David Corbett

The Devil’s Redhead

© 2002

This book is dedicated to

Cesidia Therese Tessicini.

My Terribones, my goony-bird.

My bride.

You died too young. Too hard.

Who is this coming up from the desert…

… stern as death is love,

relentless as the nether world is devotion;

its flames are a blazing fire.



This book was purchased at the same time my wife learned her chemotherapy for ovarian cancer had failed. The bravest person I’ve ever known, she lived little more than a month after that, nearly all of which was spent at the Petersen Cancer Center at Stanford Medical Center. I would like to extend my first words of thanks, then, to the doctors and nurses and staff who kept vigil with me and Terri’s loved ones during those final weeks. I learned a great deal about decency and kindness and strength in that place, among those people. Learned something about hope, too. It’s a lesson I vow never to forget.

As for the book itself, first and foremost, thanks are due to Laurie Fox of Linda Chester and Associates, who saw promise in the manuscript, devoted to it an unflagging advocacy, and became a cherished friend.

Thanks go out as well to Leona Nevler, Anita Diggs, Michelle Aielli, Maria Coolman, and everyone at Ballantine who has worked so arduously on the author’s behalf. Jacqueline Green, Judi Farkas, Teresa Cavanaugh, and Linda Michaels have also earned my deepest appreciation. I’m lucky and grateful to have such people in my corner.

Thanks as well to Peter Winter, who graciously permitted use of his sculpture, Phoenix Rising, as the backdrop for the author’s jacket photo.

Assistance on technical matters came from a number of people: Stephanie Voss, Paul Palladino, Loreto Tessicini, Elly Sturm, Ana Bertha Ramirez, and David Stauffer deserve particular mention. If errors remain in the final text they are entirely the fault of the author.

Several people read portions of the manuscript prior to publication, and their comments were invaluable: Tom Jenks, Laura Glen Louis, Donna Levin, Brad Newsham, and Waimea Williams, among others. Michael Croft deserves an especially profound note of gratitude in this regard. Thanks are due as well to Oakley Hall, the Squaw Valley Community of Writers, and the staff of Truckee Meadows Community College Writers’ Conference.

Last and most importantly, this book would not exist if not for the continuous devotion, encouragement, editorial advice, and technical assistance of my late wife. The sight of her bundled up in our lamplit bed, surrounded by the dogs as she pored through the manuscript, making her notations- I’ll treasure that memory long after any praise this book garners fades away. Her ear for pacing, her contempt for pretense, her big, strong heart, her constant reminders to “tell the love story”: they resonate on every page of this book. It feels like a curse, knowing she will never hold it in her hands, or read these words of gratitude.



He blew into Las Vegas the first week of spring, primed to hit the tables, sniff the wildlife and, basically, cat around. Given his focus was pleasure, not business, he saw no need for an alias. His real name was safe enough- though, like many accidents of birth, it created problems all its own. He stood there waiting at the hotel desk as the girl working check-in struggled with pronunciation.

“Old Italian tongue twister,” he offered finally. “Try emphasizing the third syllable. Abba Tan Jel-O.”

The girl nodded, squinting as she tried again. “Daniel… Sebastian… Abatangelo…”

He shot her an encouraging wink. “We have ourselves a winner.”

Her eyes lit up and she broke into a helpless smile, swiveling a little at the hip. “Sounds pretty,” she said, holding out his room key. “I mean, not when I say it, when you do. Bet a lot of people just call you Dan.”

“Oh, people call me all sorts of things,” he said, smiling back as he took the key from her.

He went up to his room- the usual decor, meant to set your teeth on edge- and showered off the road dust, hoping to relax a little from the trip and order a light dinner from room service before heading back out. After a prawn cocktail and a fruit plate chased by Heineken, he hit the Strip, searching out luck- the right house, the right table- plying his way through the bus-delivered crowds and the metallic clamor and the popping lights, a deafening maze of kitschy pandemonium dedicated to full-throttle indulgence: chance, a little flesh, the mighty buck. Years later, he would reflect that the only thing louder than a Vegas casino at night is the inside of a prison.

About eight o’clock, he took a seat at a twenty-one table at Caesar’s, picking this one out among all the rest because of the woman dealing the cards. Her hair was red, her eyes green, and she had the kind of smile that said: Gentlemen, start your engines. She had that tomboy build he had a thing for, too. Maybe she’ll let me break even, he thought, settling into his chair.

“Good evening, Lachelle,” he said, reading her name tag: LACHELLE MAUREEN BEAUDRY- ODESSA, TEXAS. “Five thousand in fifties, please.” Licking his thumb, he counted out the cash for his chips.

Four hours later, they stumbled through the casino’s massive plate-glass doors and onto the Strip, sides aching from laughter, each of them gripping the bottle neck of an empty magnum of Taittinger Brut. Their hair, their skin, their clothes were soaked and sticky, and as they stood there, taking stock of the situation and gathering their breath, a small posse of flinty, helmet-haired security guards glared at them through the dark-tinted glass, barring reentry. They’d just been thrown out for playing hide-and-seek in the casino, chasing each other around the slots, screaming through the crowd and across the vast red gaming floor, spraying each other with champagne whenever “It” found “Guess Who.”

Out on the sidewalk in the open air, a thinning crowd of tourists, lucklorn and numb, tramped past amid the riot of neon. Shel, still in her dealer’s uniform, unclipped her barrette and shook out her thick red hair.

“Unless I’m sorely mistaken,” she said, “showing up for my shift tomorrow would be a major waste of time.”

It’s midnight in Las Vegas, he thought, watching her. The witching hour. In the town that never sleeps. She shot him a knockdown smile, standing before him like a dare- You will love me forever,

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