I Own You, page 1
I Own You
By Dawn McConnell
with Katy Weutz
Nemo me impune lacessit
‘Never crossed with impunity’
Latin motto of the Order of the Thistle and the Royal Regiment of Scotland known as ‘Black Watch’, the Scots Guard and Royal Scots Dragoon Guards
PART I – HOME
1 Summer Holidays
2 This Is Normal
3 John Jay
4 The Last Time
5 The Schoolhouse
PART II – LOST
7 Trouble in Paradise
9 My Black Eyed Boy
10 Neither Here Nor There
11 A Cash Business
PART III – GROWING UP
12 My Bar
14 The Sadist
15 Elvis on Astroturf
16 Hotel from Hell
17 Last Fight
18 A Change of Perspective
19 Uncovering a Betrayal
PART IV – ESCAPE
20 Changing Places
23 Behind the Curtain
24 The End
PART V – THE WARRIOR
25 The Enemy Within
26 A Change of Luck
27 Going Nuclear
28 My Day in Court
Advise and Help
Sitting on the cold, hard terracotta tiles, I drew my legs to my chest and wrapped my bare arms around my knees. How on earth had I got myself into this mess?
Inside the villa – my villa, my beautiful Portuguese villa – I watched my husband Stuart as he poured himself another glass of red wine. Through the glass doors on the balcony I examined the back of his head as he sat on our brand new sofa, adjusting the sound on the TV that played an episode of The Sopranos. I couldn’t quite believe I was out here, on the freezing tiles in the middle of the night, wearing nothing but a thin white vest and tracksuit bottoms. What was I to do? Bang on the glass doors? Scream for help? Beg him to let me inside?
No, after nearly twenty years I knew my husband well enough to know that those tactics would only elicit laughter, mockery, or worse. And it wasn’t like we had any neighbours who could come to my rescue. Our villa in the hills could only be reached by a small, red dust track and was surrounded by nothing but orange groves and olive trees. Only the goats made it up this far. I knew there was no way out of this except through him. This was just one of those things I had to endure. And so I sat there, in the cold and dark, watching the stars, wondering how I had got trapped this way . . .
Just a few hours before, I had looked the epitome of a high-achieving businesswoman, speeding across Glasgow from my office to the airport to meet my husband in our newly acquired villa on the hillside overlooking the Algarve. There was so much work to do on the house, Stuart had insisted he come over the week before to hire tradesmen, buy materials and get to work dismantling the ugly dark wood panelling fitted by the previous owners. I was working full time which meant I could only fly out for the weekend, but I was keen to see how much Stuart had accomplished in a week. I called from Faro airport when I arrived, fully expecting he pick me up. But Stuart said he couldn’t drive as he’d already had a couple of drinks at lunchtime. My heart sank. This did not bode well.
By the time I got to our villa in the late afternoon, my worst suspicions were confirmed. Pushing my way through empty beer and wine bottles, it was clear Stuart had not even started to dismantle the fittings. Instead he lay slumped on the sofa, suffering from the debilitating aftermath of a massive, all-week bender. I couldn’t help myself. I let rip.
‘What have you been doing? This place is a tip! I’ve been working all week and you’ve been drinking yourself silly. Why? Why can’t you just do what you say you’re going to do? Just look at you! You’re a complete state. Urgh!’
I changed out of my work clothes, put on a vest and tracksuit bottoms and got to work cleaning and scrubbing our new house. Three hours later, after I had cleaned up the villa and changed the sheets, I took a bundle of fresh laundry outside on the terrace to hang on the washing line. All that time, Stuart had lain prone on the sofa, sipping from his glass of red wine, occasionally throwing me evil stares. Let him stare! I reckoned it would only take another couple of glasses before he fell into unconsciousness. Now it was late as I hung up the laundry. There was a chill in the cool March air. Not a cloud in the sky, I could count every star. I watched my own breath hang in the air as I pegged out the washing, shivering against the cold. Then . . .
The verandah door closed with a bang, and I watched as Stuart gave a sinister smile from the other side of the glass, turning the handle anti-clockwise until it was fully locked. Then he resumed his position on the sofa and clicked on the TV. Ignore him, I told myself. He’s playing games. This was his idea of payback for my flying insults earlier. He knew I hated the cold, couldn’t stand it. But he’ll make me stay out here for twenty minutes, I figured, to punish me. Always to punish me. But twenty minutes came and went and Stuart didn’t move from the sofa. With nothing to sit on but the cold terracotta tiles I took my place in the corner of the terrace. There was no wind, no sound but the occasional tinkling of a goat-bell. Everything was silent and still. The damp laundry hung above my head like an imaginary shelter but I had no real protection from the cold, which seeped into my pores and turned my skin white. Through the verandah doors I watched Stuart open another two bottles of red wine. I watched three silent episodes of The Sopranos through the glass wall, then observed Stuart as he made himself a steak sandwich, broke out the biscuits and cheese, knocked over a wine glass, and finally, rubbing my aching finger joints together, I saw him pour himself a large brandy. I watched it all. A spectator. My home like a television set that only I could see.
