Never Dead, A Jim McGill Short Story

“Our dead are never dead to us until we have forgotten them …”
— George Eliot

The time had come, McGill thought. He could no longer argue with the decision he’d reached. Still, doing the deed wasn’t going to be easy. He might in retrospect even regret, if not absolutely hate, his choice. Logic kept insisting, though, that trying to hang on to the past would be foolish.

So McGill put his house in Evanston, Illinois up for sale.

The subject had first come up after he and Patti had completed their post-White House, six-month circumnavigation vacation. They’d visited a raft of the world’s most beautiful places and its most interesting cultural capitals. McGill had told Celsus Crogher that wherever they went upon taking off from Joint Base Andrews on Inauguration Day, would be a surprise to him.

That had turned out to be an understatement. What Patti had in mind was beyond his wildest imagining. They were gone for so long, had seen so many fabulous places and had met so many fascinating people, it was still hard for McGill to comprehend. He’d also been daunted by the idea of being away from family, friends, home and work for half-a-year.

Patti, of course, had detected his reluctance immediately.

The moment she’d finished outlining their itinerary, she told him, “You’re worried.”

At the time, they’d been flying south, next stop Brazil. There would be two more stops in South America after that. Then it was off to island-hop across the Pacific. Japan would be just the first destination in Asia. McGill’s head reeled as the rest of the grand tour unspooled.

Being a true soul-mate, Patti had asked, “Too much?”

“I used to think a week of fishing in Wisconsin was a big vacation,” McGill said.

“We can tack that on at the end, if you like.”

“Riley’s Bay might not seem the same by then,” McGill said.

“If you’d like, we can turn the plane around and go fishing first. Of course, being late January, it would probably have to be ice fishing.”

McGill sighed. He’d never thought of sitting in a drafty shack and dropping a line through a hole cut into the surface of a frozen lake as a good time. “We might as well go to Brazil.”

“I’ve signed us up for some samba lessons, if you’d like that. I thought we might learn a new move or two that could be applicable in other settings.”

McGill laughed and squeezed Patti’s hand. “I believe you could talk Old Nick into repenting his sins … but would it spoil all our fun if I check in at the office once a week? Give the impression that the guy whose name sits atop the company stationery plans to return by and by.”

Patti kissed McGill and told him, “I plan to call my new company twice a week, every Monday and Friday. So I don’t see why you couldn’t do the same.”

“I should’ve known,” McGill said.

“I’ve also arranged to have Sweetie or Esme Thrice forward any calls that need your immediate attention. My hope, however, is those two good women will be able to field anything short of existential difficulties.”

McGill grinned. “As you’ve no doubt explained to them.”

“I have indeed.”

McGill thought Patti had everything figured out, and she had.

Almost.

It turned out their security chief, Celsus Crogher, couldn’t hang with them for six months. He had his own business to run, and he and his wife were expecting their first child. As much as Celsus revered the former President, he had to abide by his fundamental obligations.

 

So Celsus left Patti and McGill when they touched down in Moorea, French Polynesia.

His suggested replacements, special agents from the Secret Service, were waiting for them.

Their names were Ahebban “Ace” Cole and Daphna Levy. Their combined ages totaled two years fewer than Celsus’ fifty-four. At twenty-six years old each, they weren’t exactly wet behind the ears, but both had dewy complexions, alert, clear eyes and lean-forward energy and muscle.

Both also spoke two languages other than English: Daphna had mastered Hebrew and Arabic; Ace was fluent in Japanese and Mandarin. Each had graduated from college Summa Cum Laude: Daphna from the University of California; Ace from the University of Virginia. Both were pursuing advanced degrees in whatever spare time they could manage: she in economics; he in political science.

Each of the two young special agents was also a first-generation American. Her parents had immigrated from Egypt by way of France; his from Ethiopia and England.

Prior to the former First Couple’s initial meeting with the newbies, Celsus had assured McGill and Patti, “Everything I’ve heard from my Secret Service contacts says these special agents might look young, but they’ve got the goods. Whip-smart, crazy strong, even if each of them looks a bit thin, and dedicated right down to their dying breath.”

McGill still had a pertinent question, “How do they get along with each other.”

“Pragmatically,” Celsus conceded. “Each of them is a Type-A personality when it comes to their jobs. Partnered with most other people, each of them would be the lead dog. Together, I was told, they defer to one another in equal measure.”

“Each of them keeping a mental tally sheet to make sure the balance is maintained,” Patti said.

“Most likely,” Celsus agreed.

McGill started to miss Deke and Leo. But Deke had already moved into management at McGill Investigations International. Leo would remain McGill’s driver when the boss returned home, but in the meantime, Leo was out scouting for another pair of checkered-flag race car drivers who were ready to move on to new careers. McGill had thought it would be prudent to have two more top wheelmen (or women) on staff, one to help out in any of the domestic offices, as need required, and another to work in Europe.

McGill was thinking of adding Berlin and London offices to the Paris shop.

Before signing off on the new kid bodyguards, though, McGill decided to do a bit of his own research on them. It was a personal quirk, but he liked to know the meaning of a person’s given name. He was hoping for something propitious with these two.

Ahebban, he learned, was an Anglo-Saxon name meaning wages war.

Daphna was a Hebrew name meaning victory.

McGill liked that combination.

He also approved of the meaning of Ahebban’s nickname, Ace: unity.

Linguistically, the signs were good.

 

McGill and Patti had brunch with the two special agents that first morning. Daphna and Ace contented themselves with glasses of papaya juice. Their hosts added fruit salads and brioche to their meals.

Patti broke the ice. “I am no longer the President, and I don’t wish to be addressed as such. Informally, you may call me Patricia. In the company of others, please use Mrs. McGill.”

That came as a newsflash to McGill. He would’ve thought she’d have said Ms. Grant. The world, it seemed, was changing all around him.

He still knew how to follow a lead-in line, though.

“You can call me Mr. McGill,” he said. “If you’re still around after a year or two, we’ll go with Jim.”

The special agents nodded at both sets of instructions.

Patti continued, “I’ll try my best to follow any security precautions you think necessary in a given situation. There will be times, however, when you’ll have to adapt to my needs.”

The two nods were minimal this time.

“She’s the easy cover,” McGill told the special agents. “I’ve always been more problematic, as I’m sure you were told. I was a cop for a long time, and I’ve been a pain in the ass for certain people even longer. That’s also the forecast for the foreseeable future. If your training hasn’t prepared you for that … well, I’ve been told the two of you are quick studies. That will come in handy. A knack for situational ad-libbing will also help. Having a sense of humor about both me and yourselves will be indispensable.”

Ace asked, “So we can crack jokes about you, as long as you don’t hear them?”

McGill said, “Sure. You can bet I’ll be doing the same about you.”

That caught Ace off guard, but Daphna grinned.

Patti added that each of them would alternate between guarding McGill and her.

Another notion that surprised McGill. Not that he objected.

He only told the young special agents, “While my wife is no longer the President, any time we’re together, she is your primary responsibility. No matter what the situation, if things get dicey, you both act to save her first. If anybody has to be sacrificed, it’s me.”

That one caught Patti by surprise, but she didn’t object.

Not in front of the special agents.

 

When they were alone that night, Patti did ask McGill, “What makes me so special?”

“History,” he said. “There’ll be more books written about you than me. You can still have a positive influence on our country. I’m just a regular guy who got really lucky.”

“Lucky, okay. Regular, my backside.”

“And a cute posterior it is. Look, Patti, I would never argue one of us loves the other more. I’m not trying to be noble. It’s just … well, if nothing else, I gave those two kids my blessing to do what I’m sure their orders already instruct them to do.”

For just a second, that idea outraged Patti … but then she felt certain McGill was right.

And nothing she could do would ever change the Secret Service’s pecking order.

So she told her husband, “You’d damn well better stay at the top of your game, Jim.”

“Always.”

He did, and the two of them, along with Ace and Daphna, made it around the world alive and well. McGill even had a far grander time than he’d thought he would. Wonders had indeed abounded.

 

All of which, McGill felt sure, had made his old house in Evanston seem far more humble than he’d ever thought of it before. Not that he’d let the place get run down. The four-bedroom, tree-shaded frame structure had been meticulously maintained during McGill’s years of living in the White House. The lush summer grass in front and back was emerald green, neatly mown and edged. Alternating plantings of pink and red roses were in full bloom.

For all that, it looked like a photo of a life gone by: pretty, quaint, something cherished in memory but no longer relevant to the moment.

The Realtor that Carolyn and Lars had found for McGill had gushed, “It’s a beautiful home. Move-in ready. The perfect place for a professional couple with young children. I can see so many happy memories being made here.”

McGill agreed with that evaluation, and it made him feel better.

Even allowing for the dissolution of his first marriage to Carolyn, the McGill family had many a fine time in this house. But Abbie, Ken and Caitie were all young adults now, living elsewhere and pursuing their own lives and dreams in new places and abodes. Thinking of that also provided McGill with some measure of comfort.

The Realtor told McGill that with the appreciation of North Shore housing prices he would get far more money selling the house than he’d paid for it. The figure she mentioned shocked him. McGill would have none of it. He told her to reduce the selling price she’d suggested by half.

“I’ll do whatever you like,” the Realtor said, “but setting a bargain price will only start a bidding war. The winning number might be even higher than the price I suggested.”

“No bidding war,” McGill told her. “The number is fixed. Please have any interested buyers make a three-minute video explaining why their family should get the house. Advertise the plan to the whole Metro Chicago area.”

The Realtor agreed without protest. Her take from the sale would be smaller at the reduced price, but she knew the professional name recognition she’d gain would more than compensate her. Per McGill’s instructions, traditional advertising went out locally.

On social media, however, the reach was global.

A Niagara of applications flooded in from around the world.

McGill simplified things by excluding all the hopefuls from outside Greater Chicagoland.

Patti refined things further, saying, “You’ll also want to eliminate any would-be buyers whose main interest in the house is to buy low and sell high, say the day after the sale closes.”

Taking those wise words into account, McGill chose the Trebelhorn family from nearby Niles, Illinois. Mom and Dad both worked for the United States Postal Service. Ted managed a facility in adjacent Skokie, Illinois; Jean still carried the mail. They had a young daughter and son with another child on the way. When the baby arrived, Jean would retire from public service and continue doing the watercolors she sold on Etsy.

