The following is from Barkley Sound Secrets where we track down an Alberta drug dealer in Costa Rica and Colombian cocaine being smuggled into British Columbia via water routes.
Marc Stucki's Steak & Seafood restaurant is a few blocks from the beach housed in a former railroad station. In this scene I am enjoying a steak with colleague and friend Jason Spencer.
While the rest of the “J” Team were enjoying their girls’ night out, including an epic meal and rubbing elbows with Gutierrez’s incarcerated lieutenant’s legitimate colleagues, Jackson and Jason were creating quite a stir at Marc Stucki’s.
The agents left the ranch just after the women. and headed directly to Marc’s. Marc had moved from StoneHead after President Bakus lost the election to his Republican rival. Marc was greeted by an overwhelming sense of appreciation from a group of movers and shakers…Democrats, who expressed their gratefulness for his eight years of service to the Oval Office by financing Marc Stucki’s, providing a controlling interest in the business and building. His supporters added a two-bedroom condo fully furnished a few blocks from the beach and the restaurant.
In the short time Marc had been in Santa Barbara, Marc Stucki’s had become THE place to enjoy a Wyoming, grass fed steak from former President Bakus’ ranch surrounded by a railroad motif and prepared by a former presidential chef.
Jason and Jackson had become regulars, dining several times a week and were greeted as such by a staff member who showed them to a table between the massive gas fireplace and the small performing stage.
They started their evening with a pint each of Talon from the local craft brewery, Red Eagle. Talon was a heavy, lager which demanded a well-seasoned steak, for which the Marc Stucki was becoming legendary. Jackson chose their tenderloin medallion, medium, with garlic butter, baked potato and a green salad with house dressing (red wine, balsamic and herbs). Jason was ready for a change and ordered a sirloin, medium rare with shrimp, scallops and asparagus in a Béarnaise sauce.
Moments after their order was taken, Marc came to their table carrying his own pint of Talon, greeted the men and sat for a few moments, chatting about the business. Marc asked them how retirement was fitting, and they filled him in on the requirements before it became official.
Marc replied with, “When it is official, which I presume is for the entire Team, dinner is on me that night. Okay?”
“Sounds good Marc. We appreciate the generosity.”
“Really? After what you guys have done for me, I owe you big time, for long time.” He grinned at his attempt to mimic a line from his favorite sitcom, Two and a Half Men, then excused himself to deal with a staffing issue.
Jason took a swallow of his Talon and offered, “I feel incredibly blessed to have landed here in Santa Barbara working with my friends and to have fallen into this,” he waved his beer around highlighting the incredibly warm and welcoming atmosphere, just as the local toy train made its way overhead.
“Agree completely,” replied Jackson, and to think we were around Bakus’ ranch for months and enjoyed many meals prepared by Marc never thinking he would become such an integral part of our lives.”
They sat in silence for some time, enjoying their beer mesmerized by the numerous large screen televisions mounted next to the ceiling showing various views of Santa Barbara beaches, the wharf and the passing sailboats.
Just as their meal arrived, several men and two women passed their table carrying instrument cases. They set themselves up on the stage, stored their cases in the corner and created a quartet, sax, bass, piano and clarinet. One female on the bass, the other on piano with the guys playing the sax and clarinet.
Marc Stucki’s was home to the thirty plus crowd; most being singles and couples, but with a number of families regularly. The cuisine, subdued ambiance, massive crab tank in the entry and the beach-monitoring flat screens cemented the demographic clientele to which the quartet was addressing their rendition of Brian McKnight’s Back At One.
Jason and Jackson finished their meal and were each nursing a Talon beer, chatting about their retirement conditions, speculating when the current investigation would wrap up while the quartet played a series of Tony Bennett’s hits, It Had To Be You with the pianist singing Carrie Underwood’s part. They continued the set with Fly Me To The Moon, then segued into Michael Bublé’s Haven’t Met You Yet and Home.
They weren’t in the loop. Jessica’s plan to involve them in Gutierrez’s Los Angeles business was scrapped, leaving them at loose ends.
Chief O’Connor had approved their private investigator and firearm’s carry permits allowing them to engage with the “J” Team Investigators but officially they remained Secret Service Agents.
Alane had secured apartments in separate buildings at each end of the beach. Owned by two business associates who had removed them from the rental market for renovations, the agents accepted leases to commence when modifications were complete.
Jackson was watching the stage as Jason shared his insight on their gravitating to locals status. When the quartet completed the set, he turned to Jason and said, “I gotta do this,” as he rose and walked over to the sax player.
Jason could see the animation between the men, hand shaking, then reading the sax guy’s lips saying, “no way!”, Jackson smiling, pointing back to Jason then accepting the sax as the player removed the mouthpiece, inserted another then walked over to Jason.
Jason stood, shook his hand, pulled a chair out as the sax player explained his conversation with Jackson.
“Cooper, I have worked with Jackson for a long time and never had the pleasure. I think retiring and settling in Santa Barbara had renewed his interest. I hope he remembers how to play.”
