"Mystery at Mesa Flat."
By "Ivar Jorgensen" (Take your pick: Howard Browne, Harlan Ellison, Paul W. Fairman, Randall Garrett, Robert Silverberg,
Henry Slesar, or someone else).
Illustration by W. E. Terry (1921-92; HERE).
First appearance: Imagination Science Fiction, June 1956.
Short short story (original text: 9 pages).
"A small desert town didn't seem a likely place to encounter murder—especially one that had been planned on a world light years away!"
Are you absolutely certain that the guy standing next to you is who he seems to be? You might want to think about that . . . .
~ The guard:
"I came behind him—very quiet. I broke his neck and—and did other things. He never knew what happened."
~ The Commander:
"But success depends so completely upon secrecy."
~ The Second:
"When the body is discovered—what will it reveal? Nothing definite. No chain of logic could point to us."
~ Tom Brazier:
"There's something funny about that town—something wrong."
~ Frank Brooks:
"I couldn't see anything wrong with it."
~ Frank Sibley:
"Never did get me a wife so o'course I ain't nobody's pop."
~ The Commanding Officer:
"The analysis will be interesting."
References and resources:
- "the flying saucer joke": Some think they were the product of Cold War nerves, but others don't agree:
"The highly publicized sighting by Kenneth Arnold on June 24, 1947, resulted in the popularization of the term 'flying saucer' by U.S. newspapers. Although Arnold never specifically used the term 'flying saucer,' he was quoted at the time saying the shape of the objects he saw was like a 'saucer,' 'disc,' or 'pie-plate,' and several years later added he had also said 'the objects moved like saucers skipping across the water.' Both the terms flying saucer and flying disc were used commonly and interchange-ably in the media until the early 1950s" (Wikipedia HERE).
- "the slopes and the arroyos": Common to deserts:
"An arroyo (from Spanish: 'brook'), also called a wash, is a dry creek, stream bed or gulch that temporarily or seasonally fills and flows after sufficient rain. Flash floods are common in arroyos following thunderstorms" (Wikipedia HERE).
- Years before this story was published, Hollywood fell in love with the basic premise underlying "Mystery at Mesa Flat" and produced quite a few films with the same theme; two of the best are discussed in Wikipedia (Warning! Spoilers! HERE) and (Warning! Spoilers! HERE), with the first movie predating our story by several years and the second one by several months (only coincidences, of course).