Erin took her time returning to the inn with her brother, Art. She figured Kota would try to worm his way out of going into town, and it was nice to talk to Art for longer than a few minutes. They vented to each other, her about the guests at the inn and him about the shop. He surprised her when, as they passed the patrol going the other way, he said, “I wish I could work in the inn like you.”
“You haven’t been listening to me at all, have you?” she asked. She had literally just finished talking about how one of the guests from last night left his room completely trashed and somehow managed to stop up both the toilet and the shower. “Come on, working for Mr. Beyar can’t be that bad.”
Art snorted but didn’t answer, and walked the rest of the way with his head bowed and his forehead scrunched up like he always did when he was thinking about something. Erin knew better than to bother him when he was in this sort of mood, and hoped he would be alright by himself when Kota and Miles surprised her by appearing at the door just as they walked up.
“About time,” Miles said. He looked up at the sky, which was dark and overcast. “Do you really think someone is going to come while we’re gone?”
“They might, if they want to stop before the snow starts again,” Art said, looking up at the sky too. “Icy roads are bad for horses and wagons.”
Erin barely had enough time to give him directions on what to do before Miles started to walk away, forcing her and Kota to follow along or be left behind.
“Are you sure you’re okay?” Erin asked Kota as they started to pass the outlying homes.
“Yeah, I think so,” he said, but he looked surprisingly like Art as he studied the ground while they walked.
Miles stopped on the bridge and nearly fell into the water trying to look over the side of the railing. “Ah, there’s one. You said there’s another at the clock tower?”
“Yes,” Erin said as she stopped next to him and peered down at the engraving of the sun crossed with the moon. She saw that Kota was at the foot of the bridge, looking at something else and probably out of earshot, so she took the chance to ask, “Do you really think there’s something there, or are you just guessing?”
“Bit of both.” Miles shrugged at her expression and smiled. “What do we have to lose, eh?”
Needless to say, that did not fill Erin with much hope as they trekked to the center of town. She did notice that people stared as they went, but mostly at Miles, and she thought that at least he had been right about one thing. Most of the town patrol and more than a few others had become regulars at the inn, if only for the food, and one or two even smiled and waved at Kota as they passed. It certainly wasn’t the reception he would have received if they even remotely thought he could be the same person they chased through the streets over a month ago.
They stopped again in the town circle, and all three looked up at the tall clock tower that rose up over the rest of the buildings. Miles scanned the tower, and Erin helped him out by pointing at the face of the clock. “Just beneath it, see?”
“Good eyes,” Miles remarked, and beside him Kota nodded.
“Everyone knows it’s there, we used to look for it when we were kids.”
“There’s a door down there.” Kota gestured toward the base of the tower, where flowers and bushes dotted the circle of green around it. “Is it possible to go up?”
“Oh, good, you’ve decided to participate,” Miles said dryly and Kota glared at him.
“I…don’t know,” Erin admitted. “I don’t think I ever seen anyone go in there.”
She looked around, but no one was paying them much attention at the moment. “I do know one way to find out, though.”
She set off across the street and through the green up to the door. Erin tried the handle but was not surprised when she found it locked.
“Perhaps a key–” Miles started, before Erin slid a piece of metal out of her pocket and, after a little fiddling with the lock, it clicked open. “Or that. That works.”
“Your father taught you how to do that too?” Kota asked as the door creaked open, releasing a wave of dust and the smell of old, old wood and grease.
“No, Marcus did.” Erin hesitated at the door, but when she spoke it was to say, “Don’t tell Dad, got it?”
“Oh, I’m blaming you for everything if we get caught,” Miles said as he brushed past her into the dark. After a moment or so, a light went up and he returned with an old-fashioned torch which he used to light the one in the stand by the door. “Got to love a good fire hazard.”
Erin and Kota went in, and Kota looked around before closing the door behind them. “I don’t think anyone noticed, so maybe they won’t mind if we look around.”
The firelight cast shadows on the large round room, catching the edges of the stairs that circled up the tower to the upper floors where a steady, grinding noise was coming from. A few narrow slits along the stairs would have provided some light if not for the gloom outside, but even the brightest of days would have a hard time illuminating this place.
“Not much to see,” Miles admitted as he paced the flagstone floor, occasionally stopping to nudge the debris on the ground with his foot. “Old parts no one bothered to throw away, trash, and dirt.”
“Who takes care of the clock?”
Erin glanced at Kota, whose head was tilted all the way back as he stared up at the ceiling. “What do you mean?”
“A clock this big doesn’t just run by itself,” he said as he started for the stairs. “It has to be wound, right?”
Miles turned to see both Erin and Kota going up the stairs, their eyes trained on the ceiling, and followed suit. His light soon lost the ground as they climbed higher and higher, but as they went through the next floor it glanced off the bottom of a swinging pendulum, which they saw in full on the next floor up, connected to a box that, by the sound of it, hid a mass of mechanisms that turned the hands on the clock face.
“Well, it’s not exact, but then these things never are,” Miles remarked as he checked the box on his wrist. “Someone must check on it every now and then.”
Erin wasn’t so sure, and she glanced over at Kota to see what he thought. His head was craned all the way back to stare at the gleaming bells that hung between the wide openings in the walls, and she looked up to see what had captured his attention.
Miles turned when he heard Kota say, in an off-hand voice, “Well, someone’s taken up residence, but I don’t think Arlo’s here to keep time.