I wake up sober.
This has been happening every morning, one day at a time, for almost five years now, but I still find it unbelievable. Absurd. Some days, just for fun, I lock eyes with myself in the bathroom mirror and say, the way we do in AA, “Hi, I’m Bruce. I’m a grateful recovering alcoholic.” Then I make like De Niro in Taxi Driver and say, “You talkin’ to me?” Like De Niro, I’m a lot older than I used to be. He could play me in the movie. I’d like that.
My girlfriend Cindy caught me at it one time. She laughed, but she didn’t think I was crazy. She’s a recovering alcoholic too and one of the main reasons I’m grateful. She’s a cop, a detective. Me being madly in love with a cop is even more ludicrous than how I stay sober, like going to AA and having a Higher Power. Don’t ask me what I mean by a Higher Power. It’s (a) complicated, and (b) none of your business. But am I the most powerful force in the universe? Does the sun rise or the earth spin on my command? If I didn’t pay attention, would they stop? So yeah, I’ll make a meeting today with my best friend Jimmy. And at some point, maybe in the shower or on the subway, I’ll ask Something to give Jimmy and my other best friend Barbara and their little girl Sunshine health and happiness and keep Cindy safe when she goes out there to do her job catching the bad guys. She’s tougher than De Niro, so it’ll probably be okay.
Breakfast. I don’t dawdle over it, because I’m meeting Barbara in the Park to go running. Here’s the difference between drinking and sobriety. If you want to get a laugh at the very idea of granola for breakfast, go into a bar and joke about it. If you want to get a laugh about how breakfast used to be black coffee and half a pack of cigarettes, speak at an AA meeting. What cracks me up is that it’s the same guys laughing. Ten years later. The survivors, like me.
Central Park. The jewel in the crown of New York City. In my misspent youth, it was somewhere Jimmy and I would go to drink way too many 40-ounce bottles of Colt 45, throw the empties into the bushes, and lie under a park bench to sleep it off. Now it’s where Barbara nagged me one step at a time through endless circuits of the track around the reservoir, then the lower loop and the upper loop, then the entire road that circles the Park from Central Park South fifty blocks north to 110th, from Fifth Avenue half a mile as the pigeon flies to Central Park West, until I was fit to run the Marathon. Fit. I refuse to say ready. She didn’t call it nagging. Recovering codependents don’t nag. She was encouraging me. Empowering me. Demonstrating her concern for my health because she loves me. But if you think I could have chosen not to run that Marathon, you don’t know Barbara. I shudder to think what she’d get us into if she had a gun.
Cindy has a gun. But unlike Barbara, she’s not at all impulsive. She works in the Central Park Precinct’s detective squad now, but we probably won’t see her today. A friend of ours died at the Marathon, an old guy they called the Ancient Marathoner, and Cindy caught the case. Of course Barbara was wild to help investigate. She always is. That’s what codependents do. Compulsive helpers. Fixers. They don’t call it snooping. Cindy knows we can ask questions she can’t and that Barbara is unstoppable. Barbara and Jimmy and I have stumbled over a few bodies. To be honest, we’ve stumbled into a few murderers too, and we’ve been lucky not to get killed ourselves before the law arrived. Anyhow, this time, we’re all trying to cooperate and play nice, since Cindy and her partner Natali have the resources, Barbara and I know the runners, and Jimmy is a computer wiz who’s probably better than the NYPD computer techs, good as Cindy says they are. Besides, sometimes you have to color outside the lines to find the information you need on the Internet. The NYPD can’t do that. Need I say more?
The key question in any murder that’s a mystery is “Who done it?” But in this case, we all agree, it’s more baffling than usual. Because who would kill an old man everybody loved?
Bruce Kohler appears in Elizabeth Zelvin’s short story, “Death Will Improve Your Marathon,” in Where Crime Never Sleeps: Murder New York Style 4, an anthology of crime and mystery short stories by members of the New York/Tri-State Chapter of Sisters in Crime.
What is the essence of the New York experience? A stroll across the Brooklyn Bridge? A concert at Carnegie Hall? Crossing the finish line at the New York Marathon? A trip to the Bronx Zoo? Or any one of these—plus murder? These seventeen stories by members of the New York/Tri-State Chapter of Sisters in Crime, with a foreword by Margaret Maron, explore the mystery and mayhem that lurk in every corner of the most unpredictable, irrepressible, inimitable city on the planet.
Where Crime Never Sleeps includes stories by Rona Bell – Fran Bannigan Cox – Lindsay A. Curcio – Joseph R. G. DeMarco – Ronnie Sue Ebenstein – Catherine Maiorisi – Nina Mansfield – Mary Moreno – Anita Page – Ellen Quint – Roslyn Siegel – Kathleen Snow – Triss Stein – Cathi Stoler – Mimi Weisbond – Stephanie Wilson-Flaherty – Elizabeth Zelvin
“A dream of an anthology for readers who appreciate a classic mystery unfolding in a perfectly characterized setting. A terrific collection of short stories!” —Alafair Burke, New York Times bestselling author of The Ex
“A collection of stories as diverse, original and exciting as New York itself. I really loved this book.” —Alison Gaylin, USA Today bestselling author
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About the author
Elizabeth Zelvin, editor of Where Crime Never Sleeps, is the author of the Bruce Kohler Mysteries, a New York series that includes five novels, beginning with Death Will Get You Sober, and seven short stories. She is also the author of the Mendoza Family Saga, historical fiction about a Jewish brother and sister who sail with Columbus and find refuge in the Ottoman Empire. Her short stories have been nominated twice for the Derringer and three times for the Agatha Award.
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