The Good Daughter (The Good Daughter #1) - Karin Slaughter

Thursday, March 16, 1989


Samantha Quinn felt the stinging of a thousand hornets inside her legs as she ran down the long, forlorn driveway toward the farmhouse. The sound of her sneakers slapping bare earth bongoed along with the rapid thumps of her heart. Sweat had turned her ponytail into a thick rope that whipped at her shoulders. The twigs of delicate bones inside her ankles felt ready to snap.

She ran harder, choking down the dry air, sprinting into the pain.

Up ahead, Charlotte stood in their mother’s shadow. They all stood in their mother’s shadow. Gamma Quinn was a towering figure: quick blue eyes, short dark hair, skin as pale as an envelope, and with a sharp tongue just as prone to inflicting tiny, painful cuts in inconvenient places. Even from a distance, Samantha could see the thin line of Gamma’s disapproving lips as she studied the stopwatch in her hand.

The ticking seconds echoed inside Samantha’s head. She pushed herself to run faster. The tendons cording through her legs sent out a high-pitched wail. The hornets moved into her lungs. The plastic baton felt slippery in her hand.

Twenty yards. Fifteen. Ten.

Charlotte locked into position, turning her body away from Samantha, looking straight ahead, then started to run. She blindly stretched her right arm back behind her, waiting for the snap of the baton into the palm of her hand so that she could run the next relay.

This was the blind pass. The handoff took trust and coordination, and just like every single time for the last hour, neither one of them was up to the challenge. Charlotte hesitated, glancing back. Samantha lurched forward. The plastic baton skidded up Charlotte’s wrist, following the red track of broken skin the same as it had twenty times before.

Charlotte screamed. Samantha stumbled. The baton dropped. Gamma let out a loud curse.

“That’s it for me.” Gamma tucked the stopwatch into the bib pocket of her overalls. She stomped toward the house, the soles of her bare feet red from the barren yard.

Charlotte rubbed her wrist. “Asshole.”

“Idiot.” Samantha tried to force air into her shaking lungs. “You’re not supposed to look back.”

“You’re not supposed to rip open my arm.”

“It’s called a blind pass, not a freak-out pass.”

The kitchen door slammed shut. They both looked up at the hundred-year-old farmhouse, which was a sprawling, higgledy-piggledy monument to the days before licensed architects and building permits. The setting sun did nothing to soften the awkward angles. Not much more than an obligatory slap of white paint had been applied over the years. Tired lace curtains hung in the streaked windows. The front door was bleached a driftwoody gray from over a century of North Georgia sunrises. There was a sag in the roofline, a physical manifestation of the weight that the house had to carry now that the Quinns had moved in.

Two years and a lifetime of discord separated Samantha from her thirteen-year-old little sister, but she knew in this moment at least that they were thinking the same thing: I want to go home.

Home was a red-brick ranch closer to town. Home was their childhood bedrooms that they had decorated with posters and stickers and, in Charlotte’s case, green Magic Marker. Home had a tidy square of grass for a front yard, not a barren, chickenscratched patch of dirt with a driveway that was seventy-five yards long so that you could see who was coming.

None of them had seen who was coming at the red-brick house.

Only eight days had passed since their lives had been destroyed, but it felt like forever ago. That night, Gamma, Samantha and Charlotte had walked up to the school for a track meet. Their father was at work because Rusty was always at work.

Later, a neighbor recalled an unfamiliar black car driving slowly up the street, but no one had seen the Molotov cocktail fly through the bay window of the red-brick house. No one had seen the smoke billowing out of the eaves or the flames licking at the roof. By the time an alarm was raised, the red-brick house was a smoldering black pit.

Clothes. Posters. Diaries. Stuffed animals. Homework. Books. Two goldfish. Lost baby teeth. Birthday money. Purloined lipsticks. Secreted cigarettes. Wedding photos. Baby photos. A boy’s leather jacket. A love letter from that same boy. Mix tapes. CDs and a computer and a television and home.

“Charlie!” Gamma stood on the stoop outside the kitchen doorway. Her hands were on her hips. “Come set the table.”

Charlotte turned to Samantha