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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
“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?
PAU L O C O E L H O
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
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.
PAU L O C O E L H O
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?”
“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.
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.
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
PAU L O C O E L H O
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
PAU L O C O E L H O
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
“Take off your dress,” says her companion, preferring to say noth-
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
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
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
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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