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       Three Weeks to Say Goodbye, p.1

           C. J. Box
 
Three Weeks to Say Goodbye


  THREE WEEKS TO SAY GOODBYE

  ‘Box is already a household name in the US, and this surefooted, page-turning, race-against-time thriller will almost certainly be his breakthrough in the UK.’

  Daily Mail

  ‘A high-concept thriller with a fascinating premise.’

  Guardian

  ‘In the wake of Harlan Coben and Linwood Barclay comes C.J. Box with another well-honed story of a family in crisis… how far will Jack and Melissa go to protect their family?’

  Mail on Sunday

  ‘A harrowing story that’ll pull on readers’ heart strings – so be prepared for an emotional rollercoaster.’

  Now Magazine

  ‘This has all the makings of a courtroom drama, but it rapidly becomes something far more frightening… fast-paced and violent.’

  The Times

  ‘This exciting and shocking novel is simply superb.’

  Closer

  ‘Three Weeks to Say Goodbye is grounded by a refreshingly normal cast of characters and a plot that doesn’t let go until the final page… Box wracks up the tension throughout to a denouement worth waiting for.’

  The Skinny

  ‘C.J. Box’s latest thriller will have you hooked right from the start.’

  Star Magazine

  ‘In this desperate situation Jack realizes he must do anything, however illegal, dangerous, violent and frightening, to keep his daughter… The hero’s predicament evokes instant sympathy and the writing is taut and evocative.’

  Literary Review

  C.J. Box is the winner of the Anthony Award, the Prix Calibre 38, the Macavity Award, the Gumshoe Award, the Barry Award, and the Edgar Award for Best Novel of 2009. His novels are US bestsellers and have been translated into 21 languages. Box lives with his family outside of Cheyenne, Wyoming.

  Copyright

  First published in the United States of America in 2009 by Minotaur Books, St Martin’s Press, 175 Fifth Avenue,

  New York, NY 10010.

  This paperback edition first published in Great Britain in 2010 by Corvus, an imprint of Grove Atlantic Ltd.

  Copyright © C.J. Box 2009. All rights reserved.

  The moral right of C.J. Box to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents act of 1988.

  All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without the prior permission of both the copyright owner and the above publisher of this book.

  This is a work of fiction. All characters, organizations, and events portrayed in this novel are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.

  First eBook Edition: January 2010

  ISBN: 978-1-848-87756-6

  Corvus

  An imprint of Grove Atlantic Ltd

  Ormond House

  26-27 Boswell Street

  London WC1N 3JZ

  www.corvus-books.co.uk

  Contents

  Cover

  THREE WEEKS TO SAY GOODBYE

  Copyright

  Acknowledgments

  Denver

  Chapter ONE

  Chapter TWO

  Chapter THREE

  Chapter FOUR

  Monday, November 5: Twenty Days to Go

  Chapter FIVE

  Chapter SIX

  Chapter SEVEN

  Friday, November 9: Sixteen Days to Go

  Chapter EIGHT

  Saturday, November 10: Fifteen Days to Go

  Chapter NINE

  Berlin: Thirteen Days to Go

  Chapter TEN

  Chapter ELEVEN

  In the Air / Denver / Wyoming: Nine Days to Go

  Chapter TWELVE

  Montana: Eight Days to Go

  Chapter THIRTEEN

  Chapter FOURTEEN

  Denver: Seven Days to Go

  Chapter FIFTEEN

  Tuesday, November 20: Five Days to Go

  Chapter SIXTEEN

  Chapter SEVENTEEN

  Wednesday, November 21: Four Days to Go

  Chapter EIGHTEEN

  Chapter NINETEEN

  Thursday, November 22: Three Days to Go

  Chapter TWENTY

  Friday, November 23: Two Days to Go

  Chapter TWENTY-ONE

  Saturday, November 24: One Day to Go

  Chapter TWENTY-TWO

  Sunday, November 25: The Day

  Chapter TWENTY-THREE

  Chapter TWENTY-FOUR

  Monday, November 26: The Day After

  Chapter TWENTY-FIVE

  Canon City, Colorado: A Year After

  Chapter TWENTY-SIX

  BLUE HEAVEN

  FRIDAY, 4.28 PM

  To Marc and Jenny

  … and Laurie, always

  Acknowledgments

  The author would like to thank those who provided background, suggestions, careful reading, and inspiration for this novel, including Allison Herron Lee, Ann Rittenberg, Laurie Box, Molly Box, Becky Box, and the wonderful team at St. Martin’s Minotaur—Matthew Baldacci, Andrew Martin, Hector Dejean, and, especially, the peerless Jennifer Enderlin.

  The bloodthirsty hate the upright,

  and they seek the life of the righteous.

  An unjust man is an abomination to the just,

  and he who is upright

  is an abomination to the wicked.

