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that you always lied.”

Hamid isn’t listening to what either of them is saying; his mind is

far away with his warrior ancestors, asking for inspiration to make the

right move.

“You could have told me that our marriage wasn’t working out as

we both hoped. We had built so much together; couldn’t we have found

a solution? There’s always a way of allowing happiness in, but for that

to happen, both partners have to acknowledge there are problems. I

would have listened to what you had to say. Our marriage would have

regained all its initial excitement and joy. But you didn’t want to do

that, you chose the easy way out.”

“I was always afraid of you, and now, seeing you with that gun in

your hand, I’m even more afraid.”

Hamid is brought abruptly back to earth by Ewa’s last comment.

His soul is no longer somewhere in space, asking advice from the war-

riors of the desert, trying to find out how he should act.

She can’t have said that. She’s handing over power to the enemy;

now he’ll know that he’s capable of terrifying her.

“I would like to have invited you to supper one day and tell you that

I felt so alone, despite all the banquets, jewels, journeys, and meetings

with kings and presidents,” Ewa says. “Do you know something else?

You always brought me really expensive presents, but never the sim-

plest gift of all—flowers.”


The Winner Stands Alone


This is turning into a marital argument.

“I’ll leave you two to talk.”



Igor says nothing. His eyes are still fixed on the sea, but he’s still

pointing the gun at him, indicating that he should stay where he is. The

man is mad, and his apparent calm is more dangerous than if he were

screaming threats at them.

“Anyway,” he says, as if unperturbed either by her words or by

Hamid’s attempt to move, “you chose the easiest way out. You left me.

You didn’t give me a chance; you didn’t understand that everything I

was doing was for you and because of you.

“And yet, despite all the injustices and humiliations, I would have

done anything to have you back—until today. Until I sent you those

messages, and you pretended not to have received them. In other

words, even the sacrifice of those other people didn’t move you; you

just couldn’t get enough of power and luxury.”

The Star who was poisoned and the director whose life still hangs

by a thread: is Hamid imagining the unimaginable? Then he under-

stands something even more serious: with that confession, the man

beside him has just signed their death warrant. He must either commit

suicide there and then or put an end to the lives of two people who now

know far too much.

Perhaps, Hamid thinks, he himself is going mad or simply misun-

derstanding the situation, but he knows that time is running out.

He looks at the gun in the man’s hand. It’s a small caliber. If it

doesn’t hit certain critical points in the body, it won’t do much harm.

He can’t be very experienced; if he were, he would have chosen some-

thing more powerful. He obviously doesn’t know what he’s doing; he

must have bought the first thing he was offered, something that fired

bullets and could kill.

The band has started playing up above. Don’t they realize that the

noise of the music will mask the sound of a shot? Then again, would

they know the difference between a gunshot and one of the many other

artificial noises that are currently infesting—yes, that’s the word, in-

festing, polluting, plaguing—the atmosphere?






I g o r h a s g o n e q u i e t a g a i n , and that is far more dangerous

than if he were to continue talking, emptying his heart of some of his

bitterness and bile. Hamid again weighs up the possibilities; if he’s

going to act, he needs to do so in the next few seconds. He could throw

himself across Ewa and grab the gun while it’s lying casually in Igor’s

lap, even though Igor’s finger is on the trigger. He could reach out to

him with both arms, forcing Igor to draw back in fright, and then Ewa

would be out of the line of fire. Igor would point the gun in his direc-

tion, but by then, he would be close enough to grab his wrist. It would

all take only a second.


Maybe this silence is a positive sign; perhaps Igor’s lost concentra-

tion. Or it might be the beginning of the end, meaning that he’s said

all he has to say.


In the first fraction of a second, the muscle in his left thigh tenses,

propelling him furiously forward in the direction of Absolute Evil;

the area of his body shrinks as he hurls himself over Ewa’s lap, arms

outstretched. The first second continues, and he sees the gun being

pointed directly at his head; the man moves more quickly than he had


His body is still flying toward the gun. They should have talked

before. Ewa has never said much about her ex-husband, as if he be-

longed to a past she preferred not to think about—ever. Even though

everything is happening in slow motion, the man draws back as nimbly

as a cat. The gun in his hand is perfectly steady.

The first second is just reaching its end. He sees a finger move, but

there is no sound, only the feeling of something crushing the bone in

the middle of his forehead. His universe is extinguished and with it the

memories of the young man who dreamed of being “someone,” his

arrival in Paris, his father’s shop, the sheikh, his battle to gain a place

in the sun, the fashion shows, the trips abroad, meeting the woman he

The Winner Stands Alone




loves, the days of wine and roses, the laughter and the tears, the last

moon on the rise, the eyes of Absolute Evil, the look of terror in his

wife’s eyes, all disappear.


