BY: JENNIFER MOSS

When rapper Terrico James claimed to be “mightier than Jesus,” nobody took him seriously…until someone did. Terrico’s dead body ends up nailed to a cross and Chicago Detective Ryan Doherty is on the case. Was it one of his brothers, envious of his success and bitter he didn’t share the wealth? Or Terrico’s protégé, Mandy Ross, a petulant pop star who sheds hearts like glitter in her path? With the help of his partner, Matt Di Santo, and the spirit of his dead partner, Jon, Ryan fights his way through cultural divides to find the murderer.

Catharine Lulling is ready to venture outside of her estate for her first real date with Ryan. But even her special abilities can’t save her when she reveals a secret she’s been hiding from him—one that could destroy their relationship for good.

TAYLOR JONES SAYS: Jennifer Moss has done it again with Taking the Rap. In the third installment of the Ryan Doherty Mysteries, we find our hero Ryan searching for the killer or a rapper who was killed then hung on a cross. In the background, Ryan’s lover Catharine has to testify at the trial of the man who tried to rape her in book 1. Her testimony leads to the revelation of a secret that devastates Ryan and splits the two of them apart.

As always, Moss’s characters are highly realistic and well developed. Her plot is strong and filled with surprises that keep you turning page after page.

REGAN MURPHY SAYS: Taking the Rap by Jennifer Moss is the third book in the Ryan Doherty Mysteries, and like the other two, this one’s a great read. Just when I think that Moss will run out of interesting stories to tell about Ryan, she proves me wrong. This book has some unusual twists in that the murder is a hate crime and the usual suspect are unusual, to say the least. Everybody seems to have a motive in this one.

As with the other two books in the series, Taking the Rap is filled with interesting, well-developed characters. The plot is fast-paced and intense, and will keep you on the edge of your seat from beginning to end. Way to go, Moss!

Prologue

“I’m mightier than Jesus!” the rapper announced, holding the newly won trophy above his head. “’Cause Jesus didn’t have my gifts and my gifts make the world go around, know-what-I’m-sayin’?”

Apparently none of the two thousand awards show guests knew what he was saying, since the auditorium was silent but for a few coughs. Several people in the back rows booed. He raised the platinum trophy a bit higher and concluded, “So I thank Jesus but, most of all, I thank me!”

His publicist, Kim Barnett, popped a Xanax into her mouth and dry-swallowed the bitter pill with a shiver. She panicked at the silence until the orchestra conductor looked to the stage manager who encouraged him to start playing with an enthusiastic nod.

“This is the second award this evening for Terrico James,” the announcer voiced over the music. “Just last month, James won three Grammys for his fifth album, TJ on Top.”

During the commercial break, Kim made her way to the wings of stage left and spotted Terrico bumping shoulders and shaking hands with the other award winners and presenters.

One of the younger members of his entourage was given the task of standing beside him to hold the trophies. She waved until she caught the rapper’s attention.

Terrico sauntered over to her, arms flung wide for a hug. “He-e-e-y, Kim. My girl,” he said with a wide smile. “Two wins tonight, baby! I’m on fire!”

“Yeah, TJ, that’s good news,” Kim said, remaining rigid throughout his bear hug.

Terrico’s gaze went roving around backstage as he pulled away. “You seen my man Quince? I think he’s due up to present soon.” He beckoned the trophy guy to follow him. “Stay right by my side, brother! For the photographers!”

The young man complied.

“TJ, what the hell?” Kim tried to whisper above the din. “I told you to stop the Jesus talk! You’re gonna get yourself in some deep shit and I can’t keep picking your ass up off of the floor!”

“Settle down, baby, it’s a’ight.” Terrico James was oblivious to the public relations shit storm he had just created. Actually, perpetuated. “Look, I’ll see you at the after-parties, ’kay? You just stay here and talk to the media after I give them their Terrico photo op they been waiting for.”

He flashed a brilliant white grin before he disappeared into the circle of his entourage. The trophy guy rushed to open the pressroom door and the group moved into the room of awaiting reporters.

Kim inhaled deeply and lifted her chin, preparing like a gladiator for what would come next. At least the Xanax had started to kick in.

CHAPTER 1

Question religion, question it all.

Question existence, until them questions are solved.

~ Jay-Z

Waiting out the final eight minutes until end of shift, Detective Ryan Doherty tossed a green tennis ball across the desk pod to his partner, Matt Di Santo. A new four-days-on, two-days-off schedule had been implemented for all detectives in the Chicago P.D., which was why they were working this particular Saturday in late June.

