THE BERRY, THE BATHORY, THE BELLYACHER
Jonathan Rhine is walking down a backstage hallway. Every so often he stops, then begins quickly jogging in place. After the third time, he smiles.
Jonathan Rhine: I’ve got this log challenge.
Suddenly he stops. Something else Rhine has got, apparently, is his eyes on a man he has wanted to confront for a few weeks now. Alone, for once, is Julian Bathory, and he’s smiling at Rhine.
Jonathan Rhine: You.
Rhine walks up to Bathory until they are inches apart.
Jonathan Rhine: LT won’t give me a match with you yet, but she will eventually, and I can’t wait.
The director of MESSIAH eyes his rival up and down for a moment.
Julian Bathory: If this is how you treat all would-be donors to your foundation then I’d hate to see the hostility you have for those who shun their commitments to humanity.
Whether the look on his face is masked mirth or true sorrow is in the eyes of the beholder. In the view of Jonathan Rhine, quite obviously, it’s the former.
Julian Bathory: I offer you altruism, a gift to aid in eradicating an evil dear to your heart, and I’m treated with naught but disdain and hate. By you and your associates. And for what? The company I keep?
Jonathan Rhine: Shweta said this is what you would do and say. You operate in darkness, pretend to be good, and yet we know it’s nothing more than a farce. You fooled the other donors, you’ve fooled countless people around you, but you won’t fool us. You can continue your facade. In the ring, it won’t matter.
He shakes his head.
Jonathan Rhine: You can downplay your association with Shanahan all you want, but all I know is that rabbits don’t lie in the den with snakes.
The Carpathian Devil grins, taking a step back. He tilts his head and reaches to his collar, brushing over the copper coin which rests below his throat.
Julian Bathory: You speak truth, Jon Rhine. He is a snake. Bruce Shanahan is one of the most devious serpents to ever exist in the business of professional wrestling.
Rhine’s eyes widen slightly, obviously not expecting that admission. Bathory takes a step forward, inches from the face of his aggressor.
Julian Bathory: Oh, did that slip by your guard? Do you expect me to offer hollow platitudes about my mentor being a wholly reformed man without an ounce of malevolence in his soul? Negative. No, no, not at all. I acknowledge the flaws and evils in the old Violence Jack, the horrors he’s visited on the world. But by my direction I keep his destructive whims at bay and recognize the wisdom he offers, channel them, cast off the worst impulses like a snake discards a spent skin. The approach of a hero wreathed in white light? Not remotely. But then, unlike you, I see the world with more nuance, in shades of gray, minus the fantasy. I see the world as it is.
Jonathan Rhine looks down at his feet.
Jonathan Rhine: It sounds nice in theory. You trust your friend. Well I trust mine. And Shweta has spent years in the underbelly of the wrestling world. She has heard things. Things about you and your money. Things that prove to me that the people who know who you are — who really know — won’t accept your money. And when I saw her reaction at the dinner, I knew that nothing good had walked through that door.
Rhine nods, then steps back.
Jonathan Rhine: Your façade is good. But I bet it starts to slip when I get a few good punches in. Hopefully we’ll see in a few weeks.
A smirk from the leader of MESSIAH.
Julian Bathory: I wear a variety of masks as needed, Jon. My responsibilities are many. However, if you want a true angle on a phony facade, find a mirror. Your eyes, your mannerisms, your quirks, they betray you. I don’t see strength in front of me, I don’t see a force prepared to hurtle to the peak of PRIME and change the world. There’s merely a man held back by hollow sentiment, aching for validation.
He steps in closer, reading his aggressor. Rhine’s eyes burn holes in Bathory, but for one moment there is a brief flicker of uncertainty.
Julian Bathory: Yet for those cracks I still behold someone, were they to take in the gospel we offer, that could become a behemoth in this company and a beacon of their foundation.
He spreads his arms, welcoming.
Julian Bathory: I hold the keys to your Heaven, Jonathan Rhine. As I do for myriad others. Remember, in the end, everyone gets the help they need.
Jonathan Rhine looks down at his feet. When he speaks, it is without volume or conviction.
Jonathan Rhine: You…you don’t know me.
The voice that follows is one that Rhine probably does not want to hear right now.
“I don’t know about that. It sounded like a pretty accurate assessment to me.”
Some might say it’s providence that King Blueberry and Jonathan Rhine keep running into each other backstage like this, but the reality is that there are only so many ways backstage to get from point A to point C. It just so happens that point B runs through this conversation.
King Blueberry: Of course, now he’s going to hold a grudge forever because you said a mean thing this one time. Sorry, Julian. But hey, welcome to the club.
When Rhine notices who is speaking, he rolls his eyes. He takes a few steps back from Bathory and gives him a quick glance before addressing his latest assailant.
Jonathan Rhine: Hi, Jared. Rich of you to say since you probably keep all of the mean things I’ve ever said about you in a journal under your pillow. I’m just going to warn you though, Bathory isn’t anyone you want to side with, even if it’s against me.
