Too Sharp by Marianne Delacourt is the 3rd book in the Tara Sharp series.
Tara Sharp’s new case brings her to Brisbane, where she is placed in charge of Slim Sledge, a high-maintenance rock star. Tara’s a sucker for a backstage pass, and it'll provide some much-needed distance between herself and her mother's not-so-subtle hints about getting a “real” job, not to mention crime lord Johnny Viaspa, the only man on the planet who wants her dead.
She expected the music industry to be cut-throat, but Tara soon uncovers more problems than just Slim Sledge's demands and his rabid fans. Everywhere she turns, the grudges run deeper and the danger ramps up.
Has Tara finally pushed her luck too far?
Fortunately, Bizarre Bar wasn’t far from Inigo’s house, so I got the taxi to wait outside while I threw on some fresh clothes.
The lady of the house had retired to her room; trance music and the smell of something exotic emanated from under the door. That saved awkward conversation and I tiptoed around without disturbing her.
The taxi driver dropped me outside the bar at quarter to twelve and then rolled down the road to the nearest cab rank. Even though it was a Wednesday night Fortitude Valley was buzzing.
I gave Aprile’s name at the door and a bald-headed bouncer pointed me up a flight of stairs.
The venue was an old house that had been redone in a modern cabaret style with lots of red down-lights. The stairs were narrow and creaky despite the little grey carpet runners and took me up to a closed door. It was just another club but right now I didn’t feel like being there. I stood for a moment and made a deal with myself: find out whether Joel Aprile was targeting Stuart, then go home.
When I pushed the door open, the party was in full swing, the room crowded with the fuzzy auras you normally got when booze and other substances were involved. The music was loud but not loud enough to drown out the beat from the bar below, and the two streams of sound collided to make a weird hybrid. A couple of people were huddled over a coffee table sniffing coke and the sweet smell of hashish filled the air. It was likely I’d get stoned just being in here.
It took me a few minutes to locate Joel, who was over by a large double window, puffing cigar smoke up towards a vent and talking on his phone. I supposed they were keeping the windows closed so that the scent of hash didn’t drift out onto the street. I studied his aura; it seemed settled and healthy enough. Nothing out of place.
He hung up when he saw me. ‘Tara. I’d given up on you.’
‘Busy at work,’ I said. ‘Had trouble getting away.’
‘Die for one.’ I nodded.
‘Full bar. What’s your poison?’
‘A beer, please. Something fancy.’
He threaded through the crowd to the small bar and gave me more time to take in the scene. I recognised a couple of people but couldn’t put names to them. They were much-photographed faces, I thought.
‘Trying to place people?’ Joel asked, as he placed a beer into my hand.
‘Thanks—yeah,’ I said cautiously. The girl I was pretending to be would probably know who these people were. ‘I’m kinda awed.’
‘You don’t look like the sort.’
‘Maybe,’ I murmured, shooting him a sideways look. Was he kidding? Or fishing? ‘So, what about you? Are you rich or famous or both?’
He shrugged. ‘I own a club in Sydney. We only do live bands, so I know a lot of people in the industry.’
‘Cool,’ I said. ‘Had any big names in your place?’
‘Sure. Ed Sheeran dropped in recently but not to perform. He was out clubbing.’ He grinned.
‘Wow!’ I didn’t have to pretend to be impressed. ‘What about Slim Sledge? I hear he’s in town on a comeback. He’s pretty big.’
He shook his head. ‘Let that one slide through to one of my competitors. Slim’s too much trouble. I like my artists to be in control of their addictions.’
‘I heard he got straight.’
‘Rule number one when working with entertainers—never believe anything that you haven’t seen for yourself.’
‘So why did the other promoter pick him up if he’s so much trouble?’
‘Guess he figured he was worth the risk. Good luck to him. He used to work for me, actually. Not a bad guy. Say, you want another beer?’
His aura hadn’t altered its regular movement the whole time we’d been talking. Perhaps he wasn’t our man. ‘You trying to get a girl drunk?’ I said, attempting a weak flirtation.
‘Will it work?’
