This arti­cle is part 9 of 10 in the series The Chicago/Watseka Payback

“Well, Mr. Wenger,” I began, “a num­ber of folks in the neigh­bor­hood feel like we’re get­ting short-changed by the city when it comes to side­walk repair, repaving the streets, keep­ing up the park, and some oth­er things like that. So we thought by form­ing a neigh­bor­hood asso­ci­a­tion, we could not only gen­er­ate some mon­ey to do some things inde­pen­dent­ly but that we’d have a stronger voice at city hall to get some things done.

“I’m also gath­er­ing infor­ma­tion as I can to assess the char­ac­ter of the neigh­bor­hood and what some of our needs might be.”

I con­tin­ued, ready to jot down Wenger’s respons­es on the pad and clip­board that I was car­ry­ing, all designed to make it appear that I was real­ly can­vass­ing for a neigh­bor­hood association.

“How long have you lived here?”

“Six years.”

“Uh, huh.  And how many in your family?”

“Three.  Me, my wife and son.”

“And how old is your son?”

“Ten.  He’ll be eleven next April.”

“I may want to speak with your wife as well.  Is she here today?”

“No, she’s stay­ing with her moth­er for a few days and my son goes there after school.”

“I see.  Any idea when I might be able to come back and speak with her?”

“Not real­ly.  You’d prob­a­bly just have to call to try to catch her.”

“Okay.  That’s fine.  There’s real­ly no hur­ry.  I can speak with her any time.”

I kept pep­per­ing Wenger with ques­tions to ease him into a sense that my real pur­pose there was what I had described.  I also want­ed to give him some time to look me over and to con­vince myself that he did­n’t real­ly know who I was.  At no time did he seem to ques­tion why I was there or give any indi­ca­tion of recognition. 

I found it some­what dif­fi­cult to imag­ine that here was a man who could so cal­lous­ly mur­der over two hun­dred peo­ple and not even know what his intend­ed vic­tim looked like.  It cer­tain­ly appeared that the beard I was sport­ing nei­ther added to nor detract­ed from con­ceal­ing my identity.

After about twen­ty min­utes, I could sense that Wenger was get­ting some­what rest­less, and the top page of my notepad was get­ting filled with things I had jot­ted down, so I made a move to ter­mi­nate the con­ver­sa­tion… and pos­si­bly Wenger.

“Well, I’ve tak­en more time than I promised, Mr. Wenger.  Thanks for being so patient.  We’ll send you an appli­ca­tion for mem­ber­ship in the asso­ci­a­tion in a few days and you can return it to us if you decide to join.”

We both stood and I start­ed toward the door­way to the foy­er, with Wenger close behind.

Just before reach­ing the door­way, I stopped and turned to face him, catch­ing him some­what off guard as he had not expect­ed me to stop so abruptly.

“There’s just one more thing, Mr. Wenger,” I said, stand­ing very close to him.

“What’s that?”

As the ques­tion bare­ly escaped his lips, I swung my left arm and slapped him hard on the right side of his face.  He was nat­u­ral­ly star­tled and he reflex­ive­ly turned his head to his left and I swiveled around to his back, throw­ing my right arm around his throat as I pulled myself up tight to his back and clasped my right hand with my left while forc­ing his head to his left against my right fore­arm, which was tight against the left side of his neck. 

As he was a bit short­er than me, my move was quite easy, and imme­di­ate­ly after he emit­ted a short “umph,” he went limp, his arms dan­gling help­less­ly at each side.

I took his weight as he crum­pled, let him sink slow­ly to the floor, and fol­lowed him to my knees, main­tain­ing the hold around his neck, but loos­en­ing it slightly.

The maneu­ver had cut off the blood cir­cu­la­tion to his brain. It takes only sec­onds to ren­der some­one uncon­scious, but loos­en­ing the grip restores the blood flow and con­scious­ness quick­ly returns, even if it leaves a per­son some­what groggy.

As the lights came back on for Wenger, his hands instinc­tive­ly rose to my arm, still on his throat.  As they did so, I tight­ened my grip somewhat.

“Mitchell,” I start­ed, “you can stay awake and I’ll ease the pres­sure or you can try to break this hold and you’ll be out again very quickly.”

His ques­tions start­ed in a tor­rent.  “What the hel­l’s going on?  Who are you?  What do you want?”

“Easy, easy, Mitchell.  You’ll have answers shortly.

“My name is Michael Tate.  I think you’ve heard of me.”

His body stiff­ened and I could sense that he was about to inten­si­fy his strug­gle so I tight­ened my grip a bit more.

“I can tell by your reac­tion that you know who I am.  What I don’t under­stand is why you chose to kill a whole plane­load of peo­ple to get at me.”

“You killed my father, you son of a bitch!” he gasped in a muf­fled shout.

“Yes, I did.  And I see that you prof­it­ed hand­some­ly by his death.  But your father was black­mail­ing a friend of mine, a good and kind man who nev­er did any­thing harm­ful to any­one.  And your father had been black­mail­ing him for many years. It’s pos­si­ble that your father gath­ered his wealth from a good many oth­er peo­ple that he was also black­mail­ing.  Had he stopped when asked, he would­n’t have died in Cincinnati that day.”

“You had no right to kill him, damn you.”

“No one has a ‘right’ to kill anoth­er human being, Mitchell.  Do you think you had a greater right to kill over two hun­dred to get back at me?”

He did­n’t answer, just con­tin­ued to strug­gle slight­ly.  But my hold was firm and the fact that he was sit­ting on the floor gave him lit­tle lever­age to do much.

“Look, Mitchell. We can end this right now. You can sim­ply promise me that this is over.  That your quest for revenge is fin­ished. I’ll take your word, leave and you’ll nev­er see me again.”

“I’ll fol­low you to your lit­tle home­stead in Winchester,” he snarled.  “I’ll kill you and every­one you know and I’ll burn your place to the ground, you son of a bitch.”

With his last expres­sion of hate, I tight­ened my grip and felt him go limp again.  Except this time I main­tained the grip for a full two min­utes before releasing.

He slumped to the floor.

I put two fin­gers to the side of his neck. No pulse. Mitchell Wenger was dead.

I sat on the floor for a short while hold­ing the body of Wenger and all I could think was “damn, damn, damn.”

  • Chuck Witt

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

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