From the manuscript of the memoir “Renewed – The Rises and Falls of Jonathan Rhine” – to be released in Fall of 2027
At this point I don’t think I have to write much about the Fundraiser Dinner. There have been interviews, articles, even a documentary made about it. And as I sit here trying to formulate thoughts on it, I don’t want to put them on paper.
I mean, what else can I say about The Day The Foundation Died?
Canal Street, sprawling through the heart of New Orleans, serves two distinct purposes. The first is to provide shopping for residents and tourists. The second purpose is separation. When it was built it was a clear divide between the French Quarter, populated by French Creoles, and the Business district, where the wealthier members of society worked. Two centuries later the separation remains: on one side, drinks and debauchery; on the other, sterility and wealth.
It is on the business side of Canal Street that the Roosevelt Hotel sits, nestled one block off of the sleepless avenue. In this grand hotel is a large, ornate room called The Blue Room. Musical acts like Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald ruled this room at one point, but tonight it is the venue for something different entirely.
Shweta Kallemullah stands tip-toe, the ball of her foot coming out of her heels as she desperately tries to reach the string attached to the bottom half of a banner that reads FIGHTING FOR NORA FOUNDATION FUNDRAISERS DINNER.
“Let me help,” Jonathan Rhine says, dashing behind her.
“I’m taller than you when I’m in these heels,” she grumbles.
“And yet I have the string,” he says, smiling. He pulls it down and reattaches it to the pillar on the wall. Standing back, he looks up at the banner. “Looks amazing,” he says.
“It’s crooked,” Shweta snaps.
“Looks straight to me,” Jenny Colton says, walking behind Jonathan Rhine and putting a hand on the small of his back. “This all looks fantastic.”
“It’s not straight, Jennifer,” Shweta says. Shweta turns around to give Jenny an appraising stare before sighing. “I’m sorry. I just want this to go perfectly.”
“It will,” Jon says. “We’ve got the best planner and the best security.”
On cue, Paxton Ray walks up, pulling at his tie. “Suits are the worst fuckin’ thing on the planet.”
“Dad!” the small girl at his side shouts, slapping him on his hand.
“Sorry, love,” he says, kissing her forehead.
“Hi Nora,” Jon says, bending down and putting his hand on his knees. “I’m Jon, your daddy’s tag team partner. Are you excited to be here?”
Without answering, Nora buries her head into Paxton’s leg. He shields her, shrugging at Jon. “Sorry. She’s still a little wary of…alla this.”
“I understand,” Jon says. “We’re almost ready for guests to arrive. Anything else you need me to do, Shway?”
“Just stand there and look handsome,” a voice answers from behind him. Jon turns around to see a tall, slender man sidle up and put an arm around Shweta. She smiles, pulling him into her. “Hi, superstar,” the man says, holding his hand out. “Chet. Chet Fleetwood.”
“Hi, Jo–” he starts, then stops. “Wait…Fleetwood. Are you…?”
“Yep. You teach my son Quinn how to wrestle.” Chet laughs as Jon’s eyes widen, looking to Shweta as Chet continues. “Waste of time if you ask me, but his mom’s paying for the lessons so I don’t give a shit.”
“I see,” Jon said, motioning to Jenny. “My date, Jenny Colton.”
Chet shakes her hand, then nods. “Wrestler too I’m sure. Strong grip. Leathery hands. Kinda buff.” He suddenly puts his hands up. “In a hot way, of course.”
“Nice to meet you,” Jenny says, a smile forcing its way onto her lips. The kind of smile she reserves for when she isn’t allowed to say what she thinks.
Paxton Ray does not have those reservations. “I’m Paxton. I train with your son. He’s an asshole.”
“Dad!” Nora shouts again.
Chet laughs. “Oh don’t I know it. That’s why lessons with you are important,” he says, slapping Jon hard on the shoulder. “You’re supposed to beat it out of him.”
Jon breathes in deeply as his hands ball into fists. “That’s…not how it works.” He turns to Shweta. “Hey, Shway, can we talk?”
“Sure, what about?”
Still staring at Chet, Jon answers, “Some things to make the event go smoother.”
Shweta nods. Jon grabs Jenny’s hand and gives it a squeeze. “I won’t be too long.”
“No worries, food’s already out,” Jenny says, walking towards the buffet-style tables.
“Don’t touch the food,” Shweta says sharply, following Jon into the servers area.
“What the fuck was that?” Jon says before the door closes behind him.
“You’re dating Quinn’s dickhead dad?”
Shweta raises her eyebrows. “We’re not dating. I told you, it’s for appearances.”
“He’s an asshole.”
“And? What does it matter? This is about one night for the foundation. I’ll probably never call him again.”
“And you don’t have much room to talk about my choice of a date.”
