Death Will Trim Your Tree

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by Elizabeth Zelvin

  “Did you get any clues at the Christmas marathon?” Barbara asked.

  “No,” I said, “but I was kind of distracted.”

  “Of course you were,” she said. “You were dealing with the holiday and having found Tim dead only a couple of days before, and it was the first anniversary of your Christmas hitting bottom in detox on the Bowery.”

  Barbara never leaves anything to the imagination. But I could see the love in her eyes, so I responded with a token snort and left it at that.

  “It has to be someone with anywhere between ninety days and one year sobriety,” Jimmy said. “More than that, and I don’t think they’d have gotten entangled with him either financially or emotionally.”

  “Suzanne did,” Barbara said. “But she’s a total codependent. Can I come with you guys to the AA marathon? I do have boundaries, but it is New Year’s Eve, and I hate to get left out.”


  The meeting was packed. The holiday season was tough on the clean and sober. There was an AA joke about the “threefold disease” being Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s. But everyone in this room tonight had made it through without picking up. As people shared, the word “gratitude” came up a lot. It didn’t even embarrass me much any more.

  Since the meetings would run all night, even people who usually didn’t raise their hands got a chance to share. We heard from guys with forty years’ sobriety and newbies who had crawled in after celebrating Christmas with a binge and blackout, like me last year. In the back, people milled around chugging coffee and scarfing down Christmas cookies. I grabbed a styrofoam cup of java and leaned against the wall alongside the rows of folding chairs, where I could see as many faces as possible.

  “Tomorrow,” one guy said, “the civilians will all be making New Year’s resolutions—and breaking them within a week or two.”

  Everybody laughed.

  “I don’t make resolutions any more,” he said. “I live one day at a time, and it works for me.”

  A pillar blocked my view of the woman who spoke next. I was wondering if one more cup of coffee would make me hyper, so I didn’t hear her name. But I tuned back in when she said, “I made my ninety days right after Thanksgiving.” I started to work my way around to where I could see her as she went on about how things happen the way they’re meant to happen. “Sometimes life doesn’t come out the way you expect,” she said, “but maybe it’s for the best.”

  I saw the white-on-black hair before I saw her face. It was Cruella. For the best, huh? For her, maybe, but not for Tim. She must have been the other girlfriend. She’d met him behind the store before she came around the front to use me as her alibi. Once I told the cops, they’d find someone who’d seen her. They might even find the murder weapon. They sell a lot of stuff at Zabar’s. But not blunt instruments.

  About the Author

  Elizabeth Zelvin started writing the Bruce Kohler mysteries after developing and directing a treatment program for homeless alcoholics on the Bowery, New York's legendary Skid Row—a place that no longer exists. Liz is also author of two historical novels, Voyage of Strangers and Journey of Strangers. Her short stories have appeared in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, and a number of anthologies and e-zines. Her stories have been nominated three times for the Agatha Award and once for the Derringer Award. Another story was listed among 50 top stories in Best American Mystery Stories 2014. Liz is a psychotherapist who lives in New York and works online with clients all over the world. Her publications include a book on gender and addictions, two poetry books, and, as Liz Zelvin, an album of original songs, Outrageous Older Woman.

  To learn more about Liz, visit her website at

  You can friend Liz on Facebook at

  You can find all of Liz's fiction at

  The Bruce Kohler Mysteries


  (in order of publication)

  Death Will Get You Sober

  Death Will Help You Leave Him

  Death Will Extend Your Vacation

  Death Will Save Your Life (novella)

  Death Will Pay Your Debts

  [Note: e-book editions of the above works appeared briefly in 2015 under the alternate titles of Dead Sober, Dead Wrong, Dead in the Hamptons, Dead Guru, and Dead Broke.]

  Short Stories

  (in order of publication)

  “Death Will Clean Your Closet”

  “Death Will Tie Your Kangaroo Down”

  “Death Will Trim Your Tree”

  “Death Will Tank Your Fish”

  “Death Will Fire Your Therapist”

  Readers have occasionally asked about anomalies in the chronological order of the books and the progress of Bruce's sobriety. This was not due to any desire on my part to frustrate or mystify the reader but rather the uncertainties of publishing. For example, Death Will Save Your Life was originally a novel, Death Will Improve Your Relationship, that I intended to be the second in the series. My editor at St. Martin's rejected it. A few years later, I cut 50,000 words and turned it into an e-novella for booksBnimble. They changed the title because they said my original title was too long to fit on a thumbnail cover jpeg. For this new edition, when I could do whatever I wanted, I had to admit they were right about that.

  For readers who absolutely have to read the extended story that we call a mystery series in the order in which it happens and don't mind shifting back and forth between novels and short stories, here's my best estimate of the chronology of Bruce's journey toward recovery. The timeline is less crucial in the short stories, so you could take a short cut: read Death Will Save Your Life right after Death Will Get You Sober, and save the short stories till after you've read all the novels.

  Death Will Get You Sober

  “Death Will Clean Your Closet”

  Death Will Save Your Life

  “Death Will Tie Your Kangaroo Down”

  Death Will Help You Leave Him

  “Death Will Trim Your Tree”

  Death Will Extend Your Vacation

  “Death Will Tank Your Fish”

  “Death Will Fire Your Therapist”

  Death Will Pay Your Debts

  Other Works by Elizabeth Zelvin

  Historical Fiction

  Voyage of Strangers

  Journey of Strangers

  “The Green Cross”


  Kingdom of Strangers (forthcoming)

  Urban Fantasy/Mystery

  Shifting Is for the Goyim (novella)

  “A Shifting Plan”

  “Stalker” (forthcoming)

  Crime Fiction

  Breaches & Betrayals: Collected Stories

  “The Man in the Dick Tracy Hat”

  “Girl Feeding Birds”

  “The Saxon Hoard”

  “The Silkie”


  “Dress to Die”

  “The Emperor's Hoard”

  “A Breach of Trust”

  “Death Will Trim Your Tree”


  Copyright © 2009 Elizabeth Zelvin

  All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission from the author, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews.

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

  “Death Will Trim Your Tree” was first published in 2009 by Wolfmont Press in the anthology The Gift of Murder.

  This e-book is part of a special 2016 edition of the entire Bruce Kohler mystery series, newly edited by the author for Outsider Books.

  Cover and book design by Elizabeth Zelvin





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