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satisfy the appetite of the gods. Most criminals don’t want to be caught,

but they do want to be identified, some in order to hit the headlines and

gain fame and glory, like Zodiac or Jack the Ripper. Others perhaps

think their grandchildren will be proud of what they did when, years

later, they discover a dusty diary in the attic. Others have a mission

to fulfill: for example, driving away prostitutes by making them too

afraid to walk the streets. Psychoanalysts have concluded that when

serial killers suddenly stop murdering from one moment to the next,

it’s because they feel that the message they’ve been trying to send has

finally been received.



 

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PAU L O C O E L H O

 

Of course, that’s it! Why hadn’t he thought of it before?

For one simple reason: because it would have sent the police hunt


off in two different directions, in search of the murderer and the person

to whom he was sending the messages. And this Cannes murderer is

killing people very fast. Morris is almost sure that he will stop soon,

once the message has been received. In two or three days at most. And

as with other serial killers whose victims appear to have nothing in

common, the message must be intended for one person, just one.

He goes back to the computer, turns it on, and sends a reassuring

e-mail to the commissioner.

“Don’t worry, the murders will stop soon, before the Festival is

over.”

Just for the hell of it, he copies the e-mail to a friend in Scotland

Yard, as a way of letting him know that the French authorities respect

him as a professional, have asked for his help and received it; that he’s

still capable of reaching conclusions which will, later on, prove correct;

that he’s not as old as they would like to think.

His reputation is at stake, but he’s sure his conclusion is the right

one.



 

10:19 P M

 

 

Hamid turns off his mobile phone. He isn’t the slightest bit interested

in what’s going on in the rest of the world, and in the last half hour, his

phone has been inundated with grim messages.

It’s a sign that he should ditch the whole absurd idea of producing

a film. He had clearly allowed himself to be carried away by vanity in-

stead of listening to the advice of the sheikh and of his own wife. He’s

starting to lose touch with himself; the world of luxury and glamour

is beginning to poison him, something he had always believed would

never happen.

Tomorrow, when things have calmed down, he’ll call a press con-

ference for the world media present in Cannes and tell them that, de-

spite having already invested a large amount of money in the project,

he’s decided to pull out because it was “a dream shared by all those

involved, one of whom is no longer with us.” A journalist is bound

to ask if he has other projects in mind, and he’ll reply that it’s still too

early to discuss such things and that “we need to respect the memory

of the departed.”

Like anyone with even a minimum of decency, he deeply regrets

the fact that the actor who was going to appear in his first film should

have died of poisoning and that his chosen director is still in hospital—

although not now in danger of losing his life—but both these events


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carry a clear message: keep away from cinema. It isn’t his world and

he’s bound to lose money and gain nothing in return.

Leave cinema to the filmmakers, music to the musicians, and lit-

erature to the writers. Ever since he first embarked on this adventure

two months before, he has met with nothing but problems: wrestling

with gigantic egos, rejecting outlandish budgets, editing a script that

seemed to get worse with every new version, and putting up with con-

descending producers who treated him as if he knew absolutely noth-

ing about films.

His intentions had been impeccable: to make a film about the cul-

ture of his home country, about the beauty of the desert and the Bed-

ouins’ ancient wisdom and code of honor. He felt he owed this to his

tribe, although the sheikh had warned him not to stray from his origi-

nal path.

“People get lost in the desert because they’re taken in by mirages.

You’re doing an excellent job as a couturier; focus all your energies on

that.”

Hamid, however, wanted to go further, to show that he could still

surprise people, go higher, take risks. He had committed the sin of

pride, but that wouldn’t happen again.

 

Th e j o u r n a l i s t s b o m b a r d h i m w i t h questions—news, it

seems, is traveling even faster than usual. He says he doesn’t yet know

any details, but that he’ll make a full statement tomorrow. He repeats

the same answer over and over, until one of his own security guards

comes to his aid and asks the press to leave the couple alone.