Her art sales already equaled half of her USPS salary, and she expected the revenue to increase as she had more time at home. She also thought hanging her work in McGill’s house would make it even more lovely. Seeing the samples the video provided, McGill thought so, too.

 

Even though he felt good about the new buyers and the way he’d handled the sale, McGill still couldn’t help but feel he’d made a terrible mistake in selling the house. It was the repository of so many memories. Most of them cherished and life-affirming. Even the times that had been difficult or frightening had ultimately proved the resilience of the McGill family.

The divorce from Carolyn had ultimately shown that he and his ex could remain friends, and both were unquestionably united in their devotion to their children.

McGill’s tragic failure to save Andy Grant’s life had been leavened by Patti unexpectedly stopping by and being welcomed to a dinner with the family.

Those were but two of a multitude of emotional cords of memory binding McGill to the house. Be that as it may, the sale had gone through, and the Trebelhorns would be moving in seven days hence, after one last weekend when the family and old friends gathered for a farewell-to-Evanston party.

 

McGill was sitting alone on the front porch that morning, Patti being off in Chicago to meet with the senior staff of Committed Capital, who’d flown in from around the country. McGill had a business to run, too, but he was uncharacteristically slacking off. A foolish move, he thought, leaving himself idle.

He could use a good mystery to take his mind off the recurring doubt he felt.

Within the next 15 minutes, he’d be challenged by two puzzlers.

The first was dropped in his lap by his father, Jack McGill. Dad climbed the four stairs to the porch, put a hand on one of Jim’s shoulders and then took a seat on the chair next to McGill. Knowing just what his son was feeling, Jack said, “You did the right thing, Jim. The children have grown and are off on their own. And your mother and I will be moving into an assisted-living facility shortly.”

McGill’s jaw dropped, until he saw the twinkle in his father’s eyes.

McGill wasn’t the only kidder in the family. Dad had set the example for him.

“Baloney,” McGill said, having caught wise. “You and Mom will never leave your home.”

The elder McGills still lived within the Chicago city limits, albeit in a tonier neighborhood — nearer the lakefront — than where they’d raised their son. They walked in Lincoln Park every day that the weather permitted. About two out of three in a year-round count.

“Actually, we might, before too long,” Jack McGill told his son. “You know your Aunt Susan is living down in Durham, North Carolina. Mom thinks it’d be nice to live close to her sister again. The weather down there is better, and we could get a nicer house for the selling price of our Chicago place. Susan even said Mom could find a number of students, if she chose to give voice lessons again.”

His father’s news left McGill stunned.

His kids and his parents were on the move?

“What do you think about that idea, Dad?”

“I told your mother we could do that for six months of the year; the other six we’d have to spend with your Uncle Al.”

McGill grinned. Dad’s brother lived in Mankato, Minnesota, a town in the southern part of that state, but McGill remembered his mother telling him any number of times, “The only place I’ve ever been that’s colder in the winter than Mankato is North Mankato.” A suburb.

“So you might move,” McGill said, “but chances are you’ll stay put.”

“Or we might buy smaller places both north and south. Do the snow-bird thing. We’ll see.”

The compromise seemed reasonable to McGill, but the idea of having no family left in the Chicago area was yet another jolt to the system. That was when Dad dropped the first mystery on him.

He said, “You remember who you bought this lovely old house from, of course.”

McGill nodded. “Great-uncle Daniel’s estate.”

“Right. You remember all the stories I told you about him, of course.”

“Sure. He was a Chicago cop. Something of a legend in the department. He was the inspiration for my joining the CPD.”

Jack McGill sighed. “Yes, well, I hadn’t anticipated that when I told you those stories about him when you were still a boy. I caught all kinds of hell from your mother several times for your career choice.”

“What?” McGill had never heard that before.

“We’ll cover that topic another time. Anyway, there was one story about Daniel McGill I never told you. It supposedly had to do with a murder investigation he worked unofficially while in the army.”

“You told me Great-uncle Dan was a rifleman, a combat soldier, a Bronze Star winner,” McGill said. “You never mentioned anything about him being a military investigator.”

“He was in the infantry, until he broke an arm just before the war in Europe ended. After that … there was a story I heard years later, only in whispers, and when I was supposed to be in bed asleep, not snooping on my elders with my ears growing points.”

McGill sat forward, his interest piqued. “Tell me about it.”

“That’s just the thing,” his father said, “I managed to hear only a few bits and pieces. I do know it had to do with a murder over there in Europe. Somebody important got killed — not in combat, but up close and personal — right at the end of the war in Europe. While fighting was still going on in the Pacific.”

“What else did you hear?” McGill asked.

“Well, your great-uncle got pulled into things because some military muckety-muck learned of his reputation as a copper in Chicago. That was when my snooping was discovered and I was shooed off to bed, and warned that I’d better stay there.”

“So Uncle Dan unofficially investigated a murder in Europe while he was still in the army. And we don’t know who got killed or how things turned out?”

“Well, we know he managed to come home alive, got married and bought this house, and it eventually became yours.”

McGill said, “I’d love to know the details of what happened.”

Jack McGill took a deep breath and slowly let it out.

“Maybe you can.”

“What do you mean, Dad?”

“I did some snooping again. I was a teenager this time, nineteen. I should have known better by then, but when you overhear your elders whispering there’s a natural curiosity to know what the big secret is. What I heard was, your great-uncle wrote a memoir of his war years.”

McGill smiled broadly. “He wrote the story of his murder investigation. Who has it? Please don’t tell me someone burned it.”

“No one burned it that I know of,” Jack McGill said.

“Then where is it?”

“Right here. Maybe.”

McGill asked, “What do you mean, Dad?”

“The story I heard was that Uncle Dan hid it somewhere in the house you bought from his estate. Your house. For the next week.”

McGill sat back in his chair. “Why didn’t you tell me this before now?”

“At the start, I was curious to see if you would find it on your own. When you didn’t, after a year or two, I thought the memoir must have been moved or, as you mentioned, destroyed. I forgot about it after that. Now that you’ve sold the house, though, the memory returned, and I felt you should know before you move out.”

McGill let his eyes lose focus, while his memory searched all the years he’d lived in his house. “I can’t think of a square inch of this place that I haven’t seen. Can’t imagine where a … what? A notepad, a bound manuscript? Where any sort of written record might be hidden.”

“Could be concealed somewhere you’d never think to look,” his father suggested. “Anyway, I don’t know if you’d want to bother looking for something that may no longer exist, but if you do, you have the opportunity to look for whatever Uncle Dan might have left.”

McGill told his father, “Yeah, Dad, I’m going to do a search.”

 

Jack McGill left his son to go meet with his wife. The elder McGills had taken on the job of ordering all the pastries, cookies and other sweets that would be consumed at the coming weekend’s farewell gathering. Five minutes later, Brad Lewis, the managing partner of McGill’s Chicago office and another CPD veteran, pulled up at the curb out front in a Cadillac Escalade.

Lewis smiled broadly at McGill as he climbed the steps to the front porch.

“Glad I caught you loafing,” he said. Taking note of the deep tan McGill had acquired during his travels, he added, “My oh my, your skin’s almost as brown as mine these days. Wasn’t for those blue eyes, you might pass for a brother. Well, the eyes and that straight hair of yours.”

“Good to see you, too, Brad. How’s business?”

Lewis sat down next to McGill and smiled. “You know Chicago: always somebody or something that needs looking into. We’re doing well. I just recently picked up a new client, one I thought I might help personally, but then, wouldn’t you know it, I got a call from a lady who used to be President of the United States.”

“Patti called you?”

Lewis nodded. “She said she didn’t want you sitting around getting rusty, losing your touch and all. She asked if I might have something that would keep you busy for just a few days, until the two of you head back to Washington. So here I am.”

McGill asked, “Did Patti also mention she’d prefer an investigation that likely wouldn’t involve any gunfire?”

Lewis grinned. “She did mention that, yeah. I thought it was reasonable. Told her you could work with me on the job that just came in. Said I didn’t think you’d slow me down too much.”

McGill smiled. “Well, then, I’d better keep the missus happy. What’s the case?”

“We’ve got to find the Golden Hot Dog.”

“The what?” McGill asked.

Lewis sat back and looked at his boss, affecting an expression of disbelief.

“You claim to be from Chicago and you don’t know about the GHD?”

“I’ve been away for several years,” McGill explained.

“All right,” Lewis said with a sigh. “I’ll cut you a bit of slack. You still know Chicago has the best hot dogs in the world?”

“Yes, I still know that.”

“Well, in modern times now, we have an award for the best of the best.”

“The Golden Hot Dog,” McGill said.

“Right.”

“So what’s the case? Somebody paid off the judges and we have to uncover the evidence?”

In McGill’s experience, corruption knew no bounds within the city limits, but Lewis shook his head. “You try to put in the fix on something like this, people’d throw bricks at you.”

“Good to know some things are still sacred,” McGill said. “So what’s the problem then?”

“It’s the award trophy that’s been stolen.”

“Ah, the Golden Hot Dog itself.”

“Right.”

“There’s only the one trophy?” McGill asked.

“Yeah, it’s like the Stanley Cup. Each year’s winning shop gets its name added.”

“Huh,” McGill said. “So, it has historical value as well as commercial worth.”

“Gives the winner personal bragging rights, too,” Lewis added.

“When’s the next champ due to be announced?” McGill asked.

“This coming Friday, just in time for somebody to have their biggest sales weekend of the year.”

McGill stood up. “We’d better get cracking then … right after I make one quick phone call.”

McGill went into his house and called Carolyn. He told his ex-wife the story he’d heard from his father about Great-uncle Dan’s war memoir. “You never saw anything like that around the house, did you?”

“Oh, sure. I kept it with all my cookbooks.”

McGill knew sarcasm when he heard it. Carolyn was a wonderful mother, but a gourmet cook she was not. Betty Crocker was her idea of haute cuisine.

“I’ll take that as a no,” McGill said.

“Really, Jim, do you think I’d keep something like that from you?”

“No, I don’t, but I had to ask. Still do. You don’t remember any kind of musty, dusty old notebook, maybe even something like I used to have when I was with the CPD, laying in some dark corner of the attic or other remote spot? Something you didn’t bother giving a second glance?”

“You paint a nice picture, Jim, but no, I don’t remember anything like that. And I’m sure you feel the same way I do: There isn’t an inch of that house I haven’t seen. Most of them several times over.”

