Sampler: Toxic Minds by Gordon Bickerstaff

Includes extremists, family conflicts, university politics, lovers, fracking, and somehow magically makes them into a unified book.

The damage is done…

Alexa Sommer had it all – then came meltdown, and divorce as she is forced out of her job.

Desperately, she tries to reconnect with her family and rebuild her life in a new job.

But her work is controversial, and her enemies plan to stop her by any means.

Alexa’s new colleagues have a compelling reason to want her sacked.

Gavin Shawlens is a colleague, and he is all Alexa has on her side as a perfect storm of dreadful nightmares bears down on her.

Gordon Bickerstaff

Sampler: Toxic Minds

Khalid turned to face her, then raised an angry voice. ‘Woman, why are you here?’

Terrified, she pleaded quietly to his feet. ‘Please forgive me, my husband.’

‘Have you done this simple thing for me?’

Her voice trembled. ‘Forgive me … my husband. I tried to do your bidding.’

Disappointment rang from his voice. ‘Why have you returned from Glasgow?’

Her voice quivered. ‘The child’s brother is searching for me. I feared he would find me. I feared—’

Khalid interrupted. ‘Did you complete the task I set?’

Nadira sucked in a deep breath. ‘The mother rushed her to hospital. I didn’t—’

His voice shook the room. ‘Answer me—is the task complete?’

She shook her head. ‘The child is still alive.’

He finger-pointed. ‘I told you not to return until you completed your work. You have disobeyed me. You have dishonoured me, and I must punish you. Fetch my rule.’

She rose, hurried over to a drawer, and fetched his rule of thumb. She handed it to him, then dropped down on her hands and knees in front of him, like a dog. She pulled her top forward to expose her naked back.

For her disobedience, he struck her five times across her back with his rule of thumb. A hard cane, no longer than his forearm, and no thicker than his thumb as specified by law.

She didn’t scream or cry. She knew from previous beatings that the stinging pain would ease. She rose, lowered her eyes to the floor, and withdrew her body into a submissive posture. A trickle of blood ran down her back. She whispered, ‘May I spend a little time with the children?’

He paced back and forward in front of her, and swiped the air with his rule. ‘No. You will go to my aunt, and thank her for bringing up my children in your absence. You will tell her you failed to complete your work in Glasgow. You will apologise most profusely for imposing on more of her time. Then you will return to Glasgow and finish your work.’

‘When shall I leave?’

He wrote a name and address on a piece of paper. ‘Obviously, I was wrong to think an imbecile woman like you could do this work alone.’ He handed her the note. ‘Go to this address. This woman will show you how to finish your work.’

She bowed as if he was royalty. ‘Thank you, my husband. I will go to this woman, then I will return to Glasgow, and finish my work with the girl.’

He pointed the rule at her face. ‘Do this, and you may earn my forgiveness. Do this, and you will once again be the mother of my children.’ He pushed the rule into her neck, and raised her head to engage her eyes. ‘Fail me, and you will face final punishment. Fail me, and I will take a more obedient wife. Understand?’

‘Of course, my husband.’

He slapped the side of her head with the rule. ‘Get out of my sight.’

Nadira scurried out of the room, relieved her punishment hadn’t been as severe as last time.

Khalid sauntered to the other side of the room. He opened a storage box containing eighteen hundred letters. They were addressed to people on a hit list of vulnerable, isolated, and elderly people. Chain letters that threatened a year of evil bad luck if the recipient didn’t send money in a return envelope, and pass the chain letter plus a second envelope to an elderly friend.

Khalid flicked his fingers over the letters. ‘Man, why are these still here? They should be on the streets making money.’

Zeeshan withdrew into a stoop. ‘Sorry, bruv, they’re ready to go. I haven’t had a minute.’

Khalid struck the box with his rule. ‘Man, they are worthless sitting here. Get them posted today. I need the money.’

The average return rate from a mailshot hovered around eighteen percent, and the average payment received was a twenty-pound note. Their original list had two hundred people, and when it reached three thousand, they would sell their list of suckers to other scammers.

For his own safety, Zeeshan needed to change the subject away from him. ‘I don’t know why you put up with her, bruv. Get rid of Nadira.’

Khalid frowned. ‘Man, I’m totally fed up with her disobedience. It’s as if she wants me to beat her. I’m sick of her.’

‘Let me find you another wife. A younger one and this time I’ll train her. I’ll beat every disobedient thought from her body.’

Khalid nodded gently. ‘Okay, man, I give you permission to make enquiries.’

‘I’ll collect some photos for you to inspect.’

‘I’ll make a choice when I see what you have to offer. I don’t want ugly children; you must find one with pleasing looks.’

‘Of course, bruv. Good looking and totally obedient. Leave it with me.’

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