He summons an assistant and asks him to find Jasmine in the crowd

of people in the garden and bring her to him. They need to have a

few photos taken together, a new press release confirming the deal,

and a good PR person to keep the issue alive until October and the

Fashion Week in Paris. Later on, he’ll try to persuade the Belgian de-

signer to join him; he genuinely liked her work and is sure she would

bring money and prestige to his group; however, he knows that, at the

moment, she’ll be thinking that he was only trying to buy her because



 

The Winner Stands Alone


 

309


 

he wanted her principal model. Approaching her now would not only

up the price, it would seem inelegant. To everything its proper time; it

would be best to wait for the right moment.

Ewa appears troubled by the journalists’ questions. She says:

“I think we should leave.”

“Absolutely not. I’m not hard-hearted, as you know, but I can’t get

upset over something that only confirms what you always told me, that

I shouldn’t get involved in cinema. Now, though, we’re at a party, and

we’re going to stay here until the end.”

His voice sounds sterner than he intended, but Ewa doesn’t appear

to notice, as if she were as indifferent to his love as to his hate. In a more

equitable tone of voice, he adds:

“This party’s just perfect, don’t you think? Our host must be spend-

ing a fortune to be here in Cannes, what with the travel and accommo-

dation expenses of the celebrities who’ve all been specially selected to

be present at this lavish gala supper. But you can be sure that all the free

publicity will send his profits soaring: full-page spreads in magazines

and newspapers, TV airtime and hours of coverage on the cable chan-

nels that have nothing else to show. Women will associate his jewels

with glamour; men will wear his watches as proof that they’re powerful

and wealthy; and young people will flick through the fashion pages and

think: ‘One day, I want to be there too, wearing exactly that.’ ”

“Please, let’s leave now. I just have a really bad feeling about this

party.”

This was the last straw. He’s put up with his wife’s bad mood all

day without complaint. She keeps turning on her mobile phone to see

if there’s another text message, and now he’s beginning to think that

there really is something strange going on. Another man perhaps? Her

ex-husband, who he saw in the hotel bar, and who is perhaps doing ev-

erything he can to arrange a meeting? If that’s the case, though, why

doesn’t she just tell him what she’s feeling instead of withdrawing into

herself?

“Don’t talk to me about bad feelings. I’m trying to explain to you

why people put on parties like this. If you ever decide to go into fashion

as you always dreamed of doing or of once again owning a shop selling



 

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PAU L O C O E L H O


 

haute-couture clothes, you could learn something. By the way, when I

told you that I’d seen your ex-husband in the bar last night, you told me

that was impossible. Is he the reason you keep checking your mobile

phone?”

“Why on earth would he be here?” she says, when what she feels

like saying is: “I know who ruined your film project. And I know that

he’s capable of far worse. We’re in danger here; please, let’s leave.”

“You didn’t answer my question.”

“The answer is yes. That’s why I keep checking my mobile phone

because I know him, and I know he’s here somewhere, and I’m

afraid.”

Hamid laughs.

“But I’m here too.”

Ewa picks up a glass of champagne and drinks it down in one. He

says nothing, feeling that she’s simply being provocative.

He looks around him, trying to forget the recent news that flashed

up on his phone, and still hoping for a chance to have a few photos

taken with Jasmine before they’re all called into the room where supper

will be served. The death of the actor couldn’t have come at a worse

moment. Now no one is asking about the big contract he’s signed with

an unknown model, and yet, half an hour earlier, it was all the press

were interested in. Not anymore.

Despite his many years of working in this glamorous world, he still

has a lot to learn: the contract he signed has been quickly forgotten,

but the host of this party has managed to keep the media interest alive.

None of the photographers and journalists present has left the party

to go to the police station or the hospital to find out exactly what has

happened. They are, admittedly, fashion journalists, but their editors

wouldn’t have dared order them to leave, for the simple reason that

murders don’t appear on the same pages as social events.

Makers of expensive jewelry don’t get themselves mixed up in cin-

ematographic adventures. Big promoters know that regardless of how

much blood is being spilled in the world right now, people will always

prefer photos depicting an ideal and inaccessible life of luxury.

