This arti­cle is part 7 of 10 in the series The Chicago/Watseka Payback

The dri­ve down Interstate 57 was like the dri­ve on most inter­state high­ways: rou­tine.  I guess there might have been a more inter­est­ing route had I cho­sen to trav­el some of the state back roads but get­ting to 57 was much eas­i­er com­ing out of met­ro­pol­i­tan Chicago than try­ing to find one of those back roads.  I also want­ed to get into Watseka and try to check out the place as quick­ly as pos­si­ble, includ­ing find­ing a place to stay and locat­ing the exit­ways that would take me either east or south as a more direct route home.  All this, of course, assum­ing that I would not be fol­lowed after I had com­plet­ed busi­ness there.  I would­n’t want to be beat­ing a hasty retreat that would lead direct­ly home.

I had learned a long time ago from sniper instruc­tion that a sniper nev­er takes the same path that was tak­en to get him to his “shoot point” and I could­n’t help apply the same instruc­tion to this occasion.

Watseka is, as L.T. had said, a small vil­lage of about five thou­sand residents

There are few places to stay in the town and I chose the Super 8 Motel, but it was clean and I hoped not to be long there anyway.

Checking in, I asked the desk clerk if she had a map of the town, which she oblig­ing­ly pro­duced.  It is far bet­ter to look up des­ti­na­tions than to ask peo­ple where they are, so no one will have a rec­ol­lec­tion of some­one ask­ing about an address where some­thing bad may have hap­pened.  I did­n’t want any­one to remem­ber a beard­ed man in a Lexus ask­ing about Hays Street if some­one was found there hav­ing met a vio­lent end.

Once I had placed my bag in my room, I set out to get a bite of lunch and to find Hays Street.  I also checked the local phone book to see if a Mitchell Wenger was list­ed.  Luck was with me.  Wenger was one of those peo­ple who still had a land-line phone and was list­ed in the direc­to­ry.  The address was 743 Hays Street.

There was a restau­rant called Vips not far from the motel.  There are also most of the nation­al fran­chise places around town, but I decid­ed to try some­thing local and stopped in for a light lunch con­sist­ing of a club sand­wich topped off with a slice of but­ter­scotch pie and sev­er­al cups of cof­fee.  Small town fare is far bet­ter than a fran­chise burg­er that tastes the same no mat­ter where one gets it, and lis­ten­ing to the con­ver­sa­tions of the locals is always enlight­en­ing and, fre­quent­ly, fun.

Vips is one of those places where the wait­ress brings the check to the table and the patron takes it to the front counter to pay for the meal.  I was prob­a­bly a notice­able stranger in town, so I paid the tab with cash and a stan­dard fif­teen per­cent tip.  Not only did I not want to leave cred­it card infor­ma­tion around too loose­ly, I also did­n’t want to over­tip as that would also draw unnec­es­sary atten­tion, espe­cial­ly in a small restau­rant in a small town.

Leaving the restau­rant, I walked back to the park­ing lot of the motel, got the Lexus, and, with the city map in hand, set out to find 743 Hays Street.

Finding the address was not dif­fi­cult in such a small com­mu­ni­ty and I was cruis­ing by num­ber 743 with­in about ten min­utes of leav­ing the motel park­ing lot.

Wenger’s house was run-of-the-mill res­i­den­tial con­struc­tion, clus­tered amongst hous­es of very sim­i­lar design and prob­a­bly built in the 70s. It was a two-sto­ry house, part brick and part vinyl sid­ing, with a two-car garage attached.  The front yard was quite large and con­tained sev­er­al large trees, most like­ly plant­ed when the house was built, but now mature and leaf­less as it was full fall sea­son.  The leaves from those trees were still clut­ter­ing the lawn, and the shrubs which dot­ted the land­scape appeared to be untend­ed.  It looked as though Wenger was not the out­door main­te­nance type. 

All the build­ing lots were quite wide and pro­vid­ed large yards for each house.  There were few cars parked on the street; appar­ent­ly, the res­i­dents were either away at work this time of day or they were accus­tomed to putting their vehi­cles in their garages as most of the homes’ dri­ve­ways were emp­ty as well.

Overall the neigh­bor­hood was solid­ly mid­dle class and most of the homes near Wenger’s sport­ed lawns and land­scapes that were much bet­ter tend­ed.  I could­n’t help but won­der if his neigh­bors held him in some dis­dain because of his lack of atten­tion to the exte­ri­or of his place.

Having locat­ed Wenger’s house, I drove around the area a bit more to famil­iar­ize myself with the names of some of the oth­er streets nearby.

An idea of how to gain entrance to see Wenger had already begun to hatch in my mind and a mod­est knowl­edge of the sur­round­ing area would be needed.

I left the area after about an hour of dri­ving the streets.  If some­one should chance to inquire about my pres­ence (that hard­ly ever hap­pens because it just isn’t in the nature of most peo­ple to make such bla­tant inquiries) I was pre­pared to tell them that I was think­ing about mov­ing into the area and just want­ed to see what might be up for sale.

As I head­ed back to the motel, I kept on the look­out for some­place to dine that night.  Sometimes it seems that half my time is spent look­ing for a spot to eat.

Back in my motel room after a din­ner of pork chops with a baked sweet pota­to and broc­coli and a slice of chess pie, I men­tal­ly worked out the man­ner in which I would try to con­front Mr. Mitchell Wenger.

  • Chuck Witt

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

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