Disclaimer: The following is a work of fan fiction based on the television series "The Magnificent Seven" and is not intended to infringe upon copyrights held by any companies involved with that production. Please do not post this to any website without permission of the author. Feedback is welcome.
Author's Note: Credit and thanks to Mog for creating this alternate universe and her hospitality in letting me visit there. And speaking of visits, I'm adding apologies for shamelessly showing off knowledge I acquired from my vacation to Denver! (But I can recommend a great karaoke bar...). Thanks also to Nancy the mgnfcnt for her patience, support and great design sense.
|In regione, caecorum rex est lucus
(In the country of the blind, the one-eyed man is king)
|[He] has about as much chance as a one-armed blind man
in a dark room trying to shove a pound of butter into a cat's left ear.
It really was quite frustrating, but JD Dunne certainly couldn't speak to that. In fact, he couldn't speak to anything because he couldn't speak at all.
He sat at his desk, swirling a piece of ice around in his mouth, cautiously testing the swollen skin underneath his black turtleneck. Still puffy and tender. Still tattooed with a necklace of purple bruises, he knew, without having to check in the mirror like he had done about a hundred times that morning. The damage was so severe he could still trace the raised tread of the boot imprint with the index finger of his left hand.
"Cut that out," Buck's voice intoned sharply from across their tandem desks.
JD removed his hand and flashed a one-fingered reply.
"Don't think that a dog collar ain't a possibility," his partner shot back. "You're lucky ya didn't walk out of the hospital with one of them foam neck things."
The young government agent nodded resolutely, then winced at the discomfort the action brought. Turning his chair for privacy, he shielded his face with his good left hand and concentrated on swallowing. Swallowing and not screaming. Sweat broke out on his forehead. He wiped it away using the sling that cradled his right arm and thought for the hundred and first time that day that boy, this sucked.
Oh, they got the bad guys. That saving grace had resounded through his aching body as JD lay on the hospital gurney and listened to the doctor's diagnosis two weeks earlier.
Esophageal bruising. Which occurred when a very annoyed illegal arms dealer grabbed him by the throat and shook him about like a rag doll during the riot that exploded when the members of several ATF teams announced their presence in a late night raid.
Laryngeal distention and pharyngeal swelling. Brought about by the well-placed boot of the very annoyed and relatively large illegal arms dealer who dropped JD onto the hard wood floor and stepped on him as he tried to make his escape.
Prescription? No abrupt movements. No talking for three weeks. Then, maybe, maybe, whispering for another week or two as the injury healed. And Jello. Lots of Jello.
No talking? Jeez! How was he to joke around with Buck, or ask questions of Chris, or just communicate the simplest of needs? More importantly, how was he supposed to do his job?
'Cause it really didn't help that his right hand his gun hand had been crushed in the overflow of panicked patrons fleeing from the rave where they'd made the bust.
His phone rang and JD's plaster-encased arm shot out unconsciously, knocking against the receiver. Frustrated, he banged his desk twice with his foot, and gestured for Buck to pick up his line.
"ATF, Special Agent Wilmington speaking," his partner voiced smoothly, ignoring the self-pitying "L" JD placed on his forehead with his good hand to indicate how he felt like such a loser. "Yes, Special Agent Dunne is in the office, but he can't talk to you just now. He's, uh, in a meeting...." He whirled the phone cord around in an invisible game of jump rope. "Tiffany, isn't it? Well, hello again to you, honey ... yes, I know I said he was in a meeting the last time ya called ... And the time before that? Oh, I'm sure I must have said something differently that time...."
Shit! It was at moments like these JD wished he and Buck had Chris and Vin's "psychic" communication. Furiously, he snapped his fingers at his best friend and made cutting gestures in front of his throat.
"No, he's not avoiding ya, darlin' ... yes, I know it seems like a very long meeting ... Ouch!" Buck pulled the phone away from his ear as if it were burning him, then gingerly placed it back into its cradle. "So, I hope you didn't have your sights set on a long term thing with her."
