Sentenced to hang, an accident gave Bob the chance to run for his life
Sixteen-year-old Bob Asker has been framed, convicted and sentenced to hang for murder, but then they have to try and catch him. A Twist of Fate has suspense, mystery and intrigue all the way to a stunning conclusion.
Below is a free sample read from the e-book A Twist of Fate by Peter Blakeborough:
Like everyone else in New Zealand the Reynolds family knew all about the murder, trial and escape, but they wanted to hear Bob’s version of events. They talked until afternoon when Bob suddenly nodded off to sleep, mid-sentence. Two hours later his hosts woke him for a hot bath, dinner and a real bed with a mattress, pillow, sheets and blankets, luxuries he had not experienced for six months. He slept for twelve hours and woke in the morning just as sixteen-year-old Janet Reynolds was leaving for school.
‘Did you have a good sleep?’ she asked.
‘Yeah. Too right. I slept like a baby. By the way, I’m Bob Ask…’
‘No you’re not!’ she hissed. ‘You’re Bob Doyle, remember?
‘Yes. That’s right. Thanks for reminding me. Who are you?’
‘I’m Janet. Hey, I like you. You’re nice,’ she giggled.
‘So are you. Everything here is nice and especially you. How would you like to fall in love with a murderer?’
‘Enough of that,’ Edna chastised them.
‘He’s only kidding, mum.’
‘I know. But you’d better be off to school. You’re going to be late, girl.’
‘See you tonight then.’
Two days later the Cessna landed again at Thames and Tom Laing walked to the Reynolds’ house.
‘It’s all arranged and ready to go,’ Tom said. ‘We fly again at first light.’
‘I really wish I didn’t have to do this, Tom. This is where I belong with my friends and family and the country that I know – the country that has treated me so well until recently.’
‘You have to put all that behind you now, son,’ Morrie said.
‘I know, but it’s going to be hard. I just wish everything could be put back the way it was.’
‘That can’t happen, Bob,’ Tom said. ‘You must never try to contact anyone in Matamata. Houses are being watched around the clock, phones tapped, mail opened. They won’t ever stop looking for you. The authorities don’t like being beaten.’
An hour before sunrise the Reynolds’ household was awake and sitting down to an early breakfast. Janet, sitting next to Bob, waited for a moment when the others were distracted and whispered in his ear.
‘I’ll be your link with home, Bob, if it’s all right with you.’
‘How?’ he whispered back.
She grinned shrewdly.
‘Newcastle post office, midday, first of January 1956. I’ll meet you there.’
‘Serious. I’ll be there and I’ll bring you up to date with everything at home. I promise.’
‘It’s a deal.’
They were interrupted by a casual sounding question from Tom.
‘What’s your date of birth, Bob?’
‘Twenty-second of April, 1938. Why?’
‘Wrong, Bob. Ninth of November, 1937, remember?’
‘Sorry. I forgot again.’
‘Have you signed your passport?’
‘Yes. Done that.’
‘The same as the signature on Ray’s licence?’
‘Excellent. Now remember you have an Australian passport and a New Zealand driver’s licence. How will you explain that?’
‘I was born in Australia and lived for a while in New Zealand.’
‘Where in Australia were you born?’
‘Griffith, New South Wales.’
‘Do you know anyone called Asker?’
Bob hesitated for a moment.
‘Okay, Bob Doyle, you’ve passed the test. Are you ready to go?’
Morrie Reynolds shook his hand and wished him luck. Edna hugged and kissed him. Janet kissed him too and whispered in his ear.
‘First of the first, fifty-six, Newcastle post office, midday.’
‘It’s a date, Janet.’
‘Okay. Break it up, you two. Gotta go,’ Tom ordered.
As Bob headed for the door he looked back for the last time.
‘I won’t ever forget the nicest family in Thames… the nicest family in the world. Thanks for everything.’
‘Good luck, Bob.’
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A few minutes later the Cessna was airborne and climbing on a south-easterly course. At three thousand feet Laing levelled off and Bob watched the indicated airspeed creep up to 140 miles an hour. It was a much faster machine than his father’s Tiger Moth. Paeroa and Waihi slipped by under the wings and then they were over the sea. Anyone watching the aircraft cross the coast would have thought it was going to White Island, an active volcano fifty miles out to sea. An Auckland charter company had been conducting scenic flights to the volcano since it had become active again some weeks earlier. But twenty-five miles short of the island volcano Tom Laing changed course to the north. Other small islands appeared on the horizon ahead of them and slipped behind. The East Coast of the North Island was many miles away to the west. The sky was deep blue and the sea below was turquoise between a patchwork of isolated cloud shadows. Volcanic Mayor Island slipped passed the left wing several miles away and they were soon skirting around the Alderman Islands, the Slipper and the Shoe. Further on they passed to seaward of the Mercury Islands and Cuvier Island. It was a wonderful morning for flying. The air was as smooth as silk. Ahead of them Great Barrier Island lay on the horizon. Laing eased the nose down a little and the Cessna gathered speed on a long descent to the rocky coast. Bob was surprised at how mountainous the island was.
