Uninvited Guest List
Thomas Calabrese -Malindi is a town on Malindi Bay at the mouth of the Sabaki River, lying on the Indian Ocean coast of Kenya. Located in Malindi is the legendary Lawford Hotel, an oasis that is nestled among lush vegetation, white sandy beaches and dreamlike landscape. This tourist resort town is brimming with Italian restaurants, pizzerias, delis and gelato shops. The history and influence of the Italians in Malindi goes back to the opening of the Italian-run Broglio Space Center off Kenya’s coast in the mid 1960’s. The first Italians to arrive in the town were engineers and scientists, who loved what they found and passed the word to their countrymen. Nowadays, restaurants serve after-dinner liquors such as Limoncello and Amaro and most people speak Italian including housekeepers, waiters and the fisherman hanging around the beach.
Defranco ‘Frank’ Berrettino was born in San Diego, California and spent a lot of time in Malindi when he was growing up as a young boy and teenager. His grandfather was from Palermo, Sicily and operated numerous businesses in Kenya, especially along on the coast of the Indian Ocean that included the resort towns of, Mombasa, Kilifi, Watamu, Lamu and Mwandimu. It was only when he was old enough to comprehend the complexities of his family dynamics that he discovered his grandfather’s true occupation.
Aldo Berrettino told him, “I am who I am and I make the best of it.” Frank came to realize that almost all the business enterprises were either money laundering operations or meeting places for criminal kingpins to vacation with their families and discuss business at the same time. The Berretino syndicate held significant influence over the Kenyan government, much like the drug cartels exerted immense power over Mexico and the countries of Central America.
It was when he was 12 year-old that Frank met John Paul Delon, an enforcer for the syndicate and the head of security for all the African properties in Kenya. Delon was a former French Foreign Legionnaire who grew up in Algeria and was extremely proficient with weapons and hand to hand combat. He was well-liked and respected by the Kenyans because of his generosity and kindness to the locals, but was also greatly feared by his adversaries. As John Paul counseled Frankie, “In my business, making enemies is an occupational hazard. I don’t need to make any more by being a bully to those that are weaker than me or have nothing to do with my job. Simply put, I’m as careful about my enemies as I am about my friends, just in a different way.”
Frank was the youngest of three children and his parents had been having marital issues for many years. His twin sisters, Cara and Gina had already moved out of the house and were attending Westmont University in Montecito on volleyball scholarships. When Frank became a senior at Oceanside High School, his mother told him of their decision, “You’ll be graduating soon and your father and I are going our separate ways. He’ll be moving into his own house and you have the option to stay with me or go with him.”
“It took you long enough to make this decision,” Frank said, “I know that you stayed together because of Cara, Gina and me and we will always appreciate it. You raised us, that’s a fact. Dad was an absentee father, a bad businessman, a weak individual and the poster child for the perennial victim role.
It’s always somebody else’s fault when things don’t work out and I’m sure he’s already figuring out ways to blame you for the separation. Don’t worry Mom, I know the truth and so does everyone else with a functioning brain. If it wasn’t for grandfather paying most of our bills we would have been on welfare or homeless.”
“You knew about that?” Mom was amazed that her son knew about the financial arrangement.
Frank laughed, “Dad’s never had a steady job and you stayed home raising the family, the money had to be coming in from somewhere. It wasn’t that complicated to figure out, but it didn’t make sense to bring it up.”
“I had a secret account that your father couldn’t get to and your grandfather put money in it every month. He promised me if I took care of his grandchildren, he would deal with your father and make sure that we were alright. I did my part and being a man of his word he kept his promise,” Mom said.
“I remember one time when I was in Malindi and Grandfather told me that his greatest failure in life was how dad turned out. He asked me if I remembered the movie, Godfather and when I said yes, he made this comment. Your father is a Fredo, there is not one bit of Sonny or Michael in him. After that, we never talked about him again.” Frank hesitated for a moment then continued, “If I have my choice and it’s alright with grandfather, I’d rather go to Africa. It doesn’t mean that I don’t love you, but it’s time for me to be on my own. This is as good a time as any for me to find out if I’m my father’s son or if I’ve learned anything about being a real man from you.”
It didn’t take long after his arrival in Malindi for Aldo Berretino to realize that his grandson was everything that he had wished his son was, strong, loyal and intelligent. He entrusted much of Frank’s practical education about the world to his right hand man, John Paul Delon.
