What can turn Paradise into a prison? How does a man start out with such high expectations, only to have his world come crashing down around him?
Napoleon Solo was wondering about all of these things and more as he looked at the body that had washed up on the beach in this Southern California town. So far the police had managed to keep the crowds away, and only Solo and his partner were allowed in at this point, their cards paving a way to the center of the crime scene.
The dead man was another UNCLE agent by the name of Garrison Nealy. He had been undercover in a THRUSH financed beachfront hotel. It looked as though his cover had been blown.
"I do not perceive any marks on the body, Napoleon. It is possible that Garrison drowned without foul play."
Napoleon didn't think so. From all of the reports, the agent had been careful and, up until he went missing, the assignment had seemed destined for success. What had gone wrong?
"I find it hard to believe that a trained UNCLE agent would get himself into a situation where he drowned. Nealy was a world class swimmer, he qualified for the Rome Olympics. I don't see him just drowning; it doesn't make sense."
Illya Kuryakin knew that life didn't always make sense. He also knew that the odds were in favor of discovering that THRUSH was responsible, but something about this didn't seem like the menacing organization.
"Be that as it may, as I noted earlier, there are no marks on the body. He wasn't shot or bludgeoned… there is no evidence of foul play."
Why was that so hard for Napoleon to accept? Had life within UNCLE become so fraught with evil and danger that there was never the possibility of something happening to a person and it being simply bad luck, or life or… bad things did happen to people.
The coroner truck arrived and Garrison Nealy's body was placed on the gurney and covered as Illya and Napoleon watched. One of their own was dead, and they had nothing to go on in the way of a clue. Waverly wasn't going to like this at all.
It was several days of futile investigating and waiting for news. Finally, on the fourth day, autopsy results were released to the UNCLE agents.
Illya read the report first, a seeming requisite for the pair.
"Garrison suffered a massive heart attack while he was in the water. He must have been swimming alone."
Napoleon put his head in his hand, then leaned back onto the sofa that was in the office they were using during their stay in Los Angeles.
"That's it? A world class athlete who just happens to be a well trained, elite Section II agent for the United Network Command for Law and Enforcement dies from a heart attack and not some dastardly THRUSH action. It's almost more tragic than being killed in the line of duty."
Illya frowned at that. What was wrong with Napoleon? This was real life, and things happened to people. People sometimes died of heart attacks.
"What is this really about, my friend. Should I be concerned?"
Napoleon laid his head onto the sofa's high back, closing his eyes as he tried to summon up an explanation. Why indeed? He didn't have an answer for Illya.
"I… I don't know. It just all seems to be so … I don't want to say useless. It isn't useless, that's not what I mean.'
He looked across the room to his partner, the one who was straining to understand.
"Do you ever just get tired? I mean, Garrison was doing his job and in a place that most people would love to visit, and he goes out for a swim and just … dies. Out there in the water, all alone and he dies of a heart attack. Damn it, Illya, it's just not right."
Napoleon closed his eyes, trying not to see the scene from the beach. Illya closed the report file and set it down on the desk, gathering his thoughts before he spoke to his distraught friend.
"I don't know why things are the way they are. Garrison was young, but perhaps they will find a congenital defect or… or perhaps…'
The Russian stopped. There was not a satisfactory explanation. It was a sad thing, and for whatever reason, Napoleon was taking it hard. This would simply need to run its course.
"I am hungry, and I'll even buy dinner. You wanted to try that Mexican restaurant, let's go and… we shall leave all of this for another time. We do not have to solve the questions of life and death, Napoleon."
Solo looked up, saw the concern in his friend's blue eyes. He realized that this was something that he couldn't figure out. Death was like that, elusive and intangible even in the midst of its finality.
"You're right. Let's go, we can toast Garrison Nealy and the fine agent that he was.'
They both got up from where they sat and headed for the door.
"Illya, thank you."
The blond was puzzled.
"For what? I have no answers."
"Exactly. You don't have answers, and you didn't try and fake it or make some silly platitude about life and living… Thanks for being honest."
Napoleon smiled, and he was genuinely glad to be with his partner, to share a meal and live another day.