XXI

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Unlike the countless streaks of anxiety and dread that coursed through his veins in the preceding mission, Drew could only deduce an awkward blend of composure and excitement from within, and from the general atmosphere. Forming a wall with Penny, Reza and Isla, a 2008 Ford Escape was stationed behind them, following an extended survey of the exact neighborhood disclosed by their investigation. They took note of their surroundings in reverent fashion, even as the sun far above threatened to blot out everything beneath it. It had been nearly three days since the library heist.

Penny was firmly positioned between Drew and Isla, such that she and Drew occupied the middle portion of the wall. With folded arms and a slightly extended left foot, she took in the details of the faded, turquoise-painted semi-detached house across the road. "With all due respect Reza, I miss the C220."

Flanking Drew on his left, Reza mustered a chuckle as Penny's eyes settled on him. "Believe me when I say I miss it too. It's really hard not to. However, turning up at the library with a car as distinct as Isla's C220 was a risky venture. We would have aided the relevant authorities in their search for us by deploying it today, had things gone south without us knowing. Even if they haven't, we have to take precautionary measures. The Escape wasn't chosen just because."

Averting her gaze once again to the house, Penny squinted, owing to the scorching sun. "That's a pretty fair point. And to think that we chose a Saturday of all days to creep up on the poor professor. Imagine if he's got grandkids and they're all home, as we speak."

"From what I've been able to lay my hands on, so far," Drew remarked, sliding his hands into his pockets, "Barbero Longshot never had children. Or got married."

Emerging from an invisible cocoon, Isla subdued the temptation to weightlessly sink to whatever comfort the shimmering tarmac had in store for her. She was intrigued by Drew's statement, notwithstanding her exhaustion from being on the road for over three hours. "A man on a mission, from the very beginning. Clearly, his detached status aided his disappearance from the grid – still holding on to our hope that he disappeared."

Drew nodded lightly. "Most likely. Even if he has attachments that are in the building with him right now, our burning questions will be answered today."

The gust of wind that coincided with the commencement of the crew's trudging movement seemed to eliminate any lingering doubt in their minds as to the inevitable success of the mission. Due to the deserted nature of the street, the sound of their feet travelled a slightly farther distance than normal, which ended when they arrived at the lawn that directly led up to the house. They wasted no time in heading straight for the front door.

While the rest of the crew halted a few paces away, Drew carefully took the flight of creaky wooden steps that led up to the door. With the doorbell in close range, he hesitantly reached for it and sent the default signal. He darted his eyes to the window on his right, seeking to do the impossible of seeing past the curtains behind them, searching for an extra ray of hope. A few seconds passed and no response came. Undeterred, Drew reached for the doorbell again. Another moment passed with no response. He took a step back, crossed his fingers and cracked his knuckles inwardly, trying his best to tighten his grip on the new found hope he and his companions had nursed for the past few days. His grip took on a loosely physical dimension as he clenched his right fist and rapped them at the door, in expectation of a different outcome.

With bated breath, Reza observed as his friend kept knocking on the door. While he also clung to hope like Drew, he had a more radical approach in mind. He knew better than to voice it out and risk being reprimanded once more by Penny or Isla, so he opted to play it safe. "This is the part where we look around for another way in. It may come off as creepy, but we have to exhaust our options and save some time."

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