Snow was falling in New York. The flakes were fine and steady, obscuring the upper stories of Midtown's black and silver buildings. Snow covered the avenues faster than city plows could clear it away. It capped stone monuments and the Plaza's dormant fountain. As night closed in, and lights were turned on in every window, the woman stood with the young girl, breathing in the cold air.
"The snow looks so magical in the city!" Amy, twelve, said in amazement.
"It's so beautiful," Dianne agreed.
"But where do the kids go sledding?"
"In Central Park, I think. Right over there," Dianne said, pointing at the trees coated in white, the yellow lights glowing through the snow.
Amy just stared. Everything about New York was new and wonderful, and Dianne loved seeing the city through her eyes. Fresh from the quiet marshlands of eastern Connecticut, they had checked into the Plaza hotel, visited Santa at Macy's, and gone ice skating at Rockefeller Center. That night they had tickets to see the New York City Ballet dance The Nutcracker.
Standing under the hotel awning, they took in Christmas lights, livery-clad doormen, and guests dressed for a gala evening. Three cabs stood at the curb, snow thick in their headlights. At least twenty people were lined up, scanning the street for additional cabs. Hesitating for just a moment, Dianne took Amy's hand and walked down the steps.
Overwhelmed with excitement, her own and for the child, she didn't want to risk missing the curtain by waiting in a long taxi line. Standing by the curb, she checked the map and weighed the idea of walking to Lincoln Center.
"Dianne, are we going to be late?" Amy asked.
"No, we're not," Dianne said, making up her mind. "I'll get us a cab."
Amy laughed, thrilled by the sight of her friend standing in the street, arm outstretched like a real New Yorker. Dianne wore a black velvet dress, a black cashmere cape, a string of pearls, and her grandmother-in-law's diamond and sapphire earrings: things she never wore at home at Gull Point. Her evening bag was ancient. Black satin, stiff with years spent on a closet shelf, it had come from a boutique in Essex, Connecticut.
"Oh, let me hail the cab," Amy said, dancing with delight, her arm flying up just like Dianne's. Her movement was sudden, and slipping on the snow, she grasped at Dianne's bag. The strap was very long; even with Dianne's arm raised, the bag swung just below her hip. Nearly losing her balance on the icy street, Dianne caught Amy and steadied them both.
They smiled, caught in a momentary embrace. Although Thanksgiving had just passed, Christmas lights glittered everywhere. Beneath its snowy veil, the city was enchanted. A Salvation Army band played "Silent Night." Bells jingled on passing horse-drawn carriages.
"I've never been anywhere like this," Amy said. Her enormous green eyes gazed into Dianne's with the rapture of being twelve, on such a wonderful adventure.
"I'm so glad you came with me," Dianne said.
"I wish Julia were here," Amy said.
Bowled over with affection for the girl, and missing her own daughter, Dianne didn't see the cab at first.
Spinning on the ice, the taxi clipped the bumper of a black Mercedes limousine. A snowplow and a sand truck drove by in the opposite direction, and the Yellow Cab caromed off the plow's blade, crushing its front end, shattering the windshield. Dianne lunged for Amy.
The violent ballet happened in slow motion. Pirouetting once, twice, the cab spun on the icy street. Dianne grabbed the child. Her low black boot fought for traction. Glass tinkled on the pavement. Onlookers screamed. Arms around Amy, Dianne tried to run. In the seconds it took to register what was happening, that she wasn't going to get out of the way fast enough, she wrapped her body around the child and tried to shield her from the impact.
The taxi struck the crowd. People flew up in the air together, tumbled apart, and landed with separate thuds. Skidding across the pavement, skin scraping and bones breaking, they slumped in shapeless heaps. For one long moment the city was silent. Traffic stopped. No one moved. The snow was bright with red blood. Down the block, horns began to blare. A far-off siren sounded. People closed in to help.
"They're dead!" someone cried.
"So much blood . . ."
"Don't move anyone, you might injure them worse."
"That little girl, did she move? Is she alive?"
Five people lay crumpled like broken toys, surrounded by people not knowing what to do. Two off-duty New York cops out for the evening with their wives saw the commotion from their car and stopped to help. One of them ran to the wrecked taxi. Leaning through the shattered window, he yanked at the door handle before stopping himself.
The driver was killed, his neck sliced through by a sheet of door metal. Even in death, the man reeked of whiskey. Shaking his head, the cop went to the injured pedestrians.
"Driver's dead," he said, crouching beside his friend, working on the girl.
"What about her?" he asked, pulling open Amy's coat to check her heartbeat.
With the child their first priority, the two policemen had their backs to Dianne. She lay facedown in the snow. Blood spread from her blond hair, her arm twisted beneath her at an impossible angle. Moving quickly, a stranger bent down beside her. He leaned over her head, touching the side of her neck as if in search of a pulse. No one saw him palm the single diamond earring he could reach, or pull the pearls from her throat.
By the time he grabbed her bag, a woman in the crowd noticed. The thief had the strap in his hand, easing it out from under the fallen woman's arm.
"Hey," the observer yelled. "What the hell are you doing?"
The thief yanked harder. He held the bag, tearing at the clasp. It opened, contents spilling into the snow. A comb, ballet tickets, a crystal perfume flacon, some papers, and a small green wallet. Snatching the wallet, the man dashed across the street, disappearing into the dark park.From the Hardcover edition.
Excerpted from Follow the Stars Home by Luanne Rice. Copyright © 2000 by Luanne Rice. Excerpted by permission of Bantam, 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.