This is an excerpt from my novel VAMPIRES OF ROME out now in paperback, kindle, nook and kobo....
Under a stone arch of carved grape leaves I noticed another barmaid behind the thick wood countertop of her serving station. She watched us pass. Akkad gave her an unsubtle nod. She subtly nodded in return and poured two large chalices full of blood from a wooden cask.
Akkad and I went all the way to the end of the pier where I spotted a great waterfall. There we sat in a gazebo that protected us from its icy mist. The barmaid walked in and set the chalices down as I scrambled to find, perchance, a coin or two in any of my pockets. She ignored me and walked away. Akkad tapped his finger nonchalantly on the side of his new cup a few times then took a dainty swig. I finally found a coin in a pocket and put it on the table. Akkad looked oddly at it. “What are you doing? Is this a new game? What is it? I like games with coins. There was one that involved a dead man’s eyes but that was the vogue seasons ago by now. Where I come from a king’s eyes were covered with two big rubies when he died so he could see through the fires of eternity. And to show we care. For some reason they use coins now on dead eyes, cheap bastards.”
“I’m paying for the drink.”
He asked why.
I pushed at it and shrugged. “So I’m not beaten as a beggar.”
Akkad took my coin and threw it so hard it went over the railing and fell away into the distant streams of water.
“What?” I gulped from my new cup.
“It’s free. It just is. Free swill! Free wells of extract… casks of it!”
“How can that be? How can blood be free?”
“As I told you. The wealthy Countess Ippolita. She is perfect!”
“She pays for my drink?” I was amazed. “Everybody’s drink? Such an act is truly unheard of.”
“Oh, that’s right.” Akkad laughed. “I was going to tell you about her. But first, before you finish drinking from that cup like a total fool, you must give it a pulse. Have some manners. Blood needs a pulse. Tap your finger on the side of it as I do. Then sip.”
“That’s not a real pulse.”
“No. It’s not real. It’s called etiquette. Vampiric etiquette. When you drink blood from a cup in society then you must have etiquette.”
I tapped the side of my cup. “Like this?”
He frowned. “It takes a while to get it just… so.” He did it.
I asked, “What did you do that I didn’t do?”
He took a weary breath. “As my finger tapped I looked deliberate about it but subtle. Amused but distracted and purposeful but bored. I looked eager but like I’ve done it a thousand thousand times before, and I have.”
I tapped the side of my cup, drank and tipped it all the way back to finish the last drop. I looked down into my empty cup. “Tell me about this grand countess who pours for us all. Even me.”
“The Countess Ippolita built this place for the vampiri because she loves us so very much. And she loves Rome as she loves all the gods. Or these days, God, now there’s just one of them again. The three of them that Rome came up with to be clever. She’s very modern and sophisticated.”
Akkad looked exasperated. “Why why! Why what? Why be modern and sophisticated? You would need to ask that.”
I looked around. “Why a hidden place for vampiri so deep under the city?”