John Paul had seen enough brutality and man’s inhumanity to each other to have a unique perspective about the world and his place in it. He explained his philosophy to Frank as they sat on Golden Beach. “When somebody interferes with the organization’s operations, I have to make an assessment on how to deal with the problem. I have various skills and experience to draw upon. I don’t over-react by taking a sledgehammer to poke a hole in a piece of paper, but I know when it’s time to lock and load. Does this make any sense to you?”
“I get your point. You must be doing something right because my grandfather trusts you,” Frank replied.
“Let me ask you a question, what is the best type of government?” John Paul asked.
Frank thought for a moment and said, “Democracy or a constitutional republic?”
“At first glance or in theory, that would be a valid answer. If you look closer though, you’ll find out that those types of government usually have numerous layers of incompetent bureaucracy festering in swamps of embedded corruption.
I’d choose a benevolent dictatorship where an authoritarian leader exercises absolute political power over the state with regard for benefit of the population as a whole, standing in contrast to the decidedly malevolent stereotype of a dictator who focuses on their supporters and their own self-interests. A benevolent dictator allows for some civil liberties and democratic decision-making to exist. In his own unique way, your grandfather qualifies as a benevolent dictator. You and I live in his kingdom.”
When he reached the age of twenty, Frank decided to follow in John Paul’s footsteps and join the French Foreign Legion. This was a decision of epic proportions for someone who could have chosen a much easier path. Aldo was extremely proud of his grandson’s decision, although he was worried about his safety. He was blunt and confrontative when he discussed the issue with John Paul, “Did you have anything to do with Frank wanting to join the Legion?”
“If telling him the truth about what I went through and what would be expected of him had anything to do with his decision, then I did,” John Paul admitted without hesitation, “I like Frank too much to lie to him…not even for you.”
“That’s all I needed to know,” Aldo then asked, “Does he have a chance to make it?”
John Paul was completely honest, “Basic training for potential Legionnaires is carried out in Castlenaudary in Southern France and the training is so tough that only one in ten pass. Frank has one thing in his favor that the other recruits don’t have.”
“He has your blood running through him,” John Paul said.
Before Frank left for basic training, his grandfather approached him with tears in his eyes, “You’re a good man and I’m proud to call you my grandson.”
“Thank you sir, it’s time for me to be on my own. You have given me love and trust and now I need to prove to you that I’m capable and worthy of it,” Frank embraced his grandfather and departed for the next chapter in his life.
Training was brutal and Frank reached into the deepest part of his heart and soul to draw on strength and determination that he didn’t know he had. John Paul had advised him, “Focus only on the task at hand, take it one minute and one hour, at a time. You finish a day, forget about it and move on to the next. You need to have maintain tunnel vision and don’t let anything distract you, understood? The instructors have a two-fold purpose, to train you or to break you and they don’t care which.”
After graduation, Frank was assigned to the 2nd Foreign Parachute Regiment and served in Central and North Africa. A lot was expected of the Legion, but their strategy was simple; they cut a square on a map, jumped in, killed anybody who stood in their way, then waited for the regular troops to relieve them. The Legion then moved to the next square and repeated the process. No matter what the odds were or how dire the situation was, this blood oath was never violated, ‘The Legion dies; it does not surrender!’ The French Foreign Legion is without a doubt one of the most hardcore military units ever assembled.
Whenever he had significant time off from his duties, Frank liked to return to ‘My Sweet Malindi’ as he liked to call his refuge. On several occasions his mother and sisters would travel from the United States to meet him there. Frank’s father had died from a reaction of mixing medications while he was training.
While stationed in Brazzaville, the capital city of the Republic of the Congo, Frank met Gunnery Sergeant Robert ‘Bob’ Wolfino, a Marine sniper who was temporarily assigned to the Legion to assist in their mission to destroy the Allied Democratic Forces, an Islamist rebel group that operated in Uganda and the Republic of the Congo.
The two warriors developed a friendship based on mutual respect, similarities in their upbringings and their core values. Besides being of Italian heritage and born in Southern California, they each had two sisters and a strong maternal influence. While on one patrol near Katanga, they intercepted a large group of murderous terrorists that had been robbing the mining companies working in the area and killing their workers. Frank and Bob were fighting side by side in close quarters with these ruthless marauders and both men were wounded, but continued to fight through the night. The terrorists made a desperate assault at sunrise and the battle lasted for over an hour. In the process of this latest encounter, Bob stepped into the line of fire and took a bullet for Frank and went down. Enraged, Frank charged at the terrorist who fired the shot and killed him with his bare hands. After returning to the seriously injured Marine, Frank used his extensive combat medical training to stop the bleeding. He whispered to Bob, “Hey buddy, this is not your day to die. Don’t make a liar out of me.”
