Fifteen Minutes to Live

Fifteen Minutes to Live

by Phoef Sutton

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781941298763
Publisher: Brash Books
Publication date: 05/05/2015
Pages: 206
Sales rank: 871,216
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.47(d)

About the Author

Phoef Sutton is a novelist, playwright, TV producer and screenwriter who was born in Washington D.C., grew up in Virginia and has lived in California for longer than he can remember.

He won two Emmys and a Golden Globe for his work on the classic TV series Cheers and a Peabody and a GLAAD award for Boston Legal. He also wrote for the cult hit Terriers. He divides his time between writing, watching Turner Classic Movies and going to baseball games with his wife Dawn and his daughters, Skylar and Celia.

His novels include the thriller Crush, the horror tales ­The Dead Man: Midnight Special and ­The Dead Man: Reborn, and Wicked Charms, which he co-authored with Janet Evanovich. He lives in South Pasadena, California and Vinalhaven, Maine.

Read an Excerpt

Fifteen Minutes to Live


By Phoef Sutton

Brash Books, LLC

Copyright © 2015 Phoef Sutton
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-941298-76-3


CHAPTER 1

GLENDALE, 1994


Carl pulled into his driveway and the moon-cast shadow of the huge eucalyptus tree washed over the hood of his car and dappled the back of his hand that gripped the steering wheel.

He shut off the engine and in the silence of it dying, the music from the car stereo boomed much too loudly. Easing his head back against the leather headrest, he turned to look at his house.

Carl was the only person he knew who lived in the house he'd grown up in. He hadn't meant to. When he was seventeen he'd moved out of this cozy Spanish Revival house in Glendale (Glen-dull, all the young people called it) and over the hill to a grimy room over a store front on Hollywood Boulevard. No amount of pleading on the part of his parents, no amount of suffering of his own due to poverty or heart-break or the exciting starvation of youth could get him to move back in. In the end, it took financial security to do that.

Money had come into his life with the speed of a sudden head cold. One week he'd been scraping together enough money to Xerox programs for an abysmal production of his one-act plays in a converted toilet theater on Santa Monica Boulevard, and the next he was making two thousand dollars a week as a staff writer on a network TV show. Within two years he was a producer with an income approaching three hundred thousand a year. In the meantime, his parents' income had declined while the cost of living had gone up, so that the only money they had left was tied up in their house. They didn't want to leave it, so they turned to him down for help. The house he'd considered a sterile prison when he was a teen-ager looked like a worthwhile investment now that he'd hit thirty, so he bought it from them and let them live there for free.

A year later, just as he was recovering from the break up of his near-marriage, his mother died, so he moved into the house to keep his dad company. Now that Dad was gone too, there was no reason at all to stay there. He felt like an alien in the neighborhood filled with houses occupied either by elderly white couples or extended Armenian families of twelve.

So sell the house and buy a condo at the beach, he thought as he sat immobile in the driver's seat, Joan Armatrading blaring out of the CD player. It was two thirty in the morning. After a day like this, he should be rushing in to fall on the bed. Eight hours spent locked in a room with his partner, Kit, and four other professional manic-depressives, rewriting an ill-conceived episode of a new CBS half-hour comedy. That's three hours of writing and three hours of bitching about the actors and the network and how shitty all the other shows on television are and how the city is going to hell. And two hours of deciding what to order for dinner.

But he wasn't in bed. He was watching the blue-gray shadow of the tree move on the hood and thinking about all the times that eucalyptus shadow had washed over all the hoods of all the cars he'd known as they'd pulled into that driveway. The Chevrolet station wagon, while he was sitting on his mother's lap dribbling ice cream onto her slacks. His father's Dart when he was sixteen, driving home from a date with Jessica and smelling her scent on his fingers. His Maverick when he'd driven in from his Hollywood rat hole, deliberately too late for Thanksgiving dinner. His BMW when he'd rushed home after getting the call about his mother's stroke. Too late again, but not deliberately.

He started the car again and eased it forward, pulling up next to the kitchen door, leaving the eucalyptus shadow back on the trunk where he couldn't see it. He looked up at the darkened kitchen window and it was so empty it had made him catch his breath. He could already hear his footsteps echoing on the wood floors. He laughed to himself, entertaining the notion of reclining his seat and spending the night in his BMW. But somebody had to feed the animals.

He climbed out of the car. To hell with the real estate market, he really would put this house up for sale tomorrow. Some people have trouble keeping in touch with their pasts, he thought, I'm going to dump mine on the market at a cut rate.


* * *

He set the dish of dried cat food and an overripe avocado on the patio, slipped back through the double doors, settled into a wicker chair he'd pulled up for the purpose and waited.

