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 raised the gun and 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.