I laughed. To tell the truth he wasn’t bad company.
His phone beeped and he turned away to read a message. Straight away I spotted the change. Not only did his aura get choppy but it lightened into a more fluorescent colour. Something had got him excited. I wondered what.
We talked a bit more, had a couple of drinks and he introduced me to one or two producer types. One of them treated me like fungus while I forced myself to do the aspiring-singer thing, and the other tried to hit on me. Jonno Vebson, the hitter-onner, wore dark glasses, and had gelled hair.
When he squeezed my bum, told me to bring my demo to his office and said that he sensed we could go places together, I decided it was time to split. He hadn’t pissed me off quite as much as Sammy at Vixens but he was batting in the same ball park.
I sought out Joel to say goodbye.
‘Maybe. Thanks for inviting me.’
‘Sure. No problem.’
‘Can I ask for one more favour? My phone battery’s died. Could I borrow your phone to call my ride?’
He grinned at me. ‘Boyfriend?’
‘You got me,’ I said.
He hesitated for a split second then handed it over. ‘Don’t call China,’ he joked.
I dialled a nonsense number and turned away, pretending to have a private conversation with my guy. From the corner of my eye, I saw a woman approach Aprile and start chatting. Capitalising on his distraction, I quickly killed the call and opened his text messages. The last text read: 2pm at the club. I’ve got some more info. Jx
I flicked back to the home screen and swung around, handing the phone back. The woman seemed annoyed at the interruption and moved on.
‘Thanks again,’ I said to Joel.
I left and caught a cab to Inigo’s, musing on the message. Could J be Jade?
Inigo’s bedroom door was still closed with light leaking out from underneath, but the music was off. Maybe she’d fallen asleep with the light on?
As my hand touched the doorknob of my room, my stomach made a noise that was a cross between a buzz saw and deep drain gurgle. If I didn’t feed it, I’d never sleep.
With a sigh, I tiptoed to the kitchen and opened the fridge. A slab of tofu sat sullenly on a plate alongside a dish of mixed butter beans. Ugh. I checked the freezer next and spied brown ice blocks and a frozen fish. Nope.
That left me with bread.
I read the label that told me which hundred and one gluten-free grains were in it and slathered it with what looked like peanut paste. Biting into it, I realised I’d made a mistake on the paste. A squint at the jar revealed it was sesame seeds. Not awful though, I thought, so I slathered up a second piece and took it to my room, trying not to think about Ed alone in his hotel bed.
Life sucked. No! My life sucked!
Morning came way too soon, in the form of a phone call from Stuart.
‘Where are you?’ he demanded.
‘Asleep. Got caught up with Aprile late. How’s the babysitting?’
‘Some fans hijacked a room service trolley and tried to break in. It’s all over the morning news. Tara, get over here.’
I sat upright. ‘Slim okay?’
‘Fans are camped outside thanks to the media coverage and I can’t find a bodyguard. You’ll have to do a shift so I can get some sleep.’
Shit!‘But I’ve got to see Giannoukakis today. I’m still not sure about Aprile. He said he passed on Slim because he’s trouble but he didn’t seem bitter about you.’
There was a pause before Stuart answered. ‘Really?’
‘I spent the evening with him, drinking.’
‘That means it is Andreas, the autocratic old bastard.’
‘Nothing’s certain yet,’ I said. ‘I have more leads to follow up on. And I can’t do my job if I have to hold Slim’s hand.’
‘For chrissakes, don’t do that!’
‘What?’ I said, confused.
‘Don’t hold his hand. He’s OCD. Washed his hands eight times before breakfast and used that antiseptic stuff between his cereal and his toast.’
‘What time does his manager arrive?’
‘I’ll watch him till then,’ I offered.
‘Fine. Come up to the room before eight. Juanita’s scheduled a press conference for nine. I want you to scout the area beforehand and make sure there won’t be any problems.’
It seemed pointless to tell him again that I knew nothing about being a bodyguard; he was in too much of a spin. Instead, I put in a call to Wal. Even though it was 5 am in Perth, he answered quickly and sounded alert.
‘It’s me,’ I said.