His cat jumped clumsily on his lap. It climbed up his chest and breathed into his face, it's breath ripe with Science Diet for Older Cats. He pushed its head down, gently but firmly hoping it would curl up in his lap and go to sleep. Instead it climbed up onto his shoulder and started sucking on his hair.

This cat was an aged Persian. With old age, the flat face of the breed had turned positively convex, its teeth were exposed in a permanent werewolf's snarl and its snuggles of affection were accompanied by a viscous drooling. It was one of the most disgusting animals Carl had ever seen, but he kept scratching behind its ears. He even ignored the hair sucking, a life long habit he attributed to a premature separation from its mother's breast and, therefore, never had the heart to resent. He ignored the wet spot growing on his shoulder and peered out through the French doors at the bowl on the patio.

The raccoon showed up about five minutes later, scooping the dried cat food into his mouth by the handful. The cat jumped off Carl's lap and hissed at the intruder behind the protection of the patio door. Satisfied that it had done all it could do to protect its domain, it went off to the laundry room to vomit.

The raccoon paid no attention, moved on to the avocado and began to peel it deftly. All the while Carl kept perfectly still, amazed at the site of the creature, as big as a small dog. Its hunches were huge and beautifully formed. He marveled at the ringed black tail and the black mask - like something out of a nature documentary right here in his own backyard.

For no reason that he could figure, it started suddenly and glanced up at him. Its black marble eyes met his and Carl tried to smile in a way that a raccoon might find friendly. It kept its eyes fixed on his as it ate the avocado.

He'd first started to suspect its presence about a week ago. He'd left a bowl of cat food out by the door over night by mistake and the next morning had found tiny hand like prints around the empty bowl. Since then he'd left out more food and found it gone every morning. Four nights ago he'd come in, late as usual, and switched on the light in time to see something that looked like a small bear waddling off into the dark.

So he'd spent the last few nights like this, sitting for a time in a chair in front of his patio window hoping to catch a glimpse of the beast. Now it was here, staring at him, apparently unimpressed, and Carl couldn't imagine how an animal of that size could live in an urban area. He knew that coyotes and even deer lived up in the hills, but he felt sure this fellow hadn't traveled that far. Somehow it had managed to eke out a living in suburbia. That was a miracle for any creature.

The animal dropped the bare avocado pit and trundled off into the darkness. Carl sat in his easy chair in the darkened room and watched it go. The encounter was over. The climax of ten days of careful planning had been reached. He had achieved contact with a fellow creature and had, in a small way, helped ease its struggle for survival. Their eyes had met and, on that basic level, they had bridged the gap that separates the species.

Carl was too depressed to get up so he fell asleep in the chair.


* * *

Carl woke up annoyed. He couldn't remember any details from his dream, but he had a vague image of himself rearranging the shelves in his garage, buck naked and surrounded by network executives. Nightmares he didn't mind so much, but what was the point of going to sleep if your dreams were only as annoying as real life?

It took him a few seconds to wonder what had woken him up. It might have been discomfort from sleeping in the chair, but his back didn't hurt. He couldn't hear the cat tromping around and screeching as she often did when he was just drifting off.

He heard a snapping sound and sat up fast. There's nothing as loud as a sudden sound in an empty house at night. He peered through the darkened window for any sign of the raccoon. There was nothing. He lapsed back to normal breathing.

The snap again. But it wasn't quite a snap now that he listened closely. It was a crack and a rattle and it came from upstairs. He turned toward the stairway, which seemed a long way off.

Crossing to the stairs was easy as long as he didn't hear the sound. When it cracked and rattled again he stopped dead, his heart pounding in his chest. Really pounding, he noted in surprise, picturing it bouncing off his ribs. And yet there was no sense in being afraid. There was nothing dangerous about the sound. He couldn't imagine a burglar up there, rifling through his drawers while dropping marbles, or whatever they were, at regular intervals.

In the silence he made it halfway up the stairs, two trains of thought fighting for his attention like overheard conversations at a party. One had his cat disinterestedly playing with a ping-pong ball; the other had the same ball played with it the same way by a bloodied serial killer. He laughed, then jerked still when the rattle came again.

This time he knew his fear wasn't physical. There wasn't anything up there that could hurt him. He was afraid because he recognized the sound but couldn't place it. He only knew that it came from a long time ago and that it didn't belong there now. It was a ghost sound. Like the laughter of phantom children and the bouncing of invisible toy balls in a Seventies made-for-TV horror film.

He ran the rest of the way up the stairs and into his study, the room that used to be his bedroom. The window overlooked the back yard and through it he could see the night sky, heavy with a thick haze that trapped the lights from the city and turned them back in a perpetual twilight. The light made it easy to see the handful of pebbles sailing up toward the window. The larger one struck the glass with a crack, the smaller ones rattled against the sill.

