When she opened her slightly watery eyes, Jack's face swam into focus. His lips were twisted into something close to a smile, and then he wrapped them around the beer bottle and tipped back his head.
"Now that that's out of the way--" Lola dabbed her sticky fingers on a cocktail napkin "--let's get down to business."
"So who is Jack Coburn?" He eased back in his seat, extending his arms along the edge of the red banquette.
"Jack Coburn...you are a hostage negotiator."
"And you hired me to negotiate for your husband's release from terrorists in Afghanistan. What was...is your husband doing in Afghanistan?"
At first Lola had been content to allow Jack to believe Gabriel was her husband, when he still had possession of his gun. Now...she wanted to set the record straight. "Gabriel is not my husband."
Jack's eyes flickered. With interest? With relief?
"Gabriel Famosa is my brother, and he's a doctor like me. Well, not exactly like me. Gabe's a research scientist."
"Is he doing research in Afghanistan?"
She nodded, taking a sip of beer straight from the bottle. "He was overseas, anyway, working with Doctors Without Borders. Then he heard about a deadly flu strain popping up outside of Kabul. Gabe being Gabe, he rushed to Afghanistan to study the virus. It's his specialty--the flu virus. He's been working on flu vaccines for years."
"Then he was kidnapped and his captors demanded ransom."
"That's the weird part." Lola took another gulp of beer. "They didn't ask for ransom. Doctors Without Borders found out about the kidnapping and made inquiries as to what the kidnappers wanted, but they never made any demands."
Jack put his hand over her nervous fingers, picking at the green label on the bottle. "I hate to ask this, Lola, but how do you know Gabriel is alive?"
Her fingers stilled under the warm touch from his calloused hand. "Proof of life. Isn't that what you hostage negotiators call it? At least that's what you told me before. Someone sent pictures of Gabe holding a current newspaper to the head of MSF."
He dropped his hand to the table where he drummed his fingers. "MSF. Medecins Sans Frontieres."
"That's right. That's how Doctors Without Borders is known internationally." How did Jack know all this stuff, including foreign languages, when he couldn't even remember his own name? Which brought them back to the question at hand.
"D-do you want to go through all this, or do you just want me to tell you what I know about Jack Coburn?"
He traced the rough pad of his thumb around the rim of the shot glass, still full of the clear liquid. "Any background info you can give me is good. So the people at MSF contacted you?"
"Yes." The call had turned her world upside down. Gabe was all the family she had. "I was ready to give anything to get him back, but no requests were made."
"Did you try the U.S. government?"
"I contacted the State Department. They informed me they didn't negotiate with terrorists." She snorted, the taste in her mouth more sour than the lime she'd just sucked.
"How did you find me?" He wrapped his hands around the beer bottle, the whiteness of his knuckles against his brown hands the only sign of tension.
"An associate of my father's. He'd heard about you from others in the Cuban community."
"You'd obviously never met me, since you didn't recognize me in your car."
"Never met you. Sent a few emails to an address with one of those free providers. Spoke to you once when we finalized the details of the payment. After you left, neither the email address nor the cell phone number were active anymore. I tried both."
His brows shot up and a light infused his dark eyes. "Do you still have the emails? Maybe we can trace them somehow." He slumped back in his seat. "I guess my knowledge of languages and weapons far outpaces my knowledge of computers, since I don't have a clue how we'd go about doing that, especially with a now-defunct address."
"We?" she thought. Did he just say "we"? She still needed to find Gabe, find a way to get him back home, but she didn't want to sign up to help Jack Coburn find himself. Down that path lay danger, an abyss of unknown feelings and complications.