When I grew up in Atlanta, I had a dear friend named Elaine who lived on this wonderful street where a lot of the kids all knew each other. It was one of those lovely tree-lined neighborhoods where the parents were all friends with each other and their kids grew up together. I lived further out in the suburbs and, as I got older, I would often drive to this upscale neighborhood, joining my friends who lived there, and others who lived nearby. Sometimes we’d hang out by the neighborhood pool, swapping stories and plans for college, and listening to late ’70s rock on the open doors of our cars in summer. And sometimes when it was colder, we would spend time in Elaine’s basement. You may remember these basements, with the wood paneling, and drop ceilings, and the record player, and the bookcases filled to overflowing with hardbacks of all kinds. This was a basement that many of us knew well.
Cut to: twenty-five years later. After spending the majority of my adult life in Los Angeles, I moved, along with my wife and our young children, back to Atlanta. And one of the first things we did was to reconnect with old friends, including my buddy, Michael, who had purchased Elaine’s old house.
Michael had grown up in the house literally across the street from Elaine. His parents and her parents were best friends.
My wife, our girls, and I went to Michael’s new home in Elaine’s old house for dinner, joining him, his wife, and their kids. Michael showed us around, pointing out all the amazing and gorgeous upgrades he had made to the rambling thirty-five year old property, finally leading us down to the basement, where, I noted to Michael, nothing had changed.
He smiled and said, “Have you seen the bomb shelter? ”
“Bomb shelter? ”
With a wave of his hand, Michael pointed across the room where one of the floor-to-ceiling book cases had been pulled away from the wall and, sure enough, there was an opening.
We followed Michael in, down a fifteen-foot metal ladder, across a thirty-foot low corridor, to a large concrete capsule. We walked through its open steel blast-door.
Inside were all the accoutrements and accessories a family of four would need to survive the end of the world. From the food stocks to the medical supplies to the water purification kits, it was all there, and then some.
I was blown away.
Michael explained that he learned about the bomb shelter the day he closed on the house. Apparently, no one knew about it — not even Elaine. She had learned about when she was an adult, the same day Michael did.
How many times had I looked at that basement bookcase and never known what was behind it? What would drive a man to feel that he needed to prepare for the end of the world in such a way?
These are questions that I deal with in my new novel, The Melody of Secrets. A bomb shelter plays a part in the new book. And Elaine’s basement was the inspiration.
* * *
Maria was barely eighteen as WWII was coming to its explosive end. A brilliant violinist, she tried to comfort herself with the Sibelius Concerto as American bombs rained down. James Cooper wasn’t much older. A roguish fighter pilot stationed in London, he was shot down during a daring night raid and sought shelter in Maria’s cottage.
Fifteen years later, in Huntsville, Alabama, Maria is married to a German rocket scientist who works for the burgeoning U.S. space program. Her life in the South is at peace, purposefully distanced from her past. Everything is as it should be—until James Cooper walks back into it.
Pulled from the desert airfield where he was testing planes no sane Air Force pilot would touch, and drinking a bit too much, Cooper is offered the chance to work for the government, and move himself to the front of the line for the astronaut program. He soon realizes that his job is to report not only on the rocket engines but also on the scientists developing them. Then Cooper learns secrets that could shatter Maria’s world…