He stood in the doorway, blinking at the window in disbelief. He knew what it was now. Even if he hadn't seen it, he'd have known just from being in the room. The sound was different here, it was welcome, it was waited for, it was the sound he couldn't sleep for praying it would come. It was the sound that was as far from frightening as any he'd ever heard. Except that he hadn't heard it for seventeen years and it couldn't possibly be real.

His bed had been in the far corner. When he was seventeen he had lain awake in it every night in a sweat, wondering if that sound would come. If it didn't, he'd fall into fevered sleep in the early morning and twist through delirious dreams with a harem of women from all parts of the earth. If the sound did come he would creep from his bed, slip on his bathrobe and sneak down the stairs, his dick pivoting wildly in front of him, leading the way she used to say, like a divining rod seeking out her moisture.

He'd open the French doors in the living room with exquisite care and rush out back to find her. Jesse would be there by the Eugenia bushes. Carl would rush into her arms and they would kiss clumsily, not from lack of expertise, but because you couldn't kiss like they needed to and do it with any refinement. And any pretense of refinement was out of the question anyway, with his cock digging into her leg. That was part of the kiss as well, like his hand rubbing her pussy through her jeans. She would moan and he would tell her to be quiet and not wake his parents. "How would we explain what we were doing?" he would say laughing. And she would grab his cock and squeeze and say she thought this guy would explain things pretty clearly.

They would run into the greenhouse, stumbling, somehow holding on to each other all the way, and fall on the tarp and make love. His cock would be so hard he wouldn't even feel anything for the first few minutes, wouldn't even be sure he was in her unless he reached down and felt the join with his hand. Then sensation would come and they would climb all over each other and kiss and bite and who knows what, because in those days it didn't even matter what you did or even how long you did it because you were so overwhelmed by the sheer miracle of doing it.

Carl was so deep into his reverie; he half expected to see her standing in the back yard when he walked to the window. But that didn't stop him from being surprised when he did see her there.

She was standing below the window in a white summer dress, gesturing to him impatiently to come down. Or someone who looked like her was; it couldn't really be her. But it couldn't be anyone else either.

He opened the window and she spoke to him in a loud stage whisper. "Where the hell have you been?"

"Jesse?"

"Is something wrong?"

"Well ..." But there wasn't, was there?

"Come on down."

He closed the window and crept out of the room, knowing full well he needn't worry about waking anyone. It didn't hurt to play act a little, and anyway it all had to be a dream. He much preferred this to the one about the garage.

As he descended the stairs he considered the possibility that this might all be real, feeling a wave of depression and apprehension. If it were real, it couldn't be what he'd been assuming – she wouldn't be there to re-enact a night of teen-age passion from the Seventies. The only thing that could make a normal woman sneak in darkness to the house of someone she hadn't spoken to in twelve years was some unusual and urgent kind of trouble.

He hesitated at the French doors, thinking for the first time in years of the circumstances of their parting and he was more sure than ever that no mere sexual whim would have brought her back here. He drew a deep breath as he opened the door and walked out into the night.

The raccoon had finished every bit of the dried cat food and spilled the dish of water all over the patio. He tracked the water out on the grass, trying to see her in the blue darkness. There was no one under the window, no sound of anyone around. If it was a dream, when had it ended?

An arm grabbed him around the chest; another reached between his legs and grabbed him there. He gasped and tried to pull away. Then he heard her laugh.

"It's me stupid."

She turned him around and kissed him. His mind was reeling from surprise to fear to pleasure, but it was soon calmed by a wave of memory. The thick, softness of her lips and the taste of cigarette on her tongue. Nothing like this could have brought her here, but her hand was running down his chest and into his jeans.

"What are you all dressed for? Did you think we were going on a hike?"

One of the first things he learned as a comedy writer was not to try to make a joke if he couldn't think of anything funny. So he just kissed her again and let her fumble with his belt. She backed away and touched his lip curiously, with her fingers.

"Since when did you grow a mustache?" she asked, sounding genuinely confused.

"I had to do something while I was waiting for you."

He kissed her neck and she giggled. "It tickles."

"You don't know the half of it," he murmured while nibbling on the tender flesh of her neck.

She gasped. It was a tender gasp, yearning and hungry, and at the sound of it Carl froze and felt his lips tremble on her neck. He knew that gasp so well, and it came from so long ago that he felt his heart grow in his chest. He shut his eyes and tears squeezed from them.

Jesse pulled away to look at him, puzzled. "What is it?"

He laughed. Only two tears had fallen. He was in control. He squeezed her arms, playfully. "It's just so good to see you."

"You silly."

In the old days she had always been the one to frighten him off with the depth of her feelings, now here she was, laughing at his emotion as if her showing up now were the most natural thing in the world. Didn't she know, or didn't she want to know, that he could stare at her in this darkness all night long? Was it all just a game to her?

