Guy Langman, Crime Scene Procrastinator

BOOK: Guy Langman, Crime Scene Procrastinator
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Also by Josh Berk:

The Dark Days of Hamburger Halpin

THIS IS A BORZOI BOOK PUBLISHED BY ALFRED A. KNOPF

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

Text copyright © 2012 by Josh Berk
Jacket art copyright © 2012 by Shutterstock

All rights reserved. Published in the United States by Alfred A. Knopf, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, a division of Random House, Inc., New York.

Knopf, Borzoi Books, and the colophon are registered trademarks of Random House, Inc.

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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Berk, Josh.
Guy Langman, crime scene procrastinator / Josh Berk. — 1st ed.
p. cm.
“A Borzoi book.”
Summary: Sixteen-year-old Guy Langman, his best friend Anoop, and other members of the school Forensics Club investigate a break-in and a possible murder, which could be connected to the mysterious past of Guy’s recently deceased father.
eISBN: 978-0-375-89775-7
[1. Forensic sciences—Fiction. 2. Clubs—Fiction. 3. Fathers and sons—Fiction. 4. Death—Fiction. 5. Grief—Fiction. 6. New Jersey—Fiction. 7. Humorous stories. 8. Mystery and detective stories.] I. Title.
PZ7.B452295Guy 2012
[Fic]—dc23
2011023864

Random House Children’s Books supports the First Amendment and celebrates the right to read.

v3.1

This book is dedicated to L. K. Madigan.

Contents
PROLOGUE

It’s no coincidence that I got interested in forensics right around the time they put my dad in the ground. It was a beautiful day. Say what you will about the Jerz, but sometimes New Jersey can be absolute perfection. Mid-May, near the end of sophomore year. The birds were chirping a melodic song and the breeze was tiptoeing through the air—just enough force to kiss your face but far too polite to disrupt even a single hair on your head. According to the sign outside the First Bank of Berry Ridge on the way to the cemetery, the temperature was a lucky seventy-seven degrees. Those two lucky sevens stood crookedly, shining on in perfect symmetry. Seventy-seven degrees
is
perfection. The deep blue of the sky was perfect, and the wispy clouds looked like they sprang from a painter’s brush. Everything was perfect. Yes, it would have been an absolutely ideal New Jersey spring day. If I hadn’t been spending it at my father’s funeral.

I had a bunch of tissues. Before we left the house, I jammed my suit pockets with them until my pockets were bulging cartoonishly, like I was a shoplifter swiping throw pillows. The last time I bought a suit was for my bar mitzvah, so it hardly fit. I looked ridiculous. I knew that. I had two whole boxes of tissues in there. I feared I’d need them all. I was wrong. I needed more. They only lasted a few minutes. All the tissues were sopping wet almost immediately, reduced to pointless mush. I ended up catching my
tears in my hands like a child collecting raindrops. Then I let them spill onto the grass. I knew there would be more. And more. And more.

It was my first funeral, but I knew what to expect. Somehow you just know. There were speeches that didn’t mean much of anything. Pointless words of condolence. There was potato salad. Someone brought soup. There was that meaningless but gentle lie that “he’s in a better place now.” It’s obviously stupid, because if it were true, if we went somewhere fantastic after we died, we would all try to hurry up and end our lives. But we do just the opposite. We fight like hell to stay alive. Dad fought. Tough old bastard. He lived longer than anyone thought he would. I plan to do the same. I had fun for a brief moment at that funeral, imagining myself and my friends as old men. What might we become? I pictured the foliage of my curly black hair gone, reduced to a gray ring like a line of shrubs around a suburban yard. I pictured Anoop walking with an old-man cane, wearing a toupee. I smiled. For just a second.

The service was distinctly nonreligious. The reading (which I gave, in a shaking voice) was not from any holy text, but from Walt Whitman, Dad’s favorite:

What do you think has become of the young and old men?

And what do you think has become of the women and children?

They are alive and well somewhere;

The smallest sprout shows there is really no death;

And if ever there was, it led forward life, and does not wait at the end to arrest it
,

And ceas’d the moment life appear’d
.

