Statement No. 013:
Clarence Toppy sized up the wheelchair. He sized up the width of the doorframe. His face contorted like he'd just tasted a rotten egg.
Clarence Toppy rolled back three feet, out of sight. He reappeared and entered the office on foot. His steps fell gingerly, awkwardly, as though his skinny frame might bust through the floorboards at any second. When he reached one of the client seats, he lowered himself by bracing a hand on each arm of the straight back.
Resting his elbows on the chair arms, he brought his hands over his chest and laced his fingers together. He drew in a deep breath through his nose, then pushed it out through oval lips. He repeated the procedure twice.
Clarence Toppy moved cautiously, purposefully. The actions revealed a man of deliberate nature, a delicate existence, like some joe perpetually perched on the edge of a cliff. I watched him like waiting for a high-wire artist to take a spill.
The vinegary expression remained etched across the drawn face. The tint of his skin, like that of faded linoleum, played up the sour mood. The whites of his eyes couldn't be called white at all. The deep brown pupils peered out of a sea of washed-out beige. Looking at Clarence Toppy felt like paying a deathbed visit.
Mortality's a tough nut to crack. You boys have that one down cold. Those kids out in the squad room will have to learn it the hard way. And there's always a Clarence Toppy trying to beat it. One way or the other, trying to tamper with a rigged game. The stuff of obsession, it is. Seems like an empty thing to chase. Sure.
"You don't look so hot," I said. "Can I get you a glass of water?"
"No, thank you." His voice crackled like brittle paper. "A glass of water never cured a thing."
"Okay, no H2o."
"My name is Clarence Toppy. As you have noted, I am not a well man."
"That's putting it mildly."
"You always putter about in a wheelchair?"
"The contraption. Yes." He began to turn towards the door, then gave it up. "I am instructed to save my strength. That is according to the medical profession in its inept attempt at positive maneuvering. The reverse is entirely more accurate. I engage the machine to avoid compounding my weakness."
"I don't suppose you wheeled yourself to my offices."
"My man is downstairs."
"Does your man have an automobile, or did you make him shove you all the way down here?"
"Hmm. A man of wit."
"It's all part of the service, Mr. Toppy. What is it that you want?"
"Tell me. Have you ever witnessed someone dying?"
"Plenty of times. But I don't think in the way you mean."
"The experience is disquieting. Observing the incremental diminishment of life is poor excuse for an existence. To waste away. Watching the skin become something more akin to parchment. We are nothing but dust. Everything is worthless dust."
"Sounds like Bram Stoker."
"There is something in that. I have removed the mirrors in my home or turned their faces to the wall. I shun light. It grants only the pain of sight. Narcissism is a folly only the living can afford."
"Uh-huh. Sounds gruesome."
"Yes. It is."
"So what do you want, Mr. Toppy?"
"I am attempting to put my death in order."
"You choose your words carefully. As carefully as you direct your body."
"You could say words have been my business."
"So what is it that makes your business my business, Mr. Toppy? What do you want?"
"I need you to find my boy."
"How long has he been missing?"
"Missing." The lines on his face moved up a notch on the sour meter. "Blackwell Toppy is a grown man. Thirty or thereabouts. He is by no means missing."
"Blackwell? Unusual. And you don't know the age of your own son?"
"His mother always harbored a penchant for the unusual."
"His mother is dead, or at least gone. She is as good as dead."
"Uh-huh. I don't imagine you mislaid him."
"Hmm. You get wittier by the instant."
"I've been saving it up special."
"It has been years since I've seen him."
"Five years? Ten? Twenty?"
"I'm persuaded he has remained in the city. I just need him found."
"I require his company."
"That's quite sweet of you, but you don't strike me as the sentimental type. I might be able to find him, but I can't make him love you."
"Hmm. Wit. That would be an absurd undertaking."
"Uh-huh. I figured as much."
"We have unfinished business. There is a document he needs to sign."
"After all these years."
"I am putting things in final order. This is a necessary step."
"You mean it suits your purposes."
"As you like."
"Does it suit Blackwell's purposes?"
"How could I possibly know his purposes?"
"It is irrelevant to this discussion."
"Blackwell is not represented here. I am hiring you. Just find the boy."
"You nurture a most suspicious attitude."
"I'm only putting it on for your account. Sometimes my line of work calls for it."
