Thulani asked. “Can you file a good report?”
“Yes, but we’ll need you to come in for paperwork.”
“Maybe another time.”
“Soon,” the cop said. “We want to get your stuff back as soon as possible.” He jotted notes down in a notepad.
“You dropped your wallet,” Lee said.
“It slid off the top,” Maya said. She remembered a pen falling off the top clips of a hospital clipboard once. The clatter it had made on that squared linoleum…
“I’d rather have the jar,” Thulani said.
“Well,” Lee said, “I’m going to get me a lethal dose of some tour guide pamphlets even if you’re not.”
“You coming?” he asked.
“I am sitting for now,” Thulani said. He did just that.
They left him there and walked down to the east end of the atrium.
“I don’t think they’ll care unless it’s a narrative,” a guy was saying to a lady who worked there.
“You might be right, but there’s no money for something like that. Especially with the way the sickness has clamped our budget.”
“Let me try?” the guy asked.
“Well, we’ll need to pitch it to Patrick, but I guess just write up a synopsis and we’ll try to take it to council together. Maybe they can throw some money at you boys,” she said.
“Thanks Carrie,” he said. “Have a good one. Donna?”
“Alright, you too. Bah-ye.”
“Peace out,” the writer said.
“Bye,” Carrie said.
“Hey there! Welcome to Joplin,” Carrie said. “You guys looking for anything specific?”
“You have any famous artists still living in town?” Maya asked. “You know, with open studio hours?”
“We have our share of up-and-comers,” she said. “And some of the old crowd. I’m a bit of a living painter girl myself.”
Maya asked, “Who buys art from living painters?”
“Oh I think you’ll find lots of people do,” Carrie said. “Especially around here. Have you heard about that old couple who lived pretty cheaply and on an average salary and managed to buy up the largest known private collection of modern art? There were weeks Jackson Pollock didn’t know how he’d make rent and this regular old family would call. We commissioned that piece out in the lobby too.”
Maya asked, “So you have like a modern art convention here or something?”
“Well we have galleries, sure, but I’m talking about an artist. You said you were looking for an artist, right?”
“Yeah,” Maya said.
“How about a sculptor?”
“Oh. Jorge Leyva?”
“The one and only.”
Carrie said, “Well in that case, I—”
Maya groaned soft and subtle. “Look, I’m sorry for being cold. It’s been a strange week. You’re right, that’s an artist of interest. I’m getting ahold of various artists in town.”
“Oh, that’s interesting. Why?” Carrie asked.
“I’m a journalist with the art department of a new online news site. Several in New York’s art scene have heard about Joplin and they sent me here to do an exposé.”
“Wonderful. Here’s his contact info.”
“That’s his address,” Carrie said.
Lee said, “Maya, did you see these upcoming shows?”
“You’re from here, kid.”
“Hey,” Carrie said, “we’re cool with locals stopping in too. You from here?”
“Well yeah,” Lee said, “I was, but look—”
“I’m out,” Maya said.
“Oh fine,” Lee said “Well Miss… “
Lee sighed to himself, barely audible to anyone present. “I can help you find that bag, Thulani. I’ve got time.”
“What do we do?” Thulani asked. “I don’t know this place.”
“It’s easy,” Lee said. “We’ll just walk over to the police department – it’s like a block away – ask if anything turned up.”
“I’m staying here,” Thulani said.
“What?” Lee asked. “I thought—“
“The bag is important, yes,” Thulani said, “but it is useless without that sample, much as I want to have it back right now in this very moment…”
“Okay,” Lee said, “but I was concerned for a minute there. I thought for a minute that you were still planning on staying here until closing time.”
“We are,” Thulani whispered. “We must.”
“Yeah, can’t go there with you buddy,” Lee said. “I might get in trouble. I might—”
“You said your mother’s sick?” Maya asked.
“What if you could make her better?” Maya said.
Lee went silent. He stared up at the old masterwork.
“Well of course,“ he said. “But I don’t know what that has to do with anything.”
“What if I told you this… treasure… ish…thing could help her?” Maya asked. “That finding it could make her better?”
“But do you have to break the law?” Lee asked. “Just to get a little paint?”
“Exactly,” she said. “It’s just a little paint.”
“Whatever. Anyways, why do you need my help?” Lee asked.
She rubbed one of her talismans — the one that had Mercurial symbols on it. “I have a feeling.”
“Oookay. You have a feeling that you need me to help you snag a little sliver of paint from some old painting?”
Maya said, “It’s not just a painting. Look.”
“Why’s the light on?” she asked.
She asked, “Why that hand in poker?”
“One short of a full house? Why is the house almost full, but not yet? And why so many types of mining equipment from so many decades?”
“But most of all,” she said, “what are those minerals at the bottom right?”
Lee shrugged. “Galena lead? Limestone? Marble? Zinc? Who knows, it’s—”
“No,” Thulani said. “Some of them are, I can tell Benton included some of the minerals in the pigment, but there is one they could not place.”
“Diamonds?” Lee asked. “Sapphires?”
Thulani said, “Ice.”
“Ice? I’m no rock genius, but you can’t test for water molecules, it—”
“Not that kind of water,” Thulani said. “It’s a water we can’t find anywhere else on earth but right here deep under the surface of the four-states, of southwest Missouri.”
“Of Joplin?!” Lee asked, “Oh give me a freaking break.”
“There’s a well somewhere in the region, even far below the single-source aquifer. It feeds into the water wells, but it also feeds into the land.”
“Okay,” Lee said. “Tell me a little more.”
“Later, not here,” Maya said. “Let’s talk the painting. Follow me.”
“Come on,” she said.
“Wow, he really prepared,” Lee said. “Why’s this this lamp? Why is it on?”
She said, “The light’s on during the day in the painting because it’s the last in a long line of clues. We’ve followed a long series of publically displayed Benton paintings.”
“They led us here. Right back to where he started, where he was born.”
“This mural is the last one he signed,” she said.
“He wasn’t supposed to paint any more, but each of them led us here. Father Hennepin’s Discovery of Niagra—
“—has too many inconsistencies with that moment in history. We think it’s actually depicting Reverand Harris Joplin’s Discovery of Joplin Creek and Grand Falls. His painting The Hailstorm–”
“Has a farmer trying to pull in his mule before the hailstorm. Ice, again, and this time in the dustbowl. The guy in the foreground’s running to what looks like a shelter, but it’s more like a tunnel entrance. Something’s underground – the whole painting leans into it. Clay County Farm–”
“–he painted four years before his death. It features water again and a tree thriving because of the water, but the reflection of the tree melts into sludge in the foreground, there in the dried-up creekbed.”
“His painting called The Bicyclers shows two cyclists on a leisurely patrol of a lake. One of them has jumped off the bike for a closer look of something out of the frame. The lake itself has two seaworthy sailing vessels docked. Why sea ships on a lake? Why a bike patrol? All of these paintings feature an old inconograph — waves. They’re some of the most wave-oriented images in any modern design. All of these questions supplemented by the facts we know about his life drew us to start looking into his subject matter, his life, and his last painting.”
“Convinced yet?” Thulani shouted over his shoulder from the schematic side of the mezzanine.
“No, I’m not convinced yet,” Lee said. “I don’t even know what you’re trying to convince me of yet.”
“Well, will you at least stay with us for the night?”
“Stay the night?” Lee hesitated then, having seen the looks on their faces, said, “Fine, whatever. What’s the plan?”
Click here to hear about new projects
brought to you by the Joplin Convention & Visitors Bureau
photographed & directed by Mark Neuenschwander
written & directed by Lance Schaubert
produced by Carrie Puffinbarger