Side note: Does replacing an “e” with an apostrophe automatically make something sound more poetic?
I lunch’d on school burritos; I fart’d for days
. Yup, sure is poetry … And sorry about that aside. Dr. Waters says I use humor as a way to hide my feelings. And since
I
don’t have a psychology degree from Slippery Rock University, maybe we have to conclude that she is correct. Side note to the side note: Graduates of Slippery Rock University do
not
particularly enjoy it when you point at the diploma on their office wall and say, “That’s not a real college, is it?” It totally is a real college.

The funeral went just like you’d imagine. There was the crawl of funeral-flag-bearing cars, winding like ants through the streets of Berry Ridge, NJ, to Dad’s final resting place. I expected family to show up and I expected his old business partners to show up. I expected that his old shipmates would show up. I expected that, thanks to his long and colorful life, it would be a large and strange crowd. I expected that there would be some people I had never met.

But I didn’t expect
quite
so many strangers. I thought a son would know most of the people at his father’s funeral. I knew very few. Many I’d never seen before in my life. Like one guy—a tall, stooped stranger with a pale face and a dark blue flower in his black suit pocket. He looked like a number seven, bent severely at the waist like he was looking for something on the ground.

“Who
is
that?” I asked my mom through the tears. We were
outside now. The weather was lovely, people kept saying. Lovely. But outside was the worst part of the whole thing. The burial. My arms ached from carrying the casket. Pallbearer duties are normal for a son, I suppose, but you shouldn’t have to do them in high school. I never thought I’d have to do them at all. Denial, I guess. Refusal to think about the future. Another way of hiding my feelings. Up yours, Dr. Waters.

The grass of the cemetery was the brightest green you’ve ever seen. It made me think of Whitman.
The smallest sprout shows there is really no death
. Death really is good for life.

“I have no idea who half these people are,” Mom said. “I was going to ask you if you knew that fella.” She pointed to another elder statesman. A guy who had to be Dad’s age—something like seventy, anyway—with shocking white eyebrows. He raised them in our direction, that friendly funeral salute—lips pursed, head down, eyes solemn. Eyebrows. I expected Mr. Eyebrows to come over and talk to us, but he did not.

“And who is that?” I asked. This guy was younger—maybe Mom’s age. I have a young mom. I’m the guy whose friends all like to tease him about how hot his mom is. Nice. But this guy wasn’t good-looking. He was actually just
weird
-looking. He almost looked like he was in disguise. Maybe some people always look like they’re in disguise. Maybe that’s a good way to live. He had dark glasses and a magnificently bushy brown beard. He didn’t even look at us, and he certainly didn’t come say hello. He was anything but friendly. Mom returned the favor.

Others did come say hello, of course. Aunts and cousins, neighbors and friends. Anoop, my best friend from school, was there, as were his parents. Mr. and Mrs. Chattopadhyay greeted
Mom and me in that same sad way. Mr. Chattopadhyay’s toupee was hilariously crooked, but no one said anything. Mom smiled a cheerless smile under her large dark hat. Her eyes were filling with tears again, so she extracted large-framed sunglasses from her purse and put them on. Like a body being lowered into the earth, her grief became hidden. Forever.

CHAPTER ONE
January. Eight Months Later
.
Forensics Squad, Day One

“Welcome to Forensics Squad!” The handwriting on the board is so chipper that it makes me snort. Who is that happy about forensics? Mr. Zant, apparently.

It is 2:45, fifteen minutes after the last bell. School is over, but Mr. Z’s classroom is packed to the gills. That’s a joke. Get it? Because Mr. Z’s favorite subject is marine biology? But wait, I didn’t already explain that, so there’s no way you could have gotten the joke. Even then, it is quite possibly not funny. Never mind.

“Wow,” Mr. Zant is saying, circling the room, handing out a form we all sign but don’t read. He’s very young, and he almost looks like a kid. “It is really cool to see so many of you,” he says.

He
has
to mean that it’s really cool to see so many good-looking girls show up for his club meeting. The hot girls are the main reason I joined up. Okay, I like the forensics shows on TV. And yeah, maybe I have sort of been one of those death-obsessed teenagers you hear about sometimes. Wearing a turtleneck, hanging out in cafés, reading books by Camus, stuff like that. (Not really. I hate turtlenecks.) But really, since Dad died last spring, I guess the idea
of learning about how people die appeals to me. The difference between breathing and not breathing seems so thin …

BOOK: Guy Langman, Crime Scene Procrastinator
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