Once a respected US Navy SEAL, now shunned by friends and colleagues and wanted by the police, John Deacon has gone rogue ...
Recruited by a fanatical religious cult intent on returning the USA to the ways of God, and headed by a man known as The General, Deacon’s weapons skills and combat knowledge are put to treacherous use ...
Deacon has crossed a line ... But has he gone too far? Can he ever cross back?
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Read below the first 3 chapters of Crossing A Line
He was running for his life. But he knew he wouldn’t make it!
They’d beaten him. Hard. And used water torture. But he hadn’t admitted anything. After six hours they’d left him unconscious, half hanging off the chair. Three teeth had come out - he’d swallowed one - and his lips were bloodied and bruised. Two fingers were broken - bent outwards at unnatural angles, and two had been cut-off with shears. He’d screamed and passed out when they’d done that, but they’d kept waking him back up by dowsing him in icy cold water. They’d also sliced off an ear before partly bandaging his head to quell the bleeding. He’d passed out then as well. Then they had needed a break and left him tied while they went and had their evening meal.
Slowly at first, he’d managed to slide one bruised and twisted arm up towards the knots. His first and second fingers of his right hand were missing and crudely bandaged, but with a supreme effort, he managed to gently grip the rope between his thumb and third finger. With vomit rising in his throat from the pain, he gently began pulling on the knots until at last one began to ease free.
As the ropes holding him relaxed their grip, he fell heavily to the floor into a drying pool of his own blood and urine. The barn was dark and stank of animals, the concrete floor covered with straw, soil and animal waste. He vomited as it splashed into his face and mouth, but he slowly recovered and tried to stand. They hadn’t damaged his feet yet. One of the last things they’d said laughingly before leaving for their meal was his toes would be next when they returned, but for now, he could still walk, albeit shakily.
He moved cautiously towards the doorway. The only faint lighting was coming from the main building showing dimly from behind the shutters. Feeling a little strength coming back he hobbled towards the gates. He unlatched the first, closing it carefully behind him before moving on to the outer exit. His mind, still foggy from the beating, assumed the gate guards had also left for their meal.
Finally, he was free. The single track would be easy for them to catch him on when they found him missing, so he headed into the forest. There was no moon and although the stars were incredibly bright, very little light managed to break through the dense forest canopy. He was cold. His muscles were slowly warming and loosening, but a cold thin, misty rain had started falling. Moving as fast as he could over the wet slippery leaves he could feel sharp branches and thorns swiping at his face and snagging at his clothes. The ground was covered with pine needles, fallen dead branches, dead and decaying leaves as well as new vegetation trying hard to grow in the constant shade. Some parts were almost bare allowing him faster movement over the hard terrain, others denser, slowing him down. It was only early August, but this year the summer had been miserable, and it was as warm as it got here. Soon the icy fingers of winter would crawl south over this land freezing it solid as the days grew shorter. The faster he tried to run the more he stumbled. Twice he fell and bumped straight into trees, the second time his damaged hand hitting the trunk with a rush of pain making him dry-vomit yet again. He knew the compound was near the center of the private land and that the nearest perimeter fence was almost nine miles away, with any other property at least a mile or two further, but he estimated if he could make maybe two miles an hour he would be clear before first light.
After an hour he stopped for a five-minute breather, leaning his back onto a wide tree trunk for support. Although his body was battered and damaged, his brain was still sharp, and as his mind cleared he began to question why the gates had been unmanned? They were always guarded. Even at mealtimes, he thought. Why had it been empty now? Had someone arranged this to allow him to escape? Did he have a friend there? They’d left his feet alone. Why?
Then it came to him, and he vomited again. They were going to send out a hunting party, and he was the prey!
The fear renewed his energy, and he lunged on. Keeping to a straight line through the forest was impossible. There were no tracks or paths to follow and the trees and vegetation varied from sparse to impenetrably dense. Twice he got tangled so much he had to backtrack, wasting valuable minutes. He estimated he’d gone almost another four miles when he thought he heard the horn. He stopped; pulse racing. Could he be sure? Had he imagined it? Then he heard it again. Very faintly. The soft breeze gently bringing the sound to him through the trees. Pulse racing he ran as fast as he could, although in practice it was little more than a quick hobble through the undergrowth.