Murders can take place next door or out in the street, but parties



 

The Winner Stands Alone


 

311


 

like this only occur at the very top of society. What could be of more

interest to mere mortals than this perfect party, which would have been

advertised months before in press releases, confirming that the jeweler

would be holding his usual event in Cannes, and that all the invitations

had already gone out. Not quite true; at the time, half of the guests

would have received a kind of memorandum, politely asking them to

keep the date free.

They would, of course, respond at once and reserve the date and

buy their plane tickets and book their hotel room for twelve days, even

if they’re only staying for forty-eight hours. They need to prove to

everyone that they’re still members of the Superclass, membership of

which is invaluable in making business deals, opening doors, and feed-

ing egos.

The lavish invitation card would arrive two months later. The

women would start worrying about which dress to wear for the oc-

casion, and the men would contact a few acquaintances to ask if they

could meet in the bar to discuss business before supper. This was the

male way of saying: “I’ve been invited to the party. Have you?” Even

if the acquaintance claimed he was too busy and wasn’t sure he’d be

able to travel to Cannes on that date, the message had been sent loud

and clear: that “full diary” was just an excuse for not yet having been

invited.

Minutes later, that “very busy man” would start mobilizing friends,

advisors, and associates to wangle him an invitation. This meant that

the host could then choose the second half of his guest list, basing him-

self on three things: power, money, contacts.

The perfect party.

A professional team of caterers would be signed up. On the day

itself, the order will go out to serve as much alcohol as possible, prefer-

ably plenty of France’s legendary and unbeatable champagne. Guests

from other countries don’t realize that they’re being served a drink

produced in the country itself and which is, therefore, much cheaper

than they might think. The women feel—as even does Ewa at that mo-

ment—that the golden liquid in the glass is the best possible comple-

ment to dress, shoes, and bag. The men are all holding a glass as well,



 

312


 

PAU L O C O E L H O


 

but they drink much less; they’ve come to make peace with a competi-

tor, to cement relationships with a supplier, or to meet a potential dis-

tributor of their products. Hundreds of business cards are exchanged

on such nights, most of them among professionals. A few, of course, are

given to pretty women, who know they’re not worth the paper they’re

printed on; no one has come here hoping to find the love of their life,

but to make deals, to shine, and, possibly, to enjoy themselves a little.

Enjoying yourself is optional and not of great importance.

The people here tonight come from three points of an imaginary

triangle. At one point are those who have it all and spend their days

playing golf or having lunch or hanging out at some exclusive club, and

who, when they go into a shop, can buy anything they want without

first asking the price. Having reached the top, they have realized some-

thing that had never even occurred to them before: they cannot bear to

be alone. They can’t stand the company of their husband or wife and

they need to be on the go all the time, in the belief that they can still

make a difference to humanity, although they’ve discovered, since they

retired, that their day-to-day life is as dull as that of any other middle-

class person: eat breakfast, read the newspapers, eat lunch, take a nap,

eat supper, watch TV. They accept most of the supper invitations they

receive. They go to social and sporting events at the weekend. They

spend their holidays in fashionable places (even though they no longer

work, they still believe in something called “holidays”).

At the second point on the triangle are those who haven’t yet

achieved anything and who are doing their best to row in very choppy

waters, to break the resistance of the have-it-alls, to look happy even

if one of their parents happens to be in hospital, and they are having to

sell off things they don’t even own.

Finally, at the apex, is the Superclass.

This is the ideal mixture for a party. Those who have reached

the top and yet carry on life as normal may well have enough money

stashed away for several generations, but their influence has waned

and they have realized, too late, that power is actually more important

than wealth. Those who haven’t yet reached the top put all their energy

and enthusiasm into making the party go with a swing, thinking that



The Winner Stands Alone


 

313


 

they’re making a really good impression, only to discover, in the weeks

that follow, that no one phones them despite all the business cards they

handed out. Finally, there are those who wobble about on the apex,

knowing that it’s very windy up there and that the slightest gust could

blow them off into the abyss below.

