A/N1 Think of this as a mint on your hotel pillow as you end your stay. It is nothing substantial, really, just a little something to thank you, gentle readers.

Don't own Chuck. Don't own The Three Investigators. Don't own Merton. One last time: no money made.

The Three Investigators: The Dreamer Evasive

By Zettel

NOTICE TO THE READER You are under no obligation whatever to read a single word of this introduction.

I SEEM TO BE constantly introducing something. You know me: I am a famous Hollywood sci-fi director. But let's leave my name out of this. For years, I have been introducing my own movies to the public.

I have even on occasion introduced books of sci-fi and mystery and suchlike for my fans to enjoy during quiet evenings at home.

Now I find myself introducing a trio of detectives who call themselves The Three Investigators. Well, actually, the shingle reads "Virtual/Reality Investigations", but they are known to themselves and their friends as The Three Investigators. It's an inside joke. I don't think it very funny. Anyway, these detectives drive around LA in a Porsche and a Crown Vic, solving mysteries, riddles, enigmas and conundrums of all kinds—on the mean streets of LA and on the mean paths of the computer.

Preposterous, isn't it?

Frankly, I would prefer to have nothing to do with them, but I rashly promised to introduce them. I keep my promises—even though this promise was won from me by an act of sheer skullduggery. But that is a story for another day.

To business, now. The three who call themselves The Three Investigators are John Casey, Sarah Bartowski, and Chuck Bartowski.

John Casey is a large, thickly muscled man. But he is not a brute; don't let the ceaseless grunting fool you. He's a patriot and an adventurer—but he is also a family man. Interestingly, he is newly engaged—re-engaged?—to his longtime sweetheart, Kathleen McHugh. He's turning out to be a success as a father too. His daughter, Alex, thinks highly of him. They spend a lot of time together—sparring in her martial arts studio and shooting at the range. Casey is in the best shape of his life. Alex is turning out to be a good shot.

Sarah Bartowski is a tall blonde—a deadly beauty with a heart of gold. As long as you keep your hands to yourself and as long as you never threaten the people she loves, she will treat you with respect. If not, well, let's put it this way: John Casey is seriously afraid of her—and you should be seriously afraid of John Casey. Do the math. She's the real detective in the bunch. She's a private eye who sees everything.

Chuck Bartowski is—well, I won't give you my personal opinion of him because I can never seem to make up my mind about him.

He is Sarah's husband and she adores him. That alone makes him seem a force to be reckoned with. No mere mortal could command the adoration of that blonde Amazon. But he is also a video game player, a lover of bad movies and a reader of good books. He has a canny and an uncanny relationship to computers, and he runs the cybersecurity side of Virtual/Reality. He seems a man and a boy, a hero and a loser, a detective and a schmuck. So, I will refrain from trying to figure all that out, and stick to a few facts.

He is tall and lanky of build, with brown, curly hair and brown eyes. Even as a small child, Chuck's friends and family called him 'special'. He's always won the admiration of the people who know him well; they seek him out and they are fiercely loyal to him. John Casey is a good example of what I mean. He got to know Chuck and, although he constantly teases and derides Chuck, he does it out of genuine fondness.

Chuck has a deep, abiding love of family. His life does not revolve around Virtual/Reality, although he takes it seriously. The center of his life is Sarah and their adopted daughter, a beautiful blonde toddler named Molly.

Chuck is very smart. So are Sarah and Casey. Hire these three, and you are getting a brain trust. But Chuck is smarter than most people who are very smart. Even more, his education is not a collection of glass and beads to show at parties. No, he actually uses his education to make sense of himself and his life.

I realize this may make him seem a little hard to take seriously. You might think no one could be quite like this. But I assure you that he is no creature of fiction. He is a living, breathing man. If he hadn't hoodwinked me in the way he did on that fateful night, maybe my feelings about him would be less undecided. I might even like him myself. But, like I said, that is another story.

I could tell you more, I suppose, but with each word, it would all seem more fantastic and unbelievable. I could tell you about how Chuck once worked for the…well, I am not really at liberty to tell you that. Sarah told me she would write 'The End' over me if I ever told. She is a woman who keeps her promises. And now, I have kept my promise. Assuming you didn't just skip this introduction, you are no doubt gladder than I am that it is finished.