Over the next half hour, the horn sounded louder and clearer. The pursuers were gaining, but the thickness of the forest made it impossible to estimate how close they were. Pushing on, he stumbled into a clearing. He could make fast time across this area, but so could his pursuers. Looking up briefly he was amazed at the vastness of the sky. The rain had stopped, and any cloud had dispersed while he had been under the tree canopy. It seemed to him to be the biggest sky he’d ever seen, stretching infinitely into the distance. With the cloud gone and with the chilled air so clear the hundred billion stars were so bright he could almost have read a book by the light of them. Truly, he thought, some of God’s better work.
Hurrying on towards the darkened edge of the clearing, he made rapid progress, but as he passed into the arms of the thick foliage, he glanced back and saw the loom of torches where he had been just minutes before. Panicked now and with an extra surge of adrenaline he rushed on as fast as he could manage, not caring about making noise. He’d made another three hundred yards progress when a sound so demonic, so terrifying, made his skin crawl and his bowels open. Shaking with fear he saw the glint of moonlight reflecting off the dark brown eyes of the General’s two Rottweilers. They were standing facing him almost fifteen feet away, lips drawn back and uttering soft growls.
Terrified, he froze. Minutes later four men came up from behind him, two of them carrying shovels. As they approached, he couldn’t hold back the tears. It was all over. This had been a game to them. He’d never see his wife or son and daughter again. Even worse, they’d never know what happened to him or where his body lay, to visit his grave. His only solace was if his body was going to lie somewhere then amongst the trees and under the stars was as good a place as any.
The General looked at him and said, “You made better time than we thought. Another mile and you’d have been free. It was a good chase. Now tell me, who do you work for?”
He considered his options and thought about the outcome. Then, looking the General straight in the eye, he said, “Go fuck yourself!”
The General’s face filled with rage and he screamed, “Attack!” and both growling dogs leapt at the injured man. One clamped his enormous mouth tightly over the man’s groin crushing his testicles before shaking his head from side-to-side, while the other latched onto the man’s wrist chewing the bones to a pulp. As he collapsed the dog let go of his wrist, jumped over his leg and sank its teeth into the man’s left calf muscle before beginning to tear at it.
“Hold!” and the dogs stopped twisting, merely pulled and kept their jaws clamped.
Playing with his hunting horn, the General said, “We know you’re with the FBI. You’re from the Buffalo, New York office. You’re married with two rug rats. We’ve known all along. You never had a chance. One of your colleagues betrayed you. You and your sort will never stop us. We’re stronger than ever, and more are joining us every day. How does it feel to know you’ve lost?”
As he began to pass out through pain and loss of blood, he could see the other two men were trying to dig a shallow grave. The matting of pine needles and vegetation were making it hard for their shovels to penetrate the hard ground and he smiled a little. He thought he could hear the sound of cloth tearing. Suddenly the pressure on his leg relaxed as he realized the tearing noise had been his own leg muscle ripping apart.
With more strength than he knew he had, he raised his head, looked straight at his assailant and said, “Fuck you, asshole!”
With blood veins pulsing, the General screamed, “Kill!” and the two Rottweilers relaxed their grips, reared up on the hind legs and attacked again. This time one going for the soft tissues of the stomach and the other going for the throat. Neither dog would stop until they had ripped their target apart.
As the light faded from the FBI agents eyes, his last thoughts were of how they’d found out and who had betrayed him. As his view finally darkened, all he could see were the faces of his loved ones.
Lieutenant John Deacon slowed from his morning's jog around the inside perimeter of the Naval Amphibious Base Coronado. Born in 1981 and raised in Norfolk Virginia, his life had always centered around the Navy. His father had joined up aged twenty-three directly from university ending up commanding an attack submarine. His mother had been an accountant, but both were now retired. The middle of three children, his sisters were happily married with the elder having two young boys who adored their adventurous uncle. Tall and muscular he'd always been incredibly fit, playing American football at college and in the high school swimming team. Graduating Columbia University in Political Science and Mechanical Engineering, he’d also chosen the Navy specifically with the SEALs in mind. He’d finished high in each of the rankings, performing particularly well in swimming and unarmed combat. He had a wry sense of humor, was equally at ease talking with an Admiral or a dock worker, was always willing to push himself to extremes and was 100% dependable.
