The Bezzle excerpt (Part IV)

LA Sheriff’s Deputies are the most violent gangs in LA.

Cory Doctorow
8 min readFeb 21, 2024

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The cover of the Tor Books edition of *The Bezzle*: a yellow background with the words ‘Cory Doctorow,’ ‘The Bezzle,’ ‘New York Times Bestselling Author,’ and ‘A Martin Hench novel.’ Between them is an escheresque impossible triangle. The center of the triangle is a barred, smaller triangle (in blue, black and cream) that imprisons a silhouetted male figure in a suit. Two other male silhouettes in suits run alongside the top edges of the triangle.

I’m on tour with my new novel The Bezzle! Catch me TONIGHT in SALT LAKE CITY (Feb 21, Weller Book Works) and then TOMORROW in SAN DIEGO (Feb 22, Mysterious Galaxy). After that, it’s LA, Seattle, Portland, Phoenix and more!

A yellow rectangle. On the left, in blue, are the words ‘Cory Doctorow.’ On the right, in black, is ‘The Bezzle.’ Between them is the motif from the cover of *The Bezzle*: an escheresque impossible triangle. The center of the triangle is a barred, smaller triangle that imprisons a silhouetted male figure in a suit. Two other male silhouettes in suits run alongside the top edges of the triangle.

This week marks the publication of my latest novel, The Bezzle, and to celebrate, I’m serializing an excerpt from Chapter 14 in six parts:

https://us.macmillan.com/books/9781250865878/thebezzle

The Bezzle is a revenge story, a crime novel, and a technothriller. It stars Martin Hench, a hard-fighting forensic accountant who specializes in unwinding high-tech scams. Hench made his debt in last year’s Red Team Blues (now in paperback!); The Bezzle is a standalone followup:

https://us.macmillan.com/books/9781250865854/redteamblues

The serial tells the tale of Stefon Magner, AKA Steve Soul, a once-famous R&B frontman whose disintegrating career turned to tragedy when his crooked manager forged his signature on a rights assignment contract that let him steal all of Stefon’s royalties, which ballooned after modern hiphop artists discovered his grooves and started buying licenses to sample them. The first three installments related the sad circumstances of Stefon’s life, and the real-world analogues (like Leonard Cohen and George Clinton, both of whom were pauperized by sticky-fingered managers) as well as one real-world countermeasure, copyright termination, a thing that more artists should know about and use:

https://pluralistic.net/2021/09/26/take-it-back/

Today’s installment weaves in a major subplot for the first time in the serial: Los Angeles’s notorious, murderous Sheriff’s Deputy gangs. These are another unbelievable true tale: for decades, the LASD’s deputies have formed themselves into criminal gangs, some of which require that initiates murder someone to be inducted:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_LASD_deputy_gangs

They sport gang tattoos, have secret signs, and run vast criminal enterprises. This has been the subject of numerous investigative press reports, and one extensive official report that called the gangs “a cancer”:

https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/deputy-gangs-cancer-los-angeles-county-sheriffs-department-scathing-re-rcna73367

The sordid tales of the LASD gangs beggar belief. For example, deputies in charge of LA County jails forced inmates to pit-fight and took bets on the outcomes:

https://www.aclu.org/publications/report-cruel-and-usual-punishment-how-savage-gang-deputies-controls-la-county-jails

The taxpayers of LA have shelled out tens of millions of dollars to settle claims against LA’s criminals with badges:

https://news.yahoo.com/deputies-accused-being-secret-societies-230851807.html

Periodically, LA judges and officials will insist that they are tackling the problem:

https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2023-05-17/dozens-of-lasd-deputies-ordered-to-show-suspected-gang-tattoos-reveal-others-who-have-them

But at every turn, the LA police “unions” manage to crush these investigations:

https://abc7.com/los-angeles-county-lasd-deputy-gangs-cliques/13492081/

And top cops are right there with them, insisting that these aren’t “gangs” — they’re just “subgroups”:

https://lapublicpress.org/2024/01/former-la-sheriff-villanueva-sheriffs-gangs-are-just-subgroups/

It’s very weird being an Angeleno and knowing that one of the largest, most militarized, best funded police departments in the world has been openly captured by a hyperviolent crime syndicate. When I was in the Skyboat Media studios last December with Wil Wheaton recording the audiobook for The Bezzle, Wil broke off from reading to say, “You know, someone’s going to read this and google it and have their mind blown when they discover that it’s real”:

https://sowl.co/8nyGh

That’s one of my favorite ways to turn literature into something more than entertainment. It’s why I filled the Little Brother books with real-world surveillance, cryptography and security tech, giving enough detail to advance the plot and give readers an idea of what search terms would let them understand and use the concepts in the novel. That’s something I’m happy to keep up with the Hench novels, unpicking the inner workings of scams and corruption. The more of us who are wise to this, the sooner we’ll be able to get rid of it.

Here’s part one of the serial:

https://pluralistic.net/2024/02/17/the-steve-soul-caper/#lead-singer-disease

Part two:

https://pluralistic.net/2024/02/19/crad-kilodney-was-an-outlier/#copyright-termination

Part three:

https://pluralistic.net/2024/02/20/fore/#lawyer-up

And now, onto part four!

The last of the boxes had been shelved.

Benedetto rose from his chair. “Thank you, gentlemen,” he said to the movers, and dug a roll of twenties out of his pocket and handed each of them two of their own. He turned to me as they filed out. “You wanna get sushi? The place next door is great.”

