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They were in St James's Park, watching ducks on the lake. Defectors, spies, tramps and shady-dealers congregated in twos on the benches. Wardens who picked up litter with spiked sticks here had a higher security clearance than the Secretary of State for Defence. Old government secrets, obsolete weapons plans and two-way mirror compromising filmstrips were always found in the grass.
Moon Moon Moon by Kim Newman

Paradoxically, the best way to hide a secret meeting is often to hold it somewhere extremely public. Locations like this can be selected to be unpredictable to anyone who you might want to avoid, are almost certainly bug-free, and can provide a layer of plausible deniability when the people in question aren't supposed to be meeting each other at all.

The classic situation where this occurs is meetings between members of two different secret government agencies; in that case they're not only dodging eavesdroppers, they're also making it more difficult for either agency's goons to do anything untoward.

Stock locations for this kind of meeting include:

  • A bench in a busy park.
  • On the banks of a river, downstream from a bridge.
  • In a noisy Italian restaurant or diner.
  • A train or subway station at a busy time.

For an extra layer of security, sometimes the two people meeting will sit back-to-back so it doesn't look like they're talking to each other — on park benches facing in opposite directions, or at adjacent tables in a restaurant. This is also close enough to exchange a briefcase with the MacGuffin or secret plans.

Of course, while this kind of meeting decreases the odds of being noticed by the specific people you're trying to avoid, it substantially increases the odds that your conversation will be overheard by random passers-by. This is generally glossed over, though sometimes it's nodded at by selecting an exceptionally loud meeting place, making sure all the apparent bystanders are agents as well, or by having the characters speak in some way that appears innocuous: Trouble Entendre, Talking through Technique, Spy Speak, or the like.

Or it's assumed that those random passers-by simply won't give a damn. This is somewhat justified actually. If you are discussing something highly technical using lots of jargon, then most people will have no idea what you are talking about. Not only will they be unlikely to think that your conversation is significant, they also won't be able to remember it very well even if the authorities start asking about it later. This also works better in places where both you and most of the other people are moving around: because then nobody will be able to catch more than a small slice of your conversation.

If the messenger doesn't show up for the meeting, the situation has changed into a Doomed Appointment.

