A Novel

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Could you walk away from the perfect significant other because you loved her?

Would you walk away if her life was in danger?

Would you stay if it put your life at risk?

ISIS said DIE.

HIDE said the Canadian Security and Intelligence Service.

Canadians are gentle folks... unless they are serial killers.

When Lives Collide is available through Kobo

When Lives Collide by Stu Duncan

Chapter 1 The Secret: Moving In, Ontario, Canada

She arrived on the shore of Blue Lake just before her thirtieth birthday. Alone, frightened, and fearing for her life she moved into the furnished lakeside home. A law firm purchased the house, sight unseen, for her. To move into the furnished home, she arrived in a taxi with two suitcases. She could see her neighbour's home through the trees about 100 metres (325 feet) to the east.

The neighbour, Frank, was in his late fifties, retired, and athletic. He loved his lakefront home during the ten months when the summer cottagers were not tearing up the lake with their powered-everything. During those two months of summer "fun", Frank strapped his canoe to his float plane and headed deep into the forest where there were no roads, and no people. He owned extensive property, including a substantial cottage, on a northern lake accessible only by plane. It required a highly specialized plane such as his. The lake was narrow and twisty and did not have long straight sections where conventional aircraft, could land. Frank's STOL aircraft (Short Take Off and Landing) could land in very short spaces. The difficulty of landing a conventional float plane at his cottage helped ensure his privacy.

Frank was away for the summer when she arrived. He knew that the property was for sale. The couple next door had died suddenly when they had taken a trip to Africa and got caught up in an unexpected revolution. Their children did not want the property. It had been for sale during the winter but no one saw it while the snow was on the ground. They had been a quiet friendly couple, and Frank had enjoyed being their neighbour. They had filled the emptiness in his life after the death of his wife. She had developed a rapidly fatal cancer. It had been a lonely winter for Frank after losing his wife the previous spring and his neighbours in the fall. As a young man Frank had been a loner and thought he was immune to loneliness. The years of having Luella at his side had filled a niche he did not know existed. He did not enjoy solitude as much as he had in his youth. While at his northern cottage for the summer he had kept turning to say to Luella, "Look at that." His return to Blue Lake this fall would be the first time he was eager to return. It would surprise him to find a single woman had moved into his environment. A woman who was young enough to be his daughter. A woman who would avoid all contact with him.

Chapter 2 The Recruit: A Horrid Beginning

Jake Jones hated just about everyone and everything. Legally changing his name to Mohammad Mohammad had not helped. It was a strange name choice because Jake was far from being religious and knew nothing about Islam. The few people that talked to him at work became even fewer. He was isolated, angry and unintentionally primed for the wrong circumstance to come along and introduce him to the wrong people.

Jake's druggie mother, in one of her many stuporous states, had become pregnant. She did not even know that she had been involved in a sexual encounter let alone who the father might be. The father would not be described in glowing terms so it was no detriment not knowing who he was.

Jake was born in a Provincial Correctional Services jail. Being born in jail was a benefit for him although he would never realize it. His mother was clean of drugs during her two years less a day of incarceration. But the pregnancy had occurred before her arrest. Although physically healthy Jake had been damaged mentally, in utero, although he would prove to be smart.

He had been very lucky and was adopted by a family at two months of age, when he joined their daughters, aged 2 and 3, as the only son. But Jake would never be normal. He was subject to violent outbursts even as a toddler and as he grew his parents became increasingly concerned for the safety of their daughters.

When Jake was five years old, the older daughter came screaming to her parents that Jake was choking the younger girl. What he lacked in mental stability he made up for in strength. The parents found him sitting on the girl's hips. She lay on her back on the floor unconscious and blue. Jake's hands were around her neck and he howled with laughter. The little girl was in the hospital for several days but never regained consciousness. After spending time in a mental institution and being declared 'cured', Jake was given up for adoption. His history had to be disclosed to potential adopters, so he grew up in an unending list of foster homes. Many people, with the best of intentions, thought they could save this boy. They soon discovered they were wrong. He was smart and crafty. He was dangerous to have around.

At age eighteen, with his juvenile record sealed, he was turned out of the system. His clean slate didn't even last until the end of his birthday. He was mugging a woman in an alley when a police cruiser passed by. He was fast but the young cop was faster.

His prison time was productive as he learned to be a much better criminal. He was out on parole and employed as a dishwasher in a restaurant when he changed his name. His fellow employees, some of whom were themselves ex-cons on parole, already felt uncomfortable around him, and his name change tipped the balance.

