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The Private Detective comes into the station to ask Da Chief for some information regarding a well-known case. The chief resists commenting on an ongoing investigation, just as official regulations demand. But while verbally telling the gumshoe that he's out of luck, Da Chief very obviously lays the appropriate file on his desk. They stare at each other for a minute before Da Chief says something akin to, "I'm going to go get a cup of coffee. Whatever you do, don't read this Top Secret file that just happens to be about the case you were asking about, and just happens to be on my desk, do you hear?"

And as soon as Da Chief is out of the room, the Private Detective starts reading the file, just like Da Chief knew he would.

A staple of cop shows, but occasionally seen elsewhere, Stepping Out for a Quick Cup of Coffee is when someone (usually Da Chief) uses an ostentatious display of deliberate carelessness in order to allow someone else to skirt procedure, without making him technically guilty of assisting the violation. It can also be used to allow someone to leak confidential information without technically violating confidentiality (such as a lawyer or doctor constrained by attorney-client/doctor-patient privilege). Compare Could Say It, But....

See also Donut Mess with a Cop.

Examples of Stepping Out for a Quick Cup of Coffee include:

Comic Books

  • In the Ultimate universe's adaptation of the Clone Saga, Peter and Jessica Drew (his Opposite Sex Clone) find themselves trapped in a warehouse, with Nick Fury and a bunch of SHIELD soldiers there to arrest them. Before that can happen, Doctor Octopus comes waltzing in and smugly informs them all that he got off scotch-free from all of the crimes he did and was able to more or less pervert Peter's life and all he stood for, by being signed on to run the CIA's cloning program and making a bunch of Spider-man clone soldiers. Because of his protection with the CIA, Fury can't touch him. So Fury orders all of his soldiers to take a five minute coffee break, leaving no one to stop Peter and Jessica from beating the shit out of Doc Ock. Bonus points for Peter actually asking for Fury to invoke this trope, just so he can have a chance to beat Doc Ock up before being arrested.
  • In Marvel Star Wars, Luke Skywalker is confined to base after shooting down his wing guard; he's having a crisis of faith and wants to escape the hostility of the Rebels, so Lando lets him borrow the Millennium Falcon... by saying he has to report Luke coming into the hangar, and he will - after he goes and has his cape laundered.


  • Done in Absence of Malice. The District Attorney tells his secretary to wait for five minutes into his meeting with a reporter, then call him. During his meeting with the reporter, he casually mentions that the information is in the folder he's holding, but that he can't show her the file. When he gets the call from his secretary, he steps out of the office, leaving the report sitting on his desk. The reporter, still in the office, takes the bait and reads the contents of the folder. The reporter's paper runs the story the next day, which is exactly what the District Attorney wanted.
  • This was done in the Dragnet movie. Joe Friday goes to get coffee so that Pep can use the Gene Hunt Interrogation Technique on a captured mook. This works at first, but when the perp tries to clam up again, Pep comments that "some donuts would go real nice with this coffee".

 Pep: Well... Emil... I guess it's just you and me and... your balls... and this drawer.

  • The Dark Knight: After a bit of fruitless interrogation of the Joker by Comissioner Gordon:

 Gordon: If we're gonna play games, I'm gonna need some coffee.

The Joker: (sarcastically) The old Good Cop, Bad Cop routine?

Gordon: Not exactly.

Gordon leaves. After a moment, the lights turn on, and Batman is revealed to have been behind the Joker the whole time. He immediately slams the Joker's head into the table.

  • A variant at the end of The Jackal. Declan the IRA terrorist helping to find The Jackal doesn't get his early release in exchange for helping take him down and stop him from assassinating the First Lady of the United States. (His handler Preston does say that he'll get transferred to a minimum-security prison.) At the end of the movie, Preston says that he'll go to get a cup of coffee and that he'll be back in...30 minutes. Declan understands that that's his cue to just walk away a free man.
  • In Thor, Heimdall does this at the Bifrost Bridge to allow the Warriors Three and Lady Sif to travel to Earth without disobeying Loki's orders.
  • A variant happens in Gamers 2: Dorkness Rising. The GMPC paladin wouldn't allow the characters to torture an NPC, so they fool him into thinking there are more evil doers outside.

 I shall spread the buttery justice of Therin over the toast of your inequity!

The succulent jam of light shall sweeten the sougherdough of your evil ways!

The creamer of light will dull the bitterness of your evil unholy coffee taste!

The spatula of purity shall scramble the eggs of your maleficence!



Live Action TV

  • In New Tricks, Sandra Pullman does this after a celebrity chef she believes (but cannot prove) murdered her husband pulls a Hannibal Lecture on her.