Patiently, I waited as the temperatures reached freezing and then I started to pace to keep warm. Occasionally I jumped up and down but on the whole I just sat there, letting the chill dig into my bones, numbing my fingers and toes until I could barely move them at all. How had it come to this? To the outside world I was a successful businesswoman, a woman in charge of her own destiny, and yet here I sat, trapped and frozen cold. At thirty-four years old, I knew I’d had enough. I couldn’t go on like this. One day, I resolved to escape. By the time the sun came up from behind the hills in the early hours, I felt the dawn was rising on a new me.
It was 10 a.m. before Stuart woke from his slumber, and by then the warm Portuguese sunshine had thawed me out completely. Kicking over the empty wine bottle, he seemed startled when he looked around to see me outside. In a second, he registered what he had done and started to laugh at his own joke, tickled by his own badness. With a clunk clink of the handle, the door opened. I didn’t look at him as I walked past. I didn’t speak a word. Instead, I dressed in the clothes I had arrived in the previous night and called a taxi to the airport.
These times are sent to test us. There was a reason this had happened. I resolved that night never to forget those hours on the balcony. He couldn’t keep me locked up forever. One day I would leave and never look back.
‘Come on, Dawn!’ my mother puffed impatiently as she lugged her large brown leather suitcase into the waiting taxi. ‘Keep up. We haven’t got all day.’
I scooted along as fast as I could but it wasn’t always easy to keep up with the swift pace Mum set. In her smart beige heels, she was a woman on a mission and whatever happened she wasn’t goin
There were three of us children in my family: I was the youngest at five years old, my sister Susy was ten, and then there was our elder brother John. In that summer of 1974 John was fifteen, a big boy and ten years older than me.
Though we lived in a rough part of Glasgow, Mum liked to think that our family was a cut above the usual types who came to The Drayton Arms, the hotel we owned, and certainly her refined Edinburgh accent distinguished her from the crowd. It was a small hotel with ten rooms that had a bar, a restaurant and a function room that catered for the local community. The dining room was for weddings and funerals mostly. We also provided breakfasts for the residents, with dinner included too if they wished. Mum and Dad worked there day and night, scurrying back and forth between the hotel and our large house, which was next door. It was a relentless way to make a living – but effective. I knew there weren’t many children in our suburb who went to private school or enjoyed foreign holidays for weeks at a time.
But such hard work meant those holidays were precious – and impeccably planned. Earlier that morning, Mum had shut the last case tight and stuffed the overnight bag with disprin, toothpaste, toothbrushes, colouring books and spare pants. Once she had checked all the tickets were in order, it had been time to leave.
Only four of us McConnells were squeezed into that Parisian taxi with our luggage. Dad hadn’t come this time; not after last year when he had spent most of the holiday complaining loudly. Grumpily, he had paced up and down the beach boulevard, picking out various restaurants where he wanted to take lunch. And yet we never went – because we were on full board at our hotel. It was a source of much friction between my parents.
‘It’s all budgeted and paid for,’ Mum had insisted calmly, while Dad deliberately refilled his wine glass over lunch, staring at her moodily. She always disapproved of his drinking but there was nothing much she could do about it. Especially not this year, when Dad was being left in charge of the hotel while we went on our trip without him.
‘He’ll be happier there,’ Mum had said with a tight smile as he’d waved us off at Glasgow train station. ‘He’s got his spirit optics to keep him company.’
Now, I almost wished that I was the one keeping him company: the August heat of the train station at the Gare du Nord was unbearable. The black leather seats of the taxi were scorching and sticky on my bare legs.
‘Le Bristol, s’il vous plaît,’ said Mum to the young driver in her best French and at last we sped away from the chaos of the station. This was our overnight stop before Italy – a five-star hotel in the heart of Paris. Mum loved the glamour of the 1920s hotel and never tired of telling us that royalty stayed here, as well as celebrities like Mick Jagger and Sophia Loren.
Once inside, Mum seemed instantly to stand straighter amid the plush corridors, trailing an elegant hand along the gleaming brass handrails. She loved this, I could tell. From the way she smiled at all of us, it was clear this was what my mother wanted more than anything else: the attention and fine living of a luxury holiday. For once, everyone looked after her and catered to her every whim, instead of the other way round. For once, she was the guest!
Later, Mum took us out for dinner and we wandered through the narrow streets of Paris, before taking a table at a small cafe down an alleyway. I breathed in the strangeness of it all – people of all ages and races, classes and colours, chattering away in a variety of exotic languages. Mum ordered a glass of Sancerre and we were allowed a Fanta each. She seemed more relaxed here than I’d ever seen her at our hotel and, without my dad, she seemed happy and at ease.
