By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
Cloaked in darkness, 10 Drug Enforcement Administration agents close in on a rickety trailer in rural Navarro County. They're about 55 miles south of Dallas just off Interstate 45 in a typically barren, woodsy section of North Texas, unspectacular in its rustic appeal--or its drug problem. Like any other county in any other state, whether replete with big cities or septic tanks, Navarro has a fair share of degenerates mixed among its 40,000 or so upstanding citizens. Somewhere inside the trailer are four to six troublemakers who are currently nurturing a most unstable, potentially explosive blend of methamphetamines in a do-it-yourself lab. The obvious objective is to refine the intoxicating chemicals for sale to street pushers at an impressive profit.
This, of course, is why the DEA, with the assistance of the Navarro County Sheriff's Office, is here.
Slowly, carefully, the raid team makes its way toward the trailer's door. Only a stream of cold breath on this chilly evening six months ago gives notice of their nighttime arrival. Among the party crashers is Special Agent Keith Bishop. He is an eight-year veteran of the DEA--not that the experience quells his anxiety. It's a prerequisite, the heightened awareness and accelerated heartbeat--as common a companion as the all-black, flame retardant clothes and boots, or weighty handcuffs and retractable baton.
"You never know what to expect once you go through the door," Bishop says months later, recalling the operation. As his eyes narrow and focus, it's as though he's there again, in Navarro County, readying to bust down the door instead of recounting tales of the sortie from this nondescript room in this uninteresting office building that the Dallas DEA calls home. "It's a real team effort. There's a lot of trust that goes into an operation. You have to have complete faith in your group because everyone has a different responsibility. Everyone who goes in reacts off of what the first guy through the door does."
On this particular seizure attempt, Bishop is slotted to be one of the first four guys through the entrance. Attached to his hip is a Glock .45 caliber pistol; slung over his shoulder is an M-16 fully automatic assault rifle; protecting his chest is a bullet-resistant Kevlar vest. Notice that's not bullet-proof--DEA agents wear bullet-resistant jackets because they're lighter and allow for more maneuverability, though the vests don't have the stopping power of the other models. Lucky them.
But he isn't worried about being vulnerable. Bishop, in fact, thinks none of that stuff--neither the Kevlar nor the firearms--will be needed. Still, the adrenaline whips through his veins and his senses are fully alert. He lives for this rush, or maybe the rush lives for him. After all, he's a constant catalyst for action. His whole life has been spent this way, doing things the rest of us only dream about or catch on TV. Here, now, he seems more than 10 years removed from his former occupation as an All-Pro offensive lineman with the Denver Broncos. One who went from being a relatively unknown sixth-round draft pick out of Baylor University in 1980 to a starting guard on three AFC Championship teams before retiring in 1990. One who let fly, from usually pursed lips, the most famous words on the most famous drive in playoff history. One who protected the invaluable right arm of John Elway throughout the latter-half of the '80s and in three Super Bowls. One who was as revered for his pleasant disposition as he was feared for his enormous ability and stature.
Professional football, to be sure, was exhilarating in its own right--the travel and fame and adoration of 60,000-plus screaming fans--but ultimately it was just a game. Miss a block, what's the big deal? What's the worst that could happen? A few people grumble? His teammates are pissed? The head coach chews him out?
It wasn't like this, where he's a Tom Clancy character come to life, where one mistake could prove disastrous. Miss a bad guy with a loaded weapon and things could go horribly awry. For Keith Bishop, that kind of misstep might mean the difference between kissing his wife, Mary, and his three children goodnight, or becoming a statistic. Or, just as grimly, watching a dear friend and co-worker suffer the same undesirable fate.
It's funny. He was a celebrity not long ago, a flesh-and-blood deity in Denver, as were most of the Broncos. He could have retired to a ranch in a neighboring suburb, could have bought a car dealership or coached a college team or wasted away on a veranda sipping lemonade and milking the glory years for all their worth. It's an existence so many of us fantasize about while we're stuck on congested roadways or arguing with incompetent superiors.
If only I had the money and the time, I'd...
Keith Bishop could have made our fantasy a reality. But that would have been a hollow, shallow existence, more death than life. Only now has he found true purpose, working to put drug dealers away and trying his hardest to rid countless communities of a particular ill.
In a very real way, Bishop is saving lives--and risking them, as he is about to be reminded.