April 23, 1990 12:00 PM

It was as quiet as a heartbeat that September night in 1979 when Kim Wozencraft woke to find herself looking down the barrels of a shotgun. She had felt the tap-tap of solid metal on her forehead, coaxing her from a thick sleep. Behind the gun stood a shadowy figure who seemed to be grinning. Wozencraft, then a 24-year-old narcotics cop, had plenty of enemies; she had just surfaced from a perilous eight-month undercover investigation that had led to the most explosive drug bust in East Texas history. In the process, she had cultivated a serious drug habit of her own and had lied to obtain convictions. She had then moved into a mobile home on the edge of town to rebuild her life. But she hadn’t moved far enough to elude the man who was poised outside, pointing his shotgun through an open window. “When you think you’re going to die,” she says, “your brain works so fast that everything seems to move in slow motion. I raised my hands up and shut my eyes. Then I heard gunshots.”

The first blast grazed Wozencraft and severely wounded her undercover partner, Creig Matthews, who was asleep on the couch. After firing a second shot, the assailant fled. “For a long time after that, I was surprised to wake up at night and find myself alive,” she says quietly. “It still bothers me to talk about it.”

That wrenching episode is but one of the memories Wozencraft resurrected while writing her first novel, Rush, a powerful work, published this month, that charts a young narcotics officer’s descent into drug addiction and deceit. The book has stirred interest since last spring, when producer Richard Zanuck offered $1 million for the screen rights and Tom Cruise lobbied for a starring role.

While Wozencraft insists that Rush is not an autobiography, the novel’s compelling plot closely parallels her own progress from undercover cop to convicted felon. And she does concede that she had a personal purpose. “I didn’t write the novel to get even with anybody,” says Kim. “I wrote it because I had to make sense of what had happened.”

Wozencraft’s own story began in Dallas, where she was the oldest of three daughters born to an aluminum salesman and a housewife. A wistful tomboy, she excelled at track, breezed through her studies and wrote poetry at night. Following a three-year marriage to a high school classmate, she decided that life as a cop held more promise than her part-time waitressing job at an ice-cream parlor. Bored and restless, she signed up at 21 with the police department in nearby Plano.

There she met Creig Matthews, a steely, seasoned undercover narc who became her mentor, her lover and eventually her husband. Matthews assigned Kim to a three-month undercover investigation, and soon she was buying drugs from small-time neighborhood dealers.

Wozencraft was quickly seduced by the heady blend of danger and duplicity. And it didn’t take long to learn that taking drugs was part of the act. When co-workers subtly implied that “to make a case, you do the drugs,” Wozencraft thought it made sense. “A good way to prove you’re not a cop is to say, ‘Let’s get high,’ ” she explains. “Part of me said, ‘I have to do it to survive.’ Part of me wanted to do it.”

After more than a year in Piano, Wozencraft moved 90 miles east to Tyler, Texas, in 1979, to be with Matthews and help him with an ongoing undercover operation. Each day was a dizzying shopping spree for drugs: cocaine, crystal meth, acid, ‘ludes, uppers, downers. Kim would detail each buy in police reports, which she kept stashed in a dirty-clothes hamper. But with alarming frequency, she and Matthews were sampling the evidence. “There were times when I’d be smoking hash with people I would later bust when it seemed like, ‘Yeah, these are just my neighbors and we’re having a good time,’ ” she says. “Other times I’d wake up wondering what I was doing. Then I’d lay out a couple of lines, and cocaine would answer all the questions.”

In March 1979, when Matthews was hospitalized after overdosing on PCP, a desperate Wozencraft turned to Tyler Police Chief Willie Hardy. “Trying to get help for Creig,” she says, “was one of the few morally right things I did during that investigation.” But Kim would later testify in court that Hardy had a different agenda. “He said, ‘We really want this case. Take three days off.’ ”

The case Hardy wanted involved Kenneth Bora, a local club manager and accused pornographer. “It was a seductive scenario,” says Dallas Morning News assistant managing editor Howard Swindle, who covered the case from the beginning. Though he was not dealing, Bora “was an easy target,” says Swindle. “The police chief saw a big drug bust as a means to enhance his own career; Creig and Kim saw it as a chance to make reputations as slam-dunk police officers. In those days the end always justified the means, but Creig and Kim took it to a new plateau.”

