Death of a Ranger

By the time a minor dope dealer discovered the man kicking in his door was a Texas Ranger, it was too late for them both.

When Texas Ranger Bobby Paul Doherty looked out of his kitchen window and saw patches of snow, he thought about the firewood he hadn’t cut on Sunday. He had promised his wife, Carolyn, that he and Buster would do it right after church, but there had been a meeting of deacons, then the telephone call from the Denton sheriff’s office saying the drug raid was set for that afternoon. Sunday had been a day of prolonged frustration. The drug raid hadn’t gone down after all. He didn’t know why. That’s the way it was with dope dealers. You could work for days or weeks setting it up, then the whole show could fold at the whim of a dealer or the duplicity of an informant.

There was only one thing in this world that Ranger Bob Doherty hated worse than dope and that was dope dealers. He was a fanatic on the subject. “They call us Mr. and Mrs. Redneck,” Carolyn had joked to friends. Carolyn certainly did not approve of drugs but she was not vehement about the long hair and beards and weird lifestyles that her husband automatically associated with major crime. “In his line of work,” she said, “he had to think that way.” Even out in Azle where they made their home, well away from the degenerate streets of Fort Worth where a school kid could score a lid of grass as easily as he could buy a soda pop, drugs occupied an alarming share of school-yard conversations.

All that talk about victimless crimes made Bob Doherty sick. Someone always got hurt, someone other than the person using the drugs. “You ask them if they think drugs are a victimless crime!” he had told his seventeen-year-old daughter, Kelly, on the morning that she was to attend a high school assembly conducted by three former addicts. The Ranger had told his sixteen-year-old son, Buster, about the time, only a few months before, when he had kicked in the door of a gambling den, crashed through a hole in the floor, and landed dead center on a homemade bomb placed there to destroy evidence in the event of just such a raid. If the bomb had exploded, the entire Doherty family would have been its victims. Only a lawman knew what it was like below the surface of the drug culture. It was like his old friend Dwight Crawford, captain of criminal investigation for the Denton County Sheriff’s Department, had said so often: “Bob, it’s a sewer down there. Dark tunnels leading off in ever’ what direction.” That’s why they had all been so frustrated on Sunday. They had an opportunity to explore a few of those tunnels, but someone slammed the door too soon.

Now it was Monday, February 20. It was the official state holiday for Washington’s Birthday, but for Ranger Doherty it was just another morning for wondering if he would ever find time to cut the firewood. This was no mere ceremonial task like trimming the Christmas tree or painting the porch.Their house was heated entirely by wood-burning fireplaces. Bob and Carolyn Doherty had built their handsome white brick home on an isolated three-and-a-half-acre plot that had been part of her daddy’s dairy, and though it contained many modern conveniences, the center of their family life was the den with its large fireplace. The den was the Ranger’s favorite room, the place he kept his collection of handguns and the antique rifle that was supposed to have been used by one of General Custer’s troopers. The stone fireplace reminded Bob Doherty of times past, times he had only read about: when old-timeTexas Rangers lived on parched corn, jerky, and brackish coffee, freezing on some desolate plateau and ranging hundreds of miles alone on horseback to protect life and property from Indians, Mexican bandits, and other desperadoes. The Ranger had told Carolyn on many occasions: “Honey, I think I was born a hundred years too late.” But he was still a Texas Ranger, and it was far and away the proudest fact of his life.

It was not yet 8 a.m. when Captain Dwight Crawford telephoned from Denton. “Mary Nosser claims Baker tried to kill her last night,” he said, while Bob Doherty listened without comment. “Says Baker tried to overdose her with some heroin mixed in a Coca-Cola. Sounded like they had some party.”

Bob Doherty hung up and grabbed his white Stetson. Carolyn met him at the front door with his briefcase. Everything else he would need was in the trunk of his car. “I’ll be home as soon as I can,” Doherty told his wife. In the eighteen months that he had been a Ranger, Doherty had told his wife good-bye every morning with almost the same words, and Carolyn seldom asked the question that was on her mind–when did he intend to slow down? It had been four years since their last vacation and almost two years since his last full day off. “The kids and I weren’t jealous of his job, but we were jealous of his time,” she would admit later. “But Bob wanted to be a working Ranger, and we knew he would slow down when he felt he was able.” The only times Doherty’s family could be certain he would be with them was when Buster’s Azle High School team played football. The Ranger, who had been a football player himself, never missed a game.

Carolyn stood on the porch under the graceful Spanish arches and watched as her husband strode through the patches of snow to his car. The arches had been his idea. Someday, he had said, he would hang a hammock here and watch the sun do its work. She suddenly remembered something. “Remember the deacons’ meeting at the church tonight,” she called out. “I’ll try to make it,” he said. She watched him turn his car and head out the driveway.

On his way to Denton, Bob Doherty thought about Mary Nosser. If Jimmy Baker really had tried to

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