‘I think you should come over. Stuart needs a bodyguard for his muso and seems to think that I’ll do.’
There was a long pause. ‘Can’t.’
‘Got some things to sort out here.’
‘Wal?’ My voice rose a little, despite it being early morning—my normal croak time. What the hell is he up to?
‘Unsecured line, boss. Sorry, you’ll have to do this one without me. Call the Comancheros. They hire out.’
‘Gotta go. If I’m out of reach for a few days, don’t worry. Tell Stuart hey.’
Argh!I got out of bed and prowled over to the window, pushing the sarong-style curtains aside. It was a beautiful day outside already, cloudless and bright. Only the stickiness in the air and the high-set house next door offered a clue to the fact that I was in Brisbane not Perth.
Right now, perfect weather didn’t soothe my frustration at the mess this job was turning into. Wal telling me to contact the local biker gang was kind of the last straw. I felt like ringing Stuart and telling him I was pulling out. I wasn’t cut out for personal protection of neurotic musos.
Then I had an idea.
I searched the bottom of my handbag until I found a slightly crumpled card and dialled the mobile number on it.
‘Who?’ said a gruff and wholly scary voice.
‘Tara Sharp. We met on the plane.’
‘I … er…’ My tongue threatened to fail me by sticking to the roof of my mouth but I swallowed to create some saliva and forced myself to continue. ‘Er… I need a bodyguard for this job I’m working on and there’s no one around—some big security convention in town or something. I thought if you were here for a few days, you might be interested.’
‘Bodyguard for who?’
‘A US rapper on tour with Reverb Promotions. The fans have found his hotel and are causing chaos.’
‘I’ll have to talk to Stuart Cooper—my client.’
‘Where are you?’
‘On my way to meet him at the Stamford Plaza. You want to come down and check it out? That is … if you’re not busy with … um … funeral stuff.’
‘Oh, sure. Yeah, I’ll come down.’
‘Cool! I’ll be there at eight.’
‘So will I.’ He hung up.
I sank back onto my bed and took a couple of slower breaths. I hadn’t really expected Big Nuts—Bon Jovi Ames—to say yes. Had I just invited a tiger into the deer park?
‘Tara?’ said a voice at the door.
‘I wish to do a reading for you.’
‘Um, I’m in a bit of a hurry, Inigo. Stuart just called.’
The door flung open in dramatic style and she stood there with a teacup in one hand.
‘Well, come on in,’ I said lightly.
Inigo was looking a bit wild, hair sticking out and eyes bloodshot. Her clothes were a mix of op shop and sex shop: cheesecloth dress, Madame Lash boots. If that was kombucha tea she was drinking, then she must have slipped in some cactus juice as well. Didn’t look like she’d slept at all and her aura was the fluorescent orange of a toadstool.
She came over to the bed, placed the tea on the bedside table and sat next to me. ‘Give me your hands,’ she rasped.
As I obliged, she grabbed one of my thumbs and pressed it into her palm. Her eyes rolled back in her head and her lids gradually closed.
We stayed in complete silence for far longer than was comfortable before she began to sniff.
Sniff. Sniff. SNIFF.
And on it went; thumb pressing, sniffing, eyes shut, until eventually her eyelids snapped open and she glared at me with unnerving intensity.
‘I smell salt and orange blossoms. Then I smell petrol and rubber. Petrol and rubber. Petrol and rubber.’
‘Um…’ I felt like I was trapped in a Twitter hashtag.
Suddenly, she let go of my thumb and sagged, exhausted.
‘Inigo, are you alright?’
‘I have done what I can for you. Now I must sleep.’ She got up and left the room.
Phew.I scurried to the bathroom and locked the door. A shower and some fresh clothes and I was out of the house and down the street looking for a cab.
The nearest street corner harboured a bakery, so I bought two custard tarts, a croissant and a fresh orange juice.
The carbs-and-sugar hit was spectacular and settling, and soon I was on my way to the Stamford in a taxi, feeling fortified and ready to handle the Slim Sledge show.