“Harry Caray,” Di Santo announced, continuing their impromptu game. With each toss, they had to name a prominent Chicagoan from their own ethnicity.

“Caray isn’t an Italian name,” Ryan challenged.

“His real name was Carabini or Carabina, something like that. He’s a paisan, believe me.”

Ryan accepted that, but he’d look it up later. “Mayor Daley,” he said tossing the ball across the desk pod. “Both of them.”

“Peter Cetera. Chicago. The band.” The tennis ball flew through the air back to Ryan.

“I know who Peter Cetera is. Vince Vaughn.”

“Love that Vince!” his partner said, and tossed the ball back. “Al Capone.”

Ryan chuckled as he held the ball. “I was waiting for that mistake, my friend. Capone was born and raised in New York.”

“Well he contributed to the city, and Chicago is wholeheartedly identified with him.”

“Contributed to the city? He was a criminal.”

“He contributed to the economy. He provided the booze of which many of your people bought and consumed.”

Ryan grimaced. “The economy?”

“Yeah, yeah, and he’s still contributing to it,” Di Santo answered. “You know how many foreign tourists come here expecting to see the ‘bang-bang’ old-fashioned gangsters? They still visit the Clark Street address where the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre went down, even though it’s now an empty lot. Capone is big business for the city of Chicago, trust-you-me.”

He glanced at the clock. Three minutes to go. “Well, if we’re going all Law & Order, then I call the entire Chicago police force Irish.” He tossed the ball back, extra hard this time, but his partner caught it nonetheless.

“’Cept for DiLeonardi and Jaconetti–they’re legends. And my guys.” Di Santo said, tapping the ball against his chest. Ryan’s cell rang and he picked it up with one hand while catching the ball with the other.

“Homicide: Doherty,” he said by rote, forgetting for a moment that he had answered his cell and not the department’s landline.

“Hey, Ry!” He recognized the voice as Duke, one of Catharine’s twin sons. Since Ryan had started dating Cat six months and twenty-eight days ago, he’d had a fairly good relationship with the boys–Duke better than Hank, who half-respected him and half-resented him.

“What’s up? Is your mom okay?” Ryan asked.

“Yeah, yeah. Mom’s fine. It’s about work.” Duke was shouting above the crowd on the other side of the line. “You know we’re doing security work at Payton Arena, right?”

Ryan pulled his legs off of the desk and sat up in his chair. “Security? Your mom didn’t say you were doing security. She just said you guys had a summer job there. How’d you get on security?”

Duke sighed as a preface to his explanation. “They recruited half the university football team. Me, Hank, and some of the other guys. But we’ve got a problem here. You know Terrico James?”

“Terrico James the rapper? I don’t really know his music, but yeah, I’ve heard of him.”

“Well, he’s missing. They can’t find him anywhere,” Duke said, trying to keep his voice down and shouting at the same time. “Payton’s in your district, isn’t it? Lincoln Park? I thought you guys could come over and just help look into it. His people aren’t saying anything, but I can tell they’re getting really nervous.”

Ryan glanced over at Di Santo who bucked his chin in inquisition. “It’s Duke,” Ryan answered. “He wants us to go over to Payton Arena and check on a missing person.”

Di Santo scrunched up his face. “Now? We’re almost off!”

Duke must have overheard their conversation because he raised his voice in appeal. “Please, Ry. I was just hoping you could come over and like, look into it on the down-low. Not an official police thing. Hold on–” The other end became muffled, but Ryan could distinctly hear him arguing with his brother. The nineteen-year-old twins were almost joined at the hip, even in college, when most brothers would have gone their separate ways. He figured they had to stay tight, being raised by a single mother since they were toddlers, their father only sporadically in and out of their lives.

“Duke?” Ryan called into the phone. “What’s going on?”

He glanced over at Di Santo, who was pointing to the wall clock. Little hand on seven, big hand on twelve. The Flinstones quitting bird whistled in his head as Di Santo started straightening up his desk.

Duke came back on the line. “Sorry, that was Hank. I’ve been assigned to Terrico’s team and Hank is with Mandy Ross. Could you just stop by here on your way home? If they find him by that time, you and Matt can just stay for the concert if you want.”

