The human being is a complex machine, the human mind even more so. It’s no wonder that, with all that complexity, thing sometimes don’t line up quite right. And with love as the most complex emotion, it’s no surprise to find that as the very thing that becomes stunted or twisted in a person, leaving them incapable of loving or of being loved in return.

I’m not sure whether to loathe these wretches, or to pity them. Perhaps a measure of both is called for.

Recall, for instance, Alberto Luis Exposito, president and dictator of the República de San Martín from 1960 to 1989. The only son of a cold military man and the formerly vivacious daughter of a major politician, Exposito lived in a household where love was a weapon. His parents, unable to divorce, engaged in and flaunted numerous affairs simply out of spite. At the military academy, his classmates taunted him for his shyness and lack of experience with women, but his superiors respected his drive and lack of distraction.

By the time of the Sanmartíno Coup of 1955, he was a colonel and a member of the junta that seized power from the democratically elected government. By methodically playing his adversaries against one another he became president at the astonishingly young age of 35; Exposito became known as “El Caudillo” after his idol, Spanish strongman Francisco Franco. The República de San Martín ran like a Swiss watch under his regime, with torture and imprisonment alongside urban and rural development (much of it implemented by forced labor).

The inhabitants of Pueblo Navarro, a small city outside the capital, felt Exposito’s wrath more than most. Seemingly at will, he rearranged the city and its people: approving new construction one day and demolishing those same buildings the next, sacking or reinstating or handpicking everyone from the mayor to street vendors. Those who lived along the Plaza de la Revolucíon in particular felt the sting of El Caudillo’s micromanagement, and wondered how a man with 15 million people under his thumb had time to review candidates for milkman.

After Exposito was overthrown in 1989, the American ambassador to the República de San Martín from 1977-1981 confided to reporters what he had been forbidden to discuss: President Exposito, El Caudillo of the República de San Martín, had been madly in love with Maria Ramirez, a stenographer he had met during an official tour of Pueblo Navarro in 1966. Unable to bring himself to approach her, and unwilling to apply the full force of his dictatorial power to force her to his side, Exposito had instead made informants of Maria’s friends and coworkers and used his titanic influences to remove what he saw as annoyances and distractions. It was his vain and twisted hope that Maria would notice the great hand of state at work in her life and reward the president with her love.

There is no reason to suspect that Maria even noticed Exposito’s interest before her 1988 death in an automobile accident.

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In a land that appears on no map
Is a tower with no doors or windows
In the tower with no doors or windows
Is a room with no entrances or exits
In the room with no entrances or exits
Is a box with no keyhole or lid
In the box with no keyhole or lid
Is a treasure without value or worth
In the treasure without value or worth
Is the rule of the breadth of the land
In the hands of a worthy man

It was a silly saying, Masaka mused, one that had been passed down from tongue to tongue so that it no longer rhymed in any language. But even today, in a world of automobiles and cellular telephones, many of his countrymen believed the old riddle that predated even the arrival of Islam. Many a village sage had laid the failure of government after government and the succession of coup after coup on the lack of that paradoxically worthless treasure.

Masaka didn’t believe the legend, but he believed in propaganda. That is why he had brought in archaeologists and surveyors to scour the records, aerial photographs and–if need be–the dunes themselves to locate a structure that matched the description of the legend well enough to pass. He’d taken time out from the tiring routine of personally interrogating and executing political enemies to review potential sites before selecting a site in the al-Qabs dune sea.

The tower was a relic of an abandoned trade route, and any entrances or exits it once had were obscured by sand. Masaka had his men dig an entrance from beneath. There was indeed a room, partially formed by rubble, with no ingress or egress. Masaka had his men tunnel through decorative limestone–ignoring the protests of the Western archaeologists. And in that room there was a stone object choked with rubble that could be charitably described as a box. Masaka removed the rubble personally; a bit of period papyrus subtly altered by his hirelings was tucked in his sleeve just in case.

What he hadn’t considered–what even the riddle was silent about–was what would happen should an unworthy man open that container with neither hinges nor keyhole.

He found out soon enough.