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Calendar >  Carnage Asada – Thomas Calabrese

Carnage Asada – Thomas Calabrese

By   /  January 29, 2023  /  13 Comments


Trip to Tijuana

Thomas Calabrese – Looking back, Master Chief Jake Bondarenko had mixed emotions about his upcoming retirement. He vividly remembered every one of his 14 deployments and how he earned three Silver Stars, two Bronze Stars, seven Purple Hearts and numerous commendations. The men that he served with were like his extended family and the memories of his fallen comrades were forever embedded into his heart and soul and would stay with him until the end of his days.

Jake never thought he’d live long enough to retire from the Navy Seals, figuring he would be dead or disabled long before reaching a quarter century of military service. He was a highly trained Special Operator, but he knew that luck had as much to do with his survival as his unique set of skills. Jake might have been able to squeeze another year or two out of his battle weary body, but like most professional athletes who have to face the reality of not performing at their highest level, Jake thought it was better to leave too early than too late.

Over his two plus decades of service, Jake met only two women that he thought seriously about marrying, but couldn’t do it, because he cared too much about them. The first time was while going through specialized training in Key West, Florida and the second was 15 years later when he was on assignment in Sicily. He dedicated his life to a particular calling and knew he didn’t have it in him to be one hundred per cent committed to a marriage and the mission as a Special Operator at the same time so he did the honorable thing and ended the relationships. Jake had a high tolerance for pain, but the emotional toll of walking away from love was even harder than going through ‘Hell Week’ for him.  

While Jake may have had his share of reservation of starting his own family while serving in Special Operations, he was extremely grateful for the one he was born into. His father Carl was a hardworking and honorable man who served six years in the Marines and joined the electrician apprenticeship program after his discharge. After he became a journeyman, he worked three years on a Las Vegas casino project before returning to Oceanside to work on a water desalination plant on Camp Pendleton. When the time was right he started his own electrical contractor business and built it into a very successful enterprise and specialized in commercial construction.

Jake’s older brother Dan joined the Army when Jake was a freshman in high school. Dan became an Army Ranger and hoped to join Delta Force before he was wounded in combat and was medically discharged. He went to Southern Methodist University on the G.I. Bill and earned a Bachelor of Science degree in finance. After working at two brokerage firms, Dan went into partnership with several others graduates to form an investment firm and became very successful specializing in the oil and mineral sector.

Jake’s mom, Ellen undoubtedly worried the most about him which was normal for any mother but she never expressed her fears. The family was very secretive about what Jake did in the military and when anybody asked about him, they responded simply, “He’s serving in the military,” and quickly changed the subject.

The Bondarenko family was very close. Carl and his wife met with their oldest son during the early stages of their youngest son’s Special Operations career. “We need to make sure that Jake is taken care of when he leaves the military,” Carl said.

Dan smiled, “I agree, I’ll put something together.”

The family started an investment account, but didn’t tell Jake about it. They contributed to it on a monthly basis and Dan made timely and profitable decisions over the years and it grew to almost five million dollars. When the time came, Carl turned over the day to day operation of his business to Superintendent Greg Shepard and bought a home on a hill with a panoramic view of the picturesque Minden Valley in Gardnerville, Nevada and moved there with his wife. Besides a much slower and tranquil lifestyle, taxes were much lower in Nevada then in California.

Jake wasn’t overly enthused for a retirement party, but he agreed to it because he knew that it was important to his teammates. His parents and brother came in for the festivities that were being held at Danny’s Palm Bar and Grill on Orange Avenue in Coronado. A good time was had by all as the party went on well after midnight.

Jakes’s family was staying at the Coronado Marriott and he met them in the lobby the next morning.

Ellen commented, “That was a very pleasant affair, you have some really nice friends.”

            “Since you were there, I told them to be on their best behavior. I made it emphatically clear that there would be no throwing people through windows or excessive bloodletting. To be honest, I’m the worst of them all,” Jake joked.

 Carl asked his son, “You’re a civilian now…what’s next?”

Jake simply replied, “I have a few options, but nothing definite.” 

Dan suggested, “Why don’t we take a ride to Oceanside, I have some business up there. Does anybody mind?”

Carl replied quickly, “We don’t mind, do we?”