"It's a wonder you survive at all in this business."
"Life's just a bowl of cherries, Mr. Toppy."
"But we're concerned with your survival, not mine. Isn't that correct?"
"Just find the boy. That's all."
That completed our business as far as Clarence Toppy saw it. He exited my office under his own steam, what there was of it, declining my assistance. His uniformed man appeared a short time later. He popped in, dropped off a small packet, and then he popped out. The package contained a shot of Blackwell and a one-page document typed on Toppy's letterhead. The paper offered a few, odd facts about the boy, recorded with the warmth of a legal notice. As far as my assignment went, the document provided zip.
Here's where it gets real curious. After a quick bite I conducted the usual research. I came up empty, Blackwell-wise. No surprise there. Just another nobody as far as the world was concerned. Clarence, on the other hand, turned out to be something of a whosit. One of the city's big deal, legal minds. Turned down a judgeship once upon a time to remain in private practice. And he had been married, all right. Hitched to Miss Abigail Clemm, deceased. And sure enough she bore him a kid. A male child. Christopher Regent Toppy, lately connected to some private banking house in Europe. A mini, big deal in the making. But no mention, no hint, no nothing about Blackwell. No way, no how. Sure.
You could say the plot thickened, but in the murkiest of ways. Maybe Blackwell figured in the picture as far it interested Clarence Toppy, but I couldn't make heads or tails of it. Sometimes all you can do is follow it through, with or without all the pieces. But I still needed a line on Blackwell Toppy.
So I paid a late afternoon call on the Clarence Toppy household, nice and quiet like. I'd missed Clarence Toppy by almost an hour, and that was fine by me. The staff acted pleased as punch to keep my visit on the Q.T. Once I explained my intentions, they seemed downright tickled about it, I'd say.
The butler, a right, formal type named Mr. Cook, conducted me to the den—I guess I appeared to require conducting. He asked me to take a chair, which I took, and asked me if I wanted a drink, which I declined. Cook recommended, subject to my approval, that he bring round members of the staff for me to interview. I told him that would be darn nice.
That must have been Toppy's inner sanctum. The darkest wood from floor to ceiling sucked up the light like cotton absorbs blood. Crammed bookshelves, six feet high, ringed the entire room. Looming above the shelves hung the stuffed heads of beasts. I counted a good couple of dozen. Plenty of rifles and shotguns on display, too. The decapitated heads in particular leant the room a flavor of the Dark Ages and gave it that homey, feudal touch. The place gave me the creeps.
Mr. Cook brought in an upstairs maid. I swung around behind the desk and bumped into some kind of jungle cat poised on all fours by the typewriter stand. It struck me as an odd sort of sanctuary for a guy with one foot in the grave. Maybe it raised his spirits to surround himself with things that were deader than he was.
In place of an office chair I found only narrow furrows ground into the rug. I hauled over a simple, cane chair and set up shop for interviewing. I asked the maid what she knew about Blackwell. She didn't notice my testing the desk drawers while she spoke. I found the drawers locked.
I will hand it to Toppy for one thing: the old man proved kind enough to leave a shiny, silver letter opener right on the desk blotter. In between visits from the staff I toyed with the opener and the latch on the middle desk drawer. The lock sprung on my fourth go-round. In the center of that center drawer, in between the paperclips and rulers and stamps and nibs and such, laid a nickel-plated automatic. One damn, big gun. Brand, spanking new, never been fired. It shone like a newly minted dime. Shoved towards the back Toppy also stowed a full box of cartridges, the seal unbroken.
Mr. Cook, the butler, continued to parade the servants in one at a time. All of them knew something of Blackwell. For the most part they liked the boy. Especially the cook, the kitchen cook, a seasoned campaigner in the Toppy household. Gets more and more curious, doesn't it? Sure.
None of them had any idea about Clarence Toppy's plans. "Oh, is the master up to something?" Imagine being referred to as "the master." So you could theorize as to what Toppy had on his mind till the cows came home, and that's all you could do. I liked the set up less and less. I didn't like it from the minute Toppy first opened his trap back in my office. I couldn't puzzle it out, yet, but so far it stunk worse than the stockyards.
Toppy must've had something in mind, all right. Copping a new gun isn't something the average citizen does every day, and especially a citizen who's getting ready to croak. I decided Toppy already had enough things going for him, and that it was time to even things up a touch. I smiled to myself as I ejected the clip, removed the rounds, and pocketed the box of ammo. I replaced the empty clip and put the rod away before locking up the desk.