McGill was silent for a moment.

“What are you thinking now?” Carolyn asked.

“We did have the roof replaced, what, ten years ago,” he said.

“Eleven.”

Carolyn remembered clearly: That was just before their divorce.

She said, “What are you thinking, Jim? It was hidden under the old shingles, and the roofers discarded it? If that’s the case, it’s long gone.”

“Yeah, but there was other remodeling that had been done over the years before we moved in. At least, I seemed to remember hearing something about that. Maybe the memoir got walled over or something.”

Carolyn conceded. “I remember hearing about that remodeling, too. The thing is, if you start tearing out walls now, the Trebelhorns might not appreciate that.”

McGill couldn’t disagree. “Maybe if it was just one wall, if we could get a fix on things.”

“May I make a suggestion?”

“Please do.”

“I know when we were both young, kids really, your Great-uncle Dan was an inspirational figure for you.”

“The reason I became a cop,” McGill said.

“Yes, well, let’s not get into how I felt about that, but now that you’re a mature man, have you ever thought to look into his history as a police officer with an objective, if not critical, eye?”

“What do you mean? You think he was crooked or something?”

“Oh, please,” Carolyn said. “I’ve met all your extended family, remember? Know them quite well. Never thought anyone was dishonest, though every one of you is a kidder.”

McGill laughed. “We are that.”

“Anyway, see if you can find out if your great-uncle got into any trouble on the job through no fault of his own. Maybe that’s something he’d also put in his memoir, besides any military adventure. That might really give you a fix on things, you know, in the way of clues as to where he’d hide his dangerous writings.”

“Carolyn, that’s brilliant. Wonderful. I don’t suppose you’d like to come over and —”

“Search the house high and low just for the heck of it? I would not.”

“Had to ask. Hey, aren’t the kids all arriving in town today?”

“Lars is at O’Hare right now. He’s meeting three flights, so he’ll be a while. But barring delays he should be back by mid-afternoon. You want the kids to start the search? I have to think they’ll be intrigued.”

“Yes, that would be great. Just tell them not to tear out any walls before I get home.”

A minute later, McGill climbed into Brad Lewis’ Escalade … sitting in the back seat.

Daphna Levy was sitting shotgun. She’d been banished to the kitchen while McGill had been sitting on the front porch. He’d hoped he could ditch her when he left with Brad Lewis.

No such luck.

“Young lady showed me her badge and gun,” Brad told McGill. “Used the authority of the federal government to force her way into my ride.”

McGill sighed. “Yeah, well, I’m going to exert my own authority. Daphna, if you want to come along, you get to drive.”

“Drive my Cadillac?” a surprised Brad asked.

McGill reminded him, “It’s a company car.”

Both the retired cop and the special agent grumbled as they switched places.

Making McGill feel better about the accommodation he’d had to make.

Settling in behind the wheel, Daphna asked, “Where to?”

“Brad?” McGill asked.

“My thinking is we start close and work our way to the best dogs in the city; that’d be a little place just south of the Loop. Excuse the pun, but we grill the shop owners. Lean on anyone who might know something or otherwise looks like he’s in possession of a guilty conscience.”

“Sounds like a reasonable investigative process,” McGill said. “What’s our first stop?”

Brad said, “Place called The Round Hound in the Pound.”

“What?” McGill asked.

Daphna, acting on what she’d heard, fed the name into the Caddie’s mapping program.

By that time, McGill had worked out the too cute metaphor. “Hot dog in a bun. Hope the place’s food is more appetizing than the name.”

Pulling out from the curb, Daphna said, “Three-and-a-half out of five stars from Urbanspoon. No complaints of food poisoning.”

McGill appreciated the young special agent’s diligence, but said, “We’re not going to sample the wares.”

“We’re not?” Brad asked. “Not even at the good places? I skipped breakfast.”

“Anticipating the nature of the job?” McGill asked.

“Yeah. That and trying to keep my calories down.”

“What about you, Special Agent Levy? Are you hungry? Do you even eat hot dogs?”

“Once a month, and only kosher hot dogs.”

“We can sure do that,” Brad said.

“All right,” McGill allowed. “One food stop for each of you. Brad has his favorite place. Special Agent Levy can make her choice as we go. Maybe a taste-test will help us figure out who the Golden Hot Dog thief is. I’m already thinking it has to be the owner of a shop who feels cheated out of his due recognition.”

“Could be a female restaurateur,” Daphna said.

“Sure could,” Brad agreed.

“Right,” McGill said, “a woman scorned and all that.”

“You’re not going to eat?” Brad asked.

“My hot dog day is going to be this weekend at the family’s farewell barbecue.”

Then McGill changed the subject and asked Brad, “Who’s the oldest living Chicago copper you know personally, someone whose memory goes back a long way and knows where all the bodies are buried?”

Brad said, “That’d be Morris Walker. I think he pinched Cain for killing Abel.”

The biblical humor got a laugh out of Daphna.

Encouraged by a receptive audience, Brad added, “He damn sure hauled in Mrs. O’Leary for starting that big fire in town.”

McGill had heard the routine before. “Yeah, all that’s fine, but will he know any Chicago cops who pre-date World War Two?”

“Oh,” Brad said. “For something like that, he might have to rely on stories he heard from his daddy, a copper so old he’s no longer alive, Amos Walker. He was the guy who busted Adam for walkin’ around naked in his garden.”

Daphna liked that one, too.

“Terrific,” McGill said. “Let’s have a talk with Mr. Walker at some point in our rounds.”

“No problem,” Brad said. “My favorite hot dog joint is his, too. He lives right down the street from there.”

 

The Round Hound in the Pound smelled a lot better than its name had led McGill to imagine. Of course, it might have helped that he, Brad and Daphna were the place’s first customers of the day. The shop offered a choice of hot dogs that were steamed or grilled. The combined aroma lifted Brad Lewis up on his toes. The smile on his face was beatific.

As Daphna had suggested, the owner, or at least the person behind the counter, was a woman, a broadly smiling, middle-aged, olive-complected presence. Her black hair was neatly tucked away in sanitary netting.

She greeted the trio by saying, “Everyone wishes to eat, yes?”

Her accent was a blend of the Middle East and U.K. English.

Daphna began speaking Arabic to her, and the woman beamed and replied in kind.

Brad took the opportunity to whisper to McGill, “Come on now, Jim. One here and one at my favorite place. If you’re worried about my health, I’ll do an extra mile on my walk tonight.”

“You walk for fitness?” McGill asked.

“My girlfriend makes me. She’s been pushing me to do a little more.”

“Who am I to stand in the way of either health or romance?” McGill asked. “But just one, and I hope you have some breath mints.”

Daphna tapped McGill’s shoulder and he turned to her.

She told him, “This is Mrs. Miriam Kader, the owner.”

The woman bobbed her head in agreement. She seemed almost overwhelmed by excitement. Like a high school girl about to be introduced to her favorite rock star. McGill knew that could mean only one thing.

Miriam told him, “I am so very happy to meet you, sir. I vote for your wife. The first time I vote in this country, I vote for her. The second time, I also vote for her.”

That settled it, McGill thought. He’d also be obliged to have one of Miriam’s hot dogs.

Daphna leaned in and whispered to McGill, “She recognized you; I didn’t bring it up. I didn’t lie because I thought it might help her to be more talkative.”

“Good instinct,” McGill said softly.

He reached over the counter to extend his hand to Miriam. “On my wife’s behalf, thank you, Mrs. Kader.”

She shook McGill’s hand, and she both shivered and blushed.

He was glad neither Brad nor Daphna spoiled her moment by laughing.

Collecting herself, she asked again, “Everyone wishes to eat, yes?”

“Of course,” McGill said, “but first, if you don’t mind, we’d like to ask you a few questions about the Golden Hot Dog.”

Miriam Kader blinked, sighed and lowered her eyes. “We have not won this prize.” She paused a moment before adding, “Not yet.” Then she raised her head and an index finger to tell McGill, “But we will someday!”

“That’s the spirit,” McGill said. “Right now, we’re looking for someone who stole the prize from last year’s winner.”

“Stole the Golden Hot Dog?” The very idea made anger flash in Miriam’s eyes.

McGill nodded. “I’m afraid so. Would you have any idea who’d do such a thing?”

Mrs. Kader answered immediately, with a tone of great disgust and in Arabic.

Daphna queried her in the same language and then told McGill, “I checked to be sure, but what she said was ‘the salad-packers.’”

McGill and Brad exchanged a puzzled glance. McGill turned to Miriam and offered a guess. “Do you mean vegetarians?”

The shop owner did a quick mental check of her English vocabulary and then nodded. “Yes, them.”

She’d fairly spat the words out. Then she added, “You want tomatoes, onions, peppers or any other vegetable, you put them on top of your hot dog, not inside it.”

McGill was about to respond, but Miriam Kader wasn’t finished. She raised an index finger again, this time in place of an exclamation point and said, “I tell you something else. People who sell hot dogs in Chicago, we come from many different places. Speak many different languages. Worship on different days of the week, even. But we all have same respect for the food we sell. In that, we are one.” Then she shook her head. “All of us except the salad-packers. What they sell looks like a hot dog, but it is not. It is a salad packed into a tube.”

Miriam folded her arms in front of her chest to show she’d brook no contradiction.

Deciding to take a risk, McGill asked, “Could you give us the name of the very worst salad-packer in town?”

A sneer in her voice, Miriam said, “The Perfect Pup.”

Daphna tapped the name into her phone. “Wells Street, Old Town.”

The look on her face said she didn’t know the area.

Both McGill and Brad did.

To make sure he had things right, McGill asked Miriam, “You think these people might have stolen the Golden Hot Dog?”

She nodded. “How else could they get this award?”

She muttered something else under her breath. Turning her back to Miriam and looking at McGill, Daphna silently articulated, “Dirty salad-packers.”

Meanwhile, Brad nudged McGill.

He knew exactly what Brad wanted.

“A hot dog for my friend here,” he said.

“Grilled. With the works,” Brad specified.

After McGill offered Daphna a free nosh, she made sure the dog was kosher, or in this case halal; she had the same as Brad.

McGill took his hot dog steamed with just mustard and tomato wedges, his usual.

He paid the tab and added a hundred dollars to it.

“For the next group that comes in and wishes to eat,” he told Miriam Kader.