JD glared at him, then turned to his laptop, maneuvering the mouse awkwardly with his left hand.
Point to New Message. Click.
Point to Address Book. Pull down to firstname.lastname@example.org. Click.
Slowly type four letters. Spacebar. Type three more letters. Spacebar. Type emotikon of angry person sticking tongue out.
Point. Click. Send.
Buck just glared back when the New Message indicator chimed on his computer. "That's what you get for cheating on Casey."
Point. Click. Send.
Sighing dramatically, Buck picked up a pad and pen and stood. "I'm gonna take the lunch orders."
Just about all the injured agent could do in the office was leave to get their lunch, leave to do the Xeroxing, or leave to pick up faxes and mail. It was duty extra-light. But it allowed the gung-ho G-man to feel that he was still participating in the business of keeping the law, at the very least by helping with the daily work load.
Surveying the room, JD noticed Josiah and Vin share a sympathetic glance between themselves. Even Ezra, their ever-garrulous orator, had taken to expressing himself silently, as had the others. Out of compassion, he supposed. Well, all of the others except for Buck, who was back at his side, holding out his pad like a waitress waiting to take an order. "So, honey, d'ya want your burger pureed with ketchup or mustard?"
Grabbing the pen, JD awkwardly wrote a four-letter word on the paper Buck held out.
The older man laughed, then scratched out the word. "Yeah, I know you take mayo on it, but can't ya also take a joke?"
JD banged his good hand on the desk and pretended to be overcome with amusement, wiping imaginary tears of joy off his face. Then he abruptly stopped and rolled his eyes in disdain.
Handing the list to his partner, who pocketed it in his jeans, Buck added defensively, "All right, all right. But everybody in their right minds knows you put ketchup on a burger."
Point. Click. Send.
Buck waited patiently as JD stood up from his desk and clumsily attempted to slip a shoulder holster onto his right side in order to anchor it under his sling.
Chris Larabee watched from the doorway of his office. "What'd'ya think you're doing?"
Nonplused, the agent patted the weapon and gestured to the fact that he was still capable of shooting with his left hand.
"That boy cain't not be a lawman," Buck stated proudly.
"Uh uh," their team leader shook his head. "No way. You're still on medication and you haven't been cleared for firearms. Take it off."
Furiously, JD strode over to Ezra and struck him on the arm, springing the mechanism of his concealed Derringer. Then he knelt next to Vin and pulled up the cuff of his jeans, revealing a small Colt Defender stuck into his boot.
"Watch it there, pard," the Texan eyed him. "I usually get flowers and a dinner first."
Ignoring the tease, the young agent marched across the room, grabbing Josiah's hand to remind Chris of the brass knuckles he carried, slapped Nathan's back and mimed throwing a knife, then came towards his supervisor, who crossed his arms sternly and leaned against the doorjamb.
"You don't want to go there, son." He placed a gentle hand on JD's downcast head and ruffled his hair. "Besides, you're only going out for sandwiches." Chris carefully assisted his youngest agent in removing the rig, then clasped his shoulder, giving it a squeeze in reassurance.
Dragging his feet back to his desk, the defeated man allowed his best friend to tenderly help him into his jacket. "Ya'okay?"
JD gave Buck the "thumbs up" sign but his face reflected disappointment.
"Okay. Here's the list. You get yourself something healthy, like one of those fruit smoothies." Buck straightened out his collar and nodded his concern.
Frowning for a moment, JD pointed to a collection of Key West souvenirs that ran along the gutter between their desks.
"Pina coladas are not one of the four food groups." The tall agent took him gently by the shoulders and steered him towards the door. "Ya can't mix alcohol with your medicine; you'll be barfing up pink all night."
His roommate turned around and, tucking his left hand under his armpit, made a flapping motion.
"There's nothing wrong with a Mother Hen worrying 'bout a chick with a clipped wing," Buck chirped back.
JD held his hand in front of him, palm up, fingers curled in, and pumped it up and down.
"Oh, I wouldn't count on control of the remote tonight after a comment like that, young man," came the sputtered reply.