Tracking down the kid turned out to be a picnic. Maybe the old man had been out of touch with Blackwell, but the household staff saw him plenty over the years. On and off. Irregular. Blackwell had tapped most of them for a few bucks. The cook, the kitchen cook, even looked out for him on a couple of occasions. Seems Blackwell had been lost, in a sense, for quite a while. The staff gave me a good idea where Blackwell got lost on more than one occasion.
For every alley in this burg there's a back alley. More so down in Chinatown. They're mostly human subways for dubious sorts, hustlers and petty thieves, black marketers and the traffic that goes with it. You'll also find plenty of innocent victims caught in the middle, and plenty who aren't so innocent after all. What good's a black market without customers?
So I tooled my way south toward an establishment what everyone calls Chin's Parlor. It's nothing more than a wood paneled basement underneath Loo's Chinese Laundry. Yeah, how about that—imagine finding a Chinese Laundry in Chinatown. You'll catch it just off Wentworth between Alexander and 23rd. There's a back door you can use if they know you, otherwise you have to go in through the laundry to get the "okay."
Mr. Jack helped me out when I entered Loo's, about as generic a storefront as you'll find anywhere in Chinatown. It took awhile to get past Mr. Jack's "so sorry" spiel, but showing my buzzer and a sawbuck clinched it.
"Oh yes, sure. Blackwell very regular customer."
"Well I'm glad we got that out of the way. I'm glad you got over your chow mein English too."
"I speak pretty damn good English."
"Pretty damn good, Mr. Jack."
"You want Blackwell now?"
"Maybe you smoke first?"
"No thanks, it hurts my teeth."
I followed Mr. Jack around the counter, through a curtain of hanging beads, and down a tiny corridor. At the end of the dim hall he pulled back a plain sheet that revealed a short doorway. He pushed the door open, held the makeshift curtain and motioned with his hand. The powerful aroma jolted me but quick—overly sweet and smoky.
"Lead on, Mr. Jack."
"Please close door behind."
Mr. Jack bent over and brought us down the narrow stairs to the "parlor." A couple bunk beds leaned on one wall. Maybe a dozen cheap mattresses lay strewn about the floor. I counted nine used up, limp bodies flailed intermittently about the mattresses. I've seen mortuaries there were livelier. Two paper lanterns provided the only light. I couldn't distinguish any of those blank faces in the shadows. The stagnant vapors nearly overwhelmed me.
Mr. Jack had crossed to the opposite side of the floor. He stood in front of a motionless form sprawled face down on a thin piece of bedding. I squinted my way through the dim light and fumes.
"Blackwell, yes, yes."
"How long has he been here?"
"Plenty near four hours. Four hours or maybe five."
"Is it all right if I drag him out of here?"
"I sure he won't mind."
"No, I'm sure of that."
"It's okey-doke. Blackwell tab used up anyhow. You take home?"
"That's the general idea. You know where he lives?"
"What I look like, white pages?"
"You pull up to rear door. We deliver."
"Most obliging of you, Mr. Jack. That's real A-number one service."
"Blackwell very nice man. Good customer. Never no trouble."
I glanced down at the limp form.
"You're sure this is Blackwell, Mr. Jack?"
"Very sure. I guarantee 100 percent."
I wound my way back up the stairs, through the beads, out the laundry. It felt good to hit the streets again and taste the cool, autumn air. I reached for a cigarette and headed for the coupe. The unknown son of Clarence Toppy adrift in an opium den. That had all the appearance of the proverbial black sheep. But it didn't help to explain things any better. I had to keep playing it out. Sure.
I came up on a hulking figure as I approached the alley entrance to Chin's. He was the biggest Chinaman I'd ever seen, easy. He held the body I saw in the basement slung across his shoulders like a slaughtered lamb. I put her in neutral, applied the parking brake, and eased out of the coupe. The behemoth gave me a slight nod. I grabbed Blackwell by his head of sopping hair. The face matched the photo as far as I could tell.
"I can walk," Blackwell announced. His voice conveyed all the personality of tickertape.
"Okay, Prometheus, if you don't mind."
The ox followed me around the car and slung Blackwell into the passenger seat.
