Law & Order: Bagels and Coffee


erin_icon.gif tasha_icon.gif

Scene Title Law & Order: Bagels and Coffee
Synopsis A cop and a lawyer bond over bagels in a crowded shop.
Date June 26, 2021

Red Hook, The Schmear Campaign

These days, Red Hook has quite a few places that offer excellent coffee and breakfast, but it’s The Schmear Campaign that finds Tasha Renard-Lazzaro occupying a corner booth by the window.

The small shop only has a few tables, and the rest are taken up — two by couples, one by a mother and her two children, another by a man with the Safe Zone Siren opened wide and serving as a shield from social interaction. Tasha’s table is laden with a laptop, a large cup of coffee that’s on its third refill, a few file folders, a couple of legal pads, and of course a plate with her half-finished breakfast on it — an jalepeño-cheese bagel with cream cheese and chives.

The lawyer types, soft keys almost silent under quick-moving fingers, but the soft tapping gets a little louder, a little faster as Tasha continues, apparently annoyed at whoever she’s responding to. Finally with a sigh, she closes the laptop and leans back against the back of the green-vinyl bench, reaching for her coffee to take a soothing sip.

There are few things more New York than a bagel with cream cheese. Detective Erin Gordon, being basically-born-and-bred, has some opinions. Her favorite place, her Cheers, the one where everybody knows your order but never, ever your name, no longer exists: down in the remains of what used to be Metrotech Center in its bustling Polytech heyday, there was a little shop on a little corner on a little one-way that made its bagels by hand, its schmear by hand, its lox by hand (or, at least, its smooth, buttery texture certainly lended the suggestion) and was run, of all the people, by a family of Peruvian immigrants, because in this city, anyone can do anything. They closed at 3PM, which was a bit of a bummer because she always seemed to forget until she would be standing outside at 4:30 on an odd Wednesday, but she made up for it by buying the baker’s dozen - buy 12, get one free, or maybe five free if it’s near closing - and keeping them in the freezer. An everything here, a sesame there, even a salt occasionally, but the salt very crucially not crusted onto the bottom to the degree it would burn one’s mouth and sear the taste buds right off the tongue, which, as any New Yorker knows, is a fine balancing act that only the most skilled of bagelsmiths can accomplish. A tang of salt, not enough to season your soup with. But some exits from our lives are sad, silent, without warning or fanfare, and one day you roll up and your safe zone is less one staple that you thought would be there forever. Never take the good things for granted.

No amount of sleuthing has turned up another place quite so…that. There’s a decent place in old Ditmars, down by the bridge and the park, a place with the sketchiest and patchiest awning that universally indicates either The Mob or Great Food and is always a toss-up between the two, and the bagels are quite palatable. They’re fluffy and thick, no hint of sweetness to them save for what may be required to leaven the dough of this holiest of foods, the outside always perfectly crispy and the inside so soft, so fluffy, so packed with cream cheese that half of it drips out of the end and lands on the napkin or paper bag that experience has taught you to always place on your lap so that, if that dripping includes lox or avocado or, on the rascally lunch hour, chicken salad, you might ball it up and put it in another bag and keep it to snack on with your fingers or put on a defrosted bagel quarter at dinner time in your small and dimly-lit but overall cozy kitchen, which could use a visit from an exterminator sometime in the next few weeks.

But all of this being said, The Schmear Campaign is definitely a contender. Erin had first popped in because the name was just so absurd, so lurid, so delightful that she positively could not resist, nestled underneath what used to be the elevated 7 train between two shops that she never even stopped to learn the names of outside of the hyperfocus of bagelmania. She walks in, stands in line, orders an everything bagel, toasted, with plain cream cheese — no wait, make that two, I have to work the late shift this evening. And, waiting for the queue in front of her to clear out with their wheaty plunder, she sees but one option available for the communing of a perfect breakfast, and that spot is in across from a laptop, tip-typing away, the bagel and cups of coffee still cooling from what promises to be a likely day of likely work.