 

“Salad packers?” Danni Devlin asked with a laugh.

The more she thought about the presumed insult, the greater the humor she found in it.

She slapped a leg and was soon doubled over in laughter.

McGill took her response to be a sign of a guilt-free mind. He, Brad and Daphna fixed their eyes on the woman behind the counter at The Perfect Pup. So did the half-dozen well but casually dressed customers in the place. When McGill had entered the shop, he’d noticed that three of the patrons were reading The New York Times on their iPads.

Made him wonder if the dinner crowd perused The Paris Review.

The neighborhood was that kind of place.

Ms. Devlin, whose name tag bore the title of “Boss,” a Chicago favorite, regained her composure and told McGill, Brad and Daphna, “You know what? I’ll take it: I’m a salad packer. For my money, that beats the hell out of being a meatpacker.”

She was about to say something else when she stopped to sniff the air.

“All three of you,” she told McGill and company, “you’ve eaten meat today.”

“You can really smell that?” McGill asked.

“Maybe the lady’s got some bloodhound in her,” Brad offered.

Daphna remained silent.

“You don’t need a dog’s nose,” Devlin told Brad, “once you stop eating meat yourself. The scent is just really obvious.” She took another whiff. “All beef hot dogs.”

She even told them the garnishes they’d had on their dogs.

“My only question is,” Devlin said, “how frequently do you poison yourselves? You know, how much meat do you eat?”

“As much as I can, as often as I can,” Brad said.

“That’s no one’s business but my own,” Daphna told her.

Devlin looked her up and down. “Some but not much.”

McGill said, “You tell me.”

She gave him a once-over, too, not being shy about it. “You’re somewhere between your two friends, trending toward the young lady.”

McGill was starting to think Danni Devlin might make a good detective.

He returned the favor of a personal inspection, giving her a close study.

“You were married,” he said, “but now you’re not. There’s still a band of pale skin where your wedding ring used to be. To have the capital you’d need to start this place in this part of town, you either had a high-paying job or divorced well. But I’m thinking it was both.”

That assessment earned McGill a humorless grin and a nod.

McGill continued, “The easy guess would be you were in investment banking, but this is Chicago. So I’m going to say you traded commodity futures. Things went south, maybe both professionally and personally. What you felt then was you had to get a very bad taste out of your mouth. Opening this place would be one way to do that. Am I close?”

Devlin evaded. “You didn’t come here to eat. What do you want?”

McGill told her about the missing Golden Hot Dog, and an unnamed competitor’s suspicion that she might have stolen it. Out of envy.

The “boss” laughed again, not as hard or long, but with an edge.

“Fat frigging chance I’d steal something like that. You want to know what I think the real deal is? One or more of those meatpackers out there are afraid my shop would win any honest taste competition. Then where would they be? They’d still have the hard-core carnivores like your friend there,” she said, gesturing at Brad. “But they’re going extinct even if they don’t know it yet, and my winning their ticky-tack award would only open more eyes and mouths in my direction. If anybody stole that dumb trophy, it was one of the old guard. To keep me or one of my real competitors from putting them to shame.”

Brad only shook his head.

Daphna maintained an agnostic deadpan look.

McGill, God help him, knew there was only one way to put Danni Devlin’s contention to the test. Stifling a sigh, he said, “I’ll have one of your … you still call them hot dogs?”

“Sure do. Mustard and tomato on that, right?”

McGill decided to cut to the chase, skip other hot dog vendors, especially the chain places, and head to Big Frank’s Big Franks, Brad Lewis’ favorite hot dog shop on the Near South Side. On the way, Brad looked over his shoulder at McGill in the backseat.

“Got yourself a little dab of mustard at the right corner of your mouth.”

Lacking a napkin or a handkerchief, McGill used his left index finger as a squeegee. Licked the mustard off his fingertip. “Okay now?”

Brad nodded.

“You’re dying to know, aren’t you?” McGill asked.

“Don’t have to ask,” Brad said. “You’re a Chicago boy, born and bred, just like me.”

“It wasn’t bad,” McGill said of the meatless hot dog he’d eaten.

“Not bad, but not good either,” Brad countered.

McGill looked at Daphna. He had a quarter-round view of her face. She had her eyes front, not even in the rear-view mirror, paying visual attention to the road ahead. But he’d bet she was listening closely to the conversation.

“Pretty good,” McGill said.

“But not great like the real thing,” Brad argued.

“Can’t say it was great,” McGill agreed, “but …”

“But what?”

“You could probably eat four or five a week, or even at one sitting, and never worry about them giving you a heart attack. Be a little generous with the condiments, you’d probably never even notice the difference.”

I’d notice,” Brad said, getting angry now.

“Okay, a hot dog connoisseur would know. Most of us wouldn’t.”

The look on Brad’s face was the image of a man hearing heresy. For a moment, McGill thought he might lose the chief of his Chicago office. Even at the cost of Brad having to relinquish his company Cadillac.

Possibly thinking of exactly that sacrifice, Brad kept on plugging. “Just wait ’til we get to Big Frank’s. Then tell me what you think.”

 

McGill had no choice but to eat another hot dog, and this one lived up to the Big Frank’s name: It was a monster. Not quite bratwurst in size, but a heavyweight contender with a bun to match. He thought the lady who’d dished it up to him had added a pint of mustard and sliced all of a Big Boy tomato to top it off. To wash it all down, the niece of the woman behind the counter brought a bottle of Berghoff’s Famous Root Beer, sweetened with cane sugar, to McGill’s table. He almost swooned when he saw that.

As musical accompaniment to McGill’s meal, Big Frank’s had a recording of B.B. King playing “Further On Up the Road.” Atmosphere counted as part of a dining experience, McGill had to admit.

Taste, of course, was still the decisive factor, and for McGill it was love at first bite.

Big or not, he wolfed down the monster hot dog in under a minute and chased it with the best root beer he’d ever tasted. He was sorely tempted to ask for a second helping of both. But he knew his digestive system was middle-aged even if his taste buds were still teenagers.

“Well?” Brad asked.

McGill said, “I don’t believe there’s a better hot dog in this town or any other.”

“Knew you’d be true to your roots,” Brad said with a smile of relief.

Daphna, who’d been keeping watch on all the other patrons in Big Frank’s, people who recognized McGill but were too cool to bother him, saw he’d finished his hot dog in what was possibly world-record time, and wondered if she could get one to go. Let Brad Lewis get behind the wheel of his Cadillac again.

McGill read her mind and nodded. “On me,” he said. “You can’t miss this.”

That was when Brad asked McGill, “Can you believe Big Frank’s has never won the Golden Hot Dog?”

McGill said, “Only if the fix was in for some other places. This being Chicago, as I mentioned earlier, I wouldn’t be surprised.”

That was when Big Frank himself walked in, accompanied by an older fellow whom Brad introduced as Morris Walker. Morris held in one arm what McGill felt sure had to be the Golden Hot Dog.

McGill got to his feet and shook the newcomers’ hands.

He said, “A pleasure to meet you gentlemen. May I buy each of you a hot dog?”

 

McGill, Brad Lewis, Morris Walker and Big Frank moved to a corner table. At a signal from Big Frank, the music was dialed down to allow for quiet conversation. Casting caution and better judgment to the winds, McGill had another hot dog and root beer, savoring every bite and sip.

He said to Morris, “My guess is someone brought the Golden Hot Dog to you and said give it to Big Frank. He deserves it.”

“Wasn’t handed over directly,” Morris said. “It was left on the front step of my house, right before someone rang my doorbell. Took me a while to get there, being as I don’t move as fast as I used to.”

McGill nodded. Morris looked good for his age, but there was no doubt he had left 90 in his rear-view mirror.

Brad confirmed that for McGill. “Morris missed by just a whisker joining Jesse Owens and Ralph Metcalfe at the Berlin Olympics back in 1936.”

“Wasn’t much of a whisker either,” Morris said. “I was so close on Ralph’s heels I coulda tied his shoelaces for him. Of course, I was only fourteen then and everybody told me I’d be the gold-medal kid at the next Olympics. Only that didn’t happen until 1948, and by then I was a cop working and supporting a family. Tell you one thing, though, there wasn’t a crook in town who outran me when I took after him.”

“I bet,” McGill said.

“You do any running, son?” Morris asked.

“Not like an Olympian. I’ve always been pretty quick with my wits and hands, though.”

The old man smiled. “Those are good things for a copper to have, too. I’ve read about you these past few years. Say hello to your missus for me.”

“I will. So do you think the fix was in on awarding the Golden Hot Dog, Morris?”

“Six ways from Sunday, the fix was in. Frank should be given that trophy, and it should be retired right here.”

“Well,” McGill said, “my wife might be out of the White House, but she still knows a U.S. attorney or two. We’ll have to get an investigation started on who’s been corrupting the hot dog competition in town.”

“About time,” Big Frank said.

“I’ll also see if I can get everyone involved to let Frank hold on to the trophy until the matter is decided,” McGill said.

Everyone thought that would be only fair.

Then McGill asked Morris, “Tell me, Mr. Walker, did either you or your father ever hear of a Chicago cop, back in the old days, by the name of Daniel McGill?”

The old man nodded. “Kin of yours, I’m thinking.”

“Yes, sir.”

Morris looked up at Daphna, who’d been watching over McGill and the others at the table, keeping the shop’s usual patrons at a distance.

“It’s all right to be talking in front of the young lady?” Morris asked.

McGill said, “I trust her with my wife’s life and mine, too.”

Showing she was a true pro, Daphna didn’t even smile.

But she did stand a bit taller.

“All right then,” Morris said. “Danny McGill was a bit of legend in the department back in the old days. That’s what I heard from my daddy. What he said to me was if there was one guy the Mob hated as much as Elliott Ness, it was Sergeant Daniel Patrick McGill. On top of that, the crooked cops hated him even worse.”

Leaning forward, McGill listened to a family history he’d never heard before.

His heart raced when he heard of the hit that had been put out on his great-uncle.

 

Patti was waiting for McGill by the time he got back to Evanston. So were Abbie, Ken and Caitie. Carolyn and Lars were on hand, too. Ace Cole had returned with Patti. He and Daphna stood watch at the front and back of the house. Brad Lewis went back to the office.

“I still can’t believe you sold our house, Dad,” Caitie said. “I would have bought it.”

