Cake in the Clouds
Thomas Calabrese– The phrase ‘pie in the sky’ is originally from the song “The Preacher and the Slave” (1911) by songwriter Joe Hill (1879–1915), which he wrote as a parody of the Salvation Army hymn ‘In the Sweet By-and-By’. It became popular during the Great Depression of the 1930s, to describe a happy future or something good happening in the future that was unlikely to come to pass.
There are as many nights as there are days and even the brightest day may be followed by the darkest night. A contented life cannot exist without some measure of displeasure and annoyance. The word happy would lose its value if it were not balanced on the other side of the scale by sadness.
Luis Sanchez was born in Pinos, Mexico in the state of Zacatera. He played in the 1955 Pan American Games and planned on being a doctor, but because his family was so poor, he signed a contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers. Luis was the starting second baseman on April 18, 1958 when the Dodgers played the Giants at the Coliseum before 78,672 fans. Over the next ten years, Luis played every infield and outfield position for the Dodgers. It was during the seventh inning in a game against the Cincinnati Reds, Luis was trying to score from second base on a single to right field and collided with the catcher who had the baseline blocked. Luis’ right leg was bent back and he severely ruptured the anterior cruciate ligament in his knee. He spent months trying to rehabilitate his knee after surgery, but the damage was too extensive. Luis had been one of the best base runners in the league, but he had lost his speed and quickness and worst of all his leg would buckle whenever he changed directions too quickly. Luis reluctantly accepted the reality that his baseball career was over.
The Dodgers offered him a position as a talent scout and gave him San Diego County and parts of Mexico as his areas of responsibility. One of his former managers and close friend, Brooks Nolan and his wife were killed in the terrorist attack and collapse of the World Trade Center. Luis was broken-hearted when he found out about their deaths. He wanted desperately to fly to New York, but realized it was a disaster scene and he’d only be in the way.
A week later, Luis received a call from the Nolans’ family lawyer, Derrick Herbert. After identifying himself he said, “I was instructed to contact you if something happened to Brooks and Beth. In their will, they specified that you should be the first person I contacted about their grandson, Frankie.”
“Contact me about what?” Luis asked.
Derrick responded, “Accepting custody. Frankie has had a lot of tragedy in his life. He lost his mother when he was a young boy, then his father died and now his grandparents have been killed. I know this is a shock, but I’m doing my best to find the best situation for Frankie. If you say no, I’ll starting working my way down the list of possible foster parents.”
Luis countered, “I’ll need to discuss this with my wife. Would it be alright to give you my answer tomorrow?”
“Absolutely, I won’t call anybody else until I hear back from you. There is one other thing to consider,” Derrick said.
“What’s that?” Luis asked.
Derrick answered, “Frankie’s wishes, even though he’s still a minor, it wouldn’t be fair to send him to California if he didn’t want to go. I also don’t want to offer him something, then say it wasn’t available. The last thing he needs is another disappointment,”
“That’s make sense, his welfare has to be the main priority, “Luis agreed.
Luis kept a small apartment in San Marcos when he was scouting players in San Diego County, but his main home was in Pinos, Mexico. He was currently in the area scouting players in the Poway school district. Luis called his wife, Elena on the phone to discuss the phone he received about Frankie’s situation.
She advised, “The transition would be too stressful to bring him to Mexico, especially after losing his grandparents. If you decide to do this, you’ll need to find a nice neighborhood with good schools in the area. I’ll come up whenever I can and you and the boy can come down when it fits into your schedule.”
“Is that going to be alright with you?” Luis said, “I don’t even know this kid or if I want to take on this kind of responsibility at this point in my life.”
“Life doesn’t always proceed according to our schedule. The question is; considering the situation and your friend trusting you with his grandson, can you live with yourself if you said no? Whatever you decide is fine with me, I won’t second guess you,” Elena pointed out, “Once again…it’s your call.”
“If I’m here with this boy, that would means less time for me to help you. Have you considered that?” Luis asked
“This farm has been in my family for five generations, I grew up on it, worked on it from the time I was old enough to walk. We have good men to help me. Sorry, but you can’t use that as an excuse. I love you,” Elena said, “Follow your heart.”
Luis called Derrick Herbert the next morning, “He’s welcome here.”
For two weeks, Luis did not hear anything, so he assumed that Frankie Nolan had chosen not to come and he had conflicting emotions, he didn’t know whether to be relieved or disappointed.
