When Alain Delambre lost his job four years ago, he lost everything. Now he's breaking all the rules for one last shot at the life he thinks he deserves.
"a pulsating serio-comic thriller" The Sunday Times
"A really excellent suspense novelist." Stephen King
Alain Delambre is a fifty-seven-year-old former HR executive, drained by four years of hopeless unemployment. The only job offers he gets are for low-level, demoralizing positions. He has reached rock bottom and can see no way out.
So when a major company finally invites him in for an interview, Alain is ready to do anything--borrow money, shame his wife and his daughters, and even participate in the ultimate recruitment test: a role-playing game that involves taking hostages.
Alain vows to commit body and soul in this struggle to regain his dignity. But if he had realized that the odds were stacked against him from the beginning, he never would have tried to land the position. Now, his fury is limitless. And what began as a role-playing game could quickly become a bloodbath.
|Product dimensions:||6.62(w) x 9.50(h) x 1.37(d)|
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I've never been a violent man. For as long as I can remember, I have never wanted to kill anyone. The odd flare of the temper, sure, but never any desire to inflict proper pain. To destroy. So, when it did happen, I suppose it took me by surprise. Violence is like drinking or sex — it's a process, not an isolated phenomenon. We barely notice it set in, quite simply because we are ready for it, because it arrives at precisely the right moment. I was perfectly aware that I was angry, but I never expected it to turn to cold fury. That's what scares me.
And to take it out on Mehmet, of all people ...
The guy's a Turk. He's been in France for ten years, but his vocabulary is worse than a ten-year-old's. He only has two settings: either he's shouting his head off, or he's sulking. When he's angry, he lets rip in a mixture of French and Turkish. You can't understand a word, but you never doubt for a second what he means. Mehmet is a supervisor at Pharmaceutical Logistics, my place of work. Following his own version of Darwin's theory, the moment he gets promoted he starts disparaging his former colleagues, treating them like slithering earthworms. I've come across people like him throughout my career, and not just migrant workers. No, it happens with lots of people who start out at the bottom. As soon as they begin climbing the ladder, they align themselves wholeheartedly with their superiors, and even surpass them in terms of sheer determination. The world of work's answer to Stockholm syndrome. The thing is, Mehmet doesn't just think he's a boss. He becomes the boss incarnate. He is the boss as soon as the boss is out the door. Of course, at this company, which must employ two hundred staff, there's not a big boss as such, just managers. But Mehmet is far too important to be a humble manager. No, he subscribes to an altogether loftier, more intangible concept that he calls "Senior Management," a notion devoid of meaning (around here, no one even knows who the senior managers are) yet heavy with innuendo: the Way, the Light, the Senior Management. In his own way, by scaling the ladder of responsibility, Mehmet is moving closer to God.
I start at 5:00 a.m. It's an odd job (when the salary is this low, you have to say it's "odd"). My role involves sorting cardboard boxes of medication that are then sent off to far-flung pharmacies. I wasn't around to see it, but apparently Mehmet did this for eight years before he was made "supervisor." Now he is in the proud position of heading up a team of three office drones, which is not to be sniffed at.
The first drone is named Charles. Funny name for a guy of no fixed abode. He is one year younger than me, thin as a rake and thirsty as a fish. I say "of no fixed abode" to keep things simple, but he does actually have an abode. An extremely fixed one. He lives in his car, which hasn't moved for five years. He calls it his "immobile home." That's typical of Charles's sense of humor. He wears a diving watch the size of a satellite dish, with dials all over the place, and a fluorescent green bracelet. I haven't got a clue where he's from or how he ended up in these dire straits. He's a funny one, Charles. For instance, he has no idea how long he's been on the social housing waiting list, but he does keep a precise tally of the time that has passed since he gave up renewing his application. Five years, seven months and seventeen days at the last count. Charles counts the time that has elapsed since he lost any hope of being rehoused. "Hope," he says, as he raises his index finger, "is a pack of lies invented by the Devil to reconcile men with their lot." That's not one of his, I've heard it before somewhere else. I've searched for the quote but never managed to track it down. Just goes to show that behind his veneer of drunkenness, he is a man of culture.
