The Eye of Horus, Excerpt One: Marsaxlokk

It was a beautiful morning. The sky was a cloudless blue and the air was still. For the first time in his life, Joseph Camilleri would have preferred it to have been foggy. As he used the tiller to steer Doriette out of the mouth of Marsaxlokk's harbour and into the broader bay beyond, he looked around anxiously.

It was still early, even by the standards of the village fishermen, though there were already three other fishing boats leaving the quayside behind them. Another was ahead, visible beyond the Royal Navy vessel guarding the way through the anti-shipping boom across the mouth of the bay. Off to the right were two moored Sunderland flying boats and the more delicate shape of a Catalina, ample evidence of the seaplane base at RAF Kalafrana.

Joseph thought his heart was going to stop beating when a Royal Air Force air sea rescue launch powered into view from behind one of the moored aircraft and rode up onto its wake as it gathered speed. For a moment it seemed to be coming straight towards Doriette but then he saw it was merely completing its turn towards the gap in the boom, which it slowed down to approach. Joseph realised he'd been holding his breath and exhaled, a sense of deep relief flooding through him.

As Doriette approached the boom defence vessel he found himself holding his breath again. He knew he had to keep calm. There was no reason for anyone to take any interest in what was just another luzzu going about its business. They were only doing what they did most mornings, though perhaps a little earlier.

Like the other fishing boats he could see, and the much larger number still waiting to be brought to life back in the harbour, Doriette was cheerfully painted, mainly in bright light blue, with stripes in brown and yellow and much narrower lines of red and white along the hull. At the front was a yellow section, shaped like a moustache, from which a pair of painted wooden eyes with prominent black eyebrows protruded, one on each side of the prow.

The Eye of Horus was a relic of an ancient Phoenician belief that it protected anyone who sailed in a boat that carried it. Joseph hoped the tradition would hold strong today.

A cheery wave to the bored crew of the naval vessel was all it took to get them through the gap in the anti-shipping boom.

Joseph had thought that after they'd cleared the mouth of Marsaxlokk Bay, there'd be enough wind to make it worth raising the sails. In the event, it was as windless out in the open water as it had been in the harbour and the bay. He realised he'd have to rely on the engine throughout the trip and cursed. Now the siege was lifted, it was easier to get hold of diesel for essential purposes, and fishing was deemed an essential purpose. But the price was exorbitant. Once they'd done what they had come to do, they would see if the fishing gods were with them, though it wasn't a prospect that he relished today.

'Where do you think we should go?'

Joseph realised his brother Lawrenz had shouted to him over the noise of the engine. Lawrenz had, until now, been sitting hunched at the front of the luzzu, looking ahead.

'We need to get far enough away from the island, and anyone else, to be sure no one can work out what we're doing. I've said it before and I'll say it again, you're a fool for getting us involved in this.'

'I'm sorry, Joseph. If there had been any choice you know I'd have taken it. But they told me it's the only way to clear my debts.'

Joseph cursed again. Having a younger brother ought to be a blessing. Having a younger brother with a gambling problem was anything but. He and Lawrenz had argued fiercely about this. If gambling debts made Lawrenz open to exploitation by whoever he owed money to - Joseph didn't know who that was and didn't want to - then what they were doing now would enmesh them both even more inextricably in the web.

It was a little later when Joseph decided they were as far away as practicable from prying eyes, and he reduced power. They were well to the east of Delimara Point and the only other vessels in sight were a good way to their south-west. He knew that the guns of Fort Delimara, and the eyes of the men manning them, would be turned towards the approaches to Marsaxlokk Bay, on the far side of the point. There were patrols on its east side, of course, as well as pillboxes and lookouts. Joseph hoped no one on this side of the point was taking any notice of what would seem like just another fishing boat.

He'd been trying to avoid looking at the untidy pile of fishing nets on the floor of the luzzu, in front of the engine compartment. Joseph prided himself on how he kept his nets and this had offended him when he'd boarded the Doriette that morning. Though not nearly as much as what he knew was hidden beneath the nets.

'Come on Lawrenz, let's get this over with. Move the nets.'

Joseph watched as Lawrenz moved the nets to one side. Underneath was a canvas package bound in ropes, the size and shape of a large corpse.

He felt his heart sink at seeing such a stark confirmation of what they were here to do. 'Surely that's going to float and could as easily end up back at the island as anywhere else?'

Lawrenz met his eyes for the first time since they'd left Marsaxlokk. Joseph was shocked to see he'd been crying.

'I said that when they told me what they were going to do,' said Lawrenz. 'They said there would be rocks in the canvas packaging with the body. They said it would sink and stay sunk. I'm sorry, Joseph, but I think that means it will be heavy and I'm going to need your help to move it.'

Joseph cut the engine and allowed Doriette to drift, then moved forwards to join his brother. 'Let's assume we're being watched through binoculars by an infantryman in a pillbox and push it over the side away from the land. We can make it look like we're doing something with the nets.'

There was only a very slight swell, even this far out from the island, and the canvas package splashed loudly when it entered the water.

Joseph was relieved to see it sink immediately. 'Now we need to head to where the others are and get some actual fishing done.'

'I'm not sure I feel up to it after this,' said Lawrenz.

'Neither do I, but we need to cover the cost of the diesel and show a legitimate reason for being out today.'

Joseph set a course for the other fishing boats that were visible in the distance. 'Please check the nets didn't get tangled when your friends brought the body aboard last night. How did they manage to carry a body around during the curfew anyway?'

'I didn't ask. I don't want to know if I'm honest.' Lawrenz crouched down over the nets and busied himself with them.

They were within two hundred metres of two other brightly painted fishing boats from Marsaxlokk when the explosion ripped Doriette apart.

Although other vessels were on the scene very quickly, no trace could be found of Joseph or Lawrenz amid the scatter of wooden fragments that was all that remained of their luzzu.

It was subsequently concluded by the authorities that Doriette must have struck a floating contact mine, one of the large number laid off Malta over the preceding three years by the Germans and Italians. The only nearby witness, a fisherman on one of the other luzzijiet who happened to be looking directly at Doriette when she blew up, questioned that. He said that the blast seemed to originate from further back in the vessel, where the engine and fuel tank would have been, rather than from the front as you'd expect if it had hit a mine. But no one important took any notice of him.