Compare Public Secret Message, Elevator Conference. Contrast Publicly Discussing the Secret.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • In The Big O, Roger always met with his street informant Big Ear in a bar.
  • Death Note:
    • In one interesting example, Misa is trying to find Light, so she sends a diary page to the task force saying that they should "show off their notebooks in Aoyama" on a certain day. On that day, Light goes to Aoyama with Matsuda and meets friends whom he hangs out with expecting to perform this trope. Misa, however, finds him first and leaves before he can see her.
    • L first reveals himself to his prime Kira suspect at the entrance ceremony of the university, then proceeds to investigate him under the guise of talking with him about the case on campus, in a café close-by or during walks. Was this an investigation or a date?
  • The first episode of Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex features two park bench meetings between Chief Aramaki and an associate in another government branch who needs his help.
  • In episode 7 of Lupin III: Part 5, Lupin meets up with the head of the DGSE in the middle of a café. However, the head is aware of this trope and makes sure to fill said café with DGSE agents, in an effort to double cross Lupin.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • The most famous example of this trope, the one many others on this list homage, parody, or crib from, is the scene in JFK shown at the top of the page. Jim Garrison meets with an informant who will only identify himself as Mr. X. The two walk through a park and sit on a bench, and along the way Mr. X explains that the Kennedy assassination was a much larger conspiracy than a single gunman, with footage of the assassination inter cut with his explanation.
  • Lampshaded in Hot Shots!, where a conspirator mentions that he finds public places to be the best place to have secret meetings. While they're at a boxing match.
  • Parodied in the made-for-TV movie Two On A Bench, which is about two people who strike up a conversation on a park bench and are consequently Mistaken for Spies.
  • James Bond:
    • You Only Live Twice: Bond arranges to meet Henderson (the MI6 man in Tokyo) at a sumo match. He instead sends Aki to pick Bond up and take him to his house, making Bond somewhat suspicious of her until she's revealed to be working for the Japanese Secret Service.
    • For Your Eyes Only: Bond meets Luigi Ferrara in line for a ski-lift.
    • Subverted in The Man with the Golden Gun. Bond has a rendezvous at a Thai boxing match with Scaramanga's girlfriend so she can hand over the McGuffin that she stole from Scaramanga. He sits down next to her and starts talking, only to realise she's not responding. Then he notices the bullethole over her heart, Scaramanga having murdered her with a precision shot without anyone else noticing.
    • The Living Daylights: Bond meets Saunders at an opera.
    • Licence to Kill: Bond meets Pam Bouvier at a seaside bar.
    • Quantum of Solace: The conspirators discuss their Evil Plan via radio earpieces while sitting in the audience of an opera house. Bond exposes them by breaking into their comms and taunting them, then photographing anyone who gets up to leave. Mr. White is smart enough to discreetly pocket his earpiece and continue watching the opera.
    • Skyfall: Bond meets with Q at an art museum.
  • In Fatal Instinct, a woman meets with her lover in a park to plot the death of her husband.
  • In The Departed, whenever state police Queenan and Dignam need to chat with Costigan, their mole in the mob, they meet him in some park/riverbank area. This worries Costigan, because if anyone sees him with them, he's pretty much dead.
  • The Conversation begins with the protagonist bugging the titular conversation between a surveillance-conscious couple in a public place. He uses a combination of rifle microphones and operatives walking by them at random intervals to assemble a complete recording of what they're saying.
  • The Bourne Series: A favourite tactic of Jason Bourne, who typically scouts out the area first and uses this to his advantage if his contact has been followed.
  • Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows. Believing Professor Moriarty might have her killed, Irene Adler arranges to meet him in a crowded restaurant. Unfortunately, Moriarty has figured out why she wanted to have the meeting here, so he bribes everyone in the restaurant to get up and clear out at a pre-arranged signal (of Moran tapping his glass three times). Then Irene dies because the waiter has given her poisoned tea.
  • This also happens in a meeting between Yakuza and The Mafia in The Punisher (1989) — everyone in the restaurant turns out to be a Hired Gun of the Yakuza.
  • Likewise in John Wick: Chapter 2, Wick is meeting Winston in New York's Central Park, when at his command every single bystander turns to face them.
  • In Notorious, the lead couple (American agents) are seen meeting up strictly in public, at the horse races and on a park bench in the city of Rio.
  • In The Russia House Sean Connery's character is given some basic spy training.
    "Crowds are good, if you keep moving. Open spaces are good. Talking in the street is OK, if you have to. Never ever talk in a car, or your hotel room except for the benefit of their microphones. If you've read anything about playing the radio or running the taps, forget it!"
  • In The Ipcress File, Palmer and Dalby meet with shady agents at a bandstand in a park to seal a deal regarding the proto-proton scattering device. The loud marching music indeed drowns out their talk.
  • In Layer Cake, the protagonist wants to meet Dragan in a public place rather than at a hotel room. We later learn why.
  • The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (2015). The KGB and CIA spymasters are briefing the protagonists in a cafe, announce they're going to leave them alone to get acquainted, and get up to leave...along with everyone else in the cafe, as all the other customers are their agents.
  • Spoofed in Austin Powers Austin Powers in Goldmember - Austin and Foxxy Cleopatra meet on a public bench, but with a man sitting in between them, who moves his lips without speaking while Foxxy is the one actually talking. This way, to any outsider, it looks like Austin and the man are the only ones having a conversation.
  • Similarly in the first Mission: Impossible movie. Ethan realises all the customers and staff at the cafe where he's meeting Kittridge are IMF agents, because he's seen them before.
  • In Mitchell, James Cummings has a sit-down with mob boss Tony Gallano on a park bench in order to express his displeasure about being saddled with a hijacked heroin shipment being scheduled to come through his docks right when the eponymous cop has been assigned to stake him out. Gallano reminds Cummings of their longstanding arrangement, forcing Cummings to have to find a way to deal with Mitchell and still make the arrangements for the shipment.
  • Subverted in Heat. The criminals meet in an open area of the docks to plan an apparent heist. When the detectives go there to work out what they might have been planning, they realise the criminals had suspected the police were on to them, and wanted to lure them out into the open to find out who they were.
  • In the opening scene of The Assignment (1997), a terrorist receives a hand grenade from a contact in a Paris cafe, then tosses it into the crowd as he leaves, nearly killing a CIA agent who was himself using that cafe. Later in the movie the KGB apparently witness that same terrorist (actually a Doppelgänger) meeting with that same CIA agent in a crowded East Berlin pub and think the terrorist has turned informant — in this case the public rendezvous was used so the KGB surveillance team would witness the meeting and jump to the wrong conclusion.
  • In Children of Men the upper deck of a London double-decker bus is used. Thanks to widespread social apathy no-one else bothers to walk up the stairs, so they are able to talk in private while also being able to detect anyone else who might follow them up there.
  • Subverted in Pokémon Detective Pikachu when Lucy attempts to do this when meeting Tim at a café, sunglasses & adjacent booth and all, only for Tim to not catch on and drop the files she handed him, leading her to give up and simply join him and Pikachu at their table.
  • Crooked House: When Charles meets with his CIA contact, they meet at a bank of phone booths on a busy street. They hold a private conversation by standing in phone booths next to each other and conversing via the phone.
  • Lampshaded in Jurassic Park, when Dodgson meets Nedry in a restaurant.
    Nedry: (waving) Dodgson!
    Dodgson: (sitting down) You shouldn't use my name.
    Nedry: (loudly) Dodgson! We've got Dodgson here! (normal voice) See? Nobody cares.