Caitie had earned enough money from her acting jobs to make good on that claim, but McGill nonetheless asked, “Forsaking the study of film in Paris? Opening a bed-and-breakfast here? I’m not sure we’re zoned for that.”

Abbie and Ken grinned. Caitie stuck out her tongue at her siblings.

“Okay, okay. I guess I was just being sentimental.”

“There’s a story for you here, Cat,” Ken said.

“Cat?” McGill asked.

Patti explained, “Her nom du cinéma.”

McGill repressed a sigh and kept his eyes from rolling.

Everyone else seemed fine with the kid’s new moniker.

“It’s okay, Dad,” his youngest told him, sensing his disapproval. “I’ll give you a 10-year grace period to adjust.”

“Entirely kind of you,” McGill said. “Was anyone able to act on the request I phoned in?”

“Wait, wait,” Cat said. “Ken’s got a story idea for me.”

“Okay,” Ken said. “Married couple, relatively well off, starting to go gray …”

Hitting close to home, McGill thought. He’d noticed some gray in the mirror that morning.

“They have a grown son. He works, but he’s never left home. Mom and Dad go on vacation, and they leave the son a note. That’s when he learns his parents have sold the house. The son has to be out in two weeks.”

“That’s mean,” Carolyn said.

“But it could be funny,” Lars said, “a grown man having to grow up in two weeks.”

“I like it,” Abbie said.

“Has possibilities,” McGill agreed.

Cat eyed her older brother. “We co-write the script, and I direct?”

Ken nodded. “Heck, you can be the producer, too. Use all that cash you’ve made to pay the freight for getting the movie made.”

“Yeah. I could find backers, but I’d want to keep complete artistic control,” Cat said.

“Well, there’s a surprise,” Abbie said.

Cat stuck out her tongue again.

McGill cleared his throat, drawing all eyes to him. “Meanwhile, did anyone find the ground-penetrating radar I asked for?”

Lars told him, “Our Evanston PD security people say their department has one, but they’re using it on a murder investigation right now. A 14-year-old homicide, thank goodness. So I tried a neighbor friend; he has a first-rate metal detector. Says it’ll pick up readings down to five feet below ground surface. Will that do? If so, I’ve got it in the trunk of my car.”

McGill thought about it briefly. “It’s worth a try. Thanks, Lars.”

“Good. I’ll go get it.”

Carolyn put a hand on her husband’s shoulder. “Wait a minute, Lars. I think it’s time Jim comes clean. He mentioned something to me this morning, but he never said anything about ground-penetrating radar. ”

“Yeah, what’s going on, Dad?” Abbie asked.

McGill said, “I thought your mom might have shared our conversation by now, but, okay, here’s the story. Grandpa McGill shared a bit of family history with me this morning, and …

McGill told all of them what his father had revealed, and then he shared the story he’d heard from Morris Walker at Big Frank’s.

“Holy Francis Ford Coppola,” Cat said after McGill finished his story. “This is like ‘The Godfather’ meets … I can’t think of the right war film. Which means, holy crap, we’ve got something original on our hands.”

“Try to contain yourself,” McGill told the young auteur. “It’s just one elderly man’s second-hand memory right now … but if Grandpa is right and Great-uncle Dan left a first-person memoir … well, as the homeowner here until next Monday, it belongs to me.”

Cat stepped up and took her father’s hand. “But you won’t sell the story rights to anyone else, right?”

McGill grinned. “No, I won’t, but depending on what I find, if we find anything at all, I might not let anyone exploit the story.” Bearing up under his youngest’s frown, he added. “It might help your case or Abbie’s or Ken’s, if they’re interested, if you scour the house and one of you comes up with the hidden treasure.”

“Any suggestions for how to conduct the search, Dad?” Ken asked.

“Start high or low and work in the opposite direction. Try not to overlook anything.” McGill turned to Patti and asked, “We didn’t leave any old state secrets in our bedroom, did we?”

“Only the ones in my luggage,” she said.

Meaning her lingerie.

“Right,” McGill said. “Stay out of Patti’s luggage. Otherwise, have at it.”

After a brief debate, the McGill offspring decided to start in the attic and work their way down. Then Carolyn asked, “You’re going to use the metal-detector to scour the backyard, Jim?”

“I am. If you’d be so kind to fetch the instrument, Lars.”

He grinned and nodded. “I’ll keep my fingers crossed, too. This sounds like fun.”

“Let’s hope,” McGill replied.

 

Using old tomato stakes that had sat unused in the garage for two presidential terms plus six months, McGill and Lars set up a search grid in the backyard. Patti and Carolyn watched from comfortable chairs placed around a tree-shaded patio table and provided chilled lemonade to the treasure hunters as requested.

The metal detector Lars had borrowed proved to be a truly effective device. Wherever there was buried metal in the backyard, the detector pinged and indicated the depth at which it might be found. Working their way through the grid, using a pair of sturdy spades, McGill and Lars took turns excavating the finds.

Among other items they recovered was a complete set of vintage Sears Craftsman auto tools, an unbranded hacksaw and an assortment of partially incised lug nuts for a model of car or truck that neither McGill nor Lars could begin to identify. The interesting thing about the lug nut fragments was they’d been cut to varying depths, sometimes almost clean through. Most likely with the hacksaw they’d found. Its blade showed significant wear.

When McGill and Lars took a break, they discussed their finds with their better halves.

The detective among them bluntly said, “I’ve got to think someone, quite likely Great-uncle Dan, might’ve set someone up for one final ride.”

“You mean he killed someone by sabotaging their car?” Carolyn asked.

McGill sighed. “I don’t think he was doing quality control work for Sears. He did have some very bad people looking for him. You partially saw through a few lug nuts on just one wheel, put them on a vehicle that might be used to chase you. Cover up the cut marks with a bit of oil and sludge. Lead the bad guys on a chase around a sharp curve and —”

Lars saw the picture immediately. “The damaged lug nuts snap under the stress and the wheel comes flying off. Maybe the car or truck rolls over three or four times and nobody inside walks away.”

McGill nodded.

Carolyn looked horrified, as if her second husband had just glimpsed a forbidden world.

Patti discerned something else. “Back then, before the Second World War or shortly afterward, the police wouldn’t have had the forensic science to detect the sabotage, much less attribute it to anyone. The cause of death for the victims would be listed as accidental. A perpetrator might fall under suspicion, but he would never be tried in a court of law.”

McGill rebutted that last point. “Some people don’t bother with courts when they want to settle matters. Even the toughest bad guy, though, might think twice about looking for revenge against someone who could arrange the kind of death that comes out of nowhere. Who could say what someone like that might do next? Maybe cause a leak in a gas line inside your house. Blow you to kingdom come as you sleep.”

“Jim, you’re scaring me,” Carolyn said. “This is someone in your family, our children’s family, you’re talking about.”

“Sorry,” McGill said.

Former presidents being made of tougher stuff, Patti had another thought in mind.

She asked, “Why would your great-uncle leave those tampered lug nuts in his backyard. Wouldn’t it have been smarter to throw them in Lake Michigan? Get rid of any possible incriminating evidence.”

That question made McGill stop, think and arrive at a conclusion that made even him frown. He said, “That would seem to make sense … unless he wanted to keep them for reference.”

Lars was the first to make the correct inference.

He said, “If Daniel McGill saw his first use of tampered lug nuts worked, and he wanted to use the same scheme again …”

Lars didn’t have to complete the thought for Carolyn’s face to drain of color.

Patti, however, filled in the blank. “He could either dig up the lug nuts to measure new cuts in a third set or just use the ones he’d unearthed, depending on how many times he might want to repeat the same trick.”

McGill nodded. Trying to lighten the mood, he told Patti, “You have a fine criminal mind.”

“Comes of a long career in government,” she replied.

Before McGill went back to work, Patti applied a coat of sunblock to his face. A tan was fine; a deep burn wasn’t. Lars put on a safari hat. Then they grabbed their spades and the metal detector and resumed the dig. Just inside of McGill’s fenced-in property line, in the last square of their grid, they struck gold.

The kind that had been minted into coins.

By foreign governments. A long time ago.

 

Austria, the former Czechoslovakia, Belgium, the Netherlands and France were the nations from which the coins had come. There were 432 of them. They’d been stored in tins that Patti had identified as French Menier Canisters, vintage early 1940s. The canisters were labeled in French as being used for pasta, flour and assorted spices. Patti said the canisters themselves were now collector’s items worth several hundred dollars each.

The gold coins, stacked on McGill’s kitchen table by country and denomination, were worth far more. The grown-ups and the adult children spent several minutes just staring at the treasure McGill and Lars had excavated. With McGill’s nodding permission, Cat photographed the gold in both still and video images.

Patti broke the silence. “This has to be raubgold, gold stolen by the Germans during World War Two.”

McGill picked up a coin from Austria and looked at it closely. A two-headed eagle, each head crowned, its wings spread, holding a sword in one talon and a bishop’s miter in the other was the face of the piece. It was dated 1915.

Abbie studied it at her father’s shoulder, and then she picked up her iPad to do some research. In short order, she told the others, “It’s a Gold 4 Ducat. In excellent condition, that one coin is worth $1,150; if you melted it down, the gold value is about half of that.”

McGill said, “Even back in 1945, when Great-uncle Dan came back to this house from the war, this treasure had to be valuable enough to change a person’s life, but he buried it in his backyard.”

With only a slight hesitation, Cat said, “Dad, we don’t know if this was all the gold he had. Maybe he did spend some of it. Maybe there’s more buried somewhere else.”

McGill wanted to refute that idea, but he couldn’t find a basis for doing so.

“You could be right, kiddo, but we’re going to hand everything we found today to the federal government. Maybe someone can get these coins back to their countries of origin, if not their former owners.”

Patti nodded and asked Daphna and Ace to enter the kitchen, the two Secret Service special agents having been excluded while the family examined their find. Both of them reacted as all the others had upon seeing the table covered with stacks of gold coins: their eyes widened, their breath quickened and they leaned forward as if the gold exerted a seductive magnetism.

“Found this in the backyard, while I had the two of you stand guard out front,” McGill told the agents. “With the Secret Service being part of the Treasury Department, I thought you could get on your phones and find someone who can take responsible possession of these coins, and do their best to repatriate them.”

Ace said, “Absolutely.”

Daphna added, “Right away.”

