The Bezzle excerpt (Part V)

Keep your hands at 10 and 2.

Cory Doctorow
7 min readFeb 22, 2024

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I’m on tour with my new novel The Bezzle! Catch me TONIGHT in SAN DIEGO (Feb 22, Mysterious Galaxy). After that, it’s LA (Saturday, with ADAM CONOVER), Seattle (Monday, with NEAL STEPHENSON), then 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.

I’m out on tour with my new novel, The Bezzle, a cyberpunk revenge thriller about Marty Hench, a two-fisted forensic accountant, and a guerrilla war he wages on a prison-tech provider that treats incarcerated people as assets to be strip-mined:

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

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

https://pluralistic.net/2024/02/22/self-censorship/#acab

As part of the promotion for the book, I’ve been serializing an excerpt: Chapter 14, in which Marty takes on a side-quest to recover the stolen royalties of one-time funk star Stephon Magner (AKA Steve Soul) which were stolen by his scumbag manager and then sold on to an even scummier sample-licensing clearinghouse.

Today, I bring you part five, in which Marty’s simple cross-referencing project is violently altered by an encounter with the criminal gangs of the LA Sheriffs Deputy departments, a real crime-syndicate whose reign of terror continues to this day:

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

I’m posting this installment en route to San Diego, where I’ll be appearing tonight at Mysterious Galaxy:

https://www.mystgalaxy.com/22224Doctorow

From there, it’s back to LA, where I’m appearing on Saturday evening with Adam Conover at Vroman’s:

https://www.vromansbookstore.com/Cory-Doctorow-discusses-The-Bezzle

And then on Monday I’ll be at Third Place Books with Neal Stephenson:

https://www.thirdplacebooks.com/event/cory-doctorow

From there, I’m off to Portland, Phoenix, Tucson and points further:

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

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

Part four:

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

And now, part five!

The storefront had an old break room with a first-­aid kit, and a bathroom with a sink. I sponged myself clean in the mirror, ate two expired Aleves and three 200 mg expired Tylenols out of the kit. The ass was ripped most of the way out of my pants, so I moved my wallet to my front pocket, which my massage therapist had been nagging at me to do for years.

I opened the door more carefully this time and limped out into the parking lot. My rental — ­a little red Civic — ­was the only car left in the parking lot, except for a rusted junker with no tires that was the perennial sentry of its farthest corner.

I bipped the doors open with my fob, checked the back seat, then slid inside. I checked my reflection in the rearview mirror and winced, which pulled at my bruises and set blood oozing from my lip and cheekbone again, which made me wince harder. I was already halfway to Quasimodo and I tried to remember if there was a 7-­Eleven on the route home where I could buy a couple of bags of frozen peas for the swelling.

I reset the mirror and backed out of my spot. The pain was increasing. They’d have Advil at the 7-­Eleven, and I’d remembered where there was one on the way back to my Airbnb.

As I waited for a red light at Eagle Rock and Colorado Boulevard, I watched as a homeless man labored across the road with his shopping cart. I was still watching him when I realized the light had been green for some time and had just toggled yellow. I made the turn and headed up Colorado, but I was barely a hundred yards down the road when I heard a siren blat and saw the police lights. I checked my mirrors and saw the LASD cruiser directly behind me, racing right up to my bumper, slowing only at the very last moment. The cruiser’s high beams blinked insistently and the siren whooped.

I pulled over.

I waited while the officer slowly got out of his car and walked to my driver’s-­side window. I kept my hands at ten and two. The officer tapped my window and made a roll-­down motion, so I hit the button, moving slowly, putting my hand back.

I got a light in my face, squinting and thus reopening my cheekbone and lip.

“Everything all right, sir?”

“Yes,” I said, feeling the blood ooze down my chin. “I was beaten up,” I said, stating the obvious.

“That is unfortunate,” the officer said. “License and registration.”

I got my driver’s license out of my wallet and found the rental papers in the glove box and handed them over. He crunched back to his cruiser and I watched him in the side mirror. He’d left his cruiser’s headlights on and in the glare it was hard to tell, but it looked like there was another cop in the car whom he was conferring with. After a long delay, he came back.