Jon tilts his head in confusion. “What, Jenny? What’s wrong with Jenny?”
Shweta laughs. “Just wondering what midwest college you picked her up from. She a Buckeye? Maybe a Wolverine?”
“Wow,” Jon says, looking to the side. “You know, you told me to do this.”
“I asked you to get a date, not a dependent.”
Jon sneers. “I’d ask where all this anger came from, but I guess I already know. Hard to completely abandon the spider webs, isn’t it.”
Until this sentence, Shweta had been smiling. But not anymore. “Excuse me, Jonathan,” she says, stepping forward until she is inches from his face. “I have worked too hard and sacrificed too much for you to throw my past life with Desade in my face the second you become a little unhappy with my tone.” She sticks a finger in his chest, pushing him backwards a step. “I did awful things and I don’t hide it or run from it. But I’m doing good things now. This foundation is a good thing. Me helping you save the Academy two years ago was a good thing. And I will not face aspersions on my character while I am putting every fucking fiber of my being into turning this dinner into a turning point for the foundation.”
Jon opens his mouth to answer, but nothing comes out. His expression softens. “I–”
The door suddenly opens and Paxton and Nora peek in. “Got a situation, Shway.”
“What’s up?” Shweta says, her hand quickly sweeping across her face.
“I’m so sorry, Ms. Kallemullah. There was a mix-up in the delivery of the alcohol. It went to the billing address of the Foundation.” The woman delivering the news to Shweta twirls her hair nervously.
“And? The Academy is twelve minutes away. Can’t they just pick it up and bring it here?” Shweta asks, tapping her foot.
“The problem is we only have one delivery truck tonight, and they’re already on a delivery to Houma.”
“Houma!” Shweta shouts, causing Jon and Paxton to flinch. “That’s almost an hour away. Guests are starting to arrive. Have them turn around.”
“But then that delivery will be late.”
“Are there any girls with cancer at the delivery in Houma?”
“Shway,” Paxton says, but it’s all he has to say. Shweta turns to him, then looks behind him at Nora, who looks down at her shoes.
“I…I’m sorry,” Shweta says. “Please have them deliver it as soon as they can.” The woman walks away. Shweta turns around and walks towards Nora. “I’m sorry. I was insensitive. I just want this party to go well. It’s important for all of us who want you to get better.”
“It’s okay,” Nora says.
Shweta sighs. “I’ll go tell Calico the bad news. Maybe have her just distract them with her bubbly personality.”
Paxton looks at Jon. “Why didn’t that sound like a compliment?”
Jon shrugs, then walks over to the table where Jenny is sitting, a plate of food in front of her. “I’m sure your friend is a good person, but she needs a heavy bag as much as I needed this jambalaya,” she says.
“Yeah. Normally I’d defend her, but I don’t have the bandwidth right now.”
“I can tell you’re stressed. That’s why I haven’t talked about how I’m mad at Paxton for concussing my brother.”
Jon laughs. “And yet you just did.”
“I know it was an accident, but I’ll ask him to apologize later. Let’s focus on something else,” he says, looking around.
“I wouldn’t look in that direction if I were you – oops, you did it anyway.”
Jon realizes what she means as his eyes lock with Nate Colton, who is sending him a rather intense glare. “Oh boy.”
“Here, I’ll fix that,” Jenny says, grabbing her phone from her purse. She then looks up at Jon. “Just look somewhere else. Hey, here’s a good idea: why don’t you look at me?” He obliges and finds Jenny: earnest, casual, smiling. “Things have gone wrong so far, but at least you’re eating food with a cute girl.”
“I haven’t had any fo–” he says before she shoves a spoonful of jambalaya in his mouth. He laughs as he swallows, then shakes his head. “That’s pretty good.”
“Yeah it is,” she says, stretching. “God, this dress is uncomfortable. Can’t wait to get out of it later.” She raises her eyebrows at Jon. “Wanna help?”
Jon starts coughing violently, gripping the table as Jenny pounds his back. After a second, he gasps “Wrong pipe” between breaths. When his breathing normalizes, he smiles. “So…”
At one point I remember thinking “Hey, the night sucked at first, but it’s getting better.” My date was going well, the dance floor opened up, and even without alcohol people were enjoying themselves.
But it turns out the few good moments were a tease for when everything actually went wrong.
“Jon, Paxton, this is Bertrand Ward. He represents the FightRight Foundation, who gave us the donation I told you about.” Bertrand, an overweight man with a mustache and a bowler cap, holds his hand out for each member of Fighting For Nora to shake.
“Charmed,” Ward says. “Your Foundation is a blessing. Such a wonderful thing you’re doing for your daughter. I do hope that I’ll be able to meet her at some point?”
