Short Story: Sarah Smith and the Case of the Magnetic Pie

Chapter 1

Sarah Smith jerked awake as the train hit a gap in the track. Startled, she glanced around the cabin, checking to make sure everything was still as they left it. Their suitcases were still in the overhead compartment, and the door was still closed… and locked. You could never be too careful.

She turned to look outside the train’s window, where harsh sunlight was streaming in and coating the interior of the cabin with a golden yellow glow. She squinted, and shielded her eyes with her hand, getting used to the bright desert daylight. Outside was a scene that previously, she thought could only exist in a silent movie theatre.

It was a desert in every sense of the word, with not a drop of moisture to be seen and every plant brown and dying. Dunes, not of sand but of dirt, stretched on for miles, disappearing over the horizon and accompanied only by the occasional tumbleweed or harsh breeze. Behind them were the mountains the train had passed over while they were asleep, seeming almost purple in the shade of the sun. It was a fair bit past noon, maybe five-ish, and the sun had baked the land to a dry golden crisp. Except it would probably taste awful.

Her mouth felt dry just looking at it. Or… maybe that was the puddle of drool on her aviator jacket. She wiped it off on the seat, and looked across to the other occupant of the train cabin. Clara looked as peaceful as ever, elegantly sitting on the seat like a sleeping cat. And just like a sleeping cat, the bump hadn’t disturbed her in the slightest. In fact, Sarah was doubtful that anything short of the train derailing would actually wake Clara up, as she’d always been a deep sleeper, even when they were kids. And at the moment, she was sleeping on the bag that held their bottles of water.

Sarah slid off the seat, stretching her legs to wake them up, and then crouched in front of Clara’s. Gently, Sarah tugged on the bags zipper, pulling it only open far enough to retrieve one of the water bottles, before zipping it back up. Having retrieved her prize, Sarah grinned, and twisted the plastic cap. It opened with the faintest ‘puff’ of escaping air.

“Hm? Sar, that you?” That would be what woke her up, of course. She took a deep swig of the water, swallowing before responding.

“Yeah, Sweets, it’s just me. How ya doin’?”

“Uhh… Alright. A bit dry.”

“Water’s right underneath you.”

“Oh! Right.” After she had followed Sarah’s lead, and set the bottle back down, she stood, moving for the window. “What’s it like outside?”

Sarah moved to stop her, but wasn’t quick enough to stop Clara from opening the window. Said window clacked open, releasing a whirlwind inside the cabin formed entirely from dry, prickly air, and filling the room with dust and dirt. Clara yelped, not expecting the gale, until Sarah’s hand found the top of the window, slamming it shut. They both rubbed their eyes, trying to rub the grit out. A dual glance down at their clothes revealed they were now temporarily dusted with a light brown coating.

“Um. Oops.” Clara grinned at her sheepishly. Sarah couldn’t help but smile, brushing off her aviator jacket with the back of her hand.

“It’s alright. Besides, I’m not the one that should be worried about that, eh?”

“What?” Clara looked back down, and her eyes widened as she realized just what it was the dust had coated. “My sundress!”

Cackling, Sarah unlocked and stepped out of the cabin. “Have fun. I’m gonna go stretch my wings.”


The caboose’s door opened, and Sarah stepped once more into the dusty air. The caboose shielded her from the worst of the wind, but that didn’t cool it down in the slightest. The sun was peeking out from above the peaks to the west, sneaking one last look out at the desert valley before disappearing for the night. If she squinted, she could see bats emerging from a few caves in the mountain range, looking like clusters of brown dots at this distance.

Well, it was the best she was likely going to get before they arrived. She concentrated, flexing a few key muscles in her back, and sighed as more artificial muscles activated and extended. From her back, and sliding through otherwise-hidden slits in the leather jacket, came a pair of mechanical wings, shaped like a giant dragonflies’. With another flex, they began buzzing, building up lift and activating the magical sigils etched into the blades of the wings. Four runes for lift, one for combating friction, one for strength so the whole thing stayed in one piece, and two more for sheer speed.