The Three Investigators: The Dreamer Evasive

{Five Months Later}

Sarah was sitting at her desk in her office at Virtual/Reality. She had on a pair of flats. Being a detective was hard on your feet. That wasn't just a cliché from noir voice-overs. She was enjoying the view out her window. The money that Stephen had given them as a wedding gift, combined with Chuck's severance pay, allowed them to find a decent set of offices, and Sarah's had the best view—Chuck had made sure of that. Of course, he had. That was the sort of thing her husband did without having to think about it and without any expectation that it would earn him anything special. This had—as a matter of fact—earned him something special. Sarah blushed even alone in her office when she thought about how she had made her appreciation known to her husband.

Sarah had a small paperback book in her hands. She had been reading it as a way of passing time until she went to pick up Molly from daycare. She had drifted out of the book and started staring out the window.

Chuck was out of the office. They had gotten a call right after lunch from Winston Smithers, the CEO of a large, LA-based company. They had done some very successful work for him right after they opened the doors of the firm. He was a friend of Diane Beckman's and she had suggested Virtual/Reality when she heard about Smithers' corporate espionage problem.

Chuck and Sarah and Casey solved the problem—identifying the culprit and the methods used for dispersing the stolen information—in just a couple of days. Smithers had been grateful and had paid them more than their fee. In fact, he put them on a generous retainer and had thus made keeping up with daily expenses much easier, especially at the beginning.

Surprisingly, the firm's finances turned out not to be a consuming worry. Over the last few years, Chuck's dad had spent his downtime between missions to frustrate Fulcrum designing phone apps. He had created two of the most popular recent apps and was now more than comfortable, considerably more. He had funded his efforts to fight Fulcrum with still lots and lots left over.

Under Leader's nose, Mary had stashed away a large portion of the legitimate profits that Volkoff industry made over the years, and so she had a vast amount of money in a numbered Swiss account. The government had frozen all of the other Volkoff and Fulcrum assets—if Beckman knew about Mary's account or even suspected it, she had not let on.

Each parent had offered to fund Virtual/Reality, but between Chuck and Sarah's own money and Smithers' early retainer, they had been able politely to refuse. They hoped not to have to take any money from them, and so far they had not—but it was hard to deny that knowing that there was money available made the stresses of starting a business less intense.

Chuck's mom and dad had returned to their home in Tarzana. Stephen had never sold it, although it stood empty and apparently abandoned for years. As a matter of fact, when Stephen came back to California over the years to look in on Chuck and Ellie, he would live and work out of the basement of the home. He had long ago turned it into a headquarters and workshop of his own.

Ellie and Devon got married a few weeks after Mary's rescue. Mary had been able to attend, and so neither Ellie nor Devon was sorry for the delay. Stephen walked Ellie down the aisle—as she always dreamed—and Mary saw her eldest child wed the man she dearly loved. It was a moving ceremony. The matron of honor might have cried—a lot. The best man might have been beautiful in his tux. He might have been so beautiful that the matron of honor early took him home with her and to her soon very heated bed.

Mary had recovered well physically but psychologically, although Leader seemed clearly to be gone (as did Frost), the damage Leader had done to others and the time he had stolen from Mary weighed heavily on her. Mary did not like to be shut indoors alone and she was still having a difficult time with a form of agoraphobia: open outdoor spaces made her nervous. She was struggling with bouts of deep depression. They were less frequent now but they were still debilitating when they came.

It turned out that talking to Sarah was often the best thing for Mary. Even with Frost gone, Mary felt a kinship to Sarah—and she knew that Sarah had struggled and still sometimes did struggle with her own past actions and her own sense of life stolen from her. They rarely talked in specifics—but each could understand the other on these issues almost telepathically. Sarah found that it did her good too.

Not that she and Mary got along all the time. As Mary continued to stabilize, some of the fire and intensity that made her a fine CIA agent returned, and it manifested itself in flare-ups of a desire to control the people and things around her. That lead to momentary loggerheads here and there, but on the whole, Sarah had found Mary more mother than mother-in-law. They were close.