 

P e o p l e k e e p c o m i n g o v e r t o talk to him, although no one

mentions the murder, either because they don’t know about it, since

they live in a world where such things don’t happen, or out of polite-

ness, which he very much doubts. He looks around him and sees the

thing he hates most in the fashion world: middle-aged women who

dress as if they were still twenty. Haven’t they noticed that it’s time

they changed their style? He speaks to one person, smiles at another,

thanks someone else for a kind remark, introduces Ewa to the few who

still don’t know her. He has, however, only one thought in his mind:

to find Jasmine within the next five minutes and pose for the photog-

raphers.

An industrialist and his wife are telling him in detail about the last

time they met, a meeting of which Hamid has no recollection, although

he nods wisely. They talk about trips they’ve made, people they’ve met,

and projects they’re involved in. No one touches on genuinely interest-

ing topics like “Are you happy?” or “After all we’ve been through,

what does victory actually feel like?” They are part of the Superclass

and therefore obliged to behave as if they were contented and fulfilled,

even if they’re actually asking themselves: “What shall I do with my

future, now that I have everything I ever dreamed of?”

A squalid creature in tight trousers and an Indian top approaches,

looking like something out of a comic strip.

“Mr. Hussein, I’m terribly sorry . . .”

“Who are you?”

“I work for you, sir.”

How absurd.

“Look, I’m busy right now, and I know everything I need to know

about tonight’s sad events, so there’s no need for you to worry.”



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PAU L O C O E L H O

 

The creature, however, stays where he is. Hamid begins to feel em-


barrassed by his presence, mainly because friends nearby will have heard

those dreadful words: “I work for you, sir.” Whatever will they think?

“Mr. Hussein, I’m just about to bring over the actress who’s going

to be appearing in your film. I had to leave her for a moment because I

got a phone message, but . . .”

“Later. At the moment, I’m waiting to meet Jasmine Tiger.”

The strange creature leaves. The actress who’s going to be appear-

ing in his film! Poor girl: signed up and dismissed all in one day.

Ewa is holding a champagne glass in one hand and her mobile phone

and an extinguished cigarette in the other. The industrialist takes a

gold lighter out of his pocket and offers to light her cigarette.

“No, thank you, it’s all right, I can do it myself,” she says. “I’m de-

liberately keeping both hands occupied in an attempt to smoke less.”

She would like to say: “I’m holding my mobile so as to protect this

idiot, who refuses to believe me and who has never shown the slightest

interest in my life or what I’ve been through. If I get another message,

I’ll make a scene and he’ll be forced to leave and take me with him,

whether he wants to or not. Even if he tells me off afterward, at least I

can console myself with the thought that I saved his life. I know who

the killer is. I can feel the presence of Absolute Evil very near.”

A receptionist starts asking the guests to go into the main dining

area. Hamid Hussein is prepared to accept his fate without complaint.

The photo can wait until tomorrow when he goes up the steps with her.

Just then, one of his assistants appears.

“Jasmine Tiger isn’t here. She must have left.”

“Never mind. Perhaps they forgot to tell her that we were supposed

to meet.”

He looks very calm, like someone accustomed to dealing with such

situations. Inside, though, his blood is boiling. She’s left the party?

Who does she think she is?

 

I t ’s s o e a s y t o d i e . The human body may well be one of the

most efficient mechanisms in creation, but all it takes is a small metal



 

The Winner Stands Alone


 

315


 

projectile to enter and cut through it at a certain speed, and that’s that.

Death, according to the dictionary, is the end of a life (although

life also needs to be properly defined), the permanent paralysis of the

body’s vital functions, like brain activity, breathing, blood flow to and

from the heart. Only two things resist this permanent paralysis—the

hair and the nails, which continue to grow for a few days or weeks.

The definition changes when it comes to religions: for some, death

means moving to a higher state, while others believe that it is merely a

temporary condition and that the soul inhabiting the body will return

later on, either to pay for its sins or to enjoy in the next life the blessings

denied it during the previous incarnation.

