Perce Nez drove from Fargo to Key Largo. Perce was a poet. In the phone book he was an Indian. He wore his long black hair in a ponytail. He built fences for farmers in North Dakota. Dug the holes, laid out the wire, strung it together, tight as violin strings. He carried a pair of six-inch pliers on his belt.
But at twenty-seven Perce’s life was no violin, or even a fence. It was an open gate. And one day he drove through it.
It was 32 degrees when he headed out of Fargo in his old Chevy Impala, the pliers on his belt. He drove ten hours and stopped overnight at a Motel 6 outside Kansas City, ate a twelve-ounce steak, drank six beers and tried to pick up the waitress.
Perce was slightly built and not tall, but as strong and taut as fencing wire. The waitress looked like a bale of hay, dirty blond and ready to burst. Perce wasn’t fussy. He was a single man in a diabolically conceived safe-sex age where a hurtin’ need outweighed being particular. Not that it mattered. He struck out and slept the loneliness of the long-distance driver.
The next night, in Chattanooga, after another long day’s drive, he got lucky. It was one of those instant, horny, eye-contact things. She was a thin plain woman in her early twenties with long smooth black hair.
After serving Perce his meal she sat down in the opposite side of the booth and told him her name was Isabel and she was part Cherokee. Her lonely eyes looked at him with what he later (in his bed at the Super 8 motel) correctly diagnosed as a crying, burning, depth-of-the-soul need to touch another body.
Perce thought it would be a one-night stand, but this little Indian kept circling his wagon and he kept firing. And next morning, the darnedest thing. He was in love! He asked her to come down to Key Largo with him, where they would catch lobsters and live a wonderful horny life together.
“Do you think you can catch a lobster?” he asked her.
“I caught you, Perce Nez.”
And down they went.
At a final stopover, in St. Augustine, they continued their courtship, tangled up in yellow sheets and pledging eternal red-lobster love.
They drove across the top of Miami with all the windows of the beat-up Impala rolled down and when I-95 ended they rattled down U.S. 1 through the urban environs of Greater Miami and then hummed onto a two-lane highway bordered by flat sandy barrens and scrub pine, Florida Bay on their right and the Atlantic Ocean on their left.
“Yahoooo!” went Isabel, sticking her head out the window, her long hair streaming like the torn strips of a black silk flag.
Perce smiled at her joy. Damn, this happiness was good.
They checked into the Edgewater Motel at Mile Marker 101 and immediately and hungrily made love.
“I love it here, Perce,” she said, nestled up in his sinews. “Let’s live here forever.”
“I’m going to die here,” said Perce with absolute contentment.
They went next door to the Bonefish Bar & Grill. They sat on stools at the bar and Perce ordered a beer and Isabel a white wine. They looked at the grease-stained menu. They couldn’t have been happier.
In a booth against the wall, two men in low-crowned cowboy hats watched them. They climbed out of the booth and walked over to the bar, one a tall powerful man around thirty and the other a shorter man with no neck.
“Don’t I know you?” the tall one said to Perce’s lean back and ponytail. The second man stood firmly behind the first.
Perce half turned on his bar stool and looked at the tall man. Didn’t look good. “I don’t think so,” he told him.
“What’s your name?” the tall man said.
“Perze Nez,” said Perce.
“Is that Spanish?” the man asked.
“It’s Indian backwards,” offered Isabel, to whom Perce had explained on the way down.
“Is that right?” said the man. “Well, I’m a Spanish cowboy.”
“I can see that,” Perce acknowledged.
“I still say I know you from somewhere,” said the gaucho, squinting mean.
“We’ve never been down here before,” Isabel said protectively, sensing trouble for her Perce. Perce was wiry and strong, but he was no match for this guy. All she could think of was Perce’s words after they had made love in the Edgewater Motel: I’m going to die here. “We just came down here to be happy,” she added plaintively.
The cowboy turned toward her. Under the brim of his hat, his eyes looked her up and down. “Well, look at you,” he said, smiling crooked now. “I sure know you from somewhere. Are you a backward Indian, too?”
Perce shifted his narrow frame sideways on the bar stool so that it was poised between the redneck and Isabel. “You’re out of line,” Perce told those dangerous eyes.
“You got me scared to death,” said the cowboy, turning his head slightly to take in his backup sidekick. “Look at me, Carl, I’m shaking in my boots.”
Perce was getting pissed off. “We’ve been in this bar five minutes, in Key Largo less than an hour, and we run into two of the biggest jackasses in Florida.”
The gaucho’s hands lunged, grabbed Perce by the shirt collar and yanked him up to his face as though to bite his head off. He wasn’t watching Perce’s hands.
Perce took the pliers from his belt.
— Bill Michelmore
Originally published in the Santa Fe Literary Review