I almost believe him and then I catch myself. Is that part of their game—lulling their enemies into complacency and then attacking?
“And the man I was with? Are you going to hurt him?”
Are they hiding Luis somewhere here, too? In another room?
“I’m not. But I’m afraid I cannot speak to Mr. Rodriguez’s whereabouts.”
My stomach sinks as Luis’s last name falls from his lips. This was the threat Luis warned me about from the beginning. Was roughing him up on the street the other night a precursor to this? Will I leave this room alive?
“Can’t? Or won’t?” I ask, a tremor in my voice.
He speaks with the care of a man who parses each and every word, and for some reason his gentle tone strikes a chord of terror deep within me, the kindness in his voice incongruous with the evening’s events. What is his role in all of this?
I struggle for calm, reaching for the courage I hope lies somewhere inside me. “Then why am I here? What do you want with me?”
He doesn’t answer, but instead walks toward an empty chair in the corner, dragging it in front of me. He takes a seat, crossing his ankle over his opposite knee, in a pose that tugs at my memory. He looks down at my hand, his gaze settling on the ring there.
My fingers curl into a protective ball, my knuckles resting on my thigh.
A chill slides down my spine as my name falls from his lips. So it’s not just Luis on their radar—do they think I’ve been involved with his blogging? That I’m helping him? One of the people posting his blogs overseas? Or is this because I’ve been going around the country asking questions?
The man’s gaze moves from the ring, to my face, and back to the ring again.
“Were you hurt? I told them to be gentle with you.”
Are all Cuban kidnappers this polite? Somehow I doubt it. Still, his words resonate. Told, not asked. Yeah, he’s the one in charge.
“You grabbed me off the street. What did you think would happen?”
What looks startlingly like regret flickers in his dark brown eyes. “I know, and for that, I apologize. I didn’t know what else to do.”
“Why? What do you want with me?” I ask again as Luis’s earlier words come back to me now. Have I been followed the entire time I’ve been in Cuba?
“You have caught the government’s attention—they were already watching Mr. Rodriguez thanks to his extracurricular activities, and then you came to Cuba as a journalist. Your family is known here, on the government’s radar, known for supporting efforts against the regime in the United States. Once you arrived in the airport, they were made aware of it.”
“And you? Are you not part of the government?”
He inclines his head in a subtle nod, acknowledging my point. “Not as much as I was in my younger years, but I still have a few connections. Your presence here was brought to my attention as well.”
Why? How am I going to get out of this? These people don’t play by any rules I’m familiar with, and even for someone with a last name that normally draws attention, this is an entirely different and far more terrifying microscope to be under.
“You’ve been watching me?”
He almost looks embarrassed. “I’ve been trying to protect you. When I saw your name, I asked some of my men to look after you, to make sure no harm came to you while you were in Havana. My reach did not—could not—extend to Mr. Rodriguez. His name had already made it up the ranks.”
How far up? What does the hierarchy even resemble in a country such as this?
“Why were you interested in me? Did you know my family before they left Cuba?”
He’s too young to be a contemporary of my great-grandparents, a bit older than my great-aunts, my grandmother . . .
His hand shakes as he shoves it in his pocket, and something about that motion, his posture in that chair—the casual elegance of it—is so familiar—
When he speaks again, his voice is strained, the emotion there answering the question in my mind.
“You look like her.”
The final puzzle piece slides into place as a lump forms in my throat.
I see traces of my father in him: the eyes, the mannerisms, the build.
“Yes, I do.” I take a deep breath. “You’re the man from the letters, aren’t you? My grandmother loved you. You loved her.”
A look of surprise flashes across his face, and he nods.
The evening’s events crash over me again and again, and it takes a moment for me to gather my thoughts, to deal with this new twist; this trip to Cuba throws me more and more off-balance with each day that passes. I’ve gone through emotional whiplash—my grandmother loved a revolutionary once, the man I spent my whole life thinking was my grandfather isn’t my biological grandfather after all, my biological grandfather is a revolutionary, one of Fidel’s men, and now he’s alive and sitting across from me.