At a little over six foot tall and with short dark hair, he'd never considered himself particularly good looking, especially with the scar across his chin - the result of falling off a motorbike he'd been trying to repair when he was fifteen, but women didn't seem to agree. Slightly rugged and with dark brown eyes he always found it easy to have a lady on his arm when it suited. Still keen on fitness, every morning, where possible, he would rerun the initial SEAL endurance test; a five-hundred-yard swim, followed by forty-two push-ups, fifty-six press-ups, six dead-hang pull-ups, and finishing with a ten-mile run.
Hands on hips and breathing hard he stopped as he saw a Humvee approaching.
“Lieutenant. Base Commander wants to see you in fifteen. Hop in, I’ll give you a lift to your quarters,” the driver called.
Climbing in, the Humvee sped them away.
Ten minutes later, showered and changed into fresh BDU’s, Deacon was walking across the parade ground to the offices of the Base Commander, wondering what was up. He’d been back from vacation over three weeks now. The vacation had been for the marriage of a former SEAL’s widow, and Deacon had proudly walked her down the aisle and given her away. He’d then taken a ten-day break sailing from San Diego up to Los Angeles via Catalina Island, along with some friends and Rachel Sanchez - his long-time girlfriend who lived in San Francisco. Since returning, he’d been running training courses and exercise regimes for new recruits before waiting to be posted back overseas to re-join his team. He’d also fitted in a two-day trip to the Pentagon.
During his last mission, he’d been involved in the rescue of five young American female aid workers who had been kidnapped and held in Mosul, Iraq. During the rescue, he’d found one of the girls about to be raped by two of the kidnappers. He’d shot and killed both of the attackers, and they had eventually all made their escape. However, he believed the girl had been suffering from Stockholm Syndrome - a phenomenon first identified in 1973 in which hostages express empathy and sympathy and have positive feelings toward their captors, sometimes to the point of defending and identifying with the captors. After her rescue, she had accused Deacon of murdering her ‘boyfriend’ and had gained attention with the news media. Smelling blood, a gung-ho new-age anti-government news reporter, Lynda Anderson, had picked up on the story. Other news outlets and TV stations, eager for newsworthy stories, had followed suit and eventually public opinion had pushed for a hearing to determine whether Deacon had used unnecessary force and committed murder. The Navy had already decided there was no case to answer, but the hearing had gone ahead a few weeks previously, and Deacon was still waiting for it to be officially closed. Maybe it was something to do with that, or maybe Deacon was being sent overseas again, he mused.
Arriving at the Base Commanders office, he knocked and waited.
“Sir, you wanted to see me.”
“Yes, Lieutenant. Take a seat. The official word has now come back from your hearing. I think it’s bullshit, son, but the Navy is taking it to a full court-martial.”
“What the fuc–.”
The door opened behind Deacon, and a figure entered. “Lieutenant,” the Base Commander continued in a louder voice, “You are to be placed under arrest with immediate effect to await trial at a future date. I’m sorry, Lieutenant, I’ve done all I can. Attention!”
Standing to attention while trying to understand what was happening Deacon felt his hands being pulled behind his back and handcuffed together.
“Is that really necessary?” the Base Commander asked.
“Standard procedure, sir,” the Chief Master-at-Arms holding Deacon’s wrists said. “Lieutenant, let’s do this quietly,” then turning towards the Base Commander he said, “Thank you, sir,” before leading Deacon outside and marching him, aided by two other Master-at-Arms, to the main cell block.
On arrival, the Chief Master-at-Arms removed the handcuffs and placed Deacon in a cell. Waiting to meet him was Captain Charles Santori. After introducing himself, Santori said, “Lieutenant, I am from the Judge Advocate General department. I will be representing you. You are being Court Martialed under the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) charged with two counts of second-degree murder of Masoud Saadi and his accomplice, identity unknown.”
