Chapter 12 - Peen Machine


"You've got to stop these bums now, and I don't particularly care how! This kind of foolishness will cost the development project millions if it isn't nipped in the bud now!" Theodore Peen angrily smashed the office phone back into its cradle.

The prospect of rising property values next to his vast holdings didn't sit well with his corporate urban renewal plans. He'd made a nice chunk of his fortune developing huge tracts of Los Angeles slums.

It was a simple game plan, just buy a few devastated apartment blocks, then open them up to drug dealers and other brands oflowlife. Peen never had to look for these tenants, he just ordered his rental agents to say yes to anybody that decent landlords wouldn't rent to. Sometimes, he'd even get generous and let them stay for free. It doesn't take long for decency to desert a neighborhood under that kind of pressure. Soon, the already low property values dipped so low that owners sold for almost nothing. Some would simply stop all tax and utility payments, with the hope that the land would revert to the city.

Peen and his agents instinctively knew the exact price an owner would take for his depreciating property. This prevented the unpleasant business of tax foreclosures. Peen hated tax foreclosures; they brought risk into development plans. It was possible, although rare, that somebody else would bid on a property that he'd spent months destroying. If he didn't have title to every lot on a block, Peen's gentrification projects could be shackled with expensive compromises. He made it a point to eliminate the compromises and could complete projects for a lot less money than the competition could.

Civic recognition and humanitarian awards piled up in Peen's office. He was recognized for his work to upgrade poor neighborhoods across California. Those warm feelings weren't shared by the victims of Peen's specially selected criminal tenants. Fortunately for Peen, the beliefs of a thousand poor people are garbage compared to the truths of a few rich men; that's what made America great. Peen put that maxim into practice and built an empire.

In the eyes of the media and the power structure, Peen smashed crime-ridden slums and pushed out undesirables. Then he replaced them with stylishly uniform housing and retail developments for the middle class. As former low income residents departed his target neighborhoods, the property values zoomed. When a delicious profit was gobbled up, the voracious Peen machine would head for another run-down neighborhood to devour.

Competition usually came at him head-on, but this time the threat was oblique. Peen knew he'd have to work a new angle to protect his latest acquisition.

He invested in long distance charges to collect the interest on an old debt in Washington. "Yeah, Senator, sorry to bother you on your personal line, but I need a couple of good company men to help me on an important project in LA. A couple of gentlemen like the two that came out last time would work nicely...Yeah, sure, you get me a couple of names and I'll give you the details tomorrow. Hey, next time you're out, let me set you up at my beach place. I'll make sure you're not lonely, so far away from home. Okay, talk to you tomorrow, Senator."

He pressed an intercom button, and within seconds a toady in a business suit hopped into his office, eager to serve. "Yes Mr. Peen?"

"What have you found out about these self-help homeless bums that are trying to clean up one of my neighborhoods?"

"Quite a bit, actually, sir. They're being organized by a church group. Actually, the work itself is tunneled through a mission that's run by the church group. A Reverend Matthew Matthius seems to be the organizer, although he's not involved in the day to day operations. As far as we can tell, homeless people are being put to work to fix up several derelict small apartment blocks that the church has somehow gotten conditional title to."

"Conditional title?" Peen interrupted, "What are the conditions?"

"The buildings were scheduled for demolition, sir, but that's been shelved indefinitely. Apparently, if these buildings can be made habitable, they will be donated to the church. If they aren't fixed up by the end of this year, they revert to the original owner who will demolish them."

"I will not have these bums helping themselves. It just is not done. Who in Hell is this troublemaker minister anyway? I want you to pull out all the stops and get this guy out of my way. Oh, while you're at it, get a line on any of his associates that look like possible leadership material and take care of them too."

"Thank you sir. Do I have a special budget for this project?"

"Yeah, this is an important one. I want to set an example of them before this foolishness starts to spread. It'll cost this company plenty if it gets out of hand. Unless it's something really expensive, you've got carte blanche. I know I can trust you for results. I want to see something concrete in the next month."

The toady hopped back out of Peen's office with a deviously delighted look that was out of place on his dour face. This was going to be fun.

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