  • Near the very start of 1961 novel Call for the Dead, the first of John le Carré's many spy novels, British spy George Smiley recounts a security interview with a Foreign Office official accused of Communist Party membership. The interviewee's London workplace was busy and they might be overheard, so they stepped outside, went to the park and talked while watching the ducks. Notably, Le Carré actually worked for the British secret service MI-5 until his cover was blown - and although the Foreign Office location isn't mentioned in the conversation, it's actually on King Charles Street, next to St James's Park...
  • Good Omens confirms that the duck pond in St James's Park is specifically the place in London where spies from different agencies (and Crowley and Aziraphale) go to meet. Some of the more amusing anecdotes include two members of MI9 trying to recruit each other, and the ducks having learned to differentiate and appreciate the kinds of crumbs left by assorted diplomats and spies. There's also the café at the British Museum, (described as a second home for the battle-weary foot-soldiers of The Cold War) where two agents argue over who keeps the receipt.
  • In The Bartimaeus Trilogy Nathaniel is asked to meet the British agent in Prague at a cemetery at midnight. Complaining about the melodrama, he insists that their next meeting being somewhere more ordinary and they agree to meet in the main square around six — "Harlequin" had wanted to pick the old plague pits. He does cope with the change well, and Nathaniel receives his information in a hot dog bun he bought from the disguised agent.
  • Discussed in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. Harry, Hermione and Ron have a secret meeting in a public location, but choose the less-frequented Hog's Head over the Three Broomsticks. Both the Order and Umbridge learn what they're doing, making things that much harder. Sirius tells them they should have chosen the Three Broomsticks, because while they could never know if someone was watching them, in a noisy crowded place any spies would have trouble hearing them. This gets foreshadowed when Harry looks around during the meeting and realizes that the entire bar is hanging onto his every word.
  • Also discussed in An H-Bomb for Alice by Ian Stewart when the British protagonist meets his ASIO counterpart in a noisy Australian pub. When he worries that someone might overhear them, the ASIO agent points out a young couple (each from rival political parties), and a businessman meeting with a trade unionist, and suggests that they may be making an illicit deal, or just sharing a friendly drink, but it's impossible to tell.
  • However in The Specialist by Gayle Rivers, the mercenary protagonist complains when he has to meet a British agent in a pub as it means masking your conversation in ambiguous terms, which is difficult if you're not on the same wavelength as the person you're talking to.
  • Serpico's corrupt police colleagues discover he's not been taking bribes (his partner has been pocketing the money 'for when he wants it'). They order him to turn up to a meeting, and Serpico is dumbfounded to find it's in a park across from the courthouse, with an entire squad of detectives discussing the matter while a stream of prosecutors, cops, and judges walk by.
  • At one point in Without Remorse, Bob Ritter meets with a KGB agent attached to the Russian embassy at the Washington Zoo to discuss Russia leveraging Vietnam into releasing some POWs in exchange for America not revealing that Vietnam had falsely reported that said prisoners were dead after capturing them to the world press.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Arrow. After Oliver Queen discovers that Malcolm Merlyn is alive and back in Starling City, Malcolm agrees to meet him in a crowded plaza, as the presence of innocent bystanders will deter Oliver from starting a fight.
  • In The Sandbaggers, most of Burnside's meetings with his American counterpart Jeff Ross happen while strolling in the park.
  • Stargate SG-1 has a few examples.
    • General Hammond has a park meeting with one of his contacts who's so paranoid that he refuses to talk even while they're sitting on a park bench; they have to be actually walking before he'll say anything.
    • Sam and her NID contact Malcolm Barrett first meet in his office, where he vocally denies having any interest in what she has to say while passing him a note that says to meet in the park instead. Once she gets there, he explains there are listening devices in his office, and he couldn't have a conversation there.
  • In Stargate Atlantis, Sheppard meets his ex-wife — who works for the Department of Homeland Security — on a park bench, in order to ask her to illegally dig up some classified information for him.
  • In "Spies Five", an unaired sketch from A Bit of Fry and Laurie, Tony and Control meet on a park bench because there's a mole in their department.
  • Subverted in 30 Rock. Jack meets Lenny, a private investigator played by Steve Buscemi, along the banks of the river, in view of the Queensborough Bridge. Lenny thanks Jack for driving out there, Jack says he doesn't mind because discretion is important. Lenny replies "Also, my gym is right over there."
  • Spooks: In seasons one and two, the characters frequently have meetings on the benches across from the Houses of Parliament.
  • Breaking Bad:
    • Drug deals in this show tend to take place in public places, but for another reason in addition to secrecy: if negotiations go badly, people are less likely to shoot each other in public in broad daylight. Walt, in the first drug deal he participates in, sets it in an abandoned junkyard because that's where drug deals take place in the movies.
      Jesse: This, this is like a non-criminal's idea of a drug meet. This is like, "Oh, I saw this in a movie, look at me!"
      Tuco: What are we doing way the hell out here? What, they close the mall or something?
      Jesse: (meaningful look)
    • In season 5, Lydia insists on meeting Walt in a coffee shop. She tries to sit back-to-back with him, but he points out that this only makes them look more conspicuous, and joins her at her table.
  • Burn Notice:
    • In "Fight or Flight" Michael meets Egyptian spy Akhom Thabet in the cemetery where Michael's father Frank was buried. Thabet is discomfited by this, but Michael justifies it to him: It's quiet, there's plenty of cover, and two guys in business suits don't attract much attention.
    • In "Do No Harm" Michael and Fiona meet with a Mark of the Week in a hot tub at a public pool, which has the added benefit of making it more difficult for someone to wear a wire.
