Warm Beer: Toning It Down For Network Television.

"Hey Mark, they got you working tonight too?" Matt, with his curly brown hair and Tom Selleck revival moustache, grimaced with sympathy towards the floor for those lost in the latest explosion; seventh in three months.

"Yeah, I know, Matt, it fucking sucks. Hey, that's what happens when these maniacs keep blowing shit up: I gotta work Saturday nights." Mark slammed his mop into the dirty yellow bucket-on-wheels; slapped the dripping wet, brown cotton mop-head onto the floor; and brutally shoved through spilled embalming fluid.

"Can you believe all those people? All those body parts? What would make someone do something like that?" Matt had a genuine feeling of concern, though he hid his emotions by staring at his cuticles.

"Shit. I had a real piece of ass lined up tonight too." Mark hadn't actually had a date for four years. However, the ladies at The Busty Bucket might miss his folded dollar bills through their G-strings. "Fucking Altman; I should have just let my machine get it, you know? That prick's always calling me when he wants someone to work overtime, just because I'm the new guy here. It's been three months already. 'Make someone else work overtime for a change!'"

"Did you hear about the letter those assholes sent to the police? It was typed on this real old typewriter, so like the 'E's' didn't work or anything. Anyway, all it said was 'Kill the children, Kill the children,' over and over again. What kind of sick fucks--?"

"It's not like I don't need the money or anything, but still. It's nice to have a weekend off once in a while." Mark turned his dour, beardless face towards Matt, pleading for sympathy.

"On the news, there were all these interviews of people who knew these guys. They said that the leader was 'sexually abused' as a child. Sound's pretty typical if you ask me. This guy was nuts, end of story." Matt had been reading every Internet article he could find on the "Terror at McDonalds" saga, just for this opportunity to flaunt knowledge on some kind of subject to his work acquaintances. This had been the third McDonalds targeted, spanning three different states. Matt found it endlessly fascinating.

"I've seen all those news reports too, and I'll tell you what, they don't know the half of it. I was there when it all started. Attraction was my hometown; that's where I came from. I worked with the man." Mark poked his chest with his thumb, emphasizing. "He's definitely crazier than you know ... and he wasn't sexually abused as a child."

"You're shittin' me," Matt exclaimed. "Why haven't the police talked to you?"

"I moved before it all started. I mean, right before it started. They tried to recruit me, you know, but I wouldn't have any of it. They can't fucking fool me. I knew what they were all about from the beginning."

"Well, shit man. Why didn't you do anything to stop them? I would have done something. Call the cops ... I don't know, something!" Matt waived his arms frantically in the air, showing his exasperation like someone yelling at the dumb blonde in a horror movie.

"Listen, it's over now. That was the seventh explosion, right? Well, that's all that was there that night - "

"Where? What night? What are you talking about?"

Mark paused for a moment, caught in an all-out interrogation. Quietly, sternly, he spoke, "Each job requires three people, don't ask me why. There were twenty recruits that night, plus the leader, Trent - "

"Wait, you know his name? You've got to call the FBI or something. You could help stop all this - "

"The groups weren't supposed to leave Attraction! I never expected them to follow me to Seattle. Unless ... oh my God. That fucking Charlie!"

"Let me put it this way: crime is like warm beer. At first, it sickens you to your core; but after chugging a few, you begin to tolerate it. Treat it as one of the family. Then, before you know it, you're drunk all the time and you're not even enjoying it! Don't you see? Don't you see what those savages are doing to our town? People are afraid to walk the streets, man!" Trent shattered his coffee mug against his garage tool bench, slicing open his right palm.

Moments passed before Dale realized what his brother had just said. "Wait, I thought you said people were 'treating it as normal.' Why would they be afraid to walk the streets?"

Unflinchingly, Trent continued. "We have to do this! We can save the world! I need people, though. Lots of people to get the job done. Blowing up one measly McDonalds in Attraction just won't be enough. I need people all over. I need you, Dale. I need you to continue on recruiting after I'm gone."

Moments before, Dale threatened to leave the garage meeting. He turned and sighed, "Why do you have to do this now? Why do this at all? Isn't there an easier way?"

"No man. No. It has to be done now - as soon as possible. And I have to be the first. That's the way." Trent's long, sweaty black hair covered his eyes like the door beads of a psychic's entrance. He split his hair at the bridge of his nose, brushing it to the sides of his head revealing dark, bloodshot eyes. Trent's coffee habit kept him awake for the past three days, turning his speech into a pause-filled stream-of-consciousness. In between the "uhs" he said, "This is the mission I have chosen. This is the reason why all these people are here with us. They follow me now, but they'll follow you when I'm gone. Can't you fucking see how this will save the world?"

