Albert Romano was an avid hiker, bicyclist, and snow skier, but he ran into trouble on a solo hike in the Desolation Wilderness above Lake Tahoe. A misstep caused a rock slide which trapped his left leg to the knee. He could not dig himself free. The first major winter storm made searching for him impossible, and animals ate him before spring hikers found the embedded limb. Albert's widow, Patti, identified his tattooed leg and filed a claim for Albert's million dollar life insurance money. But Albert only bought the policy two months before he took his hike, and the Romano's shaky family finances would not have let Albert make a third premium payment. Dan Ballantine, medically retired cop, goes to Placerville to investigate. He learns Albert's tattoo, like the life insurance, was fresh. And Albert, a National Guard sergeant, faced a third tour of duty, to Afghanistan, the following spring. Why can't Ballantine find anything in the Romano apartment for a DNA comparison? And what about the new passport and travel brochures found in Albert's desk? And why is Patti's sister glad Albert is dead? While Dan tries to answer these questions, he becomes infatuated with Patti Romano.