    • In another episode, Ambiguously Gay baddie Gilroy meets with Michael in a hot tub at a public pool pretty much for the Rule of Funny of making Mike uncomfortable.
  • In the 1990's Australian cop show Phoenix the head of Major Crime Division meets a colleague in the park to discuss an undercover operation. At the end of the meeting one of them grumbles: "Jesus, what do we look like? Two bloody old poofs holding hands, sucking their ice creams. Is there a pub nearby?"
  • Good Omens (2019):
    • Aziraphale and Crowley meet several times on a very public park bench to discuss very confidential matters of Heaven and Hell. Notably, this is the setting of their conversation where Crowley asks Aziraphale to provide him with holy water for "insurance".
    • In a brief gag, two spies, one British and one Russian, also meet up in the same park. Much like their angelic counterparts, they're implied to have become friends over the years.
    • Played for Laughs in the first episode of Season 2. Crowley is sat on a bench in St James's Park and a man sits next to him and delivers a line of Spy Speak in a thick Eastern European accent. Crowley tells him he's got the wrong bench and points him towards his actual contact.
  • Hunter (NBC). Played for Laughs in "The Jade Woman" where a small-time crook steals a package of drugs from a crime boss, and says he'll sell it back to him. To avoid his inevitable death, the exchange takes place in the foyer of a police station.
  • In Season 3 of House of Cards (US), Doug Stamper and Gavin Orsay periodically meet in a diner to discuss the status of Gavin's search for Rachel (for which he's misappropriating FBI resources).
  • In Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Creel meets with his HYDRA handler to hand over the Obelisk on a pair of back-to-back public benches. This ends up making it remarkably easy for Raina to walk away with it when the meeting goes bad.
  • In Agent Carter, Peggy meets with Edwin Jarvis back-to-back at neighbouring tables in a diner. Jarvis also meets with Howard Stark by sitting next to him at a shoe shine stand.
  • Person of Interest.
    • In the pilot episode, Harold Finch does a Walk and Talk through Central Park while revealing the existence of the Machine to John Reese. We then see them from the Machine's POV, showing the all-seeing A.I. can still hear their conversation.
    • This backfires on Finch in "No Good Deed" when he reveals himself as the creator of the Machine, while sitting in an outdoor table in a coffee shop. At the end of the episode we revisit the scene to see former NSA employee Alicia Corwin at a nearby table sitting with her back to them, but with a small rifle microphone sitting on the table pointed in Finch's direction.
    • Control becomes suspicious of Samaritan and to escape its ubiquitous surveillance goes to the park, sits on a bench and uses a satellite phone to contact one of her men directly. However Samaritan adapts by sending a bike rider into the park with a microphone attached to his arm in the guise of a smartphone, to hear her conversation.
    • Inverted when Control is interrogating a woman she suspects of being The Handler for The Mole inside her organization. Control produces photographs showing her sitting next to The Mole in a park and a coffee shop. The woman protests that it's a coincidence, as they're both public places. So Control produces a third photograph, showing this innocuous housewife walking down a restricted corridor in the White House.
  • Scandal loves to do this, and nearly every such meeting is presumed to be orchestrated by Olivia. Olivia and Cyrus tend to meet on the steps of the Jefferson Memorial. Olivia and her father meet in parks or in restaurants. The most treacherous of conversations tend to occur between Olivia and some other person in the middle night, when no bystanders are present.
  • Daredevil (2015). A plot point in the Back Story of The Punisher. A meeting was set up by the Blacksmith with three criminal gangs to be held in Central Park. The authorities got wind of it, but didn't clear the park of civilians because it might tip the criminals off. Unfortunately when the Blacksmith never showed, the rival gangs got nervous and a shootout occurred, with Frank Castle's family caught in the crossfire.
  • Luke Cage (2016): During the first part of season 1, Mariah Dillard is very uncomfortable about being seen in public with her cousin Cottonmouth, given Cottonmouth is running the Stokes family's organized crime operations, and she is trying to minimize any potential association with the dirty money.
  • Porridge: Grouty will sometimes hold a secret meeting in a communal area of the prison, such as the doctor's waiting room, or the toilets, using his henchmen to bully the other prisoners out of the area first.
  • The Boys (2019). At the start of Season 2, Hughie Campbell is a federal fugitive, so has to meet with an incognito Starlight by pretending to be passengers sitting next to each other on a crowded subway train. Given that Starlight is a celebrity superhero, she's actually at more risk of being recognised than he is.
  • The Wire:
    • When Omar and Stringer Bell meet to discuss ending their war, the meeting is at a fountain surrounded by people to assure both that it's not an ambush.
    • The Greeks prefer to have their initial meets with people at park benches, and at the next level of trust, at the Greek diner. The ringleader also meets with his FBI source in an art gallery.
    • In seasons 2 and 3, the Barksdale organization hold meetings at a funeral parlor, sometimes while bodies lay in caskets in the room.
  • The Comedy Playhouse episode "Lunch in the Park" (later remade for Paul Merton in Galton and Simpson's...) has a different kind of rendezvous. Geoffrey and Sarah meet regularly on a park bench in their lunch hours to have stilted conversations about their unhappy marriages and wonder if this is the day they'll take it further. Until The Ending Changes Everything by revealing it's not a different kind of rendezvous at all, as the military police arrive to arrest them both for espionage.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Shadowrun.
    • In The Neo-Anarchists' Guide to Real Life it was recommended that runners meet with their Mr. Johnson (employer) at a public place such as a McHugh's restaurant.
    • Many of the adventures published for the game had runners meeting with their Mr. Johnson in public places such as restaurants, bars and nightclubs.

