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.