A Phone in a Briefcase

Sorrento slides down his bench a bit to make room for Leon as he joins them, but doesn’t say anything; his attention, along with everyone else’s, is on a heavyset man in a teal suit at the center of the other side of the table.

“It’s going to completely revolutionize communications,” Teal Suit is saying. “You’ll be able to call anyone from anywhere. Think about it – payphones will become totally obsolete.” He pauses to slurp up an errant spaghetti noodle, and wipes sauce from his short auburn beard.

Enrique has his chin in one hand, leaning on the table with his elbow and staring hard at Teal Suit. “So it’s like… like a car phone?”

The man is still chewing a mouth full of food, so a younger, nebbish-looking man sitting next to him pipes up. He’s wearing a straw Panama hat, white with a black brim, and seems to half-disappear behind Teal Suit’s elbow. “Not really,” he says. “Well, I mean, sort of. Yes. But not just in your car. You’ll be able to carry it with you. In a case.”

Leon sets his napkin down and rises to bend across the table and offer his hand. “Leon.”

“Oh,” says the younger one. “I’m Ike. And this – ”

“Ruben McHallow,” the other cuts in. “Of Transatlantic Technologies.”

“Cool,” Leon says. Sitting back down, he takes a forkful of spaghetti then talks around it, oblivious to the disregarded social nicety. “What is that?”

“We’re a telecommunications company.”

“Oh, okay. Like, phones and shit.”

Ruben chuckles. The sound could be condescending, but falls perfectly into the space where it could just as easily be dismissed as misinterpretation. “Yes,” he says smoothly. “Like phones and shit. We’re bringing a new mobile phone to market, something so small it can be carried anywhere.”

“And you, Ike, you work for this… Transa…”

“Oh, yes, I – ”

“Ike is my graphic designer,” Ruben cuts in again. “At Transatlantic Technologies. He’s doing some lovely branding work for our upcoming product.” A look of affection from the older man to the younger suggests something more than just a working relationship, and Ike looks down at his plate, seeming to grow flustered.

“So,” Sorrento prods, “it’s a phone that you don’t have to plug in?”

“That’s right!” Ruben seems pleased. “And we’ve miniaturized it to the point where the whole thing can be carried in a single briefcase. I patented the technology.”

Leon feels his brow furrowing. “But… how does it get on the phone lines?”

“It doesn’t. It uses… call it radio waves.”

“But then how does it know what phone to go to?”

“Well, it’s like your radio. There are channels, so to speak. The signal itself doesn’t need to know where to go, it goes in all directions at once. The receiving phone picks it up, because it can only pick up a single frequency, and each signal is encoded for the specific device that can pick it up.”

Leon looks around in both amazement and mild alarm. “You mean there are phone calls here? Right now?

Sorrento gives him an exasperated look. “Yes. Just like there are radio waves here. You can’t see them and they don’t hurt you.”

For a while the only sound at the table is chewing. Eventually Enrique speaks up again. “So they can’t call normal phones?”

“Come on, man,” Sorrento says. “That’d be pretty fucking useless. ‘Oh hey, I’ve got this phone that can only call four other people.’ That’s gonna catch on.”

“Fuck you,” Enrique retorts. “I don’t know about these radio wave things, but I’m pretty sure my phone doesn’t pick them up.”

“No, it’s a reasonable question, actually.” Ruben says. “And the answer is yes, you can call regular phones, but the how is, honestly, more complicated than you probably care to hear. It has to do with switches and transmitters and receivers and quite a bit of revolutionary technology.”

“Well.” Leon uses the last of his garlic bread to mop the plate clean of sauce and stuffs it into his mouth. “That all sounds pretty awesome. I’ll have to get one when they come out.”

“I’m afraid they will be quite expensive at first,” Ruben says. “The technology is still quite new.”

“That’s okay,” Leon responds flippantly. “I’m good for it.”

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