"Thanks a million," I said. "Give Mr. Jack my best."
"I'll do that little thing, Perseus," the bouncer smiled.
I pointed the coupe north and drove unhurried. Blackwell slouched low, a mess from head to toe. His clothes were drenched and he stank like he'd been caught in an explosion at the maple syrup factory just after a gym workout. His pallor got me thinking back to Bram Stoker. His dull eyes gazed at the floorboards.
"I can walk," he said.
"I can walk."
"Uh huh. I prefer to drive."
I jogged west a bit until I came upon a diner on Halsted, just north of Taylor. I could tell Blackwell wasn't going anywhere on his own. I hopped inside to grab him a cup of coffee. When I returned to the coupe, Blackwell looked at me for the first time, but didn't meet my eyes. I asked him if he wanted some coffee. He replied, "Yes." I said I thought that he could use it, and he again replied "Yes." I asked him if he knew what we were talking about. He said, simply, "Yes. Coffee." I held out the thick, paper cup and asked if he could hold it. He said, "Yes. I can." He took the brew from me with two hands. I told him to work on it.
I hopped out of the coupe again and went up to the phone booth in front of the diner. I rang up Clarence Toppy. I didn't want this thing to stretch out any longer than it had to. Toppy came on the line and I explained the situation to him. I made it a general explanation. I left out a couple of details like Chin's, the laundry, the basement. I left out the temporary lapse of Blackwell's mental faculties and his state of appearance. I left out about everything except that I had found him.
"Hmm! Prompt as well as witty."
"It's all part of the service, Mr. Toppy."
"How soon can you bring the boy around?"
"That's some pointed question, and a little difficult to pin down at the moment."
"Go ahead and attempt it."
"Uh huh. Maybe an hour or two. Maybe." I checked my watch: 7:30.
"That's agreeable. I am in for the evening. I'll be prepared to receive you and Blackwell anytime. I'll await your arrival with great anticipation."
"Sounds swell. Sure." Now I just had to break the news to Blackwell, and had to hope he'd go for it.
We jawed about it in the car for 15 minutes. I did most of the talking. Blackwell did all of the sipping, occasionally tossing in, "Mm," short and sweet. Every response felt abrupt, his words spoken evenly and softly. But he heard me and, better still, understood me. His replies made sense.
"I wasn't sure if you'd go for seeing the old man," I said.
"That's good, because I prefer to skip the whole kicking and screaming routine."
He snorted as a corner of his mouth creased upward.
"Take me home. I would like to freshen up."
"I should think you would."
He directed me to a plain, four-story job at Jackson and Sacramento. On the sidewalk directly beneath the sign that read, "Plaza J Hotel," two winos exchanged views on the contents of a brown sack. The desk man spotted Blackwell as he came through the revolving door. The clerk spun to the cubbyholes behind him with great effort. He spun back with a key that he tossed on the counter. Blackwell grasped the key with both hands. Neither man said a word. I stuck close to Blackwell from the lobby to the stairwell. I had to notice that his stride reflected the same deliberate caution as Clarence Toppy's. What you could make of the walls through flickering light appeared to be done in varying shades of flaking, light green paint. Where the floors weren't cracked, they peeled.
Blackwell carefully eyed his feet while we ascended, one painstaking step at a time. Once or twice on each flight he warily checked his grip on the banister. But he never faltered. I'll give him credit for that. Not one slip in the 25 minutes it took us to climb four flights. I timed it.
The hallway lights shone as poorly as those in the stairwell. Blackwell's room lay at the end, towards the back of the building. He managed the key, slowly, and with great concentration. His room was just big enough for a small bed, a salvaged, upright dresser, one nightstand and one folding chair. It felt as cozy as a broom closet and not much bigger.
"It's kind of cramped quarters, in here," I said. "You mind if I smoke?"
Blackwell rummaged through the dresser with his back to me. "You're probably wondering what I'm doing in such a joint." A touch of emotion had crept into his voice. "A fella without a grubstake takes what he can get. They let me work off the rent. I've stayed in lots worse."
I lit a cigarette and cracked open a window. The stench of rotted garbage caught me off guard. Blackwell took no notice of the cigarette, the window, or the stinking odor. He probably wouldn't have cared one way or the other,
A pile of crumpled clothes topped by a towel filled his arms when he turned around. "The john's down the hall. I'm going to have a wash up." He left the room.