The second drone is Romain, a young guy from Narbonne. Following a few prominent turns in his school drama club, he dreamed of becoming an actor and, straight after passing his baccalaureate, moved to Paris. But he failed to make even the smallest of splashes, not least because of his Gascon accent. Like a true young D'Artagnan, or Henri IV arriving at court, his provincial drawl — all r's and ang's — prompted sniggers among the drama school elite with all its urbane courtiers. It amuses us all no end, too. He had elocution lessons for it, but to no avail. He took on a series of part-time jobs, which kept a roof over his head while he attended castings for roles he never had a hope in hell of landing. One day, he understood that his fantasy would never come true. Red-carpet Romain was done. What was more, Narbonne had been the biggest city he had known. It didn't take long for Paris to flatten him, to crush him to dust. He grew homesick, yearning for the familiar surroundings of his childhood. Problem was that he couldn't face going back empty handed. Now he works hard to pay his way, and the only role he aspires to is that of the prodigal son. With this aim in mind, he does any piecemeal job he can find. An ant's vocation. He spends the rest of his time on Second Life, Twitter, Facebook, and a whole load of other networks — places where no one can hear his accent, I suppose. According to Charles, he's a tech wizard.
The third drone is me. I work for three hours every morning, which brings in 585 euros gross (whenever you talk of a part-time salary, you have to add the word "gross," because of the tax). I get home around 9:00 a.m. If Nicole is out the door a bit late, we might run into each other. Whenever that happens, she says, "I'm late," before giving me a peck on the nose and closing the door behind her.
This morning, Mehmet was seething. Like a pressure cooker. I suppose his wife had been giving him grief, or something. He was pacing angrily up and down the aisle where all the crates and cardboard boxes are stacked, clutching his clipboard so tightly his knuckles had turned white. He gives the impression of being burdened with major responsibilities, exacerbated by personal strife. I was right on time, but the moment he set eyes on me he yelled out a stream of his gibberish. Being on time, apparently, is not sufficient to prove your motivation. He arrives an hour early at least. His tirade was fairly unintelligible, but I got the gist, namely that he thinks I'm a lazy asshole.
Although Mehmet makes such a song and dance about it, the job itself is not very complicated. We sort packages, we put them in cardboard boxes, we lay them on a palette. Normally, the pharmacy codes are written on the packages in large type, but sometimes — don't ask me why — the number is missing. Romain figures the settings on one of the printers must be wrong. If this does happen, the correct code can be found among a long series of tiny characters on a printed label. The numbers you want are the eleventh, twelfth, and thirteenth. It's a real hassle for me because I need my glasses for this. I have to fish them out of my pocket, put them on, lower my head, count the characters ... A loss of precious time. And if Senior Management were to catch me doing this, it would annoy them greatly. Typical, then, that the first package I picked up this morning didn't have a code. Mehmet started screaming. I leaned over. And at that precise moment, he kicked me right in the ass.
It was just after five in the morning.
My name is Alain Delambre. I am fifty-seven years old. And four years ago, I was laid off.CHAPTER 2
Initially, I took the morning job at Pharmaceutical Logistics as a way of keeping myself occupied. At least that's what I told Nicole, but neither she nor the girls fell for it. At my age, you don't wake up at 4:00 a.m. for 45 percent of the minimum wage just to get your endorphins going. It's all a bit more complicated. Well, actually it's not that complicated. At first, we didn't need the money — now we do.
I have been unemployed for four years. Four years in May (May 24, to be exact).