Patti added, “We’ll write out and sign an inventory of every coin. So you can tell whoever comes to collect them —”

“None of them will fall through any cracks, ma’am,” Daphna assured Patti.

“Or into anyone’s pocket,” Ace added.

The two special agents stepped out of the room to get things moving.

McGill turned his gaze on his children. “The three of you are sure you searched every nook and cranny in this house while Lars and I were working outside?”

The McGill offspring nodded in unison.

Kenny said, “We even dusted as we went along, so we’d know what we covered.”

McGill sighed. “So we found a fortune in stolen gold but not Great-uncle Dan’s memoir.”

With a former President on hand and Nazi-stolen gold on the kitchen table, the General Counsel of the Treasury Department, in town to visit family, was at the McGill house in 30 minutes. He brought with him the special agent in charge of the Chicago division, and two additional special agents.

The new arrivals re-inventoried the coins, gave McGill a receipt, thanked him for his honesty and told Patti and everyone else it was a pleasure to meet them. Then the treasure that had rested in the McGill backyard for more than half a century was whisked away.

By that time, everyone was feeling weary.

Except for McGill; he was still frustrated about not finding Great-uncle Dan’s memoir.

When Carolyn and Lars said they were heading home, McGill asked if he might hold on to the metal detector until tomorrow.

“Sure,” Lars told him. “Just don’t trip and fall, if you go out before dawn.”

McGill promised to be careful. He said goodnight to Carolyn and Lars, hugged all his kids before they went upstairs to their bedrooms. When he and Patti were alone in the kitchen, she asked him, “You don’t really intend to go out in the dark, do you?”

“No.”

“Well, that’s a relief. But you’re not done hunting or you wouldn’t have wanted to keep the metal detector.”

“Right.”

“So what’s the plan?”

McGill said, “We wouldn’t have found anything out back without the detector because we couldn’t see it. Maybe there’s something inside the house that can’t be seen but is there nonetheless.”

“What,” Patti said, “hidden behind a wall or something?”

“Why not? I had that idea right off, but I didn’t think to use a gizmo to see if I was right.”

“You have a point, but I am tired and I’m going to bed.”

McGill kissed his wife and said, “Goodnight. Sleep well.”

“You have to be wrung out, too, Jim. Don’t overdo it, okay?”

“I won’t. I’ll just do the basement and first floor tonight. The second floor and the attic can wait until tomorrow.”

“That’s reasonable, but don’t get carried away and change your mind.”

She kissed her husband, patted him on the backside as an extra incentive not to be too tardy getting to bed, and went upstairs.

McGill went down to the basement and scanned all the walls with the metal detector. He found nothing that could be identified as anything more than standard building materials. Disappointed that the bottom level of his house wasn’t the hiding place, he began to reconsider his promise to Patti. He’d search the first floor and then …

He didn’t know how he could search all the bedrooms on the second floor without rousing the people sleeping therein, but he continued to search for a solution.

Until he finally found the memoir in the chimney flue of the living room fireplace.

In all the years he, Carolyn and the kids had lived there, they’d never used the fireplace. Abbie had been very young when they moved in, and Carolyn didn’t want their firstborn to go anywhere near a fire. Add that to their insurance agent telling them that their homeowner’s policy would be significantly more expensive if they used the fireplace, and it was an easy choice to light no logs.

Once all three kids were old enough to know not to stick their hands or other body parts into a live flame, McGill had thought to have the flue cleaned and ignite regular home-fires, but he’d never gotten around to it. If he had, he would have found Great-uncle Dan’s leather-bound memoir years ago.

As it was, McGill had only stuck the metal detector up the flue to be thorough.

He hadn’t thought anything would come of it.

But it had: another French canister, this one holding stories written in the first half of the previous century. And now, with the memoir in hand, McGill crept upstairs to his bedroom, where Patti lay sleeping.

 

McGill wondered if he should wake Patti. Tell her of his discovery and the value of dogged persistence. But she already knew, certainly better than he, that you just had to keep butting your head against some problems to solve them. Presidents were introduced to that fact on their first day in office. Besides that, in the light filtering in from the street, she looked like an angel in repose.

He couldn’t bring himself to disturb her.

He’d have a lot more to tell her in the morning, anyway.

Including that he’d known intuitively that Patti had not only asked Brad Lewis to bring him a case that held no risk of personal harm, but also, if possible, to find one where the solution was readily at hand. Or in the case of the Golden Hot Dog, already solved. Just take him along for the ride and get his juices, in this case both professional and gastric, flowing again.

It was Patti’s idea of a gift after taking him away from the work he loved for six months.

McGill blew her a kiss.

He had to repress a laugh when, in seeming response, she rolled over onto her other side.

Powerful kisser, he was.

McGill sat in the room’s armchair, flipped open Great-uncle Dan’s journal and used his phone for illumination.

The late Chicago cop’s opening line was: Everywhere I go, people are trying to kill me.

The look on her face said she didn’t know the area.

Both McGill and Brad did.

To make sure he had things right, McGill asked Miriam, “You think these people might have stolen the Golden Hot Dog?”

She nodded. “How else could they get this award?”

She muttered something else under her breath. Turning her back to Miriam and looking at McGill, Daphna silently articulated, “Dirty salad-packers.”

Meanwhile, Brad nudged McGill.

He knew exactly what Brad wanted.

“A hot dog for my friend here,” he said.

“Grilled. With the works,” Brad specified.

After McGill offered Daphna a free nosh, she made sure the dog was kosher, or in this case halal; she had the same as Brad.

McGill took his hot dog steamed with just mustard and tomato wedges, his usual.

He paid the tab and added a hundred dollars to it.

“For the next group that comes in and wishes to eat,” he told Miriam Kader.

“Salad packers?” Danni Devlin asked with a laugh.

The more she thought about the presumed insult, the greater the humor she found in it.

She slapped a leg and was soon doubled over in laughter.

McGill took her response to be a sign of a guilt-free mind. He, Brad and Daphna fixed their eyes on the woman behind the counter at The Perfect Pup. So did the half-dozen well but casually dressed customers in the place. When McGill had entered the shop, he’d noticed that three of the patrons were reading The New York Times on their iPads.

Made him wonder if the dinner crowd perused The Paris Review.

The neighborhood was that kind of place.

Ms. Devlin, whose name tag bore the title of “Boss,” a Chicago favorite, regained her composure and told McGill, Brad and Daphna, “You know what? I’ll take it: I’m a salad packer. For my money, that beats the hell out of being a meatpacker.”

She was about to say something else when she stopped to sniff the air.

“All three of you,” she told McGill and company, “you’ve eaten meat today.”

“You can really smell that?” McGill asked.

“Maybe the lady’s got some bloodhound in her,” Brad offered.

Daphna remained silent.

“You don’t need a dog’s nose,” Devlin told Brad, “once you stop eating meat yourself. The scent is just really obvious.” She took another whiff. “All beef hot dogs.”

She even told them the garnishes they’d had on their dogs.

“My only question is,” Devlin said, “how frequently do you poison yourselves? You know, how much meat do you eat?”

“As much as I can, as often as I can,” Brad said.

“That’s no one’s business but my own,” Daphna told her.

Devlin looked her up and down. “Some but not much.”

McGill said, “You tell me.”

She gave him a once-over, too, not being shy about it. “You’re somewhere between your two friends, trending toward the young lady.”

McGill was starting to think Danni Devlin might make a good detective.

He returned the favor of a personal inspection, giving her a close study.

“You were married,” he said, “but now you’re not. There’s still a band of pale skin where your wedding ring used to be. To have the capital you’d need to start this place in this part of town, you either had a high-paying job or divorced well. But I’m thinking it was both.”

That assessment earned McGill a humorless grin and a nod.

McGill continued, “The easy guess would be you were in investment banking, but this is Chicago. So I’m going to say you traded commodity futures. Things went south, maybe both professionally and personally. What you felt then was you had to get a very bad taste out of your mouth. Opening this place would be one way to do that. Am I close?”

Devlin evaded. “You didn’t come here to eat. What do you want?”

McGill told her about the missing Golden Hot Dog, and an unnamed competitor’s suspicion that she might have stolen it. Out of envy.

The “boss” laughed again, not as hard or long, but with an edge.

“Fat frigging chance I’d steal something like that. You want to know what I think the real deal is? One or more of those meatpackers out there are afraid my shop would win any honest taste competition. Then where would they be? They’d still have the hard-core carnivores like your friend there,” she said, gesturing at Brad. “But they’re going extinct even if they don’t know it yet, and my winning their ticky-tack award would only open more eyes and mouths in my direction. If anybody stole that dumb trophy, it was one of the old guard. To keep me or one of my real competitors from putting them to shame.”

Brad only shook his head.

Daphna maintained an agnostic deadpan look.

McGill, God help him, knew there was only one way to put Danni Devlin’s contention to the test. Stifling a sigh, he said, “I’ll have one of your … you still call them hot dogs?”

“Sure do. Mustard and tomato on that, right?”

McGill decided to cut to the chase, skip other hot dog vendors, especially the chain places, and head to Big Frank’s Big Franks, Brad Lewis’ favorite hot dog shop on the Near South Side. On the way, Brad looked over his shoulder at McGill in the backseat.

“Got yourself a little dab of mustard at the right corner of your mouth.”

Lacking a napkin or a handkerchief, McGill used his left index finger as a squeegee. Licked the mustard off his fingertip. “Okay now?”

Brad nodded.

“You’re dying to know, aren’t you?” McGill asked.

“Don’t have to ask,” Brad said. “You’re a Chicago boy, born and bred, just like me.”

“It wasn’t bad,” McGill said of the meatless hot dog he’d eaten.

“Not bad, but not good either,” Brad countered.

McGill looked at Daphna. He had a quarter-round view of her face. She had her eyes front, not even in the rear-view mirror, paying visual attention to the road ahead. But he’d bet she was listening closely to the conversation.

“Pretty good,” McGill said.

“But not great like the real thing,” Brad argued.

“Can’t say it was great,” McGill agreed, “but …”

“But what?”

“You could probably eat four or five a week, or even at one sitting, and never worry about them giving you a heart attack. Be a little generous with the condiments, you’d probably never even notice the difference.”

I’d notice,” Brad said, getting angry now.

“Okay, a hot dog connoisseur would know. Most of us wouldn’t.”

The look on Brad’s face was the image of a man hearing heresy. For a moment, McGill thought he might lose the chief of his Chicago office. Even at the cost of Brad having to relinquish his company Cadillac.

