If there are some people you don’t see anymore, it’s usually by choice. When he called, I didn’t recognize the voice and he refused to give his name. He said he had some work for me, paid well. I said meet me at the café across from the Rex, the movie theater. I got there early, to be sure I saw him coming. The sun glared down, too hot for September. Call me a typical Parisian. We complain when it’s not nice out, and the minute it is, we start saying it’s too hot, our city isn’t made for this.
When I see him, I instantly regret accepting the meeting. My only hope is he’s not the asshole who called and he’ll just walk by. No such luck. He sits himself down across from me and checks out my hairline. I started losing my hair in prison; these days I comb what’s left over my forehead and hope against hope. Soon it won’t make a difference. I’ll end up like my dad in a year or two, bald at thirty-five. One last slap in the face, to prove once and for all I’m actually part of the family.
He grins like he knows all that. “Idir! You haven’t changed a bit!”
I shift in my chair, preparing to bolt. He looks just like he used to: same face—the face of an entitled teenager who refuses to grow up—scraggly mustache, blue eyes, and dirty blond hair brushed back. How many times had I seen him strut that long, skinny frame of his around on TV, talking about the news like an appliance salesman gushing over the latest bagless vacuum? Oscar Crumley.
I’ve known him for ten years, give or take. His mother’s French, a former model. British father, a Francophile, came over after a brilliant career and found himself head of a media conglomerate. Naturally, Oscar is a consummate asshole. The kind of guy who—not dumb, exactly—can give indignant political rants while blasted on champagne, nostrils rimmed with powder, at a party in some palatial apartment overlooking the Jardin du Luxembourg. Back in the day, he lived like a Saudi prince—every night fucking girls I could barely dream of asking for a light. If there are guys you want to headbutt each time they open their mouths, then Oscar’s one of them, no doubt about it.
These days his dad’s wearing adult diapers in a five-star clinic, waiting to quietly die, while Oscar’s graduated from TV personality to corporate boss. The guy I used to be jealous of is now “the biggest media mogul in France.” Son of a bitch, I ate prison food for six months because of him.
“Got a nose job, I see.” I can’t help but point this out. He hadn’t really had a choice. I’d pretty much beaten his face in.
He grins back, no apparent grudges. “Well, you broke it in three places.”
“I was a rookie then. My hands were overenthusiastic.” Back in the day, going to college for me was like parachuting into hostile country, a descent at once swift and secret. Unlike the other kids in my class, I needed cash. Sure, my dad fed me and kept a roof over my head. But I wanted money, money to burn. Because a bottle in a club on the Champs-Élysées was no malt liquor from your corner bodega. Because fucking cost money, cost champagne, cost meals, cost weekends in Italy.
I was a lazy ass, still am. So I started doing people favors they were too embarrassed to handle. The favors became more complicated, more sensitive. Without trying, I’d become your basic xer. And then a friend came along asking me to cave Crumley’s face in. Why not? At the time, I thought I’d done a thorough job. My friend was satis ed. Then Crumley had the nerve to track me down and identify me, which got me arrested for the rst and only time. His decision to press charges put me in prison for half a year. Pathetic as sentences go, but enough to fuck a depressive like me over good.
The waiter shows up. Oscar orders a coffee, asks if I want anything.
“No thanks.” Less than thrilled, the waiter pulls an about-face.
“Let’s get this over with. Who gave you my number?”
“Morel. He spoke highly of your improved skill set.”
I scowl and look around for more pleasant things to stare at than Oscar Crumley. Ten years ago, I didn’t have much of a choice when I got out. My father told me to come home until I could get back on my feet, get a job, rebuild my life. But I couldn’t do that. Not after prison. So I made the most of my network and my early reputation, which my jail time had only solidified since I never snitched on my client. The rich have a habit of solving their problems in a very civilized way. Of course, in a pinch, they might call on some actual hoodlums. Their business. But usually the rich are afraid of guys like that blackmailing them once the job’s done, having too big a mouth or too heavy a hand. If Morel had paid some bangers from the projects to take care of the little shit harassing his daughter at school, they might’ve beaten the kid to death, which would’ve led to a whole ton of bullshit. Me, with a jerk like that, I pay him a visit in the foyer of his parents’ Haussmann town house, slap him around a bit, make him sweat. Problem solved.