Derrick Herbert finally called, “Frankie wanted to see if they recovered his grandparents’ bodies before making any decisions. Since it doesn’t look like that’s going to happen, he’s ready to leave. I’m prepared to handle all the arrangements. That is if you haven’t changed your mind?”
“It is still alright,” Luis tried to be convincing.
Upon his arrival in San Diego, Frankie was overly polite, almost to the point of being apologetic “Thank you very much, Mr. Sanchez for allowing me to come. I wish it could be under different circumstances.”
“Please accept my deepest condolences for your loss.”
“Thank you, sir.”
When I hurt my knee, your grandfather was there for me. I’ll never forget what he said when I was feeling sorry for myself.
Frankie said, “Something like…there are as many nights as there are days in a lifetime. Even the brightest day may be followed by the darkest night. A contented life cannot exist without some measure of displeasure, annoyance and failure. The word happy would lose its value if it were not balanced on the other side of the scale by sadness.
“Almost to the word,” Luis smiled.
“That was definitely one of his favorite sayings. Another one was you have to a few ‘pie in the sky’ ‘cake in the clouds’ dreams. They are not supposed to be realistic, otherwise they would call them realities, not dreams, so dream on. Of all the days to be at the World Trade Center and at that particular time. Did you know that their original appointment was at one pm? They got a call the day before asking if they could meet at nine- thirty in the morning instead. They took the train in from Ridgefield, Connecticut and were sitting in the office of the lawyer on the t 78th floor of the South Tower at nine am when the lawyer called and said he was running twenty minutes late.”
“I didn’t know that.” Luis said.
Frankie continued, “At 9:03 am, Flight 175 crashed into the building between the 77th and 85th floors and my grandparents were probably killed instantly. Do you know who that lawyer was?”
It wasn’t that difficult a guess for Luis, “Derrick Herbert?”
“You know what they were there for?”
Luis took another guess, “Something to do with you?”
“They were there to update their last will and testament so that I would be taken of,” Frankie sighed, “if they weren’t looking out for me, they would be alive today.”
“I’m curious, if you spent most of your life on the East Coast why did you want to come to Southern California…especially now?”
Frankie answered, “Because if I stayed back there, people would feel sorry for me. They would be sympathetic and empathetic and it would all be well-intentioned. Right now, being the victim is the last thing I need or want. ”
“What do you need?”
Frankie responded without hesitation, “To be strong and tough. I’m going to join the Marines as soon as I’m old enough, which is twenty-three months away. I’m looking all of the following; revenge, retribution and a reckoning with those terrorists. The grief counselor told me that these feelings are self-destructive. She couldn’t talk me out of it and neither will you, so don’t even try. If that’s going to be a problem, I’ll be moving on.”
“No problem, I’d feel the same way,” Luis said.
When Frankie told Derrick Herbert that he was going to attend Carlsbad High School, the attorney contacted Christine Marshall of Coldwell Banker Realty, “You come highly recommended. My name is Derrick Herbert.”
Christine asked, “By whom, if you don’t mind me asking?”
“Mona Scott, I’m an attorney, I handled some legal matters for her Uncle George.”
“How can I help you?” Christine asked.
Derrick replied, “I want to purchase an investment property in the Carlsbad High School district.”
“I can help you with that, tell me what you’re looking for?” Christine asked.
“I’m going to give you Luis Sanchez’s phone number. I’ll tell him to be expecting your call. Show him some good properties.”
Christine asked, “What price range?”
“Don’t worry about that… Mona said that you’re a full service realtor. Whatever they decide on, I’ll need a property management company to take care of it. I’ll also require your recommendations in furnishing it.. I’m willing to pay extra for additional services.”
Luis knew that while it may be a good investment opportunity for Derrick Herbert, the main reason that he was doing it was personal, not financial. With Christine’s guidance and assistance, Luis and Frankie moved into a completely furnished 3000 square foot, four bedroom home in a gated community in the Calaveras Hills area of Carlsbad.
The residence was big enough for the Sanchez family to come and visit from Mexico. Derrick came to visit every couple of months to see how Frankie was doing and after meeting Christine in person, he decided to invest more heavily in the tri-city area of Oceanside, Carlsbad and Vista. It soon became one big extended family with Christine and her husband Wally, Luis’s family, Frankie and Derrick often getting together for dinner at the house.