As the two brothers argued, others in the garage mingled and milled about. Questions and answers littered the air like smog. "So, why are you here? - Hey man, I'm just tryin' to clean up the mess; just like everyone else here." "Let me get this straight, we're all janitors in here? - Who else would you get for a job like this? It's a big job; gonna take a whole lotta janitors, know what I mean?" "I hear we're the first wave. Do you think Trent's setting up organizations in other cities? - As far as I know, these are all three-man jobs. There are 21 of us here now; I'm thinking the first three will stay here, and the other six groups will branch out. - No, that's not true. All seven groups will be working here in Attraction. It's Dale's job to go to other cities. He won't be able to stay here anyway, what with all the heat he'll be getting. - What? I don't get it. Why all of us here in Attraction? - Think about it; it's like we've been saying. This is a big job. It all has to start somewhere. - Yeah, besides, other cities will see what's been happening here and they'll want to join the cause."

"Toilet Bowl" Charlie stood in the corner, alone, smoking a cigar next to the closed garage door. He worked alongside Dale and Trent for about eight years and he would be in Trent's first group. To his peers, Charlie presented himself as a job-hating, burned-out old coot that would love nothing more than to stick it to all the people who screwed him over the years. To the kids who repeatedly, purposely pissed all over the toilet seat and the floor. To the lunch ladies who consciously served undercooked chicken strips riddled with disease, causing the kids to vomit all over their spelling tests. To the damn principal who made him work on Sundays after PTA meetings, when he should have had those days off. However, Charlie discreetly believed that these measures Trent devised were a bit extreme. He had the same reservations as Dale shared with his brother that night.

Mark, the 45 year old mop-handler on Charlie's team who liked his uniform so much that he put his name on all of his t-shirts, saw the chain-smoking Charlie in the corner and walked over. "Listen man, I think I'm gonna get outta here. This shit's too heavy for me," he whispered as he stared at an oil stain covered with kitty litter on the ground.

"Dammit, Mark. How long we been working together at the elementary school? After all that, you wanna tell me you're giving up now? Why the hell did you even come here tonight, then?"

"I don't know, man. It seemed right at the time. I was standing there, taking a shot from my stash in the boiler room, and Trent came up to me. You know how he is. I can't say no. But, I've been thinking. I don't think I really want this. I'm not a killer."

"Oh no! You're not a 'killer.' From what I hear, you're a friendly guy among the children. Maybe a little too 'friendly?'"

"Fuck you, Charlie. I'm out. Find someone else."

"Wait, wait, wait. Listen. I know what you're feeling. Let me just talk to you for a second before you go a-stompin' outta here. You've seen what's been happening to this city. We're being overrun by those God-damned criminals! Those 'Hobo Terrorists' are everywhere, running around smashing 40's and sticking up banks and bars and hospitals for God's sake! Damn bums are everywhere ... and all we're trying to do is nip this shit in the butt. You know what I'm saying?"

"Bud," Mark smiled.


"Never mind."

"God-damn it, Mark. Get the hell outta here if you're not gonna be serious. But, I tell you, if you say one God-damned word - "

"Hey, I'm not saying a damn thing. At least I'll know enough not to be around any McDonalds' any time soon."

"All right. Well, you better go tell Trent before you go."

"Hell with that. I'm sneaking out. I got a new job lined up in Seattle and I'm getting the hell outta here. You won't see from me or hear from me after tonight."

Charlie watched as Mark crept through the crowd over to Trent and Dale. They stopped fighting long enough to say, "Up the stairs, first door on the left." Then, they continued their rift.

Dale couldn't think straight. He looked into his brother's eyes; stared at his brother's open mouth, his brown-stained teeth, his heavy breathing. Trent resembled a strung out, obese Uncle Sam and sounded like Jeff Goldblum on speed. Dale's eyes watered. "No. I still don't see why killing yourself along with a group of children will 'save the world.'"

"Because, man!" Trent waved his hands in exasperation; drops of blood hit Daniel in the eyes. "Because they control us!"

"Come on, now. How could they possibly 'control' us? We're bigger and smarter than them. They do what we say!" Daniel knew he couldn't reason with his older brother, and he prepared for the onslaught.

"Listen, brother. I know what I'm talking about. They do control us. Children rule this world because we're always out to placate ... [uhh] ... because we 'aim to please' ... because we're raising them to be killers!" The group of twenty recruits stopped talking. They advanced on Trent and his brother, some sitting on the floor for "story time," others standing, arms-crossed, smiling with admiration. Their leader stepped back and faced them all, continuing in a proper public speaker's voice. "Because we lay the focus of all our lives to having them, towards breeding them, towards repopulating an already over-crowded Earth."

