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."

Dale had threatened to leave the garage meeting. He turned and sighed. After de-gumming about 250 desk bottoms with his putty knife, Dale was in no mood for another one of his brother's quests. All of these janitors piled into his house - his garage - made Dale that much more surly. Dale whispered to his brother, "Why are all these assholes in my house? I didn't say you could invite people over. Remember, you're still a guest here."

"Hey, listen man. I appreciate you letting me stay here. As you well know, I'm gonna be gone in a few days - you won't have to worry about me for much longer," he smiled and patted Dale on the arm. "I'm just gonna prep these guys and let them know what's what. Then, I'll hand over the ship to you and you can dump them all off if you want." Trent's long, sweaty black hair covered his eyes like the door beads of a psychic's entrance. Trent resembled a strung-out, obese rock star and sounded like Jeff Goldblum on speed. 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.

Dale's face softened, revealing the little boy inside who always looked up to his older brother, no matter how much of a fuck up he was. The little boy who lost two teeth after falling from his wagon - a wagon being pulled by Trent on his bicycle. The little boy who fought alongside his brother when they were attacked by high school students on the way home from the park. The little boy who grew up to watch Trent wander through college for five months. Dale never did understand why Trent refused to come back home after this. Instead, he moved from house to house, town to town, for three years. After bailing Trent out of jail for sleeping in an apartment stairwell, Dale invited him into his home. Dale had been working as a janitor at Celebration Elementary School for six years - right out of high school - and managed to get Trent a job there too. Ever since, Trent worked a plethora of janitorial jobs in Attraction, always finding one way or another to get fired.

In his down time between jobs, Trent tried discovering new ways to enrich his life. He tried acid, he tried Buddhism, even modern philosophy. He took up creative writing and marveled at the bizarre. Eventually, aspirations of world domination consumed him to the point where he decided to run for president. After losing in a landslide to George W. Bush, Trent contested the results, citing his name had not been on the ballots. This crushing defeat led Trent to consider salvation as the answer. Trent would save the world from the destructive forces that are government, crime, and power.

Essentially, Trent would save the world from the people in order to make it better for the people. 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; excited comments blended with the smoke-filled air. "Toilet Bowl" Charlie stood in the corner, alone, smoking a cigar next to the closed garage door. At this point in the evening, he kept his excitement in reserve. 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. Thirty years on the job will do that. However, Charlie discreetly believed that these measures Trent devised were a bit extreme. He was willing to go along for the simple reason that he trusted Trent's judgment. After getting to know the man, he was more than willing to give his life for Trent's cause. Everyone on the room felt the same way; Charlie was the only one thinking it.

Mark, the 45 year old mop-handler on Charlie's team who liked his uniform nametag 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. Why the hell did you even come here tonight, then?"

"I don't know, man. It seemed right at the time Trent told me about it. 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 leave. 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. We'll be doing the city - the world - a great service--.

"Look at you!" he cut Charlie off. "You've been brainwashed. What, are you Trent's message boy or something? You his little toadie? You follow him like he's God or something."

"All right. It's time you left, I think. Go tell Trent what a pussy you are."

"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 tell him that the bathroom was, "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. Speaking as if to a child, Dale said, "You know, in case you hadn't noticed, children aren't destroying the planet. I'd put that blame on the a-dults. What makes you think killing the children and leaving the adults will 'save the world?'"

"Because, man!" Trent waved his hands in exasperation; drops of blood hit Dale 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!" Dale 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."

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. "You know, you're right, brother. They do 'do what we say.' 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, "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. "If we kill the children and ifwe stop the reproduction of the human population - because who'd want to bring children into a world where they're being killed on a daily basis? - 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, reluctantly 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.