Portrait by Kelly Bjork
As we talk, Jake’s drinking a shot of espresso from a tiny cup. He’s a handsome guy with a narrow build and a charmingly unhurried presence. Tattoos the color of blue smoke decorate his limbs and neck. It’s fun to look at them. There are human skulls, railroad tracks, and menacing faces, and along one knuckle, plain-script letters spell Jake’s name.
Jake is the Twilight’s cook, and he was working alone in the back when James shot Greg and entered the building. “I heard all the commotion. I knew what the sounds were right away,” he said, and I ask him about that, because most witnesses didn’t recognize the sounds as gunfire. “I lived in New Orleans a couple years. You’d hear gunshots all the time there, at all different hours. I was used to hearing them at pretty close range, within a block or two from my house. It’d gotten so I could differentiate the noise from other loud popping sounds,” Jake said. He has such an easy style of talking, and I realize how much his manner reminds me of Mario, a roommate’s ex. Mario was a cool, quiet man who worked in a car-repair shop and wore dark blue overalls. My roommate never got over him. She wrote his name, circled in a heart, on a carton of eggs that stayed in our fridge for a year.
Back to Jake. “My coworkers ran into the kitchen and swooped me up. I’d been cutting up some onions. Slicing them. They were bourbon onions for the Twilight Burger. That’s what I was doing right when everything started to happen, so it made the onions memorable,” he said.
He rushed to the patio with another coworker, a mysterious stranger in fairy wings, and the bartender Natalie, who was on the phone with 911. Could Jake tell what was happening? “Not really. I could see that Natalie was really, really freaked out. It was a week or two after Sandy Hook, and my brain was leaning towards that. If I’d have known it was just a domestic type of situation, I wouldn’t have been too worried about it,” he says.
The group piled into the patio’s latch-door storage closet as Natalie continued her call. “At first I thought our hiding place was kind of crappy,” said Jake. “If the shooter was a crazy dude, he could’ve just reached over and opened up the little gate. But I got over it. I realized we should just stay there. I figured he wouldn’t come back where we were, and I knew the cops would show up soon.”
In a separate interview, Natalie said, “As I was on the phone, Jake kept saying ‘We’re ok, we’re ok,’ and helping me get through it. If anybody were to come to the patio, Jake would’ve been able to see them, but they wouldn’t have been able to see us. So Jake was peeking over the fence. He didn’t see anything,” Natalie said. She kept her job at Twilight after the shooting, and more than year later, these memories continue to haunt her. “I don’t like being on the patio,” she said. “I avoid it. If I have to close, I try to get someone to come out there with me. That closet still creeps me out too much. I haven’t used it since.”
Natalie and I skip around in time, going back to the court inquest that followed the shooting. I ask her if it was bizarre to sit on the witness stand before the jury while the courtroom listened to a recording of her 911 call. “Oh my god, yes,” she said. “It’s like an out-of-body experience to hear yourself that terrified.”
It’s hard for me to hear it, too. I obtained my copy through public records. The full thing is over in less than two minutes. Natalie spits out the address. Her breathing is rapid. At one point, she screams a little, but she contains the volume, quickly pulling it inside herself. She describes the shooter as a light-skinned black male in a gray shirt. “I have to be quiet, I have to be quiet,” she whispers. “Just stay on the phone with me if you can, you’re doing really good,” says the operator. Then the line goes dead.
Jake said, “At one point I’d whispered to Natalie, ‘It’s probably good. I’m sure 911 has been called like 20 times by now. Let’s keep it mellow and really quiet back here, and she hung up.” As they stayed huddled together, “the guy with wings started talking. He was audibly freaking out,” said Jake. “He was saying that we should go, that we should all run. Hop the fence and run away. I was just kinda telling him to be quiet. If the shooter was a crazy dude, I didn’t want him to hear us talking. We wouldn’t have had anywhere to go if he opened the gate and decided to shoot us or whatever. We wouldn’t have had much of a chance.”
The winged guy calmed down, and for a time, the four waited in silence. Suddenly, “we heard ten shots all at once, and then nothing after that,” said Jake.
“It ended so abruptly. We didn’t know if it was James shooting, or if the cops were shooting James,” said Natalie. “We weren’t even sure if the cops were there. But then I heard voices and I heard the police. One opened the door and we saw his flashlight. We all put our hands up. That’s when we felt safe to come out. We were hustled through. We kept our hands up as we were walking. We passed a different closet and an officer was standing at the door, holding his gun up to it. I think he was checking to secure the scene,” she said.
The room was in shambles. Greg’s blood pooled the entry way. “Blood doesn’t freak me out. I don’t know. Maybe I’m disconnected,” said Jake. “I didn’t see the shooter’s body. I guess it was behind the bar, up by the wall.”
“I didn’t look around. I didn’t want to look around. At all. I just looked straight ahead and walked,” said Natalie.
When Jake’s group got outside, they joined the police and other witnesses gathered in front of the building. (All except the guy with the fairy wings. Who knows what his story was. Somewhere along the way, he must’ve cut out, sprinting off into the soggy black streets. He didn’t leave a police report. I asked a few witnesses if he’d arrived with their crew, but nobody remembers him. I don’t know how to find him, even though I really want to. Given that I’ve never met this man, nor even seen him, it’s strange how often I think of him.)
I ask Jake what were his thoughts as he stood next to the bar. “I was worried about the kitchen. The cops wouldn’t let us back in. Everything was on — the fryers, the stoves,” he said.
“Were the onions still out?” I asked.
“The onions were still out,” he said.
Kitchen at the Twilight Exit.
Photo courtesy of the Seattle Police Department.