THE PHIPPS PLAZA shopping mall in Atlanta was a showy montage of pink-granite floors, sweeping bronze-trimmed staircases, gilded Napoleonic design, lighting that sparkled like halogen spotlights. A man and a woman watched the target - "Mom" - as she left Niketown with sneakers and whatnot for her three daughters packed under one arm.
"She is very pretty. I see why the Wolf likes her. She reminds me of Claudia Schiffer," said the male observer. "You see the resemblance?"
"Everybody reminds you of Claudia Schiffer, Slava. Don't lose her. Don't lose your pretty little Claudia or the Wolf will have you for breakfast."
The abduction team, the Couple, was dressed expensively, and that made it easy for them to blend in at Phipps Plaza, in the Buckhead section of Atlanta. At eleven in the morning, Phipps wasn't very crowded, and that could be a problem.
It helped that their target was rushing about in a world of her own, a tight little cocoon of mindless activity, buzzing in and out of Gucci, Caswell-Massey, Niketown, then Gapkids and Parisian (to see her personal shopper, Gina), without paying the slightest attention to who was around her in any of the stores. She worked from an At-a-Glance leather-bound diary and made her appointed rounds in a quick, efficient, practiced manner, buying faded jeans for Gwynne, a leather dop kit for Brendan, Nike diving watches for Meredith and Brigid. She even made an appointment at Carter-Barnes to get her hair done.
The target had style and also a pleasant smile for the salespeople who waited on her in the tony stores. She held doors for those coming up behind her, even men, who went out of their way to thank the attractive blonde. "Mom" was sexy in the wholesome, clean-cut way of many upscale American suburban women. And she did resemble the supermodel Claudia Schiffer. That was her undoing.
According to the job's specs, Mrs. Elizabeth Connolly was the mother of three girls; she was a graduate of Vassar, class of '87, with what she called "a degree in art history that is practically worthless in the real world - whatever that is - but invaluable to me." She'd been a reporter for the Washington Post and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution before she was married. She was thirty-seven, though she didn't look much more than thirty. She had her hair in a velvet barrette that morning, wore a short-sleeved turtleneck, a crocheted sweater, slim-fitting slacks. She was bright, religious - but sane about it - and tough when she needed to be, at least according to the specs.
Well, she would need to be tough soon. Mrs. Elizabeth Connolly was about to be abducted. She had been purchased, and she was probably the most expensive item for sale that morning at Phipps Plaza. The price: $150,000.
LIZZIE CONNOLLY FELT LIGHT-HEADED and she wondered if her quirky blood sugar was acting up again.
She made a mental note to pick up Trudie Styler's cookbook - she kind of admired Trudie, who was cofounder of the Rainforest Foundation as well as Sting's wife. She seriously doubted she would get through this day with her head still screwed on straight, not twisted around like the poor little girl in The Exorcist. Linda Blair, wasn't that the actress's name? Lizzie was pretty sure it was. Oh, who cared? What difference did trivia make?
What a merry-go-round today was going to be. First, it was Gwynnie's birthday, and the party for twenty-one of her closest school buddies, eleven girls, ten boys, was scheduled for one o'clock at the house. Lizzie had rented a bouncy house, and she had already prepared lunch for the children, not to mention for their moms or nannies. Lizzie had even rented a Mister Softee ice-cream truck for three hours. But you never knew what to expect at these birthday gigs - other than laughter, tears, thrills, and spills.
From Big Bad Wolf by James Patterson. Copyright © 2003 by James Patterson. All rights reserved. No part of this book maybe reproduced without written permission from the publisher.
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