Frankie was totally focused on his responsibilities, which allowed Luis to travel without worrying about the young boy. During the times he was going to be gone for more than a few days in scouting talent Vanessa Rodriguez, the housekeeper and cook would stay in the guest room and prepared meals during his absence.
Frankie told his guardian, “I’m old enough to stay by myself.”
“I know, but it gives Vanessa an opportunity to pick up some extra money…you don’t know want to deny her that, do you?” Luis said with a sly grin
“Anyway you want to do it is fine with me,” Frankie had other things on mind beside showing how independence he was.
During the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays, Luis and Frankie flew to Pinos, Mexico. Frankie quickly embraced the rural lifestyle, like he did everything else, with determination and energy. He would be up early in the morning and out in the fields with the workers picking chili peppers, guavas, grapes and peaches.
Elena told Frankie after a hard day’s work, when he saw the young boy perspiring heavily and sitting with the pickers, “You don’t have to do this.”
“Yeah I do, this place is important to you and Luis, which means it’s important to me. I have to do my part, otherwise I wouldn’t feel right about accepting your hospitality.”
When Frankie was at Carlsbad High School, he was sociable and friendly, but didn’t do much outside socializing off school grounds. He preferred to spend his free time running, swimming or exercising at Planet Fitness. Even after he became a star pitcher and power hitting first baseman for the school team, Frankie still felt more comfortable being alone than hanging out with his teammates, although he would reluctantly tag alone sometimes.
When he met retired Marine, Lt. Colonel Bill Wagner and combat veteran at the fitness center, Frankie had a hundred questions for him. The astute Marine sensed that the young boy had underlying issues because he asked so many specific questions about training and combat. Eventually, Frankie confided in him about his grandparents’ deaths at the World Trade Center.
From that point forward, Bill Wagner did everything he could to make sure that Frankie had all the information he wanted. He took him to the Marine Corps Recruit Depot and Camp Pendleton and explained the training cycle and how to prepare for each phase. They also patronized Iron Sights shooting range in Oceanside where the young boy familiarized himself with a variety of weapons.
Frankie also began taking instructions from a Navy Seal instructor, who taught him a combination of mixed martial arts techniques including Taekwondo, Muay Thai, Krav Maga, grappling and basic self-defense.
Frankie had options when he graduated from Carlsbad High School. He received dozens of scholarship offers to play baseball and Derrick offered him a high paying position to work in his office. Even if he chose to do none of the above, there was enough money in Frankie’s trust fund so that he could take a few years off and travel the world if he chose to do so. His future plans had not changed since the death of his grandparents. On his 18th birthday, Frankie joined the Marine Corps and two months later, he left for boot camp to start the next chapter of his life.
Over the next seven years, Frankie remained laser focused on becoming the best Marine that he could be, which in his mind would give him more opportunities to be involved in missions to take down terrorists. Whenever he wasn’t on deployment or on a mission, Frankie maintained contact with Luis and his wife and Derrick Herbert. He became very adept at keeping his military career separate from his personal life.
Ten years after joining the Marine Corps, Luis notified Frankie that he was retiring from being a baseball scout, “I’m tired of the traveling and I’m heading back to Mexico. I’m looking forward to staying in one place for a change, getting’ my hands dirty and seeing my wife every morning and night.”
“You deserve to take it easy, you’ve earned it. Anything I can do?” Frankie said.
Luis replied, “Stay safe and come visit.”
“You mean like I always do?”
“I’m proud of you…always have been, never forget that,” Luis said, “You grew up to be a good honorable man.”
“That’s because I had you as my role model,” Frankie said, “I’ll be seeing you soon.”
Three months later, Derrick Herbert called Frankie in the evening hours, “I hope I didn’t catch you at a bad time. I waited until after works hours to call.”
Frankie sensed there was a problem, “I’ve been off duty for a couple of hours. What’s going on?”
Luis called me last week, he was pretty upset.”
Derrick answered, “Somebody wants to buy his farm.”
“He’d never sell that place…it means too much to him and Elena,” Frankie said.
“I know that and you know that, but the buyer thinks he can convince him otherwise. His workers have been threatened, beaten and some buildings have been burned. The more he refuses to sell, the more danger he’s in.”
“Why did he call you?” Frankie asked, “What does he expect you to do?”