I checked my phone and saw there were messages from Cass, Joanna and Aunt Liv. Joanna would be asleep and I didn’t fancy a dose of my mother right after the Inigo event. Cass would still be crashed out as well, so that left Liv, whose message had sounded quite urgent.
She answered after one ring. ‘Tara! Thank goodness!’
‘Liv, everything okay?’
‘I fear not, my dear. Wal is in trouble—he’s disappeared!’
‘Disappeared? How do you mean?’
‘I’ve been down to the flat and he’s not there. He’s not answering his phone. He always answers his phone to me. Always.’ Her voice trembled.
‘Did he say anything to you recently about a problem?’
‘No, but he has been acting a little … paranoid.’
‘Oh, you know, only opening the door a crack, keeping the curtains closed and the windows locked. He made me go and pick up our takeaway Thai dinner alone. And the … you know … things he keeps in that bag. He had them out, cleaning them. Honestly, Tara, I didn’t know where to look. I told him to put them away but he said he couldn’t.’
‘Oh.’ Crap. If Wal was cleaning his weapons in front of Liv, something was definitely up.
‘Have you spoken to him, darling? Is this one of your psychic jobs? I hope not because I don’t like the idea of the … you know … things in the bag.’
‘Last time I spoke to him he sounded fine.’ I didn’t tell her it was only an hour ago because I knew she’d just ply me with questions.
‘Where are you, darling? I want to see you.’
‘Sorry, Aunt Liv, I’m in Queensland working for a music promoter. Wal did say he had some things to deal with and that he’d be out of circulation for a while.’
‘For a while? How long is that? Deal with what things? Darling, this is far too Secret Squirrel for me. You must come back here immediately and find him.’
I owed Liv a lot. She’d been a shoulder to cry on about my difficult relationship with my mother, she’d always championed me on the family stage and never blinked an eye at some of the odd people I’d brought home to her place. She’d even set Wal up in a flat so I didn’t have to have him sleeping on my couch. Sure, the latter was because she had some weird and inexplicable crush on him—Bogan Russian Mafioso meets Flamboyant Society Girl—but she hadn’t had to go the extra mile and fit him out with curtains and a couch. In fact, I doubted Wal had ever owned curtains and a couch in his life. When we’d met he was living in a boarding house.
‘I can’t, Liv. I’m in the middle of a job. Wal is more than capable of looking after himself. Be patient, he’ll sort it out.’ I lowered my voice so the taxi driver couldn’t hear. ‘And whatever you do, don’t go to the police.’
There was silence at the other end.
‘Liv? You haven’t, have you?’
‘That rather superior female constable called around here yesterday.’
I racked my brains to think who she might mean. ‘Fiona Bligh?’
‘Yes, that’s her. And that overweight ogler.’
‘What did they want?’
‘They were after Wal’s address. They had some questions to ask him about a missing truck.’
‘Why did they come to you?’
‘Well, apparently they’d been to your place but Joanna told them you were interstate.’
Triple crap. Now I definitely wasn’t going to ring my mother back.
‘They remembered I knew him from that other time,’ said Liv.
‘Is that all you have to say?’
‘Look, I’m sorry the police came to you, Liv, but I don’t know anything about a missing truck or why Wal has gone AWOL.’
‘Tara Sharp, I’m telling you, you must come home and fix it.’
I’d never heard Liv so adamant about anything. ‘I can’t,’ I said. ‘But I’ll get Hoshi Hara to look into it until I can get home.’
‘He’s the nice Japanese man, isn’t he?’ Her voice was quavering again. ‘Very well. Tell him to come and see me right away.’
Copyright © 2017 Marianne Delacourt.
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Marianne Delacourt is the alter ego of award-winning, internationally-published Science Fiction writer Marianne de Pierres. Renowned for dark satire in her Science Fiction, Marianne offers lighter, funnier writing under her Delacourt penname. As Delacourt, Marianne is also the author of Young Adult fiction series Night Creatures(Burn Bright, Angel Arias and Shine Light). She is a co-founder of the Vision Writers Group and ROR – wRiters on the Rise, a critiquing group for professional writers. Marianne lives in Brisbane with her husband and two galahs.