This arti­cle is part 3 of 10 in the series The Chicago/Watseka Payback

The dri­ve to Chicago was not unpleas­ant; I could see the changes in the foliage as I head­ed north from Kentucky.  Autumn was in full swing and the few leaves that had begun to fall at home, along with some mod­est changes in the col­ors of the leaves, grad­u­al­ly gave way to bursts of col­or as the lat­i­tudes passed under the wheels of the Lexus.  I ful­ly expect­ed that Chicago would be chilly with the fall winds com­ing off Lake Michigan, and I was not dis­ap­point­ed lat­er after I had checked into the Drake and walked out onto Walton Avenue in the face of a stiff breeze and tem­per­a­tures bare­ly above freezing.

I strolled casu­al­ly up the street on the side oppo­site the Millennium and gave the build­ing a care­ful once-over.  Walking on down the street for anoth­er block or so, I paused to inspect the dis­play win­dow of one of the stores that lined the street, an upscale shoe store cater­ing to both men and women.  Being the fru­gal guy that I am, I was aghast at see­ing eight-hun­dred-dol­lar shoes there in the win­dow.  I could­n’t help won­der­ing if it would­n’t be cheap­er to buy one shoe and have the oth­er leg cut off.  Turning from the win­dow, I head­ed back the way I had come and lin­gered very briefly to watch peo­ple com­ing and going at the Millennium and walked on to the near­est cor­ner where I could cross the street and get to the hotel’s lobby.

I guess I could have crossed in the mid­dle of the street, but Chicago police are real­ly picky about peo­ple not using cross­walks, and I cer­tain­ly had no desire to draw atten­tion to myself being accost­ed by a cop.

The front entrance of the Millennium is staffed by a door­man and a bag­gage han­dler.  I had no prob­lem sim­ply walk­ing through the front door with­out being ques­tioned about being a hotel guest.  I sup­pose I was dressed in a man­ner that did­n’t draw undue scruti­ny and peo­ple — both guests and non-guests — obvi­ous­ly are in and out of the hotel at all hours of the day and night.

The lob­by is an impres­sive two-sto­ry space lav­ish­ly dec­o­rat­ed in a peri­od rem­i­nis­cent of an ear­li­er time in Chicago, though taste­ful, and it reeked of opu­lence. It looked like it could have host­ed a par­ty the night before with flap­pers and ille­gal hooch.  I found a com­pli­men­ta­ry copy of the Chicago Tribune and looked for an out-of-the-way chair where I could pre­tend to read the paper while I observed those com­ing and going through the area.

There is a wide stair­way lead­ing up to an open mez­za­nine, which con­tains sev­er­al sit­ting areas. I head­ed up to find a seat some­where near the orna­men­tal rail sur­round­ing the mez­za­nine where most of the lob­by would be observable.

I’m not sure what or who I expect­ed to see, but casu­al obser­va­tion inevitably yields some bit of infor­ma­tion that may even­tu­al­ly come in handy.  I cer­tain­ly did­n’t expect to see L.T. and I did­n’t.  I also did­n’t see any­one else famil­iar, but I learned where the restau­rant and bar were locat­ed as well as the ele­va­tors and restrooms.

It’s amaz­ing how, if one appears to know exact­ly where one is going and acts as if he has every right to be where he is, there is sel­dom any­one who will ques­tion his pres­ence.  I had assumed an air of being a hotel guest or of some­one wait­ing to meet a hotel guest and was nev­er ques­tioned about why I was there.

Oddly, I’ve found this same atti­tude in many hos­pi­tals.  If you appear to know exact­ly where you’re going and assume a sem­blance of author­i­ty, most hos­pi­tal staff will nev­er stop you to tell you that vis­it­ing hours haven’t start­ed yet.

After about nine­ty min­utes, I decid­ed that I would­n’t press my luck too far.  Having spot­ted noth­ing out of the ordi­nary, I fold­ed the paper and walked non­cha­lant­ly down and out the entrance head­ing back to the Drake.

After being in the Millennium, the Drake came across as some­what shab­by.  It struck me as odd that two hotels so close togeth­er could offer such diver­gent set­tings.  The Drake was def­i­nite­ly due for an upgrade, but I would­n’t be there long enough to wor­ry about it.

I still had two days before the sched­uled meet­ing with L.T. and I decid­ed to use them for a bit of sight­see­ing.  I also deter­mined that I would vis­it the Millennium twice more before our meet­ing, just to be sure about poten­tial routes of escape and to fur­ther look for pos­si­ble adversaries.

So the next day, after vis­it­ing a cou­ple of Chicago’s muse­ums and strolling for a while along Lake Michigan in the face of a hefty breeze, I decid­ed that I would take my evening meal in the Millennium’s restaurant.

Returning to the Drake from my day of leisure, I show­ered and changed into a sport coat, slacks, and a tie — want­i­ng to make myself as pre­sentable as pos­si­ble.  My beard was still grow­ing and fill­ing in; I hoped it did not look too scruffy to off­set my oth­er­wise ele­gant appearance.

The restau­rant was thank­ful­ly not too full when I arrived.  As I was remov­ing my top­coat, the maître d’ approached, asked if I would be din­ing alone, and moved to show me to a table.  We moved through the din­ing room until I spot­ted the table I pre­ferred — set against a side wall with the light­ing some­what dim.

I asked if I could have that table and he quick­ly oblig­ed as it was prob­a­bly one of the less desired tables in the place.  He offered to take my coat, but I smiled and told him that I would sim­ply place it on the oth­er chair at the table.

“Enjoy your meal, sir.” He smiled. “Your wait­er will be with you shortly.”

“Thank you,” I respond­ed as he turned and walked back to the front of the restaurant.

Shortly, a well-dressed gen­tle­man approached.  He was wear­ing black trousers, a white, long-sleeved shirt, and a black bow tie.  His black loafers reflect­ed the pin­points of light com­ing from the ceil­ing lights.

“Good evening, sir,” he began.  “My name is William.  I’ll be serv­ing you this evening.  May I bring you some­thing to drink while you exam­ine the menu?”

I had already scanned the wine menu and set­tled on a glass of Sobon Zinfandel wine.  William left to retrieve the wine.  When he returned, I was ready to order a grilled petite filet of beef with Lyonnaise pota­toes and sauteed zuc­chi­ni and squash.

After a very short time spent enjoy­ing the wine, William returned with a steam­ing plate con­tain­ing my dinner.

With expect­ed effi­cien­cy, he asked if I need­ed any­thing else and when I replied neg­a­tive­ly, he turned away say­ing he would check back on me shortly.

I had no doubt he would as I began the leisure­ly con­sump­tion of my meal, keep­ing my eye on the entrance to the restau­rant as I did so.

  • Chuck Witt

    Chuck is a retired archi­tect, a for­mer news­pa­per colum­nist, and a life­long res­i­dent of Winchester.

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