  —Proverbs 29:10, 27

  Denver

  ONE

  IT WAS SATURDAY MORNING, November 3, and the first thing I noticed when I entered my office was that my telephone message light was blinking. Since I’d left the building late the night before, it meant someone had called my extension during the night. Odd.

  My name is Jack McGuane. I was thirty-four years old at the time. Melissa, my wife, was the same age. I assume you’ve heard my name, or seen my image on the news, although with everything going on in the world I can understand if you missed me the first time. Our story, in the big scheme of things, is a drop in the river.

  I was a Travel Development Specialist for the Denver Metro Convention and Visitors Bureau, the city agency charged with bidding on and hosting conventions and encouraging tourism to Denver. Every city has one. I worked hard, often staying late and, if necessary, coming in on a Saturday. It’s important to me that I work hard, even in a bureaucratic environment where it’s not necessarily encouraged or rewarded. You see, I’m not the smartest guy in the world, or the best educated. My background doesn’t suit me for the job. But my ace in the hole is that I work harder than anyone around me, even when I don’t have to. I am the bane of an office filled with bureaucrats, and I’m proud of it. It’s the only thing I’ve got.

  Before doing anything, though, I punched the button to retrieve my voice mail.

  “Jack, this is Julie Perala. At the agency …”

  I stared at the speaker. Her voice was tight, cautious, not the confident and compassionate Julie Perala from the adoption agency Melissa and I had spent hours with while we went through the long process of adopting Angelina, our nine-month-old. My first thought was that we somehow owed them more money.

  “Jack, I hate to call you at work on a Friday. I hope you get this and can call me back right away. I need to talk with you immediately—before Sunday, if possible.”

  She left the agency number and her cell-phone number, and I wrote them down.

  Then: “Jack, I’m so sorry.”

  After a few beats of silence, as if she wanted to say more but wouldn’t or couldn’t, she hung up.

  I sat back in my chair, then listened to the message again and checked the t
ime stamp. It had arrived at 8:45 Friday evening.

  I tried the agency number first, not surprised that it went straight to voice mail. Then I called her cell.

  “Yes?”

  “Julie, this is Jack McGuane.”

  “Oh.”

  “You said to call immediately. You’ve got me scared here with your message. What’s going on?”

  “You don’t know?”

  “How would I know? Know what?”

  There was anger and panic in her voice.

  “Martin Dearborn hasn’t called you? He’s your attorney, isn’t he? Our lawyers were supposed to call him. Oh dear.”

  My heart sped up, and the receiver became slick in my hand. “Julie, I don’t know anything. Dearborn never called. Please, what is this about?”

  “God, I hate to be the one to tell you.”

  “Tell me what?”

  A beat. “The biological father wants Angelina back.”

  I made her repeat it in case I hadn’t heard correctly. She did.

  “So what if he wants her back,” I said. “We adopted her. She’s our daughter now. Who cares what he wants?”

  “You don’t understand—it’s complicated.”

  I pictured Melissa and Angelina at home having a lazy Saturday morning. “Of course we’ll work this out,” I said. “This is all some kind of big misunderstanding. It’ll all be fine.” Despite my words, my mouth tasted like metal.

  Said Julie, “The birth father never signed away parental custody, Jack. The mother did, but the father didn’t. It’s a terrible situation. Your lawyer should have explained all of this to you. I don’t want to be the one going over legalities because I’m not qualified. As I said, it’s complicated…”

  “This cannot be happening,” I said.

  “I’m so sorry.”

  “It doesn’t make sense,” I said. “She’s been with us nine months. The birth mother selected us.”

  “I know. I was there.”

  “Tell me how to make this go away,” I said, sitting up in my chair, leaning over the desk. “Do we pay off the kid, or what?”

  Julie was silent for a long time.

  “Julie, are you there?”

  “I’m here.”

  “Meet me at your agency now.”

  “I can’t.”

  “You can’t or you won’t?”

  “I can’t. I shouldn’t even be talking with you. I should never have called. The lawyers and my executives said not to make direct contact, but I felt I had to.”

  “Why didn’t you call us at home?”

  “I got cold feet,” she said. “You don’t know how much I wished I could erase that message I left for you.”

  “I appreciate that,” I said, “but you can’t walk away. I need to understand what you’re saying. You’ve got to work with me to make this kid go away. You owe us that.”

  I heard a series of staccato sounds and thought the connection was going bad. Then I realized she was crying.

  Finally, she said, “There’s a restaurant near here called Sunrise Sunset. On South Wadsworth. I can meet you there in an hour.”

  “I might be a little late. I’ve got to run home and get Melissa. She’ll want to hear this. And on such short notice, we’ll probably have Angelina with us.”

  “I was hoping …” Her voice trailed off.

  “Hoping what? That I wouldn’t bring them?”

  “Yes. It makes it harder … I was hoping maybe you and I could meet alone.”

  I slammed the phone down. Stunned, I wrote down the address of the restaurant.

