“What Waits Behind the Red Curtain” by Charlie Riccardelli from Wilde Magazine: A Magazine of Art and Literature with a Queer Edge, Issue One, Winter 2012. Edited by Lucia Guatney.
It’s the nineteen fifties and Stewart Wainwright is a Hollywood star being blackmailed by the editor of a tabloid newspaper. The editor has compromising photos of Stewart with another man. Those photos would end his career and ruin his life were they to be published. They also have the potential to wreck his relationship with his boyfriend Martin.
Martin’s an actor, too. They met on set, becoming acquainted while discussing the novel Martin was reading – Raymond Chandler’s The Little Sister. It’s a telling reference. In that book, up-and-coming film star Mavis Weld is being blackmailed because someone has photos of her in a compromising position with a junior gangster. Like Stewart, she could lose her career and social standing if the truth is made public. Unlike him, though, she likely won’t be jailed, or labeled a deviant, or classified as mentally ill and threatened with the possibility of being committed. The story doesn’t make that distinction. I wish it had.
I loved the first two-thirds of this piece, but the voice got derailed during the dialogue between Stewart and the young man he picks up in a Greenwich dive, and the last third is inexplicably riddled with serious typos. There are incorrect homonyms, missing connecting words, and changes in tense and point of view from one sentence to the next that cause me to suspect the story was originally written in first person present tense. Also, there’s an anachronistic slang term and a misused idiom. It’s vexing because most of the story is strong. I especially enjoyed how the relationship between Stewart and Martin was laid out, and I liked how the piece ended.