Does he know the rest of it? Does he know my grandmother was pregnant? Does he know he’s my grandfather?
“I didn’t know your name. The letters were unsigned. I thought you were dead. But I—I’ve been looking for you.”
“My name is Pablo Garcia,” he replies.
My grandfather’s name is Pablo Garcia. Such a simple thing, but suddenly, it feels like everything.
“Why me?” I repeat, my tone softer as I study the man I now know is my grandfather.
“Because I failed Elisa once, and I couldn’t fail her again,” he answers. “I’ve waited and wondered if I would hear something about your family over the years. I’ve kept an eye on Ana Rodriguez and Magda Villarreal because they were important to your grandmother. Like I said before, when you came into the country, your name was flagged. I still have friends in the government, and they brought it to my attention. How could I not watch over Elisa’s granddaughter?
“I apologize for the circumstances of our meeting. I never intended to disturb your trip here, only to make sure you were safe, but when I saw the police were planning to grab Luis, there was no other option. I didn’t want them to take you. The best I could do was arrange for my men to intervene.”
“Do you know where Luis is?” I ask again.
“He’s alive. They’re merely questioning him for now. If something happens to him, I will know.”
“What can I do for him?”
“At the moment? Nothing. I am doing everything I can, but these things take time. You getting involved will only complicate things for Luis—if they suspect him of espionage, of colluding with an American.” Pablo clears his throat. “Perhaps while we wait, we can get to know each other a bit. If you would permit me, I would like to know more about you. About your grandmother.”
A moment passes while I study him, searching for some sign, a flash of intuition that tells me he is a good man.
“You’re asking me to trust you.”
“I don’t even know you,” I protest. “All I know is that my grandmother loved you decades ago.”
And the letters. Is that enough to go on?
“I know. Please give me a chance.”
Isn’t this what I wanted all along?
He looks up to the ceiling for a moment, and when he glances back to me, his eyes swim with emotion. “How is she? Your grandmother? Elisa.”
I say the words quickly, like ripping off a bandage, for his benefit and perhaps, a bit, for my own. “She passed away. Six months ago.”
His eyes close for a moment. When they open, there’s a wet sheen there. “I’m sorry to hear that. What happened? Was she sick?”
He asks the question with the resigned tone of someone who has already watched loved ones succumb to a variety of illnesses and with an earnestness that tugs at my heart.
“No. It was sudden. They say she didn’t feel anything, that she went quickly and painlessly. A heart attack in the night.”
Her longtime housekeeper found her in bed the next morning.
“At least she was spared pain,” he says. He coughs, his hand on his chest, his fingers curled into a fist over his heart. “Why did you come to Cuba?”
“When my grandmother died, she left a note behind asking to be cremated and to have her ashes spread in Cuba. She always wanted to come back here after Castro—”
I’m afraid to finish the sentence, not sure if I’m speaking to the man my grandmother loved or Fidel’s loyal follower.
“That is a sentiment shared by many in Miami, I’m sure,” Pablo comments, his tone dry.
Did he know my grandmother lived in Miami, or was that merely an accurate guess? He’s had eyes on me since I landed in Havana. What else does he know about me? How did he know her married name?
“And you decided to stay with Ana?” he asks.
“Elisa spoke of her often,” Pablo continues. “We never met, but I felt like I knew her through Elisa’s stories. She loved Ana very much. The combination of your last name with Ana’s name and address was enough for me to know you were Elisa’s. But how did you know who I am?”
“Ana mentioned my grandmother had buried a box in the backyard of her parents’ house. I found your letters. The ring.”
His gaze darts to my hand, lingering there.
“Ana gave me pieces of the story. Then she told me about my grandmother’s nanny, and Magda filled in more. But I don’t understand—Magda told me you died in the Battle of Santa Clara on New Year’s Eve.
“My grandmother never spoke of any of this to me,” I add. “We were close; she raised me. I would like to know this part of her. I’m trying to fill in the rest of it. Trying to understand what happened. Magda said your friend Guillermo told my grandmother you’d died.”
“I almost did die. Santa Clara was chaotic. I went with Che and his forces to the city at the end of December.”