Read The Winner Stands Alone Online

Authors: Paulo Coelho

Tags: #Fiction, #Thrillers, #working

The Winner Stands Alone

BOOK: The Winner Stands Alone
The Winnder Stands Alone
The Winnder Stands Alone

The Winnder Stands Alone

The Beretta Px4 compact pistol is slightly larger than a mobile phone, weighs around seven
hundred grams, and can fire ten shots. It is small, light, invisible when carried in a
pocket, and its small caliber has one enormous advantage: instead of passing through the
victims body, the bullet hits bones and smashes everything in its path.

Obviously, the chances of surviving a shot of that caliber are fairly high; there are
thousands of cases in which no vital artery was severed and the victim had time to react
and disarm his attacker. However, if the person firing the pistol is experienced enough,
he can opt either for a quick deathby aiming at the point between the eyes or at the
heartor for a slower oneby placing the barrel at a certain angle close to the ribs and
squeezing the trigger. The person shot takes a while to realize that he has been mortally
wounded and tries to fight back, run away, or call for help. The great advantage of this
is that the victim has time to see his killers face, while his strength ebbs slowly away
and he falls to the ground, with little external loss of blood, still not fully
understanding why this is happening to him.

It is far from being the ideal weapon for experts. Nice and lightin a ladys handbag. No
stopping power though, someone in the British Secret Service tells James Bond in the first
film in the series, meanwhile confiscating Bonds old pistol and handing him a new model.
However, that advice applied only to professionals, and for what he now had in mind it was perfect.

He had bought the Beretta on the black market so that it would be impossible to trace.
There are five bullets in the magazine, although he intends to use only one, the tip of
which he has marked with an X, using a nail file. That way, when its fired and hits
something solid, it will break into four pieces.

He will only use the Beretta as a last resort. There are other ways of extinguishing a
world, of destroying a universe, and she will probably understand the message as soon as
the first victim is found. She will know that he did it in the name of love, and that he
feels no resentment, but will take her back and ask no questions about her life during
these past two years.

He hopes that six months of careful planning will produce results, but he will only know
for sure tomorrow morning. His plan is to allow the Furies, those ancient figures from
Greek mythology, to descend on their black wings to that blue-and-white landscape full of
diamonds, Botox, and high-speed cars of no use to anyone because they carry only two
passengers. With the little artifacts he has brought with him, all those dreams of power,
success, fame, and money could be punc- tured in an instant.

He could have gone up to his room because the scene he had been waiting to witness
occurred at 11:11
, although he would have been prepared to wait for even longer. The man and his beautiful
companion arrivedboth of them in full evening dressfor yet another of those gala events
that take place each night after every important supper, and which attracted more people
than any film premiere at the Festival.

Igor ignored the woman. He shielded his face behind a French news- paper (a Russian
newspaper would have aroused suspicions) so that she wouldnt see him. An unnecessary
precaution: like all women who feel themselves to be queen of the world, she never looked
at anyone else. Such women are there in order to shine and always avoid looking at what
other people are wearing because, even if their own clothes and accessories have cost them
a fortune, the number of diamonds or a par-

ticularly exclusive outfit worn by someone else might make them feel depressed or
bad-tempered or inferior.

Her elegant, silver-haired companion went over to the bar and or- dered champagne, a
necessary aperitif for a night that promised new contacts, good music, and a fine view of
the beach and the yachts moored in the harbor.

He noticed how extremely polite the man was, thanking the wait- ress when she brought
their drinks and giving her a large tip.

The three of them knew each other. Igor felt a great wave of happi- ness as the adrenaline
began to mingle with his blood. The following day he would make her fully aware of his
presence there and, at some point, they would meet.

