One More Po
I want to add another rogue to Steve’s lineup. Like he did, I invite you all to chime in if you disagree—I’m curious about counterarguments. The fellow I’m talking about has actually been getting some positive press this week (in Steve’s post as well), so I expect some pushback. I refer, of course, to Harry Magaña.
Here’s what I recognize as admirable about him: He tenaciously pursues some kind of redress for Lucy Anne Sander’s murder. He works his connections to try to get to the bottom of things. He puts himself to an awful lot of inconvenience in the process, when he’s not really obligated to do so. He seems to be a nice friend to Demetrio Águila. He misses his dead wife.
And I think that’s it. On the other side of the ledger, he’s corrupt, violent, and larcenous, he’s willing (at least) to torture, and he evidently feels he’s above the law.
Look at his first appearance:
When the bartender left work Harry Magaña was waiting for him outside, sitting in his car. The next day the bartender couldn’t come in to work, supposedly because he’d been in an accident. When he came back to Domino’s four days later with his face covered in bruises and scabs, everyone was shocked. He was missing three teeth, and if he lifted his shirt he revealed countless bruises in the most outrageous colors on his back and chest. He didn’t show his testicles, but there was still a cigarette burn on the left one. (414)
The bartender’s explanation is that he was jumped by a group on the street and they beat him up. Yes, I’m sure a cigarette to the scrotum happens all the time in street beatings. I strongly suspect this is our hero’s handiwork, and it’s appalling. We know he whips Elsa Fuentes with a belt to get information from her, threatening to mark her face and even to kill her. He breaks into three houses, cavalierly helps himself to whatever’s there, puts the make on a 16-year-old who’s in love with someone else, and lets his cohort—a police officer—pull a knife on a pimp to get more information. Have I missed anything?
The way he acts in this section, he’s just another lawless cop who thinks that what he’s trying to do is more important than the principles of law and justice he’s supposed to uphold. Are we supposed to be cheering him on? I understand the impulse to root for the only person who seems to be on track to accomplish something (you know, until he disappears), but surely his dehumanizing methods indicate caution there. I read his behavior as more than just dismaying, but as of a piece with (if not, obviously, as horrendous as) the pervasive narcissistic discounting of other people’s humanity that permits the conditions in Santa Teresa to arise. To me it’s clearly problematic to acclaim Harry Magaña in contradistinction to the people he’s trying to catch when they’re in some ways so similar. I’m reminded of the chemotherapy Magaña’s wife may have undergone: It’s effective in its fight, but that doesn’t make it less destructive and dangerous.