I admit that the ending of my story “Short-Term Murder” in issue #88 of Black Cat Weekly may include wishful thinking. The plot of the story revolves around a murder in a short-term vacation rental in a neighborhood. Two of the neighbors work together to solve the murder after one of them, Mariah Grant, the woman who lives next to the vacation rental, becomes a suspect because of her documented dislike of the house.
The inspiration for the story:
My neighborhood has fewer than one hundred houses. I know and communicate with all of my immediate neighbors and even a few neighbors in the houses that back up to mine. The neighborhood is secluded, bounded on three sides by a dry branch of Onion Creek that only fills when it rains. The area is quiet and peaceful. Or it was until last summer.
Before last summer, the house next door to me was owned and occupied by a family of five: two parents and three boys who attended the elementary school. Children that age go to bed early. They were quiet neighbors in the evenings.
Then, the family moved and sold the property to a business. The business set to work turning what had been a single family home into a mini-hotel and party venue. The mature oaks and crape myrtles in the back yard were chopped down and equipment rolled in to dig a massive swimming pool with an outdoor sound system and party space. Around Thanksgiving, the construction noise finally stopped, and the place opened for business.
My neighbors and I quickly discovered the rental listing online. From the pictures, we could see that the company stuffed bunk beds into what had been living spaces and listed the house as “sleeps twenty.” The online ad invited (and still invites) parties and weddings of up to thirty people.
In a blink of an eye, my formerly quiet street became party central.
Over the holidays, a line of cars parked in front of my house with people coming and going at all hours. My German Shepherd mix, who believes it is her duty to warn me of all dangers to my property, barked at the people milling on the sidewalk in front of my house at 1:30 in the morning. I stepped outside and asked them to move. (The local police told me later that standing in front of someone’s house at all hours isn’t allowed, and I should call them to ask the people to move. I was new to the problem then and didn’t know better.)
Group after group produced bags and bags of trash. It didn’t all fit into the bin the city provides to each house. So the guests piled trash into the recycling bins, too. When the lids wouldn’t close, the trash blew all over the neighborhood. (Yes, this is a city code violation.)
This month, a mini-bus pulled up in front of the house and disgorged fifteen or twenty women in cute, short dresses and matched cowboy hats. Bachelorette party? Sorority reunion? Who knows? They threw a rollicking, screaming pool party in the backyard. It sounded like teenage girls screaming at the top of their lungs at their favorite boy-band concert.
We have many children in the neighborhood. Do the vacationers speeding around the curved street to get to their party care about our children? Not remotely. Do they care about the house, the neighborhood, the community? Not in the slightest. Do they throw outdoor parties on Tuesday nights when everyone around them has school and work the next day? Yep. That happened this past week.
My city council member, who lives a few houses down from me, informed everyone that under city law the owners are entitled to use their property as they see fit. It’s legal to be a horrible neighbor. I’ve seen in the news that some cities are moving to classify short-term rentals as commercial lodgings, like hotels. That classification would make them illegal in neighborhoods. I’ll be watching with interest to see if the regulations pass legal hurdles.
In the meantime, if you read “Short-Term Murder” in Black Cat Weekly #88, you’ll see how I channeled my frustration into the creation of a short mystery.
N. M. Cedeño is a short story writer and novelist living in Texas. She is active in Sisters in Crime- Heart of Texas Chapter and is a member of the Short Mystery Fiction Society. Find out more at nmcedeno.com