The police investigation went nowhere. If there was a lover, he couldn’t be found. Sheila had covered her tracks well. She didn’t even discuss him with her closet friends. They hadn’t hung out in town as far as the police could tell. Eventually, they let Mathew out of jail. They couldn’t hold him forever.
Mathew thought it odd that no one had seen Sheila with her lover. Consequently, he began his own investigation. He covered all the motels within a 30 minute drive of their town. At the very last one, he hit was just over the Kansas border. That’s where he finally hit pay dirt.
“You must be talking about Mr. and Mrs. Branson. Sure I remember them. They were so much in love. They came here frequently; said it was their ‘date night’ adventure. I thought it a bit odd but like I always say ‘to each his own’.” The jolly motel owner laughed heartily. “The last time here, they talked about making a baby.”
“A baby? Are you certain about that?” Mathew couldn’t believe his hears. His wife was planning a family with another man while they were still married. It was obvious now that she never intended to give him another chance.
“I’m sure. They said they had three boys but they wanted a little girl; one that looked just like her.”
Mathew’s heart fell. He felt betrayed on multiple levels. Still, now he had a clue. The lover had three boys. That would help him narrow down the candidates.
“Is there anything else you can tell me? Did they frequent any local businesses that you know of?”
“They ate at Chez Louis a lot. The man said he had a passion for French food. He loved orange crepes. He talked about them incessantly. He said he got hooked on them when he was stationed in Germany.”
It was another valuable clue. How many locals had a military background?
“They also bought jewelry at Miss Kitty’s. Mr. Branson loved giving his wife jewelry. I think he bought her a piece every time they came here.”
“You don’t by any chance remember if they came on a certain night do you?” Mathew’s eyes grew big as a thought entered them.
“Of course I do. It was always Thursday night. I remember thinking that was kind of strange too.”
‘Thursday night,’ Mathew’s mind spun with anger and recognition. Thursday night was supposedly Sheila’s book club. She’d started it a few months ago. He didn’t know any of the members or, truthfully, if it even existed. Had the police followed that lead? He wasn’t even sure if he’d told them about it. Things had been so confusing at the time of his arrest.
“Thank you!” Mathew told the clerk as he turned to walk out the door. He headed for Miss Kitty’s. He wanted to find out the type of jewelry purchased for his wife. He hoped that would tell him something.
“Good morning,” a plump middle-aged blonde beamed as Mathew entered the door. Her smile was infectious. Mathew found himself smiling back at her. “How may I help you?”
“I need some information about this woman.” Mathew put a photograph down on the counter. She called herself Mrs. Branson. The clerk at the Sleepy Eye motel said she came here often with a man she claimed was her husband.”
“Claimed was her husband?” The blonde looked up, a shocked look on her face. “You mean they weren’t married?”
“No, she was my wife,” Mathew responded flatly. “They were having an affair. She’s dead now. I’m trying to find out who killed her.”
“Oh my,” Kitty Wells looked distressed. “Well, that explains one thing. They bought an engagement ring the last time they were here. I thought that was odd given they were supposedly married.”
“Can you describe the ring for me?”
“Sure, it was ruby – her birthstone I believe. It was princess cut with diamonds on either side. Oh, this situation is so disturbing,” she added. “I am so sorry for your loss; for everything.”
Mathew looked into her gray eyes and saw genuine compassion. The woman was obviously empathetic.
“Can you tell me about some of the other jewelry they purchased? I’m told they came here frequently.”
“Yes, they did. They bought charms for her bracelet. Wait, I have a list of them somewhere. Let me find it.” With that the woman scurried to the back to retrieve her records.
“The first charm they bought was an eagle. He said he’d served in the Air Force. I believe he said he’d gotten out about a year ago.”
“Is there anything else you can remember?”
“Sure, he said he got a job with local law enforcement. The second charm they bought was a miniature pistol. I thought some of their choices were strange but I didn’t question them. Women often wear strange mementos on their charm bracelets.”
“Law enforcement? You are sure he said he worked in law enforcement?” Mathew’s face was beginning to turn red with anger.
“Yes, I’m sure. Do you want to know about the other charms?”
“That won’t be necessary,” Mathew responded. “You’ve told me everything I need to know.” With that, he turned and left the shop. Only then did it occur to him he’d forgotten to ask something vital. Returning inside, he smiled at the clerk. “I do have one more question,” he said softly. “Would you like to have lunch with me a Chez Louis?”
The blonde blushed visibly. She hadn’t been asked out in some time. However, she realized that he probably only wanted to ask her more questions.
“You heard they liked to go there,” she whispered.
“Yes, but I promise you that there’s more to it than that. You’ve shown me a great kindness. I’d like to repay it if I can Miss Kitty.” As he said the words, Mathew realized he meant them.
“Sure, let me put up the sign,” the blonde said quietly. “Okay, let’s go. It’s just a couple blocks away.”
The couple strolled leisurely to the restaurant, talking about the weather. Eyebrows rose when they entered. Everyone knew Kitty but the handsome stranger was someone they did not recognize.”
“Ignore them. It’s a small town. Everyone knows everyone else’s business,” Kitty laughed.
Over lunch, the duo talked about many things. They discovered they had a lot in common including a love for movies and books. Finally, however, Mathew got down to his point.
“Can you describe the man who called himself Mr. Branson?”
“Let’s see. He was tall; well over six foot I’d say. He lumbered over me but then I’m just 5′ 3″. I believe he had brown eyes, or maybe hazel. I’m not sure but there was brown in them for certain. His hair was dark but graying at the temples. He was obviously older than her.”
Looking at Mathew, she saw that the information was causing him great pain. “Do you want me to continue?”
“Please,” Mathew muttered, his heart beginning to pick up the pace.
“He was athletically built; you know with a lot of muscle,” Kitty went on. “Oh, and he walked with a slight limp. He said that happened while he was in the service.”
Suddenly, a light bulb went off in Mathew’s head. He knew exactly who’d been spending time with his wife. It was the Chief of Police, Dan Mercer.
Lunch completed, Mathew walked Kitty back to her shop. “I’d really like to see you again sometime,” he mumbled. “That is, after I’m through grieving of course.”
“Of course,” Kitty blushed for a second time. “I’d like that. She reached into her purse and handed him her card. Call me anytime.”
“I may need you to tell my lawyer everything you’ve told me,” he continued. “Do you think you could do that?”
“Absolutely,” Kitty responded. “I’ll do anything I can to help, Mathew.”
As Mathew walked away, he realized he now knew how the couple managed to hide their affair. He even knew with who Sheila was cheating on him. All that was left was to find our why Dan Mercer killed Sheila. Without that, the other information was useless.