Possibly thinking of exactly that sacrifice, Brad kept on plugging. “Just wait ’til we get to Big Frank’s. Then tell me what you think.”

McGill had no choice but to eat another hot dog, and this one lived up to the Big Frank’s name: It was a monster. Not quite bratwurst in size, but a heavyweight contender with a bun to match. He thought the lady who’d dished it up to him had added a pint of mustard and sliced all of a Big Boy tomato to top it off. To wash it all down, the niece of the woman behind the counter brought a bottle of Berghoff’s Famous Root Beer, sweetened with cane sugar, to McGill’s table. He almost swooned when he saw that.

As musical accompaniment to McGill’s meal, Big Frank’s had a recording of B.B. King playing “Further On Up the Road.” Atmosphere counted as part of a dining experience, McGill had to admit.

Taste, of course, was still the decisive factor, and for McGill it was love at first bite.

Big or not, he wolfed down the monster hot dog in under a minute and chased it with the best root beer he’d ever tasted. He was sorely tempted to ask for a second helping of both. But he knew his digestive system was middle-aged even if his taste buds were still teenagers.

“Well?” Brad asked.

McGill said, “I don’t believe there’s a better hot dog in this town or any other.”

“Knew you’d be true to your roots,” Brad said with a smile of relief.

Daphna, who’d been keeping watch on all the other patrons in Big Frank’s, people who recognized McGill but were too cool to bother him, saw he’d finished his hot dog in what was possibly world-record time, and wondered if she could get one to go. Let Brad Lewis get behind the wheel of his Cadillac again.

McGill read her mind and nodded. “On me,” he said. “You can’t miss this.”

That was when Brad asked McGill, “Can you believe Big Frank’s has never won the Golden Hot Dog?”

McGill said, “Only if the fix was in for some other places. This being Chicago, as I mentioned earlier, I wouldn’t be surprised.”

That was when Big Frank himself walked in, accompanied by an older fellow whom Brad introduced as Morris Walker. Morris held in one arm what McGill felt sure had to be the Golden Hot Dog.

McGill got to his feet and shook the newcomers’ hands.

He said, “A pleasure to meet you gentlemen. May I buy each of you a hot dog?”

McGill, Brad Lewis, Morris Walker and Big Frank moved to a corner table. At a signal from Big Frank, the music was dialed down to allow for quiet conversation. Casting caution and better judgment to the winds, McGill had another hot dog and root beer, savoring every bite and sip.

He said to Morris, “My guess is someone brought the Golden Hot Dog to you and said give it to Big Frank. He deserves it.”

“Wasn’t handed over directly,” Morris said. “It was left on the front step of my house, right before someone rang my doorbell. Took me a while to get there, being as I don’t move as fast as I used to.”

McGill nodded. Morris looked good for his age, but there was no doubt he had left 90 in his rear-view mirror.

Brad confirmed that for McGill. “Morris missed by just a whisker joining Jesse Owens and Ralph Metcalfe at the Berlin Olympics back in 1936.”

“Wasn’t much of a whisker either,” Morris said. “I was so close on Ralph’s heels I coulda tied his shoelaces for him. Of course, I was only fourteen then and everybody told me I’d be the gold-medal kid at the next Olympics. Only that didn’t happen until 1948, and by then I was a cop working and supporting a family. Tell you one thing, though, there wasn’t a crook in town who outran me when I took after him.”

“I bet,” McGill said.

“You do any running, son?” Morris asked.

“Not like an Olympian. I’ve always been pretty quick with my wits and hands, though.”

The old man smiled. “Those are good things for a copper to have, too. I’ve read about you these past few years. Say hello to your missus for me.”

“I will. So do you think the fix was in on awarding the Golden Hot Dog, Morris?”

“Six ways from Sunday, the fix was in. Frank should be given that trophy, and it should be retired right here.”

“Well,” McGill said, “my wife might be out of the White House, but she still knows a U.S. attorney or two. We’ll have to get an investigation started on who’s been corrupting the hot dog competition in town.”

“About time,” Big Frank said.

“I’ll also see if I can get everyone involved to let Frank hold on to the trophy until the matter is decided,” McGill said.

Everyone thought that would be only fair.

Then McGill asked Morris, “Tell me, Mr. Walker, did either you or your father ever hear of a Chicago cop, back in the old days, by the name of Daniel McGill?”

The old man nodded. “Kin of yours, I’m thinking.”

“Yes, sir.”

Morris looked up at Daphna, who’d been watching over McGill and the others at the table, keeping the shop’s usual patrons at a distance.

“It’s all right to be talking in front of the young lady?” Morris asked.

McGill said, “I trust her with my wife’s life and mine, too.”

Showing she was a true pro, Daphna didn’t even smile.

But she did stand a bit taller.

“All right then,” Morris said. “Danny McGill was a bit of legend in the department back in the old days. That’s what I heard from my daddy. What he said to me was if there was one guy the Mob hated as much as Elliott Ness, it was Sergeant Daniel Patrick McGill. On top of that, the crooked cops hated him even worse.”

Leaning forward, McGill listened to a family history he’d never heard before.

His heart raced when he heard of the hit that had been put out on his great-uncle.

Patti was waiting for McGill by the time he got back to Evanston. So were Abbie, Ken and Caitie. Carolyn and Lars were on hand, too. Ace Cole had returned with Patti. He and Daphna stood watch at the front and back of the house. Brad Lewis went back to the office.

“I still can’t believe you sold our house, Dad,” Caitie said. “I would have bought it.”

Caitie had earned enough money from her acting jobs to make good on that claim, but McGill nonetheless asked, “Forsaking the study of film in Paris? Opening a bed-and-breakfast here? I’m not sure we’re zoned for that.”

Abbie and Ken grinned. Caitie stuck out her tongue at her siblings.

“Okay, okay. I guess I was just being sentimental.”

“There’s a story for you here, Cat,” Ken said.

“Cat?” McGill asked.

Patti explained, “Her nom du cinéma.”

McGill repressed a sigh and kept his eyes from rolling.

Everyone else seemed fine with the kid’s new moniker.

“It’s okay, Dad,” his youngest told him, sensing his disapproval. “I’ll give you a 10-year grace period to adjust.”

“Entirely kind of you,” McGill said. “Was anyone able to act on the request I phoned in?”

“Wait, wait,” Cat said. “Ken’s got a story idea for me.”

“Okay,” Ken said. “Married couple, relatively well off, starting to go gray …”

Hitting close to home, McGill thought. He’d noticed some gray in the mirror that morning.

“They have a grown son. He works, but he’s never left home. Mom and Dad go on vacation, and they leave the son a note. That’s when he learns his parents have sold the house. The son has to be out in two weeks.”

“That’s mean,” Carolyn said.

“But it could be funny,” Lars said, “a grown man having to grow up in two weeks.”

“I like it,” Abbie said.

“Has possibilities,” McGill agreed.

Cat eyed her older brother. “We co-write the script, and I direct?”

Ken nodded. “Heck, you can be the producer, too. Use all that cash you’ve made to pay the freight for getting the movie made.”

“Yeah. I could find backers, but I’d want to keep complete artistic control,” Cat said.

“Well, there’s a surprise,” Abbie said.

Cat stuck out her tongue again.

McGill cleared his throat, drawing all eyes to him. “Meanwhile, did anyone find the ground-penetrating radar I asked for?”

Lars told him, “Our Evanston PD security people say their department has one, but they’re using it on a murder investigation right now. A 14-year-old homicide, thank goodness. So I tried a neighbor friend; he has a first-rate metal detector. Says it’ll pick up readings down to five feet below ground surface. Will that do? If so, I’ve got it in the trunk of my car.”

McGill thought about it briefly. “It’s worth a try. Thanks, Lars.”

“Good. I’ll go get it.”

Carolyn put a hand on her husband’s shoulder. “Wait a minute, Lars. I think it’s time Jim comes clean. He mentioned something to me this morning, but he never said anything about ground-penetrating radar. ”

“Yeah, what’s going on, Dad?” Abbie asked.

McGill said, “I thought your mom might have shared our conversation by now, but, okay, here’s the story. Grandpa McGill shared a bit of family history with me this morning, and …

McGill told all of them what his father had revealed, and then he shared the story he’d heard from Morris Walker at Big Frank’s.

“Holy Francis Ford Coppola,” Cat said after McGill finished his story. “This is like ‘The Godfather’ meets … I can’t think of the right war film. Which means, holy crap, we’ve got something original on our hands.”

“Try to contain yourself,” McGill told the young auteur. “It’s just one elderly man’s second-hand memory right now … but if Grandpa is right and Great-uncle Dan left a first-person memoir … well, as the homeowner here until next Monday, it belongs to me.”

Cat stepped up and took her father’s hand. “But you won’t sell the story rights to anyone else, right?”

McGill grinned. “No, I won’t, but depending on what I find, if we find anything at all, I might not let anyone exploit the story.” Bearing up under his youngest’s frown, he added. “It might help your case or Abbie’s or Ken’s, if they’re interested, if you scour the house and one of you comes up with the hidden treasure.”

“Any suggestions for how to conduct the search, Dad?” Ken asked.

“Start high or low and work in the opposite direction. Try not to overlook anything.” McGill turned to Patti and asked, “We didn’t leave any old state secrets in our bedroom, did we?”

“Only the ones in my luggage,” she said.

Meaning her lingerie.

“Right,” McGill said. “Stay out of Patti’s luggage. Otherwise, have at it.”

After a brief debate, the McGill offspring decided to start in the attic and work their way down. Then Carolyn asked, “You’re going to use the metal-detector to scour the backyard, Jim?”

“I am. If you’d be so kind to fetch the instrument, Lars.”

He grinned and nodded. “I’ll keep my fingers crossed, too. This sounds like fun.”

“Let’s hope,” McGill replied.

Using old tomato stakes that had sat unused in the garage for two presidential terms plus six months, McGill and Lars set up a search grid in the backyard. Patti and Carolyn watched from comfortable chairs placed around a tree-shaded patio table and provided chilled lemonade to the treasure hunters as requested.

The metal detector Lars had borrowed proved to be a truly effective device. Wherever there was buried metal in the backyard, the detector pinged and indicated the depth at which it might be found. Working their way through the grid, using a pair of sturdy spades, McGill and Lars took turns excavating the finds.

