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The 17th Suspect
By Maxine Paetro
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This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around April 30, 2018. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.
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Just after 4 a.m. under a starless sky, a man in a well-worn tweed coat and black knit cap crossed Broadway onto Front Street, humming a tune as he strolled south to Sydney G. Walton Square.
The square was a cozy one-block park, bounded by iron fencing with an artifact of a brick gate set at a diagonal on one corner. Inside were paths and seating and garden beds, cut back now at the end of the growing season.
During the day Walton Square was crowded with office workers from San Francisco’s Financial District, eating their take-out lunches near the fountain. At night the streets were empty and the park was occupied by homeless people going through the trash cans, sleeping on the benches, congregating near the gate.
The man in the shapeless tweed coat stopped outside the iron fencing and looked around the park and surroundings with purpose. He was still humming tunelessly and gripping a 9mm gun in his right-hand pocket.
The man, Michael, was looking for someone in particular. He watched for a while as the vagrants moseyed around the park and on the sidewalks that bounded it. He didn’t see the woman he was looking for, but he wasn’t going to let this night go to waste.
As he watched, a man in a ragged layering of dirty clothing left the park and headed east, in the direction of the Embarcadero and the piers, where the garbage in the trash cans was more exotic than discarded office worker sandwiches.
The ragged man was talking to himself, scratching his beard, and seemed to be counting, touching his right thumb to each of the fingers on his right hand and pensively repeating the ritual.
He didn’t notice the man in the tweed coat standing against the fence.
Michael called out to him. “Hey, buddy. Got a smoke?”
The ragged man turned his bleary eyes to the man pointing the gun at him. He got it fast. He put up his hands and started to explain.
“No, man, I didn’t take the money. It was her. I was an innocent—”
The man in the coat pulled the trigger once, shooting the bum square in the chest. Pigeons flew up from the adjacent buildings.
The bum clapped his hand over his chest and opened his mouth in a wordless expression of shock. But he was still standing, still staring at him.
Michael fired another shot. The ragged man’s knees folded and he dropped without a sound.
He said to the corpse, “Worthless piece of shit, you asked for that. You should thank me.”
He looked around and ducked into a section of shade in the park. He placed his gun on the ground, stripped off his gloves, jammed them into his pockets, and shucked the old coat.
He was dressed all in black under the coat, in jeans, a turtleneck, and a quilted jacket. He transferred the gun to his jacket, gathered up the coat, and stuffed it into a trash can.
Someone would find them. Someone would put them on. And good luck to him.
Michael slipped out from behind the copse of trees and took a seat on a bench. Screams started up. And the crummy vermin poured out of the park like a line of ants and surrounded the body.
No one noticed him. There were no keening sirens, no “Dude, did you see what happened?”
After a few minutes the killer stood up and, with his hands in his jacket pockets, left the park and headed home.
There would be other nights.
One of these times he was bound to get lucky.
On Monday morning assistant district attorney Yuki Castellano was in the San Francisco DA’s conference room, sitting across the mahogany table from a boyishly handsome young man. Yuki was building a sexual abuse case that she thought, if brought to trial, could change the face of rape prosecution on a national scale. An executive at a top creative San Francisco ad agency had allegedly raped an employee at gunpoint, and Yuki was determined to try the case.
After she quit her job and spent a year at the nonprofit Defense League, district attorney Leonard “Red Dog” Parisi had asked her to come back and try an explosive case as his second chair—but they had suffered a humiliating loss. Now Yuki wanted very much to have a win for herself, for Parisi, and for the city.
She asked, “Marc, can we get you anything? Sparkling water? Coffee?”
“No, thanks. I’m good.”
Marc Christopher was a television commercial producer with the Ad Shop—and the victim in the case, claiming that Briana Hill, the head of the agency’s TV production department and his boss, had assaulted him. The Sex Crimes detail of SFPD’s Southern Station had investigated Christopher’s complaint and found convincing enough evidence to bring the case to the DA’s office.
After reviewing the evidence and meeting with Christopher, Yuki had asked Parisi to let her take the case to the grand jury.
Parisi said, “Yuki, this could be a glue trap. You’re going to have to convince a jury that this kid could keep it up with a loaded weapon pointed at his head. That a woman could rape him. You really want to do this? Win or lose, this case is going to stick to you.”
She said, “Len, I’m absolutely sure he was raped and I can prove it. If we get an indictment, I want to run with this.”
“Okay,” Len said dubiously. “Give it your best shot.”
In Yuki’s opinion, nonconsensual sex was rape, irrespective of gender. Women raping men rarely got traction unless the woman was a schoolteacher or in another position of authority, and the victim was a child or, more commonly, a teenage boy. In those instances the crime had more to do with the age of the victim than a presumed act of brutality by a woman.