Emma had managed a transfer from the Vegas hotel she had worked at forever to another in the same chain in LA. She had found a place not far from the apartment complex that Chuck and Sarah and Molly lived in. Her Boulder City house she had paid off a few years before and she still owned it. She was renting it to a former coworker from the Vegas hotel that wanted a place outside of Vegas to raise her son. Emma spent a lot of her free time with her granddaughter and a lot of it with Casey's Kathleen. The two women became fast friends.

She and Sarah had bonded again as mother and daughter. Sarah's memory of her mother as weak and downtrodden was, she came to understand, a child's memory of a woman struggling mightily with difficult circumstances. Sarah had for a long time thought of herself as her father's child only. That thought was mistaken. She had a great deal of her mother in her too.

Kathleen had taken a job as the office manager of Virtual/Reality, and she was, in many ways, the person who kept the firm up and running—running with a paramilitary precision. She was extraordinarily competent at the job and presented a wonderful, friendly face to the public. Sarah still more than half-believed that Smithers had retained them as much to keep getting chances to interact with Kathleen as because of their good work for him. But Kathleen was—as she had always been—a one-man woman, and that man was John Casey.

Sarah's reflections were cut short by a knock on the frame of her door. It was Morgan and Alex. Sarah turned away from the window and put her paperback on the desk.

"Hey, Sarah!" Morgan smiled.

Morgan was wearing his Buy More assistant manager clothes—and, other than the Buy-More green tennis shoes he was wearing, he looked nice. His job, and particularly his girlfriend, suited him. He'd come a long way in the last few months. Of course, that could be said for them all, but it seemed particularly true of Morgan.

"Hi, Morgan! Hi, Alex!"

Alex gently pushed Morgan through the door. "Hey, Sarah!"

"What brings you two by?"

"We were out looking at apartments…" Alex grinned.

"Apartments? Oh!" Sarah smiled back at Alex.

"My place is great, but it's not really set up for two, especially with all of Morgan's toys…"

"Collectibles," Morgan offered but was ignored.

"…and his video gaming equipment. We could also use a larger bed…"

Morgan was suddenly very interested in his Buy More-green tennis shoes.

"We saw a couple of apartments we liked and we're trying to make up our mind. We thought we would talk to Mom and see what she thought. We just popped in to say hello."

Morgan walked up to her desk and looked out the window as Sarah had been doing.

"Nice view! Say," he glanced down at the paperback, "what are you reading?"

"It's a complicated long poem by Thomas Merton, Cables to the Ace. General Beckman sent it to me. She thought I would like it. I do, but it takes a while to sink in."

"General Beckman sent it?" Alex was now looking at the unprepossessing paperback.

"She's a big reader, especially along certain lines. We share a love of Browning. She thought I would find the Merton stimulating and suggestive (her words). She thought it shed light on the Bartowski family curse," Sarah pointed at her head (she now sort of hated even the word, 'Intersect').

"She's right, I guess. I like it because it is smart and silly, deep and playful, all at the same time. I also like it because the title makes me think of Chuck—of how his dad and mom like to tell him he's aces. That word, 'aces', has come to be sort of synonymous with 'happy' for me…"

Sarah had no idea how big the smile was on her face as she thought about her husband and about how their life together was aces. Morgan and Alex looked at each other in response to her unconscious smile and grinned.

Sarah saw the grins and then realized the size of her smile but she let it shine on. She loved Chuck Bartowski and she had figured out what to do about it.

"Anyway, I like the poem. I keep it on my desk and look at it now and then, just reading stanzas at random."

"Where's Chuck?" Chuck and Morgan hadn't had a lot of time to just hang out for a while. They were both busy with new jobs and both had women in their lives. Sarah knew the two men missed each other.

"He's on an errand for a client. The client's firm is thinking about purchasing a big building downtown, but they've gotten a little skittish about the seller, so they asked us to look into it. Chuck was going that way, anyway, so he went to meet the person. He also took his laptop. He was going to go to a nearby coffee shop afterward and run a computer check on the seller if he seemed suspicious."

"Well, that sounds harmless enough."