His boss, who enjoyed the cheap labour of the ex-cons and the ability to control them, moved Jake into a newly built back room kitchen-bakery away from the others. Jake became a baker, cake decorator, and sometimes backup cook when the restaurant could not handle large numbers of guests. He hated those times when he had to interact with the other employees. Mostly he spent his work hours in the large back room kitchen baking and decorating. He liked the autonomy he had in the back kitchen. He liked not dealing with his fellow ex-cons. The recipients of Jake's baking would have been appalled at his unsanitary approach to their food, but it looked great. His clothing was covered in bits and pieces of whatever he was baking, even after he finished work and went home.

Then he discovered the internet and a group that welcomed him and made him feel good about himself. They were nonjudgemental, accepting and inclusive. He had found his home at last... with the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). It would be more correct to say ISIS found him. He didn't realize that his complaining about everything, on social media, had been an invitation for ISIS to find him. He was now on a path that would make his past life seem tame.

Chapter 3 The Detective: Humble Beginnings

Spud had gotten his nickname from his father who was a Prince Edward Island potato farmer. His birth certificate name was Blair Angel Dalling. His parents had not thought carefully about the name they had given their son. His dad had always called him Spud. His mom called him Angel which may have been cute and endearing for an infant but was a disaster for Spud when his mom dropped him off at school and a classmate heard her call him Angel. The kids at school used a fake accent and called him "Angel Darling". He called himself Spud. His initials didn't help because they were BAD. Which was exactly the opposite of Spud's honourable character. He was a hardworking straight-A student.

Relief came for Spud when the potato crop failed two years in a row, and his dad, still a young man, joined the military and Spud's family started the first of many moves. Spud thrived in his constantly changing environment. It was all info he parked in his highly evolved memory. He had a facility with languages and when his dad was rising through the ranks and being moved through various foreign postings Spud picked up passable ability in German, Polish, and Arabic. He also had learned French as a child playing with a neighbour's child whose family's first language was French.

At eighteen Spud left the family home in Germany, to return to Canada where he had gained a full scholarship to Waterloo University contingent on excellent grades from year to year. His chosen field of study was psychology. He joined the wrestling team, and that was when the school discovered that academic knowledge was not the only thing that Spud had picked up in his worldwide travels.

However, for Spud, athletics was just a sideshow, a diversion from his studies, and when the coach wanted him to move on and up in competition he declined. He discovered how unfair life could be when he was rejected from the team because he wasn't a "team player". Spud replaced wrestling with sports he could take part in on his own, and he quickly was running solo marathons on the weekends when he took a break from studying.

The athletics coach was not the only professor who noticed Spud. His marks had garnered attention without comment in his first year but after Christmas exams, in second year, a professor called him into his office for an interview. The professor was blunt.

"How are you cheating?" Spud was shocked and baffled.

"Your marks are too good. They could only have come from cheating." Spud was still stunned and speechless.

"I am requesting that you be turfed out of here with a note on your permanent record." Slowly Spud recognized what was going on. His life's experiences in meeting many people with many personalities aided him now. He was not cowed by authority figures.

"Professor, it would help if you explained exactly what the problem is and give me the opportunity for a response."

"You know exactly what the problem is and attempting to deny it won't carry any weight with me."

"Sir, I ask you again to explain what the problem is."

"This isn't a courtroom where smart legal tricks will rule the day. Tell me how you cheated without getting caught and I will not put a note on your record, but you will still be tossed out of here with the garbage."

"I again implore you to discuss whatever the problem is in a conversational tone rather than screeching at me at the top of your voice. If you cannot control yourself, I will leave your office and go directly to the Dean's office to discuss your outrageous behaviour."

Authority figures do not take well to having their authority challenged. This professor was no exception. He now descended to a totally out of control red-faced demon spouting profanity at the top of his voice. His office door suddenly opened and his secretary stood in the entrance shocked beyond words.

Spud said to the professor, "You will find me at the Dean's office."

As he passed the secretary he said, "You may be called upon to describe what you have just seen so please make a careful note of my behaviour and the professor's."