I'm as nosey as the next private dick, but there was nothing to look through. The hole was that small. And you might need a shot of penicillin after. So I leaned on the wall, hoping the paint wouldn't flake off on my suit, and waited.
Blackwell took 20 minutes—no more, no less. I timed him. He made a presentable figure, for the most part. Hair slicked back, a bit wrinkled in the oxford, more so in the trousers. But a night and day contrast compared to the used up carcass dragged out of Chin's.
"A little color in your cheeks and you'd almost be mistaken for human."
"Mm. Sounds deserving of a comeback of some kind. You'll have to give me a rain check."
"Sure. Are you up for this?"
"I'm not here to find out what makes you tick, Blackwell. I'm just giving you the option. You say "nix," and I'll call it off.
"Between you and the old man, you've both got me too damn curious."
"If you say so."
"Mm. I say so."
The slight touch of emotion remained in his voice. That still left him a cool customer. He clammed up on the ride to the Toppy mansion. At one point he rolled down the window and allowed the crisp breeze to blow over him. He closed his eyes and faced it head on.
Cook, the butler, presented us to his awaiting master in the den. The old man sunk low in the wheelchair behind the desk. The fingers of his left hand tattooed on the green blotter before him, next to a sizeable, hardback volume. I'd like to think it was a detective story, but I doubt it. A pair of narrow reading glasses rested far down the thin line of his nose.
Blackwell stopped behind me at the threshold. He took in the entire room without glancing at the stern figure behind the desk. His eyes met mine.
"It's been years," he said evenly.
As Blackwell stepped into the room, the butler turned to leave.
"Cook," Clarence Toppy crackled.
"The rest of the staff?"
"Hmm. That's good. I won't need you anymore tonight."
"As you say, sir."
Cook swept through the doors and pulled them shut. That left the three of us to our lonesome: papa, baby and me.
"Here he is, Blackwell Toppy, safe and sound—after a fashion."
Blackwell took 10 paces into the room, stopped, buried his hands deep in his pockets, and faced the old man squarely. They sized each other up. Neither spoke a word.
"You don't mind if I take a seat, do you?" I claimed a club chair on one side of the room. I leaned an elbow on a small end table and waited—I'd let them have at it.
Blackwell drifted over to a bookcase. The line of trophies running across the top caught and held his attention. Clarence Toppy scrutinized the boy over his reading glasses.
"I would not have recognized you," Clarence Toppy said.
"As the young mature, the old just get older. I'd know you anywhere."
"Hmm. It was good of you to come so that we can get this over with."
"Wild horses could not have dragged me away."
"First a detective of wit. And now maxims and cliches from my bastard son."
"There are more dead things in this room than I remember." He paused before the gleaming, silver figure of a grizzly bear standing on its hind legs. The animal's front paws held a shotgun across its chest, and its mouth lay wide open in mid-roar. Blackwell brought an index finger to the figure, slid it down one side of the beast. "I don't remember this one."
The old man worked open a side drawer, procured a single sheet of paper, and placed it before him. "Trophies, Blackwell. Do you have any trophies?" He worked the drawer closed, then slid open the center drawer, removed the automatic, and set it down next to the paper.
Blackwell took the bear in his hands to study it as he spoke. He had this uncanny, even demeanor. Nothing affected him from the outside. His body, his voice, maintained a methodical, unrelenting rhythm like the sweeping second hand of an eternal clock.
"Heavy piece. I don't even have a real father. Most of the time it's as though you never existed. I have no trophies. I have nothing worth saving. I seldom give you a thought."
"Hmm! Truly apropos. Come here, boy. I have a document for you to sign."
"I plan to give you no such satisfaction.
"You haven't even read the document!"
"My intention is to deny everything you want."
"Do you still hold me responsible? You know what your mother did. She wouldn't have me, and then she wouldn't have you, either."
"Makes you wonder, her giving us both up."
"You can't blame me for the life you've wasted."
"No, I don't. I can't blame someone who practically never existed."
"How can you talk with someone who never existed?"
"I'll give you that point, old timer. You can still argue." He smiled to himself.
"Any man would be interested to know the contents of this document."
"Yeah, I'm interested to know what you've got there." Blackwell turned the trophy around in his hands.
"It is a simple matter. Very brief. It states that you, Blackwell Toppy, give up all rights and claims pertaining to the estate of Clarence Toppy."