“But this is bullshit, sir. The bastards were about to rape her.”
“I’ve read the action reports from you and your men. I’ve also reviewed the hearing notes. Personally, I think the outcome of your hearing was decided prior to its end by social media and publicity. Lynda Anderson managed to rally enough support to accuse you of the wanton murder of Masoud Saadi and his colleague and this was supported by evidence from Laura Williams herself, although the other girls, including her sister Michelle Williams, have confirmed her infatuation with Masoud. But with two men dead and only your word against hers, JAG decided they need a full investigation. To make matters worse, we have a presidential election coming up, and both candidates are worried about being seen as soft on crime and punishment or even worse, covering things up. The press and news media are clamoring for a trial, and I believe that is what has swung it in favor of a court-martial.”
“So what happens next?” Deacon said.
“We go to trial in ten days. I will be representing you. My colleague, Captain Wilma Gregson, will be prosecuting counsel. The Judge overseeing this will be Vice-Admiral James Bainbridge. He is the Judge Advocate General of the Navy. Because this involves the alleged murder of civilians by a serving officer, for a crime of this severity, there will be a jury panel of up to eleven officers. The trial will be held behind closed doors - there will be no public access.
“The important thing now is to tell me everything. Don’t leave anything out. I need to get as much collaborative evidence as I can. So let’s start at the beginning ...”
For the next two days Deacon went over and over every detail he could remember. Santori had access to Deacon’s and his men’s action reports, and they went over them with a fine tooth comb. Santori also had a detailed transcript of the recent hearing with witness reports from Laura herself, plus her sister Michelle, as well as from colleagues Cheryl Thompson, Emily Baker, and Debbie Morgan. This too was repeatedly examined for any possible flaw or error.
For the remainder of the time Deacon just sat there worried at the possible outcome.
The morning of the trial started as most other Californian days start. The weather was warm and sunny with a gentle breeze blowing in off the sea.
The eleven jury officers had been flown in from various locations. Deacon didn’t know any of them. He had been introduced to Vice-Admiral James Bainbridge and also to Captain Wilma Gregson, both based in Washington, who’d also flown in the night before.
The room being used was a smaller version of a traditional courtroom you’d see on TV, with the eleven jury officers being seated on the left. The judge sat facing the court on a raised platform with a long table in front of him. Tables and chairs were arranged for Deacon and his defense counsel to be seated to the left in front of the judge, and the prosecuting counsel to be seated to the right. There were two armed guards outside the door, and the Chief Master-at-Arms was stood just inside. In the corner sat the court stenographer, a lady in her mid-fifties. The room smelled of polish with just a faint background smell of tobacco smoke.
“Gentlemen,” Vice-Admiral Bainbridge began, “This will be a closed hearing. We have a Press Office who will deal with the public. I suggest if any of you are approached directly, you merely refuse to comment and leave any interaction with them to us. Although we have two ladies present, I will be addressing the court collectively as Gentlemen.”
He then explained the court would be relying on first-hand accounts, from written statements from men still overseas, from notes from the civilian hearing and finally, there would be a video link to receive live questioning directly to the same men serving overseas. The format would be for the prosecution to state their case this morning. After lunch, the defense would state theirs. He expected the case would be concluded by mid-afternoon. Finally, he banged his gavel on the desk once before calling the court to order.
“Lieutenant John Deacon. You are charged under the Uniform Code of Military Justice with two counts of second-degree murder of Masoud Saadi and his unknown accomplice in Mosul, Iraq, on the night of June 3rd of this year. How do you plead?”
“Not guilty, sir.”
“Noted. Prosecution, your first witness.”
Captain Wilma Gregson then took to the floor.
“Lieutenant, it is alleged that on the night in question you chose to murder two Iraqi nationals in cold blood on the pretext of rescuing Laura Williams from the hands of her kidnappers. It is further alleged that you made personal threats against Miss Williams at the time and in the hours following the rescue ...”
Over the next two hours, Gregson read out loud report after report from the previous hearing, stating Laura Williams had become Masoud Saadi’s lover, with the plan for him to help them escape. Gregson claimed Laura Williams had become intimate with Masoud Saadi of her own volition, and that Deacon had rushed in and shot and murdered both men in cold blood.