God alone knew what would come of that meeting. Igor, an orthodox Catholic, had made a
promise and sworn an oath in a church in Moscow before the relics of St. Mary Magdalene
(which were in the Russian capi- tal for a week, so that the faithful could worship them).
He had queued for nearly five hours and, when he finally saw them, had felt sure that the
whole thing was something dreamed up by the priests. He did not, however, want to run the
risk of breaking his word, and so he had asked for her protection and help in achieving
his goal without too much sacri- fice. And he had promised, too, that when it was all over
and he could at last return to his native land, he would commission a golden icon from a
well-known artist who lived in a monastery in Novosibirsk.

At three in the morning,
thebaroftheHotelMartinezsmells of cigarettes and sweat. By then, Jimmy (who always wears
different colored shoes) has stopped playing the piano, and the waitress is ex- hausted,
but the people who are still there refuse to leave. They want to stay in that lobby for at
least another hour or even all night until something happens!

Theyre already four days into the Cannes Film Festival and still nothing has happened.
Every guest at every table is interested in but one thing: meeting the people with Power.
Pretty women are waiting for a producer to fall in love with them and give them a major role in their next movie. A
few actors are talking among themselves, laughing and pretending that the whole business
is a matter of complete indiffer- ence to thembut they always keep one eye on the door.

Someone is about to arrive. Someone must arrive. Young directors, full of ideas and with
CVs listing the videos they made at university, and who have read everything ever written
about photography and scriptwriting, are hoping for a stroke of luck; perhaps meeting
some- one just back from a party who is looking for an empty table where hell order a
coffee and light a cigarette, someone whos tired of going to the same old places all the
time and feels ready for a new adventure.

How naive!

If that did happen, the last thing such a person would want to hear about is some really
fresh angle on a hackneyed subject; but despair can deceive the desperate. The people with
power who do occasion- ally enter merely glance around, then go up to their rooms. Theyre
not worried. They have nothing to fear. The Superclass does not for- give betrayals and
they know their limitationswhatever the legend may say, they didnt get where they are by
trampling on others. On the other hand, if there is some important new discovery to be
madebe it in the world of cinema, music, or fashionit will emerge only after much research
and not in some hotel bar.

The Superclass are now making love to the girl who managed to gatecrash the party and who
is game for anything. Theyre taking off their makeup, studying the lines on their faces,
and thinking that its time for more plastic surgery. Theyre looking at the online news to
see if the announcement they made earlier that day has been picked up by the media. Theyre
taking the inevitable sleeping pill and drinking the tea that promises easy weight loss.
Theyre ticking the boxes on the menu for their room service breakfast and hanging it on
the door handle along with the sign saying Do not disturb. The Superclass are closing
their eyes and thinking: I hope I get to sleep quickly. Ive got a meeting tomorrow at ten.

However, everyone knows that the
bar in the Hotel Martinez is where the powerful people hang out, which means theres always
a chance of meeting them.

It doesnt even occur to the hopefuls that the Powerful only talk to the Powerful, that
they need to get together now and then for lunches and suppers, to lend allure to the big
festivals, to feed the fantasy that the world of luxury and glamour is accessible to all
those with the courage to pursue an idea, to avoid any nonlucrative wars and to pro- mote
aggression between countries or companies where they feel this might bring them more power
and more money, to pretend that theyre happy, even though theyre now hostage to their own
success, to con- tinue struggling to increase their wealth and influence, even when both
those things are already vast, because the vanity of the Superclass con- sists in
competing with itself to see who is the top of the tops.

In an ideal world, the Powerful would talk to the actors, directors, designers, and
writers who are now bleary-eyed with tiredness and thinking about going back to their
rented rooms in distant towns, so that tomorrow they can begin again the marathon of
making requests, fixing possible meetings, and being endlessly ready and available.

In the real world, the Powerful are, at this moment, locked in their rooms, checking their
e-mails, complaining that these Festival parties are always the same, that their friend
was wearing a bigger jewel than they were, and asking how come the yacht a competitor has
just bought has a totally unique decor?

Igor has no one to talk to, nor does he want to talk. The winner stands alone.

