Erin’s hand immediately reached out for a light switch and found a cobweb instead.
“Here, let me look around,” Miles said and brushed past her. Erin watched the vampire walk into the attic, unfazed by the dim lighting. He soon returned with an old candle and some matches. “Here, you can use this.”
“Thanks.” She took the candle and held it, if somewhat unsteadily, while Miles lit it. “What are you looking for up here, anyways?”
“Looking for?” Miles blew out the match and stepped back. “I’m not looking for anything. I’m just here to inspect.”
“Right.” Erin walked out into the dim attic, candle in hand. It illuminated the immediate area, revealing a small walkway that went the length of the attic and branched off here and there. On either side a strange assortment of items piled one atop another covered the rest of the available space. “What is all of this stuff?”
“I heard that the previous innkeeper took in a lot of…interesting guests, not the sort of people who carry money on them,” Miles said. He flipped open the lid of a box which proved to be full of seashells. “They probably paid him in other ways, with food and stuff that he could sell to the traders. People in the capital will buy just about anything.”
“Oh.” Erin looked around and bit her lip. “What are we supposed to do with all of this stuff then?”
“I don’t know. Yard sale?” Miles closed the lid of the box and set off across the attic. “I guess you should look around and see what it is, first.”
Erin sighed. Maybe they could just leave it all up here and let the next innkeeper deal with it. What would someone want with a patched-up tailor’s mannequin? Or with a stuffed bear with one arm and three eyes?
She moved across the attic and down one of the rows, looking through the piles while trying to avoid touching anything for fear of sending it all toppling down. Near the east corner she bent down and picked up a book lying alone in the middle of the cleared space. As soon as she touched it something rustled in the darkness and Erin jumped back and into a pile of instruments which fell with a loud, discordant crash all around her. The candle hit the floor and went out.
“Erin? Are you okay?” Miles called from the other side of the attic.
“I think I’m sitting on a trombone.”
Erin stood up with a few jarring notes and nearly fell back down again when she found Miles standing far too close for comfort. She hadn’t even heard him move, and being this close to a vampire in the dark made her skin crawl.
“I thought I heard something,” Erin said, trying to hide her unease. “Do you think you could back up?”
“Uh…” Miles looked over his shoulder and carefully sidestepped around her, keeping his eyes on a patch of sunlight that was leaking through a hole in the roof. “You might want to fix that.”
Erin looked up at the hole and sighed. One more thing to take care of.
“Well, I don’t hear anything now.” Miles turned his head this way and that and Erin thought she saw his ears move a little. “What’s that in your hand?”
Erin looked down and realized she still had the book, its red, leather bound cover smooth in her hand. She held it under the sunlight and found the pages covered in a slanted scrawl.
“It looks like a diary or something,” Erin said. She checked the front cover and added, “Yeah, it used to belong to Sollis.”
“Should make for some interesting reading,” Miles said and saw her blanch. “Or maybe not. You’re not curious about the guy who used to run this place at all? There could be some useful advice in there.”
“Look, I’ve got the place running, which is more than everyone else said was possible. The inn’s bringing in money, and soon I’ll have enough to—” Erin hesitated and saw that Miles was watching her with a thin, knowing smile.
“Let me guess: you want to make enough money to leave town, go to the capital, get a real life, that sort of thing?”
“Er, yeah.” She wouldn’t have put it like that, but it was close enough to the point. “I only picked the inn because anywhere else in town I would have had to agree to an apprenticeship, and it takes years to get out of one of those.”
“Plus you get to be your own boss here.”
Erin nodded, unashamed. “I figured it would be good practice for living on my own, and if I messed up no one would really be that surprised.”
Miles poked around in the pile of instruments for a couple of minutes without replying and too late she realized that she had told the inspector, of all people, this. He would be sending out for a replacement as soon as they went downstairs.
“Huh, this guitar just needs a new string,” he said and straightened up. “If you don’t mind, I’d like to take a look at the guest rooms next, then the kitchen.”
“Uh, sure,” Erin said and followed Miles to the door. He took a circuitous route to avoid the patches of sunlight, giving enough time for Erin to gather up the courage and say, “It’s not like I’m just going to run out one day. Once I have the money, I can stick around until you find a replacement.”
“I know.” Miles stopped at the door and glanced at his wrist, where a strap held a small, square box in place. “Huh. It’s supposed to cloud over this afternoon. Perhaps the three of us could take a tour around town then.”
Erin wondered if the device predicted the weather. “The three of us?”
“Yes, you, me, and Kota. You haven’t forgotten him, have you?”
A crash came from downstairs followed by a shrill yell and the sound of tables turning over.
“What was that?!”
Miles tilted his head at the noise. “Sounds like Kota got that nest of squirrels out of the chimney.”