When Matthews and Wozencraft couldn’t nail Bora on a legitimate dope charge, they framed him. Under pressure to complete the investigation, they also doctored several reports that helped lead to 121 arrests and 81 criminal convictions. “We were doing a lot of drugs,” she says, “and that distorts your judgment.” The week of the Tyler drug bust, the two heroes-honored as the city’s Law Enforcement Officer and Rookie of the Year—watched their exploits unfold on the evening news and celebrated privately with cocaine they had scored. Throughout the summer they put on a dazzling show in court—lying when necessary to put the bad guys away.

By September, Wozencraft was ready to leave both Matthews and the force. He had helped her move to a used mobile home the night they were shot. Following the attack, in which Matthews nearly bled to death, Wozencraft falsely identified Ken Bora as the gunman, and he was sentenced to 20 years in prison for attempted murder.

Soon afterward she and Matthews left the force and moved to a safe house provided by billionaire H. Ross Perot in Dallas, where they were married in December. “I felt a great loyalty to Creig and guilt about his injuries,” says Kim. “We had been partners, and that was one of the strongest bonds I’ve ever felt.” Eventually, though, drug use destroyed the relationship. “At some point you either give in to drugs and die,” says Kim, “or you fight to come back.”

Attempting to break from Matthews and drugs, Wozencraft entered the Air Force in 1981. Meanwhile, Texas Ranger Stewart Dowell, who had been investigating the mobile-home shooting, was methodically reconstructing Kim and Creig’s undercover work. He gathered the evidence that would put Kim and Creig in prison. Then he turned to the FBI.

Though she lied to federal agents at first, Wozencraft says now that telling the truth was an enormous relief. “I felt like I had been carrying a stack of china and I just let it fall,” she says. She and Matthews pleaded guilty to violating Ken Bora’s civil rights, and Wozencraft recanted her story that he had been the mobile-home gunman. Bora was released after 17 months in prison, and every drug case the two had made was dismissed.

In 1982 both Matthews and Wozencraft were sentenced to the Federal Correctional Institution in Lexington, Ky., Kim for 18 months, Creig for three years.

Life there began for Wozencraft in a dank cell segregated from the other prisoners, where, she recalls, “at night you could hear people throwing up or screaming.” When she began withdrawal from the 60 to 80 mgs, of Valium she had been taking daily before she was sentenced, Wozencraft was sent to the women’s psychiatric unit. “My eyes were playing tricks,” she says. “I had unstoppable tears, the shakes. It was a traditional withdrawal, but I didn’t feel right inside. They said I was sane, but had been through too much.” She began writing daily as a way out of the maze.

After her release in 1983, Wozencraft divorced Matthews and headed for New York City, where she enrolled as an undergraduate at Columbia, eventually earning a master’s degree in writing. Rush began as a 650-page senior thesis. Her former husband, who is consulting lawyers, is one reader who feels exposed. “It’s hard to call it fiction when you know what’s going to happen on the next page,” says Matthews, now a mid-level manager at a firm in Dallas, who is married to his third wife and raising four sons. “I made mistakes, I paid for them. Long ago I put all the press clips about the case in a trunk. When I read the book I thought, ‘I’m going to have to pack my bags, take my family and move far away.’ ”

Wozencraft insists that she did not set out to open anyone’s wounds—only to cleanse her own. Today she lives alone in Manhattan, where she is currently crafting her second novel. The plaque honoring her as Rookie of the Year is stashed in a closet, but destined soon for the garbage chute. Though Wozencraft has learned to live with her memories, she may never be entirely at peace with them. “There are still nights,” she says, “when I’m awake at 3 A.M., trying to avoid the windows.”

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