Among other items they recovered was a complete set of vintage Sears Craftsman auto tools, an unbranded hacksaw and an assortment of partially incised lug nuts for a model of car or truck that neither McGill nor Lars could begin to identify. The interesting thing about the lug nut fragments was they’d been cut to varying depths, sometimes almost clean through. Most likely with the hacksaw they’d found. Its blade showed significant wear.

When McGill and Lars took a break, they discussed their finds with their better halves.

The detective among them bluntly said, “I’ve got to think someone, quite likely Great-uncle Dan, might’ve set someone up for one final ride.”

“You mean he killed someone by sabotaging their car?” Carolyn asked.

McGill sighed. “I don’t think he was doing quality control work for Sears. He did have some very bad people looking for him. You partially saw through a few lug nuts on just one wheel, put them on a vehicle that might be used to chase you. Cover up the cut marks with a bit of oil and sludge. Lead the bad guys on a chase around a sharp curve and —”

Lars saw the picture immediately. “The damaged lug nuts snap under the stress and the wheel comes flying off. Maybe the car or truck rolls over three or four times and nobody inside walks away.”

McGill nodded.

Carolyn looked horrified, as if her second husband had just glimpsed a forbidden world.

Patti discerned something else. “Back then, before the Second World War or shortly afterward, the police wouldn’t have had the forensic science to detect the sabotage, much less attribute it to anyone. The cause of death for the victims would be listed as accidental. A perpetrator might fall under suspicion, but he would never be tried in a court of law.”

McGill rebutted that last point. “Some people don’t bother with courts when they want to settle matters. Even the toughest bad guy, though, might think twice about looking for revenge against someone who could arrange the kind of death that comes out of nowhere. Who could say what someone like that might do next? Maybe cause a leak in a gas line inside your house. Blow you to kingdom come as you sleep.”

“Jim, you’re scaring me,” Carolyn said. “This is someone in your family, our children’s family, you’re talking about.”

“Sorry,” McGill said.

Former presidents being made of tougher stuff, Patti had another thought in mind.

She asked, “Why would your great-uncle leave those tampered lug nuts in his backyard. Wouldn’t it have been smarter to throw them in Lake Michigan? Get rid of any possible incriminating evidence.”

That question made McGill stop, think and arrive at a conclusion that made even him frown. He said, “That would seem to make sense … unless he wanted to keep them for reference.”

Lars was the first to make the correct inference.

He said, “If Daniel McGill saw his first use of tampered lug nuts worked, and he wanted to use the same scheme again …”

Lars didn’t have to complete the thought for Carolyn’s face to drain of color.

Patti, however, filled in the blank. “He could either dig up the lug nuts to measure new cuts in a third set or just use the ones he’d unearthed, depending on how many times he might want to repeat the same trick.”

McGill nodded. Trying to lighten the mood, he told Patti, “You have a fine criminal mind.”

“Comes of a long career in government,” she replied.

Before McGill went back to work, Patti applied a coat of sunblock to his face. A tan was fine; a deep burn wasn’t. Lars put on a safari hat. Then they grabbed their spades and the metal detector and resumed the dig. Just inside of McGill’s fenced-in property line, in the last square of their grid, they struck gold.

The kind that had been minted into coins.

By foreign governments. A long time ago.

Austria, the former Czechoslovakia, Belgium, the Netherlands and France were the nations from which the coins had come. There were 432 of them. They’d been stored in tins that Patti had identified as French Menier Canisters, vintage early 1940s. The canisters were labeled in French as being used for pasta, flour and assorted spices. Patti said the canisters themselves were now collector’s items worth several hundred dollars each.

The gold coins, stacked on McGill’s kitchen table by country and denomination, were worth far more. The grown-ups and the adult children spent several minutes just staring at the treasure McGill and Lars had excavated. With McGill’s nodding permission, Cat photographed the gold in both still and video images.

Patti broke the silence. “This has to be raubgold, gold stolen by the Germans during World War Two.”

McGill picked up a coin from Austria and looked at it closely. A two-headed eagle, each head crowned, its wings spread, holding a sword in one talon and a bishop’s miter in the other was the face of the piece. It was dated 1915.

Abbie studied it at her father’s shoulder, and then she picked up her iPad to do some research. In short order, she told the others, “It’s a Gold 4 Ducat. In excellent condition, that one coin is worth $1,150; if you melted it down, the gold value is about half of that.”

McGill said, “Even back in 1945, when Great-uncle Dan came back to this house from the war, this treasure had to be valuable enough to change a person’s life, but he buried it in his backyard.”

With only a slight hesitation, Cat said, “Dad, we don’t know if this was all the gold he had. Maybe he did spend some of it. Maybe there’s more buried somewhere else.”

McGill wanted to refute that idea, but he couldn’t find a basis for doing so.

“You could be right, kiddo, but we’re going to hand everything we found today to the federal government. Maybe someone can get these coins back to their countries of origin, if not their former owners.”

Patti nodded and asked Daphna and Ace to enter the kitchen, the two Secret Service special agents having been excluded while the family examined their find. Both of them reacted as all the others had upon seeing the table covered with stacks of gold coins: their eyes widened, their breath quickened and they leaned forward as if the gold exerted a seductive magnetism.

“Found this in the backyard, while I had the two of you stand guard out front,” McGill told the agents. “With the Secret Service being part of the Treasury Department, I thought you could get on your phones and find someone who can take responsible possession of these coins, and do their best to repatriate them.”

Ace said, “Absolutely.”

Daphna added, “Right away.”

Patti added, “We’ll write out and sign an inventory of every coin. So you can tell whoever comes to collect them —”

“None of them will fall through any cracks, ma’am,” Daphna assured Patti.

“Or into anyone’s pocket,” Ace added.

The two special agents stepped out of the room to get things moving.

McGill turned his gaze on his children. “The three of you are sure you searched every nook and cranny in this house while Lars and I were working outside?”

The McGill offspring nodded in unison.

Kenny said, “We even dusted as we went along, so we’d know what we covered.”

McGill sighed. “So we found a fortune in stolen gold but not Great-uncle Dan’s memoir.”

With a former President on hand and Nazi-stolen gold on the kitchen table, the General Counsel of the Treasury Department, in town to visit family, was at the McGill house in 30 minutes. He brought with him the special agent in charge of the Chicago division, and two additional special agents.

The new arrivals re-inventoried the coins, gave McGill a receipt, thanked him for his honesty and told Patti and everyone else it was a pleasure to meet them. Then the treasure that had rested in the McGill backyard for more than half a century was whisked away.

By that time, everyone was feeling weary.

Except for McGill; he was still frustrated about not finding Great-uncle Dan’s memoir.

When Carolyn and Lars said they were heading home, McGill asked if he might hold on to the metal detector until tomorrow.

“Sure,” Lars told him. “Just don’t trip and fall, if you go out before dawn.”

McGill promised to be careful. He said goodnight to Carolyn and Lars, hugged all his kids before they went upstairs to their bedrooms. When he and Patti were alone in the kitchen, she asked him, “You don’t really intend to go out in the dark, do you?”

“No.”

“Well, that’s a relief. But you’re not done hunting or you wouldn’t have wanted to keep the metal detector.”

“Right.”

“So what’s the plan?”

McGill said, “We wouldn’t have found anything out back without the detector because we couldn’t see it. Maybe there’s something inside the house that can’t be seen but is there nonetheless.”

“What,” Patti said, “hidden behind a wall or something?”

“Why not? I had that idea right off, but I didn’t think to use a gizmo to see if I was right.”

“You have a point, but I am tired and I’m going to bed.”

McGill kissed his wife and said, “Goodnight. Sleep well.”

“You have to be wrung out, too, Jim. Don’t overdo it, okay?”

“I won’t. I’ll just do the basement and first floor tonight. The second floor and the attic can wait until tomorrow.”

“That’s reasonable, but don’t get carried away and change your mind.”

She kissed her husband, patted him on the backside as an extra incentive not to be too tardy getting to bed, and went upstairs.

McGill went down to the basement and scanned all the walls with the metal detector. He found nothing that could be identified as anything more than standard building materials. Disappointed that the bottom level of his house wasn’t the hiding place, he began to reconsider his promise to Patti. He’d search the first floor and then …

He didn’t know how he could search all the bedrooms on the second floor without rousing the people sleeping therein, but he continued to search for a solution.

Until he finally found the memoir in the chimney flue of the living room fireplace.

In all the years he, Carolyn and the kids had lived there, they’d never used the fireplace. Abbie had been very young when they moved in, and Carolyn didn’t want their firstborn to go anywhere near a fire. Add that to their insurance agent telling them that their homeowner’s policy would be significantly more expensive if they used the fireplace, and it was an easy choice to light no logs.

Once all three kids were old enough to know not to stick their hands or other body parts into a live flame, McGill had thought to have the flue cleaned and ignite regular home-fires, but he’d never gotten around to it. If he had, he would have found Great-uncle Dan’s leather-bound memoir years ago.

As it was, McGill had only stuck the metal detector up the flue to be thorough.

He hadn’t thought anything would come of it.

But it had: another French canister, this one holding stories written in the first half of the previous century. And now, with the memoir in hand, McGill crept upstairs to his bedroom, where Patti lay sleeping.

McGill wondered if he should wake Patti. Tell her of his discovery and the value of dogged persistence. But she already knew, certainly better than he, that you just had to keep butting your head against some problems to solve them. Presidents were introduced to that fact on their first day in office. Besides that, in the light filtering in from the street, she looked like an angel in repose.

He couldn’t bring himself to disturb her.

He’d have a lot more to tell her in the morning, anyway.

Including that he’d known intuitively that Patti had not only asked Brad Lewis to bring him a case that held no risk of personal harm, but also, if possible, to find one where the solution was readily at hand. Or in the case of the Golden Hot Dog, already solved. Just take him along for the ride and get his juices, in this case both professional and gastric, flowing again.

It was Patti’s idea of a gift after taking him away from the work he loved for six months.

McGill blew her a kiss.

He had to repress a laugh when, in seeming response, she rolled over onto her other side.

Powerful kisser, he was.

McGill sat in the room’s armchair, flipped open Great-uncle Dan’s journal and used his phone for illumination.

The late Chicago cop’s opening line was: Everywhere I go, people are trying to kill me.

© 2018 Stray Dog Press, Inc.