Dale listened to his brother in awe of his abilities to command a crowd. Trent had always been charismatic, intense, and slightly twisted. After wandering through college and dropping out after five quarters, Trent moved from house to house, town to town. He could convince almost any friendly face to take him in after speaking for twenty minutes. When he moved in with his financially stable younger brother a year ago, he settled down and started reading. The combination of his twisted logic, the inhalation of fields of marijuana, and the topic of modern philosophy drove Trent to World Domination aspirations. Dale quickly suggested World Salvation as an alternative ("Don't you think you'd be better served as a savior of our planet, and not the destroyer," Dale said jokingly at the time of Trent's epiphany. "So, you're saying I could be the New-Jesus? That's genius!" Trent locked himself in his room for four days, devising the master plan he would unfold three months later in front of the twenty other fellow janitors).

Dale followed his brother as he had done all his life; from the time when 10 year old Trent with his bicycle dragged 8 year old Dale in a wagon halfway down a mountain (whereby Dale lost two teeth in a fall ten yards from the bottom), to the time when 17 year old Trent invited Dale to help him fight a 45 year old alcoholic for his twelve packs of Coors Light. Trent always talked his brother into one scheme or another; it would seem he would succeed on this night as well.

Trent's eyes were on fire. His 260-pound body dripped with sweat while the volume of his voice shook the hairs on his brother's arms. "Because we teach them how to live and we're teaching them wrong and they grow up to ... to destroy us all ... and one day they will destroy us all!" Trent exhaled emphatically with every pause and continued, "Because they watch how we live now ... and they see how we act and they see how we treat each other ... and they learn ... they learn the talent ..." Trent exhaled again, thought frantically, quickened his speech, slurring words, "They learn to hate and to kill and they get that from us and if we kill them all now then maybe we can purify the Earth and maybe we can start the world afresh ..." Fearing he was losing their attention, he paused again briefly to think of how to end this, and spoke even faster. "We kill the children and we stop the reproduction of the human population and if we do that then all humans will die and this will purify the Earth!" With this, Trent stopped. He wiped head-sweat onto his hand, brushed his black hair out of his eyes again, and regained his composure. In a calm, wide-eyed voice, he continued, "We can start over. No more killing. No more war. Only love. Love for all who lives." He looked at his brother as he said this. "Love for the planet. Purity will save us all from Hell. We'll have our own personal Eden again. We'll all revert to the times before the wheel, the creation of fire, the Original Sin." The twenty recruits applauded raucously. Dale stared at his brother, smiling, accepting his fate.

"Jesus, this guy looks like hell, Mark. Who is he?"

"How the fuck would I know? Some guy: got too close to an explosion," he said with irritated sarcasm in his voice. "Shit, man. You read the papers; you know more about this than I do. You fucking tell me who the fuck this is!"

Matt thought for a moment, and then found his courage. "Why are you so callous about all this? Don't you feel the least bit remorseful, considering you could've helped stop all this?"

"No, not really. In this particular situation, I have chosen to distance myself from my knowledge. Hell, I've grown up being shocked and horrified by all these creeps blowing up buildings and shooting up schools. Let's just say I've grown immune to the whole thing. It's easier to tolerate it, the more times I see it."

"Granted, what you see on television doesn't seem real. But here. Look. This guy on the table. He's real. He was killed in that explosion yesterday. You say you don't feel anything for him?"

"No. I don't know him. He's not real either."

"OK, but what about in that garage? You knew a bunch of those guys. They were your friends. You still feel nothing?"

"Listen," growing more irritated, Mark continued. "That's in the past. I don't live there anymore! I don't know them anymore, either. You're talking to the wrong guy. You can say I'm desensitized or whatever. Believe me, I've seen worse things in my life than a dead body. I've known worse people than those janitors."

"Well, I still feel sorry for this pile of body parts. I look at him, and I know that they'll never find all of him. He's just another nameless death. One of thousands."

"God, you sound like Dan Rather. Get over yourself. You're just more innocent than me. Hell, they were lucky to even find this much. Most people stuck inside, they're fucking smithereens now."

"All right. Whatever. You want to come by later, play some poker with some guys from work?"

"Yeah, I got some beer in the car. It's warm, but who cares, right?"

"Uhh, sure. Later man." Matt reluctantly took his mop and dragged his yellow bucket-on-wheels into the hall towards the elevator.