"Mm. That is simple."
"I said it's a simple matter."
"The funny thing is that I have no interest in your estate—or any part of you, for that matter."
"Then sign it."
"I thought you might."
"Then persuasion is required."
"There is nothing you can say, old man."
"When words fail, boy, one finds other means."
The old man slowly spread out his fingers and wrapped them around the automatic. The weight of the fireman made him rest the butt on the desktop while he aimed the barrel towards Blackwell.
Blackwell approached within three yards of the desk. "You haven't changed one bit, old man."
"I am resigned that you will not inherit one cent from me."
"One way or the other?"
"That is correct. One way or the other."
"Do your worst, old man. Leave it all to your golden child. I won't kick. And I won't sign, just the same."
Clarence Toppy used both thumbs to pry back the hammer. "Sign the document, boy."
Blackwell trained his eyes upon the polished automatic. It sparkled as much as the bear in his hands and he smiled to himself. "That will make some trophy."
Clarence Toppy's dry tongue slid across his upper lip. Blackwell made for an easy read: unmoved, unconcerned, disaffected. Clarence Toppy nudged the roscoe in my direction. "Let's do this legal, boy. Sign the document."
The old man surprised me, all right. The evening's turns proved more and more curious. I felt damn smug, too. "Hold your ground, kid," I said, and turned to Clarence Toppy. "You mind if I have a last cigarette?"
"All right, if you say so," Blackwell said as his eyes narrowed and a crease developed between his eyebrows.
I don't know if Blackwell thought I had guts or a few screws loose. I stabbed a smoke from my pocket and lit up. I threw my head back and exhaled a deep drag's worth like I hadn't a care in the world.
"Quite the little conspiracy," Clarence Toppy rasped. "Will you sign?"
Blackwell answered only with a flat, silent expression. The muscles along Clarence Toppy's jawline tightened. His head bowed forward and his gun hand displayed the slightest quiver. The dry tongue showed again and the index finger squeezed the trigger back and the hammer struck hard with a thin, hollow click. He squeezed again, then once more. Click, click.
Clarence Toppy's entire head flinched, painted with a look of disgust. The statuette almost slipped from Blackwell's hands.
I took one more pull on the cigarette, stubbed it out in the ashtray, and jumped to my feet. I strode over to the old man, leaned across the desk fast, and yanked the automatic from his hand. "That's enough of that." He cringed back in his contraption. "I'd say you just busted our contract. Consider it a washout and call it a night."
That's when something with plenty of weight to it came down hard against the base of my skull. I hadn't heard a thing and didn't even have time to register the pain—lights out.
The joint had that queer, eerie feeling of an after hours picture palace.
The room appeared queerly familiar as I came to. At least it seemed so from my position on the floor in front of the desk. The knot on the back of my head throbbed bad enough, but felt smaller than I expected. The evening's events drifted back together like a jigsaw puzzle made of smoke. No sign of Blackwell. The grizzly trophy stood in place on top of the bookcase.
I worked my way up to a sitting position and fought against throwing up. When the queasiness subsided I focused on my watch. The little numbers finally held still and read 10:40. That meant I lost somewhere around 45 minutes.
The irony of being cold-cocked is that once you come out of it, you just want to go under again. But I knew I couldn't stay there, so I worked my way up to my knees, then hauled myself up to my feet. As I rose above the desk I caught sight of the last remains of Clarence Toppy.
His upper body slumped over the desk with one arm thrown across to the right, the other arm dangling between his legs. His head had been completely crushed in. Chunks of bone and hair, bits of brain and gore decorated the blotter in every direction. Streaks and dots of dried blood had splashed everywhere and stained the blotter into a sickly green-brown.
I stepped around motionless spectacle and Toppy's dangling arm caught my eye. Clutched in his hand was the blood-smeared document he had staked life and death on. Then a slight fit of dizziness hit me, like an oscillating merry-go-round, just enough to make me slowly kneel in order to recover. As the feeling of imbalance left me, and the things before my blinking eyes came back into focus, I caught a clear view of the paper in Toppy's death grip. Blackwell had signed it after all.
* The photograph displayed at the top of this page was taken by John Vachon as an employee of the Farm Security Administration, a federal government agency. For more information on the photograph, see http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/fsa1997006675/PP/.