Tom Cantrell



A journalist in pursuit of his big break learns that he’s not pursuing the story, he is the story.

Jason Polk, a reporter for a small town newspaper, is determined to uncover the story behind the mysterious BalderTech compound located outside his hometown. His pursuit of this story has always come at the expense of his wife, Cindy. Close to learning the truth, Jason is attacked and knocked unconscious. He awakens to learn three years have passed, he’s been declared dead and his friends and family have moved on without him. Now, in a world he barely recognizes, Jason must piece together a life he’d already broken while finding out where he’s been and what happened to him. The answer will shake Jason to his core; forcing him to question his life choices, his beliefs and, in the end, his very humanity.

S3C0ND L1F3 is a suspense thriller with an underlying love story, which will appeal to adult audiences.


Chapter 1

It was the evening of his first wedding anniversary and Jason Polk couldn’t find his flashlight.

He’d searched everywhere. For the third time, he checked under the bed. It still wasn’t there. He yanked open his end table drawer and rummaged through its contents. No flashlight.

“Dammit.” He shoved the drawer close knocking his retainer and alarm clock to the floor. One last time he poked through the grungy canvas bag lying on his bed. There were pens, notebooks, his camera, and a bunch of newspaper clippings, but no flashlight. Jason threw the bag down on the bed, picked up a worn black sweatshirt, and pulled it on as he hurried down the hall and crossed the living room. He was halfway out the door when he paused. “Shit.” 

Grumbling to himself, he fished around in his bag for a notebook and pen. Once he found one, he flipped through a dozen pages before finding a clean sheet of paper.

“Cindy.” He spoke as he wrote. “Have an emergency story to cover. Be gone for few hours. I’ll be home soon. Love ya. J” He ripped off the page, tossed it on the counter, and jumped at the sight of his wife standing in the doorway.

“Oh, hey, Cin.” His attempt at sounding nonchalant was weak and he knew it. He retrieved the note and stuffed it in his pocket. She was smiling, but Jason could see in her eyes she knew. One too many times, he’d seen that look; the smile, the slight setting of her jaw. She remained in the doorway, her thin red sweater hanging past her waist, covering up the top of her black mid-length skirt. Like most of her clothes, the sweater made her slender form appear heavier. Whenever Jason saw her in that sweater, it made him think of a stop sign. 

She wore the sweater a lot.

“Where are you off to?” She failed to mask the angry hurt in her voice.

“Oh, I… well, there is this… emergency story. I have to check it out.”

As the words left Jason’s mouth, Cindy’s entire body sagged. “And only you can cover it…”

Jason sighed. “Yes… this is one of mine. I have to go.”

As she sized him up, he cursed himself for changing into the black sweatshirt. He should have stashed it in his bag and put it on in the car.

“This is about BalderTech, isn’t it? You’re going to BalderTech again.”

Jason halfheartedly shook his head.

“If not BalderTech then where?”

Mentally Jason ran through his usual list of plausible alternatives, but the moment of hesitation was all the confirmation Cindy needed. “It is, isn’t it?”

“OK, yes, it is. That’s where I’m going.”

She looked past him. It felt like an eternity before she finally fixed her eyes on him. “Why can’t you let it go?”

“What do you mean? Not cover the story?”

“But there is no story.” 

The response brought a groan from Jason. “I’m not going over this again. You know how important this is. I can’t just ‘let it go.’”

“How long then? It’s been two years? Three? After all this time you’ve got nothing to show for it.”

“That’s not true. I know a bunch of stuff. This is their—” Before he could finish, Cindy cut him off.

“—only facility in the country and they are listed as a research and development company. That’s it. That’s all there is. There’s no story.”

“There is a story.” He was almost growling now. Jason knew how angry he sounded. At the moment, he didn’t care. “I’m going to get to the bottom of this.”

“But they told you to stay away.”

Jason shook his head. “I have to go. And they’ll never know I was there.” 

A coaxing smile forming on her face, Cindy closed the door behind her, blocking his only exit. 

“But maybe not tonight.” Her voice grew softer. “You know what tonight is?”

There was no way he could have forgotten about tonight. Not with the word “Anniversary” written in large red letters in the box for September 22 on the calendar Cindy kept on the refrigerator. She’d written it so large it spilled over into the eight days surrounding the 22nd. She’d been planning tonight for weeks and, for a moment, he considered staying. The smile on Cindy’s face became more genuine and she moved toward him. He stepped away. “Seriously, I know what tonight is, but I have a lead that the trucks are coming in tonight. If I can get a picture of what they are unloading, I can break this. I know it. You have to understand.”

As Cindy’s smile melted away, Jason tried to pump optimism into his voice. “I’ll only be gone a few hours. Besides, we were married on a Saturday. Today is Friday so it will really be a year tomorrow, right? We’ll do something tomorrow night.”

Shoulders slumping, she dropped her purse on the couch. “Tomorrow night is the town hall meeting on the new school.”

Jason winced. That was going to be a good meeting. Front pager for sure. “How about a nice breakfast then?” He moved past her.

“When do I get to be the story?”


“Remember that old commercial I showed you? That one with the little girl who wants to be her mother’s client? That’s what I want to know. When do I get to be the story?”

His laugh brought a smile to her face. Her hopeful expression sent a pang of regret through him but he still stepped past her and paused in the door.  

“I’ll see you later.”

He took a breath.

“I love you.” 

He closed the door without glancing back or waiting for a response and bolted down the steps. At the bottom of the stairs, he almost tripped over a solitary cat that ran out from beneath the steps and scurried into a bush.

Whenever he left, Jason always knew his wife's mood by how she’d send him off. When happy, she’d stand in the big window of their second-story apartment and wave at him as he drove away. When less than thrilled with him, she might stand motionless in the window or not come to it at all. Tonight, as he started his beat-up car, she closed the curtains.