As soon as her grandmother was seated, Alice Anne took the chair opposite. Instantly, the servants jumped into action. In what seemed only a moment's time, food and drinks had been dispensed, and Granny had dismissed all her minders.
Silence fell between them, but the queen made no move to touch any of the delectable treats stacked before her. Instead, she took a sip of her tea and seemed lost in thought. Since custom dictated that no one could eat before the queen chose to do so, Alice Anne sat very still and waited.
The woman across from her might be Victoria Regina, Queen of all Britain and a good portion of the rest of the world, but at the moment she looked very small and worried. Annie could guess why.
Rumors and headlines involving the royal family had been disseminated practically since the dawn of time. Nothing new, to be sure. But this time the scandal was murder.
Or rather, murders.
Once again, Granny studied her. Finally, she placed the teacup back into the saucer and dropped her hand into her lap. "I have been told you have some talent in solving puzzles."
How could she possibly know? Using techniques Alice Anne had committed to memory over the past few years, she kept her expression neutral and her smile in place while she watched for clues.
"Whatever gives you that idea?" she managed to ask, taking on the persona of her sister, Beatrice—one she used frequently when the situation warranted and who indeed would have responded in exactly that manner.
"Not what, kitten. Who." The queen shifted positions and gathered her dark shawl closer as she kept her attention focused on her. "Much like your fellow Pinkertons, those in my employ never sleep."
"I see." She schooled her expression to give no indication of her discomfort.
"There is no need for us to make mention of this to your father," Granny said. "We are merely curious as to your willingness to pursue the solution to a conundrum that has recently vexed us."
What else could she say to the reigning Queen of England? "Of course, ma'am. How may I be of service?"
"We have heard of a series of unfortunate occurrences in Whitechapel. Are you aware of them?"
"I am, ma'am," she said. It would be impossible to live in London and not have heard about the man who had been called Jack the Ripper since his letters to the Metropolitan Police using that signature had been made public.
"I have entreated my ministers to do something about finding this man who has committed these atrocities, but they have done nothing but make excuses. It is time for another plan."
Annie sat very still and waited for Granny to say more. "We are also aware that you had a considerable reputation as a detective in America. That ridiculous news story from several years ago notwithstanding, Mr. Pinkerton speaks highly of you."
She tried not to wince at the reminder of the news article written by a disgruntled reporter. At least Granny did not dwell on the embarrassment.
"Thus the responsibility for the new plan to capture him shall be yours."
"Thank you, Granny. I will not disappoint you. Might I ask for clarification? I will need to assemble a few key members of a team. Do I have your permission?"
"You do, but with one caveat."
"Anything," she said.
"Stay out of the newspapers and keep a low profile. When the time comes to unveil the culprit, we shall allow one of our members of the Metropolitan Police to deliver the good news. My great-granddaughter is not to be mentioned."
"Yes, Granny. Absolutely."