  I SENSED LINDA VAN Gear’s arrival before she leaned into my office. She had a presence that preceded her. It could also be called very strong perfume, which she seemed to push ahead in front of her, like a surging trio of small, leashed dogs. Linda was my boss.

  She was an imposing, no-nonsense woman, a force of nature. Melissa once referred to Linda as “a caricature of a broad.” Linda was brash, made-up, coiffed with a swept-back helmet of stiff hair like the overlapping armored plates of a prehistoric dinosaur. She looked like she wore suits with shoulder pads, but they were her shoulders. Her lips were red, red, red, and there was usually a lipstick line across the front of her teeth, which she moistened often with darts from a pointed tongue. Linda, like a lot of the people who worked international tourism marketing, had once had dreams of being an actress or at least some kind of indefinable celebrity, someone who judged amateurs on a reality singing show. Linda was not well liked by the women in our office or by many in the tourism industry, but I got along with her. I got a kick out of her because everything about her was out front in spades.

  “Hello, darlin’,” she said, sticking her head in the doorway, “I see you found the leads.”

  I hadn’t even noticed them, but they were there: a bulging manila envelope filled with business cards that smelled of her perfume, cigarette smoke, and spilled wine.

  “They’re right here.”

  “Couple of hot ones in there,” she said with mock enthusiasm. “They’ll singe your fingers when you touch them. Let’s meet on them in a half an hour.” She squinted, looking me over, asked, “Are you okay?”

  “No I’m not.”

  I didn’t really want to get into details, but felt I needed to explain the situation to her in order to postpone the meeting.

  She listened with glistening eyes. She loved this kind of thing, I realized. She loved drama, and I was providing it.

  “Some boy wants custody of your baby?” she asked.

  “Yes, but I’m going to fight it.”

  “The baby obsession skipped this broad,” she said. “I guess I never really understood it.” She shook her head. She had no children and had made it clear she never wanted any.

  I nodded like I understood. Fragile ground, here.

  She said, “Look, you know I’m leaving for Taiwan with the governor Monday. We’ve got to get together before then. Hell, I dragged my jet-lagged ass out of bed just to meet you here this morning. We need to meet.”

  “We will,” I said. “Let me call you as soon as I talk to Julie Perala. That’s all I ask.”

  “That’s a lot,” she said, clearly angry.

  “I’ll call,” I said. “I’ll even come meet you at your house if you want.”

  “Plan on it,” she said, turning on her heel and clicking down the hallway, her shoes sounding like manic sticks on the rim of a drum in the empty hallway.

  MELISSA WAS ON THE FLOOR with Angelina when I came in the door. Before I could speak, Melissa said, “What’s wrong?”

  “Julie Perala called. She says there’s a problem with the adoption.”

  Melissa went white, and she looked from me to Angelina and back.

  “She said the father wants her back.”

  “Back?” Melissa said, her voice rising in volume, “Back? He’s never even seen her!”

  I met Melissa when we were both students at Montana State University thirteen years before. She was a lean jade-eyed brunette—attractive, smart, athletic, earthy, self-confident— with high cheekbones and a full, expressive mouth that tended to betray what ever she was thinking. She sparkled. I was drawn to her immediately in a crazy, almost chemical way. I could sense when she entered a crowded room even before I could see her. She was taken at the time, though, involved in a long-term relationship with the star running back. They were a remarkably handsome couple, and I despised him for no reason other than she was his. Still, I pined for her. The thought of her kept me awake at night. When their breakup became news, I told my friend Cody, “I’m going to marry her.” He said, “In your dreams,” and I said, “Yes, in my dreams.” He said, “You’ve got it bad,” and urged me to forget about her and go out and get drunk and get laid. Instead, I asked her out and became Mr. Rebound. She thought I was solid and amusing. I found, to my delight, that I could make her laugh. All I ever wanted to do, all I still want to do all these years later, is make her happy. After we’d been married three
years, she said she wanted children. That was the next step, the next easy, logical step. Or so we thought.

  The look on her face now crushed me and angered me and made me want to pound someone.

  I walked over and picked up Angelina, who squealed. Until this little girl entered our lives, I didn’t know how much I could care. She was beautiful—dark-haired, cherubic. Her eyes were big and wide open—as if she were always in a state of delighted surprise. Hair that stuck straight up in spots when she woke up from a nap. Four pearly teeth, two top, two bottom. She had a wonderful laugh that started deep in her belly, then took over her entire body. Her laugh was infectious, and we’d start laughing, too, which made her laugh even harder, until she was limp. She laughed so hard we actually asked our pediatrician if there was a problem, and he just shook his head at us. Recently, she’d learned to say “Da” and “Ma.” The way she looked at me, like I was the greatest and strongest creature on the planet, made me want to save and protect her from anything and anybody. She was my little girl, and like Melissa, she made me think differently about my place on earth. In her eyes, I was a god who as yet could do no wrong. I was a giant—her giant. I wanted to never disappoint her. And as the bearer of this news, I felt I had.

 
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