Welfare Check

“Mommy? Why is Mr. Gonzales out there with two policemen?”

Kinsey Lang peered through the front window at her landlord, who waved his hands around as he spoke to a couple of cops.

He always was excitable.

Kinsey forced a smile. “I have no idea, Joanna,” she lied to the nine-year-old. “Take your brother and go to your rooms, okay? It’ll be all right. Don’t worry.” She awkwardly used her left hand to tuck a lock of hair behind her daughter’s ear that had stubbornly stuck to the girl’s forehead.

“C’mon, Charlie. You heard what Mommy said.”

The six-year-old stood, turning his head so he could use his one good eye to navigate. Kinsey watched until they disappeared into the hallway. She sighed and moved a chair against the wall to hide a hole in the sheetrock. The security deposit had been forfeited a long time ago, but she was still embarrassed for Mr. Gonzales to see the damage.

Would he blame her, like Randy always did?

Her husband had sworn it would be different this time. Guess he skipped the rent.


She knew exactly where it had gone. He’d stumbled in at six this morning reeking of cheap alcohol and cheaper perfume.

Kinsey took another look out the window. Neither officer had any paperwork. When they’d been evicted before, cops had handed her a whole stack of papers. But then again, she hadn’t expected to see any.

This time.

She moved away from the glass and paced around the living room.

Last month she’d scraped together enough money to pay most of the rent from her assistance check and some cash Randy had hidden in the closet. It was Tuesday—her check had come in the mail today. Always sent to her mother’s house, so Randy couldn’t get at it. She’d called to say it arrived.

They had a code.

Hey, Kinsey. Big sale at Walmart. You wanna go?

Sure, Mama.

I’ll come pick you up.

Because the one thing that Randy hated worse than being sober was going shopping, and food had to get into the house somehow. So he let her out, on a short, tight leash, holding the children hostage to make sure she returned.

Did they realize what was happening?

Even the cheapest level of store-brand cookie is still a cookie. Maybe that Mommy always came home with treats when she went shopping was all they needed to know. Safer that way.

He hadn’t always been like that. Or perhaps that was just one of the lies she told when she asked herself why she didn’t leave him. There were also practical considerations.

He said he’d kill her if she left him.

She had nowhere to go, anyway. Her stepfather hated children in general, and hated her specifically, so her mother was afraid to take her in. It would be hellish there, anyway.

Her father? He would have skinned Randy alive. If he hadn’t died of a heart attack when the children were small.

The voices outside got closer. She desperately wanted Mr. Gonzales to stay outside. She wouldn’t be able to bear the look on his face when he stepped inside and looked around.

She frowned as she almost tripped over her husband’s out-stretched leg.

He even managed to miss the couch. Kinsey wrinkled her nose. He reeked of more than booze now. Probably just as well. Easier to clean the tile than the upholstery.

Mr. Gonzales and the officers were on the porch now. She stepped over the pool of blood that spread out from beneath Randy’s head and tucked herself into the utility room. Kinsey sighed. Such a mess in here.

The exterior door to the backyard was unlocked, and she pulled aside the dusty curtain to peek through the dingy glass at the top. A clump of neighbors stood at the edge of the property.

Ah, Lucia Jones. Always were chasing after Randy. I wish you’d caught him.

And Chester Holiday. Biggest gossip in the neighborhood. Wonder what rumors he’ll be spreading tonight? If only he knew.

The key turning in the lock caught Kinsey’s attention.

A male voice. Must be one of the officers. “Mr. Gonzales. Please wait on the porch.”


Swear words.

They must have seen Randy.

The chirp and squawk of radios.

“Dispatch, we’ve got a 10-55d. Gonna need Homicide and Crime Scene out here… Copy that.”

More footsteps.

The word ‘clear’ repeated several times.

“Oh, God. Hansen? I found the kids.”

More radio chatter.

Footsteps getting closer.

“Where’s the mom?”

“Do you think she…?”

“Haven’t checked in here.”

The door to the utility room flew open and two officers gaped at Kinsey.

It had taken a long time for the photographers to finish and the people in Tyvek suits and surgical booties to start their prowl around the house. Little yellow tents with numbers on them littered the rooms.

Finally, someone taped some paper bags over Randy’s hands and tucked him into a body bag. The gun on the floor next to him went into another bag. The stretcher snapped into place and technicians wheeled him out.

Kinsey felt nothing and wondered if that was normal. She should have been upset. Instead, the Randy-shaped hole in her life was all fog and wind.

Another gurney appeared from the hallway, with a third close behind it. Tears streamed down the face of a man pushing one of the child-sized cadaver pouches.

A voice sighed heavily, right in front of Kinsey, so she shifted her attention.

“I’ll never understand as long as I live how someone could do something like this.”

Kinsey picked a sticky clot of blood out of her hair.

“Who found the bodies?”

“Her mother called for a welfare check. She was supposed to pick Ms. Lang up this afternoon but couldn’t get in touch.”

“What do you think set him off?”

“Who knows?”

“You get her feet.”

Kinsey watched as they pulled her body out of the narrow utility room. She didn’t recognize her own face. Her right arm caught on the edge of the washing machine, bending at a 90° angle between the wrist and elbow where the bone had been shattered. She winced.

Hours later, the crime scene investigators left. The officers left. Yellow tape fluttered in the October breeze.

“Mommy?” Joanna plopped down on the couch.

“What is it, baby?”

“Is Daddy coming back?”

Kinsey’s eyes lingered on the glossy black pool of clotted blood where Randy had lain. “I don’t think so, honey.”

She thought a shadow swirled over it but told herself it was just the tree outside moving in the wind.

“Grandpa!” Charlie shouted.

Kinsey turned her head. “Dad?”

Her father stood near the front door, arms open wide enough to a hug all three of them. “Come on, Kinsey. Let’s go home. Let’s all go home.”

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. If you are someone you know is in danger at home, please call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1−800−799−7233 or TTY 1−800−787−3224.