            “I’d like see Oceanside,” Ellen seconded.

Jake sat in the backseat with his mother and made small talk while his brother drove and his father sat in the passenger seat. After arriving in Oceanside and exiting off Interstate 5 on Mission Avenue, Dan drove to Sleeping Indian Road.

Jake asked, “Where are we going?”

            “We’re almost there, I want you to give me your opinion without any pre-conceived notions,” Dan said.

            “I don’t know why my opinion should matter,” Jake said, “You’re the expert.”

Ellen said, “Your opinion matters very much.”

Jake sensed something was amiss, but went along without being too inquisitive.

Dan pressed the remote and the steel gate opened. Dan explained as they drove on the wide asphalt driveway though a canopy of trees. “There are three houses, the main one has three bedrooms, the other two are guest houses that have two bedrooms and are smaller in square footage. It also has a swim spa, outside kitchen, a view of the ocean and the San Luis Rey Valley as well as a greenhouse, six car garage and a storage building for tools and garden equipment. It has solar and few other amenities.”

            “Don’t forget the double wide trailer where the caretaker and his wife live,” Carl added.

            “How do you know about that?” Jake asked.

Ellen quickly answered, “Your brother told us a little about the place before you arrived this morning.”

The family took a walk around the five-acre property before entering the houses. They were all furnished differently and were move-in ready including having silverware, pots and dishes in the kitchen, towels in the bathroom and sheets and comforters on the beds. Everything was perfectly arranged as if they were model homes.

There was a knock at the door and man and woman in their late fifties were standing there. Dan introduced them, “This is Marco and Maria Romero, Marco takes care of the grounds and Maria does the cooking and housekeeping.”

            “Cooking and housekeeping for who?” Jake asked, “My instincts tell me that you’re not telling me everything.”  

            “This is our place…which means it is your place,” Ellen said, bursting to tell her son about the surprise.

Carl proceeded to explain, “We made a pledge that when you retired, we would have something waiting for you.”

            “This isn’t necessary…I always had your support when I was on active duty and that was more than enough for me.” Jake said.

            “No offense, son, but I’m your mother and I outrank you so don’t argue. I need you to listen to your brother.” Ellen said.

            “Yes Ma’am.”

Dan started, “We bought this property about ten years ago when it went into foreclosure. Dad supervised the construction and renovations, Mom was in charge of the interior design and furnishings and I handled the financing.”

            “Marco Quintero worked for me at the shop until a heavy roll of copper wire fell off a pallet and crushed his right leg. He couldn’t go back to work so when he recovered I offered him this job and a place to live to supplement his disability payments,” Carl said.

            “You noticed that there are three houses, the larger one is for you and the other two are vacation homes when it’s too cold in Nevada or too hot in Texas. We figured that when we came to visit, everybody would have their own space and we wouldn’t cramp your style.” Dan said.

Jake was overcome with emotions at his family’s immense gift and said, “Even if I decide to move here, I shouldn’t get the main house, one of you should get it…it’s just me and I can live anywhere.”

Carl disagreed, “That won’t work, your mom decorated our homes to our preference and furnished your place to the way she thought you’d like it. We don’t want to change things around now, besides this will be your primary residence and only our vacation homes.”

Ellen was bursting with excitement, “Tell him about the other good news.”

            “I’ve been investing for you for quite a while to help supplement your military pension,” Dan said, “I’ve been pretty lucky.” He pulled up some information on his phone and showed it to Jake, “You are the beneficiary of our family trust and as of today we have five million, 349 thousand and 623 dollars. I can set it up for you to receive money on a weekly, bi weekly or monthly basis for any amount you choose to supplement your pension.”

            “A simple thank you very much doesn’t seem adequate to express how grateful I am,” Jake said.

 Before anybody could answer, Maria walked up, “When would you like to have dinner?”

            “We’re ready right now. Tell Marco that I expect both of you to join us,” Carl said.

 Maria had prepared an elaborate Mexican feast that everyone enjoyed. After dinner, Carl suggested, “We were planning on staying around a few days if that’s alright?”

            “You could stay forever and it would be alright with me,” Jake responded.

