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Dara Naraghi's graphic novel Lifelike is now available in both digital and print editions. Click here for more info.

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Welcome back to Panel 350: Our foray into flash fiction. All of these are 350 words or less. This one will appear (with illustrations) in the upcoming Panel:17 — the Pulp issue!

Adrian Eaton had been dead for hours, but his artificial heart was still pumping away.

The butler let us in to the study, where he’d found Eaton’s body that morning. He died sometime overnight, and the security cameras showed he was the only one in the house.

The oxygen-less blood still circulated through his veins, giving the body a bluish cast.  “Can we shut this off?” I asked the coroner.

The study was lined floor-to-ceiling with books, the sign of a big shot. You can buy books by the yard, but having room to store them is spendy. Eaton had retired from Wall Street after finding new ways to move money in circles.

As posh as his crib was, I knew he’d spent an equal fortune keeping himself alive. There wasn’t a mark on him, and his last body scan had come back absolutely clean – other than the heart, of course. All organic food, no aneurysms, no blood clots. Nothing.

The butler produced the corpse’s cell phone, and the coroner called up the artificial heart app. He got Eaton’s doctor on the phone and obtained the shutoff codes for the heart. The body seemed to sink into the ground as the blood pressure dropped. It settled into a familiar waxy pale color.

“Did he have any enemies?” I asked the butler. When I was a kid, no one could afford a butler. These days, people were cheap.

“Everybody liked Mr. Eaton, detective. He was very active in–“ he continued in this line, but I wasn’t listening to the words. I was watching him. There was something about him I didn’t like.

I turned to the harness officer by the door. “Strip him,” I said.

In the old days, you needed a judge’s order to strip-search a suspect. Back then, I would have missed the flash drive taped behind the butler’s scrotum, the one with a computer virus that shut down the artificial heart’s operating system for two minutes. Thank you, Justice Scalia.

I’m sure the butler had a motive, but that wasn’t my job. Save that for the judge.

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