I give the rich an easy answer to their problems. I speak their language, understand their needs, and guarantee things won’t go too far. I also have boundaries: I’ve turned down several murder contracts. My job is very simple. I follow women, sometimes mistresses, for jealous men. I watch over kids for worried parents. If it comes to it, I threaten people sometimes, but that’s it. I’m not a gangster and I never will be. It’s all a matter of scale. On the streets, I’m a huge pussy, but for these people, I’m the big bad fucking wolf. I own my little niche market and, so far, I’ve had no competitors; no one’s come up with the shitty idea of trying to horn in on my territory for a measly few thousand euros a year.
“What do you want?” I finally ask. “As I said before, I have a job for you.” “You really think I’d take it?”
“Look, we were young.” He uncrosses his arms in a conciliatory gesture. “My father pressured me to press charges—”
I wave away his excuses. Please stop. Stop before I burst into tears. I want to tell him to piss off, go fuck himself. I want to absolutely destroy him again, just for kicks, because I feel like it and I still can. But I hold back. I don’t have the balls, and I need money, as usual.
“Two hundred euros a day, plus expenses.” I aim high, pick a number at random.
“Sure,” he responds right away. Dumbass me—money just got left on the table. I tap my foot impatiently. “OK, I’m listening.” He reaches for his messenger bag and pulls out an accordion folder, the kind with the rubber band that snaps around.
“I’d like you to find my brother—my half brother, I mean. His name is Thibaut. I haven’t heard from him for two months. No one knows where he is. It’s all in here.”
He slides the folder over. “Your dad’s son?”
“Yes. When my mom died, he remarried.” For a second his face tightens, like he’s trying to swallow a horse pill without water. You’d think he wasn’t really into that part of his past. Like he’s watching his stepmother, just a few years older than he is, playfully ruffles his dad’s hair over breakfast right now.
“Does he know? That your brother disappeared I mean.”
“My father is quite ill. The slightest shock could send him over the edge. My stepmother is the one who came to see me. I told her I’d take care of everything.”
“Tell the police?”
“He’s an adult, twenty-two. They say he’ll turn up on his own.”
Times have changed indeed, I think. Back in the day, the Crumley family could make anyone rethink their opinion. Even a judge. “School?”
“Same as us.”
“So he’ll go into business, like his big brother?”
Crumley smiles. “I’m a broadcaster.”
“Can I see his mother?”
“No, I’d rather you didn’t. It wouldn’t do any good—it would just complicate things.”
I nod, used to stipulations like this. “The customer is always right.”
For a second, his left eyelid gives a nervous twitch. He pulls his wallet from his jacket, opens it, and removes four five-hundred-euro bills, fanning them out on the table. “Call me in ten days.”
“Got any bigger bills while you’re at it? Shit, man, I don’t live in Auteuil, you know. How am I supposed to buy anything with these in my neighborhood? They’re gonna think it’s funny money.”
He pulls a face, implying I’m as big an ass as I ever was, and leaves me alone at the table.
The son of an Algerian immigrant, Idir is a disappointment to his doctor father. Torn between his wealthy school friends and his neighborhood pals, who range from petty thieves to professional criminals, Idir operates easily between worlds, and yet is at home nowhere. Without much effort, Idir becomes one of the Parisian upper crust’s most sought-out private dicks, thanks to his understanding of the needs of his privileged clients. The only thing standing in his way is Idir’s unfortunate habit of crying uncontrollably.
Things change when Oscar Crumley, a wealthy media scion that Idir knew at university, reappears in Idir’s life, hiring him to find his missing younger half-brother, Thibaut. Idir assumes it is an open and shut case. But when Idir discovers that Thibaut was hiding his homosexuality from his conservative family, his disappearance takes on sinister connotations.
Distracted by his intense affair with the wife of a wealthy friend, Idir ultimately becomes embroiled in a war of lies and corruption between two of France’s most powerful media conglomerates. Inspired by Chandler and the American greats, Guez uses the familiar tropes of noir to create an entirely new language.
Eyes Full of Empty
Jérémie Guez, Edward Gauvin (Trans.)
2015, Unnamed Press