‘This is what I crave,’ she sighed, finally. ‘This! All this! I should have moved to the continent years ago, I should have stayed in Italy when I had the chance. God knows how I ended up in Glasgow, slaving away in that squalid little hotel day and night . . .’
On and on she went; it was a familiar speech. Meanwhile, Susy and I amused each other by pretending to have a sword fight with the breadsticks. When they both snapped and fell on the ground we looked up guiltily at Mum, fully expecting a telling-off.
But she didn’t notice. For once she wasn’t watching our every move, checking us over for flaws in our appearance or behaviour. No, tonight she seemed to be staring dreamily into the distance – perhaps into another life she wished she were living.
The next day, we embarked on the last leg of our journey to Tuscany, changing trains in Rome before arriving, late in the day, at the swish seaside resort of Forte Dei Marmi, roughly twenty-five miles from Pisa. We were staying in a stunning hotel, with high-ceilinged rooms decked out in opulent colours and rich fabrics, and the manager himself came over to greet us. I loved Signor Adammo and as soon as I caught sight of him, I ran and jumped into his embrace, wrapping my little arms around his neck.
‘I’ve missed you!’ I squealed.
Mum laughed anxiously, embarrassed at my public display of affection. She didn’t do kissing or hugging – she was far too regal for all that.
‘Come now, Dawn, don’t annoy Signor Adammo!’ she chided.
‘Oh no, Signora,’ he replied, as he rubbed my head indulgently. ‘It’s okay. No problem.’
Then he bent down and asked me: ‘Ciao, Dawn, come stai?’
‘Siamo molto bene!’ I responded in my best Italian. At last we had arrived and the proper holiday could begin!
Those summer days passed so quickly, swimming by as fast as the fishes that darted and ducked around my little feet as I paddled in the clear-blue sea. By the time we’d been there a week, we were well into our familiar routine.
Each morning, after breakfast, the four of us would head to the beach for a couple of hours. I loved to make sandcastles and frolic in the shallow waters while my brother and sister exhausted themselves playing volleyball or bat and ball on the sand. Frequently, they met other children and played with them, but I was quite content just sitting at my mother’s feet, digging moats and arranging seashells on my sandy structures, as she sunbathed in her elegant one-piece.
Lunch was always the same. After leaving the beach, we showered and changed before heading into the dining hall at our hotel. The staff always set up the same table for us, a large circular one against the windows, with views across the sea. It was a grand affair and I think my mother loved the sense of occasion, elevated by the pristine white tablecloth, silver cutlery and crystal wine glasses. Susy and I fought each other for the basket of Grissini breadsticks while my brother poured out the San Pellegrino bubbly water. Waiters in their crisp white uniforms and white gloves glided past, carrying steaming plates of pasta, risotto and broths. I loved spaghetti arrabbiata and was never deprived of a cooling gelato for dessert.
The fun didn’t stop in the afternoon. After lunch, we were ordered to our room for an hour-long siesta but after that it was back to the beach for an afternoon of playing and swimming. Every evening, following a bath and a good slathering of aftersun, we returned to the restaurant for our evening meal and then, for me, it was straight to bed, my skin still glowing from the day’s sun.
Oh, I loved it! I loved all of it. Every morning that I woke up on that holiday I hugged myself with joy that we had yet another perfect day ahead of us. It was wonderful; such a change from the cold, grey w
I wasn’t to know that sunshine doesn’t last forever.
I wasn’t to know that my innocent childhood was about to come to an abrupt end.
Looking back, years later, I did wonder if Mum ever thought his behaviour strange. I mean, why would a fifteen-year-old boy offer to take his five-year-old sister back to the room for a shower? Was that normal?
I can only suppose that after years of defending John to my dad, of standing up for him and putting herself between that hulking great bear of a man and her trembling young son, she had stopped wondering about what John did or didn’t do. Or maybe he could do no wrong in her eyes.
In any case, she never for one moment questioned him or objected when, after a day playing on the beach, he made his casual offer.
‘I’ll take Dawn back to the room,’ John said, flicking the last of the sand from his T-shirt. ‘I’m going back early and we can get ready, get bathed and showered before you all come up.’
‘That would be very helpful, thank you,’ Mum answered from under her wide brimmed hat and sunglasses, before turning to me: ‘Now go with your brother and hold his hand crossing that busy road. We will be up shortly.’
I took my brother’s hand and stared up into his face, hoping to catch his eye. It felt nice he had chosen to take me back to the hotel – John rarely paid me any attention at all and, in fact, seemed to find me quite annoying at times. He, however, stared directly ahead of him and didn’t look down as he led us through the late afternoon beach throng.
His straight, light brown hair was getting blond streaks from the sun, and there were little brown freckles studded along his straight nose. He had blue eyes and a wide mouth like me. Our sister Susy was also fair-skinned, but she had long red hair. Susy was short and sturdy, whereas John and I were long and lean – in that way, we took after our mother. Our dad Duncan, on the other hand, was a great big man in height as well as weight. The difference between dad and son had not gone unnoticed by him.