Authors: C. J. Box
‘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.’
‘A high-concept thriller with a fascinating premise.’
‘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.’
‘This has all the makings of a courtroom drama, but it rapidly becomes something far more frightening… fast-paced and violent.’
‘This exciting and shocking novel is simply superb.’
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.’
‘C.J. Box’s latest thriller will have you hooked right from the start.’
‘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.’
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.
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
An imprint of Grove Atlantic Ltd
26-27 Boswell Street
London WC1N 3JZ
To Marc and Jenny
… and Laurie, always
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
T 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 time 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.
“Julie, this is Jack McGuane.”
“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
. 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
“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?”
“Meet me at your agency
“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.”