“Yeah, she’s jus’ in the bathroom,” Paxton says.
“I also hope you will indulge me by letting me say a few words once everyone settles in to eat dinner? I’d love to address the crowd and give them my earnest thoughts on their contributions to your foundation.”
“Of course,” Shweta says. “We are indebted to you, so you can say anything you want.”
“Hardly,” Ward says, smiling. “We’re just happy to have found such a great cause to put our faith in. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ll go prepare my remarks.”
“British people talk funny,” Paxton says as he walks away. Jon chuckles.
“Are you kidding me?” Shweta seethes. “Can the two of you act like adults for one minute?”
“Chill, Shway,” Paxton says, looking over his shoulder for Nora. “Everythin’s fine.”
“Nothing is fine. We have no alcohol. The banner is crooked. You’re making fun of our biggest donor, he’s having food fights with his high school girlfriend. What could possibly happen next?”
“Ooooh, you’re not supposed to say that,” Paxton says, smiling. “That’s askin’ for it.”
“Whatever. I’m going to check on the alcohol delivery.”
Jon watches her leave and turns to Paxton. “At least you’re in a good mood.”
“I’m actually miserable,” he says, still smiling. “But I can’t let Nora see it. She’s already scared t’be here.” Just then, the little girl walks up and grabs her dad’s hand. She looks up at Jon and quickly looks away.
“Aw, babe, it’s all right. Daddy’s coworkers ain’t scary.” Paxton scans the crowd. “In fact, lemme take you to a wrestler who couldn’t scare a baby.” He starts to usher her towards a table, shouting, “Hey, Blueberry, I got someone I wantcha to meet.”
“Ms. Troy. Thank you so much for coming.” Jon holds his hand out to the President of PRIME, Lindsay Troy. “It means a lot to us to have the company support our foundation.”
The Queen of the Ring is standing near the stage talking to a silver-haired, eyepatched, muscular man. When Rhine addresses her, Lindsay turns and greets him with a smile, then shakes his hand.
“Jon, thank you for the invite. And I know you work for me now but you don’t have to be so formal,” she says with a wink, then introduces the man she was speaking with. “This is my friend and DEFIANCE teammate, Henry Keyes.”
Henry holds out his own hand, which Jon takes. Keyes looks at their clasped hands, analyzing the handshake for something specific; finding nothing, he returns eye contact to Jon.
“Nice to meet you, Henry,” Rhine says. “And I want to apologize, there was a hiccup with the alcohol. We’re still waiting for it to arrive.”
Henry maintains his grip on the handshake, gives a half-chuckle, and turns to Lindsay. “What did you tell them about me?”
The smile hasn’t left Troy’s face, and she replies with a cool shrug. “You mean besides you holding gold and being a captain of the mat and skies? Nothing crazy.”
“Oh, you’re a high flier?” Jonathan nods, seemingly impressed. “I wouldn’t have taken you for one.”
Henry and Lindsay share a quick glance before she continues. “Anyway, Jon, don’t worry about the alcohol. I’m sure it’ll get here, and everything else so far has been great. It’s been quite the turnout, you and Shweta and Paxton should be very proud of yourselves.”
“I appreciate it. I won’t lie, it’s been a pretty tense night. But I think all of the pressure will make the night all the better.” Jon points to Bertrand Ward, who is walking to the podium. “That man is from a foundation that gave us an incredibly large donation. It’s people like that and you that really make us feel like we’re doing something good.”
The trio watch as Ward waits for the crowd to pay attention. “I am thrilled to be here tonight with generous people who care about a cause so pure and true. And I am also thrilled,” Ward says, “to introduce our speaker tonight.”
Shweta, standing near Cally Rose, whips her head up. “What?”
Bertrand continues. “He is a man who is generous, powerful, and always gives help to those who need it. Ladies and gentlemen, representing MESSIAH…Julian Bathory!”
The applause seems to slow down for Shweta and Jon as they both stare helplessly at the stage, where Bathory approaches the podium with a grin.
“Thank you for being here. MESSIAH believes in people receiving the help they need.” Bathory looks over the crowd, then sends a pointed look at Shweta. “One way or another.”
“This can’t be right.” The Queen’s voice drops and turns to steel. She shoots a daggered glare at Bathory, which does not go unnoticed by Henry, then turns that look to Jon. “Can it?”
Before Jon can answer, Shweta rushes up to him and grabs his wrists. “What the hell is that?” Jon looks from Shweta to her hands, then across the hall at his date Jenny. “Do not look at your date, Jonathan, look at me. Why is he here?”
“You think I know?” Jonathan turns to Troy and Keyes, his face quickly draining of color. “We need to go take care of this.”
“This’ll probably help.”
