Two women sat on one of the uncomfortable blond wooden benches in the Fairfax County courtroom after a lunch break last week, talking animatedly about the morning's testimony and anticipating the afternoon's.

"Oh, we like to come watch things like this," one said when asked about her interest in the case.

"We're nobody, just two little old ladies," said the other with a smile. "We like to hear what all these people have to say. It keeps our minds sharp."

The comment drew knowing smiles from other spectators, who realize that the case unfolding in Courtroom 5C, known simply around the courthouse as "Davoudlarian," has sharpened the imagination of the community like no case in years.

The Davoudlarian case has a mysterious slaying, titillating testimony, sexual assignations, witnesses who break down and weep on the stand and four lawyers who enjoy courtroom performance.

It also plays to a packed gallery.

Several times last week, the first week of what is expected to be a three-week trial, there were no benches left for spectators in the courtroom, with a dozen or more persons left standing along the back wall and sides of the courtroom.

The courtroom has become the place for lawyers to linger between cases.

It has supplanted the basement cafeteria as the place where many courthouse workers meet for breaks and lunch hours.

And if, in the late morning or the early afternoon, you are looking for an assistant prosecutor to sign off on a motion, chances of finding him are as good in 5C as in the first-floor prosecutor's office.

Briefly, what everybody in the courthouse already knows:

Susan Davoudlarian, 40, was strangled to death in June 1983. Her body was found in her car at Dulles International Airport a week after she disappeared from her Annandale house.

Though no one has been charged in the killing, Susan's husband, prominent gynecologist David K. Davoudlarian, is accused in two separate civil suits of killing her, accusations he has vigorously denied. The suit in court is brought by Susan Davoudlarian's estate on behalf of her daughters from her first marriage and her son. It seeks $10 million in damages from the doctor.

The attorneys who have brought suit against the doctor are Stanley P. Klein 35, and Peter D. Greenspun, 31. A Mutt-and-Jeff pair of feisty, successful general practitioners, they are part of the county "courthouse crowd," well known to its close-knit community.

The team of attorneys defending David Davoudlarian includes Jack Rhoades, 41, a tall, silver-haired man with a silver mustache and the manner and diction of a southern gentleman. Rhoades does almost all the questioning and objecting.

His partner is Plato Cacheris, 55, who looks more like a professional baseball player than a Plato. He is best known in legal circles as the man who defended attorney general John Mitchell during the Watergate trials.

Greenspun warned jurors that the trial would be "an emotional roller coaster," and it has been.

Recesses were called twice in the first three days of testimony after witnesses dissolved in tears.

Once, Marlin Stewart, Susan Davoudlarian's father and the man who discovered the body, was on the stand describing his first close look. Overcome, he put his head on his hands and began to weep. The scene left several spectators in tears as well.

Judge Lewis H. Griffith called for a five-minute recess, and he left the courtroom immediately, as did Davoudlarian's two attorneys and many of the spectators.

Klein and Greenspun moved to comfort Stewart.

Davoudlarian, in full view of the jury moving slowly out of the box, remained seated in his chair, watching his ex-father-in-law sob.

After several moments of watching, Davoudlarian got up and walked out.

Who looks at whom, when, is inevitably a topic of interest in dramatic trials, and studying the looks has become something of a sport in this one.

The doctor sits to the right rear of the witnesses. The arrangement means he can look at them, but that the witnesses cannot comfortably return his gaze. Indeed, only one witness has even tried, the homicide detective assigned to the unsolved case, Thomas J. Lyons.

He turned the witness chair around to the right, and for most of his three hours on the stand talked directly to Davoudlarian, not five feet away.

The nine jurors -- eight men and a woman -- can see everyone. They come to court equipped with pens and small, yellow pads to take notes, a highly unusual privilege extended because of the case's length and complexity.

One elderly man on the jury appears to be trying to rival the court reporter for thoroughness in note-taking style, looking up from his pad only when something dramatic is said, glancing to his right and left to gauge the reactions of his fellows before returning to his notes.

Among those in the gallery are several neighbors of Davoudlarian.

Some bring legal pads and appear to be recording the drama almost verbatim.

One turned to an observer who walked in several hours after one of the afternoon sessions had begun and said, "You're late!" She offered her notes for review.