“I’m sorry,” Erin says softly, not wanting to disturb the occupant, “But can I sit here with you? Numbskull over there has made it very clear he wants to hog an entire table, and I really don’t trust myself not to get cream cheese all over the front seat of my car.”

The interruption draws Tasha’s dark eyes upward, and it takes a moment for the request to make its way past whatever legalese she had in her mind a moment ago. But once the words register, she immediately smiles and launches into quick motion, setting down her coffee so that she can pull the rest of her belongings toward herself to vacate some real estate. Truth be told, she clears more than half of the table once she’s done, taking up only a tidy quarter of the table designed to seat four people.

“I’m so sorry. I was totally distracted and didn’t realize there’s no more seats. Have a seat,” the petite brunette says — while she doesn’t have a strong accent like some homegrown New Yorkers, it’s easy enough to identify her as a native of the city, or at least someone who’s lived here most of her life.

Tasha gestures to the bench across from her, reaching for the coffee cup again. Once that’s done, she glances over to the newspaper reader, and rolls her eyes. “I try to tip well to make up for my obliviousness sometimes since I’m here so often.”

“Don’t even worry about it,” Erin says bracingly, with a friendly chuckle. “It’s not your responsibility to make sure there are seats available. That’s on the baristas, but…” and she looks over her shoulder at the thronging mass of gluteny denizens swarming the chronically understaffed counter. “Besides, no schmuck reading a newspaper deserves to hog three seats. Cheers.” She raises a bagel to her new tablemate in a toast, and proceeds to shove way too much of it into her mouth, getting some schmear on the corner of her mouth.

“But please!” Erin continues, through a thick blanket of carbs and dairy, “You have so much stuff, you can take up more of the table than that. All I have is a book. We can share. It’s such a wild concept for some.”

“So much stuff,” Tasha agrees with a roll of her eyes. “I have an office, so I’m not sure why I feel compelled to bring this all with me for lunch, but… I want to get a change of scenery, and yet I also need to still do some work, so I end up bringing half the office with me. It’s dumb, really. It would be faster to just come and get it and then bring it back, or get delivery, or maybe pack a lunch, but still I do this more days than not.”

One hand reaches up to shove a lock of hair behind her ear. Her eyes can’t help but alight on the book when it’s mentioned, but it doesn’t linger there long. “What are you reading?” she asks, rather than trying to read the cover awkwardly. “If it’s not personal. God, that could be personal, right? Though if you’re reading it in public, it’s probably not that personal, I guess.”

Tasha makes a face at herself, like she knows she’s rambling a little. “Sorry. I haven’t spoken to a live person for a few hours, besides the counter guy, and it shows.” Her smile blooms again, and she offers her hand to shake. “I’m Tasha. Bagel shop table sharer extraordinaire.”

Erin puts on her best cheeky lopsided grin and grips Tasha’s hand. “Erin. And it’s not personal, really - no secrets between bagel lovers.” A wink. Really pouring on the charm until she gets the arm loop of her backpack stuck on the back of the chair and nearly slingshots herself across the tabletop. Recovering, having somehow not smashed her bagel into her chest high school cafeteria style, she answers, “I want to say it’s something cool or smart, like some kind of electrical engineering or critical theory or a super cool biography, but honestly?” She holds up the battered paperback, yellowed and dogeared from many previous owners even before the stoop sale she found it at at least a decade prior. Interview with The Vampire. “I know who I am. And who I am is a Grown Professional who Occasionally Reads Vampire Novels. I know better to ask what you’re working on, though. If it’s work, it’s proprietary trade secrets or something I’m sure. Also, it’s rude.”

As she sits, her belt loop detective’s badge catches a glint of filtered glass sunlight in the split second when she’s adjusting her blazer, a battered dark brown that could use a bit of tailoring, but complimenting the dark blue of her work jeans well enough.