Igor is the successful owner and president of a telephone company in Russia. A year ago,
he reserved the best suite in the Martinez (which makes everyone pay up-front for at least
twelve nights, regardless of how long theyll be staying); he arrived this afternoon in his
private jet, was driven to the hotel, where he took a bath and then went down- stairs in
the hope of witnessing one particular scene. At first, he was pestered by actresses, actors, and directors, until he came up with the
perfect response for them all:

Dont speak English, sorry. Polish. Or: Dont speak French, sorry. Mexican. When someone
ventured a few words in Spanish, Igor tried another ploy. He started writing down numbers in a notebook so as to look neither like a
journalist (because everyone wants to meet journalists) nor like a movie mogul. Beside him
lay a Russian economics magazine (most people cant tell Russian from Polish or Spanish)
with the photo of some boring executive on the cover.

The denizens of the bar, who pride themselves on their keen under- standing of the human
race, leave Igor in peace, thinking that he must be one of those millionaires who comes to
Cannes in search of a new girlfriend. That, at least, is the rumor doing the rounds by the
time the fifth person has sat down at his table and ordered a mineral water, alleging that
there are no other free seats. Igor is duly relegated to the category of perfume.

Perfume is the slang term used by actresses (or starlets, as theyre called at the
Festival) because, as with perfumes, its easy enough to change brands, but one of them
might just turn out to be a real find. Perfumes are sought out during the last two days of
the Festival, if the actresses in question havent managed to pick up any- thing or anyone
of interest in the movie industry. For the moment, then, this strange, apparently wealthy
man can wait. Actresses know that its always best to leave the Festival with a new
boyfriend (whom they might, later on, be able to transform into a film producer) than to
move on to the next event and go through the same old ritual drinking, smiling (must keep
smiling), and pretending that youre not looking at anyone, while your heart beats
furiously, time ticks rapidly on, and there are still gala nights to which you havent yet
been invited, but to which the perfumes have.

They know what the perfumes are going to say because they always say the same thing, but
they pretend to believe them anyway.

(a) I could change your life. (b) A lot of women would like to be in your shoes. (c) Youre
young now, but what will become of you in a few years time? You need to think about making a longer-term investment. (d) Im married, but my wife . . . (This opening line can have various endings: . . . is ill, . . . has threatened to commit suicide if I leave her, etc.) (e) Youre a princess and deserve to be treated like one. I
didnt know it until now, but Ive been waiting for you. I dont believe in coincidences and I
really think we ought to give this rela- tionship a chance.

Its always the same old spiel. The only variable is how many pres- ents you get
(preferably jewelry, which can be sold), how many in- vites to yacht parties, how many
visiting cards you collect, how many times you have to listen to the same chat-up lines,
and whether you can wangle a ticket to the Formula 1 races, where youll get to mingle with
the same class of people and where your big chance might be there waiting for you.

Perfume is also the word used by young actors to refer to elderly millionairesses, all
plastic and Botox, but who are, at least, more intel- ligent than their male counterparts.
They never waste any time: they, too, arrive in the final days of the Festival, knowing
that money pro- vides their only pulling power.

The male perfumes deceive themselves: they think that the long legs and youthful faces
have genuinely fallen for them and can now be manipulated at will. The female perfumes put
all their trust in the power of their diamonds.

Igor knows nothing of all
this. This is his first time at the Festival. And he has just realized that, much to his
surprise, no one here seems very interested in films, except the people in that bar. He has leafed through a few magazines, opened the envelope in which his company has placed
the invitations to the most prestigious parties, but not one of them is for a film
premiere. Before traveling to France, he tried to find out which films were in the
running, but had great diffi- culty in obtaining this information. Then a friend said:

Forget about films. Cannes is just a fashion show.

Fashion. Whatever can people be
thinking?Dotheythink fashion is something that changes according to the season of the
year? Did they really come from all corners of the world to show off their dresses, their
jewelry, and their collection of shoes? They dont under- stand. Fashion is merely a way of
saying: I belong to your world. Im wearing the same uniform as your army, so dont shoot.

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