In this case Briana Hill and Marc Christopher were about the same age, both in their late twenties. Christopher was Hill’s subordinate at the Ad Shop, true, but he wasn’t accusing her of sexual harassment at work. He claimed that Hill had threatened to shoot him if he didn’t comply with a sadistic sex act.
Would Hill really have pulled the trigger? For legal purposes, it didn’t matter.
It mattered only that Marc Christopher had believed she would shoot him.
As Len Parisi had said, it was going to be a challenge to convince a jury that this confident young man couldn’t have fought Hill off; that he’d maintained an erection at gunpoint, against his will; and that he’d been forced to have sex with a woman he had dated and had sex with many times before.
But Yuki would tell Christopher’s story: he’d said no and Hill had violated him anyway. Yuki had seen the proof. The grand jury would have to decide if there was enough evidence to support that version of events. Once this case went to trial, win or lose, Marc would be known for accusing a woman of raping him. If Briana Hill was found guilty, she would go to jail—and the face of workplace sexual harassment would change.
Glass walls separated the conference room from the hallway, with its flow of busy, noisy, and nosy foot traffic.
Yuki ignored those who were sneaking looks at the broad-shouldered, dark-haired agency producer slumping slightly in his chair. He was clearly wounded, describing what he claimed had transpired two months before, and seemed very vulnerable.
Yuki stepped outside the conference room to have a word with a colleague. When she returned to her seat, Christopher had turned his chair so that he was staring out through the windows at the uninspiring third-floor view of Bryant Street.
Yuki said, “Marc, let’s talk it through again, okay?”
He swiveled the chair back around and said, “I understand that I have to testify to the grand jury. I can do that. I’m worried about going to trial and how I’m going to react when Briana’s attorney calls me a liar.”
Yuki was glad Marc had dropped in to talk about this. He was right to be apprehensive. Briana Hill’s attorney, James Giftos, looked and dressed like a mild-mannered shoe salesman, but that was just a disarming guise for an attack attorney who would do whatever it took to destroy Marc Christopher’s credibility.
Yuki asked, “How do you think you might react?”
“I don’t know. I could get angry and go after the guy. I could break down and come across as a complete wimp.”
“It’s good to think about this in advance,” Yuki said, “but Giftos won’t be at the grand jury hearing. We’re just asking the jury for an indictment based on the facts of this case. I think the jury is going to believe you, as I do.
“If Hill is indicted,” Yuki continued, “we go to court. She’ll be there to contest your testimony and present her version of this attack. James Giftos will do everything he can to make you look like a liar and worse.”
“Oh, God. Can you walk me through that?”
“Okay, I’ll give it to you straight. Because you dated Briana, you won’t be protected by the rape shield law. Giftos could ask you about your sex life with Briana in detail—how often, what it was like, what made you invite her to your apartment. Nothing will be off-limits.”
“Wonderful,” said Christopher miserably. “Piece o’ cake.”
“The press will cover the trial. Public opinion may favor Briana, and you may be verbally attacked. It could get very ugly, Marc. And when we win, your life may never be quite the same.”
The young man covered his face with his hands.
“Marc, if you don’t want to go through with this, I’ll understand.”
“Thanks for that. I’ll be ready. I’ll make myself be ready.”
“You have my number. Call me, anytime.”
Yuki walked Christopher to the elevator, and as she shook his hand, he said, “I thought of something.”
“You should talk to Paul Yates. He’s a copywriter at the Ad Shop. We’re only casual friends, but I think something happened with him and Briana.”
“Really? Something sexual?”
“I don’t know,” said Christopher. “I’m pretty sure they dated. They seemed friendly around the shop, then the big chill.”
“There’s no record of him speaking to Sex Crimes.”
“No, I don’t think he talked to them or anyone. I would have heard.”
“Paul Yates,” Yuki said. “I’ll get in touch with him. Marc, stay strong.”
His smile was shaky when he got into the elevator car.
Yuki stood in place as the doors closed, then headed back to her office. She wasn’t confident that Marc would hang tough, and she couldn’t blame him. In his place, she would feel conflict and fear, too. But the key facts in the case against Briana Hill were incontrovertible: Marc had recorded the rape, and Briana always carried a gun. Marc’s testimony would bring those facts to life for the jurors.
Two days after her last meeting with Marc Christopher, Yuki got a call from James Giftos, Briana Hill’s defense attorney.
“Ms. Castellano. James Giftos here. My client wants to speak with you. By chance do you have a gap in your schedule sometime this week?”
“Oh? What’s this about?”
Yuki’s laptop was open and she began making notes as Giftos spoke.