"Yes," Sarah agreed, but also shaking her head a little, "but you know my husband…"

"True. He can't stay in the car—and he can't keep from touching things that interest him…" Morgan smiled pointedly at Sarah. Her slip-up in Mary's hospital room had become a running gag and had made its way through all of Team Bartowski. (They all still thought of themselves that way.)

Sarah sighed, both at the at-her-expense joke, and the truth of it. Her Chuck. "I'll call him in a few minutes. Casey was supposed to meet him there."

"Say, we were thinking that maybe we could all get together for olive-free pizza tonight," Alex noted, "Would you guys want to?"

"Sure—but why don't we meet at our place, that way Molly can go to her own bed when she gets tired?"

"Great. How is the little beauty?"

"Talkative and active. She still can't say tons of things clearly, but she wants to talk so much she is making rapid progress. I think Chuck could listen to her call him 'daddy' all day long—or he would if he could keep up with her. Some days keeping up with her is like keeping up with a babbling cheetah." Sarah sighed and shook her head but happily.

"Well, we will see you tonight. Can we invite Mom and Dad?"

"Sure. They are always invited. Besides, John is just in the apartment next door."

"True," Alex agreed, "but not for much longer. He's going to move in with Mom after the wedding." Sarah nodded. She was so happy for John—and for Kathleen.

"Speaking of weddings," Alex continued, turning her face a bit to the side and looking askance at Sarah, "aren't you and Chuck going to have one soon—one that the rest of us can attend? And aren't you planning a honeymoon after that, now that the business is up and running?" Alex's tone was playful. "And won't I be a bridesmaid?"

"Chuck blabbed." Sarah was looking at Morgan. He was looking at his shoes again.

"Yes, we are starting to plan all that. We will announce it once we have a date and location. It'll be in a few weeks. It will be a very simple ceremony."

"Will Bryce and Carina come?"

"They plan to—as long as everything is ok for traveling with the baby at that point in her pregnancy."

"So she decided to keep it?"

"It sure looks that way. She's still cagey. But she's arranged a transfer after her maternity leave. She'll be working as a Federal Marshal, doing Witness Protection details. It'll mean no undercover work, less danger, less foreign travel. She seems really excited about it, about everything."

"Including Bryce?" Morgan's tone showed that he still was wary of Chuck's old friend.

"Including Bryce. Evidently, he moved from the guest room to Carina's room a few weeks ago. And he is very excited about the baby."

"Still seems like an odd couple to me…" Morgan trailed off.

Alex jabbed him in the ribs. "You know, Morgan, I admit, she's taller than me and leggier, but you still traded up. I'm a pocket Venus. You know that better than anyone. Besides, doesn't she think your name is Martin?" Alex's tone was playful but with an unmistakable undertone of warning.

Morgan grinned at her—his love for her showing not only in his grin but also in the way he stood next to her. "Well, let's just say Carina makes an impression—but I've gotten over it."

"Right," Alex drawled. "C'mon, Martin."

Sarah's phone vibrated. She had a text. Probably Chuck. "See you two tonight then?"

They both nodded and headed out of the office, teasing one another about something else but Sarah caught only their tone, not their words.

The text wasn't from Chuck. It was from her dad. She hadn't heard from him in nearly two years. Of course, that was not new. Since she had joined the CIA they had only had sporadic contact. His text told her he coming into town and wanted to see her.

Sarah sighed out loud. Her father, her father, her father. To say that their relationship was complicated was to name the problem, not shed real light on it. She loved him; he was her dad. Still, he had made such a mess of her family's life, of himself, of her, of her mom. He seemed incapable really of acknowledging it.

He would say he was sorry—he was good at that. And he wasn't lying when he said it, not exactly anyway. No, he said it sincerely. But the sincerity was momentary. It never lasted. So it never translated into change.

It was the secret of his success as a con man. Her dad never lied in the moment, synchronically; he lied across moments, diachronically. He had some strange character flaw that allowed him to hide from himself the fact that the promise he was making was one he would not keep. As he promised, he somehow had the full momentary complement of intentions and plans required to be sincere. But then it all evaporated—what had seemed solid even to him became nothing but a vapor.