Derrick answered, “He wanted me to check on the person who wants to buy his property.”
“Who he is?” Frankie asked.
Derrick sighed, “Semion Mogilevich had been a powerful and elusive figure in the international criminal underworld since the 1990s. As the ruthless leader of the so-called Red Mafia of Russia, he has been described as the world’s most powerful gangster. Mogilevich his hands in extortion, large-scale drug trafficking, prostitution, and nuclear weapons trading. He is considered an existential threat to Israel and Eastern Europe. In one criminal deal, Mogilevich sold $20 million worth of pilfered Warsaw Pact weapons from East Germany, including ground-to-air missiles and 12 armored troop carriers to Iran. It’s his men that are terrorizing the farmers.”
“I’ve heard about him,” Frankie answered.
Derrick continued, “Mogilevich is buying every parcel of land in the area. He’s getting it at discounted prices because the locals are afraid to say no.”
“Silver production in Zacatecas was over 2.1 thousand metric tons last year and expected to increase. My guess is that is why he is expanding into Mexico,” Frankie surmised.
“Luis made me promise not to tell you, he didn’t want you to worry.”
“Sounds like him. If he asks, I tell him I found out on my own,” Frankie said, “How much money do I have in my investment accounts?”
Derrick thought for a second, “I don’t know the exact amount right now, but somewhere around 10 million…why?”
“I may need to use some of it. Mogilevich likes to use military veterans to carry out his operations. I know some veterans that might be interested in taking a trip with me.”
“Is the Marine Corps going to be okay with this?” Derrick asked.
Frankie responded, “I’ve got some leave on the books, I’ll take that and if I need more time, I’ll put in my paperwork for a humanitarian discharge. We gave up Afghanistan to the terrorists, I won’t give up this land to gangsters. ”
“Luis and his wife are my friends too. Anything you need, you can count on me.”
Because of his exceptional record, Frankie’s commanding officer, Lt Colonel Mike Cameron approved his request for leave without question, “Take as much time as you need.”
Frankie called Brownwater Security, a company that hired former Marines, Seals, Delta Force and Rangers and briefed Erik King, the CEO on the situation, “A lot of men have scores settle with Mogilevich, including me. I’ve always had an interest in buying some property in Mexico, this would be a good time for me to do that. Pinos is a good place to start,” Erik said.
Two days later, a cargo plane loaded with weapons, special equipment and 35 highly trained operatives left Tijuana for Ponciano Arriaga International Airport. Upon their arrival, the men unloaded their equipment and weapons onto several trucks. Six SUV’s were parked nearby. Erik paid a man with three stacks of hundred dollar bills, “Thanks Pedro.”
“Anytime…I’ve got a hunch where you’re going, but don’t tell me because I don’t want to know. Good luck, you’re going to need it. These are muy malo hombres,” Pedro waved to his men that it was time to go.
When the convoy pulled up to the hacienda, Luis and Elena came outside to see what was going on. They saw Frankie step out of the lead vehicle, “I wasn’t expecting you?” Luis asked.
Frankie lied, “We were doing an operation in Central America. I told my command that you wouldn’t mind letting us stay here for a while we await further orders. Is that alright?”
“Yeah, of course. Your men can use the bunkhouse,” Luis said.
Frankie responded, “I’ll get them situated then come up to the main house later.”
Luis and Elena walked back inside the house.
“From the expression on his face, I don’t think he believed you,” Erik said.
Frankie sighed, “He’s not an easy guy to fool.”
The highly trained operatives stayed on the farm and helped out wherever they were needed while waiting for Mogilevich’s men to make their move. Three days later, two SUV’s filled with armed men drove on the property. Frankie and Erik were in the fields working at the time.
One of the men in the SUV commented when he saw men working, “It looks like Sanchez has got himself more hired help.”
Zef Lika, the leader of the group snarled, “You run those men off while I make Sanchez one final offer.”
When the vehicles stopped in front of the house, one group of men went into the fields, while the others followed Lika toward the main house. They were intercepted by Frankie and Erik on the way, “You want something?”
Lika asked, “Who are you?”
“I heard that you’re interested in buying this land. I’m handling the negotiations from this point forward. What’s your offer?” Frankie’s voice was stern and unbending.
“Thirty-five thousand dollars.”
Frankie shook his head, “That’s too low…I wouldn’t even consider an offer under five million.”