After waiting an hour Spud was able to see the Dean but was warned he only had five minutes because the Dean had another appointment. Spud got right to the point. "I have come here directly from Professor Davidson's office. He was not informative about the reason he called me in for an interview but my interpretation of the conversation is that he believes that I have cheated on an exam, and he wants to remove me from the school with a note on my record. I did not receive an opportunity at defence because an exact description nor any description of the concern was not given. The conversation descended into extensive use of profanity by the professor which was witnessed by his secretary. I must advise you, sir, that if I am not given a controlled and reasoned discussion of his concern's my next appointment will be with my lawyer." Spud thought the "my lawyer" was a nice touch to show that he was not new to legal niceties, but he had zero experience. He didn't understand that the Dean dealt with professors and students run amok daily. His next appointment was to deal with a female professor accused of sexual impropriety with a female student. That would be a new experience for him, but he thought if he stayed at this job long enough, he would see it all.

In Spud's case he knew from experience that the self-righteous defence, as exhibited by Spud, was characteristic of two types of people; the arrogantly guilty and the innocent. He had never met Spud but his comment about the secretary viewing an out-of-control professor concerned him, and he thought Spud might prove to be that rare innocent victim of circumstance. He assured Spud he would receive a fair hearing, and he should see his secretary to set up an appointment for the next day.

After Spud left, the Dean asked his secretary if she could clear two afternoon appointments so he could see Professor Davidson's secretary first and then Professor Davidson. She told him the best she could do was for him to see the secretary during his own lunch and the professor after his last appointment for the day. A witness was a concern, and so he agreed to the less than ideal schedule and told her to tell Professor Davidson's secretary to rearrange her lunch at her discretion based on his authority.

Spud showed up at the Dean's office the following morning after receiving a note, hand delivered to his dorm by the Dean's secretary, Julie. Spud, unlike his classmates, didn't have a cell phone. His full scholarship didn't include any spending money, and he was sufficiently independent that he wouldn't ask his parents for financial help. He had a job tutoring first year students who were having academic issues. He never thought of himself as a teacher, but he was better at it than he realized and there was a lineup for his tutoring skills, but he only could afford a limited amount of time from his studies.

When he entered the Dean's office the Dean rose and shook his hand and thanked him for coming. He also apologized for the rushed appointment from the previous day. The Dean asked Spud if he knew how he had done on his exams. Spud was not prone to bragging or false modesty and stated that he would have done well but since the results had not been posted he didn't know the exact marks.

"The exact marks are the problem that is bothering Professor Davidson. I will give you one opportunity now and only this one opportunity which will not be available two minutes from now. If you cheated on your exams and you tell me how I will reduce your marks to a pass and allow you to stay at the university. If you do not take advantage of this offer, then I will follow through with Professor Davidson's plan to turf you out of the school with a note on your record. Did you cheat?"

"No sir, I did not cheat."

I spoke with Professor Davidson's secretary, and she reluctantly confirmed your assertion that the Professor behaved in an unprofessional manner. Professor Davidson will arrive momentarily and he will apologize for his behaviour. There was an immediate tap on the office door and the Dean walked over and admitted Professor Davidson.

"The Dean has convinced me that my behaviour in talking with you was inappropriate and for that, I apologize. However, my behaviour does not remove the fact that you cheated on your exams." That final comment got a stern glare from the Dean directed at the professor.

The Dean said, "The problem Spud was that you obtained marks that have never been equalled in the history of Waterloo. You scored perfect on every exam you wrote. While that would be a laudable achievement it opens the door to skepticism. I would like nothing more than for it to be true."

Spud commented, "It would be easy to prove that I had cheated if I had been caught and my method exposed, but how does an innocent person prove that they didn't do something."

"That is exactly the dilemma Spud. How do we remove this shadow of a doubt? Do you have any suggestions?"

"If I could write the exams again and do well would that not prove my capability."

"It would remove doubt, but you couldn't write the same exams."

"I understand that, sir."

"How would you feel about writing just one exam?"

"I would agree to that."

"Would you be prepared to write it right now?"


"Spud, you understand studies have shown technical information is forgotten by about 50% two weeks after exams and it has been a week since you wrote your last exam."

"I am studying psychology sir, and I know those numbers. They are the average for many students. I am not average."

"I am glad you agreed to this plan and came up with it on your own because that is exactly what I was planning on demanding. I would like you to sit down here in my office and write an exam now. I will be out to a ceremony for the afternoon and my secretary will act as a proctor with the office door open. Is that agreeable to you?"

"Yes sir, but I am concerned about the origin of this exam. If Professor Davidson created it I fear it might not be at the same level as the standard exam."

