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Tracks of Addiction

Devon timed his entry into the university campus café to coincide with Kerrie Knight’s. She was a few years younger than him, blond-haired, blue-eyed, with legs that went on forever. Today, she was in her usual attire of jeans and long-sleeved t-shirt and was exactly his type of woman. But this was only his second assignment with Monash Security, so his fascination with her was a problem he was doing his best to ignore.

When he finally sat down at a table not far from Kerrie, she was stirring her cappuccino, looking at nothing in particular. As usual, Devon remained invisible, blending into the background.

For the past six weeks, tracking Kerrie had been easy. She sat at the same table at the same time each day. Always alone. Always ordering a cappuccino. Kerrie was in her last year of a law degree while Devon was finishing a Graduate Engineering one. All she did was attend lectures and spend hours in the university library before heading home.

Unlike Devon, who rented a one-bedroom apartment an hour away, Kerrie only lived five minutes’ walk from the university in a house her parents—Roger and Anastasia Knight—owned but didn’t live in anymore. Roger was a politician. Anastasia was big in the pharmaceutical industry.

Devon had just taken the first sip of his peppermint tea when a scrappy young man with mattered blond hair, dressed like he’d slept in his clothes, pulled out the empty chair at Kerrie’s table. Without invitation, the young man sat down, staring at her expectantly.

Devon took an image of Kerrie’s companion, frowning. Something was off about this meeting. For a start, this guy didn’t seem her type, though what that type actually was, Devon would be hard pressed to articulate. He assumed, given her background, that she’d go for some upper-class guy, not someone like this. Nor someone like him.

“Do you have it?” the young man demanded. Devon had no trouble hearing him over the chatter inside the cafe.

“No,” Kerrie responded, “not yet anyway.”

“When?” the young man demanded, leaning forward, pushing the sleeves of his dirty, crumpled t-shirt up in a quick, jerky motion, displaying distinctive tattoos. Devon took a photo of them just in case.

There was a rumour going around campus about a well-known gang who had introduced a new, designer drug recently, leaving some students in a coma. Apparently, all the gang members had distinctive, easily identified tattoos.

Kerrie looked the young man in the eye and shrugged. She then said something that Devon didn’t catch over the noise of the coffee machine. Whatever it was had the young man thumping the table, making Kerrie’s cappuccino rattle in its saucer.

Torn between going to her assistance or letting her deal with it on her own, Devon hesitated. Kerrie glanced towards him, their eyes meeting for a heart thumping moment.

What the hell was that look about?

“You know what will happen if you don’t deliver,” the young man said aggressively while staring into Kerrie’s eyes. “And your time is fast running out.”

All Devon’s hesitation vanished. She needed help. He stood and moved towards Kerrie’s table in a relaxed an attitude as he could muster.

“Steven,” Kerrie said, addressing her companion as if he was a small child in need of discipline, “you’re attracting unwanted attention.” She glanced up as Devon walked past without recognition. Her eyes were steady and calm, her posture relaxed.

Expelling one long, relieved breath, Devon made his way slowly out of the cafe. He’d just sent the photo of the young man, along with the name he’d overheard, to his boss when the café door behind him opened.

“Why are you following me?” the young man who had been at Kerrie’s table demanded.

Devon’s mouth dropped open as he stared, his heart thumping hard.

“Whatever,” the young man said, “but if you think you’ve got a chance with her,” he nodded to where Kerrie was seated, finishing her cappuccino, “you’ve got rocks in your head.”

“Look, I’m not following you,” Devon said, “and I’ve no idea who she is either,” he lied.

The young man—Steven, Kerrie had called him—glared at him, his whole attitude showing how little he believed Devon, how little he trusted him.

“Just keep your nose out of my business,” he told Devon before walking off and disappearing into the crowded quadrangle.

# # #

By the following evening Devon knew the young man’s name. Steven Greenhouse was a known member of the Novo Brothers, the gang suspected of pushing that new designer drug. The one that had left four students in a coma so far. The image of the tattoos Devon had taken had confirmed this, leaving him wondering what the hell Steven had expected Kerrie Knight to give him.

# # #

Two days later, Devon experienced a flash of anger when he once more saw Steven near Kerrie. It got worse when Steven followed her all the way from the café to the library. Devon stayed alert as he trailed behind them both, clenching his fists.

Once inside the library, Devon immediately blended into the background, close enough to overhear, but far enough away to avoid detection. Devon was under strict instructions not to get too close. To not interfere. He was simply there to observe and report any interactions Kerrie had. That’s it.

Didn’t mean Devon liked it, but what could he do?

After a few minutes of whispered conversation, Steven loomed over Kerrie, looking like he was demanding something. She simply shrugged him off without undue care for her own safety. Steven responded by sweeping her books off the desk she was using, scattering them everywhere, before storming out.

# # #

Monday morning, Devon watched as Kerrie jumped into a new looking Mercedes outside her home. Running towards the university where he hoped she was heading, Devon made it just in time to witness Kerrie waving goodbye to whoever was inside the car, like this was perfectly normal.