She planted a foot on the caboose’s railing, and stepped up and off, letting the wind snap her up like a hawk grabbing a mouse. She gained at least fifty feet upwards and two hundred between her and the train before she regained control, coming to a near-perfect hover like a giant pixie. This was what she was best at. The wings had been a gift from her uncle, and yet one of his experiments. She’d had the first, the prototype, and they worked amazingly well. They had taken years to design, to build, to enchant, and it was so worth it in her opinion.

She moved almost without thinking, buzzing straight upward towards what would, in any other climate, be the lowest cloud layer. In the desert, she wasn’t so lucky. She paused at roughly seven thousand feet, where it really started getting chilly, even with her flight jacket. The dust only reached this height in trace amounts, thanks to a lack of wind that day. It was good, clean air, and she enjoyed every second of it.

Still, it had to end sometime. She turned and went into a gentle spiral, so that she could lose altitude without risking the wings’ integrity. She fought the dizziness that came with the maneuver, stopping above the tracks. Now the only question was which way the train had gone from here. If the sun was setting over there, then that had to be west, so that meant the train had gone the other way. Simple.

She paused, looking back down at the tracks. They had begun rattling, vibrating in the dust ominously. But hadn’t the train already… Oh.

She launched herself straight into the air, just barely clearing the top of the locomotive and getting a blast of coal smoke in the face. She settled back into a hover as she began coughing her lungs out, trying to clear out the smog. Below her, the train continued rattling by, with at least fifteen cars passing beneath her before she no longer felt like an asthmatic. She blinked, before sighing. Well, at least she had a nice flight.

The caboose rattled past her, and she took that as her cue to go into a short dive, matching the speed of the train, then a little faster to gradually catch up with it. She reached for the railing, grabbed on, and closed her wings, gently alighting on the caboose’s safety railing. The wings fully retracted into her back, sealing inside without leaving a trace, and she flipped over the railing onto the caboose proper.

Opening the door revealed Clara, who must have been waiting for her. “Hey. What’s up?”

Clara motioned towards the front of the train. “We’re going to be arriving within the hour, apparently. You said your friend would be picking us up?”

“Yep. How about you? Got all that dust off? Need to touch up your makeup?”

“I’m fine, don’t worry. And all packed up. there’s not much to do on this train, is there?”

Sarah laughed. “Nope. And here I am, without a book. My uncle would be disappointed. I did bring cards, though!”

Clara smirked. “I will take all your money, lady.”


Sarah stepped off the train, fifty dollars richer and followed by a grumpy Clara. “See, Clara, the trick to having a good poker face is that you don’t think too hard about it. Outwardly, you always have the best hand. Inside, you can freak out all you want. You’re not good at-”

“Shush. Where’s your friend?”

“He’s fairly obvious, shouldn’t take much to spot him.” Sarah glanced around the station. It wasn’t much, in fact basically a rectangle made of prefabricated walls that the trains pulled into, off-loaded their passengers, and left. The actual train depot was elsewhere, presumably at one of the turnoffs they passed on the way in. They began moving with the herd of people towards the door labeled “exit”, and stepped out onto the sidewalk.

Las Vegas was a bustling, living, breathing city, with shining glass and steel framing the pre-fabbed walls that held it together, a shining jewel in the trackless desert.

The train station, of course, was nowhere near that particular section of town. Instead, they stepped out onto a dusty street, where trash blew around like paper tumbleweeds and mysterious stains splattered the blacktop. Just across the street, a police car had it’s lights on, with one of the officers talking to an Asian man through their cars’ window. The other officer was still in their car, looking at an ammo clip. Sarah smiled, making a beeline for the police car.

Clara grabbed her shoulder. “What are you doing? That’s a police car, you can’t just stroll up to them!”

Sarah shook her hand off. “Heh. Watch me. I know what I’m doing.” She did not, in fact, stroll up to the police car. Instead, she strolled up behind the officer who was talking with the Asian man. She quietly cleared her throat, and began speaking in a girly falsetto. “Pardon me, sir-”

“One moment, ma’am. Sir, can you step out of the car?”

