Claire McNab

Quokka Question

The third book in the Kylie Kendall series, 2005


'G'day,' I said, holding out my hand. I felt a thrill of anticipation. I was about to take on my second real case at Kendall & Creeling Investigative Services. 'I'm Kylie Kendall. And you must be Dr. Oscar Braithwaite.'

'Oscar will do.'

'Then you must call me Kylie.'

The bloke in the crumpled brown suit standing on the other side of my desk leaned over to shake my hand. I retrieved my crushed fingers and gestured for him to take a seat.

After carefully aligning a yellow writing pad on my desk, I picked up a pen and looked alert. 'You mentioned on the phone, Oscar, that your problem was something to do with the quokka question. Just what is the question about quokkas?'

Oscar Braithwaite sat back in the chair as though I'd said something out of turn. Actually, I was making an educated guess at his reaction, because his expression was hard to discern. The lower half of his face was concealed by an untidy mustache and beard that seemed never to have been trimmed. His brown hair was similarly wild, and almost hid his eyes. The only feature I could see clearly was his bulbous nose, and it didn't tell me much about his inner feelings.

'I don't imagine you even know what a 'quokka' is,' he said, not unkindly. He had a raspy voice, sounding like it was rusty from lack of use, which was entirely possible, as I'd gathered he spent most of his time alone in the Aussie bush peering at the wildlife.

'I've never seen one,' I said, 'but I know they're some sort of a cousin to wallabies. They're Utile hopping marsupials living on an island off the coast of Western Australia.'

Maybe he was surprised at my knowledge. I couldn't tell. 'Rottnest Island,' he said. 'There are also some quokka colonies on the southwestern mainland, but not many.'

There was a knock at the door, and my partner in the business entered, her usual stunning self in tight black pants and black silk shirt. 'Dr. Braithwaite? I'm Ariana Creeling.'

One look from Ariana's laser-blue eyes, and this bloke was putty in her mitts. I had a fair idea how he felt. He shot to his feet and shook hands with her, showing far more enthusiasm than he'd had when greeting me. 'Very pleased to meet you!' he exclaimed.

I admired the way Ariana didn't wince when he squeezed her fingers but maintained her usual reserved expression. 'Do you mind if I sit in?' she asked him.

'No, of course not.' Somewhere in all that hair I detected a grin. 'I'll get you a seat.'

While Oscar collected a chair from the other side of the room, Ariana said to me, 'Bob's been delayed.'


Although I'd inherited a controlling share of Kendall & Creeling from my dad, I was only an apprentice P.I., and Bob Verritt oversaw everything I did. When he wasn't there, Ariana took his place. Since Oscar Braithwaite had specifically asked for me, it had become my case, but a licensed private investigator had to monitor me.

Oscar sat down next to Ariana. I had the sense he was beaming at her. To drag his attention back to business, I said, 'I meant to ask, Oscar, how you came to hear of Kendall & Creeling.'

'You've made a bit of a splash, back home, Kylie. I saw you on the telly. Being pretty sure I was going to need a P.I. when I hit Los Angeles, I took a note of your name.'

'Dinkum? I've been on television?' I wondered why no one in my hometown of Wollegudgerie had told me about it. 'What was the program?'

He shrugged. 'Some sort of newsmagazine thing-'Aussie Chicks Make Good,' I think it was called.'

'Oh,' I said, thinking this wasn't necessarily the national exposure one would hope for. I was all set to ask him for more details-after all, this was my first appearance on television-but Ariana gave me a get-on-with-it look. 'Now, back to the quokka question,' I said.

'I've devoted my life to the study of quokkas,' Oscar declared. 'It's no exaggeration to say I'm the world authority on Setonix brachyurus. Indeed, I'm scheduled to deliver the keynote address titled 'The Quokka Question' at the Global Marsupial Symposium next week.'

'Global Marsupial Symposium?' said Ariana.

'You haven't heard of the GMS?' He sounded astonished. 'Largely because of my sister's efforts, UCLA is hosting the symposium this year. It's arguably the most prestigious meeting of marsupial experts in the entire scientific world.'

'Your sister?' said Ariana. 'That wouldn't be Dr. Penelope Braithwaite, would it?'

'That's the one: Dr. Penny. She's more famous than I'll ever be.' Oscar sounded disgruntled.

Ariana grinned. 'I guess she is, but that's what you get when you're an expert on sex.'

'Too true.' He sighed. 'I'm staying with Penny in her West Hollywood apartment. She can hardly walk out the door without someone recognizing her and coming over to badger her. And the questions they ask…'

I was lost. 'Sorry, but I don't know who your sister is.'

Oscar grunted. 'Sometimes I don't either. On one hand she's Dr. Penelope Braithwaite of UCLA, noted expert on animal sexuality. On the other, she's Dr. Penny of talk radio-an odious program where people ring in with their grubby little sexual problems. I've told her a thousand times it's a prostitution of her talents-not that she ever listens to me.'

He bent his shaggy head, apparently overcome in gloom.

'You said you thought you'd need a private investigator when you came to L.A. Why is that?' I asked.

'Professor Jack Yarrow,' he spat out. His loathing plain, he went on, 'Yarrow claims that he is the world authority on quokkas. An American an authority on quokkas? Not bloody likely!'

'An academic rival?'

'A confidence trickster, who'd got to where he is by stealing other people's work and passing it off as his own. The pity is that an institution of the caliber of UCLA would have a charlatan like Yarrow on staff.' He shook his head.

Using my advanced detecting skills, I said, 'And I reckon this Professor Yarrow is appearing at the Global Marsupial Symposium too.'

'He is,' Oscar ground out. 'But that's not the worst of it. Just before I left Australia, Penny called me to say she'd heard on the academic grapevine that the bastard is going to get up at the symposium when I begin my keynote address and publicly accuse me of plagiarizing his work on quokkas.'

Oscar thumped himself hard on the chest. 'Accuse me! When the truth is, Yarrow has plundered my research!'

'Have you any proof of this?' Ariana asked.

'I have my suspicions,' he said darkly. 'I believe one of my graduate assistants, Erin Fogarty, copied essential areas of my life's work and sold it to Yarrow.' Oscar shook his head again. 'Academic betrayal is the greatest betrayal of all. Frankly, I'm heartbroken.'

'Why do you think Erin Fogarty's involved?' I asked.

His shoulders slumped. I wondered if he'd had a personal interest in this sheila. 'Suddenly, last month,' he said, 'Erin left the quokka project. She said she'd unexpectedly inherited money and was continuing her studies in America.'

I jumped as Oscar whacked my desk with his fist. 'And what do you think I find when I get to Los Angeles, eh?' He turned his head to Ariana, then to me, and back again.

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