This job doesn't really make ends meet, so I do a few other little things, too. For a couple of hours here and there, I lug crates, bubble-wrap things, hand out fliers. A spot of nighttime industrial cleaning in offices. A few seasonal jobs, too. For the past two years, I've been Father Christmas at a discount store specializing in household appliances. I don't always give Nicole the full picture of my activities, since it would only upset her. I use a range of excuses to justify my absences. As this is harder for the night jobs, I have invented a group of unemployed friends with whom I supposedly play poker. I tell Nicole that it relaxes me.
Before, I was HR manager at a company with almost two hundred employees. I was in charge of staff and training, overseeing salaries and representing the management at the works council. I worked at Bercaud, which sold costume jewelry. Seventeen years casting pearls before swine. That was everyone's favorite gag. There was a whole load of extremely witty jokes that went around about pearls, family jewels, et cetera. Corporate banter, if you like. The laughter stopped in March, when it was announced that Bercaud had been bought out by the Belgians. I might have had a chance against the Belgian HR manager, but when I found out that he was thirty-eight, I mentally started to clear my desk. I say "mentally" because, deep down, I know I wasn't at all ready to do it for real. But that was what I had to do — they didn't waste time. The takeover was announced on March 4. The first round of layoffs took place six weeks later, and I was part of the second.
In the space of four years, as my income evaporated, I passed from incredulity to doubt, then to guilt, and finally to a sense of injustice. Now, I feel anger. It's not a very positive emotion, anger. When I arrive at Logistics, and I see Mehmet's bushy eyebrows and Charles's long, rickety silhouette, and I think about everything I've had to endure, a terrible rage thunders inside me. Most of all, I have to avoid thinking about the years I have left, about the pension payments I'll never receive, about the allowances that are withering away, or about the despair that sometimes grips Nicole and me. I have to avoid those thoughts because — in spite of my sciatica — they put me in the mood for terrorism.
In the four years we have known each other, I have come to count my job center adviser as one of my closest friends. Not long ago, he told me, with a degree of admiration in his voice, that I was an example. What he means is that I might have given up on the idea of finding a job, but I haven't given up looking for one. He thinks that shows strength of character. I don't want to tell him he's wrong; he is thirty-seven and he needs to hang on to his illusions for as long as possible. The truth is I've actually surrendered to a sort of innate reflex. Looking for work is like working, and since that is all I have done my whole life, it is ingrained in my nervous system; something that drives me out of necessity, but without direction. I look for work like a dog sniffs a lamppost. No illusions, but I can't help it.
And so it was that I responded to an advertisement a few days ago. A headhunting firm looking to recruit an HR assistant for a big company. The role involves hiring staff at executive level, formulating job descriptions, carrying out assessments, writing up appraisals, processing social audits, et cetera, which is all right up my street, exactly what I did for years at Bercaud. "Versatile, methodical, and rigorous, the candidate will be equipped with excellent interpersonal skills." My professional profile in a nutshell.
The moment I read it, I compiled my documents and attached my CV. Needless to say, it all hangs on whether they are willing to take on a man of my age.
The answer to which is perfectly obvious: it'll be a no.
So what? I sent off my application anyway. I wonder whether it was just a way of honoring my job center adviser's admiration.
When Mehmet kicked me in the ass, I let out a yelp. Everyone turned around. First Romain, then Charles, who did so with greater difficulty as he was already a couple of sheets to the wind. I straightened up like a young man. That's when I realized that I was almost a head taller than Mehmet. Up to now, he had been the big boss. I'd never really noticed his size. Mehmet himself was struggling to come to terms with kicking me in the ass. His anger seemed to have abated entirely. I could see his lips trembling and he was blinking as he tried to find the words, I'm not sure in which language. That was when I did something for the first time in my life: I tilted my head back, very slowly, as though I were admiring the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, and then whipped it forward with a sharp motion. Just like I'd seen on television. A head-butt, they call it. Charles, being homeless, gets beaten up a lot, and knows all about it. "Nice technique," he told me. For a first-timer, it seemed a very decent effort.
