The chapter that follows is an excerpt from Book III: Hamilton & John.  This one features businessmouse John Eisenberg along with his cousin and best friend, Aaron.

Hold That Tiger

June 1945

Upon graduation from their respective universities, John and Aaron returned to J.J. Eisenberg’s, this time as full store managers.  Aaron was assigned to Store Number Three, the newest of the five-and-dimes.  John found himself back in Hardware Two, site of the infamous penny incident.  Junior ruled the Eisenberg empire from his own father’s original office in Store Number One.

At the conclusion of their first week as managers, the cousins got together to celebrate over dinner and drinks.

“So, how is it going?” John asked as he set his menu aside.

“What a week this has been!” said Aaron.  “I thought I was ready for this, but I feel like I’ve been drinking from a fire hose.”

“I know what you mean,” agreed John.  “There’s just so much to oversee.  Even scheduling for the next two weeks has been a nightmare.”

“You’re a week ahead of me then,” said Aaron.  “I thought that I knew everybody.  It turns out you don’t really know them until you ask them to work a particular day for you.”

“Then there are the ones that you literally don’t know because they were hired while we were away at school.”

The cousins were interrupted briefly by the appearance of their waiter, a tiger, who had come to take their orders.

Aaron watched suspiciously as the big cat walked away from their table.  John chuckled, “Do tigers still scare you?”

The older cousin jerked a thumb in the direction of their waiter’s retreat.  “Our food will probably be laced with some kind of sleeping powder.  One taste and we’ll be waking up in the trunk of his car.”

“If I didn’t know you, I’d think you were serious,” said John.

“I’m as serious as a heart attack.”  Aaron made a face.

John brushed off the remark.  “So we were talking about scheduling.”

“Yeah,” said Aaron.  “That and about a million other things.  Hey, do you want to trade stores?”  Aaron lowered his voice and leaned across the table.  “I really don’t want to have to place an order for female brassieres.”

“I’ll stick with hand tools and paint, thank you,” smiled John.  “You know, I can’t for the life of me imagine why Father wouldn’t give you Hardware Two.  Oh look, here’s our wine.”

The tiger placed a pair of goblets on the table between the two mice and proceeded to pour for his guests.  He stood by expectantly while John raised his glass for a sip.

“It’s fine, thank you,” said John.  When it became clear that Aaron was not yet ready for a taste, the tiger turned tail and headed for the kitchen.  John looked across the table at his cousin, who was watching intently.  With a sly smile, he took one more sip and set his glass down.

Just as Aaron was about to raise his own glass, John began coughing.  He dramatically clawed at his throat, made a gagging sound, and slumped in his chair.  Aaron looked on in horror and the restaurant grew silent around them.  After a second, John sprang to life, laughing loudly.  He took a deep swallow of his wine.

By this time, the waiter had reappeared at their table.  “Is everything alright, sir?” he asked with concern.

John laughed and wiped his lips.  “Yes, everything is fine.  We’re just sharing a joke here.  But I think my cousin might appreciate a glass of water.”

“Of course, sir,” said the waiter who immediately padded off in search of a pitcher of ice water.

“I can’t believe you did that!” said Aaron.

“I can’t believe you’re still afraid of cats,” said John.

“Have you forgotten Dicky Best?”

“That was back in seventh grade,” said John.

“He was the biggest dick in the school,” Aaron reminded his cousin.  “He never once called us by our real names.  It was always ‘Four Eyes’ and ‘Four Eyes Too’.  How many times did he ‘accidentally’ bump into you and knock your books out of your hands?”

“So one puma was a jerk,” said John, “that doesn’t mean all felines are evil.  I know some rodents who are jerks too.”

The cousins suspended their conversation momentarily as the waiter returned with glasses of water for both of them.  After making sure that his customers had all they needed, he bustled off to serve another table.

“See?  This guy is nice.  He’s friendly, courteous…”

“He’s got teeth and claws like razors,” said Aaron.  “I’d rather be waited on by a skunk.  That’s all I’m saying.”

John sighed.  “Look, let’s just change the subject.  We’re supposed to be celebrating, right?”

Dinner progressed pleasantly enough for the two mice.  The food and the wine were outstanding.  In the end, even Aaron had to admit that the waiter did a good job.  He did raise an eyebrow at the size of the tip that John left for the tiger.  Afterward, the two of them rode home together in John’s Roadmaster, a graduation gift from his father.

It didn’t take long for them to arrive at Aaron’s apartment.  “You know, John,” said Aaron as he clambered out of the car, “I realize that it’s a long time yet before your dad retires.  Still, I can’t help thinking that something amazing is going to happen at J.J.’s once we take over as partners.”  He closed the door and reached a paw through the open window.

John clasped hands with his cousin.  “I feel exactly the same way.  The first week may have been tough, but we made it.  There’s nothing that can stop us now.  Hey, I’ll swing by tomorrow afternoon and give you a hand with those books.”

Aaron squeezed his cousin’s paw a little tighter.  “Thanks.  You’re really saving my life here.”

“Don’t mention it,” said John.  “We’re family.  We look out for each other.  Good night, now.”

“Good night.”  Aaron withdrew his hand and thumped the roof of the Buick.  “See you tomorrow.”

Two hours later, John was back in his own apartment and sitting in an easy chair with his feet propped up on a footstool.  The mouse was reading a much-loved, worn copy of Jack London’s “The Call of the Wild” when he was interrupted by a soft knocking on his door.  John set his book aside and rose to his feet.  He snugged the belt of his robe around his waist before opening the door.  The tiger who waited on him at the restaurant earlier that night was standing in the hall.

“I found your note,” said the feline.

“What took you so long?” asked the mouse as he gestured for the tiger to enter.

“Sorry.  The kitchen was a disaster.  They asked if I’d help out.”  The cat began unbuttoning his shirt as he stepped around the smaller male.  “I can use the extra money.”

John closed and locked the door.  He undid the belt of his robe and let the garment fall to the floor.  The nude rodent placed his arms around the tiger’s waist.  “You’re here now,” he said, “and that’s all that counts.”

The mouse stood high on his toes and raised his muzzle to meet that of his guest.  He was rewarded with a deep purr and the taste of a rough feline tongue.  When their lips parted, John took the bigger male by the paw and dragged him in the direction of the bedroom.  “Come on,” he said.  “Let’s get you out of those clothes.”