The Bezzle excerpt (Part III)

In which Steve Soul lawyers up.

Cory Doctorow
6 min readFeb 20, 2024

--

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 TOMORROW in SALT LAKE CITY (Feb 21, Weller Book Works) and then 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, I’m serializing part of chapter 14 from my new novel The Bezzle, which is out in stores TODAY (!!!):

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

The Bezzle is a Martin Hench novel, the followup to last year’s Red Team Blues — though each book in the series is designed to be read in any order, and to stand alone (RTB just came out in paperback):

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

Hench is a two-fisted, high-tech forensic accountant whose career spans 40 years of busting high-tech scams, from the earliest days of the PC to the white-hot center of the cryptocurrency bubble. Each book revolves around a single, central scam (in The Bezzle, it’s the unbelievably slimy prison-tech industry):

https://pluralistic.net/2024/02/14/minnesota-nice/#shitty-technology-adoption-curve

But each book also features lots of subplots that unpick different kinds of fraud. In this serialized excerpt, we get to watch Marty unwind a music royalty theft scheme, the kind of thing that Rebecca Giblin and I pulled apart in our 2022 book, Chokepoint Capitalism (also now in paperback!):

https://chokepointcapitalism.com/

Today’s installment gets into one of the major tactics of any semi-respectable scam — simply ignoring the victim in the hope that they’ll get tired and go away. Any of us who’ve been ripped off by a big company can surely relate.

I’m leaving on my tour for this one tomorrow, starting with a gig in Salt Lake City at Weller Bookworks (Feb 21) at 630PM:

https://www.wellerbookworks.com/event/store-cory-doctorow-feb-21-630-pm

From there, it’s on to LA (with Adam Conover), Seattle (with Neal Stephenson) and many, many more cities — maybe one near you!

https://pluralistic.net/2024/02/16/narrative-capitalism/#bezzle-tour

Here’s part one of the serial:

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

And part two:

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

And now, onto part three!

Stefon cooked Jamal another dinner and Jamal wrote another letter, this one more forceful, and addressed to Gounder by name. Two weeks later, Jamal wrote another letter without needing dinner because “that motherfucker went to Harvard fucking law” — ­Jamal had looked him up in the ALA directory — ­“and he knows you can’t make legal problems go away just by ignoring them. Time for that piece of shit to put on his big-­boy pants and be a goddamned lawyer.”

The one thing Jamal wouldn’t do was file a lawsuit. “You need a lawyer for that,” he said. “I mean, I can help you with the paperwork, but a paralegal can’t file the suit. And you shouldn’t file your own suit, either. Those guys’ll just hire some blow-dried asshole from a big law firm and they’ll crush you like a cockroach.”

“Well, shit,” Stefon said. But it all made sense. Anyone doing business with Chuy Flores would do business like Chuy Flores — ­that is, crooked as hell.

“What you need is a contingency lawyer,” Jamal said. “Someone who’ll take the job for a piece of the action.” Which is how Stefon ended up being represented by Benny Caetani II, son of Benedetto Caetani, who graduated at the top of his Yale class, won a string of spectacular class-­action suits, then got disbarred after someone leaked calls where he admitted moving money from one client trust account into another to cover a shortfall. No one seriously thought that Benedetto was stealing anyone’s money — ­he’d had receivables due within a week that let him make the trust account whole — ­but he was also clearly guilty.

Equally, no one seriously believed that the high-­powered surveillance that led to Benedetto’s downfall was random. Benedetto had transferred more than a hundred million dollars from the balance sheets of America’s largest, dirtiest corporations — ­ poison-­peddling pharma giants, toxic-­waste-­dumping chemical companies, a global chain of botox parlors with some very loose syringes indeed — ­and they were gunning for him.

Officially, Benedetto was out of the lawyer game. Unofficially, he was the brains behind Benny, and the two of them ran a squeaky-­clean shop, making sure that everything that an actual lawyer had to do, Benny did — ­while Benedetto did ­everything else. Father and son got along well and they were a hell of a team. When Benedetto called me in to audit Inglewood Jams’ books, I jumped at the opportunity. They were a delight to work for.

“They played tough,” Benedetto said, as his minions arranged the bankers’ boxes on the steel kitchen shelves he’d had installed on the long walls of the storefront he’d rented for me to work out of for the month. “At first. Told me they didn’t owe Stefon a dime, and that they’d rather bankrupt themselves in court than pay some broken-­down, washed-­up disco king anything. Told me his problem was with Chuy, not Inglewood Jams.”

“Well, to be fair, that Chuy guy sounds like a class-­A piece of shit.”

“A broke piece of shit. Guy’s got a million-­dollar nose and an empty bank account.”

“So you had to go after Inglewood Jams.”

Benedetto twirled around in his Aeron chair. He’d sent over a pair of them, asking if I needed more, because he had a storage locker full of them that he’d gotten as part of a settlement with a broke Santa Monica crowdsourcing company that stiffed its workers when it folded.

“I did. I went after them. That Gounder lawyer tried to bluff, then when that didn’t work, he tried to dodge service. Which was such a kindergarten move. Plus he was no good at it. Caught him outside the rub-­and-­tug parlor he went to every Friday after work. Handed him the papers. Wore a bodycam. Didn’t mention his wife. Didn’t have to.”

“You think he settled because he didn’t want his wife to find out he was getting hand jobs at a massage parlor?”

“No, he held out awhile after that. But I could see it preying on him, every time I was face-­to-­face with him. Eventually, he musta told his bosses that they were gonna lose, and so they offered a settlement. It was trash. I laughed in his face. He tossed out some better offers, but none of them even in the ballpark of what we would get in court. Finally, I told him to get serious or send his court suit out to the dry cleaner’s. That’s when he offered to make Stefon whole and pay me a little for my trouble on top of things.”

I suppressed a snort. I was sure that a little on top amounted to some real folding money.

“Even then he tried to pull a fast one, told me he’d calculate Stefon’s royalties and send a check the next week. I was like, ‘Hold up, there is no way you’re going to be able to make an honest accounting for Stefon’s royalties in a week. The dude’s samples are in hundreds of songs. The mere fact that you claimed that you could come up with a fair amount in a week tells me you were planning to pull a lowball number out of your ass and pass it off as the audited total, so tell you what, I’m gonna get the best forensic accountant in the state of California to come down here to LA and crawl all over your papers, and you are going to send him everything he needs to do it, or we’re going to court, motherfucker.”

“And he agreed?”

“Hell no. He refused. We went to a preliminary hearing. Judge turned out to be a classic soul fan. It didn’t go well for Gounder or Inglewood. The next day, he was back in my office, and now, well, here we are.”

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/2024/02/20/fore/#lawyer-up

--

--