“I am sure he will Jason,” replied Cooper. “Playing is like other fine motor skills, they are never gone, just need tuning.”
As the men chatted the quartet entered into Saturday Night in the Park by Chicago. Jackson thought he might have difficulty but after a few hiccups, he found his grove and as he glanced over at Jason, his smile was one his long-time friend and colleague had never seen: a warmth, an inner glow of joy.
Chicago segued into Hello Dolly from Louis Armstrong then Dark Chocolate by Gordon James. As they went into their last set before a break, Cooper excused himself and left the restaurant.
In a few minutes, Cooper returned carrying an instrument case, walked up to the stage just as the quartet finished Gordon James. Not saying a word, he opened the case and removed a sax, stood next to the pianist and started a Chris Botti’s rendition of I’ve Got You Under My Skin with the base player singing Kathrine McPhee’s segment, the two saxophones playing Botti’s trumpet notes.
Jackson was beside himself with joy, to think this stranger thought so much of his playing that he did this. The more he played, the greater his animation and body movements became.
The quintet modified Botti’s piece with each musician taking a turn at improvisation with the audience so into the presentation, they were clapping in time.
Jason was with the music as well, between sipping his Talon, unaware of an approaching woman, a slip that in any other setting might be his downfall.
But not this time.
“OMG! Jackson is amazing. I never knew he had that talent,” offered Jessica as she pulled a chair out and sat.
Somewhat startled and embarrassed at his jumpy reaction to his boss’ arrival, Jason regained his composure and responded with, “Hey, Jessica. Yeah, I can’t believe it either. The other sax player is Cooper who loaned one of his saxophones to Jackson. He said playing an instrument is like any other fine motor skill. It is never lost.
“Look at Jackson’s face. Look at his body language. Amazing.”
“I’ve never seen him having so much fun,” replied Jessica as she hailed a server and asked for two more of whatever Jason was drinking.
“So, that’s Cooper on the other sax huh? Do you know if he is married?”
Jason was so taken aback, he snorted a swallow, sat his glass down, grabbed a napkin to wipe his face, laughing.
“What, I can’t be interested? she replied with a smile.
“No, it’s not that. I’ve just never seen you relax to the point of being interested in anything but work!”
“It’s called retirement and I suspect you two are enjoying the same spiritual freedom,” she added with a lift in her voice.
Their Talons arrived and they stopped chatting to listen to the next set, with Jackson showing no sign of confusion over the variety of music being played. The pianist began with Etta James’ rendition of At Last, with the bass player joining in the lyrics and Cooper and the clarinet sliding in on the second verse. Jackson held back until the line, at last the skies above are blue, my heart wrapped up in clover, and he hit the keys with such conviction, many in the audience stood and clapped, not knowing he hadn’t played in decades.
At the end of the set, the group announced they would take a thirty break, set their instruments aside and as they approached, Jason and Jessica, Jason waved them over to join their group.
Marc, never missing a beat, waved staff to bring additional chairs as he spoke softly to a server. Acknowledging her boss’ request, she headed to the kitchen.
The chairs arrived immediately avoiding the quartet from an awkward wait. As everyone grabbed a seat, Jessica introduced herself and Jason to the quartet just as servers arrived with several large platters of potato skins with beer cheese and more pints of Talon.
Jessica was the first to try one of the skins and before Marc left, she asked, “Marc, these are amazing. What’s in them if you don’t mind my asking?”
“Not at all Jessica. But of course, I can’t tell you the exact amounts which is the key,” he replied with a wide grin.
“About forty-five in the oven with the skins crunchy, then scoop out the pulp etc. and the secret is the crisp, thick bacon, sharp cheddar and,” he leaned over and said softly, “a little dried mustard, cayenne and Worcestershire. But you didn’t hear the last from me,” he quipped as he turned to leave, offering, “Enjoy your evening folks. Let us know if we can get you anything else.”
A person didn’t have to be a restaurant critic to see the numerous reasons Marc Stucki’s had become famous in such a short time.
The conversation was entirely concentrated on Jackson with everyone wanting to know where his talent came from and why had he been hiding it.
He shared that he had played in high school but missed a few years while in the service and picked it up again at Northern Michigan University playing at school functions and the campus pub.
The piano player asked, “How come we haven’t seen you around before Jackson?”
“I just moved here recently and am in the process of retiring.”
He glanced over at Jessica who was not happy but encouraged him to wing it.
“I am a teacher, just moved here thinking of getting on the substitution list but after tonight I’m thinking it is time for a career change,” he replied quickly, waving his arms excitedly.
“Well, I can see you might have found that second career, Jackson,” responded the pianist.
Cooper chimed in with, “We do this for fun on weekends Jackson, and I think I speak for the rest of the group, that you can join us any time. Marc donates whatever he would normally pay a group, to a local charity. We sometimes play at functions with the same remuneration agreement.”
“That would be great guys. I haven’t had this much fun in decades.”
Marc Stucki's! Love it!!