"I understand your concern. He created the exam, and I have had two other professors up late last night reviewing the exam. They are not aware of the issue here. I asked them to tell me if this exam was at the same level of difficulty as the standard exam. One said he thought it was slightly easier and one thought it was equal. Is this satisfactory for you? If not, I have already arranged for an exam from another university to be couriered here but it won't arrive until tomorrow. I give you these two options."

"If a professor, other than Dr. Davidson will mark it I am agreeable."

Professor Davidson quickly said, "I object to his implication that I cannot fairly mark this exam. My integrity is not open to question."

"I expect Spud feels the same way about his integrity," the Dean said.

"Spud, you may sit at my desk. Julie will clean it off in a moment for you and the rest of us will leave you to your job. Good luck." They left and Julie entered and cleaned off the desk. She smiled, laid the test paper on the desk and said, "I believe you without the test. I think you will blow them away."

The following day Julie showed up early at the dorm to tell Spud he had a 10 AM appointment with the Dean. Spud asked if she knew the results, and she said she didn't and wouldn't be able to tell him even if she did. She asked how he thought he had done, and he said he was sure he had gotten all the questions right, but he had hated the long-winded essay type answers required. The regular exams were multiple choice and computer marked.

At 10 AM he arrived at the Dean's office to be greeted with a big smile from Julie who gave him a small gold coin which she said was her lucky charm, but she wanted him to have it for today. Spud had no experience with women, having led a busy life but suddenly his thoughts were anywhere but on the guillotine he was about to be under.

Without delay, the Dean came right to the point. He had asked professor Davidson to attend, and he had a sealed envelope from professor Williams with the results. He offered Spud the opportunity again to come clean and not be turfed from the school and Spud again declined. The envelope was opened.

"Spud, you scored 97%."

"Not perfect" shouted professor Davidson feeling his assertion of cheating was proven.

Then the Dean broke out laughing. "What you don't know Spud is that professor Williams is an old and dear friend of mine. However, he is crotchety and old-fashioned and hates multiple choice exams, and we played to his strengths with this written exam. You lost a mark for legibility of your writing, a mark for spelling, and a mark for grammar. In my opinion, it is a perfect exam. Your perfect marks on all of your exams will stand and be posted. I am not questioning anyone's integrity but it would be more comfortable for you and professor Davidson if you are assigned to another professor for any classes you have with Dr. Davidson. I am sorry Dr. Davidson but I fear you lost the best student you will ever have. Does anyone have questions? No! Congratulations Spud, you may leave now. Dr. Davidson I would like you to remain for a few moments."

As Spud left the room and closed the door Julie jumped up and said by the smile on his face she knew things had gone well. And then she took his breath away by giving him a big hug. His face could not have been any redder, and he completely forgot everything that had just happened in the office.

"We could go out for pizza tonight to celebrate and you could give me back my lucky coin then, my treat."

The best Spud could muster was an "OK."

"I will pick you up at your dorm at 6 PM if that is OK."


Spud was not usually at a loss for words but this was all a new and exciting experience for him.

Julie was in control of this situation and told him, "You should go to class now and wait outside your dorm at 6 for me to pick you up."


Spud wanted to go because of his embarrassment but wanted to stay because of his excitement, but he turned and left without another word.

Julie chuckled. Her experience consisted of many dates and one long term boyfriend, caught cheating on her, and five brothers and no sisters. She was beautiful and very comfortable around men and knew the effect her appearance had on them. But she found most men tied up in their egos. Spud was different, and she was already wandering down a romantic path in her mind. She had just kick-started their relationship because she knew that if she waited for Spud to figure things out, the romance would be a long time in coming. Spud had assumed Julie was much older than he because she was working as the Dean's secretary. What he would later find out was that she was herself a straight-A student and was taking a year off from school to work as a secretary for the Dean, her dad. She was only two years older than Spud.

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Copyright 2019 Stu Duncan

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means – electronic, mechanical, photocopying, and recording or otherwise – without the prior written permission of the author, except for brief passages quoted by a reviewer in a newspaper or magazine. To perform any of the above is an infringement of copyright law.

When Lives Collide is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

ISBN 978-1-7750889-0-5 When Lives Collide (epub)

When Lives Collide is available through Kobo

You can contact the author by sending an email to author@duncansoftware.com. Thank you for your feedback, positive and negative, both appreciated.

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