Portrait by Kelly Bjork
Raven suggests we do this interview at the Twilight Exit. I feel uneasy at first because I’m not looking to draw attention to myself or offend the staff. But then I figure it isn’t such a big deal. As long as we keep it low-key, maybe the setting could help Raven remember more details. The day we meet, the dining area is busy. Raven, a slightly built man in his middle years, looks like the wandering antihero from some post-apocalyptic action movie. He wears a gray hoodie beneath a black motorcycle jacket, and his gray hair is cut into a mohawk. I’ve never talked to Raven before this, but I’ve seen him around a lot, singing karaoke. He’s showy onstage, the gestures and the emotions come tumbling right out of him.
I grab us a two-seater. Raven orders a steak dinner, which arrives quickly, and he tells me about his various careers. His past is heavily strewn with accomplishments. It gets hard to keep track of them all. When he was young, Raven says, he created the world’s first sci-fi/fantasy role-playing game, and it sold in 13 countries. He tells me he was a television host for a time, interviewing music personalities for a local program. He says he was a mechanical engineer too, developing a part for the articulated flaps on airplane wings. As far as his current agenda, “I’ve got 12 books coming out in 12 months. I don’t know of anybody who’s ever done that. Do you?”
“No,” I said. Raven smiles knowingly.
“I’m the golden goose for my company now, so they made me swear not to get in any more fights,” said Raven, laughing. “I’ve been in a lot of these situations. Yeah, I’ve been in trouble. Real trouble. I’ve seen violence. I’ve got scars on me from knives. Less than a year ago, I got into a fight on the street protecting some girls. She’d had pizza thrown on her, and I got in a fistfight, attacking a guy who threw it. That’s just one example. I’ve been in many,” he says.
The night of the shooting, Raven had been in the dining area about a half hour with his now former girlfriend Christie and two other friends. “That entire night was unusual from the moment we walked inside. We couldn’t get our regular seats. Everything was different. Our whole rhythm was off,” says Raven, framing his story. His sentences are precise and carefully delivered. It seems as if he’s reading them from a script. “I was sitting near the front of the table because I was going to have to get up to sing.” Raven thinks he put in “Just What I Needed” by The Cars. “We were just sitting, waiting, talking, and that’s when everything happened. We heard a loud explosion. A bang. A gun went off. At first everybody reacted like they do when it’s a loud noise like that, like it might be a joke. We all went back to normal. But no, the guy started screaming. It was emphatic. It was the kind that only comes around when there’s real trouble. Christie yelled, ‘Everybody get down,’ and everybody hit the ground,” said Raven.
“Immediately everybody in the place started to throw furniture over and freak out. I dropped to the floor. Christie dove on top of me. I had to roll her underneath me, and jump on top of her. Then she tried to roll on top of me. We were wrestling about who was gonna protect each other,” said Raven, laughing. “That was an actual fight for dominance. I won’t let anybody dominate me in a life-threatening situation, because it’s my job to protect people.”
As Raven was on the floor, “I was underneath a table and looking up at an angle. I saw James come walking straight in, just as big as life. He had his gun in his hand, pointed at the ground. It was a silver Glock with almost stainless steel. The gun was backlit by the flame underneath the jukebox. That cold fire matched the way he was walking,” Raven said. He sprang up and did a solemn demonstration amidst the customers. “He was very serious. He was not in the least bit rattled. He wasn’t in a hurry. I thought, ‘Oh god, here it comes. He’s gonna kill everybody. I gotta stop him.’ I tried my phone, but our cells weren’t responding because everybody was calling 911 at once and it tied the lines up.”
I ask Raven if he was scared. “Not scared. I was pissed and frustrated because I couldn’t do anything. If I would’ve had a piece on me, I would’ve had a clear shot. God, it was clean. It was perfect. I could’ve pulled that gun out of his hand and put him down. I would’ve shot him before he made it to his target.”
“But that would’ve thwarted fate,” said Raven. “Whitney needed to be punished. If I would’ve shot him, he wouldn’t have punished her. Knowing her story, she needed to be punished. She’d come into our bar and lied to everyone. She said she didn’t know him and that someone should call 911. But she had a child with the guy. She’d left his house unlocked for him to be robbed, to lose everything he owned. She’d gotten away with this behavior because she was beautiful and a good liar. I never laid eyes on her, but she was described as abnormally attractive. I’ve seen this before. These are traits that only come with unusually attractive females. I know what real evil is like. I know what crazy is like,” said Raven.
I say nothing, and Raven continues. “James wasn’t out to hurt anybody else. I know he didn’t want to shoot Greg. He tried to shoot him in the leg. He didn’t intend for the bullet to hit the femoral. He didn’t want to kill Greg. But he was not going to be stopped. He wanted to punish her, and then he wanted to die. What drives a man to that—where he’s willing to come in and shoot an innocent person and not kill them and then allow himself to be murdered? Tell me. This is a cul de sac. This is a wall. This is a man who could get no other resolution.”