He said, “Ms. Castellano, uh, Yuki—my client wants to tell you her side of the story. She hopes that when you hear what really happened, you’ll see that Mr. Christopher’s allegations have no basis in fact. She’s willing to apologize if there’s been a misunderstanding, and then, she hopes, Marc can drop the drama and they can go on with their lives.”
So James Giftos wanted a “queen for a day” interview, a proffer agreement. In this meeting Ms. Hill would attempt to convince Yuki that she should drop the case because of insufficient evidence.
The rules of engagement for these interviews were clear. Briana Hill and her attorney would come to Yuki’s office, where Hill would be sworn in, then submit to Yuki’s questions, her answers transcribed by a court reporter. Hill would not be allowed to invoke the Fifth Amendment, and most importantly for Yuki’s purposes, if the DA decided to proceed with the case, nothing Hill said could be used against her in the grand jury hearing or at trial.
However, and it was a big however, if Hill took the stand and her testimony differed from what she’d told Yuki under oath, all bets would be off. Her formerly privileged testimony would no longer be privileged, and Yuki could use anything she’d said in her proffer interview against her.
It was a good deal for the prosecution.
Briana Hill would give her side of the story, meaning that Yuki would learn the basis for the opposition’s case.
Yuki said to Giftos, “Turns out I have an opening at two today.”
“Sold,” he said.
Yuki hung up with Giftos, made notes to add to the file, and then walked down the hallway for a pickup meeting with Len.
Yuki greeted Briana Hill and James Giftos at two that afternoon and walked them to the conference room where the court reporter was waiting.
Hill was petite, her dark hair blunt-cut to her shoulders, and she wore a modest silk blouse and sharp gray suit.
She was very pretty, and Yuki knew that she was also plenty smart. Born and raised in Dallas, Briana Hill had a film degree from USC and an MBA from NYU. She had gotten her first job at a production company, and a few years later was hired by the Ad Shop, where she rose quickly to head of TV production.
As head of TV, Hill reported to the agency president and was responsible for millions per year in TV commercials for big-name clients.
Briana looked the part of a highly placed young executive. She appeared cool and confident, but Yuki noted the dark circles under her eyes and the way Hill clutched at the silver crucifix hanging from a long chain around her neck.
Giftos turned off his phone, Hill was sworn in, and the court reporter typed at her console in the corner of the room.
Yuki said, “Ms. Hill, do you understand that this interview means that we have a binding agreement, that you are required to answer all of my questions truthfully, and if you don’t tell the truth, our agreement is void?”
“I sure do,” said Hill. “I asked for this meeting. I want to tell you what happened. I swear to tell the truth.”
The conference room door opened and Len Parisi entered. The DA was a big man, tall, over three hundred pounds, and had coarse red hair. He was known for his sharp legal mind, his tenacity, and his impressive record of wins.
Parisi was taking special interest in this case, among hundreds under his purview, because The People v. Hill would be a media supermagnet: a sex scandal with radical social implications. Before his office asked for an indictment, Parisi wanted to get his own sense of Briana Hill.
He shook hands with Hill and Giftos and sat down heavily in the chair next to Yuki. He clicked a ballpoint pen a few times with his large thumb and tapped the point on a pad of paper in front of him. He looked across the table, smiled, and said, “Ms. Hill, this is your meeting. As long as you tell the truth, nothing you say can be used against you.”
“I’m aware,” said Hill.
Yuki kept a poker face, but she was excited to be facing off against James Giftos on such an important case. This was why she loved her job with the DA.
Briana Hill clasped her hands in front of her and said, “This is a pretty grim story, but it needs to be told. Where should I start, James? With the so-called incident—or with what led up to it?”
Her attorney said, “Give us the background first.”
“Okay. Mr. Parisi. Ms. Castellano. The first thing you should know is that Marc had been working for me for about six months when he let me know he was interested in me. He sent flowers to my apartment on my birthday, and I wouldn’t say he was stalking me, but he was just there when I’d leave the office, go over to Starbucks, like that. He bought me coffee, and the next time I bought coffee for him. Takeout.
“Then he asked me out.
“I said no. I wasn’t thinking of him that way. If the thought even crossed my mind, I shut it down. It was possible that going out with Marc could screw up the chain of command and make people in the creative department uncomfortable.”
Yuki said, “What changed your mind?”
Said Hill, “I’m getting to it. Coming right up. Anyway. I fended Marc off, but he persisted and I realized that I was starting to like him. He was funny. Very charming, and by the way, a good producer. So I said okay to lunch. It’s just lunch, right?”
Yuki noted a couple of things as Briana spoke. One, she was an accomplished presenter. Two, according to Hill, Christopher had made the advances. That meant nothing in terms of her guilt or innocence, but it was good for the defense version of the assault.