Hedging his bets, JD made a slashing gesture, then pinched his partner's arm.
The older man leaned in to respond. "Who'll make me?"
"My God, the Three Stooges meet Marcel Marceau," Josiah exclaimed.
JD peered around his towering friend to see the confusion on the faces of their fellow teammates, then looked back at Buck with a grin. At first, they tried using a system of whistles to communicate, but he'd tired quickly of being referred to as "J2- D2", so they had worked out a set of hand signals instead.
He patted the air in reassurance to all, then pinched Buck once more before leaving.
"What'd he say?" Vin asked.
"Well," Buck replied wearily, returning to his desk, "To summarize it politely, I may be getting liverwurst instead of roast beef for lunch."
JD walked briskly out of the Federal Building while waving a greeting to the Stout Street-side guard, and turned east on 20th towards the small strip mall that housed a popular delicatessen in the area. The crisp Fall day couldn't help but lighten his spirits; it was his favorite time of year, especially since it reminded the Bostonian of his hometown. Pivoting around, he squinted in the sunlight to look up at the tall white structure that housed Denver's government offices.
He wondered if he'd ever lose the small thrill that surged through his chest whenever he thought about his job and his friends could anyone imagine a better deal? Growing up poor, growing up short, he had despaired at how he could realize his dreams of following in the bootsteps of his childhood heroes. Superman, John Wayne and Bat Masterson, among a multitude of others, were imposing choices with big shoes to fill. They had made a difference, and now he felt he was, too. It's what he came West for. He tipped an imaginary cowboy hat at the building and returned to his task.
"Excuse me, young man, can you tell us how to get to the U.S. Mint?" Three purple-haired senior tourists ambushed him, their maps flapping at him like confused birds.
JD's face blanched whiter than the clouds. He knew exactly how to get to the Mint, he just didn't know how he could explain it to these nice women without opening his mouth.
When first injured, he was surprised to discover how few gestures were actually available to the one-handed. He could hitchhike, he could offer a yea or nay on movies, do a one-handed Nixon impression, tell Spock to "Live Long and Prosper" or indicate okay-ness.
He could point, but regardless of its politeness or not, not saying anything would still seem rude. He could show them his injury, but since he himself was still grossed out by it, he could just imagine the reaction they'd exhibit, which he pictured would be something akin to the villagers storming to burn Frankenstein's castle. How, exactly, would John Wayne have handled this?
Touching his throat lightly, he shook his head, then put his index finger to his lips, indicating quiet. He motioned for them to follow him to the end of the block, which would bring them to Broadway, and an almost direct path to their destination. Then he took one of their maps and, orienting it in the correct direction, pointed to the purple square designating the Mint on Colfax and waved his right arm westward, trying to indicate with his left hand it was three blocks from Broadway in that direction. God forbid they turned left and entered LoDo's substantial section of porn shops and dance bars.
One of the women nodded in understanding and placed her thumb firmly on the map. "Thank you, dear. We'll be able to find it now."
He smiled and waved a farewell as he turned away, overhearing a snatch of their final conversation.
"Damn it, Elaine, can't you make any vacation choice that doesn't have mimes wandering the streets?"
He almost wished he'd sent them east on Colfax.
Two blocks later, he walked into the Chuckwagon sandwich shop and got in line to order. The deli counter was predictably crowded at that time of day, and the young man contented himself with checking out the specials chalked onto a blackboard set over the cash register.
Staring at the menu, JD reflected that the thrill of three or more generous helpings of ice cream a day had long passed. Now he'd kill for even the simplest fare a BLT on toast, or maybe a chicken sal sand. Even a hamburger and fries would seem the greatest delicacy after two weeks of creamed soups, pudding and yogurt. And yogurt with no fruit in it at that! It was pure torture to him.
When it came his turn, he handed the counter attendant his lunch order list and waited as the man began sorting out the necessary breads and meats while launching into their now-daily conversation. "How're you doing today, JD?"