Lika laughed, “You’re a funny guy… how much is staying alive worth to you?” The man gestured to his armed companions, “My men are just waiting to pay you in bullets, once I give the order.”
Frankie nodded to Erik and they pulled their pistols before anybody could react and shot all the men except Lika. He just stood there dumfounded as Frankie put the barrel of his pistol to his forehead, “You were telling me something about staying alive and getting paid in bullets…could you repeat it…I wasn’t listening that closely?”
Lika was still defiant, “I brought more men with me.”
A group of operatives came walking up, “We took care of the men in the field…what do you want us to do with their bodies?”
“Load these into a truck and I’ll show you a place to bury ‘em all,” Frankie answered and slapped Lika across the head with his weapon, “I don’t think we’ll have worry about the rest of your men.”
Luis came walking up and casually looked at the dead bodies being dragged off and commented, “I thought we had company, but I can see they won’t be staying for lunch,” Luis spit in Lika’s face, “I told you to stay off my property…you should have listened.”
“I’m pretty sure I messed up any opportunities for you to sell,” Frankie commented.
Luis answered, “I knew that Derrick was going to tell you…so in a way it was my roundabout way of asking for your help. I was kind of embarrassed I couldn’t handle it myself.”
Frankie laughed, “Tell me what…I don’t know nothing,” and put his arm around his friend and guardian’s shoulder, “You were there for me when I needed you, I’ll always be there for you.”
Zef Lika was taken to the barn and securely tied to a beam with metal wire, “Now it’s my turn to make to make you a low- ball offer,” Frankie said and he tightened the wire around the gangster’s wrists and ankles. You’re either going to help us or we’re going to torture you to death. We are extremely proficient at keeping you alive, while you’ll be begging us to put you out of your misery. Your pleas for mercy will only encourage us to give you more excruciating pain.” Frankie grabbed a hammer and hit Lika in the knee, “Have I got your attention yet?”
Lika was fear-stricken, “If I help you, Semion will kill me.”
Erik clarified the option, “That is one more incentive to make sure we don’t fail to take him.””
Lika shook his head, “Real simple…a lot of people have tried to kill him and he’s still breathing. Their bodies are scattered all over the world….most are in tiny pieces. I don’t intend to be one of them. I’ve got a lot of money…how much will it cost me to get out of this?”
“Stop whining about your mortality, none of us gets out of life alive,” Frankie reminded his captive, “I need a decision now…you can save your negotiating skills for when you get to hell.”
Later, Lika called Mogilevich in Albania, “Sanchez sold his farm for the lower price, but I’ve got even better news. There’s an abandoned mining shaft on his property so I had an engineer take a look at it. His preliminary report is it contains massive silver ore deposits. The number-one silver-producing country in the world is Mexico. In 2019, they produced 6,300 metric tons and Zacatecas totaled half of that amount. A lot of money to be made down here, much more than we originally thought.”
Mogilevich responded simply, “I’m on my way.”
After disconnecting the call, Lika turned to Frankie, “Good enough?”
Lika got word when Mogilevich was arriving. Erik taped a two ounce C-4 plastic explosive charge to Lika’s chest, Just in case anything goes wrong, this should be enough to blow a hole through your heart.”
When the private jet landed, a dozen armed guards exited and secured the area around the plane. The elderly Mogilevich came walking out. Lika, flanked by Frankie and Erik and followed by a dozen special operatives.
Mogilevich sensed something was wrong, “Are you doing alright?”
“Might have caught a touch of food poisoning,” Lika grimaced.
“Show me the mine,” Mogilevich demanded.
In the distance, ten snipers were waiting for their signal. Erik touched his head and the security detail went down in unison.
Frankie pulled his pistol and pointed at the gangster, “Plans have changed.”
Two hours later, Erik told Frankie, “Israel has a 25 million dollar reward for Mogilevech. I’ll deliver him and Lika in person and visit some friends in Tel Aviv. Go spend some time with your family, I’ll send your share of the reward.”
“Send it to Luis Sanchez.” Frankie smiled, “When you have pie in the sky and cake in the clouds hopes… fate will cut you a nice big slice every now and then!”
– Work of fiction. Names, characters, business, events and incidents are the products of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance
The Veterans Writing Group of San Diego County invites all writers to join us at our monthly meetings. Veterans and Non-Veterans are equally welcome. For more information go to our website: www.veteranswritinggroup.org