Jeff Taylor takes a summer internship in Sacramento before his third year of medical school. An octogenarian—conveying a saintly countenance, and suffering from late-stage dementia—wanders into Jeff’s office. After he is ushered away by a friend, Jeff discovers the man’s wallet on the carpet.
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It contains a baggy full of gold dust. An expired driver’s license identifies the wallet’s owner as Clyde Whitney, legendary inventor of satellite weather technology. Two decades ago, he shifted his life’s focus to recovering gold unearthed during California’s Gold Rush of 1849, specks too miniscule to retrieve via the techniques of the era. Clyde always worked alone. No one knows how much gold he accumulated or where it is stored—although several people are on the hunt. Also in the wallet is a phone number, which is answered by Karen Brady, Clyde Whitney’s granddaughter. Jeff returns the wallet to her and quickly becomes smitten with Karen. Thus begins Jeff’s journey into the peculiar—at times, violent—orbit of the Whitney family.