They made it clear that there was absolutely no financial obligation. We would be their guests for the weekend at a motel with dinner and breakfast included. Our only obligation was to view the beautiful vacation property they were developing, complete with Olympic-size swimming pool, $3 million club house, and thousand-acre lake.

“Why not?” said my wife. “We can spend a weekend in the mountains at their expense. And besides, you’ve been talking about buying some land for a weekend retreat.”

Her arguments were persuasive. I knew they had been persuasive when I saw her packing the suitcase.

The land developer was true to his word. We were housed in a nice motel and given dinner and breakfast. After breakfast, the “hostess” rounded us all up to board the bus that would take us to the property.

After a twenty-minute ride the bus pulled off the state highway onto a gravel road. We wound along for several miles, trailing a huge cloud of dust. The restful blue-greens of the forest lining the road were periodically punctuated by garish yellow earth-moving equipment idled by the weekend. Apparently abandoned where four o’clock overtook their operators, the machines looked like Wellesian monsters that had suddenly expired.

The bus came to a halt by a row of dust-covered Continentals, and we were greeted by a sport-shirted salesman named Jim Patterson. His first words to us were a chummy “May I call you by your first name?”

We piled into his tan Continental, which, we were soon informed, cost $8,600. “You like to make money, don’t you?” he inquired cordially. “I mean, you like to make money some other way than by the sweat of your brow, don’t you?”

I answered with a rather weak “I suppose so.”

“Well,” said ol’ Jim, “land’s ...

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