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She glanced up at him, smiled warmly. "Joe! Come in, sit down. You're looking healthy today."

"Thank you, ma'am," He said, closing the door and taking a seat. The room seemed unchanged since his last visit. A gray file cabinet in one corner, a squat little table with a red lava lamp in another. One half of her desk was severe and orderly, with military precision. The other half had fallen into lawless clutter, and didn't seem likely to mend its ways any time this century.

Mrs. Dewes hadn't really changed since he last saw her. Same close-cropped dark gray hair, same prim gray pantsuit enclosing a body heavier and more bulging than it should be. Maybe a few more wrinkles at the corners of her eyes, a few more webbed lines at the edges of her mouth. Maybe. Joe decided he shouldn't judge.

"So what did you want to see me about, Ma'am?" Joe asked. Mrs. Dewes chuckled and playfully slammed her fist on the edge of the desk.

"How many times do I have to tell you, Joe? You don't have to call me Ma'am anymore. It makes me feel old."

"I can't help it, Ma'am," Joe shrugged. She sighed and nodded her head, waving her hands in surrender.

"I know you can't. It's kind of cute, really. But there's no need to rush things. Can I get you something to drink?" She opened up a desk drawer and rummaged through it.

"Maybe some tea, Ma'am?" Joe asked.

"I meant one of these kinds of drinks," She said, lifting up a long clear unmarked bottle of transparent liquid. Vodka, or maybe gin. There were rules against drinking, but Mrs. Dewes had always been one to bend and sometimes break the rules. What a corruptor she is, Joe thought in amusement. He grinned.

"I'll have a drink, Ma'am," He said. "But just one."

She grinned too and fished a couple small plain glasses out of her desk. One glass had a jagged piece missing from the rim. She settled the empty glasses on a small bare patch along the edge of her desk. She talked as she poured.

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