Joe wrapped himself in the night, letting the darkness fall around him and caress his scarred face with velvet softness. No lover would ever touch him so again. None had in the twenty-five years since the black-and-tans had sliced him from mouth to ear and then made him scream to tear the gashes wider. The Unionist soldiers, traitors to their homeland, had marked him so he'd be easy to spot, easier to arrest the next time. He'd fled instead of taking that chance. He pulled his uniform hat lower and walked on, not wanting to think about the nightmare he'd left behind in Ireland.
He loved winter best. The high collar of his uniform coat and a scarf hid the worst of his face. Summer was a trial, bringing short-sleeved uniforms that showed the other scars as well. He finished his rounds, everything was safe and secure at Amalgamated Conglomerated Incorporated tonight. Joe Colson was on the job.
He made his way to the break room and saw the night programmer was already there with a cup of coffee, a sandwich, and a fat paperback with a woman in armor on the front. He never knew how someone would react to the first sight of him. He liked it when he cornered some problem person and saw their terror as they stared at his mangled face. But ordinary people gawked. They looked away. They asked awkward questions.
Joe squared his shoulders. He had as much right to a break as the kid did. He strode in, pretending he looked normal, acting like he was supposed to be there.
The boy, surely he didn't shave more than three times a week, glanced up as Joe walked to the coffee pot. "It's swill tonight. Better take your chances with the Coke machine." He drank a mouthful and grimaced for emphasis.
"Coffee's free," Joe said and poured himself a cup. Facing the notoriously temperamental soda machine, which dispensed what ever it felt like rather than what was pushed, was not on Joe's agenda for the night. He got his own lunch bag out of his locker and heated up the left-over tuna casserole in the microwave. He sipped the coffee and found out the kid was right. The coffee tasted charred and bitter.
The night programmer kept reading, eating his sandwich with one hand. He didn't stare or ask awkward questions. Joe decided the kid might be okay.