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“I don’t understand it,” Annabelle said after taking a sip of water through a clear straw. “Why on Earth would Paul think that I had something to do with your hack?”
Vincent allowed the silence to hang, punctuated only by the beeping of the heart monitor in the background. Truthfully, he had no clue how to answer that question. He was still reeling from the development that Annabelle, the only truly plausible suspect, had not been the one who betrayed him and tipped off Volek. With her off the list, Vince now had to confront a whole new list of questions as to how Volek would have been able to see him coming. But those thoughts were pushed aside, as he stared silently at the girl in the hospital bed before him.
“You ran the program for me, it’s reasonable for him to think that you were assisting me,” he said quietly. At these words, Annabelle bit onto her lower lip and looked up to the ceiling. Vincent felt compelled to reach out and take her hand gently to try to comfort her. But before he could, Annabelle was speaking again.
“Vincent, I don’t know how Paul would know that I ran the program for you. I waited until very late at night, after he was asleep before I even went near his office.”
“Maybe he heard you get out of bed or get back in,” Vincent suggested.
“No way. Paul is a very heavy sleeper. I saw him sleep through the nearby riots after the Eagles won the Super Bowl. The bed moving a little isn’t going to wake him.”
Vince wanted to shift the line of inquiry now that he knew that Annabelle’s tryst had been going on for at least six months, but he pressed on both out of necessity and not wanting to seem jealous.
“All you did was run the program? You didn’t open any windows that he didn’t have open? Leave the USB drive in the port?”
She shook her head. “No, I just plugged it in, ran the program like you said, and then closed everything.”
When Annabelle fell silent, Vince didn’t have anything more to say. He was, frankly, perplexed. If Volek didn’t know about Annabelle’s part in this plan, what was his motivation for trying to kill her?
“I heard the nurse say that you told the EMTs you were my boyfriend,” Annabelle said softly.
These words startled Vincent, even though he nodded in admission after a moment. The two of them hadn’t had a chance to talk about the circumstances surrounding her ending up in the hospital, and frankly Vincent wasn’t too keen to do so. He searched for what to say next, before finally settling on, “is that weird for you?”
“No,” she said softly. “It’s kind of nice. That you’d think of me that way.”
The statement hung in the air as she looked at him with a tiny smile. He certainly would have expected her to be indifferent or shocked that he would say that to the EMTs, but not pleased. Luckily, the nurse entered the room at that exact moment to check on Annabelle, giving Vincent a chance to mumble goodbye and leave the room, escaping the awkward conversation.
* * *
When Vincent reached down in that motel room and felt no pulse on Annabelle DeSoto’s neck, he was ashamed that his first thought was not to call an ambulance, or to begin CPR. No, instead Vincent’s first thought and instinct was to find Annabelle’s phone.
While Vince had been tracking and monitoring Annabelle’s phone for weeks now, constantly reading every text, e-mail, and dirty picture sent between her and Volek, he knew that her phone still contained a pile of information that he’d love to get his hands on. Primarily, her SIM card, which would not only have some encrypted information that he would love to get his hands on, but also would allow him to clone her card.
A SIM card is an integrated circuit that stores the international mobile subscriber identity and its related key. When a message is transmitted, that subscriber identity and key are relayed and confirmed by the phone company before the message is transmitted to the final user. If Vincent could get the SIM card from her phone, if he could clone it, he would communicate with Volek through that specific ID and key. Volek would be unable to tell that the messages he was receiving weren’t from Annabelle’s phone. Even the phone company wouldn’t know the difference.
That might only have a limited use, as Volek would know Annabelle’s ghost wasn’t sending him texts and suspect someone stole her phone, but Vincent knew that if he could send even one message that registered to Volek’s phone, Vincent could get remote access to Paul’s phone. From there, he could see if there was information stored locally to Volek’s phone that could help him figure out why he’d killed his mistress.
Annabelle’s iPhone 8 lay on the floor at her feet, its screen cracked down the middle. Not wanting to get his fingerprints on it, Vince crouched down and took the end of her long robe, using it to pick up the phone. He turned it over, feeling the cold metal underneath the silk separating his fingers from her screen until he managed to pry the case off the phone, then eventually separate the back. The SIM card was right inside as it should be, and came out with a snap. Then, as he was pocketing the card, Annabelle coughed.
Vincent stood bolt upright, looking at Annabelle. He thought he had imagined it at first, but when he put his finger back to her neck he could now feel a pulse, faint but still there.
Now he imagined the scene as the EMTs came in, seeing her there in a pool of her own vomit, the door kicked in, him holding her broken phone in his hands. The cops would be called, he would be the prime suspect, and Volek would find out. Unless he came up with an excuse.
So he hurriedly dialed 9-1-1 on his phone. Said his girlfriend was at a hotel in West Philadelphia, it looked like she had overdosed. Said her lips were blue, but she still had a pulse. Asked if he should perform CPR. Did his best to perform CPR based off that one scene from the Office. Got out of the way when the EMTs arrived. And then, against his every instinct as a lawyer, spoke to the police.
Annabelle was his girlfriend, he said. She’d been hanging around with a guy, he seemed like a bad dude. Heard he’d been using drugs. She’d seemed different recently. Aggressive and erratic. Thought she was cheating. She snuck out that night, he followed her. Saw her and this guy party all night in the motel. He was going to confront her when she left. He did, she didn’t. He got concerned. Saw her unconscious. Her phone was gone, her money was gone, she was barely breathing. He broke in to try and help her. He broke down in tears. He loved her, he just wanted her to be okay.
The lie worked, for now. He’d given a description of the guy she’d gone to the hotel with. It was a generic description, white guy, clean cut, average height. Said he couldn’t see him that well. Vincent had never taken drama in school, it was a waste of an elective, but somehow he sold the act of being a heartbroken, shell-shocked boyfriend. When he left, his “girlfriend” unconscious, he told the officer “I don’t even know if I’m coming back.”
But when he left, he entered preservation mode. It was time to do everything in his power to make the lie believable, starting with cloning her SIM card as fast as possible, and then destroying it.
He wanted to sleep, but he couldn’t. He needed to keep going through his alibi, shoring up the timeline of the two of them being clandestinely dating—a workplace fling. With the SIM card, putting some fake, old texts between the two was a cinch.
Figuring out someone to fit the description of her douchebag lover was going to be easy; Benson had already unwittingly volunteered for the role. Physical evidence was non-existent as far as he knew, no cameras in the area he could find. He was sure he was clean.
It was the ding of the cloning program that snapped him out of his daze at 7 in the morning. The SIM card was ready.
It took almost two days for Vincent to decide how he wanted to proceed. By that point, word had already spread across the office about Annabelle’s overdose and hospitalization. Volek hadn’t visited her yet, as far as Vincent could tell, but he had to be nervous what she might say when she woke up. And that thought triggered an idea in him.
He woke himself up on Saturday morning at just after 2 in the morning, and sent a one-sentence text from the burner phone with the cloned SIM card inside:
“Paul, the police are asking questions about you.”
Surprisingly, when Vincent awoke six hours later, a return text from Paul Volek, sent at 4:30 that morning, was waiting for him.
“Admit to the affair. Keep everything about the money quiet and smash your phone and I’ll give you 10k on top of your medical bills.”
So Vincent stood outside Annabelle’s hospital room, staring and waiting. Why would Paul want to kill me, she’d asked. Vince wasn’t sure about that, but now that she was awake and lucid it was time to ask about the money..