Private investigator Dan Ballantine visits a Piper Cherokee crashed into Coyote Lake, a dry desert lake near the Oregon-Nevada border. Sacramento physician Steven Reynolds left a widow who is not only happy her cheating husband is dead, she wants her million dollars in life insurance money now. But the FAA crew investigating the crash could not find the pilot’s head attached to the crisply burned corpse.
Dan visits the doctor’s widow who, in addition to demanding her money as soon as possible, tells Dan of her husband’s ongoing affair with a nurse. When Dan visits the hospital to chat with the nurse, he overhears a truck driver complain about his brother’s missing corpse. He also learns the nurse left work suddenly after talking with the trucker. At the nurse’s apartment, Dan learns she told her landlady she had to relocate on an emergency basis to care for her ailing mother. Dan takes the trash she left and discovers she wrote checks to an Idaho tax assessor.
On the way to Idaho, Dan stops in Reno to visit his FBI agent-in-charge pal, Brad Gunn. He mentions the case and pique’s Gunn’s curiosity. The next day Gunn tells Dan the doctor’s US Army Captain son recently cashed in some old stocks. Not only did he fail to pay income taxes on his $1.6 million profit, the son was killed in Iraq during Operation Desert Storm.
Dan goes to Idaho in search of the armed doctor, his nurse lover, and $1.6 million in cash.