She unfastened the top two buttons of his jeans and reached in. Any resentment he might have been feeling vanished in a surge of good will. "He's happy to see me too." There's an adorable tone of pride a teen-age girl gets in her voice when she realizes she can cause an erection. Grown women never have that tone, they know the potential for pain and confusion too well, or perhaps they're just bored with the whole thing. But a girl still thinks it's a marvel she can have that kind of power, and never thinks of what it might bring on. Jesse still had that tone in her voice. Carl thought his heart would break.


(Continues...)

Excerpted from Fifteen Minutes to Live by Phoef Sutton. Copyright © 2015 Phoef Sutton. Excerpted by permission of Brash Books, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Fifteen Minutes to Live 3.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 8 reviews.
JennMcLean More than 1 year ago
"15 Minutes To Live" by Phoef Sutton was an unusual mystery with unseen twists and turns, heartbreak, love and obsession. The book opens by introducing us to our main character, Carl. He lives in his childhood home now that his parents have passed away. One night he hears pebbles scatter across his bedroom window just like he used to more than twenty years ago when his girlfriend would sneak over late at night for a tryst. When Carl looks out that same window he's shocked to see Jesse waiting for him in the back garden. He is both thrilled and flabbergasted when he descends the stairs to find her eagerly awaiting Carl's touch. They rush to the greenhouse under the trees and reenact a nights of passion they used to experience so long ago. But nothing makes sense to Carl. Jesse seems to think she's still seventeen and she doesn't recognize the changes in Carl like his mustache. The next day Carl finds out that in fact Jesse has been dead for three weeks. How could this be possible? Is she a ghost or is there something nefarious going on here? The mystery starts there as Carl tries to winnow out what has happened to Jesse and why she has so much trouble with her memory. I have to say that I found it impossible to walk away from this mystery. This shows just what a great writer that Sutton is. I say this because I actually didn't particularly enjoy the read. I found myself disappointed at just how depressing all the characters were. Every character looked at life as something to be endured. I can understand there being some people who feel their lives are tedious but I found the general emotional atmosphere overwhelmingly monotonous. I was disappointed to find myself in this position. It is unusual to both want to read a book but not enjoy the words. The need to know what was happening to Jesse was a magnetic force pulling the reader to the end of the book. But the actual ending was egregiously disappointing. Part of me wants to give this book a two out of five because it was so frustrating. Another part of me recognizes the excellent writing that made me want to read every word. So, if you can stand depressing characters that don't have any joy of life and you have loved Phoef Sutton books in the past then try this one. On the other hand, if you like some hope or redeeming quality to the relationships in a book and you want an inkling of justice to seep through to the ending then I'd avoid this one, you just may end up as frustrated as me.
Anonymous 11 months ago
A lot of misspelled words but other than that, pretty good.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I think this book is awful. It's a quagmire of utter confusion. It seems as if thoughts are never completed. I would not recommend this book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Enjoyed this very much. I just had to find out the rend.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Fascinating story...pulls you in and doesnt stop. Who are you? Who did what to whom?
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A different storyline than the usual
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
RtBBlog More than 1 year ago
Reviewed by Marissa Book provided by NetGalley for review Review originally posted at Romancing the Book The name Phoef Sutton seemed vaguely familiar and the plot sounded good so I requested this book for review. I was very happy I did. Sutton, it turns out, is a television and movie writer. He also co-wrote Wicked Charms with Janet Evanovich. And he’s one hell of an author in his own right. The plot centers around Jessica and her memory problem. Her short-term memory is gone (something called Korsakoff syndrome) and, at the age of 40, she thinks she’s 18 and in high school. Basically, it’s like her life is resetting every 15 minutes. She doesn’t remember anyone trying to kill her, she doesn’t remember meeting Kit (four times in an hour), nor why she’s driving strange cars or in strange houses. The plot also centers around Carl. He’s just a regular guy, living his life day to day, who ends up in this weird situation with his high school girlfriend and her brother-in-law. What immediately drew me in to the character of Carl were his semi-defeatist thoughts. We’ve all had them – ‘I should just (insert your own dream here)’. To me, the idea that he’s not stoic and brave at every turn, that he gets frustrated with his own life, makes him likeable. While I really did like all the characters in this book, there were a couple of secondary characters that stood out. Frank, Jessica’s brother-in-law, was a truly likeable character – someone you’d meet and want to make your friend. Ryan was more of a likeable scumbag. A teacher who was having affairs with a different student every year, he was somehow human underneath. While I wouldn’t want to be friends with him, I didn’t not like the character. The writing was excellent, with plot twists all the way through to the end. Sutton has another book coming out shortly (Crush) which has soared to the top of my TBR list.