How do you rob the safest bank in the world?
The world is large. And it’s interconnected in ways we can’t even imagine. Ties of technology, community, culture — boggles the mind in this digital age.
And if there is one thing that has brought people together since the dawn of time, it’s commerce. trade. business. money.
It’s an odd thing to consider, but the Greeks learned geometry from the Egyptians. And they used it to keep track of who owned what land each year after the Nile flooded.
We’re connected through the centuries and across the globe in ways we can’t even imagine, and the Seanachai this week is a story about one of those connections.
It’s called. Azizullah’s vault. For the Seanachai, I’m Patrick McLean.
Somewhere North of Jalabad there is a town called Nangalam. In this town there is a banker. Not, however, the sort of banker you might be familiar with. But then Nangalam is probably not the kind of town you are familiar with. The streets are dirt, raw sewage drains on to the ground, yet this town is a hub of regional commerce.
And our banker is a young man named Azizulluah — we’ll call him Ziz. Ziz is not the bank president. Ziz is more like a clerk. A clerk in what might be the most secure bank in the world. You see the bank that Ziz works for has a vault, or more specifically, a cave high in the Hindu Kush. And to rob this vault, not only would you have to find it. You would have to convince every tribesman along the way that you belong there.
For, in this region of the world, they are not much enamored or impressed by invaders. In 1219 the Mongols laid waste to the entire region. And when compared to that, the Russians and the Americans, well, they just don’t measure up to the standards of Genghis Khan. And to take and hold the high passes and deep caves of these mountains, one would have to do substantially better than the troops of Genghis Khan. Even they stayed away. (from this part of town) These mountains have always remained closed to strangers. Or perhaps that’s not the right way to say it. They’ll let you in. You’ll just never make it out alive.
And that’s thing with robbing a bank. You’ve got to make it back out. Alive and with the money. And with this bank that’s just not going to happen.
Another interesting thing about Ziz is that where other clerks spend their time counting money and carefully rechecking the count, Ziz banks by weight. Ziz is simultaneously a clerk and a mule packer. He runs a Mule Train from Nangalam to his vault high in the mountains. At certain times of the year the mountains become impassible, and Ziz takes a vacation of sorts. But most of this young man’s life has been spent walking uphill or walking downhill.
Oh yes, and beating mules. He has 12 of them. To make this mundane workaday task more enjoyable he has given his mules special names. There are two mules named Bush, (George and George W) one named Brown, another named Blair, and a few of them have Russian names. Will he name his next mule Obama? Certainly, now that a fresh round of troops have been sent to Afghanistan. Not that it will make a difference. It will never makes a difference. There is simply nothing that Ziz can do to make a difference.
In fact, he couldn’t even kill George Bush when he had the chance.
To understand how this could be so, you must realize that the skill of Mule Packing is in fact a highly refined and technical art. It involves attaching regular parcels to an irregular animal in a balanced way. The better you are, the more you can fit on the mule, in a way that keeps the mule, well not happy, but at least less grumpy, and healthy.
But when you’re cold and tired — When a storm is coming in and you are in a hurry to get moving, well, Sometimes you cut corners. Sometimes you make mistakes. So on one trip, when Ziz realized that he was in danger of losing a bundle of money, he made his way back through the train, to adjust lashings. This no easy feat, because it meant he had to squeeze himself between the mules and a sheer rock face — a task made more difficult because on the other side of the mules was a 3,000 foot drop. It was also difficult because the mule with the loose pack was grumpy from carrying an uneven load. And as Ziz tried to fix the problem, the mule tried to stomp on his feet.
Ziz cursed and punched the mule. The mule spit and kicked. But eventually, Ziz got his hand on what he thought was the right knot.
But when he pulled on this knot. 160 pounds of twenty dollar bills landed on his feet and legs. This hurt Ziz, but it was nothing compared to what happened to the mule. With the sudden unbalancing of load, the mule named George Bush tipped violently to the left and went over the cliff.
What goes through George Bush’s mind when he faces certain death tumbling through the sky? To be sure, this has happened before, but below that George Bush there was ocean. Below this George Bush there was nothing sharp rock. And instead of a parachute strapped to his back there is a pack full of money, 1.48 million dollars that batters him each time he rolled and bounced down the 3000 foot rocky slope.
On the way down, George Bush brayed out in pain and fear to whatever stubborn God mules complain to. And halfway to the bottom the Mule God had slight mercy. The straps holding the remaining pack let go. And money was released from
the mule and thrown into the air to rain down, gracefully, onto the ravine below. Far more gracefully than poor mule.
“Surely, George Bush is dead.” Ziz thought to himself. But in the same instant, he also calculated how much money had been lost.
On the return trip, Ziz had collected what dollars he could find. In the course of salvaging nearly a million dollars, he found George Bush, chewing on a bit of scrub grass. He was scratched in a few places, but otherwise, none the worse for wear. As it turns out, George Bush is hard to kill.
Ziz packed the salvaged money up the mountain. Leaving some half a million dollars of the great Satan’s filthy money scattered and decomposing in a hidden valley of the Hindu Kush. It was demoralizing trip, but ultimately necessary. You see, as surely as a flame needs fire, terrorism and the international narcotics trade needs ready, untraceable cash. And for the men who use Azizullah’s unique bank – it is always, always cash and carry.
On the other side of the world, wrapped in the concentric circles of bureaucracy known as Washington D.C., there is a wizard. He is not, however, the sort of wizard you might be familiar with. He does not work in a high tower. The air around him does not crackle with eldrich magic. It is, however, cooled or heated as the season requires. And raw sewage is whisked from the building through the marvel of indoor plumbing.
But make no mistake, this man is a true Thaumaturge. From his marble sepulcher that squats and broods in a fetid swamp alongside the Potomac (a swamp that has long since been drained and paved over, yes, but still a swamp in spirit) he manipulates his symbols and mystical formulae to affect change in the wider world. And all of his sinister devices are pieces of paper.
Now, gentle reader, it may be that you are stout of heart, or thick of thew and the kind of person who is not easily scared by pieces of paper. But let me assure you, fear is the only correct response here. Because the pieces of paper through which this Wizard will work his magic are the pieces of paper that you know as money.
You see this Wizard has the power to rob the safest bank in the world. To plunder Azizullah’s vault without ever leaving his office. Without even uttering the magic phrase, “Look Ma, no hands.”
All the wizard need do is wave his magic pen, [mutter a few arcane phrases,] and sign a few mystic slips of paper. And when he does this] and dollars will created. And these dollars will go out into the world to as faithfully as the broom in the Sorcerer’s Apprentice. And just like the broom in the Sorcerer’s Apprentice, these dollars will multiply. As the banks lend and lend and lend these newborn dollars will increase 10 fold.
And when this happens, there will be no spell that can call the pieces of paper back.
So if the Wizard works his magic too vigorously and too often, we all be drowning in sea of rapidly devaluing dollars; The unhappy consequence of meddling with forces that no one man, or committee of men should attempt to wield.
But what of Azizullah, banker to terrorists and drug dealers, with his his train of mules and his mountain full of ready cash? What will happen to him? What will be the worth of all the steps he has taken, all the mules he has beaten and the storms he has braved? Will they all have been for nothing?
Will the dollars become so worthless, that they won’t even be worth the trouble it would take to haul them back down the mountain? Will they, at last, only be fit for use as fuel in sputtering dung fires in the thin air found high in the Hindu Kush?
Only time will tell.
But for now Azizullah trudges on. Beating George Bush with a stick he tore from an Apricot tree.