This arti­cle is part 6 of 10 in the series The Chicago/Watseka Payback

I hat­ed being placed in this posi­tion.  On the one hand, I would be deal­ing with a “bad guy” and the son of a black­mail­er — one who had not hes­i­tat­ed to kill over two hun­dred peo­ple in a stu­pid act of revenge — though I would not vis­it the sins of the father on the son.  On the oth­er hand, he was appar­ent­ly a fam­i­ly man, and that real­ly com­pli­cat­ed my assess­ment of the options.

I reviewed the fold­er that L.T.  had giv­en me.  It con­tained pre­cious lit­tle info on the man; his name was Mitchell Wenger and he lived on Hays Street in Watseka.  There were a num­ber of not-too-clear pho­tos of the man, who appeared to be slight­ly bald­ing and some­what over­weight, in his late thir­ties or ear­ly forties.

There were also a cou­ple of pho­tos of his wife, a pleas­ant-look­ing lady with light-col­ored hair and a slight build.  Oddly, most of the pho­tos of her seemed to show a some­what pen­sive per­son.  There was also a pho­to of the wife and the son.  The smiles on both their faces were some­what wist­ful, even sad.  Most peo­ple have to force a smile for a pho­to­graph.  There was some­thing dif­fer­ent about these.

I deter­mined that I would have to go to Watseka and do my usu­al sur­veil­lance to try to dis­cov­er the move­ments and habits of Wenger.  I was unwill­ing to deter­mine at this point what my final action would be.  What I dis­cov­ered in Watseka would influ­ence that deci­sion but this was one time when I could truth­ful­ly say that I had lit­tle appetite for ter­mi­nat­ing anoth­er human being.

The rest of the day fol­low­ing my meet­ing with L.T. was a rest­less peri­od.  After review­ing the Wenger port­fo­lio in my room at the Drake, I ven­tured out onto Walton Avenue in the face of a driz­zling, gray day and wan­dered down the street with­out much pur­pose.  By the time I was drenched from the driz­zle I passed a men’s cloth­ing store and entered with the intent of pur­chas­ing an umbrel­la — which I had failed to bring with me — or, at least, a hat.

The cloth­ing store was a nice upscale estab­lish­ment, obvi­ous­ly cater­ing to men who would be stay­ing at one of the many hotels in the area. I quick­ly found a nice wool patch­work cap made in Scotland.

The brief stint in the store had raised my spir­its some­what and I short­ly head­ed back onto the street.  It was now get­ting on toward evening and I walked the street look­ing for a place to have din­ner. After that, I would return to the Drake, fin­ish the evening with a copy of the Tribune, and make ready to leave for Watseka in the morning.

My mean­der­ing left me at the Rosebud Steakhouse, where I had a boun­teous meal of baby back ribs and some won­der­ful hot bread lubri­cat­ed with a cou­ple of glass­es of Pinot Noir.  I’m sure the meal would have been more enjoy­able had it not been inter­spersed with peri­ods of think­ing about a fam­i­ly in Watseka whose lives were about to be pos­si­bly inter­rupt­ed by violence.

Back at the Drake I entered the lob­by and approached the recep­tion desk to let the clerk there know that I would be check­ing out the next morn­ing imme­di­ate­ly after break­fast.  He said that he would leave a mes­sage for the day staff so that my bill would be ready.

I’m usu­al­ly a pret­ty sound sleep­er and fall asleep rather effort­less­ly, but that night was dif­fer­ent.  Despite a phys­i­cal tired­ness from all the day’s activ­i­ties, I lay in bed for near­ly two hours before falling into a rest­less slum­ber, punc­tu­at­ed with a panoply of dreams, most of which I could­n’t remem­ber imme­di­ate­ly after awakening.

The driz­zle of the pre­vi­ous day had stopped and the sun was just ris­ing as I awoke.  It looked like the day was going to be fair, but the ear­ly morn­ing local TV weath­er fore­cast not­ed that a high-pres­sure front had moved through the area overnight and the day would be clear but cold.

Not hav­ing to dri­ve to Watseka in rain or driz­zle was a wel­come relief as I show­ered and pre­pared myself for the day.  The beard was left untouched; I was begin­ning to admire the calm, sophis­ti­cat­ed air it impart­ed, despite some obvi­ous out­crop­pings of gray that tinged it.  Maybe Jim, the mail­man, was­n’t far off the mark after all.  I real­ly was becom­ing an “elder.”

After pack­ing my bag — I had only brought one with me for this short stay — I head­ed down to the lob­by and the recep­tion desk.  I gave the clerk my name and asked her to please stow my bag while I had break­fast.  As she rolled the bag to a secure room behind the counter, I walked over to the restau­rant to have my last meal in Chicago, which turned out to be eggs Benedict, toast and mar­malade, and Canadian bacon, with sev­er­al hefty dos­es of steam­ing hot cof­fee.  The ques­tion of where my next meal would be briefly crossed my mind.

I stopped in the men’s restroom before col­lect­ing my bag and pay­ing the hotel bill.  Coffee some­times goes right through me and I was­n’t sure how long the dri­ve to Watseka would take or where I might find a rest stop along the way.

Exiting the hotel lob­by into a bright sun­shiny day was, in a sense, some­what uplift­ing, and the chilly breeze com­ing off the lake was refresh­ing as I head­ed to my car.

The ear­ly morn­ing traf­fic car­ry­ing peo­ple to their jobs had dis­si­pat­ed by the time I pulled onto Walton Avenue and head­ed west to con­nect with Interstate 57 south which would take me to U.S. 80 and then back east to Watseka.

It is less than one hun­dred miles from Chicago to Watseka.  Getting there should take no more than two-and-a-half hours.

  • Chuck Witt

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

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