It was a brilliantly sunny day in New York, and the temperature had soared over the hundred mark long before noon. You could have fried an egg on the sidewalk. Kids were screaming, people were sitting on stoops and in doorways, and leaning against walls beneath tattered awnings. Both hydrants on the corner of 125th Street and Second Avenue had been opened, and water was cascading from them, as squealing children ran through it. There was an ankle-deep river running through the gutter. At four in the afternoon, it seemed as though half the neighborhood was standing around in the heat, talking and watching the kids.
And suddenly, at four ten, shots rang out in the noise of the talk and laughter and the sound of rushing water. They weren’t an unfamiliar sound in that part of town, and everyone stopped as they heard them. People seemed to pause motionless for a moment, waiting for what would come next. They pulled back into doorways, shrank against walls, and two mothers ran forward into the geyser of water from one of the hydrants and grabbed their children. But before they could regain the safety of the doorway, another burst of shots rang out, this time louder and closer, and three young men ran into the midst of the crowdstanding near the hydrant. They knocked over kids as they ran, and hit a young woman so hard she fell sprawling in the water, and suddenly there were screams as two cops appeared, running around the corner, in hot pursuit of the young men, guns drawn, bullets flying into the crowd.
It all happened so fast, no one had time to clear a path for them, or to warn each other, and in the distance there were already sirens. And over the distant wail of police cars approaching the scene, there was another round of gunshots, and this time one of the young men fell to the ground, bleeding from his shoulder, at the same time one of his companions wheeled and shot a police officer cleanly through the head, and suddenly a little girl screamed and fell to the ground in the fierce spray from the hydrant, and everyone nearby was shouting and running in all directions, as her mother ran to her from the doorway where she’d been watching in horror, as the child fell.
And an instant later, the chase was over. Two of the young men were lying facedown on the ground being handcuffed by a flock of policemen, an officer lay dead, and the third suspect was being tended to by paramedics. But only a few feet away, a child lay dying from the bullet that had hit her. It had passed
cleanly through her chest, and she was bleeding profusely, as her mother knelt next to her, soaked by the continuing spray from the fire hydrant, and sobbing hysterically as she held her unconscious child in her arms, and the paramedics wrested the five-year-old girl from her. Within less than a minute, she was in an ambulance, and they pulled her mother in with her, still crying and dazed. It was a scene all of them had seen dozens of times before, if not hundreds, but one that only meant something when you knew the people at the core of the drama, the perpetrators, or the victims. The ones who got arrested, or those
who got injured or killed.
There was a vast tangle of cars at the corner of 125th, as the ambulance tried to disengage from them, with siren screaming and lights flashing. And people
stood on the street looking stunned by what had happened. A second ambulance
took the injured suspect from the scene, and blue and white cars seemed to come from everywhere as they heard on the radio that an officer was down. People in the neighborhood knew what it would mean for them once word got out that he had been killed. Tempers would flare, and smoldering resentments would burst into flame. Worse yet, in the deadly heat, anything could happen. This was Harlem, it was August, life was tough, and a cop had been murdered.
And in the ambulance, as it sped downtown, Henrietta Washington clung to her
child’s hand, and watched in silent terror as the paramedics fought for her life. But for the moment, it didn’t look like they were winning. The little girl was gray and still and her blood was everywhere, the floor, the sheets,
her arms, the gurney, her mother’s face and dress and hands. It looked like a slaughter. And for what? She was another casualty in the endless war between the cops and the bad guys, gang members, drug dealers, and narcs. She was a pawn in a game she knew nothing about, a tiny sacrifice among warriors whose goal was to destroy each other. Dinella Washington meant nothing to them, only to her friends and neighbors, her sisters, and her mother. She was the oldest of four children her mother had had between sixteen and twenty, but no matter how poor they were, nor how tough life was for them, or the neighborhood in which they fought to survive, her mother loved her.
“Is she gonna die?” Henrietta asked in a strangled voice, her huge eyes looking into those of a paramedic, and he didn’t answer. He didn’t know.
“We’re doing what we can, ma’am.” Henrietta Washington was twenty-one years old. She was a stereotype, a number, a statistic, but she was so much more than that. She was a woman, a girl, a mother. She wanted more than this for her kids. She wanted a job, wanted to work, wanted to be married to a good man one day, who loved and took care of her and her children. But she had never met a man like that. Her kids were all she had for the moment, and she had nothing to give them but her love.
She had a boyfriend who took her to dinner once in a while, with three kids of his own to support. He hadn’t been able to find a job in six months, and drank too much when he took her out. There were no easy solutions for either of them, just welfare, an odd job from time to time, and a hand-to-mouth existence. Neither of them had finished high school, and they lived in a war zone. And the life they led, and where they lived it, was a death sentence for their children.
The ambulance screeched to a stop outside the hospital, and the paramedics raced out with Dinella on the gurney. She had an IV in her arm, an oxygen mask over her face, and all Henrietta knew was that she was still breathing, but barely. She ran into the emergency room after her, in her bloodstained dress, and she couldn’t even get near her little girl. A dozen nurses and residents
had closed around the child and were running down the hall with her to the trauma unit, as Henrietta followed, wanting to ask someone what was happening, what they were going to do. She wanted to know if Dinella would be all right. A thousand questions raced through her head as someone stuck a clipboard and pen in front of her face.
Excerpted from Irresistible Forces by Danielle Steel. Excerpted by permission of Dell, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.