After lunch, the court reconvened, and Captain Charles Santori took the floor.
“Gentlemen, sirs. This complete case is built on fantasy imagined by an impressionable eighteen-year-old girl who fantasized about romantic rides over sand dunes with her handsome Arabic lover. A fantasy fairy tale romance completely at odds with reality. The reality may have been somewhat different. In fact, the defendant saved her from being raped at that time by at least one terrorist kidnapper, possibly two. We will show how only by his and his men’s brave actions she is alive today and able to tell her tale. Lieutenant Deacon should receive a medal for what he and his men accomplished, not be on trial here today.
“Lieutenant, please take the stand and explain, in your own words, what happened that day. We’ve all read the mission notes so start from when you were dropped near Mosul.”
Deacon saluted and walked to the stand. He took the oath then started his story.
“Sirs, as you know, the mission was to rescue the five female American hostages being held in central Iraq. We had information confirming where they were being held and we were using a local, Hakim Gerbali, who thought he was working for both the Jordanian Intelligence Service and the USA, in fact, he was working for Mossad and for us. Anyway, we parachuted in a few miles upriver and swam towards Mosul. Hakim met us on the riverbank and led us through the sleeping town to what we hoped was the correct building. When we arrived, we disabled the gate guard, and Chief Martock and I made our way downstairs under the main building to where we thought the girls were being held. I left Hakim up near the gate and Petty Officer Hancock upstairs where we’d come in on guard as there were unfriendlies in the vicinity. We made our way downstairs to the basement where we found a locked door with an empty chair outside. We forced the door and found four of the five girls sleeping. Laura’s sister, Michelle, confirmed Laura was missing. I sent the four girls upstairs with Martock while I checked the rest of the basement. Moving along the corridor, I heard murmuring and came to another closed door with light shining from underneath. As I pushed open the door, I could see who I assumed to be Laura laying on her back on a filthy mattress with her skirt pulled up to her waistline, and her blouse ripped open. There was one male kneeling by her head with one hand holding her wrists together above her head and his other hand rubbing her naked breasts. The other male in the room was kneeling between her thighs with his shorts down. He was massaging his erection, and it was obvious he was about to penetrate her. She was struggling, and the sound I’d heard was her crying and saying ‘no’ through a rag stuffed in her mouth. She certainly didn’t look like she was enjoying it. I shot the one holding her hands in the head then kicked the other one off her before shooting him twice in the chest. I identified myself then helped pull her clothes together and picked her up to carry her upstairs. She began to panic and started saying he was her boyfriend and she loved him and that I was a murderer.”
“What happened next, Lieutenant?”
“I tried to quieten her down. There were unfriendlies in the building upstairs and we were right in the center of town in the middle of the night, surrounded by ISIS. She started struggling and began to cry. Then I heard her inhale ready to scream. My only option was to put her in a sleep hold, which I did, and we made our exit. We all managed to get out of the building safely but unfortunately, within minutes ISIS had detected our escape and we had to fight our way out. However, we suffered no injuries to ourselves or to the rescued hostages.”
“Did you threaten her or any of the girls again?”
“At one stage about thirty minutes later, we were waiting by the riverbank about to escape by boat when Laura started crying louder and louder. I grabbed her and threatened to leave her there or something if she didn’t keep quiet I think.”
“Any other time, Lieutenant?”
“Not that I can remember, sir.”
“What about your men. Did any of them threaten any of the girls?”
“Yes, sir. We had made our first part of the escape and had commandeered a fast launch. Some of us were wearing Arabic clothing in disguise, and it was working well. As we were passing under one of the major road bridges under the eyes of ISIS looking down towards us, Laura suddenly leapt to her feet and started screaming. They immediately began to fire on us, and we had to take evasive action to avoid being hit. Chief Martock slapped her hard across the face and demanded she stay quiet. After that, she remained quiet for the remainder of the journey.”
“So, Lieutenant, would you say she put you and your team along with her colleagues in danger?”