“Yeah, I’m not into rap music, nor am I a pre-teen girl. But I’ll swing by to make sure everything is okay.”

“Thanks, I’ll put you guys on the VIP list! See you.” Duke disconnected.

“So, someone is missing?” Di Santo asked, stuffing his laptop into a brown leather case.

“Possibly. Hank and Duke are working security at the concert tonight, and they want us to check it out, discreetly.”

Di Santo nodded. “Terrico James? They’ve been playing his songs all morning on WGCI, probably because of the concert. Not really my style of rap, but he’s okay.”

“Your style of rap?” Ryan chuckled, half-shocked that his partner listened to WGCI and actually had a rap preference. Something he had never known about Di Santo in the two years, eight months and twenty-three days they had been partnered. “Okay, well Duke is assigned to James’s team, and Hank’s covering Mandy Ross.”

Di Santo stopped packing up his gear. “No shit! Mandy Ross? I love her!”

“Wait, she’s like sixteen–”

“She’s eighteen now, thank-you-very-much, and so what? I like her music. It’s catchy. I’ve got all her albums.” He shook his ass like Mandy in the video that rocketed her to stardom. “Shake it, shake it shake it, baby. That is how we make it, baby.” He held out his arms and bowed to no applause.

“Stick with police work, okay?” Ryan said. “So I take it you’re coming along, now?”

“Yeah, I’ll stop in with you,” Di Santo said waving the back of his hand, as if he hadn’t just admitted he was a raging fanboy. Ryan unplugged his own laptop and stuffed it into a padded backpack, grabbed the keys to the department-issued Impala and headed out, his partner jogging behind him.

***

The Chicagoland temperatures remained mild from the late spring. Ryan was grateful for the postponed heat and humidity when he walked into a crowd like the one in front of Payton Arena.

His phone displayed the time as 7:22 p.m., thirty-eight minutes before the show was scheduled to start. The red-gold sun bathed the scene in front of the main entrance: concertgoers lining up to get in, news vans with reporters readying their cameramen, and energy drink hawkers with their booth babes working the crowd.

There were also several groups of protestors. One of the picket circles was more vocal than the others with a loudmouth on a megaphone denouncing Terrico James and his latest decree that he transcended their Lord and Savior.

Ryan nudged his partner and nodded toward the group. “Let’s go let them know we’re here.” As they approached the picketers, Ryan scanned the text of their picket signs: Terrico=Terrorist, God Hates False Prophets, and JC >TJ. He pulled his jacket aside so the demonstrators could clearly see the gold shield mounted on his belt.

“Do we have an organizer here?” he asked to the group, in general.

A smaller man stepped forward, holding a Bible atop a clipboard in one arm. He appeared to be about thirty, dirty blond, wearing a starched blue shirt buttoned up to his neckline and freshly pressed black cotton pants. His black loafers reflected the light as if he had just buffed them.

“Hello, officers. We are demonstrating within the confines of the law here,” the man said with a slight, but noticeable Southern dialect.

“And you are?”

“Pleased to meet you, sir. I am Warren L. Smith, director of the ODL.” He handed both detectives a brochure and held out his hand for a shake.

Ryan took the man’s hand, which was damp with perspiration. “ODL?”

“We are the One Divine Life, an organization dedicated to helping others live their lives in the path of Christ. We’re based out of Atlanta.”

“Well we are the One Chicago Police,” Ryan said, half-mocking the man. “We’re introducing ourselves to all the groups out here. If there’s any trouble, we won’t hesitate to take anyone in.”

“We’re being peaceful here, Officer.” He gestured toward his fellow picketers. “We don’t plan on provoking any violence. You see we are a religious group, in the name of Christ.”

“Yeah, like there’s never been any violence in the name of religion,” challenged Di Santo, with an exaggerated roll of his eyes.

“I assure you fine gentlemen that we are just here to spread our message and will be staying outside the perimeter of the arena.”

A reporter had sidled up to them, pretending not to be listening. Ryan hated how the media leeched on celebrities, although it was almost a symbiotic relationship. Without the press, there would be no fame of celebrity, and without celebrities, there would be nothing to write about. His hatred of the media didn’t extend to his baby sister, Finn, who had worked for the L.A. Times until they’d laid off a majority of the staff. This particular reporter, with his scruffy face, nose ring, heavy-lidded eyes and bony frame, was not made for television. Probably a blogger. The conversation stopped and Ryan glared at the dude until he got the hint and moved on.

