Wednesday, September 14, 2005

You don't get more American than a pancake breakfast at IHOP's - the International House of Pancakes. Only, we didn't have pancakes. We had eggs over easy and rashers of bacon, and mugs of coffee.

This was a Huntsville breakfast with the Wards - Dick, Michelle and little Sophia. The temperature was already in the high twenties and the humidity was soaring. Afterwards Dick took us on a tour of some of the more advanced facilities at the College of Criminal Justice - the most incredible open-source computer system for tracking international terrorists; an incident management and control centre where real people have their ability tested under extreme pressure to manage anything from a dirty bomb terrorist attack to a multiple hostage-taking incident.

The most detailed scenarios are dreamt up by resident experts who turn up the heat on their guinea pigs in a real-time control centre nicknamed the "hell" room.

Whisked off, then, to a lunch with the brass at Sam Houston State University, I notice a sign welcoming me to the campus. And in the hallway, a large poster advertises my book event in the college courtroom that afternoon.

There is a good turnout in the courtroom - ironically, a venue I had used in "Snakehead" to stage a sitting of the local Immigration Court. Afterwards we sell and sign another forty plus books.

We discuss with the university, the possibility of a special group coming to France to take our writing course, and contemplate an open invitation to spend a semester at Huntsville teaching a course in creating writing to the crime majors.

Then to Dick's ranch just outside of town, where a group of us gather to eat Chinese carry-out in the front room, looking out at the sun setting beyond the pasture where Dick's longhorn steer grazes contentedly. Joe tells us about his encounters with the Russia mafia, and Matt expresses his desire to be a Sheriff's deputy in his home country. Ginny, looks after us as always, keeping us fed with super-strong Margaritas mixed by Dick. Michelle feeds us cookies, and Sophia charms us all.

Until it's time to go. A 5.30am rise.

Our undying gratitude to Dick for his hospitality and his friendship.

Tomorrow, if it's Wednesday, it must be Arizona.

Breakfast with the Wards

Dick and Sophia

La Patronne et moi get attacked in Houston

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