Saturday, July 5, 2014

Bad Cop, Good Cop

Canyon City is not Los Angeles, and the corruption portrayed in the "L.A. Confidential" movie, based on James Ellroy's violence-filled "L.A. Quartet," is over the top compared with what could develop in a one-horse Idaho college town presided over by a straight-arrow police chief. Still, there is a strain of seediness among Canyon City's stable of officers, and it shows up most strongly in Jed Plinckett.

In his few years on the force, Plinckett has earned more than his share of complaints about rough treatment of detainees. But if he is aware of the swelling dossier in Chief Sam Moody's desk, the knowledge has done little to slow down the patrolman. He continues to push the envelope when making arrests, and that leads him into a painful encounter with a human buzzsaw.

As described in Chapter 6 of "The Leather Man," Plinckett grabs Quintus LeClaire and tries to put him face-down in the aisle of a Greyhound bus, He only succeeds as far as scraping the side of the ex-Marine's brow and ear on a seat while LeClaire is still dreaming about the near-fatal wounds he received in his last firefight in Vietnam. The result is that LeClaire snaps his head backward into Plinckett's face and then knocks him out with a right cross.

As Chapter 7 begins, Plinckett is at home nursing a bruise to the philtrum, the vertical groove between the nose and upper lip. He has been told in departmental training that the philtrum is full of nerve endings, and the back of LeClaire's head has given Plinckett ample opportunity to experience the pain a blow there can cause. He is angry that he allowed a prisoner to injure him and not the other way around:
One second he was feeling the rush of control, brio and authority that is an unspecified but coveted reward of wearing a badge, and the next he was blinded as if a flashbulb the size of a grapefruit had gone off in his face.
Moody, who decided after interviewing LeClaire earlier that Sunday morning to release the prisoner, has the tricky job of trying to convince Plinckett that the decision was justified. Plinckett, enraged, crosses the line into insubordination protesting that LeClaire should be tried for assault, but Moody remains cool and finally calms the patrolman by telling him LeClaire was having a flashback linked to combat in Vietnam.
"You were in the Army, weren't you Jed?"
Moody asks, knowing the answer.
"Sure I was. That's where I got my start in law enforcement."
"Well, this kid is a war hero. He just got mustered out of the Marines after three months recovering from a firefight."
Moody further calms the waters by offering Plinckett a citation, an extra week's pay and time off if he needs it to recuperate. Then he hangs up, calls Ben Steinbrecher, the football team's defensive coordinator and his best friend, tells Steinbrecher's wife to have her husband call him about a potential recruit, and goes back to the fascinating conversation he had with LeClaire prior to the calls to Plinckett and Steinbrecher's home.

Over breakfast earlier, LeClaire offered an explanation for his being on the bus headed to Oregon: He wanted to see the family of a friend who was killed alongside him when he received the wounds that earned his discharge from military service. He also provided two humorous possibilities to explain his unusual first name, which means "fifth" in Latin _ either he was the fifth man in his patriarchal line since the Civil War, or he was named after a popular brand of whiskey:
"One of my uncles told me I was the size of a fifth of Wild Turkey, and it was a miracle I wasn't named 'The Kickin' Chicken.' To tell the truth, I think dad just liked the letter 'Q.'"
The chapter ends with LeClaire citing several of the Latin phrases he learned at his father's insistence that Latin could help him in any advanced education he wanted to pursue. Then, impressed with the lengths the chief has gone to to make sure justice is done, he says he is willing to meet Steinbrecher to discuss Canyon State's football program.


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