The tree looked perfect, sixty-four inch girth, the trunk rose 20-feet before splitting off into two equally large branches. Ted Ward imagined the house nestled smack in the tree’s Y-shaped midsection. It took him roughly three weeks to construct the house. He built it for pleasure, a place where he and Stella could get away from things. The scam didn’t dawn on him until the day he took long-range photographs from inside the wooden structure.
“What an incredible view,” Ted said. “A million-dollar view is what it is.” And then things clicked. Why not rent the place out? He didn’t have to advertise it was a tree house. He’d focus on the view it offered.
“I can make anything look appealing on the web,” he explained to Stella.
It didn’t take long for their first booking; a Dr. Washburn reserved the house for two nights.
Ted researched him. “He’s not even a real doctor,” Ted said to Stella. “He’s a Ph.D..”
“That is a real doctor, Ted,” Stella countered.
“Whatever. All I know is he’s interested in our little chateau.”
“I don’t feel right about this entire thing,” Stella said.
“I’ll give you a thousand reasons to feel right,” Ted Ward responded. “We’ve got the grand in the bank and there’s nothing Dr. Washburn or anyone else can do about it now.”
“Ted, we rented a goddamned tree house for $500 a night? Are you nuts? You really don’t think we can get away with this?”
“You worry too much. Dr. Washburn is only our first customer. There’ll be more suckers, a lot more. It’ll be like printing money.”
“How do you figure?” Stella Ward asked. “Once people see the online reviews, they won’t contact us. Everyone will know it’s a scam. This has to be illegal.”
“Relax, will ya? We’ll flood the listing with positive reviews. Plenty of companies do it. You pay someone a fee and presto, hundreds of positive reviews appear.”
“But it’s dishonest. The entire listing is a lie,” chided Stella Ward.
“People lie all the time. It’s no crime. Besides, we didn’t technically lie, we exaggerated.” He looked at his cell phone, summoned their Airbnb ad. He read, “Secluded. Exquisite view. Quiet. Air-conditioned. All true.”
“Air-conditioned?” questioned Stella.
“The window,” said Ted. “Exclusive entrance…”
The look on Stella’s face made him pause. “That step rope I installed rolls up. That’s about as exclusive as it gets. Just because we didn’t mention it’s a tree house doesn’t mean anything. People withhold information all the time. Let the buyer beware.”
Ted Ward’s cell phone blared, I’m in the Money, I’m in the Money, I’m in the Money Honey I’m in the…
“Mr. Ward, this is Dr. Washburn.”
Ted summoned Stella closer and pushed the mute button. “He’s not getting his money back. He paid for two nights and that’s that. This is going to be good.”
Stella’s disgusted look did nothing to assuage Ted’s excitement. He un-muted the phone and put it on speaker.
“How can I help you, Dr. Washburn? Everything okay with the rental?” He hit the mute button again and laughed.
“Yes. Yes,” the Dendrologist repeated. “The house is fine and you’re right about the view. It’s beyond amazing. But, I have some bad news. The tree in which you severely damaged building your tree house is a Commidendrum robustum, a Gumwood tree, one of the rarest trees in the world. It’s protected by law. For all intents and purposes you’ve delivered a death sentence to one of nature’s greatest treasures. I’ve already reported it. I’m afraid the view you’ll have for the next two to four years won’t be as desirable.”
Bruce Harris’ “Beauty” appears in Flash Bang Mysteries issue number 6. His story, “Carried Away” won the September/October 2017 Mysterious Photograph contest in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine.
Copyright © 2019 Bruce Harris. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of the author is prohibited.