One hundred thousand dollars. One hundred thousand dollars. Sitting on the curb near his rented car in the Diamond Gables Shopping Center, right in front of Seven Eleven, Buddy Stein couldn't get the thought of that one hundred thousand dollars out of his head. It drummed into his brain, over and over and over. He had to get that money.
That's what I'm here for, he thought as he took yet another gulp of his ritual coffee. Didn't matter what time of day it was, he had a cup of coffee in his hand.
It was afternoon and the air was comfortably warm but he was uncomfortable, antsy. He felt as if he was wasting valuable minutes, yet it wasn't time yet. He still had a few glitches to work out. He had to do it in the morning because that damned security guard would be out of the way only until the afternoon. And he had to figure out what to do about the damn woman. Then, only then, could Buddy go for the money. Then he could do it.
He'd been here a couple of days this time, but this wasn't his first trip. He'd run drugs up and down the coast, from Florida to Baltimore, for some time. And, thanks to Tommy Lucino, he now had another reason to visit Florida, specifically this fine, disgustingly rich area called Diamond Gables.
Just outside of Miami, this was an area he, Buddy Stein, usually wouldn't go anywhere near. The house was in a neighborhood so wealthy, so ritzy, that it had its own private security guard and the kind of outrageously big mansions only seen on those stupid nighttime soap operas.
Buddy's reason was Peter Lenson. Or, more specifically, Peter Lenson's money.
Hell, Buddy thought, the asshole's so rich he won't miss a lousy hundred thousand. But Buddy knew that, of course, Lenson would miss the wad because he was so damned rich. Buddy's biggest concern, at this point, was the wife. Lenson would only be able to miss that money if Buddy could figure out a way to get it out of the house without having a face-to-face confrontation with Lenson's wife.
Yeah, he'd thought it out very, very carefully and that was the only glitch. The live-in maid was off on Mondays. The kids were at school. Lenson himself wouldn't be there because the wife had kicked him out. Buddy knew, from Tommy Lucino, whose brother, Steve, worked for Lenson, that the Mr. and Mrs. were in a bitter divorce battle. Peter Lenson didn't even live in the house anymore.
There didn't seem to be any way to get around the woman, though. If he was going to do the job and get the money—and he was determined to get that money—he realized he'd have to force her to give it to him. He swallowed the last of his coffee and carelessly swiped the back of his hand across his mouth. This part made him nervous. This was the bad part of an otherwise perfect scheme.
Buddy Stein had never killed anybody and he feared that this hit might put him in a position where he'd have to kill. Except for a fisticuffs brawl years ago where he'd been found guilty of assault—and that asshole had it coming, Buddy thought—he'd never even really physically hurt anyone. He hadn't had a gun then, and wouldn't have used it even if he'd had one. He wasn't the best person, but killing was where he drew the line.
Especially this time. This time was special, different, if for no other reason than the fact that the person he'd be coming up against was a woman.
Yeah, he thought, I ain't the best citizen. I sell drugs, I got an arrest record the length of Baltimore, I hang around with others like me . . .but I don't like killing. And I don't usually go up against women.
Buddy knew he was a strange creature within his little world. Strange because he didn't do drugs or drink. Now, his girlfriend drank and did drugs, and the bars they frequented knew they better have coffee available or Buddy Stein wouldn't bring his girl in and spend his money. Everybody who knew Buddy knew that, in the context of the life he led, he had a hearty respect for women.
So what about the woman? he chided himself. I don't have to kill her to get the money. I don't even have to hurt her. I’ll take the gun and the Black Jack with me only to scare her. Nothing more.
Women scare easily.
She'll let me in because I'll pretend to be a delivery man from the florist. I'll tell her there's no card so I don't know who the flowers are from. As soon as she hears I got flowers for her from a mystery person, she'll let me in.
Women love flowers. And they love mysterious surprises.
Buddy had toyed with this scenario for days. It seemed to be the easiest way to gain entry without a lot of fuss or danger to him, or to the woman.
He crumpled the paper cup in the palm of his hand. His resolve hardened as he watched the styrofoam Seven Eleven insignia distort from the strength of his fingers. Yeah, he nodded as he stood, tomorrow's the day. Tomorrow I'm gonna do it.
He laughed, climbing into his rented car and starting the engine. Tomorrow’s the day I'll do it—as he drove away from the entrance to Diamond Gables he flipped it the bird—and the next day I'm gonna be sitting pretty, right on top of one hundred thousand dollars!
Nine a.m. on March 9, 1987, Buddy Stein left his room at the Vespucci Hotel. The sun was shining and there were few clouds in the sky. Everywhere he looked he saw palm trees. Sonny felt good about what he was getting ready to do. He felt confident.
It wasn't really that far from the Vespucci to the Lenson house in Diamond Gables, and despite his confidence, Buddy fidgeted; he'd never set his sights so high before. Today he skipped his ritual morning coffee and headed straight for the florist shop. He parked the car, went into the store, and was immediately greeted by a clerk.
"Can I help you find something?"
"Not really sure," Buddy muttered, looking over his shoulder.
The woman offered him a pleasant smile. Going over to a tabled display of floral assortments, she suggested, "How about any of these?"