The empty storefront was in a down-­at-­heels strip mall in Eagle Rock. On one side, there was a Brazilian jujitsu studio that never seemed to have any students training in it. On the other side was Sushi Jiro, name on a faded sign with half its lightbulbs gone. Beyond that was a vaping store.

“The place next door is good?”

He laughed. “You San Francisco motherfuckers got terrible LA restaurant radar. Put Sushi Jiro in the Mission and it’d have a Michelin star and a six-­month waiting list. Here it’s in a strip mall and only the locals know how good it is. Bet you never had a decent meal in this town, am I right?”

“I’ve had a few,” I said, “but I admit my track record isn’t great.”

“Let’s improve it.”

The sushi was amazing.

#

Inglewood Jams had the kind of books that were performatively bad, designed to foil any attempt at human comprehension.

But whoever cooked them was an amateur, someone who mistook complexity for obfuscation. Like cross-­referencing was a species of transcendentally esoteric sorcery. I don’t mind cross-referencing. It’s meditative, like playing solitaire. I had Bene­detto send over some colored post-­it tabs and a big photocopier with an automatic feeder and I started making piles.

One night, I worked later than I planned. Sushi Jiro was becoming a serious hazard to my waistline and my sleep-­debt, because when your dinner break is ten yards and two doors away from your desk, it’s just too damned easy to get back to work after dinner.

That night, I’d fallen into a cross-­referencing reverie, and before I knew it, it was 2 a.m., my lower back was groaning, and my eyes were stinging.

I straightened, groaned, and slid my laptop into my bag. I found my keys and unlocked the door. The storefront was covered with brown butcher’s paper, but it didn’t go all the way to the edge. I had just a moment to sleepily note that there was some movement visible through the crack in the paper over the glass door when it came flying back toward me, bouncing off my toe, mostly, and my nose, a little. I put my one hand to my face as I instinctively threw myself into the door to close it again.

I was too late and too tired. A strong shoulder on the other side of the doorframe pushed it open and I stumbled back, and then the guy was on me, the door sighing shut behind him on its gas lift as he bore me to the ground and straddled my chest, a move he undertook with the ease of much practice. He pinned my arms under his knees and then gave me a couple of hard hits, one to the jaw, one to the nose.

My lip and nose were bleeding freely and my head was ringing from the hits and from getting smacked into the carpet tiles over concrete when I went down backward. I struggled — ­to free my arms, to buck off my attacker, to focus on him.

He was a beefy white guy in his late fifties, with watery dark eyes and a patchy shave that showed gray mixed in with his dark stubble. As he raised his fist for another blow, I saw that he was wearing a big class ring. A minute later, that ring opened my cheek, just under the orbit of my eye.

Apart from some involuntary animal grunts, I hadn’t made a sound. Now I did. “Ow!” I shouted. “Shit!” I shouted. “Stop!” I shouted.

He split my lip again. I bucked hard but I couldn’t budge him. He had a double chin, a gut, and he was strong, and used that bulk to back up his strength. It was like trying to free myself from under a boulder. That kept punching me in the face.

The strip mall would be deserted. Everything was closed, even the vaping store.

Shouting wouldn’t help. I did it anyway. He shut my mouth for me with a left. I gagged on blood.

He took a break from punching me in the face, then. I think he was tired. His chest heaved, and he wiped sweat off his lip with the back of his hand, leaving behind a streaky mustache of my blood.

He contemplated me, weighing me up. I thought maybe he was trying to decide if I had any fight left in me, or perhaps whether I had any valuables he could help himself to.

He cleared his throat and looked at me again. “Goddammit, I messed your face up so bad I can’t tell for sure. I hope to fuck that you’re Martin Hench, though.”

Even with my addled wits, this was an important piece of intelligence: he came here for me. This wasn’t a random act of senseless Los Angeles street violence. This was aimed at me.

I was briefly angry at Benedetto for not warning me that Chuy Flores was such a tough son of a bitch. Then I had the presence of mind to lie.

“I don’t know who the fuck this Mark Hendricks is.” My voice was thick with gargled blood, but I was proud of Mark Hendricks. Pretty fast thinking for a guy with a probable concussion. The guy slapped me open-­handed across the face, and as I lay dazed for a moment, he shifted, reached into my back pocket for my wallet, and yanked it — ­and the seat of my pants — ­free. Before I could react, his knees were back on my biceps, pinning my arms and shoulders. It was a very neat move, and fast for an old guy like him.

He flipped my wallet open and squinted at it, then held it at arm’s length, then smiled broadly. He had bleach-­white teeth, a row of perfectly uniform caps. Los fucking Angeles, where even the thugs have a million-­dollar smile.

“Shoulda sprung for botox,” I slurred.

His grin got wider. “Maybe someday I will. Got these in trade from a cosmetic dentist I did some work for.” He dropped my wallet. “Listen, Martin Hench, you stay the fuck away from Thames Estuary and Lawrence Coleman.”

“It’s Lionel Coleman,” I said.

“What the fuck ever,” he said. He labored to his feet. I stayed still. He looked at me from a great height, and I stared up his nostrils. Without warning, he kicked my ribs hard enough that I heard one of them crack.

“You’ve been told,” he said to my writhing body, and let himself out.

ETA: Here’s part five!

If you’d like an essay-formatted version of this post to read or share, here’s a link to it on pluralistic.net, my surveillance-free, ad-free, tracker-free blog:

https://pluralistic.net/2024/02/21/im-feeling-unlucky/#poacher-turned-keeper

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