The Eye of Horus, Excerpt Three: Strait Street

'This is the south-west side of Palace Square, on the left as we're looking at it,' said Monique. 'We know Edward Price visited Captain Bianchi's in Strait Street at some point before the Sunday morning, when he left the suit with the matchbook in its pocket in his room on Manoel Island. According to the map, Strait Street is one street back from Palace Square on its north-western side. It's quite a long street but I'm willing to bet you a shilling that we'll find Captain Bianchi's not very far from here.'

Bob smiled. 'That's not a bet I'll take, Monique.'

Monique led the way. Strait Street turned out to be a very narrow alley that was bustling with life, even on a Sunday afternoon. Men in military uniforms from all the services but especially the Royal Navy mingled with civilians, mainly older people and younger women, with almost none of the children that Bob had seen everywhere else in Malta. A recurring theme seemed to be young men in uniform sharing cigarettes with young women wearing tight dresses and high-heeled shoes who were standing in open doorways.

It seemed to Bob that the narrowness of the alley was emphasised by the enclosed balconies projecting from the front of many of the buildings at upper-floor level, giving the impression in places that if neighbours leaned out of their windows they could shake hands across the street. In some cases, people were leaning out of upper-floor windows carrying on conversations with others at street level. This partial enclosing of the street made it feel very dark and gloomy at pavement level, despite the blue sky above and the sun catching the upper-floor level of some of the buildings on one side. This sense of enclosure was only relieved by the irregularly spaced gaps on both sides of the street where buildings had been destroyed by bombing. These gaps tended to be filled by rubble made up mainly of large, quite regularly-sized blocks of stone.

'Welcome to "The Gut", as Anne Milner tells me it's called,' said Monique.

Bob had checked the address on the matchbook and was looking for numbers above or beside doorways, while at the same time trying not to get in the way of people making their way along the narrow street, entering and leaving the many business premises or simply standing and negotiating the price of a sexual encounter. As well as the balconies, there were lots of hanging or projecting signs at first-floor level. Some, like one promoting the Oxford Music Hall, were associated with businesses that were boarded up or derelict or had been bombed. Others sought to attract customers to establishments that were clearly thriving such as The Empire Bar and the neighbouring Cape of Good Hope Lodging House or the Westminster Café and Bar opposite. A little further along was the Ben Nevis Hotel and Restaurant. Bob didn't stop to check but doubted if its menu stretched to venison or haggis. Other signs advertised commodities such as 'cigarettes and tobacco', 'cold beer', 'Simonds Ales and Stouts' and, something of a local favourite, 'Cisk Lager'.

'I think it's not far ahead,' said Bob, pointing in the direction they'd been walking. He was right. There was a vertical sign on the face of a building on the left after a hundred yards proclaiming that they had arrived at Captain Bianchi's. The background to the sign was the same bright blue they used for their matchbooks while the signwriting was in black. A faded red arrow painted on the front wall of the building below the bottom of the sign pointed diagonally down at a doorway with a closed dark brown door. The ground-floor windows were covered with closed wooden shutters, but that was also true of many of the other ground-floor windows in the street.

'It doesn't look open,' he said.

'There's only one way to find out,' said Monique, putting her sunglasses in her handbag and stepping forwards to push at the closed door.