Half a Crown
the time when Carmichael had been promoted to his present post. Her skills at shorthand and typing were only adequate, but Carmichael had selected her because she was from outside the police, because she was older than most of the applicants, and most of all because she had made the best cup of tea. She fended off unwanted callers, selected the day’s watchword from a
Golden Treasury of Verse
on her desk, and in all ways performed her duties adequately. Carmichael liked her.
    “The threat question is fairly simple,” Fanshaw said, settling himself. “The short answer is that they probably aren’t a threat unless something changes. They’d probably like Singapore and Hong Kong, but they know there are easier pickings. We’ve never given up an inch of land, and they know it. We cleared out of Shanghai, of course, but that’s a different kettle of fish. I don’t think we should relax and take our eye off the ball there, but they have an awful lot on their plate with China, and I think they’ll leave us alone.”
    He offered the beige folder to Carmichael, who took it. “Is this different from the FO view?” Carmichael asked. “The PM said that the Foreign Secretary was concerned about it.”
    Fanshaw blinked. “I don’t know how Sir Guy feels personally, but I’d say that on the whole the FO would agree with our assessment.”
    “Thank you,” Carmichael said. “And Scythia?”
    “Now, that’s the sticky one,” Fanshaw said, as Miss Duthie came back into the office with a small brass tray bearing a teapot, milk jug, and two cups, in Royal Albert Orange Tree pattern, Jack’s choice. There was also a plate with digestive biscuits. Fanshaw jumped up and took the tray from her and set it down on the edge of the desk.
    “Shall I pour?” Miss Duthie asked.
    “If you would,” Carmichael said, glancing at his watch. It was a quarter past one. He had half an hour before he had to leave if he was to be on time for his appointment with Normanby. He took his tea, milkless as always, and set it down. Fanshaw took his on his knee, fussily, thanking Miss Duthie.
    “So, Scythia. It’s a proposal Japan and the Reich are squabbling over in the peace negotiations, and likely to be a difficult one. With Russia gone, the Reich are advancing into the vacuum from one end, and Imperial Japan from the other. The Scythian proposal is to establish a buffer state between them on the Steppes. We don’t have an official position on it. The FO seem to be strongly for it, I can’t think why, as it’s nothing to do with us or our sphere of influence at all. But the FO have been meddling, which is what I wanted to say to you directly, sir, and not put in the report.” Fanshaw set the blue report down before Carmichael, then sat back, sipping his tea.
    “Do you think that’s what the PM wants to hear?” Carmichael asked, ignoring his own tea.
    Fanshaw shrugged. “It depends how much he approves of Sir Guy stirring up international policy. I said Japan isn’t a threat, but they easily could be if they thought we were about to put the boot into them. And then it would be watch out Singapore—since they mopped up the old Dutch colonies we’re vulnerable. A war could be long and messy, considering how far away they are, and there’s the question of whether the Americans would let us use the Panama Canal.”
    “Thank you, Fanshaw, I’ll pass all this on.” Carmichael stared at the folders.
    “Well, not the job of the Watch to be popular, is it, sir?” Fanshaw said, cheerily.
    Carmichael smiled, liking his subordinate. “Fortunately not. Thank you for doing the reports so quickly. I’d give you a bit more warning if they gave me more warning.”
    “If you like, sir, I could get a few of the boys working on the threats one in a bit more detail, with projections on what might happen if the Japs don’t like the FO meddling?” Fanshaw took another swig of his tea.
    “Yes, do that over the next few days, that might be

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