A Secret Grave 20: Blind Joe Bennett & His Driver, Lloyd

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This past May, not too long after I heard about a secret grave beneath an artist’s studio in Austin, I completed the portrait of a woman named Caroline Guerrero-O’Hara, who is a cellist here in town. It was a difficult portrait to paint because it involved the folds of a dress (not my strong suit) and the subject’s hands, which were folded in her lap. Hands are always complicated and I had to repaint hers at least twice because I kept making one larger than the other.

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Caroline's Hands for FB story

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The Cellist, Oil on Canvas 22×22, 2016

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I knew Caroline somewhat through the woo woo dance community, a distinguished lady who’d written a number of books about her father, Bolivian statesman and poet, Jorge Martinez de Lopez-Guerrero. She had won the portrait through an auction. I usually work from photos as I don’t like the energy of another person in my studio (I get too chatty and distracted), but in Caroline’s case I needed to see her a few times for reference and she was so pleased with the progress of the portrait that she arranged for me to paint her husband as well. She also agreed to let me have her sixteen-year-old son, Mercer, as an intern over the summer, but that’s a story – an important one in the context of this investigation into what happened to Dr. Victor Goodlove – that I’ll follow up on later. What I want to focus on here is Caroline’s husband, Josiah Bennett, who’s a professor emeritus of mathematics at UT and who is legally blind. I didn’t know he was blind when the university commissioned me to paint him. He showed up with a driver last June and it took me a few moments to understand the situation.

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Joe Bennett

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Joe is a sweet rumpled man in his sixties. He wore sunglasses that he didn’t remove when he entered the house and his driver came in with him. That was the shocker. The driver, a man named Lloyd Peterson, had been a client of Victor’s at the same time I had ten years ago. In fact, when we had that strange tea ceremony Lloyd was the one who left suddenly in the middle of the event, causing Victor to become quite upset and run after him out into the parking lot. Now Lloyd was working as a factotum for Joe, but it turned out he had been working for Joe back then as well, had been employed by him ever since Joe lost his sight to retinitis pigmentosa in his forties.

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Lloyd Peterson 2

Lloyd Peterson

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I remember Lloyd as an angry man. He was smooth. He was good-looking. He had the appearance of someone with ultra swift reflexes who would be quick to avert a traffic disaster or pull a gun and confront a burglar. But beneath that smoothness lurked a quality that was dark and edgy. Perhaps it was to deal with this edginess that he was consulting Victor. I would often see him pacing back and forth on his cellphone when I left appointments, or staring morosely out into the woods that bordered the property. When he appeared at my house with Joe, he acted as if he didn’t recognize me – altogether possible as I’d let my hair go gray in the ten years since I’d last seen him. He took in his surroundings at a glance, quick and efficient, with the hidden wariness of someone who wants to inventory every light switch and fixture. “We’ll be going this way,” I said, pointing down the hall toward the room where the photographer was waiting. I wasn’t sure how much vision Joe had. He’d act like he could see you when he probably couldn’t. I suppose Lloyd functioned as his eyes, kind of like a guide dog. If it were me, I’d have chosen someone less creepy.

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To be continued…

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Cover photo ~ Army Photography Contest – 2007 – FMWRC – Arts and Crafts – Eye of the Holder, U.S. Army, https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/

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