Dan added, “Since the property is part of the family trust, all the bills, taxes and expenses are paid out of it. My office is currently handling everything so we might as well keep it that way. Marco has his own debit card for supplies that we add to every month. We want you to enjoy your retirement without any hassles. One more thing, if you want to buy a car or take a trip, just call me and I’ll handle that too.”

            “I don’t want you changing your lives to take care of me,” Jake protested.

Ellen said, “We’ve gone over this plan at least a dozen times over the past five years so we’re not offering anything that we’re not completely prepared and capable of doing. If there’s anything you don’t like or if you want to make changes, it will be your decision. Think about this, even if you don’t want to accept this as a token of our love then please accept it in appreciation for your years of selfless service to our country.”

            “I will only accept because  if it belonged to all of us” Jake smiled and hugged his mother.

For the next week, the family and Marco showed Jake everything about the property while enjoying each other’s company.  When it came time for his family to leave, Jake got a little emotional, “I’ve been on a lot of deployments and I don’t remember ever being as sad about going overseas as I am right now about you leaving.”

            “We’ll be back before you know it,” Ellen promised and hugged her youngest son.

After his family left, Jake sat on the patio and watched the sun setting beneath the horizon, alone in his thoughts, but feeling content and grateful.  For the first few weeks, he was content to stay close to the property, but eventually got a little restless and began making call to his friends. One of those calls was to Mark’ Eighteen’ Wheeler, a retired Seal living in Murrieta, “What happening?”

            “Nothing much, how are you doing?” Mark inquired.

            “I’m a little restless, things are going too smoothly if you know what I mean.”

Mark responded, “I know exactly what you mean, it takes a while to get good at doing nothing special all day. I’m working as a technical advisor on a movie and it starts shooting in four days at Twenty-Nine Palms. Why don’t you come down and take a look and see if it’s something you’re interested in. With your skills, I’m sure my agents could get you some work.”

            “Send me a text with the details and I’ll be in touch,” Jake said, “Appreciate it.”

There was a knock at the door and Jake answered it, “Hi Maria.”

            “I hope I’m not bothering you.”

Jake responded, “No, I wasn’t do anything special.”

            “I have a problem…actually Marco is the one who has the problem.”

            “Is there anything I can do?”

Maria was hesitant to say anything so she turned to walk away while saying, “I’ll work it out.”

            “Wait a minute,” Jake said, “I consider you and Marco my friends and I don’t take my friendships lightly. Tell me what’s going on?”

Maria explained, “Marco had a bad toothache and it has gotten worse overnight.  His jaw is swollen and it might be infected. I have a nephew who is a dentist in Tijuana and I called him. He said he’ll see Marco if he comes down. I was going to take him, but I have a doctor’s appointment today. I tried to reschedule, but they don’t have any openings for two weeks and I can’t get my prescription refilled until I see the doctor…so you can see the problem.”

Jake smiled, “I’ll be glad to take Marco to Tijuana. In the future, never be afraid to ask me anything. If I can’t do it, I’ll tell you. In this case, I can.”

            “Thank you very much,” Maria replied.

            “I’ll get my passport and I’ll be ready to go.”

Marco was in a considerable amount of pain and the right side of his face was swollen and he could barely speak. Maria set a pillow in the backseat and Marco got in and lied down. He mumbled, “Thank you for doing this.”

            “You relax, I’ll let you know when we get there,” Jake said.

After arriving at Doctor Carlos Estrada’s Dental Clinic, Jake helped Marco inside and turned to the receptionist, “Any idea how long it will be?”

The receptionist answered, “At least a couple hours.”

            “I’ll leave you my phone number and you can call me when he’s ready,” Jake said, “Is there any place that you can recommend for lunch?”

            “Juanita’s…take a right when you walk outside, go to the end of the block, make another right…it’s halfway down, you can’t miss it. Tell them that Selena from the dental clinic sent you.”

It had been a while since Jake was in Tijuana, but not much had changed. He noticed four black SUV’s parked on a side street and a few men standing next to them. Jake gave them a long look and continued on his way. He found the eatery, entered and sat down in a booth that offered a view of the street.

An attractive Hispanic woman in her late twenties approached and said, “Good afternoon, welcome to Juanita’s.”

            “Selena sent me,” Jake said.