“Sir, she’s a young girl having suffered a traumatic event of being kidnapped and almost raped. Her crying out didn’t help the situation, but we were surrounded by the enemy, under intense pressure and fleeing for our lives. Therefore I don’t believe her actions made the situation particularly worse.”
At that stage, Captain Santori connected the video screen, and the image of CPO Martock came onto the screen. Under questioning, Martock confirmed much of what Deacon had said.
After completing the questioning, Captain Santori sat down.
Captain Gregson took to the floor and addressed the screen.
“Chief Martock. Just one question. You didn’t actually see the two men Lieutenant Deacon killed holding down Laura Williams or about to allegedly rape her, so all you had to go on was the word of the Lieutenant. Is that correct?”
“Yes sir, but I had n–”
“Yes or no, Chief Martock.”
“Well yes, bu–”
“No buts, Chief. Let the record show Chief Martock answered he only had the accused’s words to go on.”
“Thank you, Chief. No more questions of you,” Captain Gregson said switching off the screen. “Gentlemen, Sirs. We only have the word of Lieutenant Deacon as to what happened down in the basement. You have all read Laura Williams signed statement that she and Masoud Saadi had become lovers and that he was helping them to plan an escape. In her statement, she clearly says Lieutenant Deacon shot and murdered both men in cold blood. She claims they both had their hands up surrendering but that Lieutenant Deacon took no notice and executed them anyway. She also states she was constantly threatened by Deacon during the remainder of the rescue and was so frightened she was unable to mention this to anyone until after she had been returned safely to America.”
“Objection. You mean until she had met an ambulance chasing lawyer who thought she can get money for this fantasy story,” Captain Santori said loudly.
“Gentlemen. GENTLEMEN. I will not allow shouting out in this hearing. The objection is overruled, and the jury will ignore it. We will break for fifteen minutes then I will hear closing arguments,” Vice-Admiral Bainbridge said.
In the closing arguments, Captain Gregson highlighted the reckless manner of their escape from Mosul, how Admiral Carter had said their escape plan was ‘crazy’, that Lieutenant Deacon had become a ‘loose cannon’ who took matters into his own hands including choosing to murder two innocent Iraqi’s doing their best to free the hostages and who had surrendered.
Captain Santori then stood and addressed the audience. He stated how Laura was distressed and shocked and her word cannot be relied upon. She was a young girl first time away from home and kidnapped and terrified at the possible outcome. She had become infatuated by her kidnapper, and it was only by the fearless actions and rescue by Lieutenant Deacon and his men that she is alive today and free to tell her story.
Thanking both counsels, Vice-Admiral Bainbridge took to the floor and said, “This case is quite simple. Did Lieutenant Deacon use excessive force and murder two innocent Iraqi’s who were trying to help free the hostages and who had surrendered, as Laura Williams states, or were the men killed legitimately as part of normal enemy action? This is for you, the jury, to decide. This case has generated lots of publicity. It has been reported in the national newspapers above the fold for 1 day, below it for 1, before moving on to pages 5 and 6. It has also been discussed by all the major international news stations including CNN, Fox, the BBC, and Al Jazeera. Many eyes abroad have taken an interest in whether members of the United States Military are seen to be above the law. That is not for you to decide. Your decision must be based on the evidence presented here today whether Lieutenant John Deacon is guilty of murder or not.”
Deacon was escorted out under guard to a waiting room while the Judge and jury deliberated. Sat there, Captain Santori put a hand on Deacon’s shoulder and said, “They don’t have a case. It’s all supposition. Her word against yours. Don’t worry, it’ll be thrown out.”
“What did the judge mean ‘above the fold?’” Deacon asked.
“He was referring to important stories being printed on the top half of a broadsheet page so to be seen while folded. Less important stories on the front page are lower down or on inside pages. Just referring to the amount of Press interest, that’s all.”
Thirty minutes later they were called back in.
Captain Santori, Captain Gregson and Lieutenant Deacon stood rigidly to attention.
Vice-Admiral Bainbridge took to the floor again and said, “Members of the Jury. Have you come to a verdict on which you all agree?”
“Yes sir, we have,” the jury foreman said.
“Please state your verdict.”
“Guilty on both counts of second-degree murder!”