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Driven by Design

by  j.oreilly

Posted: Wednesday, January 6, 2010
Word Count: 1940

The arrival of judgement day didn’t come nearly quick enough as far as Susan Flint was concerned. The courtroom bench was hard and cold, the air thick with anticipation. The small side court was packed to the rafters, tabloid hacks jostling for space with sparring news reporters, the few remaining spaces filled by the curious, the nosey. She didn’t know any of them, and neither had her brother or his wife.
Her fiancé Carl spread himself comfortably, giving his precious camel coat its own seat, his face a picture of haughty disdain. ‘Gutter press’ he muttered with feigned disgust, angling himself strategically towards them. He’d practised in front of the mirror until his facial expression was perfect, knew just the right tilt of chin and lift of eyebrow to showcase his features. Ash blonde hair, side swept with a poker straight side parting, a straight, almost regal nose. He was handsome on first glance. Weak chinned and receding on the second. Arrogant to the last.
Susan was left with the choice of shoving her bag and gloves on the floor between her feet, or piling them up on her knee. With a quick glance at the floor, pasted with the dirt of a thousand feet, she dismissed that option, and manouvered herself awkwardly into the narrow space Carl had left her. There was little point in asking him to move up. He wouldn’t.
Pairing her black leather gloves, she tucked them neatly into the smart Mulberry handbag she held like a newborn baby on her lap. It had been a birthday present from her brother. The last birthday present from Sam, chosen with great care by his wife Ellie. She knew that’s how it would have been, because she knew them. She knew exactly the face he would have pulled as his wife, whom he adored, dragged him round a dozen shops until she found exactly what she was looking for. How he would have rolled his deep brown eyes, stroked her neat blonde hair, and complained about the cost, then selected the matching purse himself.
‘I wish you had worn something else’ Carl had switched his attention from the pushing journalists, their corduroy jackets a swelling sea of green and brown, back to her. Despite his best efforts, he had failed to make eye contact with any of them, and he bristled with irritation, blue eyes narrowing sharply. ‘That suit makes you look cheap. And it won’t photograph well.’ As anyone who understood image would know, Carl thought. With five years as a marketing executive under his belt, he understood image completely. It clearly eluded Susan, but he had to be cruel to be kind. It was the only way she would learn.
Susan shrank back into her seat, crushed by the verbal slap, eyes darting left and right, snapping with nerves. Did it really look that awful? She hoped to god no-one else had noticed. She’d followed his rules, worn the low kitten heeled shoes she knew Carl preferred, even though they made her feel heavy and frumpy, kept her makeup to a minimum to please him, then messed the whole thing up with her choice of clothes. The waspish deep purple skirt suit had been her first project, the first step on the road towards her fashion degree. Her tutor had praised it, the design inspirational and feminine. She’d been so proud, she’d almost burst.
Starting the course at twenty four, several years older than most of her peers, with a bag already half full of life experience, she’d been the rank outsider. Fought tooth and nail for the place, her portfolio a mishmash of rough sketches. With no formal training, she wasn’t even sure she could draw.
But the raw talent, the keen eye for design, and her obvious talents with a needle and thread had won her a much coveted place at St Martins. Fashion had been her life, her dream, ever since the day she’d been given her first Barbie and made a capsule wardrobe out of the discarded wrapping paper.
There had been a brief flirtation with the modelling world in her late teens, but three seasons in Milan had left her bruised and jaded. Too young, too far away from home, and utterly naïve, her self confidence had crumbled under the pressure of endless castings, endless criticism from photographers, constant groping by businessmen who thought that sex was part of the job description.
But whilst the relationship with fashion had ended, her love affair with fabric, with design had endured. The sharp suit, with its bold colour and nipped in waist, had always made her feel a ten on the scale. Classic with a twist, her signature style.
Right now, she felt like a minus fifty, and held her mulberry close, hiding behind it. And wondered, not for the first time, why he hadn’t told her she looked awful before they left the house. Somewhere, in the deepest recesses of her soul, a tiny voice whispered that he was a bully. She did her best to ignore it, but it had been getting more and more persistent since Sam had died.
‘Excuse me, excuse me!’ At the far end of the bench, knees were moved aside and feet tucked in tidily, as a familiar figure pushed past, clutching a rolled up newspaper in one hand, a battered attaché case in the other. ‘Susan, so nice to see you!’ he greeted Susan cheerfully, wheezing with the exertion of a last minute rush. Wedging his ample behind between them, he sat down firmly on Carls coat. ‘Sorry!’ he said, resting the attaché case on his knees and dialing in the code on the tiny brass wheels. ‘Bit of a squash, isn’t it?’ If he noticed Carls furious expression, he didn’t acknowledge it, reaching into his case and rescuing a half eaten bacon bap.