“ D o n ’ t c r y o u t . D o n ’ t s a y a word. Keep calm.”

Of course she isn’t going to cry out, nor does she need to be told to

keep calm. She’s in a state of shock like the animal she is, despite her

fine jewelry and her expensive dress. Her blood is no long circulating

at its normal speed, her face grows pale, her voice vanishes, her blood

pressure plummets. He knows exactly what she’s feeling; he once expe-

rienced the same when he saw the rifle of an Afghan warrior pointing

at his chest. Total immobility and a complete inability to react. He was

only saved because a colleague fired first. He was still grateful to the

man who had saved his life; everyone thought he was just his chauf-

feur, when, in fact, he owned many shares in the company, and he and

Igor often talked; indeed, they had spoken that very afternoon when

Igor had phoned to ask if Ewa had shown any sign of having received

his messages.

Ewa, poor Ewa, sitting there with a man dying in her lap. Human

beings are unpredictable; sometimes they react as that fool reacted,

knowing that he had no chance of beating him. Weapons are unpre-

dictable too. He expected the bullet to come out the other side of the

man’s head, blowing away the top part of the brain, but, given the

angle of the shot, it must have pierced the brain, bounced off a bone,

and entered the thorax because he’s trembling uncontrollably, but with

no sign of any blood.

It must be the trembling, not the shot, that has so shocked Ewa.

With one foot, Igor pushes the body to the ground and puts a bullet

through the back of the man’s neck. The tremors cease. The man

deserves a dignified death; he was, after all, valiant to the end.






Th e y a r e a l o n e n o w o n the beach. He kneels down in front

of her and places the barrel of the gun against her breast. Ewa doesn’t


He had imagined a very different ending to this story, with her un-

derstanding his messages and giving the two of them a new chance of

happiness. He had thought of all the things he would say when they

were finally alone again like this, looking out at the calm Mediterra-

nean Sea, smiling and chatting.

He doesn’t want to live with those words stuck in his throat, even if

those words are useless now.

“I always thought that one day, we’d walk hand in hand through a

park again or along the seashore, finally saying those long-postponed

words of love. We would eat out once a week, travel together to places

we’d never been to simply for the pleasure of discovering new things in

each other’s company.

“While you’ve been away, I’ve been copying poems out in a book

so that I could whisper them to you as you fell asleep. I’ve written let-

ters telling you how I felt, letters I would leave where you could find

them and then you’d know that I never forgot you—not for a single

day, not for a single moment. We would discuss plans for the house you

wanted on the shores of Lake Baikal—just for us. I know you had a lot

of ideas for that. I planned to have a private airport built there, and, of

course, I’d leave the decoration of the house to your good taste, to you,

the woman who justified my life and gave it meaning.”

Ewa says nothing, but stares out at the sea before her.

“I came here because of you, only to realize that it was all point-


He squeezes the trigger.

There was almost no sound because the barrel of the gun was

pressed against her body. The bullet entered at precisely the right place,

and her heart immediately stopped beating. Despite all the pain she had

caused him, he didn’t want her to suffer.

If there was a life after death, both of them—the woman who betrayed

him and the man who encouraged her—were now walking along, hold-

ing hands, in the moonlight fringing the shoreline. They would meet the


The Winner Stands Alone




angel with the dark eyebrows, who would explain everything that had

happened and put an end to any feelings of rancor or hatred; at some

point, everyone has to leave this planet known as Earth. And, besides,

love justifies acts that mere human beings cannot understand, unless they

happen to be experiencing what he has experienced.

Ewa’s eyes remain open, but her body grows limp and falls to the

sand. He leaves both bodies there, goes over to the rocks, carefully

wipes any fingerprints from the gun, and throws it into the sea, as far

as possible from the place where they had been sitting contemplating

the moon. He goes back up the steps, finds a litter bin on the way, and

drops the silencer in. He hadn’t really needed it; the music had reached

a crescendo at just the right moment.


10:55 P M



Gabriela goes over to the only person she knows.

The guests are now leaving the supper room; the band is playing

music from the sixties, the party is beginning, and people are smiling

and talking to each other, despite the deafening noise.

“I’ve been looking for you! Where are your friends?”

“Where’s yours?”

“He’s gone. He said there was some problem with the actor and the

director, that’s all, and then he left. The only other thing he said was

that tonight’s party on the yacht has been canceled.”