“Think about the facts. James was willing to sacrifice his life to punish her. He could’ve easily killed her, and he didn’t. You know this, you felt this. Her head would’ve blown up on top of her,” he said. As Raven goes on, I feel every molecule in my body bloating out, doubling in size. There doesn’t seem to be enough room for all of them. For a moment, I’m certain we will be asked to leave, but it doesn’t happen. There are lots of voices in the dining area, and nobody’s paying attention.
I ask Raven how he knew so much about Whitney. “The court cases show it. She’d repetitively gotten away with lying. These things start to add up,” he said. Raven mentions a previous altercation the couple had at the Twilight two months before the shooting. Raven decided it was Whitney’s fault. “All of it happened because James had to come in here and look for her,” he said.
(I couldn’t recall the incident’s specifics, so I looked up Christine Clarridge’s article in the Seattle Times after I got home. James was said to have left his baby alone in his parked Mustang while he walked into the bar, searching for Whitney. According to the police report in the municipal court files, he’d driven with the baby free in the front seat, with no use of safety belts. Also, the baby’s clothes were too thin to accommodate the cold weather. James had been charged with endangering the child.)
I steer Raven back to the night of the shooting. As Raven was hiding on the floor, James moved across the dining area until “he disappeared from sight. Christie got everybody out. She was first to open the exit door, and then everybody started going for it. It was very good that she did that. We were stunned and nobody would’ve even thought about it, but she got us all out. I gathered everybody up and I started pushing people out. People were crawling on their hands and knees. I just said, ‘Go, go, go, go.’ Somebody had to tap me to leave. I was the last one out. I was waiting to get a bullet in my back. I really was. I turned my back on life, and I, I had to get the people out.”
After Raven left the building, “I screamed as loud as I could. I’ve got a loud voice. I was telling James to come outside and shoot me. Everybody else had bailed at that point. I said, ‘Come out, you coward. How dare you come in and threaten me. Come outside.’ While I was saying this, I made sure I was protected from machine-gun fire. I was standing behind the big telephone pole on the corner,” he said, laughing.
Then Raven looked up and into the streets, and “it was like the films. The police were across the line with their lights flashing. They were coming up on all sides. Christie ran up to meet the police officers, and she ran back with them while she was describing the shooter. She actually said to execute him. I stopped yelling when the police started shooting. I stood on the street and listened to them fire. I grimaced. They fired for a long time.”
“At first, all I thought was, ‘That son of a bitch came in and shot that poor girl. I’m glad they shot him.’ We were all that way. Then we got on the bus, and somebody said, ‘There’s a baby. Where’s the baby?’ All of a sudden everybody panicked. We all started to get concerned about the baby. We didn’t care whose baby it was. It was a baby, and it was in trouble, and that’s all that mattered. We were all one group. We were all a tribe for a brief moment,” said Raven, nodding. His eyes get glossy.
“As the story started coming out, my emotional certainty started eroding and eroding, and it collapsed. My fury towards her started to mount. My sympathy towards him started to mount. My outrage towards the whole situation absolutely inflamed. I can’t believe it went this far, that it was able to go this far, that all of us were involved,” he said. “But I still love this place,” he adds. “I walk in proudly. I wish I could come here more. I stick my finger in that bullet hole every time I come in. Every time. It’s kind of like a fist-bump. It’s a real, tactile reminder of an event. Oh I forgot to do it this time,” he said, and he dashed to the entryway and fondled a rip in the metal doorframe.
I ask Raven to throw in a final thought. “I’ve been writing adventure stuff since I was a baby. It was like being in an adventure again,” he says.
While I’m packing my things, I notice how exhausted I am. I say goodbye to Raven and head straight to the ladies’ room. Empty public spaces give me a pleasant shut-down feeling. I gaze into the beige stalls and think about an exercise I read in Dale Carnegie’s “How to Stop Worrying and Start Living.” Dale says to crumple your muscles like you’re a rag. You’re supposed to hold yourself that way all the time, though I’m always forgetting. Dale says he keeps an old maroon sock on his desk “as a reminder of how limp I ought to be.” For a while, I stand in the quiet of the bathroom and think about Dale’s sock.
When I’m ready to go, I pass through the dining area to get to the door, and Raven ducks into view. He tells me about his Lightsaber battles. He’s in a guild, and “it’s as crazy as it sounds. It’s a nonprofit. We wear costumes and do charity performances. It’s geeky. It’s so funny. Here, take my card. It’s my last one,” he said. “I’m a real Jedi. I still can’t believe it. Maybe you can mention it in your article.”
“Sure,” I said.
Image courtesy of ROQ Films.