My forehead broke Mehmet's nose. Before feeling the impact on my skull, I heard a sinister crack. Mehmet howled (in Turkish this time, no doubt about it), but I couldn't ram home my advantage because he immediately took his head in his hands and sank to his knees. If I had been in a film, I almost certainly would have taken a run-up and laid him out with an almighty kick in the face, but my skull was aching so much that I also took my head in my hands and fell to the ground. Both of us were on our knees, facing each other, heads in hands. Tragedy in the workplace. A dramatic scene worthy of an old master.
Romain started flapping around, no idea what to do with himself. Mehmet was bleeding everywhere. The ambulance arrived within a few minutes. We gave statements. Romain told me that he'd seen Mehmet kick me in the ass, that he would be a witness and that I had nothing to worry about. I kept silent, but my experience led me to believe that it definitely wouldn't be as simple as all that. I wanted to be sick. I went to the bathroom, but in vain.
Actually, no, not in vain: in the mirror, I saw that I had a gash and a large bruise across my forehead. I was deathly pale and out of it. Pitiful. For a moment, I thought I was starting to look like Charles.CHAPTER 3
"Oh my goodness, what have you done to yourself?" Nicole asked as she touched the enormous bruise on my forehead.
I didn't answer. I handed her the letter in a way that I hoped would seem casual, then went to my study, where I pretended to rummage through my drawers. She looked long and hard at the words: "Further to your letter, I am delighted to inform you that your application for the role of HR assistant has been accepted in the first instance. You will shortly be invited to take an aptitude test, which, if successful, will be followed by an interview."
I think she had to read it several times before it registered. She was still wearing her coat when I saw her appear at the door of my study, resting her shoulder against the frame. She was holding the letter in her hand, head tilted to the side. This is one of her classic mannerisms and, along with two or three others, by far my favorite. It's almost like she knows it. When I see her in that position, I feel comforted by the extreme grace she has. There is something doleful about her, a litheness that's hard to explain ... a languor that is extraordinarily sexual. She was holding the letter in her hand and staring at me. I found her extremely beautiful, or extremely desirable, and was overcome by a furious urge to jump her. Sex has always been a powerful antidepressant for me.
At first, when I didn't regard unemployment as a fatal situation, just a calamitous, worrying one, I was constantly jumping Nicole. In the bedroom, in the bathroom, in the corridor. Nicole never said no. She is very perceptive and understood that it was my way of affirming that I was still alive. Since then, anxiety has given way to anguish, and the first visible effect of this is that I'm practically impotent. Our lovemaking has become rare, challenging. Nicole is very kind and patient, which only makes me more unhappy. Our sexual barometer is all over the place. We pretend not to notice or that it's not important. I know Nicole still loves me, but our life has become much more difficult and I can't help feeling that it cannot carry on like this forever.
But back to her clutching the letter from BLC Consulting.
"Sweetheart, this is unbelievable!" she said.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Inhuman Resources"
Copyright © 2010 Pierre Lemaitre.
Excerpted by permission of Quercus.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Alain Delambra is 57 years old and was a former HR executive that has lost his job. He has been working odd jobs in the last four years to barely make ends meet. But then he is given the opportunity to work at his idea job and he is willing to do whatever it takes to get this job. Even if this means an odd hostage role-playing game. But things quickly go wrong and Alain is going to do whatever it takes to win. I couldn’t help but feel bad for Alain, to have this career and then to be fired late in life then not being able to find anything else besides menial jobs. I understood where he can from and his drive to get this job. But things go wrong quickly and Alain just doesn’t seem to see it, he is that focused on getting the job. He neglects his wife, hits his son in law, essential robs his daughter, and so much more. This is different from the other stories from Pierre Lemaitre. It has lots of surprises as you follow Alain in his crazy fervor for a job. Mind you there are a couple places that the story seems to slow and gets a little unbelievable. But it is still a wild ride as you come crashing to the conclusion. It’s definitely a good read. I received a complimentary copy of this book. I voluntarily chose to read and post an honest review.