Igor realizes what has happened. He hadn’t had the slightest inten-

tion of killing someone he greatly admired and whose films he always

tried to see whenever he had time. Nevertheless, it’s fate that makes

these choices—man is just the instrument.

“I’m leaving. If you like, I can drop you off at your hotel.”

“But the party’s just beginning.”

“Enjoy it, then. I’m flying off early tomorrow morning.”

Gabriela has to make a decision quickly. She can either stay here with

that handbag stuffed with paper, in a place where she knows no one,

hoping that some charitable soul will give her a lift as far as Croisette,

where she will take off her shoes to climb the interminable hill up to the

room she’s sharing with four other friends. Or she can accept the offer

of this kind man, who probably has some very useful contacts, and


The Winner Stands Alone




who’s a friend of Hamid Hussein’s wife. She had witnessed the start of

what looked like an argument, but such things happen every day, and

they would soon make it up.

She has a role in a film. She’s exhausted from all the emotions of

the day. She’s afraid that she’ll end up drinking too much and spoil-

ing everything. Men will come up to her, asking if she’s on her own

and what she’s doing afterward, and if she’d like to visit a jeweler’s

with them the following day. She’ll have to spend the rest of the night

politely avoiding people, trying not to hurt anyone’s feelings, because

you could never be quite sure who you were talking to. It was, after all,

one of the most exclusive parties at the Festival.

“Let’s go.”

That’s how a star behaves. She leaves when no one is expecting her to.

They go out to the hotel reception, Gunther (she can’t remember

his other name) asks the receptionist to call a taxi for them, and she tells

them they’re in luck; if they’d waited very much longer, they would

have had to wait in an enormous queue.

On the way back, she asks him why he lied about what he does. He

says he didn’t lie. He used to own a mobile phone company, but had

decided to sell it because he felt the future lay in heavy machinery.

And what about his name?

“Igor is an affectionate nickname, the Russian diminutive of


Gabriela is expecting him, at any moment, to come out with the

words: “Shall we have a nightcap at my hotel?,” but he doesn’t. He

leaves her at the door of the house where she’s staying, shakes her

hand, and leaves.

How elegant!

Yes, this has been her first lucky day, the first of many. Tomorrow,

when she gets her phone back, she’ll make a collect call to a city near

Chicago to tell everyone the big news and ask them to buy the gossip

magazines because she’d been photographed going up the steps with the

Star. She’ll also tell them that she’s had to adopt a new name. However,

if they ask her what’s going to happen next, she’ll change the subject.

She has a superstitious belief that one shouldn’t discuss projects until






they actually happen. They’ll hear all about it as the news leaks out.

Unknown actress chosen for major role. Lisa Winner was the guest

of honor at a party in New York. Previously unknown Chicago girl is

the new sensation in Gibson’s latest movie. Agent negotiates million-

dollar contract with one of the major Hollywood producers.

The sky’s the limit.


11:11 P M



“You’re back early?”

“I’d have been here sooner if it wasn’t for the traffic.”

Jasmine kicks off her shoes, drops her bag, and throws herself down

on the bed, exhausted and fully clothed. She says:

“The most important words in any language are the short ones:

‘yes,’ for example, or ‘love’ or ‘God.’ They’re all easy to say and they

fill up the empty spaces of our universe. But there’s one small word that

I have great difficulty in saying, but I’m going to say it now.” She looks

at her companion. “No.”

She pats the bed, inviting her companion to join her. Her compan-

ion does so and strokes her hair.

“The word ‘no’ has a reputation for being mean, selfish, unspiri-

tual. When we say yes, we think we’re being generous, understand -

ing, polite. But I’m going to say no to you now. I won’t do what you’re

asking me or making me do, even though you think it’s in my best in-

terests. You’ll say that I’m only nineteen and don’t yet fully understand

life, but going to a party like the one tonight was quite enough for me

to know what I do want and what I definitely don’t want.

“I never planned to be a model, and I didn’t even think I was ca-

pable of falling in love. I know that love can only survive when it’s

free, but whoever said I was anyone’s slave? I’m a slave only to my

heart, and in that case my burden is a very light one. I chose you before






you chose me. I embarked on what seemed an impossible adventure

and never complained about the consequences, whether it was society’s

preconceived ideas or resistance from my own family. I overcame all

those things so that I could be with you here tonight, in Cannes, savor-

ing the victory of an excellent fashion show, and knowing that there

will be other opportunities in life—by your side.”

Her companion lies down next to her, her head in Jasmine’s lap.