Buddy looked where she indicated, saw a pot of flowers that seemed good enough—hell, he thought, I don't really care what the damn flowers look like—and, without meeting her gaze, told the woman, "Okay, I'll take this." He indicated his selection.
He paid cash, under twenty dollars, and told the salesclerk he didn't need a card but, just before he hurriedly left the store, he impulsively grabbed one of the florist cards, anyway. Minutes later he was in front of the Lenson house.
Good. No cars in the driveway. Everything seemed to be going as planned. He yanked the flowers from the seat next to him, slammed shut the car door, and went up to the house. After he knocked, a female voice came to him from the intercom.
"Yes? What do you want?"
"I got a flower delivery for you."
"Well, who is it from?"
Buddy licked his lips and repeated himself. "I got a flower delivery."
"Who is it from?" The tone of her voice rose. She sounded aggravated.
"There’s no card," he answered.
"Well then, where did it come from?"
Buddy hadn't expected a battery of questions to assault him from a little box on the front of the house. "Diamond Gables Florist," he blurted.
She asked again about a card and he once again repeated the same response. Finally, after Buddy's heart had started beating much too hard, she said, "Okay, wait a minute."
The door was buzzed open, and there she was. She was a blonde, not a real looker but no dog, neither. Buddy handed her the flowers and, at the same time, pulled his gun out from behind them.
The woman screamed. Buddy was still outside, in front of the house, and people were across the street. They weren't real close, and they weren't paying any attention to him yet; he wanted it to stay that way. She kept on screaming so he grabbed her, putting his rough hand on her mouth, and said, "Shut up, lady! I won’t hurt you, I just want your money."
But she wouldn't shut up. Buddy was sure the sound of her voice carried to the opposite end of town. He again glanced at the neighbors; they still weren't looking at him, even though the noise seemed as if it would go on forever.
Buddy didn't have forever.
He shoved her into the house. The flowers fell, forgotten, to the ground. The flower pot shattered over their feet and scattered across the floor. "Look, lady, stop your screaming. I'm not going to hurt you! All I want is your money."
"Okay, okay, it's upstairs."
She'd fallen against Buddy and struggled to right herself. He held the gun in one hand against the side of her head, and with the other hand he grabbed a fist of her hair so she couldn't run. They stumbled together up the stairs.
"Please, take the gun, put the gun down."
Buddy did as she asked, but wouldn't let go of her hair. The blonde headed toward the bedroom, then made a left to a vanity area. The room was small, mirrored on three sides, make-up all over the place, toiletries, stuff on a fancy woman's vanity table. "It's in my box, in there."
Buddy ordered her to open the box. She sank to her knees. With her hand shaking, she offered a one hundred dollar bill up over her shoulder to him and said softly, "This is all I've got." She was sobbing, her tears spilling freely down her cheeks.
Buddy saw red. This wasn't all the cash in this house. He knew it. There had to be more.
He'd heard the story from Tommy Lucino, of how there was at least one hundred thousand dollars in this house at all times. Steve had told Tommy all about the cash, after a run-in with Peter Lenson. Lenson always bragged about his wealth, never bothering to pay attention to who was around to hear. Everybody who worked for him knew he kept large amounts of cash in his house. Lenson was known for having a big mouth. People said he seemed to get great pleasure out of letting others know how rich he was.
Buddy looked at the frightened woman at his feet. Her wet eyes begged him to take the one hundred dollar bill and leave. Her body shook. She was at his mercy, and she damn well knew it.
"Where is your fuckin' money?" he yelled, pulling viciously on her hair. "I'll blow your fuckin' brains out if you don't give it to me."
"This is all I have! This is all I have!"
"If you don't tell me where the money is I will fuckin' kill you!" Buddy took the gun and again pointed it at her head.
She was getting hysterical, hiccoughing and sobbing. She kept repeating, "This is all I have . . . all I have!"
Her screams began anew. Buddy remembered that the front door was still slightly open. She had to shut up. He had to make her shut up. If he didn't, it didn't matter how much money was in the house. He'd be nailed for sure. It wouldn't take those neighbors long to get curious.
With the gun still in one hand and pointed at her head, he let go of her hair, then yanked the black jack from his pocket in the back of his belt. It only took him a few seconds to pop the woman on the side of her head with the hard steel object. When she fell forward, he didn't take the time to see if she was dead. From her position, the way she was laying, he assumed he'd killed her.
That thought scared him even more and he flew down the stairs. Hastily, just before he reached the door, he hid the gun and black jack in the waistband of his pants. Then he retrieved the fallen flowers with shaky hands, and ran out the door.
People were still outside, and now they eyed him curiously. Buddy knew he didn't look like he belonged in this neighborhood, flower delivery or otherwise. He jumped into his car, turned left off of Exeter Drive and sped down the road leading out of Diamond Gables. His room at the Vespucci waited for him and, right now, it seemed the most beautiful place in the world. He couldn't get there fast enough.
It was only after he'd made it to the hotel and taken a few deep breaths in the privacy of his room that it hit him.
He hadn't gotten the money. None. Not a single bill. And he was missing that damned business card he'd stupidly picked up before he left the flower store.
How in the hell had everything gone so wrong?