Forensics is the use of science to investigate criminal activity and analyze evidence as it relates to the law. In short, a forensic investigation can help determine if a person died as a result of criminal harm, while also applying scientiﬁc methods to help identify possible perpetrators of the crime. See Forensics 411 episode 1, “The Basics.”
Talk about crime scenes!
I hated the bus.
The noises, the smells, the over-crowded conditions—it had all the disadvantages of a school hallway without the beneﬁt of climate control.
The only tolerable thing about the bus was that ﬁfty percent of the time it took me away from school. The best place to be in relation to Vista Point Middle School was away. Learning, I loved, but school was a daily dose of mandatory anguish.
I put in my earbuds, mostly for protection, then cued my bus playlist. Swaddled in my music cocoon, I scrolled through messages on my Forensics 411 social media feeds. My subscribers were faithful, if not large in number. They loved my riveting forensic videos, crime blog, and quick response time. If my new interactive features went well, I’d have a thousand followers by the end of summer and be one step closer to getting a corporate sponsor. Investigation Innovations or Corpse Corps were my dream sponsors, but I’d settle for a second-rate fabric softener. You’ve got to start somewhere.
I scrolled through comments from familiar names to a message from someone named GirlofSteel. A new follower? I smiled and read her message: I think someone was murdered in my house. Can u help?
My heart sped up. A real murder to investigate? I stared out the bus window and pictured myself, Henry “Boomer” Boyd, more widely known as the detective from Forensics 411, at a crime scene in full protective gear, bent over a dead body, combing the site for trace evidence. A photographer behind me snapping pictures of the body while a minion put up yellow crime scene tape.
I glanced around at the other inmates locked behind the yellow doors of doom. Dillon Buckley (screen name TheBuckster) perched in his assigned seat in the ﬁrst row facing backward. It was a clear violation of system-wide transportation rules, but the bus driver ignored him. I wished I could.
Dillon ﬂashed an insufferable smirk in my direction.
I typed: Really? to GirlofSteel and watched Dillon. A second later he pulled his phone from his pocket and swiped the screen.
I growled to myself then answered “GirlofSteel.” If this is a true medical emergency, please hang up and dial 911, then hit “send.”
Of course, a real murder was too good to be true. I never caught a break like that.
Dillon Buckley loved to mess with me. It was like a sport for him. Knowing Dillon’s older brother and cousin, I’d long suspected a genetic predisposition to bullying in the Buckley family. Crazy as it sounds, it’s a thing. I plan to make a Forensics 411 episode about it someday—when the subject doesn’t hit so close to home.
Dillon was everything an adversary should be. His accomplished dishonesty, intellectual inferiority, and infuriating athleticism were equally offensive. Throw in his ability to deliver an impeccable atomic wedgie and his obnoxious arrogance, and the jack-wagon was absolutely revolting. Probably tortured puppies!
Over the years, my therapist, Dr. Blanchard, has said to ignore Dillon. For a hundred and sixty bucks an hour, I think Dr. B could come up with something more innovative than that. My mom (and the school counselor) gave me the same advice, no charge.
FYI—it didn’t work. Like a mosquito bite on your ﬁnger, you couldn’t ignore Dillon. He wouldn’t allow it.
And by the curse of the alphabet, I couldn’t escape him. He was never more than two seats away.
Since my extreme reaction to a ﬁre drill in kindergarten, I’ve been his target. An ill-timed boomerang toss in ﬁrst grade turned his occasional harassments into regular attacks planned with precision and malice.
Once Dillon took aim at me, chronic unpopularity set in. The other kids went along with him; the alternative was that he’d turn on them. It’s classic social Darwinism. The human instinct to survive trumps kindness, empathy or even decency.
For Dillon, I was low-hanging fruit—the limping caribou at the back of the pack.
Dr. Blanchard said I was the “smart brown kid” that Dillon, for some reason, considered a threat. I liked his spin much better than being a lame caribou or a sagging apple.