‘Are you sure there’s somewhere to land here?’ Bob asked.
‘Oh, yes. There’s an aerodrome at Claris, but we won’t go there today. Who knows who might be watching? No, we’ll use a topdressing strip. Don’t worry. It’s all arranged. The strip belongs to another of your supporters. They’re everywhere, Bob, and the local people on the island are so accustomed to seeing topdressing aircraft that they don’t take any notice these days.’
The Cessna rounded a headland between two sandy bays and Bob saw the airstrip extending up to the apex of a ridge a few hundred feet above the tide. Laing pulled the power off, raised the nose and lowered the flaps. A moment later the wheels brushed the grass and the momentum carried the Cessna to the top of the airstrip. A bearded man in his forties waited for them beside a late model Chevrolet.
‘I’m Mike Hall,’ he said when the doors opened.
‘Pleased to meet you, Mike. I’m Tom Laing and this is your trainee sailor.’
Hall held out his hand to the youth.
‘Well, I’m pleased to meet you, mister trainee sailor. Are you ready to go?’
Bob liked Mike Hall from first sight. He had the appearance of a rough diamond but underneath the façade he could see a sharp mind, an adventurous spirit and a man of true loyalty to his friends and anyone in need.
‘Aye, aye, captain. I’m ready to go.’
Then Bob turned to Tom Laing.
‘I really don’t know how to thank you. Perhaps someday I’ll come back and be able repay you in some way. You’ve been a true friend.’
‘Good luck, son. I’ve got a feeling you’re going to be okay.’
‘Please tell my mother that I’ll be thinking of her every day.’
They got into Hall’s car and drove down the winding farm road passed the homestead and onto the road to Tryphena harbour. Bob wished he could stay in New Zealand and learn to fly like Tom Laing and like his father. But he had to go. It was hard for his mind to keep pace with events. So much had happened in such a short space of time.
They arrived at the tranquil harbour and Mike parked the Chevrolet in the shed near his seaside cottage and without further preamble they got into a dinghy and rowed out to the Sinbad. Hall had already prepared the yacht for a speedy departure. He had only to start the auxiliary engine and haul up the anchor.
Within minutes they had left the shelter of the harbour, raised the sails and shut down the engine. Bob looked back with nostalgia at the receding landscape and wondered if he would ever see New Zealand again. A lump came to his throat as he thought about his mother, his friends, his younger brother and sisters, and his supporters, and Heather. If only the clock could be turned back – even for a little while – he would feel better. He watched the shore silently while Mike adjusted the sails and kept busy with numerous other tasks. He was pleased that Mike allowed him those few moments of privacy.
Above the sound of sails and rigging Bob heard a more familiar sound and turned his eyes in another direction. The Cessna, small at first, was skimming across the water on a course that would take it passed the stern of the Sinbad. As it drew rapidly closer Bob stood up in the cockpit and waved to the pilot. For a fleeting moment before the machine flashed passed he saw a hand waving back. It turned towards the mainland and he watched until it became a mere speck in the limitless sky. When he could no longer see it he turned his attention to the voyage of the Sinbad and to the future.
‘I’m ready for Australia, Mike. How long will it take?’
Hall came and sat alongside him.
‘Ten days, two weeks, maybe more. Depends on the winds. The Tasman Sea can be a bitch at the best of times. From here we’re going to sail around the southern end of the Barrier and head east until we’re out of sight of land, just in case anyone should be watching. Then we’ll sail north until we’re well clear of North Cape. Then we’ll go west until we’re within a hundred miles of the Australia coast. We’ll turn south again to Port Stephens. It’s a pretty isolated harbour with just a few scattered villages. No one will be any the wiser.’
‘Are you going to teach me how to sail?’
‘Sure thing, Bob. By the end of the journey you’ll be an experienced watch captain. We’ll take turns at the helm. Four hours on, four hours off.’
‘I’m looking forward to it, Mike.’
‘Good on you, lad.’
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