The young man raised his left thumb in a gesture that read "fine".
"You see the Broncos game last night?"
The thumb turned downwards, bringing a laugh to the counter personnel.
"Sure you don't wanna a tongue sandwich today?"
JD smiled back weakly. The man had asked him the same question five days in a row.
He stood back from the line and waited patiently, salivating at the taunting panorama of salad platters and griddle items, then turned when a petite redhead accidentally upended her purse, scattering its contents across the small shop. She cursed softly and bent to get the closest items, but it was obvious she'd have to leave her place in line to gather the rest. The boorish, bearded thug behind her laughed as she stepped away and he moved forward to take her place.
JD knelt to help her, checking down the aisles for any rolling objects. He found several lipstick cases, a roll of peppermint Mentos and most importantly, her monthly bus pass, which he returned to her anxious hands.
"Well, thank goodness chivalry isn't entirely dead," the redhead said. She touched the fingers of one hand to her chin, then drew them forward and away. "And thank you." Her voice had a strange, flat intonation, with an accent that mangled her R's and Th's.
He shrugged his shoulders in a "no problem" sort of gesture.
She sorted through the items, then held out the cylinder of mints. "This is pretty much all I can offer as a reward."
He waved it off and sighed. And wondered what terrible mistake he must have made in a past life because God was surely punishing him now. He touched his chest and made an "Okay" sign with his left hand.
Suddenly her hands fluttered in front of her as she spoke. "Are you deaf, too? Can you lip-read?"
JD's jaw dropped in surprise and he fought to keep from blushing in embarrassment. She signed again, as well as repeating her questions aloud, and waited for an answer. After a moment, the look on her face made him feel that she was replacing her perception that he was deaf with the perception that he was an idiot. Obviously, an explanation was in order. Fishing in his coat pocket, he pulled out an index card and handed it to her.
MY NAME IS JD DUNNE
I HAVE A THROAT INJURY
AND TEMPORARILY CANNOT SPEAK
When Buck insisted he carry the card in case of emergencies JD had cringed, but now he was grateful.
She handed it back to him with a smile. "Well, I can lip-read, so you can speak to me now."
<Like this?> he mouthed experimentally.
"Just like that." She opened one of the lipstick cases and applied a layer of light rose gloss.
<Wow. Finally. But how come you can talk > He closed his mouth quickly, realizing how rude the comment was, but she seemed nonplused, shrugging as she put the case back into her purse.
"I only starting going deaf when I was four, so I already knew how to speak. Then I learned to sign and lip-read."
<So you're multi-lingual.> he teased. He pointed to the sandwich line and gestured for her to precede him back to the counter. The line had dissipated, so she was able to give her order right away to one of the counter personnel.
She turned back to him. "My name's Cynthia."
Her pronunciation was so mangled that JD wasn't sure he'd gotten it and mouthed it back to her for confirmation.
"Yup. Just about the worst name for a deaf person, huh?" She pointed at his neck. "How did you hurt your throat?"
<On the job.> She eyed him curiously and he tried to explain. <I was stepped on.>
"So that makes you, what, a bull rider?" Her smile was infectious.
He glanced at the deli's other patrons, then realized that they'd have no clue what he was saying. <Close enough. I'm in law enforcement.> he mouthed proudly.
He felt an enjoyable tingle buzz through his chest as he watched her watching his lips. His gaze lowered to stare at her lips as well. They were full and round and dripping with shine. It occurred to him there were other ways to communicate with lips.
She swiveled around again to check on her order and, finding it ready, thanked the attendant, then stepped into the line for the cashier. "I am too, in a way. I just started working at the courthouse on 18th as a interpreter."
<I work on Stout. We're practically neighbors.>
"Well, howdy neighbor."
Suddenly he was distracted by a banging of the glass front door and a commotion at the register in front of them. Cynthia turned around at the alarm in JD's eyes.
"Give me the money!"
A skinhead punk was leaning over the counter, grabbing at the cashier's shirt with his left hand. "Open the damn machine and give me the money!" His right hand was thrust into a coat pocket with a suspicious heaviness to its contents.