The young woman is standing very still by his side. Either the

champagne has taken full effect or its effects have passed, and she now

realizes that she knows no one, that this could be both her first and last

invitation to such a party, and that dreams sometimes turn into night-

mares. When he moved away for a moment with the other sadder girl,

he noticed a few men approach the actress, but it seems she felt uncom-

fortable with all of them. When she saw him reappear, she asked him to

stay with her for the rest of the party. She also asked if he had transport

because she has no money and it doesn’t look as if her companion will

be coming back.

“Yes, of course, I’ll be glad to take you home.”

This wasn’t in his plans, but having spotted the policeman observ-

ing the guests, he knows it’s best to look as if he’s with someone, that

he’s just another of the important, anonymous people there, proud to

have a pretty, much younger woman with him, one who so perfectly

fits the norm in that particular place.

“Don’t you think we should go in?”

“Yes, but I know how these things work. It’s best to wait until ev-

eryone else is seated. Several of the tables will have places reserved

at them for certain people, and we don’t want to find ourselves in the

embarrassing position of sitting down where we shouldn’t.”

He notices that, for a moment, the girl looks slightly disappointed

that he doesn’t have one of those reserved places.

The waiters are collecting the empty glasses scattered around the



316


 

PAU L O C O E L H O


 

garden. The models have stepped down from their ridiculous pedestals

where their gyrations have persuaded the male guests at the party that

life can still be interesting and reminded the female guests that they

really must get some more liposuction, Botox, silicone, or plastic sur-

gery.

“Please, let’s go in. I need to eat. I’ll get sick if I don’t.”

She takes his arm and they walk toward the room on the upper

floor. It would seem that his last message to Ewa has been received

and discarded, but then he knows now what to expect from a woman

as corrupt as his ex-wife. The angel with the dark eyebrows contin-

ues by his side; she was the one who had made him turn round at the

right moment and notice the plainclothes policeman, when, in theory,

he should have been concentrating on the arrival of the famous coutu-

rier.

“All right, we’ll go in.”

They walk up the steps and into the dining room. As they do so, he

asks her politely to let go of his arm, in case any friends there should

misinterpret the situation.

“Are you married, then?”

“No, divorced.”

 

Y e s , E wa i s t h i n k i n g , s h e had been right, her intuition was

correct, the problems they have encountered so far this evening are as

nothing compared with what she has just seen. Since Igor can have no

professional reason for being at a film festival, his presence there can

have only one possible motive.

“Igor!” Hamid says.

The man, accompanied by a much younger woman, looks straight

at him. Ewa’s heart starts pounding. She says to Hamid:

“What are you doing?”

Hamid has already got up from the table. He has no idea what he’s

doing. He’s walking toward Absolute Limitless Evil, capable of any-

thing. Hamid assumes that Igor is just another adult and that he can



 

The Winner Stands Alone


 

317


 

confront him with either physical force or logical argument. What he

doesn’t know is that Absolute Evil has the heart of a child and takes

no responsibility for its actions and is convinced that it’s right. And

when it doesn’t get what it wants, it’s not afraid to use all possible

means to satisfy its desires. Now she understands how it was that the

Angel changed so quickly into a Devil: because he has always nursed

vengeance and rancor in his heart, even though he claimed to have

grown up and overcome all his traumas; because he’s unbeatable when

it comes to succeeding in life, thus confirming his belief in his own om-

nipotence; because he doesn’t know how to give up, having survived

the worst possible torments through which he walked without so much

as a backward glance, all the while repeating to himself: “One day, I’ll

be back, and then you’ll see what I’m capable of.”

“Apparently, he’s found someone more interesting to talk to than

us,” says a former Miss Europe, who is also sitting at the top table,

along with another two celebrities and the host of the party.

Ewa tries to conceal her unease, but she doesn’t know what to do.

The host seems almost amused and is waiting for some explanation.

“I’m sorry. He’s an old friend of mine.”

Hamid goes over to Igor, who looks suddenly uncertain. The girl

with him says loudly:

“Hello, Mr. Hussein. I’m your new actress!”

People at the other tables turn round to see what’s happening. The

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