Keyes extends a flask that he pulled from somewhere inside his jacket and gives it a little jiggle in Jon’s direction.
“Unless you’re saying we need to take care of this.” Keyes turns towards Lindsay. “Want me to do my thing?”
Lindsay looks at Henry, imperceptibly shakes her head, then looks at Jon and Shweta. “Can you two handle this?”
“Of course,” Jon says, turning around. Henry and Lindsay watch them go, and after a moment Troy holds her hand out for Henry’s flask.
“Not that I don’t want you to send that man into oblivion,” she starts, as the Kraken of DEFIANCE places the metal container into her hand, “but the last thing Jon and Shweta need tonight is a brawl.”
As Jon and Shweta approach the stage, the door blows open. Standing there with his foot out is Foster Nackedy, wearing a tuxedo shirt and jean shorts. Much like the last time Nackedy interrupted a Foundation event, he is smiling. Unlike last time, he is incredibly drunk.
“Jon! Shweta! Pax! My invitation got lost in the mail!” Foster slurs as he passes horrified onlookers.
Jonathan and Shweta look at each other, then at Foster, and then at Julian, who is still speaking to a somewhat distracted audience. “What the fuck is happening?” Shweta asks no one.
“I’ll deal with Bathory. You try to keep the crowd distracted.” Jon looks over his shoulder. “Hey Pax!”
Paxton looks up from his conversation with King Blueberry and Justine Calvin. “Yea.”
“Can you help?”
Paxton nods, then looks down at his daughter. “Hey, daddy’s gotta go for a minute. You can stay with Mr. Jared here. He’s safe.”
“I know he’s safe,” Nora says, looking up at King Blueberry with a smile.
Paxton stands, walks over to Foster Nackedy, and grips his shirt by the collar. “Let’s go.” As he passes Shweta, he mutters, “Ya just had to ask.”
Shweta looks up at the stage, where Jon has grabbed the microphone and is yelling something at Julian, who smiles and holds his hands up as he walks away. Shweta stands there for a few moments. She takes a step to the right, then looks to the left, then simply stays still. Bertrand Ward walks up to her and smiles.
“For someone who worked for Desade, Ms. Kallemullah, I expected you to be a little bit better with plans. Have a wonderful evening.”
And with that he walks away, leaving Shweta to stay in this paralyzed state as the dinner and the foundation burn around her.
“Come on, ya pissbucket,” Paxton says as he drags Foster Nackedy out of the hotel. As he somewhat roughly shoves him in a revolving door, he notices that it is raining outside. “I’m guessin’ you didn’t bring an umbrella.”
“Nope,” Foster sighs, leaning against the wall of the hotel.
“What’s your angle? Ya break into our Vegas party. Ya try to work with Jared to fight us. Now you’re here tryin’ to ruin a dinner that was going just perfectly.” Paxton laughs at himself. “What’s this all about?”
As Foster lifts his head to look at Paxton, Paxton notices his eyes appear more lucid than they were when he first entered The Blue Room. “It’s about you, Paxton.”
Foster walks towards Paxton, ignoring the rain that is pushing his hair down into his eyes. “I bet you were surprised when Jon found you. How he plucked you out of the Mud Pits to wrestle in front of TV cameras. Well, he didn’t find you. I did. And I bet you want to know why.”
Paxton sighs. “I mean…yeah, sure.”
“I found you, found out about Nora. And I knew you needed help. Right now, I am…temporarily unable to help anyone. So I told Jon about you. But he’s not helping you. Not like I would’ve.”
Paxton grits his teeth. “And whaddaya mean by that?”
“He’s taking advantage of you. And your daughter. Look at you in that suit, Pax. Are you a suit guy?”
“If you knew about my daughter without me knowin’ who the fuck you were, then you know I’m not a fuckin’ suit guy.”
Foster holds his hands up. “Hey, don’t get angry at me. Get angry at the guy putting you in this position. What do these dinners do? These bake sales, this foundation bullshit? And now Bathory is involved? And through this all, has Nora’s condition improved?” Paxton doesn’t answer. “I know Jon Rhine better than anyone. He isn’t doing this for you. Fighting for Nora? He’s fighting for himself. He wanted the spotlight again, and you gave it to him.”
Foster walks a few steps away and stumbles into the wall again. “He’s profited off of others’ misfortune long enough. Listen, I don’t expect you to believe a drunken asshole.” Foster starts to walk away. “But you should ask him about Dustin. And then you’ll see how he treats his friends when they really need him.”
Paxton stands in the rain, watching Foster walk away. After a second, he clenches his fist, looks at the brick wall of the hotel, and pulls back. He hesitates, takes a breath, and then smashes his fist into the brick as hard as he can, screaming in pain, anger, and confusion.
So yeah. That day fucking sucked.