JD didn't have to think twice about what was going on, but a sickening flush of heat surged through him. What was he supposed to do about it? No gun. No voice. It was almost a good thing that he couldn't yell out "ATF! Freeze!" because what was he supposed to back it up with? A pickle spear?
What would Chris do in this situation? Or Vin or Ezra?
Nothing. They would do nothing because they wouldn't get themselves into a situation like this. Damn it. He could've used Buck's height or Josiah's intimidating bulk, though what he was afraid he would need shortly and more importantly would be Nathan's medical training.
"Get your hand off the alarm! Just give me the money!"
JD felt Cynthia's arm brush his, and he turned towards her, wincing at the panic on her face.
Okay. Thinking about his absent partners wasn't helping. So what could JD Dunne, former policeman, current ATF Team Seven member and card-carrying Jedi Knight do in this situation? After all, he was supposed to be the smart one. Find a weapon? Sit it out and hope that the thief got what he wanted and left? Rush in with a "both guns blazing" attitude and somehow capture the villain because that's what the good guys always did?
Digging into his left coat pocket, he fumbled for his cell phone and hit three buttons in rapid succession. Tone. Autodial. 2.
Back-up. Unlike Chris or Vin or Ezra, JD knew he had to try to get some back-up. After all, there was a reason why he was considered the smart one.
He turned back to Cynthia and mouthed <Don't worry. It'll be okay.> then looked around to assess the circumstances and formulate a plan.
The deli's other workers cowered behind the counter. Surreptitiously peering down the nearby aisles, he saw a young couple huddled on the floor in a tight shaking embrace, but the rest of the store seemed to be empty. He motioned for them to stay there.
"Give me the money, ass-wipe, or you're going to end up with more holes than the Swiss Cheese!"
"I'm trying! I'm trying!"
JD took a step in front of Cynthia in order to protect her from any misguided attention and watched as the cashier's trembling hands tried to press the right combination of buttons in order to open the register but kept missing the mark. The thief was becoming impatient and the young agent knew it could be only moments before he took out his gun and started shooting.
So it really didn't help matters when he heard a siren scream close by and come to a stop in front of the building.
Cautiously turning his attention to the newest player in the drama, JD knew it couldn't be his friends. If Buck had received his signal and realized what was going on, their approach would have been slicker than a Stealth fighter and twice as quiet.
"Police! You're surrounded! Come outta there!"
Great. Could it get any worse?
JD nearly fell to the floor as he was shoved aside by the thief, who grabbed the small redhead and shielded himself behind her body.
Yup. It could.
"I've got hostages here!" ... "Let them go and come out!" ... "I got a chick here and I'm getting in my car and you can't stop me!" ... "There's no escape!" ... "Then I'll just stay here and have something to eat. I got plenty of time. Hey, I got a whole lunch hour!"
Barely paying attention to the insipid banter between the cops and the criminal, JD desperately sought a solution. He could hear the couple sobbing behind him, and the sizzle of burning food on the griddle. Cynthia gasped as the thief's grip tightened on her throat, and she locked her frightened eyes onto JD's.
The skinhead backed up, mistakenly feeling in control of the situation, and dragged the woman behind the counter, kicking at the attendants to move away. They didn't have to be told twice and rushed to a far corner. Removing his hand from his pocket, the thief pawed through the deli meats and popped some slices of roast beef in his mouth, smiling as he chewed. "What'd you want, honey?" he smirked, dribbling food. "Lunch is on me."
He had no idea Cynthia couldn't hear him.
Once again, the police shouted out their demands for surrender and once again the skinhead responded in the negative. "We're taking lunch orders here!" he barked back. "I'll throw some doughnuts out to ya if ya shut up!"
Though it hadn't been seen yet, JD still couldn't assume there wasn't a gun in the would-be thief's pocket. And even if there wasn't, there were plenty of knives behind the counter for him to utilize. There were heavy bottles of ketchup and mayonnaise and ... Scanning the area one final time, JD decided on a plan of action, praying that he wasn't going to cause more harm than good.