In sixth grade, it became necessary for me to do independent study at home. Without a teacher having to spend so much time telling kids like Dillon to shut up and behave, learning went remarkably fast. In my spare time, I found solace in crime.
I didn’t commit it, I studied it—and its victims.
I was the only kid who knew the signs of thallium poisoning, the intricacies of ballistics testing, and the shortcomings of luminol. After several months of round-the-clock reading and research, I went public with a forensic web show and blog known as Forensics 411. In no time, I was the twenty-third most popular crime and forensic blogger on the web.
The bus ground to a stop. As I forced my way through the shoulders and backpacks, I passed TheBuckster. He let one rip, waved his hand in front of his face and said, “Nasty Forensic Freak! Time to change your not-so-tidy-whities!” Well-played Buckley! You conjure a fart, then question my mother’s laundering skills. Brilliant. I totally get why you’re so popular!
My bus driver muttered, “Have a good one,” and shut the doors, spewing a cloud of diesel fumes in my face as she drove away.
I reached in my pocket and squeezed the remnants of the stress ball Dr. Blanchard prescribed for Dillon dealings or other emotionally taxing times. Squishing the foam was supposed to be a sensory reminder not to engage with him. I liked to picture the foam as his head smashed between my two omnipotent ﬁngertips.
I inhaled the salt breeze blowing off the waterway and let it wash over me for three sacred seconds of peace. Then, I headed home.
The school year was over. I survived eighth grade and had a 77-day hiatus from the government-sanctioned, tax-payer supported dystopia known as middle school. High school lurked at the end of summer as a fortress to conquer, or a stomach virus to endure. My greatest hope for high school was to become the guy in the corner that nobody noticed. Online, I would build on my success.
Until late August there would be no bus, no school, and none of what came with it. I’d enjoy life, perfect some new boomerang tricks, and ramp up production of new Forensics 411 episodes. My fans were waiting.
While I walked up the street, I scrolled through more messages. “Yes! Thirty-seven views since lunch.” Three of them were from new followers. My latest episode, “The ABCs of Poisoning,” was going viral!
SNIPER93 said: Loved the quiz at the end where I got to test my diagnostic skills.
That was my 8th grade Science teacher, a dedicated fan of my web show who also supported arming teachers with assault riﬂes as a way to end school violence. I couldn’t say I agree with him on the topic, but I liked his moxie.
AutopsyAl asked: What’s the difference between arsenic poisoning and food poisoning?
I closed my eyes and shook my head. AutopsyAl, the poor guy, came up with some ridiculous questions. He didn’t limit them to my forensic videos. Once he asked me how to tell the difference between a vampire bite and a dog bite. Still, he had been following me loyally for years, so I’d answer his poisoning question later when I had time to explain it in terms he could understand.
I scrolled down. GirlofSteel had written back: No, you imbecile! The murder happened ages ago.
Dillon the Villain didn’t know words like “imbecile,” or where to accurately place a comma. Was GirlofSteel for real?
I messaged back: Need name of victim, date, and location. Anything you know. “Please, please, please be a real person, with a real crime to investigate,” I whispered as I hit “send.”
WHEN I GOT HOME, I took the steps two at a time, stuck my head in the back door and called out to Grandpa. “I’m home, but I’m going down to the vacant lot to throw my boomerang for a while.”
Chaucer, my hundred-pound bloodhound, wagged himself to the door. I gave him a quick ear rub. “Hey buddy, I’ll be back soon. Keep an eye on Grandpa.”
He whined, letting me know he wanted to go along. “Sorry boy. I’ll take you next time.” He raised his head, howled, then tried to stare me into submission with his droopy brown eyes.
“I’ll tell you what—we’ll compromise.”
I ran into my bedroom, grabbed a dirty sock, and held it to his nose.
“Take a big whiff.”
I pulled it away. “Now stay here, and no peeking.” Sometimes he peeked.
In the backyard, I hid the sock, then turned Chaucer loose. “Find the sock!”
He dashed out the back door while I grabbed my boomerang and let the screen door slam behind me.
