Whether it's a homicide or an armed robbery, they always ask him the same thing.

"Where are you from?" he parrots in his West Indian accent.

Rene Charles, a crime scene investigator for the Charleston Police Department, has been hearing that question for 13 years.

Born in Gonaives, Haiti, 41 years ago, Charles was the youngest of his family. His mother relocated the family to Montreal, Canada when he was a child; it was a jarring transition.

"We don't have no snow in the West Indies," Charles says.

He spent many of his formative years in Montreal, cultivating an interest in the country that provokes a visit every three or four years.

Charles stayed in Canada until he was 28. He had been working as a security guard in a downtown Montreal hotel when former Charleston Police Chief Reuben Greenberg, who was in town for a visit, was impressed with his work ethic.

"It was my opportunity to achieve my goals," Charles says. It was also an opportunity to shave an hour off his snow-shoveling routine.

In 1997, he found his way to Charleston. Charles already had been entertaining the idea of joining law enforcement.

At the time, however, he did not realize that he would end up a crime scene investigator, let alone what he would face on his first week of duty.

One of Charles's early cases was a motorcycle fatality. A drunken rider had been speeding along the interstate when he hit a guardrail. The rider was thrown from his bike and was mangled by the rail. Charles had to track down and photograph the rider's body in order to determine exactly what happened.

He says it is one of the more bizarre cases he has come across and one that has stuck with him to this day.

"Every day I come to work, I don't know what to expect," he says.

Throughout it all, he tries to remain level-headed, keeping his emotions at a distance while dealing with the gruesome side of crime in the Holy City.

"It's not like you have no heart, no feeling," he says. "You've got a job to do."

Charles recently received a small measure of fame after being featured in a book published by Scholastic that is being sent to schools across the country.

He doesn't escape being reminded of what he does. Whenever he runs into inquisitive children asking about the life of a CSI, they always want to know what it is like to deal with dead bodies.

To him, the question has become part of the routine.

He says his job is part public relations, and that he has to be a reassuring face when dealing with crimes like robberies, where he is often face-to-face with victims of the incidents he is investigating.

Few incidents are particularly special, though.

"You have to treat the scene like it could be anybody," he says.

No matter who it is, he enjoys the knowledge that what he does helps people in the end. It's the reason he logs hundreds of photographs, dusts for fingerprints, files reports and testifies in court.

"I get to work with people," he says. "I get to help people."