CHAPTER THREE - SLICE OF Johnson Toast scanned the Sky Mall Magazine. He could find nothing of interest, other than a sling-type dog bed, made for the back seat of a car. It looked like it could possibly keep his Mustang free of dog hair and general dog scum. But then what would really keep his car free of dog hair and general dog scum would be for his sister to use her own vehicle when rushing Ginger to the vet when she gets a sand bur stuck in her paw. And what would be an absolute guarantee to be without dog hair and dog scum, would be if there was no dog. Johnson was seated between his sister, who at the moment was flagging down the stewardess for another cocktail and the beautiful and mysterious Pearlina, who he could tell out of the corner of his eye, was deep in thought as she watched the cumulus puffs of clouds floating below them. He tried to recall how and why he'd gotten where he was in the first place. "Jack Bender is in trouble," is what Pearlina had said two days prior, while sitting in his office. Johnson had answered, "Well, Jack Bender's missing. The police report says that he took a flight to Montego Bay. And in case you don't know, I have his DOG." "You are a good man to take her in. Jack loves that dog." "Oh really? What kind of an ass leaves the country without making arrangements for his dog that he loves?" The woman looked across the desk in the home office, slash spare bedroom and said, "The kind of an ass that is in trouble." Johnson had replied, "I doubt he's in trouble." "You Mr. Toast are a detective. You have to know something is not right about that. Jack told me that if he ever went missing that I was to contact you." "Me? Why in the hell would he say to contact me?" "Two reasons. One, you are a private investigator, and two, you have the key to his survival." "What are you talking about?" he'd said. "I don't have any key to his survival and I barley know the guy. And what little I do know of him, I don't like. He's a grown man who bought a one way ticket to the Caribbean and left his dog to die." "You've gotta believe me, mahn. Jack told me if he ever disappeared, I must take his money, fly to America to find you and bring you and the doll back to Jamaica. He said if I didn't do what he said, he would have no chance and that he would be as good as dead." "Whoa, whoa. Wait a minute. His money? A doll?" "Yes mahn. Jack left me money to pay you. And there is a very important doll, right here, in your home. It is buried in a wall downstairs." Jack stood up. "Excuse me, Pearlina is it?" "Yes." "What in the hell are you talking about?" There were footsteps coming down the hallway. "Johnson," his sister yelled. "I'm turning the burner off on the S.O.S. All you have to do is make toast and warm the sauce back up when you are ready to eat. Got that?" "Yeah, yeah, got it," he'd hollered back. Pearlina stood up. "Mr. Toast, she said, "you are my only hope to find Jack. He promised me that once I am able to tell you the whole story that you will come around. And he said that if the story doesn't turn your head, the money will." "Okay, let's start there. How much money are we talking about?" "I have forty thousand dollars, cash." Johnson sat back down and so did Pearlina. "Mr. Toast," Pearlina continued. "Call me Johnson." "Johnson Toast. That is a strange name, mahn. You know if you say it fast it sounds like Jontsome Toast? You know, Want some Toast? Has anyone ever said that to you?" "Only everyday. Just call me Johnson and forget the Toast. Tell me about this forty thousand dollars, this very important doll, Jack Bender and what any of it has to do with me." Pearlina's eyes blackened. She spoke in a low whisper. "Jack's troubles began when he was just a small boy. He was about eight or nine years old when the darklings entered his body. They came through his mouth, like they normally do." "The darklings?" "Yes the darklings. They are from the other side." "The other side of what?" "The other side of life." "I didn't know there was another side of life." "Of course there is mahn. It is called death. That would be the other side of life." Johnson raised an eyebrow and kept a straight face. "Look," he said. I don't believe in any mumbo jumbo kind of shit. I think you have the wrong guy for this job. Can I call you a cab or something?" "Pearlina spoke again. "Jack warned me that this would happen. But he said I was not to leave America without you and that doll." "Okay, so let's pretend for one minute that I went along with this darkling horse shit from the other side that entered through his mouth. Then what happened? What is this doll business and what would this doll and I do?" "It is a very long story about all of the things that the darklings have done to Jack. I will tell you the bits and pieces that I know as we go. The doll I do know about. It is very special. The doll is filled with the loa of Jack's twin brother." "Jack has a twin brother? Why don't you ask his twin brother to go find him?" "He died when Jack was a small boy. He was about eight or nine years old. His spirit is in that doll. So actually, he will be helping us find and save Jack." Johnson felt a shiver come out of nowhere. "You are starting to give me the creeps with this nonsense. I need to make some toast. Can I offer you some American cuisine before you depart?" "I'm not going anywhere Mr. Toast. I mean Johnson. Not without you and that doll, that is. And yes mahn, I would love some American cuisine." Laney's head popped in the door. "Johnson, I'm leaving now. I should be back about ten. Don't forget, it's Dusty's turn to walk Ginger and it's Dane's turn to load the dishwasher. Gotta go." She disappeared and clicked her way down the hallway in a pair of high heeled sandals and tight fitting leggings. A few minutes later Pearlina was seated at the table between the two soon to be delinquents who were tongue tied. Never had they had a black woman at their dinner table and never had they seen anyone this beautiful before. Anywhere. "So," she said to the boy on her right in her creamy voice. "Your uncle is a very good man. He is going to help me." Two slices of freshly toasted bread popped out of the toaster. Johnson caught them in mid-air. "I thought we agreed not to discuss business over dinner." Pearlina looked down. "I do apologize. Respect, mahn." "Where do you live?" asked the freckled kid on her left. "Jamaica." "They smoke pot in Jamaica.," said one of the boys. "I have a friend who told me that his sister went there for a week and all she did was smoke weed and that it's legal there." "That is not true. It is not legal mahn. Not unless your are a Rastafarian. But it is true that most often the police look the other way." Dane spooned the white sauce with chopped corned beef onto two pieces of buttered toast and set them in front of Pearlina. Johnson caught another pair of lightly toasted pieces of bread in the air and set them on a plate. He passed the plate over to Dustin for a round of butter. "Tell me about you," she said to the boys. "Names?" "I'm Dustin and he's Dane," said the kid with light brown hair. "How old are you?" "We'll be teenagers next month, on the twentieth" said Dustin. Pearlina noticed that Dustin's hair was a tad bit more blonde and a tad bit more messy than Dane's. "And what do you guys like to do?" she said. "Play video games." "What else?" "Watch t.v." "What else?" "Nothing." "Nothing? Really? What about school? What do you like in school?" "Gym class," they said together. Pearlina took a bite of the slop in front of her after cutting a bite sized piece. "Mmmm. What did you call this?" "Shit on a shingle." Johnson gave Dane a look. "I mean, S.O.S." "Well, it is very good, mahn." Johnson was now sitting among them at the table and was overdosing his plate with the pepper shaker. Pearlina spoke again. "It is a curious name your uncle has, don't you think? Johnson Toast?" "Oh, that's nothing," piped up Dane. "My grandparents had a real sense of humor. They named all their kids with words that went with toast." "Really? Like what?" "My mom's name was Melba, but she changed it to Laney when she turned eighteen." Dustin said, "Yes and my aunt's names are Cinnamon and French. And we have Uncle Wheat and Uncle Rye." "Are you fooling with me?" "No, those are really their names. My favorite name was my Grandpa's name." "I am afraid to ask mahn, but what would that name be?" "Slice Of." Pearlina spit out her milk.