“Why? So you can cuff me? This is stereotyping, cop!”

“So’s that. Please step out of the car, sir. If you don’t, I’m going to have to arrest you.”

“What, arrested for speeding, since when?”

“Well, since that includes reckless driving, and a near hit-and-run. Last warning, step out of the car.”

“Sir, it’s an emergency.” Sarah said again.

“Ma’am, I’m a bit busy-” He turned around, his eyes widening as he recognized the two women.

Sarah grinned, speaking in her real, rough voice. “The emergency is, we miss ya, wuss.”

Behind her, Clara rolled her eyes. “Hey, Ron. How’s shakes?”

The officer smiled, leaning on the car behind him and ignoring the shout from inside the car. “Oh, I’m alright. Still just a street cop, but it’s better than working reception. What about you two, huh? What are you two doing in Las Vegas?”

Clara smiled. “I got a job! You remember how everyone back home said I had a beautiful singing voice? Well, someone apparently heard, and gave me a call. An audition later, I had a job out here!”

Ron nodded, turning to Sarah, who had begun leaning on the car next to him. “And what about you, Scooter? Surely they didn’t offer you a job out at Nellis?”

Sarah reached out, pulling Clara close. “Nah. We’re together. Where she goes, I go. Not sure what I’m gonna do out here for a job, but there’s no way I’m gonna let her bring all the bacon home. I’ll find something.”

Ron blinked. “Wait, you two- huh. Okay. Guess that makes sense, you two and your other friend, Pippin, always were joined at the hip. How’s she doing?”

Clara responded this time. “She’s alright. We haven’t spoken much. You remember how she was always good at chemistry?”


“Well, she’s having a crack at the whole lead into gold thing, but she’s trying to grow it. So she plants seeds, and when she harvests them, she gets gold. Sounds crazy to me, but she’s honestly convinced it’ll work.”

Ron rubbed the back of his head. “Well. That’s… interesting. Uh… say, can I give you two a ride anywhere? To a hotel, or did you already get an apartment or something ahead of time?”

Sarah leaned forward, moving off the car. “Yeah, we got a hotel. Cheap, but we should only need a couple days. We’re gonna head there first, drop off our stuff (she’ll change into a dress) and then we’ll go to her first show. It’s in a couple hours, so if we could hurry…”

Ron nodded, turning back to the Asian man. “I’m letting you off with a warning. Do it again, you’re getting arrested. Got it?” The man in the car frowned, but nodded. Ron began moving back to his squad car, giving his partner a wave. She waved back, motioning towards the two women behind him with a confused expression. Ron opened the door on the driver’s side before responding. “Hey Merle. We’re gonna take them on a quick ridealong. They’re old friends, so play nice.”

“Ron, you know we aren’t running a taxi service, right? What about the reckless driver?”

“Let him off with a warning. He won’t do it again.” He paused. “…Probably.”

His partner facepalmed, and motioned for Clara and Sarah to get into the car. She sighed, and began fiddling with the police radio. Alongside her, Ron got in, and started the electro-magical engine. As the car lifted exactly one foot off the street and into a steady hover, Ron asked, “So, where’s this hotel?”

Sarah pulled the slip out of her jacket’s inner pocket, a note she’d written after talking on the phone with the hotel. “South end of Fremont. The, uhh… Golden Gate hotel and Casino.”

Ron grinned. “You got it. When you get a moment, you should have the Magnetic pie.”

That got Clara’s attention. “The what?” Both Officers began snickering as they pulled away from the curb, and down the street. With a few more turns, they moved out onto a much-cleaner boulevard, and Sarah got her first clear view of Las Vegas. The sun was setting behind the car, and gradually, all the neon lights of the buildings buzzed on as they passed them. They drove by a sign advertising Frank Sinatra performing at the Desert Inn, next to another neon sign advertising Dean Martin playing at the Sahara. In the distance she could see a building, much larger than all the others, and a sign labeling it “The Riviera”.