“Okay, Mr. Warren L. Smith. Thank you for your cooperation.” Ryan handed the man his CPD business card and they left the group to walk in their circle.

He and Di Santo stopped a couple of other picketing organizations that were less substantial, only three to four members each. Ryan gave them the same warning along with his card. In return, they offered him their literature, which he stuffed into his back pocket.

In order to make their way to the arena doors, they had to round a news van, behind which stood an attractive, young Asian reporter standing opposite a cameraman. She stopped and touched the earpiece in her right ear. “We are just now getting word that Terrico James may not be performing at the concert tonight. Mandy Ross will still go on, as planned.”

“The news is spreading,” Ryan said, leaning in to Di Santo.

“I guess we’ll find out what’s really going on when we see Hank and Duke. Are we going backstage?” Di Santo took off his suit jacket and swung it over a shoulder, hooking the collar with a thumb. He was woefully overdressed in the crowd of teenagers and rap fans. Even Ryan, who was sporting jeans and a CPD-issued polo shirt, might as well have been wearing a sash with NOT A FAN across his chest.

“Promise me you won’t hit on her, will you?”

“Who, me?” Di Santo said, feigning innocence. He hit on every new woman he met, five-three and under.

“She’s eighteen, dude…just remember that.”

They approached the north side of the venue and Ryan tapped on the glass door. When they caught a security guard’s attention, they both held their shields up to the glass. The guard nodded, accepting their credentials, and opened the door, admitting them into the lobby of the arena. He pointed them to a set of double doors, which they found unlocked, and they proceeded into the auditorium and down the main aisle.

At the edge of the stage they encountered a genuine 300-pound, six-foot-six muscle-bound behemoth of a guy wearing a navy security tee.

“We’re looking for Hank and Duke Lulling?” Ryan said, holding his shield up to the guy’s eye-level. The giant nodded and led them around backstage to a long green hallway. There were several white doors off of the hall, each labeled with a gold glittery star and a name. The dude pointed to the second door and Ryan knocked.

“Probably can’t hear you. Just go in,” the security guard said before heading back in the direction of the stage.

Ryan pushed the dressing room door open and saw that the suite was filled with people mingling, drinking, dancing and chattering away. He stepped in with Di Santo behind him, scanning the room until he eventually spotted Duke on the far side, standing next to a red velvet couch. On the couch sat several people, including Hank, who was sitting so close to a petite blonde girl she was practically on his lap. Ryan recognized the girl immediately, as her face was constantly plastered on magazine covers and television: Mandy Ross. The megastar appeared tinier in person, about five-foot-two with long blonde wavy hair, framing a trim, dancer’s body. Although her face was already stage-painted, Mandy lounged in a pink velour hoodie and cutoff shorts. One of her bare feet played footsie with Hank’s ankle.

When Ryan caught Duke’s eye, the boy held up a hand in greeting and made his way toward the detectives.

“Hey, guys, thanks so much for stopping by,” Duke said. “Glad you got in okay.”

“Tough job,” Ryan said, eyeing the party.

“Yeah, well our jobs tonight were to be liaison assistants to the talent. Like I told you over the phone, I was assigned to Terrico’s team but he never showed. I’m getting a bad feeling about it. His people won’t tell me anything and they won’t let me into the dressing room. So I was hanging out here with Hank, waiting for you.”

As fraternal twins, Hank and Duke Lulling looked no more alike than standard siblings. Hank had blond hair and light-skin with brooding brown eyes, while Duke had light brown hair, olive skin and his mother’s eyes of sky blue. The boys did share an identical frame, athletic and large. Ryan marveled at how these enormous young men had come out of Catharine’s petite body. As far as character, Hank was the more extroverted of the two while Duke’s temperament hovered at serene.

Ryan glanced over at Hank and Mandy, holding hands on the couch. She whispered into Hank’s ear and the boy grinned.

“And what’s going on over there?” he nodded toward the couple. “That part of his ‘liaison’ duty?”

Duke smiled, and dropped his gaze–an expression inherited from his mother. “Well, Mandy kind of took to him from the start. And as you can see, he doesn’t mind.”

“Fast work.”

“C’mon, I’ll introduce you,” Duke said, gesturing for the detectives to follow. When they arrived at the red velvet couch, Hank’s jaw tightened. He was clearly pissed.

“I told him not to call you,” Hank said. “As far as I can tell, nobody’s dead.”

