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Thursday, 27 December 2012

The mysterious O’Neills

A period of twenty weeks had passed between the day of the auction sale of Woodsman’s Cottage and any physical sighting of people at the property. The time void was ended by the arrival of a team of non-local builders with their lorries, JCB excavator, scaffolding and other builders paraphernalia. The extensive refurbishment of the long time uninhabited property was completed in a time scale of another ten weeks.

Whilst the refurbishment was carried out, the many attempts by the inquisitive villagers at developing friendships with the unknown builders – they are normally a good source of information – had been unsuccessful. Under the control of a strict task master the workers behaved like members of a self sufficient secret society. They brought, or had delivered direct to site, everything they needed each day. When the work was completed the corps of tradesmen departed as suddenly as they had arrived. The testament to their temporary presence was the immaculate resurrected, building and gardens of the cottage; and the newly erected tall boundary walls with solid entrance gates.

For a further three weeks it stood waiting, expectantly, for the day Ryan and Fiona O’Neill moved into their new home. For the villagers their arrival was as if the cottage had given birth to twins at the end of a concealed pregnancy.

Since their arrival the O'Neills have been the subject of many discussions and speculations amongst the villagers. They have heard snippets of the many theories about themselves. The subject of conversations being quickly changed when they have entered the village store, with post office, or the Queens Head, the only village public house.

They are private people who are happy, contented, in their own company. That is not to say that they do not like socialising, reacting, with others, but on their own terms. They can be perceived as being overly reserved. This interests some of the villagers, who see it as a challenge to get closer to the O’Neills to unravel the mystery: to others it is a great annoyance and seen as snobbery by the unwelcome moneyed newcomers.

Ryan and Fiona's lifestyle means that it's necessary for them to leave the village very early in the morning and a long working day results in a mid-evening arrival back at the cottage. The villagers find it very difficult to regularly monitor arrivals and departures at the isolated cottage.

That is not to say that the O'Neills are not seen about the village.

The 'Queen's Head' has a reputation for excellent cuisine. Ryan and Fiona are often to be seen enjoying an evening meal in the cosy restaurant, once or twice during the week-days. Invariably Sunday lunch is also eaten there, after a stroll from their cottage to the pub across the village common. When ever it's possible they sit at the same table for two, in the corner, next to the window. There isn't a sign saying 'do not disturb' but their demeanour leads the other diners, and those at the bar, in no doubt that is the case.

When they use the village store to buy the week-end papers and groceries; forgotten during the trip to the large superstore in town, twenty miles away; conversations are kept to the minimum necessary for politeness: the weather, newspaper stories and purchases the only matters raised. The expressions on the faces of the staff and other villagers in the store suggest they have questions to ask about the O'Neills' but no direct interrogations are forthcoming.

Those that have lived in the village a long time are eager to know if the newcomers have information about the previous owner of Woodsman' Cottage, and his mysterious disappearance. But no direct interrogations are forthcoming.

The members of the village board of enquiry have managed to ascertain, to the best of their surreptitiously acquired knowledge, that Ryan and Fiona are a married couple, without children despite their age; Ryan was born in 1970 and Fiona in 1971. They do not have pet animals of any type. They have their own company, O'Neill Associates, but the nature of its business is unknown. Opinion is that it they must be 'doing very well' given the expensive make and model of each of the two cars they have, and the assumed high cost of the work carried out to the cottage. It's agreed by all members that not a lot of information is known [some of which is wrong]. At its latest meeting the members decided, over morning coffee and home-made chocolate chip cookies, that a more direct approach to gathering facts, and gossip, is necessary. If the O'Neills are to be accepted into the inner-circle of residents then they must be persuaded, or tricked, to release more personal details. Mystery in the village is unsettling.

The inquisitors have a problem: Ryan and Fiona don't want, or need, to be accepted into the inner-circle of residents. They enjoy, finding it humorous, being a source of mystery in the village. They are experienced at answering direct questions with indirect answers as part of their previous military careers and current business. They will continue with the current game of hide and seek until they become bored with being hunted by amateurs. The O'Neills knew more personal information about some of their new neighbours before they purchased Woodsman's Cottage than the villagers know about them now.

When that point in time comes, as it will, as it has in the two villages where they have lived before, Ryan and Fiona will, unbeknown to the villagers, reverse the roles. The new hunters will use their finely tuned professional skills to their omnipotent and financial advantage over their selected, vulnerable, victims.

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