Frank was right and Bob survived his wounds. Men serve together, face death together, and make strong friendships then move on to their next assignment. That’s the harsh reality of military life. Bob Wolfino went back to Camp Pendleton to rehab from his injuries and stayed in the Corps. Frank also recovered from his injuries and rejoined his unit that had been reassigned to Algeria. The two warriors stayed in touch by e-mail on a fairly regular basis.
The Chinese government had been investing heavily in the African continent and they wanted to take over the Malindi area so they decided to use the organized crime syndicate called the ‘Triad’ to do their bidding. A failed assassination attempt on Aldo Berrettino left him seriously wounded. When John Paul was notified about the attack when he was out of the area and immediately called a dozen foreign Legionnaires who were working as mercenaries around the world.= to meet him in Malindi. They found the Chinese gang responsible for the attack and killed every one of them. Aldo advised John Paul from his hospital bed, “This isn’t over, the Chinese don’t give up easily. You will need to send an unmistakable message there will be a heavy price to pay if they continue down this path. Like I always say, they send one of us to the hospital…”
“Yes sir, I know, we send a hundred of theirs to the morgue.”
The Chinese Triad was powerful and ruthless, but they were no match for the Legionnaires who came at them with merciless vengeance and battle proficiency. Up and down the Indian Ocean coast and throughout the country of Kenya, the Legionnaires left dead bodies in their wake.
China had released a virus from the Wuhan Lab that killed millions across the globe. So it was only appropriate that the Legionnaires showed them their variation of a deadly virus. There was one big difference though, in this situation there was no vaccine or natural immunity and the survival rate was zero. It took several weeks before China came to realize that staying in Kenya was a bad strategic decision.
Aldo complimented his trusty right hand man, “Great job.”
“Two things are essential for a successful mission, a defined objective and good men to work with,” John Paul responded modestly.
“This latest attack on my life has motivated me to retire. I’d like you to take over the day to day operations,” Aldo said.
“I’d be honored, sir,” John replied.
Aldo suggested, “Frank’s current enlistment in the Legion is up in a few months. He would be a good fit for your job, don’t you think?””
John Paul smiled, “Your decision to retire and Frank’s enlistment running out…I wonder if that’s a coincidence.”
“You’ll never know,” Aldo grinned.
Five months later, Frank was out of the Legion and working with John Paul. He bought his mother and sisters a large villa on Gold Beach and they became part-time residents to the area.
It was calm and serene in the area thanks the leadership of John Paul and the efforts of Frank to maintain order. Bob Wolfino had retired from the Marine Corps and was now working in security for Aramco, a petroleum company with oil fields and refineries throughout the Middle East and Africa. He called Frank and asked, “Are you still living in Malindi?”
Frank never told his friend about his family’s connections in the area, didn’t think it was really necessary and he cautiously responded, “Most of the time.”
“I’m going to be in the area, I thought we could get together.”
“Absolutely, what’s going on?” Frank inquired.
“One of the big executive’s daughters is getting married at the Lawford Hotel. It is one of those destination wedding, vacation and family reunion all rolled into one kind of things. Do you know the place?”
Frank answered, “I know it well. How long are you going to be in town for?”
“Probably a week, the families have booked most of the villas and suites and scheduled a lot of activities,” Bob responded.
“Then we’ll have plenty of time to get together,” Frank said.
Frank told his grandfather and John Paul about the incident in the Congo and how Bob Wolfino saved his life. Aldo responded, “Then you need to make sure that he gets the Berettino first class treatment while he’s here.”
“That is my intention,” Frank said.
Frank drove over to the Lawford Hotel and met with the manager. Derrick Greebus smiled. “Good morning, Frank.”
“Ciao, you have a wedding scheduled, right?”
Derrick responded, “The Folsom Shepard party.”
“I need you to check a reservation for me, the name is Bob Wolfino,” Frank said.
Derrick looked into his computer and said, “He’s booked from March 19th through March 25th.”
“I want him to have the very best during his stay, understood… Don’t worry about the cost, I’ll be paying the bill.”
“You got it, I’ll handle it personally.”
