Last Thursday night, Lawrence Hogan, the county executive of Prince George's County, and James Taylor, the police chief of Petersburg, Va., rendezvoused in the dimly lit King's Quarters Restaurant, a roadside stop off Interstate 95 on the outskirts of Richmond.

There, as both men sipped soft drinks, Hogan made what he considered perhaps the most important decision of his tenure. He asked the 47-year-old Taylor to come to work for him as the new chief of the Prince George's police department.

It was the climactic chapter in a five-month tale of intrigue that saw Hogan maneuver around an old-boy network of county officers, a local judge, the head of the police union and the county council to find the man he wanted for the pivotal and sensitive assignment.

"We have been criticized about the length of time it took to select a chief of police," Hogan said yesterday at a press conference announcing Taylor's selection. "We have to plead guilty to that. This is the No. 1 selection of a department head that I will make in four years in office.

"I don't have to tell you that the Prince George's department has had a problem with its reputation. There is a latent hostility in the black community towards it. We need somebody who can be articulate to the community."

Hogan's lengthy search was not without frustration. While other county politicians and members of the police force constantly demanded that he choose someone from within Prince George's, Hogan was determined to do otherwise.

His first thought was to find a black chief. He personally solicited two blacks for the job. They quickly turned him down.

Then he contacted old friends in the law enforcement community and from his days with the FBI. One potential candidate Hogan contacted from a southern state said he would take the job if he were offered it, but that he would be hounded out of town if he applied for the post and got turned down.

"There's a saying around here," Hogen recalled this man telling him. 'If your heart ain't in Dixie, get your butt out."

One day, Hogan got a visit from a local circuit court judge. "Guess who I just ran into? -- Frank Mazzone," said Judge Vincent Femia to Hogan. "He'd make a great police chief."

Femia walked Hogan across the street to the county courthouse, where Mazzone, a veteran Maryland State Police captain, was testifying at a murder trial. Hogan had known Mazzone from the 1960s, when the detective investigated corruption charges Hogan had made against several county officials, including the police chief.

Hogan and Mazzone, who had not met in 13 years, greeted each other warmly. Mazzone was added to the list.

Then Rice Turner, an 18-year vetern of the Prince George's force and a James Garner lookalike, was recommended by former chief John W. Rhoads. Turner's name was added to the list, and drew an immediate negative response from the head of the police union, Laney Hester, who thought Turner was unacceptable because of his earlier position as the force's internal investigator. It took secret efforts by a friend of both Turner and Hester -- once again Judge Femia -- to make peace between the two. Later that day the police union endorsed Turner for the police chief's job. But the statement was greeted skeptically by Hogan's office.

David Hopper, the police chief of Roanoke, Va., was recommended to Hogan by the head of the FBI academy at Quantico, another old friend.

Taylor applied for the job in August, and thus because the only finalist who was neither recommended to Hogan nor solicited by him.

Taylor had served only 18 months as chief of the Petersburg, Va., force. The month before, he had been turned down for the Vancouver, Wash., police chief's job because he looked too much like the former chief, according to a Hogan aide.

What impressed Hogan about Taylor was that in being considered for the Vancouver job, he had finished first amoung the finalists in an intensive battery of psychological tests given to the candidates.

Hogan decided to give the finalists similar tests.

The four finalists -- Taylor, Mazzone, Turner and Hooper -- were invited to the headquarters of the international Association of Chiefs of Police in Gaithersburg for a series of tests that Hogan said would examine 22 different aspects of their abilities. Hogan aides, upset with press leaks, instructed their out-of-town candidates to withhold billing the county for their expenses until a selection was made -- an attempt to keep their names from entering the public record.

Then Taylor called to say that unfortunately he had a previous committment, and offered to withdraw his name from consideration. Instead, the tests were rescheduled.

The night before the tests last week, there were more problems for Taylor. A shooting incident in Petersburg lasted far into the night and Taylor got only three hours of sleep before driving to Washington early the next morning. The day after the tests, last Thursday, Hogan and his aides were told that on three hours of sleep, Taylor still had outperformed the other candidates.

That clinched it for Taylor. Hogan instructed his aides to set up a meeting for later that night. Taylor says that as he drove to the rendezvous point near Richmond, he had an idea what was coming. Once there, he told Hogan he would have to think about the offer over the weekend. His daughter had just gotten a new job and his son did not want to leave the high school soccer team. The following Monday, Taylor called Ken Duncan, one of Hogan's closest aides, and said he would take the job.

Hogan, who was out of town over the weekend, found out about it at 7 a.m. Tuesday. Within hours, the word was out in Prince George's, and the reaction among those who wanted an "insider" for the chief's job was less than enthusiastic.

Said Hester, in a reference to Hogan's Richmond rendezvous and selection of Taylor: "How could Hogan go from the candidates he had rejected and end up at an exit off I-95?"

Meanwhile, that same afternoon, James Taylor sat in his wood-paneled office in Petersburg, chain-smoking, drinking coffee from his Farah Fawcett-Majors coffee mug, and thinking about how he would tell his staff that he was leaving for Prince George's County.