“The person who made me realize this was a man, a foreigner,

whom I met tonight while I was at the party, lost in the crowd, not

knowing what to say. I asked him what he was doing there, and he

said that he’d lost his love and come here to look for her, but wasn’t

sure anymore whether she really was what he wanted. He asked me

to look around at the other guests. We were, he said, surrounded by

people who were full of certainties, glories, and conquests, but they

weren’t enjoying themselves. They think they’re at the peak of their

careers and the inevitable descent frightens them. They’ve forgotten

that there’s still a whole world to conquer because . . .”

“. . . because they’ve got used to life as it is.”

“Exactly. They have lots of things but few aspirations. They’re full

of problems solved, projects approved, businesses that prosper without

them having to do anything. Now all that’s left is the fear of change,

which is why they go from party to party, from meeting to meeting,

so as not to have time to think, and to meet the same people over and

over and be able to believe that everything’s the same. Certainties have

replaced passions.”

“Take off your dress,” says her companion, preferring to say noth-

ing more.

Jasmine gets up, takes off her dress, and slips between the sheets.

“You take your clothes off too and put your arms around me. I

really need to feel your arms around me because today I thought you

were going to let me go.”

She does as Jasmine asks and turns out the light. Jasmine falls asleep

at once in her arms. She, however, lies awake for some time, staring up

at the ceiling, thinking that sometimes a nineteen-year-old girl, in all

her innocence, can be wiser than a forty-one-year-old woman. How-


The Winner Stands Alone




ever fearful and insecure she may feel right now, she’ll be forced to

grow. She’ll have a powerful enemy in HH, who will doubtless create

as many obstacles as he can to prevent her taking part in the Fashion

Week in October. First, he’ll insist on buying her name, and when that

proves impossible, he’ll try to discredit her with the Fйdйration, saying

that she failed to keep her word.

The next few months will be very difficult.

What HH doesn’t know, indeed, what no one knows, is that she

possesses an absolute power that will help her overcome all difficulties:

the love of the young woman now lying in her arms. For her, she would

do anything—anything, that is, except kill.

With her, she is capable of anything—even winning.


1:55 A M



His company jet already has the engines running. Igor sits in his favor-

ite seat—second row on the left—and waits for takeoff. As soon as the

seat-belt sign is turned off, he goes to the bar, serves himself a generous

measure of vodka, and drinks it down in one.

For a moment, he wonders if he really had succeeded in sending

those messages to Ewa, while he was busy destroying worlds. Should

he have been more explicit, adding a further note or a name or some-

thing like that? That would have been terribly risky—people might

think he was a serial killer.

And he wasn’t: he had an objective, which, fortunately, had changed

in time.

The thought of Ewa doesn’t weigh on him as much as it used to. He

doesn’t love her as he once did, and he doesn’t hate her as he came to

hate her. With time, she will disappear completely from his life, which

is a shame because he’s unlikely to find another woman like her, for all

her defects.

He goes back to the bar, pours himself another vodka, and again

drinks it down in one. Will they realize that a single person was re-

sponsible for extinguishing those worlds? It doesn’t matter. His only

regret is the moment he decided to give himself up to the police in the

afternoon. Fate, however, was on his side and he managed to complete

his mission.


The Winner Stands Alone




Yes, he had won, but the winner doesn’t stand alone. His night-

mares are at an end. An angel with dark eyebrows is watching over him

and will teach him which path to follow from now on.



st. joh n ’s day,

19 m a rc h 2 0 0 8



Ack now ledgm en ts



I could not possibly have written this book without the help of the many

people who, whether openly or in confidence, gave me access to the in-

formation it contains. When I began my research, I never imagined that

I would find so much of interest behind the faзade of the world of glitz

and glamour. Apart from the friends who have asked for their names

not to be mentioned, I would like to thank Alexander Osterwald, Ber-

nadette Imaculada Santos, Claudine and Elie Saab, David Rothkopf

(the inventor of the term “Superclass”), Deborah Williamson, Fбtima

Lopes, Fawaz Gruosi, Franco Cologni, Hildegard Follon, James W.

Wright, Jennifer Bollinger, Johan Reckman, Jцrn Pfotenhauer, Juliette

Rigal, Kevin Heienberg, Kevin Karroll, Luca Burei, Maria de Lourdes

Dйbat, Mario Rosa, Monty Shadow, Steffi Czerny, Victoria Navaloska,

Yasser Hamid, and Zeina Raphael, all of whom collaborated directly or

indirectly in the writing of this book. I must confess that, for the most

part, they collaborated indirectly, since I never usually discuss the sub-

ject of a book when I’m writing it.



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