As an agent, Sarah knew that the best lies were always truth-adjacent. She and Chuck had spent one evening talking idly about why that was so. One reason, they decided, was because the nearness of truth made it easier to be believable in the lie.

A second reason was that the nearness of the truth also made it easier to remember the lie. Remembering complete fiction turns out to be hard, particularly under pressure. It was analogous to the difference between remembering a quotation and remembering word salad, nonsense. The first is easier—even if the quotation is much longer than the word salad—because the first makes sense, can be paraphrased. Word salad makes no sense. It can't be paraphrased. (Chuck had come up with the word salad analogy. Leave it to the programmer to have oddball thoughts about language!)

But her dad was able to do more. He was able in some strange way temporarily to con himself in the midst of his cons. He got others to believe because he did. He did—for a minute. But that meant he did not believe. It was a bizarre form of self-division. She had told Chuck a long time ago to trust her but not believe her. She knew when she said it how paradoxical it sounded. But she now knew it had a lot to do with her time with her dad. He was, in his weird way, believable but untrustworthy. Sarah had wanted Chuck to know that although she couldn't then tell him the truth and would be required to tell him lies, she was trustworthy.

In her kinder moments toward her dad, she recognized that his problem was something that could have—had he developed the capacity in a different way—been a strength. Her dad was a dreamer, a complete and serious dreamer. He could believe what he said because he could wholly immerse himself in a dream. He could do that without losing track of the fact that it was a dream. He was like a fiction writer who wrote in the temporary belief that his created world was real—while never forgetting that it was not.

Her dad was a dreamer—an evasive dreamer. He was impossible to pin down. Jack Newsome was impossible to pin down to a time, a place, an emotion, or a truth.

Her phone vibrated a second time. This time it was Chuck. He told her he was with the seller and that the seller seemed like a nice guy. Jackson Armitage was his name.

Chuck ended the text with a heart emoticon. She sent one back.

Well, good.

That was one thing she didn't need to worry…Shit. Jackson. Jack. Armitage was one of her dad's aliases. He didn't use it often. It had been years since Sarah had thought of it. Chuck had just met his father-in-law. Shit. Jack wasn't just coming to town, he was in town.

Sarah had met her father-in-law when he emerged from the darkness to cram himself into her Porsche with Chuck and her. Sarah met her mother-in-law when Leader kidnapped Sarah and she woke up bound in Leader's bunker. Chuck met Emma when they were trying to keep her and Molly from Fulcrum agents.

Sarah had hoped to have some handle on the meeting between Chuck and her father when it happened. Sigh.

She texted Chuck.

Keep Mr. Armitage talking. Take him to the coffee shop and have him tell you more about the building and the finances. Don't let him leave. I am going to pick up Molly and we will meet you there. 30 minutes.

Love you more than I can say.

Sarah grabbed her bag. She could already feel the familiar anger and frustration that meetings with her father brought on. But she was also excited—a little bit, a skoosh. He was her dad, after all, after all of it. She loved him. And she wanted him to know his son-in-law and his granddaughter. She waved at Kathleen as she headed out.

"See you tonight!"

Sarah Bartowski, the detective, got in her car to drive to the daycare and from there to Chuck.

As she pulled out, she turned on the latest music mix Chuck had made for her. She drove away to the sound of The Temper Trap's "Down River".

A/N2 This Epilogue is, in part, a pastiche of the introduction to the first book of the Alfred Hitchcock and The Three Investigators series, The Secret of Terror Castle. I bow deeply to the author of that series, Robert Arthur. The entire series is available for free online.

Several readers have asked for a 'bibliography' of Cables, a list of the books, poems, plays, etc. that are mentioned in it or that played a role in it, stylistically or thematically. I am working on that. If you would like one, just drop me a PM. It'll probably be a week or so before it is finished.

By the way, The Dreamer Evasive is the title of Apartment's album, the album that features one of my favorite Chuck songs, "Fall Into Place", a song I would like you to associate with the end of this story, as well as The Temper Trap's song.

As I exit stage left, some terrific writers are entering stage right. Grayroc and WvonB have started new stories.

I am going to go make myself a cup of coffee (black as midnight on a moonless night) and do some reading…

Drop me a final thought-a review or a PM or a favorite!

Bye, all!