This arti­cle is part 8 of 10 in the series The Chicago/Watseka Payback

The next day was anoth­er chilly one with the skies over­cast.  The atmos­phere was almost at sat­u­ra­tion point and the damp­ness was pal­pa­ble.  It felt like rain would start at any moment.

After tak­ing my morn­ing show­er and get­ting dressed, I left the motel and walked down the street to Vips once again for break­fast.  Though the motel offered a com­pli­men­ta­ry break­fast, the con­ti­nen­tal break­fast is usu­al­ly not very sat­is­fy­ing. I want­ed to have a leisure­ly break­fast sur­round­ed by locals anyway.

I got a copy of the Daily Journal news­pa­per from a paper box before enter­ing the restau­rant just to see what the local news might be.

Receiving the cus­tom­ary pleas­ant greet­ing upon enter­ing the restau­rant, I was quick­ly ush­ered to a small table about halfway back in the din­ing area and was imme­di­ate­ly asked if I want­ed cof­fee, to which my quick response was “Yes, indeed.”

The wait­ress left a menu on the table and, depart­ing, said she would be back short­ly to take my order.

As I sipped the steam­ing cof­fee and perused the menu, I set­tled on hav­ing a large bowl of hot oat­meal and asked for a small cup of raisins and that the oat­meal be sprin­kled with cin­na­mon.  I also ordered toast and mar­malade and a glass of milk.  Considering the state of the weath­er, hot oat­meal seemed like the thing to for­ti­fy me for a while.

As I wait­ed for break­fast to be deliv­ered and sipped cof­fee, I leafed through the news­pa­per. I paused only briefly to smile at some of the local news items which, like so many small-town papers, fea­tured auto acci­dents, gar­den club activ­i­ties, social gath­er­ings, and a few items about the activ­i­ties of local government.

Breakfast was deliv­ered with quick effi­cien­cy. The steam ris­ing from the hot oat­meal through the top­ping of cin­na­mon waft­ed a love­ly sweet aro­ma as I added a bit of sug­ar and felt the heat of the oat­meal warm­ing me with each savory bite.

After fin­ish­ing break­fast, I walked to the front counter and paid the bill — again with cash and a mod­est tip. Pulling my top­coat col­lar up and don­ning my cap, I stepped out into the drea­ry day, well-anchored with a hearty break­fast and three cups of hot coffee.

On the walk back to the motel, I stopped in a small local office sup­ply shop and pur­chased a clip­board and a pack of filler paper, a cou­ple of items that would become part of my scheme to call on Wenger.

Retrieving the Lexus from the motel park­ing lot, I set out for Hays Street.  I parked on near­by Searcy Street and head­ed around the cor­ner onto Hays and up the block to 743.

gray and white wooden house near green leaf tree

The Sig was secured in a belt hol­ster at the small of my back.  It was not a par­tic­u­lar­ly handy place as I could not reach it quick­ly, but since Wenger appar­ent­ly had no inkling of what I looked like — and my scheme should get me invit­ed into his house — I did­n’t antic­i­pate that I would need quick access to it.  At this point, I was hop­ing that I would find Wenger at home but with­out his wife and son.  Should the entire fam­i­ly be there, I would sim­ply gath­er as much infor­ma­tion as I could and make plans to come again when he was like­ly to be alone.

After push­ing the bell but­ton, I could hear the sound of the door chime inside.  No bark­ing.  That was a good sign as dogs can some­times present com­pli­ca­tions when least desired.  I had to ring a sec­ond time after about twen­ty sec­onds of no response, but then I could hear foot­steps approach­ing the door from inside.

And then the front door opened slight­ly to reveal a some­what small­ish man in a long-sleeved tee-shirt, jeans, and stock­ing feet.  He looked like he had­n’t been out of bed very long as his hair was some­what tus­sled, and he was sport­ing a day’s beard stubble.

“Mr. Wenger?” I inquired as cheer­i­ly as I could muster.

“Yes,” he said, almost sleepily.

“Good morn­ing, Mr. Wenger.  I’m Martin Taliafero.  I’m not sell­ing any­thing.  I live over on Locust and a group of us are try­ing to form a neigh­bor­hood asso­ci­a­tion so that we will have more clout with the city offi­cials and get some improve­ments in the neighborhood.

“Do you have a few min­utes that I could talk with you about the asso­ci­a­tion and what we’re about?”

“Nah, I’m real­ly not inter­est­ed right now.  Maybe lat­er,” he said as he moved to close the door.

“Please, Mr. Wenger.  I promise I won’t take more than fif­teen min­utes of your time.  It’s pret­ty nasty out today and I could sure use a break and maybe a cup of cof­fee if you have some made,” I said, try­ing to appeal to his sympathy.

He hes­i­tat­ed for a moment. 

“Okay,” he said.  “Come on in.  I’ll give you a few min­utes. I was just get­ting ready to have some cof­fee myself.  You’re right.  It is a nasty day.”

I entered into a small foy­er and, at his sug­ges­tion, placed my cap on a near­by coat hook.  This could be a crit­i­cal moment.  If he was going to rec­og­nize me, with­out my cap would be the time that it was like­ly to happen.

I saw no hint of recog­ni­tion and fol­lowed him into a mod­est-sized liv­ing room, neat­ly fur­nished with a tra­di­tion­al sofa and uphol­stered chairs, a cof­fee table, and side tables at each end of the sofa.  There was a wood-burn­ing fire­place and some wood stacked near­by in a niche, but no fire at the moment.

He motioned me to one of the lounge chairs and said he would be right back with some cof­fee, ask­ing if I need­ed cream or sug­ar, to which I replied neither.

During his short absence, I care­ful­ly looked around the room and into the oth­er rooms that I could see from the chair.  I spot­ted no sign of gun racks or the like and I heard noth­ing that indi­cat­ed that oth­ers were in the house at the moment.

  • Chuck Witt

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

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