Turned out, Devon had panicked over nothing because Anastasia Knight, Kerrie’s mother, had given her daughter a lift after Anastasia had stayed overnight.

Oh, how his boss had teased him, saying Devon was getting way too close to ‘his mark’—how his boss always referred to Kerrie Knight—compromising his objectivity. Something his boss warned him he’d have to fix pronto, or else.

According to the information Monash Security supplied, Kerrie’s mother was currently working on some new drug, claimed to cure all kinds of diseases without noticeable side effects. But this meeting between mother and daughter seemed too convenient. All his instincts were telling Devon something odd was going on, especially after those two interactions Kerrie had had with Steven Greenhouse, a known gang member dealing in drugs.

But it was probably just his imagination going haywire, like his boss believed.

# # #

The next day, Kerrie had her coffee at the usual time, sitting at her usual table, alone as always. Looked like yesterday’s concern was misplaced, so Devon settled in and drank his green tea, blending into the background as always.

As Kerrie left, Devon noticed a sheet of paper on her table. He was just about to retrieve it when a male, someone he’d never seen before, snatched it up and disappeared into the crowded quadrangle. Devon had just managed to take a picture, which he immediately sent to his boss, without going into too many details.

Later that evening this new guy had been identified as Trevor Noteworthy, a marketing student who was struggling to maintain his university place. He had the same tattoos as Steven’s, so it was safe to assume he was also a member of the Novo Brothers gang.

A sensation, similar to someone crawling up his spine before stomping on his head, swamped Devon when he heard this. Why would Kerrie have anything to do with anyone associated with that gang, let alone two people in just as many days?

As usual, Devon’s boss had told him he was overreacting, assuming Devon’s ‘mark’ had simply left behind some kind of legal stuff and Trevor had acted on instinct. That explanation didn’t sit right with Devon. But he didn’t bother arguing because what was the point?

# # #

Luckily, Devon didn’t have lectures to attend the next day, so he headed straight to the university café. With the weather going straight past spring and into summer, everyone, including Devon, moved with a lethargy usually reserved for superhot days.

He ordered an iced chai latte and waited for Kerrie to arrive. He should have been working on his final assignment—ensuring the new bridge across the underground railway extension met or exceed the standards required. Instead, he was trying to work out why tracking Kerrie Knight was causing him to lose sleep, interrupting his own studies, and making him shift impatiently in his seat.

Ten long minutes later, Kerrie finally arrived. Today her shirt hugged her body like a second skin, showing off her arms. Her back was bare, right down to her bra strap. And the skirt she had on flowed around her ankles as she walked past. Devon gulped, leaning forward, his fingers stretching out toward her, unable to tear his eyes away.

That’s when he became aware of the small tattoo on her back, high up near her shoulder blades where it would remain mostly hidden. Ice ran through his veins as he stared, unbelievingly, at that tattoo.

Kerrie Knight wasn’t loosely associated with the Novo Brothers. She was a fully-fledged member.

How the hell had that happened?

Was this the real reason why he’d been assigned to keep track of her interactions, watching her every move?

# # #

The next day, Devon learned that the first student who had fallen into a coma after taking that new, designer drug had died. Their arms had been covered in thin blue tracks, following the veins, making them stand out like they’d been drawn in Texta colour. All the other student’s arms who were still in a coma were the same.

Devon still had no idea what that page Kerrie had left behind contained or why the Novo Brothers had wanted it so desperately, though he suspected it had something to do with that new designer drug. And he still couldn’t get his head around her being involved in a gang, let alone one that dealt in drugs.

When both Steven and Trevor took Kerrie’s usual table, looking like they’d won the lottery, Devon knew something was seriously wrong.

With shaking hands and a heart rate way beyond normal, Devon left the café behind and headed towards the library, praying that Kerrie was inside, calmly sitting at a desk, surrounded by books and papers.

But she wasn’t there.

She wasn’t waiting outside the door where her next lecture was held either. Neither was she in the quadrangle, chatting with one of her classmates either, something Devon had only witnessed once, a day or two after he’d started tracking Kerrie.

Where the hell had she disappeared to?

Devon ran towards her house, cursing himself for not following her that morning like he usually did. He had no way of knowing if she’d even left her house. Perhaps she was ill or had simply decided not to attend classes today.

Even though it was much colder, sweat ran down the back of his neck while he ran. He didn’t stop until he reached the iron fence surrounding Kerrie’s house, bending over, breathing deeply. He hadn’t run that fast since high school and he was older, and heavier now than he had been back then.

Once his breathing was back to somewhere near normal, Devon reached out to open the gate, intending to step through and march up the pathway leading to her front door. But a strange, groan-like sound came from inside Kerrie’s minuscule front yard.

And there she was, curled into a ball, her blond hair falling forward in a tangled mess, sitting on her front veranda. As Devon stared, she reached up and ran her hands through her hair, exposing the flesh on her inner arms.