I pedaled my bike down Bending Oak Drive in the shade of the ancient oaks, glad that summer was ﬁnally here. No more school meant there would be no reason for Mom to deliver one of her lectures. Her favorites were: “Don’t Argue with Adults, Even When They’re Wrong” and “Just Try a Little Harder to Fit In.”
Mom didn’t get it. I was a black jelly bean, everyone’s least favorite ﬂavor. She gave me pep talks all the time, as if I could miraculously turn into a red jelly bean simply by identifying as one. It didn’t work that way. I was a prisoner of my own black licorice life.
Still, when Mom lectured me about trying harder to make friends, I told her I would. I’d been lying about that for years. It’s nearly impossible to say “no” to your single mom when she offers to buy you an obscenely overpriced shirt from the mall so you’d “ﬁt in.”
My peer assimilation problems went deeper than clothes. Even trickier is how to explain that I’m not interested in ﬁtting in, or mall clothes, but I’d be willing to go to a freakin’ school dance if she’d buy me a ground-penetrating radar detector. That’s a hard sell.
As I cruised down the hill, purposely hitting the lumps and cracks in the pavement, I spotted a moving truck at the old Johnson place, across the street from the vacant lot.
The Johnsons died in a car accident when I was little. Their house was empty for years. Time, neglect, and hurricanes had almost destroyed it. Most of the windows were broken, and the roof had more holes than shingles. Rumors about why it had been empty so long included everything from toxic levels of radon to its history as a group home for criminally-insane kids. Mom said none of that was true, and that it never sold because it had orange countertops, green shag carpet, and a rodent problem.
I didn’t follow the real estate market like I used to, but I knew someone had bought the house when I was in seventh grade, torn it down to the foundation, and started over. The new house looked like something out of a fancy architecture magazine.
I leaned my bike against the massive oak in the vacant lot and wished that a kid my age with a love of forensic science and boomerangs was moving in. If he disliked the humans as much as I did, then ofﬁcially, I’d hit the trifecta.
I didn’t know why I bothered, except that I could picture the smile on Mom’s face if I made an actual friend. For once she’d feel like a good mom, and not the parent of the weird kid that nobody liked.
I limbered up and positioned myself for a trick catch I’d been working on. Just as the boomerang ﬂew from my hands, I heard a little girl squeal.
“Look, Hannah, our bikes are off. Let’s go for a ride!”
I turned toward the voice to see movers pushing three kids’ bikes across the driveway.
“Josey, we can’t. Mom’s only giving us a ten-minute break from the boxes.”
The dark-haired little girl whined and walked back in the garage, but the older one looked in my direction and yelled, “Dude! Look out!” I turned in time to almost prevent my boomerang from nailing me in the gut.
Oomph! I doubled over. She crossed the street. “What was that?” I
tried to hide my humiliation as I picked up my boomerang. “Nothing.”
“A boomerang?” She snickered at my hand-made Baltic birch weapon. “You got attacked by a boomerang! Isn’t that like the ofﬁcial sport of the friendless or something?”
I held it in one hand and grabbed my bike with the other. “Wait, you’re leaving? It was a joke. Get it? You don’t need a friend to play with a boomerang because it comes back to you.”
I wasn’t going to answer. I would let my exit speak for itself. The back of my head and the way I didn’t turn around would tell her exactly what I thought of her so-called joke.
“Where are you going?” she asked.
I showed her my angry back.
“Don’t leave! It was funny.” Then she took an exaggerated sniff of the air and said, “God! What is that smell? It’s like rotting cat!”
I rolled my eyes. It’s sulfur from the salt marsh—the smell of summer, the perfume of freedom, you annoying little…
I didn’t ﬁnish the sentence in my head because Dr. B said I should clean up my mental monologue and have more positive thoughts.
I would get right on that once I had slain Dillon Buckley, ended world hunger, balanced the federal budget, and ﬁnished War and Peace.
I got on my bike. The girl called after me, “But wait. I just…”
“Whatever!” I mumbled as I pedaled off the grass, and onto the road. So much for the trifecta.