The "Neall Police" were on alert Tuesday night.
was 8:40 p.m. at the Anne Arundel County Board of Elections office in Glen Burnie, with the deadline for filing to run for office fast approaching.
"He's only got 20 more minutes," said perennial political spectator Mike Serabian. "This is where he'd have to come."
Maury Chaput, campaign manager for GOP Councilwoman Diane Evans, sat in a corner with a cellular phone holstered on his belt, prepared to spread the word in case Republican County Executive Bobby Neall walked in at the 11th hour to file for re-election.
An aide to Democrat Ted Sophocleus, who declared his candidacy for county executive the previous Friday, stood watch at the door. Her mission: to relay news of a Neall sighting to Mr. Sophocleus at the state Board of Elections in Annapolis, just in time for him to pull out of the executive's race and file for the House of Delegates.
8:57 p.m.: three minutes to Zero Hour. Still no Neall, but the Neall Police hadn't counted him out yet.
"As long as [he's] not here, I'm happy," said Democrat Rosemarie Church. "Though I had my heart set on smacking him in the mouth."
To which Mr. Serabian replied that they could both lean on the door to keep him out.
They needn't have worried.
Mr. Neall was miles away, sitting in his office atop the Arundel Center, fuming as the County Council struck down his plan for restructuring the fire department. If he hadn't been so mad, he would have been laughing at the thought of the little drama being played out up the road.
He knew perfectly well what was going on. In fact, he's been having a jolly old time for days watching the political community drive itself nuts with rumors about "what Bobby's going to do."
Louise Hayman, his press secretary, said he was half-tempted to show up at the elections office just before the filing deadline, just to see the look on everybody's faces.
"He's really been having fun with this at the last minute," she said.
People have been speculating that Mr. Neall, once an early favorite in the governor's race, might change his mind about getting out of politics ever since he said that was what he was doing. But this final wave of rumors was particularly intense.
"It got to be annoying," Mr. Neall said. "I would have these phone calls with people saying, 'When's the press conference?' I would say, 'I'm not having any press conference. There never was a press conference. There never is going to be a press conference.' "
This went on for more than a week. The press called. People working for other candidates called. Civic leaders called.
Finally, Mr. Neall said, two of his aides, Walter Chitwood and Myron Wotring, got so fed up they decided, "People want to gossip, let's give them something to gossip about."
So the Friday before the filing deadline they drove up to the elections office in Glen Burnie and asked for a set of filing papers for Mr. Neall.
It didn't take long for the fish to bite. The editors here at The Sun got phone calls on Friday from three Deep Throats offering the same scoop: Bobby has sent people for filing papers.
At the Arundel Center, a County Council aide said talk of an impending press conference was buzzing so loudly you'd have thought a horde of killer bees had descended on Calvert Street. And the phone calls kept coming. "People called me all day long," Ms. Hayman said. " 'What time is the press conference?' "
The Neall Police didn't let up until the clock struck 9 Tuesday night.
On Wednesday, the object of all this rumor and innuendo alternately laughed at and pitied all those who have refused to take him at his word.
"They're objects of their own paranoia," he said. "I don't know where they get this stuff. They need to get a life."
The guesswork might not be over yet.
"I haven't told you yet that I changed my name to Louise Rothschild Beauregard," Mr. Neall said, referring to the nice but nutty Annapolis lady who runs for something in every state, city or county election. Sure enough, this year there's a Louise Rothschild Beauregard signed up to run as a Democrat for county executive.
No, it isn't Mr. Neall in disguise.
"But if somebody told people that," he said, "they'd all be running down to see if a Louise Beauregard was living [at my house] in Davidsonville."
Elise Armacost is The Baltimore Sun's editorial writer in Anne Arundel County.