They jostled, elbowed and squeezed shoulder-to-shoulder into every corner of Baltimore's stately City Council chambers Monday, hungry to watch the unfolding drama.
City Council President Lawrence A. Bell III and his former ally, Martin J. O'Malley, would meet publicly for the first time since O'Malley leapfrogged over Bell to grab the Sept. 14 Democratic mayoral primary victory.
As the council session's 5 p.m. starting time neared, the swelling rumble from the back-slapping, hand-gripping, broad-grinning crowd echoed off the chamber's vaulted ceilings. O'Malley made his entrance through the sea of faces like a boxer moving toward the ring. Surrounded by his entourage, Bell slid in from a side door. At the raised council dais, he stood high above and facing the 18 other council members. The crowd hushed.
Would Bell acknowledge the win by his former pal turned political enemy? Would O'Malley -- known for his chamber theatrics -- stand and pronounce himself the I-told-you-so victor over Bell and 15 other vanquished Democrats?
As it turned out, the evening's boldest statement would be made with flowers.
Roses. Two dozen of them, stuffed into clear glass vases on the desks of O'Malley and West Baltimore Councilwoman Sheila Dixon, Bell's heir-apparent as council president. O'Malley's were yellow, Dixon's red. Their odd presence in a room set aside for gritty city politics over the last century hypnotized the crowd, piquing its curiosity.
"You're the man," read the card inside the tiny white envelope attached to O'Malley's bouquet. It was signed only, "I'll tell you later."
Over the course of the meeting, O'Malley's bouquet dwindled as he placed single roses -- yellow signifying friendship -- on the desks of his female council colleagues.
In the end, no voices were raised in victory or hung in defeat. Bell congratulated O'Malley, but there were no dramatic speeches. Bills were introduced. Legislation vetoed. The names of 90 residents murdered in the city over the summer read aloud.
Except for the roses, business as usual.