Cadence stood in the light of a street lamp trying to make out the address written on the index card in her right hand. She angled it carefully into the light before glancing toward the house directly in front of her, her dark brown eyes taking in the numbers painted just above the door.
This was definitely the place.
Glancing at her watch, she grimaced at how late it was. Normally she liked to arrive before 10 o'clock, but the call had come in only a couple of hours before. This was what her boss liked to call an "emergency job."
She took her time making her way to the house, pulling her brown hair, which happened to be the same dark brown as her eyes, up into a ponytail. Her brown combat boots, the ones with the red zipper down the back, made a gentle thud as she made her way up the stairs and onto the front porch. The door opened as she poised her finger to ring the doorbell and for a moment she hesitated, wondering if the man standing in the doorway had been watching and waiting for her to arrive.
Regardless, he eyed her warily, squinting one eye a bit more than the other. Cadence silently took in the medium-height, but scrawny man as he paused to, apparently, size her up as well.
"You're the one they sent?" His tone sounded anything but confident as he finally stepped aside and motioned her to come inside. No doubt he was referring to the fact that Cadence was fairly petite, and looked about nineteen despite the fact that she was really in her mid-twenties.
She stepped over the threshold, determined to hold the professional air she had been trained to maintain no matter what. "Yes sir. I'm Cadence, but please call me Caden." She tried to smile a smile that would instill confidence in the both of them, but she could tell that he was less than pleased to see her.
Most of their first-time clients assumed that all member of the Agency should be burly men with crossbows or assault rifles, but the truth was they hired anyone willing to learn. And Cadence had been more than willing to learn, especially after graduating high school.
The client led her into a roomy, but humble living room where he motioned for her to take a seat. She politely refused, and remained standing, taking in the family pictures on the mantle.
"Your agency is not an easy group to track down… You know that, right?" He wrung his hands together nervously as he sat down, eyeing the pictures as well.
"Yes sir. We operate with the utmost secrecy and rely mostly on referrals for our business." She picked up a photo of a young woman who seemed to be about the same age as Cadence. She was smiling brightly in the photo, her blue eyes and blond hair shining in the bright sun, surrounded by sand. She set the picture down and turned her attention back to the client.
"What seems to be the problem? Unfortunately, when I received the call to come here immediately, the office didn't tell me very much at all."
The client's eyes lingered on the photos of the young woman, clearly his daughter, before focusing on Cadence. His eyes were clouded with hurt and emotion as he paused for just a moment.
"You see, it's my daughter," he began, composing himself as he spoke. "She was dating this boy. No good for her, let me tell you, but she seemed happy. How could I tell her I disapproved? She's an adult, doesn't live at home… I can't ground her…" For a moment he trailed off before picking up where he left off.
"Anyway, a few days ago I got a call from her boyfriend telling me she had disappeared. He had been to her apartment and she wasn't there. All that was there were claw marks and bite marks all over the counters, floors, and walls. None of her clothes were missing, and she didn't leave a note…" His voice cracked slightly on the word note and he drew in a shaky breath.
Cadence quickly pulled on her sympathetic face, nodding.
After a moment, he seemed confident to continue. "Well, this morning I got a call from the boyfriend. He said he had figured out where she was and that he would call as soon as he had gone and gotten her. Well... No more than three hours ago, I got a call from the police. They found the boyfriend's body. It looked like he had been mauled by an animal, but in his hand was this…" He reached into his pocket and pulled out a small, silver locket with flowers engraved on both sides.
Cadence narrowed her eyes as she took the locket, examining it. When she opened it, she saw an inscription engraved on the left side:
To our dearest Elizabeth
Love, your parents.
On the right side was a photo of both Elizabeth's mother and the man sitting across from Cadence.
"This is your daughter's locket, I assume." Cadence closed it gently and placed it on the nearby coffee table.
The man nodded. "Something has happened to my daughter… I think she's been turned into some kind of… of…" He fumbled for the right word.
"Monster?" Cadence knew her hazarded guess was right, by the look on his face. "Well, sir. Finding monsters is what the Agency does best." She hoped that the firm confidence in her voice would help the client feel somewhat better about calling.
From Cadence's five years of experience, she knew that people only called the Agency as a last resort, and she knew that she needed to bear that in mind as she discussed the hunt with the client.
"I'm going to need something of your daughter's to help find her. May I borrow the locket?" Without waiting for a reply, she picked it up and wrapped the chain around her hand. "I will return it as soon as I've completed the job."
"I have just one request… If you can… don't kill her…"
A pang of frustration ran through Cadence's chest, but she forced her facial features to remain sympathetic as she looked the man in the eyes. "Sir, I can't guarantee that, but I can guarantee that I will do my best to immobilize her first. We always kill as the absolute last resort." She slid the locket into her pocket as she spoke.
"I understand…" He said, sounded a bit disconcerted. "What will you do with her once you've found her?"
"We usually bring our marks to the lab so that our scientists can continue to research cures for vampirism, zombism, and the were-virus, among other things. So far, we've succeeded in creating immunizations, but those have to be administered on a yearly basis."
In fact, every hunter in the Agency was required to get the immunizations each year.
As they walked back toward the door, the client looked at her with intensely pleading eyes. "Will you call me as soon as you have anything solid on Elizabeth?"
"Yes sir. I'll call you as soon as I have anything, I promise."
"Thank you," he said meekly, closing the door behind Cadence as she stepped back out into the evening chill.
Her strides took her back to the light of the street lamp, where she pulled out her cell phone and made a call to the Agency's check-in desk. "Hey Josh, it's Cadence. I just finished my meeting with client 22954." As she explained the meeting and situation to him, she could hear the faint clicking of his keyboard as he entered all of the details into his computer. "I'm going to start on this one immediately, since my other assignments are at dead ends until the Tech Team can get around to them. If the boss has a problem with that, tell him that I'm using my judgment call on this one and that the Lab might get a new test subject out of the deal."
Josh rattled off his usual dribble about deadlines and legality, which Cadence knew by heart and only half listened to these days. Finally, the conversation ended and she slid her phone back into her pocket.
The hunt was finally about to begin.