The waitress smiled, “She’s my sister. Did you want to look at a menu?”

            “Any recommendations?” Jake asked.

            “The Carne asada plate is very good,” the waitress answered.

Jake said, “That’s what I’ll have then. I’d also like some guacamole with chips and a Corona.”

A few minutes passed as Jake sipped on his beer and nibbled on chips. The waitress arrived with the Carne asada plate on the table and walked away. Jake looked out the window and saw the same black vehicles that he noticed earlier pull up to the curb. Everybody on the street quickly dispersed as ten men exited the black Cadillac Escalades and entered Juanita’s. They quickly took control of the establishment as two men went behind the bar and grabbed bottles of tequila and beers and began passing them out.

 The few customers that were enjoying their meals stopped eating, dropped cash on the table and quickly left. Jake could see that the employees were terrified and the smart thing would have been for him to leave as well, but retreat wasn’t in his repertoire. He spoke and understood Spanish so it didn’t take long for him to determine who was in charge.

The leader demanded that the cook bring out some food and when the waitress walked by his tables, the leader grabbed her and pulled her onto his lap, “Did you miss me, Mariana?”

Mariana knew the repercussions of resisting so she didn’t fight back, but it was obvious that she didn’t enjoy the unwanted attention. When the leader of the group saw Jake staring, he gestured to two of his men to confront the American.

When they reached Jake’s table, one of the men angrily asked, “What are you looking at, hombre?”

Jake knew that these were cartel soldiers, hard, vicious and ruthless men because he had killed enough of them during his career. He replied casually, “Whatever catches my eye and right now you’re blocking my view.”  He saw the bulge in the men’s jackets and his first priority would be to neutralize this immediate threat and get their weapons if this escalated. He’d worry about the other men afterward.    

The other man threatened, “You better leave while you still can.”

Jake knew he was backing himself into a corner, but decided to play the hand he was dealt, “I just got my meal, I’ll leave when I’m finished.”

The employees could not believe that anybody would stand up to the Cartel like this stranger was doing. Was he crazy?  Didn’t he know they would kill him?

Out of the corner of his eye, Jake saw another group of vehicles pull up in front and a dozen armed men got out. He sensed that a gunfight between rival cartels was eminent and he needed to find cover in a hurry, but first he had to dispose of these two men who were blocking his exit. He quickly took his fork and stabbed one man in the throat then grabbed the other man by the hair and slammed his head against a wall with such force that it knocked him unconscious. He grabbed one of their weapons and fired two shots and the first man in the entryway went down.

The restaurant employees ran out the back door, but Mariana tripped and fell to the floor when she attempted to follow them. Jake immediately change his plan and ran to shield her with his body as the cartel soldiers inside the restaurant engaged in a gunfight with the men outside. Jake alternated between shooting at the men outside with those inside. It was a target rich environment and he emptied his weapon into two men inside the restaurant then grabbed Mariana and ran into the kitchen. Jake saw the leader and two of his men follow him as bullets were flying everywhere. Jake ordered Mariana to stay hidden behind a metal cabinet “Stay here and don’t come out. I’ll come back to get you.”

He took a large knife off the cutting board and grabbed a cast iron frying pan off the stove and hid behind the door. When the leader and his two of men entered, Jake stabbed one man through the top of head with the knife then smashed another in the face with the frying pan. The leader tried to shoot, but in an instant Jake snapped his hand back, breaking his wrist then took the pistol and shot him twice. He took the other men’s pistols and went back into dining area and engaged those shooters, but instead of reloading, Jake just kept picking loaded weapons from the men he shot and firing as he moved forward. He dived over the bar as bullets hit all around him.

Jake grabbed two bottles of brandy, soaked the rags with the liquor then wrapped them around the neck of the bottles. He lit the rags with the muzzle flash of two rounds that he fired. Brandy wasn’t as flammable as gasoline, but it would still burn. Jake threw the bottles under the vehicles parked at the curb. When the bottles exploded, it ignited the gasoline in the tanks of the vehicles and they burst into flames and fire spread to a delivery truck that was passing by. This distracted the outside shooters long enough for Jake to get clear shots at them. He killed three more men before the others jumped into their vehicles and raced off.