“I appreciate it,” Frank said, “We never had this conversation just in case my friend should question you about the upgrade.”
“You can rely on my discretion,” Derrick said.
The father of the bride, Marlon Folsom was a very wealthy Englishman with businesses all over the world. Many in attendance at the wedding would also be people of great prosperity.
Rudy Kleiner was a career criminal and on Interpol’s Most Wanted List. He put together a group of men for a particularly lucrative caper. He explained, “The collective wealth of the wedding guests at Lawford Hotel is well over a billion dollars. We will hold them hostage until they transfer some of their money to us, then we’ll make our escape to a waiting jet.” Rudy turned to a frail looking man and asked, “Karl, can you handle this?”
Karl proudly replied, “You get them to give us the money and I’ll bounce it around the world so many times that their heads will be spinning.”
“As long as you know where it ends up,” Rudy said.
One of men asked, “How about our payment?”
Rudy sighed, “I told you this before and I’ll tell you again, “When this is done and we get to where we’re going, you’ll have the option of taking your five million dollars in cash or in a bank draft. After that, everyone goes their separate ways and we’ll never see each other again.”
“I won’t like it if I get cheated,” another man warned.
“The man funding this operation never betrays his sub-contractors. He has a reputation to uphold, but any man who feels uncomfortable with the current arrangement can back out right now. However we’ve come too far and spent too much money to take any unnecessary risks. Whatever you decide, we’re all staying together until this is over. So you can do your jobs and get paid or do nothing and get nothing.”
Bob Wolfino had a great time in Malindi and he knew that Frank was responsible for the highly preferential treatment that he been receiving since his arrival. While having lunch at the Malaika Estro Beach Restaurant, Frank, Bob and John Paul noticed a group of hard-looking men at the bar. Frank got up from his chair, walked over to where they were drinking and called to the bartender, “Pete, I’ll have the usual.” While waiting, Frank carefully evaluated each man and when one of them saw him looking, he grumbled, “You got a problem?”
Frank replied, “No, just waiting for my drink.” When he got his Kenyan Mojito, a concoction of fresh palm wine, wild mint and coconut water, Frank walked back to the table and said, “They’re on the job.”
The wedding reception was a festive affair and everybody was having a good time. Two vans drove up the driveway to the service entrance of the Lawford Hotel. The men from the bar and several of their comrades exited the vehicles. All were heavily armed and had almost reached the door when Frank, Bob and John stepped out. Frank smiled, “We meet again.”
Associates of Frank and John Paul were strategically located around the area as back-up. When the uninvited guests realized that their plan had gone awry, they decided to fight it out…this was a huge mistake on their part. In a split second, Frank, Bob and John pulled their pistols and began firing and their back-up did the same. In less than a minute, dead bodies were lying in the driveway. Cowering in the first van was Karl, the computer technician and money transfer expert. He begged, “Don’t kill me.”
Waiting at the jet to make his escape was Rudy Kleiner. When he saw the vans approaching, he rushed out to meet them. Before he realized what was happening, he called out, “You were supposed to call me when it was done.”
Frank stepped out of the van and said, “Sorry about that….it’s done.”
Rudy knew that he was in serious trouble and almost had a heart attack when John Paul opened the back of the van to show that it was filled with dead bodies. Frank turned to his men, “Keep them here, we’ll be back after the reception.”
After some persuasive interrogation, Rudy gave up the name of the man who had funded the operation.
Arnold Cardenas, international crime boss was aboard his superyacht in the Monte Carlo Harbor. He was totally surprised when he came up from his master suite to find Frank, Bob and John Paul waiting for him and his crew under lying face down on the deck with their wrists ziptied behind their backs.
Several days later, Arnold was standing before Aldo Berettino and he expressed his regret for the intrusion into Milandi, “You have my deepest apologies, Aldo. I was just going to take a cut for funding the operation and I relied on somebody else’s assessment of the situation. That was a serious error on my part.”
“You’ve been in this business too long to be this careless and that is going to cost you.” Aldo reminded his fellow crime boss.
“Would you accept 25 million euros as a small token of my repentance?” Arnold asked humbly.
Later that day, Bob was relaxing at the Lawford Hotel pool when Frank walked up, “Sweet Malindi is a great place to live. You should consider moving here, it would be mutually beneficial for both of us.”
Bob responded, “I’ve been thinking the same thing…one thing is certain, I never want to be on your uninvited guest list.”