Anna was born in Croatia but moved to Milan as a young child and has lived there since. She has worked in the Asset Management industry for JPMorgan and is now employed in Private Banking for an Italian bank, where she manages HNW positions. She started writing romantic comedies to fight financial markets stress after the Lehman crack, when she was expecting her son, now six. Writing was supposed to be only a hobby, but her husband self-published her first novel as a birthday present four years ago, and it was a great success in Italy.
“So where are you sending me, then?”
“To Arkansas,” he says, as if it was perfectly normal.
I open my eyes wide in panic. “No! Not to Arkansas, please!” I’m all set to get down on my knees and beg.
My sadist of a boss is actually looking amused by my desperate reaction. “What the hell are you getting so worked up about going to Arkansas for? It’s hardly the Far West! And isn’t it where you were born anyway?” he asks as he scratches his chin.
“That’s the point: I know the place well enough and I hate the countryside! Can you imagine me living out in the boondocks? I need to see the crowds in the street and smell the awful stink of the underground: it’s reassuring!” I say. Hey, as far as I’m concerned, everybody is entitled to their own weirdness.
“Girl, you are out of your mind. Well I think that spending a few months in the countryside can only be good for your health…”
“Months? Did you say ‘months’?”
My voice is starting to get a little loud, but Roger doesn’t seem to have noticed.
“I have a fantastic project in mind, and you’re going to love it too,” he explains. “But to avoid raising suspicion, I need someone local to take care of it.”
“I am not ‘local’! My mother and I got the hell away from there when I was only five!” I say imploringly, trying to get him to change his mind.
“Don’t you have an aunt who still lives there?” he asks innocently.
Never, and I really do mean never, ever speak to your boss about your family. Sooner or later, they will use all the information they’ve managed to gather against you.
“She’s not really my aunt,” I reply in a quiet voice, “she’s my late grandmother’s sister.”
“Look, Kayla, let me be blunt: I don’t care if she is or isn’t your aunt… She’s still a damn good excuse for you to spend a bit of time there. Where exactly does she live?” he asks, peering at me the way a predator looks at its prey.
“In Heber Springs…” I mumble, hoping that he won’t be able to hear me. But my hopes are vain, because he seems to be able to hear me perfectly well. Scores at the moment: exceptional Hearing 1 – Kayla 0.
“That’s perfect!” His face is so ecstatic that for a moment I’m scared he’s about to kiss me. I still don’t understand what the hell he’s so happy about, though.
“I really don’t get why you’re suddenly so interested in a small town that nobody has ever heard of before,” I say with a disgusted expression.
“Have you ever heard about shale gas and shale oil?” he asks me cryptically.
The question takes me by surprise. I hadn’t really been expecting him to come out with something like that. “Err, kind of, I guess. Like everyone else… I mean, I know what it is, in theory. Let’s say I have a very superficial knowledge of the matter. I guess it’s when you drill a hole in the ground and put various substances in there until you provoke a hydraulic fracture that liberates some gas or oil or something? That’s all I know. I’ve never had the chance to study the subject in depth, as I’m sure you can imagine.” And who cares about it anyway?
“That’s because you spend all your time drinking Cosmopolitans instead of getting informed about the real problems of the country,” he scolds me in a teasing voice. I feel like a lazy student being criticised in front of the whole class, and it’s working – I’m actually starting to feel guilty. But luckily, I’m only capable of feeling guilt for a couple of seconds at a time.
“Look, I don’t know anything about nuclear fusion or fission either and I don’t think that’s a problem for anyone, to be honest. What am I anyway, an environmental engineer? I don’t think so. My job is to take care of our newspaper’s New York social life column,” I remind us both.
“And on paper that’s what you’ll continue to do, except that you’ll be doing it from Heber Springs. You current assignment will be your cover.”
I’m trying very hard to follow him, but I still don’t know where he’s going with all this. “There is no social life in Heber Springs, and so there’ll be nothing for me to talk about. The place is just straight up dead! There’s nothing there, except for the few hundred people who haven’t run away from it yet.”
“Few thousand, to be precise,” Roger corrects me while checking the town on the Internet.
“That’s only if you count the whole county. In any case, it doesn’t change the fact that more people live in my block than in miles and miles of that deserted wilderness of Arkansas.” I hope he’s getting the message: I need to be surrounded by people at all times. I love crowds!
Roger’s face, though, tells me that he’s not actually inclined to sympathise with my personal necessities. Quite the opposite, in fact.
“It’s going to be a great column: A City Girl in the Country. Our female readers will love it,” he says, completely ignoring me.
“But I am going to hate it!” I reply stubbornly. “Don’t you think it’s important for me to like my assignments?”
He doesn’t even bother to answer.
“And when you’re not busy with your cover column, you’ll be investigating the shale gas thing.”
“In Arkansas?” I ask doubtfully. The last time I was there – which was a fair few years ago – the local economy was mainly based on agriculture, farming and not much else. I know that there were some bauxite caves or something like that, but I never really looked into it. I just wasn’t interested, and I bet nobody else would be either.
“You need to catch up, Kayla. In Fayetteville, Arkansas, there is one of the biggest shale gas sites in the whole United States. And as soon as you start to look into it, you’ll realise how important shale gas is for the energy independence that the US is hoping to achieve. All our future energy plans are based on this new method of methane extraction, and it’s all on the basis of assumptions which have yet to be completely proven, in my opinion,” he says cautiously.
His last words pique my curiosity. “What do you mean?” I ask.
“Let’s just say that some States, like Arkansas, are embracing fracking without hesitation while in other states the authorities are doing the exact opposite: they are banning it completely.”