“Oh, well, you’ll have to find a seat somewhere else, then, because obviously I only read electrical engineering books over here,” Tasha says back with a grin. She nods to the book. “I read that a long time ago. I liked it, but not enough to finish all of the others that followed. I don’t have much bandwidth for long series these days.”

Her eyes catch that wink of light on the badge, but she doesn’t launch into OMG do you know… mode quite yet. “Proprietary trade secrets makes me sound much more interesting than I am, but yeah, most of my work isn’t really in the public domain — until it is.”

She smiles, reaching for her coffee for a sip, before she continues. “I’m a lawyer. Don’t worry — I’m not the kind that tries to free the bad guys you put away. Criminal’s not my strong suit, though I do take a couple of public defense cases a year. Still gotta pay my debt, and all that.”

With a dip of her head to Erin’s belt, Tasha adds, “My dad was a detective back before he was, well, other things.”

The coffee is beginning to wend and work its way through Erin’s system, taking blessedly less than the requisite thirty minutes that science professes is the time when the Goddess Caffeina rains her blessings upon us (which, as any true coffee addict knows, is untrue, and the waking up begins more realistically the second you smell the holy nectar abrewing). “Oh, I knew you looked familiar!” She snaps her fingers.

“You’re…Colette’s partner, right? I feel like I’ve seen you at functions that literally nobody wanted to be at. Also, that-” she tilts her head at the tattoo, “-should have been a tip-off. I feel like she might have the same one. We don’t overlap all that often but I’d recognize that tattoo anywhere if I had had enough coffee in me. Serendipitous, isn’t this life.”

A long drag on the coffee, not wondering if she’s crossed a boundary.

“Oh, yes! That Erin!” Tasha says, wide smile widening even more. “I thought you looked familiar, too, but I try to not pull at the sleeves of every NYPD person I see and ask if they know Colette. I only sometimes succeed.”

She grins, setting the coffee cup down and reaching for the bagel she’d abandoned on the plate. “It’s nice to meet you. How are you liking it? Were you with the department before everything, or is it a career change for you?” she asks curiously. “It’s strange, you know, to see friends who were rebels back before the war now in places like the PD and SESA. It’s a bit surreal if you think about it without looking at all the years between for context. If someone transplanted 2011 me in 2021, I would be deeply, deeply confused.”

Tasha laughs, and shakes her head. “I think of weird things like that sometimes. That includes myself — Eighteen-year-old me would never in a million years expected myself to be a lawyer, but here we are.”

“Re-meet, I guess,” Erin corrects, smirking. “That is, assuming we ever met officially. I’m willing to bet we didn’t. But that’s okay. I’m babbling. Deeply confused, though? Cheers to that.” Mirroring Tasha, she takes another bite of her own bagel, rather less messily this time around.

“I was with the department ‘before everything,’ but only barely. I was a rookie back in 2006. Quite a welcoming year.” An eye roll. “I stuck around until the war, and then I…was not a cop. I didn’t like the sorts of things the force was doing at the time, to be honest. I almost didn’t come back, but SCOUT does some good things that we weren’t so sure we’d have a future for, back in the thick of it. If that makes sense.” Another bite, more pensive this time. Staring above Tasha’s head for a moment, lost in thought. “But I did always want to be a cop. At least, I think. Back then, in the ‘90s, the police weren’t…well, you know how it was. It was more that I wanted to do good and help people and reform a bad and broken system, and the force seemed like the best way to do that. Change things from the inside out, you know? And we are doing that. I think.”

Her blue eyes dart back to the face in front of her, startled. “Sorry. That was a lot. I’m not usually so candid, but I think I’ve just been thinking a lot lately. The world only seems to have gotten more complicated since the war, even if the horrors have evened out a little.”

The lawyer side of this Law and Order episode smiles, lifting the coffee to her lips as she plants her elbows on the table. “You don’t have to be sorry. I get it. My dad did that whole trying to reform the bad system from the inside out. Literally was internal affairs, which didn’t win him any popularity contests, so I absolutely get it. Unfortunately, there’s only so much good you can do when you have a corrupt chief to begin with, right?”