Offering a reassuring glance at the deaf woman, he mouthed <Tell him you want a burger.>
Cynthia blinked her eyes in confusion and JD repeated the command, taking a cautious step forward.
"How about a burger?" she squeaked.
Pushing her in front of him, the thief swept aside the burnt meat and tossed two fresh patties on the grill. "Burger sounds good," he chuckled. "But they'll have to be rare!"
Glancing again through the large windows of the sandwich shop, JD watched as a white Chevy truck pulled up to the curb and several of his teammates jumped out. He almost smiled at the heated argument that ensued between the government men and the local law enforcement. Beside a furiously gesturing Buck, he saw Vin settle into a rigid stance against the truck, bracing his Remington 700 for a kill shot. Chris, as usual, stood quietly, assessing the situation with a sober eye.
Chris' discerning stare caught JD's and the young man almost jumped at the electric bolt that went through him. It was as if his mind was being read, and he watched as the black-clad man held out an arm to indicate a "stand-down" order. Vin raised his rifle but kept his position. Buck's gaze followed their team leader's and JD could almost feel his best friend's frustration, despite the distance. But the tall agent contented himself with stroking the ends of his moustache.
Returning his focus to the task at hand, JD mouthed his strategy to Cynthia, whose eyes widened in fear. Scrutinizing the robber-cum- chef to make sure they hadn't been noticed communicating, he shrugged casually. <Have you got a better idea?>
A smile almost formed at the corners of her lips, but her eyes narrowed in rebuke.
<I know you can do it.> Stealthily, he moved closer to the open-ended side of the counter. If this was going to happen, it was going to happen in a split second and there was still a bit of distance JD needed to close in order to succeed in his plan.
Cynthia reached out with a trembling hand and pointed at the containers of salad fixings at the opposite side of the work area. "How about lettuce and tomato?" she asked shakily. "And mayonnaise. I like mayonnaise on my burgers."
The skinhead released his grip on the woman and regarded her incredulously. "I'm not Burger King, lady. I don't take no special orders."
JD's heart sank in fear of everything going wrong in an instant.
"Besides," the punk shoved her aside and walked towards the condiments. "Everyone knows you put ketchup on a burger."
It was more than JD could have hoped for.
Racing around the side of the counter, he grabbed the heated fry basket beside the grill. As the thief turned at the unexpected action, JD struck him hard with the sizzling appliance. Drops of frying oil scalded the man and he twisted in agony.
JD gasped and dropped the basket as the hot metal seared the fingers of his good hand. Avoiding the spilt grease, he deftly kicked the skinhead behind his knees, forcing him to the ground.
"You want fries with that?" Cynthia yelled, and added several kicks of her own.
At once, the shop's door burst open and a tangle of lawmen ran in, guns drawn. A half-hearted "Freeze!" escaped the lips of the frenzied policemen before they realized the situation was well in hand.
Two of the officers strode to the criminal's side and quickly cuffed him. The last patted him down and removed a .38 revolver from his jacket pocket.
Three ATF agents perched in the doorway and traded smiles with their very relieved teammate as he humbly blew upon the scorched fingers of his left hand.
"Didn't I tell ya," Buck crowed proudly, "even without a gun, he cain't not be a lawman."
JD turned to the young woman at his side and mouthed a few words to her. She shook her head and touched her fingers to her chin. Then she reached out and tenderly placed her hand on top of one of his shoulders, then the other.
"What's she doing?" Vin asked.
"Looks like she's knighting him," offered a bemused Chris.
JD smiled shyly and bowed as he mouthed back his reply to her.
Vin tilted his chin up in confusion. "I don't get a thing they're saying."
Then the redhead pulled JD forward by his jacket lapels and planted a long deep kiss on his lips that nearly bent the man backwards with its intensity.
Buck set his arms around the shoulders of his companions. "Aw, c'mon, boys. That's a language anyone can understand!"
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