“Step out of the car, please.”

I did. He turned me around and had me plant my hands on the hood, kicked my feet apart, and roughly frisked me, getting his hand inside the rent in the seat of my pants and patting my boxer shorts and giving my balls a hard squeeze.

“Sir, do you know why I stopped you?”

“I don’t,” I said.

“You proceeded unsafely through a traffic signal. Have you been drinking, sir?”

“I haven’t.”

“Have you consumed any cannabis or other drugs?”

“I haven’t.”

He turned me around and shone his light in my eyes. “If I search your car, am I gonna find any drugs?”

“No, sir.”

“Because I am gonna search that car and if I do find drugs and you’ve been lying to me, this is gonna be a lot worse than it needs to be.”

I didn’t dignify that with a response. My head hurt. My face hurt. My back hurt. This was a bullshit stop.

I expected the deputy’s partner to get out of the cruiser while my tormentor tossed the rental car, but he stayed put. I did, too. Obviously. I wasn’t going to take off on foot. I’m a forensic accountant, not a gang kid getting fifteen minutes of fame on Cops.

He spent long enough on the rental that I started to worry. Who knew what some previous driver might have shoved between the seats? But after pulling out the floor mats and tossing them onto the grassy verge beside the car, he finally stood up.

“All right, sir. I’m going to go and get a breathalyzer test. You can refuse it and I will then suspend your license for twenty-­ four hours. I will arrest you for a suspected DUI and bring you in for a blood test. If you fail that test, you will be subject to additional criminal penalties. Do you understand me?”

He had old coffee on his breath. My face hurt. “I’ll take a test.”

Back to the cruiser. It had been half an hour at least. Once the breathalyzer was done — ­fifteen minutes, if memory served — ­I could go to the 7-­Eleven for painkillers and frozen peas. I decided I’d add a six-­pack, I was so tired. My face hurt. I knew that mouthing off to this cop wouldn’t make things go faster, quite the opposite, but as he took his leisurely time coming back to me, I was hard-­pressed not to.

I blew. “May I sit down?” I asked. “My face hurts.”

He didn’t bother to look up from his phone. “Stay where you are, sir.”

I stood. My face hurt. Time crawled. Finally, the breathalyzer beeped. He held it up and squinted at it, then used his phone to light up its face.

When he did, his sleeve rode up and revealed the “998” tattoo on his forearm. Suddenly, I didn’t care so much about the pain in my face.

The cop looked at me. He was an older guy, but quite a silver fox, in a Clooneyoid sort of way. Had the same smile lines at the corners of his lips and eyes. But on him, they looked mean. Dangerous. A man who would smile at you while he beat your face in.

“All right, sir,” he said. “I’m going to write you a citation for reckless driving and you will be free to go.” He smiled. “Thank you for your cooperation.” It sounded like “fuck you.”

Back to the cruiser again. When he was done writing, he switched off his headlights, and the bubble light inside the car lit up his partner. Heavyset. Smiling. Excellent teeth. He gave me the same look as he had just before kicking me in the ribs. I gasped involuntarily and my ribs burned. His smile got bigger.

The Clooneyoid deputy returned with my ticket. I looked at it and then I realized he’d said “reckless driving” — ­not “dangerous driving.” This was a summons, not a citation. For a misdemeanor. Two points off my license and I’d have to go to court. Depending on the judge, I could be in for fines or even a jail sentence.

Clooneyoid saw me figuring this out and he smiled, too. Everyone was having a great time tonight except for poor old Marty Hench.

“See you in court, sir,” he said.

I exercised extreme care on the drive to the 7-­Eleven, even backing out of my parking spot and reparking so that I was perfectly centered between the white lines. The clerk didn’t bat an eye at my hamburger face. I gave myself five minutes to bury my bruises in the frozen peas before I backed out and drove the rest of the way to my Airbnb.

I drove five under the limit the whole way, and when I got out of my rental, I looked long and hard up and down the street for an LA Sheriff’s Department cruiser.

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/2024/02/22/self-censorship/#acab

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