Claire McNab

The Dingo Dilemma

The fourth book in the Kylie Kendall series, 2006


'G'day,' I said through the window to the bloke I'd nearly run down as I'd whizzed through the gates and into Kendall & Creeling's parking area. He moved out of the way, but didn't reply. I parked my dad's vintage red Mustang and hopped out. 'Can I help you?'

Hands on hips, he was giving our building a concentrated look-see. He was a puny bloke, going bald fast, but his dark blue suit was expensive and he was wearing on his skinny wrist a Rolex watch, though it could have been a fake, for all I knew.

I joined him in his assessment of the pseudo-Spanish house that had been converted into offices. It wasn't all that long ago I'd seen it for the first time myself, having lobbed in from Australia when I inherited a controlling interest in my father's business.

The stucco walls were a bright, pinkish-ocher color, topped with a roof of fat, curved terracotta tiles. We were standing in what must have been the front garden-now a parking area. Still without saying a word, the bloke advanced to the small tiled courtyard that led to the entrance. In the center was a little fountain I'd recently had fixed, so it was cheerfully spurting a lacy column of recycled water. The black wooden front door had many brass studs and a heavy black metal lever instead of a door handle.

'You're in need of a private eye, are you?'

That got his attention. 'Private eye? Whatever gave you that idea?'

'Could be because you're standing in front of Kendall & Creeling Investigative Services.'

He shook his head impatiently, then reached in his pocket, took out a silver case, opened it, and handed me a business card. 'I'm a developer.'

I examined the card, then stuck out my hand. 'G'day, Norris Blainey. I'm Kylie Kendall.'

He could hardly have been less interested. His dead-fish handshake went with his pale eyes, weak chin, and slack mouth. He dropped my fingers and went back to sizing up the property.

'It's pretend Spanish,' I said.

'That doesn't interest me. As far as I'm concerned, it's a tear-down.'

'A what?'

Norris Blainey sighed, mumbled something about foreigners, then said, 'It'll be torn down. Demolished.'

'Half a mo,' I said, 'no one's touching this building.'

He gave me a bit of a scornful smile. 'And you'd have a say?'

'I reckon so. I own it.'

This was an exaggeration. Dad had left me exactly fifty-one percent of the business. His partner, Ariana Creeling, held the remaining forty-nine percent.

'You have a business card?'

'Too right I do.'

I'd just had them printed, so I whipped one out and handed it to him. The company name, Kendall & Creeling Investigative Services, was followed by some of the areas we covered-undercover investigations, skip tracing, surveillance, background clearances, security consulting, industrial espionage. Kylie Kendall appeared at the bottom right-hand corner. There was no mention, of course, that I was only a trainee PI.

Norris Blainey was looking at me with considerably more interest than before. 'This section of Sunset Boulevard is ripe for development,' he declared. 'We'll be approaching your neighbors with offers they won't be able to refuse.' With sudden enthusiasm, he flung his arms wide. 'My company aims to level this entire block and build a complex of multi-level offices and condos.'

'Forget about leveling Kendall & Creeling. It's not going to happen.'

Seeming surprised, he said, 'You can't stand in the way of progress.'

This bloke was well on the way to giving me the irrits. 'Just watch me.'

He slapped on an ingratiating smile. 'I know it feels more comfortable to resist change, but when I get back to you in writing with an offer-a very generous offer-I'm convinced you'll realize selling is to your considerable advantage.'

'Write away. You'll have Buckley's.'

I was about to clarify that this meant he had no chance at all, but Norris Blainey was already heading for the street. 'I'll get back to you,' he called over his narrow shoulder.

I shoved open the front door in a dark mood. What if all the other places along our section of Sunset Boulevard gave in and sold out to this developer bloke? What if our offices were surrounded by looming buildings, cutting out the sunshine? What if-


I focused on Melodie, seated behind the new desk Fran had ordered-a Spanish-themed black wooden number which had been artificially aged to look like something out of Don Quixote. Melodie was Kendall & Creeling's receptionist, at least until her career in acting took off in a big way. 'What's up?' I asked.

'Like, it's real serious.' She put her hand to her throat. 'Real serious.'

I wasn't alarmed. Melodie never missed an op to hone her dramatic skills. 'Don't tell me Julia Roberts is upsetting Lonnie again. He'll have to learn to deal with it.'

Melodie shook her head, swirling her long blonde hair in her shampoo-ad manner. Big green eyes wide, she said, 'It's your mom. You just missed her call.'

It was my turn to clutch my throat. Back in Australia, my mum ran The Wombat's Retreat hotel in Wollegudgerie, my hometown. Ever since I'd arrived in LA, Mum had been working hard to get me to return to the Outback and help her run the pub, since Jack, her fiance, had turned out to be pretty much a no-hoper in this area.

'What's happened?' I asked with foreboding. 'Is she okay?'

'I guess it's real complicated. Your mom said to call her back the moment you came in.'

'Give me a clue,' I said. 'The pub hasn't burnt down, has it?'

'Your mom said something about a tractor and a dingo.'

'A tractor and a dingo?'

Melodie clasped her hands. 'A dingo's got my baby!' she announced in deeply tragic tones.

I'd heard this line a thousand times while Melodie'd been practicing what she fondly believed was an authentic Aussie accent, though she wasn't within a bull's roar of one. Trying not to sound impatient, I said, 'Meryl Streep in A Cry in the Dark. Yes?'

'Malcolm, my voice coach, says Meryl's got the accent,' Melodie declared, 'but not the Aussie cadence, like I have.'

In my opinion, Malcolm wouldn't recognize an Australian accent if it leapt up and smacked him in the kisser, but I kept this to myself. 'Any other messages?'

'Fran says to tell you the shed for the backyard's arriving tomorrow and the guys will have it up by lunchtime. She's expecting you to help shift the office supplies so she can put her disaster stuff in the storeroom.'

Fran had bestowed upon herself the title of Office Manager, and since she was Ariana Creeling's niece, she was hard to challenge when she got a bee in her bonnet about something. Being of a naturally pessimistic nature, Homeland Security's dire warnings about disaster preparedness had fallen on fertile ground. Fran was accumulating a range of disaster supplies faster than we could find places to store them.

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