“I liked Marc,” Hill said, “but this was just a flirtation until—cue the dramatic music—the Chronos Beer shoot in Phoenix four months ago. It was a great shoot, big budget, terrific director, and all of us, the production company and the agency people, were staying in a nice hotel. So we wrapped the shoot and went for dinner and drinks at the hotel bar and grill at the end of the last day.
“I was very happy,” Hill said. “Everyone was. It was a celebration, and Marc and I closed the bar. It was like we were alone on a desert island. He invited me back to his room. I went.”
Hill clamped her mouth shut. She swallowed hard. She seemed to be remembering what had transpired that night. It looked to Yuki like she was unhappy with the memory.
Giftos said, “Go on, Briana. What happened when you came back to town and reentered the atmosphere of everyday life?”
Hill sighed, then seemed to steel herself for the sordid tale of her new relationship with Marc Christopher.
Briana Hill had been talking for half an hour, and her confident demeanor was starting to sag. She sounded resigned when she said, “Marc and I started dating.
“I wasn’t in love with him, but I wasn’t seeing anyone else. Eventually, though, I started losing interest, and Marc was getting the message. He got needy and borderline aggressive. One night he stopped by my office at the end of the day, and when he said, ‘Let’s grab a bite,’ I said okay. I thought we’d have a discussion about how the relationship wasn’t working out and probably agree to call it off.
“But that’s not what happened.
“We went to our usual place, a restaurant called Panacea, a short walk from Marc’s apartment. I started with a predinner drink. Actually, I was drinking before, during, and after dinner.
“I think Marc was talking about politics, but I wasn’t really listening. I was trying to decide whether to break up with him that night or to give it more time, weighing the pros and cons. After dinner we moved to the restaurant bar. That’s when Marc pitched his big idea.”
“It was his big idea?” Len said.
“Yeah. He knew I carried a gun, and he said that it really turned him on. He said that he wanted me…to pretend to rape him. He said I should hold the gun on him and order him to tie himself to the bed and follow my directions, or I would kill him. Something like that.
“It was ridiculous, but I’d never played out a fantasy like that. He kept saying it would be fun, with this big grin on his face. And he said it would be good for our relationship—he wanted me to ‘gut-feel’ how much I wanted him. I think that’s how he put it.
“We went to his apartment. That’s where we always went,” Hill said. “I unloaded my gun, put the shells in my bag, then I followed his script and tried to get into the role. It was kind of fun, but also kind of weird, what I remember of it.
“After the sex was over, I fell asleep. We both did. Passed out is more like it. I woke up at about five and untied his hands. He was still sleeping, so I went home. I didn’t like how I felt and I didn’t like him, either. I knew that we’d crossed a line. There was no way back.
“I avoided him at work,” Hill continued, “but he called and left messages saying he wanted to get together. I told him no. ‘Sorry, Marc, but it’s over.’ He didn’t like that, but I thought he’d move on. Instead he came to my office after work a couple of days later and shut the door. That’s when he told me that he’d recorded our sex play—recorded it! And that he wanted a quarter of a million dollars or he was going to post the video online.”
Yuki asked, “You took this to be a serious threat?”
Hill’s expression crumpled. “Yes,” she said. “It was believable that he had a hidden camera. He’s a film producer. He knew that my grandma had died and that she had left me a big pile of money. I told him to go to hell, but I was scared.
“I was also in shock. I’m still in shock.”
Yuki found Briana utterly credible. Was she a world-class actress? Or was her version of the story true? One of them was lying.
Giftos put his hand on Briana’s shoulder and told her to take a minute.
After she’d collected herself, but still noticeably distressed, she said, “I remembered some of what we did in his bedroom but very little of what was said. Still, I’m positive that everything I did and said was entirely scripted by Marc. I never ever thought of rape as a turn-on. And I surely never knew that he was recording…this game.”
Hill went on, “I’ve always known the only way to defeat a bully is to stand up to him. Marc Christopher is a bully. He’s also insecure and vengeful, and that’s being kind. I did not rape him. It was all his idea. He set me up. And that’s the whole truth.”
Yuki had questions. Lots of them.
Sitting across the conference table from Briana Hill and her attorney, Len and Yuki fired away.
Yuki stuck to the workplace relationship between Hill and Christopher.
Did management at the Ad Shop prohibit relationships at the agency? Was Ms. Hill in a position to influence Mr. Christopher’s promotions and raises? Why was his performance review poor after the incident in Mr. Christopher’s apartment?
- On Sale
- Apr 30, 2018
- Page Count
- 416 pages
- Little, Brown and Company