“But, boss. I can’t do it without Todd here. He is my mentor. He can’t be gone.”
Young Caleb Parke rubbed the side of his neatly short-cropped hair on the verge of tears. He had spent the last 18 months since being hired as an intern studiously observing and following his hero, Todd Starnes.
“I…I…what will we even write about? All of my ideas were inspired by Todd.”
The Fox News Executive Editor of Faith, Fast Food and Football listened to young Caleb patiently, but he already played this conversation through his mind. When he finally had to fire Todd Starnes, he knew Todd’s natural replacement. The kid was brought in for this reason.
“Caleb. You need to calm down. You know how to do this. You’ve been writing five stories every day. You’re as good as Todd ever was. You can do this.”
The Editor leaned back in his chair and looked sympathetically at the broken young man. He had seen young Caleb enter Todd’s office with a cup of coffee as he did every morning, and then saw the shaken young man walk out of the empty office in shock. Leaving behind a broken coffee cup in a steaming puddle of coffee on the floor.
“We had no choice, Caleb. You read Todd’s story about Moloch. He knew we couldn’t carry that much crazy. And now we need you, young man. We need you to step up to this opportunity. Call facilities to clean up the spill in YOUR office, and get moved in. I’ll meet with you after lunch in your office to review our lead list.”
Caleb stood and started to leave, “s-y-yes sir. I c-can do this.” He walked across the row of cubicles past his own. Grabbing his laptop, he continued to the door of his former mentor’s office. …his office. There was no nameplate on the door. He entered the empty room which held only an empty desk facing a large window over Manhattan. Carefully avoiding the puddle of coffee on the floor, he stepped behind the desk and stood, hanging his head in grief and guilt for a full minute before sitting down.
He looked at his reflection in the window and imagined it merging with the reflection of a young Todd Starnes which the same window held for so many years. As the secretary listened closely, she overheard the heartbreak of a young Caleb murmuring, “I hope will make you proud, Todd.”
He opened his laptop and fired off a terse email to Facilities to clean the spill and arrange the office. Then, from out of nowhere typed out a quick article about liberals and atheists. He fidgeted with the desk while composing the final single-sentence paragraph and noticed a packet of Ranch dressing from Chik Fil A in the back of a drawer.
Overcome with emotion, Caleb grabbed the packet and walked again past the cubicles to the elevator. He couldn’t keep this. It belonged to his hero.
Caleb hailed a taxi and was nearly overcome as the theme song from Todd’s radio show played on the radio. “That’s us. That’s right. I love…this American ride!” He kept his composure for the rest of the ride before pulling up to Todd’s modest apartment building in Brooklyn.
Young Caleb walked upstairs to apartment 13 and knocked gently on the door. Caleb thought he heard Todd moving inside. After half a minute, the door opened as Caleb pressed the button on the remote control in his pocket.
Caleb entered and saw Todd sitting in his La-Z-Boy watching The View. Todd is probably incensed by those cackling magpies as usual, he thought to himself.
“Todd. I can’t believe what they did to you. It is so unfair. But, hey. They left this in your office.” Caleb reached down to put the packet of Ranch in Todd’s hand. “It belongs to you, buddy. I wouldn’t let them keep it from you.”
Todd sat motionless as he had for weeks since Caleb brought him a special sandwich from Chik Fil A. The vomit on his shirt was the least offensive odor emanating from him at this point.
Caleb turned to admire Todd’s laptop on the desk. But didn’t feel complete. The packet of Ranch fell from Todd’s stiff, withered hand as Caleb gently pulled Todd’s glasses from his rotting face and put them on.
“We will show them, buddy.”
Caleb strolled across the room and stared at his reflection in the screen of the laptop. He imagined it merging with the reflection of a young Todd Starnes which the same laptop held for so many years.
Caleb fired off a brilliant follow-up piece about Moloch at Toddstarnes.com. Magnanimously saying nothing of Todd’s split from Fox News. It was Todd as usual. Caleb closed the laptop and headed for the door.
“I’ll see you Todd. I’ll be sure to check in and see that you keep up your great writing. Someday I hope to fill your shoes. Someday.”
Caleb left and his expression changed as the door snapped shut. He was lost without his mentor. Like a puppy dog. He would meet with the Editor and try his best. Replacing Todd was just…just…unthinkable.