“Damn, son, where’d you find this?”

The leader said it as my latest find was tossed carelessly to his hands.

Three guns were aimed at me, my hands were raised.

“What is it, Marlo?” one of the dirty people asked.

Her voice was almost gone; apparently she was hitting the Meth, hard.

Drugs were common, and Meth could be made with the scraps that people find around houses.

Marlo ran his hands over the object, and I watched his face to see if he understood the true value of what I had uncovered at a house at random.

“Iunno, man. Looks like a key. But a key for what?” He looked at me.

“Beats me,” I lied. I wasn’t a very good liar, so there was a good chance that this Marlo person would see through it.

He was a small gang leader, after all. He was probably used to scams, and scamming others.

Marlo smiled, a gleeful, miserable, patronizing, smile.

“You don’t know what it is? And you kept it?” he asked me.

One of them took a break from menacing me with a weapon to root through my pack. My belongings fell to the floor as he dumped everything out.

“Looked interesting, Marlo. What can I say?” I baited.

This was an insult. And brazen on my part. But with any luck I’d be respected a bit and might escape with my life.

Marlo nodded to one of his people.

They shrugged, and without flinching, swung the butt of their rifle into my stomach.

As the air fell out of my lungs in a painful fashion. Marlo spoke over my noises.

“We’re not on a first name basis, scavenger,” He approached me, holding the object in front of my face, “What is it?”

There was a pause, and I knew another blow was coming. I raised my hand up.

“Wait. I just…” my breath caught up, “I was saving it for my son. It looked interesting. I just…” doing my best at sounding desperate, “I’m just a scavenger, trying to live. Please, have pity on me.”

I looked up. There was one of Marlo’s people ready to lay into me with his rifle again. And Marlo, looking on with disappointment.

“Well you won’t be needing it. Cause you ain’t goin’ back home, scav,” He said, and gave a quick nod to one of his.

I revealed my grenade that I had kept for just this occasion. I had pulled the pin and kept my thumb on the trigger mechanism. If I let go it would blow up. I hope they understood that, hopefully at least Marlo would know.

“Shit, you ain’t no scav,” Marlo exclaimed.

The four of them watched me carefully, as I back away.

“Don’t worry, man. I’ll find out what this key goes to,” Marlo saluted.

So he knew the whole time, playing to the part of a dumb gangster, and me playing the part of a dumb scav. Two intelligent people had found themselves.

“Wait, he doesn’t have kids?” the woman asked.

Marlo slapped the back of her head.

“Shut the fuck up. We have a god damned key to the city right here. Just need to find out where it goes, and collect,” he told her.

I rounded a corner and only their bickering voices echoed off the ruins. With my grenade in hand I trudged away from danger.

The key was for a relic of old world magic. Technology that could turn deserts into oases. A fabled item that might be able to fix the world.

And it was in the hands of this, “Marlo”. There was no way I could let that stand. But for now, I needed to eat. With no pack, and no tools, finding food was going to be tough.