The shooting abruptly stopped and Jake took this opportunity to go through the pockets of the dead men and take out all the cash they had on them. He went back into the kitchen extended his hand to Mariana, ‘It’s safe now,” and handed her a large amount of cash. “This should help pay for the damages.”

As they walked into the main dining area, police cars began arriving. The leader of cartel that was in the restaurant was seriously wounded and he looked up at Mariana and begged, “Please help me, Mariana.”

Mariana bent down and pulled a weapon from the hand of a dead man and shot the man who had tormented her and her family for years. Jake nodded in approval, then noticed that despite all the shooting, the food on his table wasn’t disturbed. He quipped, “Do you think that I can get a container so I can take my food with me?” His phone rang and Jake answered it, “I’ll be right there.”

The police entered the restaurant and asked what happened. Mariana simply replied, “I don’t know, they just started shooting each other.”

One of the officers looked at Jake and inquired, “What did you see?”

            “Nothing, I was hiding under the table with my food,” Jake lied.

When Jake got back to the dental clinic, Marco was waiting for him and feeling much better. Sirens were blaring and police cars and ambulances were racing by. Marco asked, “What’s going on?”

Jake lied again, “I don’t know, but we should get on the road before traffic gets too bad.”

While driving back to Oceanside, Marco detected the aroma of the food and asked, “What’s that I smell?”

            “Carnage asada,” Jake answered.

Marco said, “You mean Carne asada.”

            “Do I?” Jake said.

Three weeks later, Marco’s nephew, Carlos the dentist, his receptionist Selena and Mariana came up to Oceanside to visit. Jake invited them to join him at the main house. Mariana and Selena helped Maria prepared dinner. When it was put on the table, Jake deliberately mispronounced the name again, “Carnage asada…my favorite,” and winked at Mariana.

Selena corrected him, “Carne asada.”

Later that evening, Jake and Mariana took a walk around the property. She asked, “Do you live in that big house all by yourself?”

            “For the time being,” Jake answered.

Mariana said, “I never thanked you for saving my life.”

            “I never thanked you for the lunch…I’d say we’re even,” Jake said.

They looked at each other and slowly kissed. It had been a long time since Jake felt this way about anybody and his retirement was looking better all the time.

A trip to Tijuana and Carnage asada turned out to be a winning combination for this Special Operator and America warrior.

The End

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, business, events and incidents are the products of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.

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


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  1. Robert says:

    Liked the story, keep them coming.

  2. Tom says:

    Love it! Another fun tale with a Mexican twist and lots of “morts” Well done, Amigo!

  3. Clyde says:

    A word of advice, never mess with a Navy Seal when he’s eating lunch, he just might kill you and get his food to go.

  4. john michels says:

    Fantastic read Tom right up there in the top 20 of all time

  5. wolf says:

    Good action story.

    Based on Tom’ past stories you knew it was not going to be a normal dental visit.

  6. Tony says:

    What an ingenious and play on words from the mind of Mr. Calabrese for this Sunday’s story in the Vista Press. Carnage Asada or Carne Asada is a terrific story of good triumphs over evil and Mr. Clabrese certainly knows how to stomp out those Bandio’s that take advantage of those less capable of taking care of themselves and their business.
    I am not sure if I could ever have another Mexican lunch or dinner of Carne Asada without thinking of this entertaining story tilted Carnage Asada? Thank you for staring out my week with this spicy story.

  7. Jeremy says:

    A very entertaining story. Keep them coming.

  8. Steve says:

    Thanks for another good story. I like Carnage asada too.

  9. Skip says:

    As we ate our beef enchiladas for lunch after Church. Then, we looked up a Carne Asada recipe for ur next meal effort. Then, I read Carnage Asada! I loved it!

  10. Bart says:

    Good one.

  11. marty says:

    Good story Tom. How is Mark Wheeler doing?

  12. Jon Gregory Nielsen says:


    WHEN & HOW does a writer become a prolific one ? Huge thanks for your stories every weekend. They continue to provide good, sound moral wood for the belly of my mind, soul and spirit. Grateful 4 U.

  13. Joe says:

    Your descriptions of locations are so real to me, and the characters you write about are so like those I have met in my life that it is hard not to believe that the stories are real. Keep up the good work!

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