King Blueberry: Oh, come on. We both know that’s bullshit. There’s no way that would all fit in just one journal.
Despite the venom, the Blueberry’s posture is casual. He leans against the wall, hands buried in his pockets, feet crossed at the ankles, nothing that would convey an air of aggression or concern.
King Blueberry: I have to admit, the man makes a pretty good point. You can’t really call someone out for knowing questionable people when you’re working with a woman who went through the trouble of actually, literally poisoning you a while ago. Pretty hypocritical, really.
But make no mistake, he is still on the attack.
King Blueberry: I wonder what makes her the exception.
Rhine doesn’t respond with words, but he shakes his head quickly.
King Blueberry: But, she did put together one hell of an event, and I mean that sincerely. I know it had its hiccups, but it did a lot of good, and ultimately that’s the important thing, right? I do have a question about that. Don’t feel obligated to answer; I realize it’s not really any of my business.
He turns ever so slightly. The next question isn’t aimed at Rhine, but rather Julian Bathory.
King Blueberry: I heard your group made a pretty big donation to the foundation. I’m just curious… did they keep it?
Julian Bathory: They didn’t.
King Blueberry: Wow.
Nothing about his posture changes, but there’s a subtle shift along King Blueberry’s jawline as muscles tense. What follows is a slow nod and a long breath.
King Blueberry: And here I thought the purpose of a foundation was to raise money, but I guess that all goes to hell when the source doesn’t line up with your pristine portrait of morality, huh? “Sorry, kid. We had to put your health and future on the back burner because this guy knows a bad man. Tough break.” Maybe it was never really about her.
He pushes away from the wall.
King Blueberry: You don’t like the people he knows, so their money isn’t good enough. Thousands of dollars cast aside because… fuck. Seriously, Jon, which one of you’s supposed to be the bad guy here?
For a brief second, Jon’s eyes flash in anger. Then he begins to laugh.
Jonathan Rhine: I swear, Jared. You really have it both ways, don’t you?
He claps his hands together.
Jonathan Rhine: How freeing it must be to be King Blueberry and Jared Sykes. One day you can shock people with tazers, steal forklifts, cause thousands of dollars in damages to hotel property, and be a nuisance to all under the guise of comedy. The next day you can make unironic moral judgments and get offended when anyone insults you for your previously stated buffoonery. How wonderful it is to never have to answer for anything your other half does so you can continue to mock and harangue people who do things that you can’t possibly comprehend.
His smile drops and he takes another step towards King Blueberry and away from Bathory.
Jonathan Rhine: You don’t know anything about the Foundation. What we go through, what we raise, and what we do with that money. And I could tell you the truth: that even without this snake’s donation we were able to give Nora and Melissa more money for her treatments than we had raised in the first four months. But it doesn’t matter, does it? You’ve made your mind up. Twelve years ago you got mad at me for whatever reason, and in your head now I’m just a capital B, capital G Bad Guy. Never mind that we’re standing feet away from someone whose organization actually does evil things in the guise of darkness.
He points to Bathory.
Jonathan Rhine: You want to be on the side of a literal devil against someone who is trying to do the right thing? I won’t stop you. Here, I’ll move so you can get closer to him.
And Rhine shuffles to the side, mockingly bowing and gesturing towards Bathory.
King Blueberry: You do love to bring up the taser thing, don’t you? If it means that much to you, then go ask Troy for it. Maybe that request will go better than your last one. And why wouldn’t you want it, after all you’re the one who benefitted from it being around, right?
He simply shrugs.
King Blueberry: Forklifts, cakes, leaf blowers… it’s all just stuff. Not like I’m putting my ego in the way of someone’s life. But preach all you want. I’ve heard the sermon for years, Jon. I’m a billion different versions of dumb depending on who you ask. And he’s the “literal devil?” What the hell have you actually witnessed to give you the moral superiority to say that? I mean it’s not like he had his affair broadcast on live television.
Jonathan Rhine blinks. He takes a step backward.
Jonathan Rhine: You…
Then, he clenches his fists.
Jonathan Rhine: You…fucking…dare…
And then he cocks back and punches King Blueberry in the jaw. Julian Bathory leans back, grinning, as Shweta Kallemullah suddenly runs in, grabbing Rhine’s shoulders and pulling him back as he tries to lunge forward at Blueberry. For his part, Blueberry offers no resistance.
Jonathan Rhine: You don’t even get to reference Katie!
Shweta looks from Rhine to King Blueberry and shakes her head as she tries to drag Rhine away.
Shweta Kallemullah: Come on, Jonathan. Ignore him.
Jonathan Rhine: I know who I’m picking when I win tonight!
It’s only when they leave that King Blueberry puts a hand to his jaw.
King Blueberry: (Softly) Yeah. That one… that one I had comin’.