Time slowed as he saw the faint blue tracks snaking up her arms, tracing her veins.

Ignoring the heavy feeling in his stomach, he took an involuntary step back, unable to process what he was seeing. None of this made sense. He must be missing something.

“It’s okay,” Kerrie said, staring at him like she knew exactly who he was. “I’m okay,” she continued, turning her head this way and that, looking up and down her street. “I’m not hurt.” She smiled. “But the new formula worked, so you can stop frowning at me like that.”

“New formula?” Devon said, staring at her uncomprehendingly.

“I’m not in a coma,” Kerrie laughed, “so you see, it worked just as Alison promised it would.”

“Alison?” Devon asked, wondering if this was who he’d seen her talking to in the quadrangle.

“She’s a science grad who changed that new drug’s DNA, making it non-addictive.” She sighed, standing up and leaning against the veranda post. “Mum looked over Alison’s calculations and confirmed their accuracy, so I knew it’d be safe,” Kerrie continued. “So, you can go off and arrest Simon and Trevor now.”

“And what about those,” Devon said, pointing at her arms. “They look the same as the ones on the student that died,” he continued, stressing that last word.

“Alison assures me they’ll disappear in a day or two,” Kerrie said, “but she had to keep that bit in the new formula so those scumbags wouldn’t know the difference.” She turned her blue eyes towards him, studying him. “Why are you still standing there? Shouldn’t you be off arresting those two gang members?”

“I’m not a cop,” Devon said. “I’m a graduate Engineering student, temporarily employed by Monash Security.”

“Monash Security?” Kerrie said, her eyebrows raised, “the same Monash Security my dad uses when he wants things done on the quiet?”

“I guess,” Devon replied, not knowing if that was true or not.

“I’m going to kill him,” Kerrie said. Swinging her front door open she turned and glared at Devon. “You should call your boss,” she said. “Even better, call the cops and get them to arrest Steven Greenhouse and Trevor Noteworthy immediately. Both will give up the names of Novo Brothers leaders with barely a whimper. If the cops are fast, they’ll find the new formula I gave them in their possession too.” She took a deep breath and let it out. “Because I haven’t gone through all this,” she looked down at her arms, “for nothing.”

# # #

Devon was once more inside the university café, a cup of peppermint tea in front of him. The day was warm and sunny when it should be dark and gloomy, especially as he would be meeting with the Dean of Engineering in half an hour to learn his fate.

He’d spent most of the last two weeks in one interview after another, giving statements, explaining his actions, what he’d done and why. With his and Kerrie’s information, the Drug Squad had rounded up every single member of the Novo Brothers gang, all at the same time, in numerous locations around the city and even interstate, collecting guns and a mountain of drugs along the way. It had made last night’s news.

Thankfully, Devon’s involvement had been kept quiet, but he was still proud of his small part in bringing down the Novo Brothers.

But now Devon’s whole future was in jeopardy. He’d only taken the job with Monash Security so he could afford to finish his degree. And because of that, he’d missed handing in his final project by one day, having been busy being interrogated at the time. But none of that seemed to matter.

Hence the meeting with the Dean of Engineering.

The peppermint tea didn’t do anything to settle Devon’s churning stomach, nor did it help soothe his mounting anxiety.

“You’ll be fine,” Kerrie Knight said as she placed her cappuccino on the table before sitting in the seat next to him. Her blond hair shone in the sunshine and her blue eyes twinkled as she studied him. “I’ve read through the Engineering School’s rules and regulations and all their codes of conduct, as well as the University ones, too. They can’t fail you. Not if they don’t want to be sued within an inch of their lives.”

“Easy for you to say,” Devon responded.

“Dad owes me almost as much as he owes you,” Kerrie continued as if he hadn’t spoken, “especially after he indirectly employed you to follow me in the first place.” She shrugged. “Besides, Dad happens to be good friends with the University Chancellor, so I think you’ll be safe enough.”

Devon shook his head, not believing her. “What about that tattoo I saw on your back,” he asked.

“It was fake. Alison painted it on me using henna. And, just like those ugly blue tracks, the tattoo disappeared within a week.”

Devon grunted. “So what now?”

“Well, Alison has a job waiting for her within Mum’s company as soon as she graduates. And I’m hoping for an internship with Gilbert and Tobin.” When Devon looked blank, she continued, “They’re one of the biggest corporate law firms in Melbourne.”

“Good for you,” Devon replied glumly.

“Monash Security have totally underestimated you,” Kerrie said. “I always knew you were there.” She grinned. “You couldn’t blend into the background if you tried. Besides, it was your evidence that brought the Novo Brothers to justice, not mine.” Devon shrugged, knowing that wasn’t true. “And Dad knows all the Director of Infrastructure’s secrets, so it looks like we may have a chance at a relationship after all.”

 “You want—” Devon began.

“Of course I do,” Kerrie said. “It’s something I’ve wanted from the moment I first saw you ten weeks ago.”

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