harsh, critical woman who did not allow strangers in her home. And anyone outside of her immediate bloodline was considered a stranger and therefore, an enemy.
“Come on, Sawyer, I really need to wash my hands. Got to get Boyd Barton’s blood out from under my fingernails.” Maura waved her fingertips in Sawyer’s face giddily.
“She had chemo today, okay?” Sawyer’s lip twitched, a distraught tell. His mother, Shelly, had been diagnosed with Stage II breast cancer just one month before. Ramona had been working overtime, waitressing at Empress Diner to cover medical bills. “Let’s just go before it gets too dark,” he said and locked the door behind him.
Maura dropped her hand. Sawyer walked ahead, adjusting the backpack on his shoulder. Greg, Charlie and Maura looked at each other and shrugged. The brawl with Boyd Barton evaporated into the air, and soon became the most trivial part of their day.