    Video Games 
  • In Covert Action Player Character can meet local informants simply in the lounge of his hotel. Not that it was necessary or alert-safe.
  • In the intro to Civilization IV's expansion, an image of Lincoln giving the Gettysburg address Match Cuts to his memorial, where two spies are passing along photos of Soviet missile sites.
  • In KGB, the player character must bug one of these meetings. Doing anything else will result in one of the speakers getting spooked and escaping.
  • In Persona 5, the Phantom Thieves' second meeting place is a public accessway bridge over a busy road that gets lots of foot traffic. They also occasionally meet in local diners to discuss Phantom Thieves business.
  • Grand Theft Auto V Lester calls Franklin to meet him at Vespucci beach, where he sits near him on a bench, and tells him to just look forward, as he explains the plot to use assassinations to manipulate stock prizes for the assassination side missions.

    Web Comics 
  • In Autumn Bay, Felicia Kingsley, the Intrepid Reporter, has an early morning meeting in Wellington Park with Frank Logan, an old spy, to discuss exactly what's going on.

    Web Original 
  • In Pay Me, Bug!, getting Meaghan Sythe out of Ur Voys requires a meeting in a bar. Unfortunately, she is seen there by other bar patrons, which allows Mavis' agents to connect her with the Fool's Errand. Since they already suspect her of being part of the theft of the artefact, they naturally go after her, which sets up the climactic battle.

    Western Animation