Tasha sets down the coffee again. “Police, lawyers — there are assholes who make the good ones among us look bad, but on your side, I know there are people trying to make sure that everyone is safe, not just the rich people, the white people, the SLC-N people, but everyone. And on my side, there are people trying to make sure everyone is treated fairly.”

She waves a hand in a vague dismissal gesture. “And then there’s the assholes. Far too many in the past, but hopefully not so many now. At least in the NYPD. As for lawyers, the good folks are always going to be a little outnumbered by selfish ambulance chasers, to be honest.”

“You’re not wrong,” Erin answers, taking another very measured sip off of the blessedly still warm coffee - a latte, which at this point has lost some of its foam to both time and her gullet - “about the ambulance chasers and the, ah, problems with bad leadership. I suppose, though, that you’d probably know even more than I do, given who you were raised by. Or who I think you were raised by, based on what you’ve been saying.” Another drag, blue eyes making extended contact with the pair across the formica. Erin is hoping not to have to make a joke about being a detective and all that, but she would also relish the opportunity to embrace her inner dad.

“There are assholes. It’s true. But it’s better than it was. Still, whenever you’re in this sort of position for too long…well, the helping professions can turn into the hurting professions if you’re not self aware, constantly thinking about what you’re doing and saying and what it stands for. And it can get tiring. I love being on the force. People like Willa Sadowsky really give hope that people can be good, and I love running around and doing exciting things, and I love helping people, which is something we had a severe lack of for…” She pauses. “Honestly, I’m not sure the NYPD has ever done much helping until recently. So 200 years, give or take?”

A laugh now. “But enough about me. Your job is probably interesting and troubled in its own way, especially if you’re in the private sector, such as it is. Listen, I know this is a bit forward, and this is in no way me hitting on you as I know you are spoken for, but would you like to get coffee sometime? Other than, um, this. Which I suppose is what we’re doing.” A coy, cocky half-smirk. “I don’t usually ask people to be my friend out of the blue, but it sounds like you’ve got some interesting thoughts that I’d like to pick your brain on, if that’s okay. I guess it’s not that weird, since we’ve got a mutual connection.”

Flustered, Erin hurries on, pushing chestnut locks behind one slightly smallish ear, unadorned with jewelry but with a gap where one could be placed were she ever off the clock in a real way. “I swear this isn’t me being weird. I could just use some friends who aren’t on the force. And,” she looks down at the battered paperback, “perhaps some new reading material.”

Tasha laughs, and taps her nose. “Yeah, Vincent Lazzaro is my father. It’s not much of a secret, so I think I can tell you,” she says in a teasing stage whisper. “When I was young and dumb, I dropped his name for a bit – I mean he did work for the DOEA? Yikes. And I was in the Ferry, so that was, you know. Interesting times.”

She grins, obvious fondness for her father sparkling in her eyes. “But despite his numerous flaws, he is one of the best people I know, and when he realized what they were doing was wrong, he did what he could to right that.”

The suggestion to get (more) coffee draws a different kind of smile, and the lawyer laughs, reaching for her wallet to pull out a business card and then picks up a pen to add a second number on it. “It’s not that weird. It’s just hard to make friends as grown ups, right? We don’t have parents to make playdates for us and there’s no biology test to study for at someone’s house.”

She hands the business card to Erin. “I should probably get back to the office. But yes, coffee some time would be nice. I work mostly alone, so I don’t have other colleagues to force to be my friend, and the other lawyers don’t like me because I beat them too often.” Her dark eyes twinkle as she starts to gather up her belongings.

“Oh, good.” Erin says with palpable relief. She reciprocates, handing over a business card with a sloppy second number on it, and sticks Tasha’s in her book. “Good luck with the…whatever you were doing. After all, the best colleagues are the ones that you can easily hand their asses to in court.”

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