The pop star chuckled a bit uncomfortably and nuzzled in closer to him.

Duke interjected with an introduction. “Mandy, this is Ryan. He’s a cop.” Di Santo nudged Duke’s elbow. “Oh, sorry. And this is his partner, Matt.”

“Oh, you guys are such a cute couple! My assistant’s gay,” she said, pointing to a man standing nearby. The man cringed.

“No, n-n-no,” Di Santo stuttered. “We’re not a couple. We’re partners. Cop partners. Keeping the city safe and putting away bad guys and all that.” He puffed out his chest like a superhero.

Mandy announced to the room, “Hey, everybody, we’ve got cops here! Put all the drugs away.” Ryan scanned the hands of the party guests, but found no contraband visible. Just a joke. Good, because he didn’t want to play narc tonight. He just wanted to put Duke at ease and get back to Catharine.

“Miss Ross, this is such an honor,” Di Santo gushed. “I’m a big fan.” Mandy giggled and offered up a limp hand as if she expected him to kiss it. Di Santo looked like he was considering it. Ryan couldn’t wait to tell the guys back at the 18th about this whole scene.

“What’s your name again, baby?” she said, slithering up to Di Santo.

He cleared his throat and loosened his tie a bit. “I’m Matt. Detective Matt Di Santo.”

“De-tective Di-Santo,” she repeated, playing with the alliteration of his name. “You staying for the show, De-tective Di-Santo?”

“Absolutely! If we can.”

“Of course, you can. You’re in, aren’t you? Come backstage again afterwards, okay? Join the party.” She straightened Di Santo’s collar then flashed him a grin that made him stand up a bit straighter. Di Santo stood about five-foot-six, but his overblown personality made up for his small stature.

Before Ryan could stop him, his partner had whipped out his cell phone and asked the singer for a picture.

“Only if I can hold your gun,” Mandy said. Di Santo froze. “Just kidding, babe! Of course you can.” She made a gun out of her thumb and forefinger, pretending to blow on the “barrel” for the photos. Di Santo was in heaven and Ryan knew the pictures would be online within the next sixty seconds.

After the third click of Di Santo’s cell phone camera, Ryan grabbed his partner by the shirt and pulled him back toward the door, turning his back to the room so the boys couldn’t hear. “What did I say? She’s eighteen, for Chrissake.”

“Yeah, but she’s an old eighteen,” Di Santo said looking back at her. Mandy winked at him in return.

Ryan shook his head. “Jesus. At least avoid her for Hank’s sake. I don’t need any more of his teenaged wrath.”

“Okay, okay. I just want to see the show.”

Ryan let the shirt go and gave his partner a slight slap on chest. “I’m going to go call Cat. See if she can do her thing with this Terrico James situation. Stay here and watch over the kids.” He stepped out into the hall and walked down to a corner space so he could shield himself from the clamor of the backstage crew.

Catharine answered without a greeting. “Hey, are you coming for dinner? I already started preparing some salmon.”

“I’m at Payton Arena,” Ryan answered. “Duke asked me to stop by. One of the artists is MIA. I thought maybe you could use your…” He lowered his voice after glancing around for potential eavesdroppers. “…finding powers and help? See if you can picture him anywhere?” He gave her the address and a brief description of the rapper. He heard her scribbling notes on the other end.

Once Catharine had proven to him that her “abilities” were genuine, Ryan got her approved with the department as a consultant. Besko was as skeptical as Ryan had been at first about using a psychic empath to help with cases. Their skepticism was normal for cops who were trained to trust the evidence. Since their first case together, she had “impressions” on cases, and helped find missing suspects and a child held captive. He really didn’t understand the full extent of her abilities, but his close rate had risen to almost 90% on the cases on which Catharine has assisted. That was all the evidence he needed.

“I’ll work on it now,” she replied. “I do hope they find him. And not just because I was hoping to see you tonight.”

“I love you,” he said, cupping his cell. “Hey, did Jane stop by, yet?”

He heard her take a deep breath on the other side of the line. “She’s due any minute.”

© 2014 by Jennifer Moss

Author, Charles Alvarez:

Moss takes us on a seamless journey from her two preceding books, Town Red and Way to Go, into a plot that contains both twists and surprises. She interweaves the Ryan and Catharine romance with the search for the killer that keeps us turning pages. A must read. ~ Charles Alvarez, author of Dressed to Kill