Long bony fingers curled into a fist, clumsily clutching onto a cigarette between the index and middle finger, slamming down on the 'snooze' button of a screaming alarm clock. The time read as 6:00 AM and Harper Brock was regretting that she set the damn thing in the first place considering that she hadn't slept and was up at the computer since getting home yesterday. The woman finished her cigarette and placed the butt in a nearly full can of stale soda that sat near the mouse pad before sending out an email to her most recent client, shutting off the computer, and putting some music on her phone.
The Distillers rang out from the tiny speaker as Harper got up and stretched her thin arms out into the sky, rotating her shoulders and gyrating skeletal hips while scanning the messy surroundings in an attempt to plot out her next move. First she grabbed a fifth of whiskey which was in arm's reach of the computer area on the floor and soon made way to the kitchen after realizing that she hadn't eaten in awhile, at least long enough that she couldn't remember the last thing she ate. Harper gazed over the dishes in the sink, used a dozen times over without being washed and left sitting long enough to attract bugs. Cooking had clearly become a fruitless endeavor and she soon remedied this with a packet of raw ramen, flicking the flavoring into an overfilled trashcan. A shot of whiskey soothed her throat in between dry crunchy bites.
Harper had to smoke another cigarette before making it to the shower and in the process had stopped to admire a half finished puzzle which lay on the floor. Her eyes began scrutinizing the nearby loose pieces, hoping to catch where one of them belonged in the finished picture. Finishing her cigarette, the disheveled woman decided to keep on track, quick to Wade through the various books and other boxes of puzzles that littered the carpeted floor. All she could think about while showering and brushing her teeth was the puzzle, urgently trying to complete it within her mind.
Harper looked over the lithe and almost boyish figure in the mirror before getting dressed, finding herself thankful that the short gaunt frame and flat chest didn't attract much attention from the opposite sex or anyone for that matter. She ran a hand through her short dyed white hair in a lazy attempt to brush and got into some surprisingly fashionable yet professional looking clothes although she would rather be in something much more comfortable. She thought about how different this was from her normal routine considering she hadn't showered in over a week and usually kept dental hygiene to merge swigs of mouthwash.
On the way out of the apartment Harper took a couple more shots, smoked another cigarette, and added a piece to the puzzle in progress.
The 'Tuss & Co. Private Investigations' office was desolate but the door was unlocked and the lights were on. The young woman figured that her business partner had likely passed out at his desk since the old man had a habit of taking naps when there wasn't much going on. She quietly helped herself to a cup of coffee and sat down to light up a smoke. As if hearing the flick of her lighter, a tall greying man emerged from the back, rubbing the tiredness from his eyes with balled fists and grumbling while making a forward shamble. Harper simply inhaled smoke and sipped at her coffee while mentally preparing for the upcoming lecture.
"Gaaawd damn it! How many times do I have to tell you not to smoke in here?" he groaned upon getting close, towering in front of the girl with arms crossed like a disappointed parent. A small grin began to form at the corners of Harper's lips as she silently finished smoking and dropped the butt in her half finished mug of coffee. Richard Russ sighed and his hands dropped to either side in resignation, having fought this battle many times before. He thought the girl lucky that she had earned his respect but still felt the need to say something, "Do you really want the landlord on our asses like that?"
"Your ass, my name isn't on the lease" Harper curtly responded before taking a brief pause in order to pull a fidget spinner from her pocket and fiddle with the device, "You're not going to ask about my interview? I'm dressed like this for a reason."
Richard curiously raised a brow and sat down to listen instead of saying anything while Harper kept her gaze to the toy in hand.
"Even if I don't get hired I'll still dig up some dirt on the company. You're gonna owe me big for this payout, Rich." Harper explained dully, mostly uninterested in the subject but caring just enough to make her partner aware. The aforementioned job had clicked to Richard and he suddenly remembered the details, grabbing the young womans arm as she shifted to move.
"Be careful on this job, kid. I have a feeling that you'll have to worry about more than law enforcement if you get caught on this one. They're a mysterious bunch and I gurantee there's there's no leaks for a reason" he said with concern. Harper scoffed and shook herself free, ready to begin the mission.
"And you're doing the dishes when you get back!" Richard shouted after her while eyeing the coffee mug that she left behind.
Harper kept her hands in her pockets and remained still with her back against a wall, quietly observing the other interviewees from behind black sunglasses. The sharp breeze didn't bother her but she was still very eager to get the upcoming interaction over with. She perked up when a door suddenly opened and revealed a man who was quick to greet them with a bow. Harper pushed up the shades obscuring her sharp blue eyes and immediately fell into line, ready to head inside.
As the group paced through the building, the undercover investigator was making a mental map of her surroundings and casually determining the importance of the area. She knew that nothing serious would be revealed just yet but decided to make an on the spot escape route for the possibilities that may show up down the line. She originally thought about bringing in a camera but had decided it was too risky and ultimately came to the conclusion that it was best to fall back on her memory, which she was confident in. Just as Harper's thoughts drifted from internal scouting to the flask hidden in her jacket, their guide had brought them to their destination.
The spy didn't care for this subordinate trying to excuse their boss's behavior and instead found it to be a pathetic excuse to save himself in their eyes. While most would find this simply unprofessional, Harper saw it as an annoying and inconvenient conversation that wasted everyone's time. Regardless, she folded her arms and had entered the room when prompted, ready to face the music.
Harper found it odd that the woman was waiting in a dark room for them but still dredged on like a stern vacant soldier, settling into a position to face Lorette and remaining still as possible despite obviously shifting from the discomfort of wearing these unfamiliar clothes. It wasn't until the other woman called Harper out directly that she suddenly became hyper-focused.
They must have sent their own private investigators to out on her, digging deeply into her youth and past life, even her current habits, and maybe even more. Hell, if they were serious like Harper was when she was at work, they had probably tapped the phones and had her tailed as well. Luckily, Harper hardly used the phone and never for anything important, and her computer was well protected. Still, she realized that she would have to tread carefully from this point forward. Was Richard right or was she just being paranoid? Did they know that she was here on another job?
Harper's face was expressionless and she didn't say a word, opting to remain quiet and watch as things unfolded at a strange progression. The woman behind the desk put on a similar show for the other candidates before vaguely explaining the upcoming tribulations that the new employees would have to soon face. Harper didn't take much stock in the spiritual talk but definitely absorbed the seriousness behind the woman's explanation of power. Of course at this point she assumed it was just money and connections aplenty.
The toad and the sword changed everything. After watching the small creature show its invincibility and devour the large object, Harper completely forgot about the investigative job of corporate espionage that brought her here. She now knew that she was shown this for a reason. When Lorette asked her question, Harper remained completely stoic and emotionless as she withdrew the flask from her pocket and took down a few slugs of liquor.
"I'll take the job. Is there a dress code... and can I smoke?"