Dennis Clarke was a highly intelligent man, with a Mensa level IQ that he disguised with poor manners and daily reading of the Sun. Nothing escaped him. He worked legal aid cases regularly, as part of varied caseload that covered everything from common assault to high stake divorces. He had, in nearly thirty years of practising law, met every possible type of scumbag and heard every excuse that the English language could be used to create.
He had disliked Carl on sight and his opinion hadn’t changed. Not that he was particularly interested in anything Carl might wish to contribute. Susan was his client, after all, her slime ball fiancé an unfortunate fly, buzzing at the periphery, easily swatted away. Why a woman like him would have any interest in a man like that was beyond him, but dealing with the inevitable divorces of such couplings had paid his mortgage several times over. So he couldn’t complain.
‘Dennis.’ Carl acknowledged him with a barely noticeable nod of the head, his mouth hard, watching as the solicitor took a hefty bite from his sandwich and chewed loudly, then turning away, disgusted. A fact that wasn’t lost on three eagle eyed journalists in the front row of the benches opposite, who scribbled on spiral bound notebooks with rapid fire shorthand. Recorders would be brought out as soon as the judge began to speak, but not all noteworthy communication was auditory. Much, much more was said with a shrug of the shoulders, a victorious balling of the fist, a grim smile.
‘So, Susan. Our big day, today’ Dennis said through a mouthful of white bread and bacon, patting her on the knee with greasy fingers. She nodded, trying to ignore the smell wafting across. She’d skipped breakfast again, she realised, as hunger rattled around her empty insides. Rooting around inside her bag, she found a solitary mint, unwrapped it and began to suck. It wasn’t much, but it would have to do. Between her jumpy stomach, and her niece and nephew, Rosie and Jamie, she’d missed the window of opportunity for food that morning.
Carl, naturally, had enjoyed a relaxing read of the Telegraph, complete with toast, marmalade, and two cups of freshly brewed coffee. Susan had swigged ice cold apple juice straight from the carton on her way out the door, no time for anything else. Carl hadn’t helped her with the children. As he frequently pointed out, they weren’t his children, and there was no point in forming any sort of a relationship with them. It was in everyones best interests to remain distant, unattached, so that the children could make the transition more easily when a more appropriate home was found.
He hadn’t said foster care, but Susan wasn’t stupid. He acted like a pedigree dog breeder faced with a litter of mongrel puppies. Her niece and nephew were annoying, destructive, expensive, and best rehomed as soon as possible. Someone else’s responsibility. It hurt her, slashed her heart with cuts that wouldn’t heal and were getting increasingly difficult to ignore.
Rosie and Jamie were all that was left of Sam and Ellie, their legacy, a living, breathing part of them, and Susan was determined to hold on to them with every sinew of her being. Every day she was with them, the need to protect them, to care for them, to build family grew ever stronger.
‘I’m feeling extremely confident’ Dennis continued, finishing the sandwich, slapping the case lid shut and burping into his hand. Fishing a monogrammed cotton handkerchief out of his pocket, he wiped first his fingers, then his extensive forehead. ‘Judge Warren is an extremely reasonable woman. She will ensure that you are taken care of. I’ve had dealings with her in the past. She’s a rare breed, one of the few who is still a human being underneath the wig and gown.’
‘So you think she’ll rule death by dangerous driving?’ Susan turned to him, her dark eyes bright with hope. It was barely a case at all by his standards, not yet, anyway, but with one flash of that pretty smile he’d been helpless to turn her away.
‘It’s my opinion that she will. The coroner confirmed that Gianfranco Carducci was driving under the influence. The evidence is there is black and white. It’s indisputable.’ Drumming fat fingers on the top of his attaché case, he stared thoughtfully at the empty judges chair. With his predicted verdict delivered, the opportunity to sue Carducci motors would present itself. In him opinion, it wasn’t a matter of if he could make them pay, but how much, which presented a delightful challenge.
There would also be the added bonus of a legalised pry into the Carducci family, and whilst Dennis prided himself on having a fine legal mind, he was also a gossip. Nothing excited him more than dragging the skeletons out of the closet, particularly if those closets belonged to a deeply private, wealthy family. Reputation destruction was his forte.
The playboy younger son, Alessandro, who had disappeared to Europe in his late teens, did not offer much. Deflowering socialites, drinking rivers of champagne and driving fast cars too fast was nothing new. The eldest son, Gianfranco, had taken the academic route through several universities and into the family business, before killing himself and his passengers, Susans brother and his wife, in a drunken smash. There might be some mileage there, Dennis thought to himself. But his real target would be Arda Carducci. Rumours of endless affairs, of fraud, of twisting, turning, and using those around her to get whatever she wanted had circulated for years. Nothing had stuck. But he could make it, Dennis smiled to himself. And he would enjoy applying every single drop of glue.