This was the Las Vegas they had seen in the brochures, that supposedly slept less than New York, that had more stars than Hollywood. It was overwhelming, to say the least.

They went right up the Strip, passing most of the low-rises until Ron turned on a street called ‘Fremont’. He pointed to a nearby hotel. “That’s the Golden Gate there. Don’t take too long, right?”

They exited the car, and Sarah smirked at him. “We’ll try not to get too distracted.”


Sarah followed Clara out of the front door of the Golden Gate, the latter now wearing a revealing cocktail dress with sequins tracing an hourglass figure down the front. The former was debating the dress itself. “ I know your sister made it, but I still don’t like it. It’s like… It puts you on display, like something to be bought, ya know?”

Clara rolled her eyes. “Sarah, I’m sorry if it makes me look like a prostitute, but you know what they say; Sex sells. Doesn’t matter if there isn’t actually any occurring, even teasing them makes money.”

Sarah took an immediate and overriding interest in the giant mechanical cowboy across the street. “It’s one hell of a tease.”

Clara put her hand on Sarah’s shoulder, and gently turned her around to face her again. Grinning, she snarked, “I’m sorry the gruff tomboy look doesn’t work for me. Remember that time I wore your coat as a joke?”

Even Sarah chuckled at the memory. “You looked like a kid wearing her dad’s clothes.”

“Exactly. And I promise you that no matter how much money they offer, I’m not becoming a prostitute. It’s just a dress. That’s all it is, just a dress.”

Sarah set her jaw. “Yeah, it’s just a dress, but it’s more about what the dress represents.”

“It doesn’t… what? It doesn’t represent anything.”

“Sure it doesn’t. There’s Ron’s car, down the street a bit. Come on.” She began walking, without giving Clara a chance to respond. She did sputter a bit before following her, however. Ron was leaning on his squad car again, reading a paper. The date said it was today’s, March 24th, 1955. His partner was cleaning her sidearm inside the car. Sarah approached, giving a rap on the car’s roof to get his attention.

He jumped, and grinned. “Holy moly. Uh, Clara, you doing anything ton-” He was quickly silenced by a poke in the throat from Sarah. He seemed about to say something, perhaps about the fact that Sarah had technically just assaulted a police officer, but he clammed up when all three women, including his partner, shot him a glare that said, “You know better than that.” He rolled his eyes, and stepped back into the car.

As Sarah stepped into the car, Clara having already entered, the radio crackled. Merle jumped, dropping her gun on the seat between her legs, and leapt for the receiver. “This is Officer Parkinson, please repeat, over.”

A crackly voice, so deep you could tell how tall the radio operator was, spoke. “We got a 406A and a 419 on East Charleston Boulevard, at the Crematorium. Requesting available backup. Parkinson, you there? Over.”

“Roger. We can be there in ten. Over.” She turned around, facing the two women in the backseat. “Well, you wanted a ridealong, huh? You’re getting a ridealong. Ron, let’s roll.” The man seemed distracted by something, but nodded, gunning the squad cars’ engine. With a whir of the engine, they lifted off the street and pulled away from the curb. The siren cleared the street quickly, and before long, they were off the glowing neon street and turning into an alley, moving past a line of stores into a bustling suburb.

It seemed as good a time as ever. “So, Ron…” Sarah continued, “You got something on your mind?”

He nodded, still focused on the road. He spoke absent-mindedly, his attention obviously still captured by whatever it was he was thinking about. “It’s just… I’m trying to remember what the codes mean. It’s been a while, and I still don’t have them memorized.” He shook his head. Next to him, Merle sighed, as if to say, “Still?”

“Ah, well. It’ll probably come to me.” The squad car pulled off the freeway and onto a road, the blacktop cracked from the constant Las Vegas heat. As they passed a couple of buildings, Merle finished reassembling her gun, and it made a satisfying ‘click’ as the slide chambered a bullet. Ahead of them, Sarah could see a building, presumably the Crematorium, with several police cars in front, as well as an… ambulance?

In front of her, Ron’s breath caught in his throat. “Oh. Right. 419’s a dead body.”