 Pullman: While we can't prove anything, it's possible that someone carelessly left the file lying around in a public place, where a journalist could find it.

Journalist: ...and where would this place be?

Pullman: [places file on the table] How should I know?

  • This happens in Yes Minister.
  • Life On Mars as well.
  • And Police Squad!.
  • One episode of Law and Order has a lawyer who has confidential attorney-client information which holds a clue to helping the detectives solve the murder. His client isn't a suspect or even related to the crime investigation at all - but the detectives need the information, so the lawyer conspicuously leaves them alone in the room for exactly five minutes (he even says how long he'll be out), and they read it. Not admissible in court, obviously, but it's just one tip-off in a long line of clues, so it doesn't become an issue.
  • NCIS. It's how Gibbs tracked down the murderer of his wife and daughter.
  • Happens in the series of Hornblower. Horatio allows his steward, under sentence of death for striking a superior officer, to escape by leaving him alone in his cabin, commenting "You're a useful man. You can cook... and you can swim." Later when he is seen swimming to safety on a nearby American ship, Horatio says something along the lines of "Oh, damn, I left the window open. Silly me."
    • The original book version goes into a fair bit of detail regarding how Hornblower arranges a complex series of coincidences to ensure Doughty was left alone and unguarded, in a room with an open window, with the attention of the watch crew focused elsewhere, less than 70 yards from the USS Liberty. Hornblower was understandably very stressed about the possibility that Doughty would be spotted too soon, or that Bush would realise how Hornblower had arranged it all (and be duty-bound to report it).
  • Discussed and averted on Babylon 5. The security chief, Garibaldi, has been shot in the back by his second in command, who is later found out and arrested by the station personnel. The other security guards offer to keep an eye on the prisoner while The Captain "goes for a walk", an officer which Captain Sheridan declines.
  • In an episode of Law and Order SVU, a woman is raped, and Benson tries to talk her into undergoing a rape kit. But all she (the woman who was raped) wants to do is take a Shower of Angst. Benson collects the panties the woman was wearing when attacked off the floor while she does so. The panties have all the DNA evidence needed to convict the suspect, but since they were obtained illegally (Benson had neither a search warrant nor permission from the panties' owner), that evidence cannot be used. And Benson does get in trouble with Cragen...and Warner is pissed at her too, for dragging her into that mess.

Tabletop RPG

  • Early editions of Dungeons and Dragons. Paladins used to have to follow extremely strict Lawful Good rules, including not torturing prisoners (or allowing them to be tortured). It was stated in early writings that paladins couldn't allow themselves to be "led away" from the party for a while so the rest of the group could torture a prisoner for information.

Video Games

  • In Chrono Cross, Nikki's personal storyline involves his desire to learn a song that will make the monsters haunting Marbule tangible, so that they can be destroyed. The only person who knows this song is Marbule's Sage, who is now a janitor on a cruise ship. The Sage initially refuses to teach it to Nikki, but (after Nikki proves he honestly wants to help) declares he has to sweep the upper decks... "while I hum myself a tune".
  • In Jade Empire, the Minister of Tien's Landing is strictly prohibited from enlisting the aid of adventurers in stopping the Assassin plot at the dam. But if he were to leave the key lying around and someone were to find it... (One of your possible responses is "Hey! Did you just give me a key?")
  • In Psychonauts, Sasha tells Raz that he can't teach him how to shoot psychic blasts, as he's not signed up for the camp. He then tells him that there is no way he could possibly use the secret underground railway to meet with Ford Cruller and obtain a training badge that would let Sasha train him. Five minutes later, Raz returns with the badge.

 Sasha: Well, my ass is covered.

  • Escaton of Might and Magic VIII does not want to do what he is doing, but his programming keeps him from stopping[1]. His solution that we actually see is not quite this trope[2]. The version that the game tells us are told in taverns all over Jadame, on the other hand, has him put plot-relevant magical keys on the table in front of him, tell you that if they disappear while he isn't watching, "how will he know how they went missing?", and then turn around to study the wall.

Real Life

  • It is believed by many that several leaks about upcoming UK government spending cuts were made on purpose since all these leaks happened in the form of a government minister (usually Danny Alexander) walking out of Downing Street with a bundle of files with the relevant portion on top, uncovered, and surrounded by long lens cameras.


  1. As a failsafe, once he has begun the process to destroy a world - which he will only do if he deems it unable to resist the Kreegans - he cannot stop. This time, he initiated the process, only for the native people to promptly show him that he had underestimated them, and that they actually could defeat the Kreegans.
  2. he gives you riddles so that he can hint at what you need to do without actually outright telling you what to do, and then hands you plot-relevant magical keys with the excuse that he has so many of them, and knows you don't know what to do with them.
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