The first question Marvin Mandel posed to his lawyer after learning of yesterday's court defeat was how the vote broke down.

There he was sitting in his suburban Annapolis office, suddenly reminded that he is a convicted felon again and Mandel was indulging in nuance.

"The governor was extremely interested in receiving details," reported lawyer Arnold Weiner. "That was his first reaction to the split decision.

"He wanted to know which judges voted to affirm and which to reverse."

It comes as little surprise that the former two-term Maryland governor would again reach for details. Tuning the fine points of politics was the lasting trademark of this man who could engineer elaborate vote-trading schemes in the legislature and turn a simple judicial vacancy into several political appointments.

Indeed, there is a touch of irony in the split decision that reinstated his conviction. "Marvin always taught us not to turst committees with even numbers," former chief of staff.

What surprises Mandel's closest friends is that he still has the energy to play the angles -- or in his own famous words, "work it out" -- after four years of investigations, embarrassing trials and the debilitating waits for appellate decisions.

"He's no longer the center of manipulations," remarked one of his closest political advisers. "Other people are doing it to him. You look at this guy, and it's almost anything can happen to him now. It's so un-Mandelesque.

"It's the consummate fall."

The political fall of Marvin Mandel has followed an unusual course, dramatized by sudden fits and starts that at times seem to finish him and at times seem to give him new life.

Just seven months ago, this resourceful son of the Baltimore precincts seemed reborn once more, cleared by an appeals court in Richmond less than a week before the expiration of his second term.

The return of Marvin Mandel was triumphal in those days, marked by midnight champagne toasts at the Annapolis Hilton's penthouse, an extraordinary march back to the State House by Mandel's legion of scruffy aids and finally his symbolic reclaiming of the governor's office for 45 1/2 hours.

For a few fleeting momemts on one of those evenings, it seemed as if nothing had ever changed. The dance floor cleared in the Hilton ballroom, making way for the reinstated governor and his wife Jeanne to glide across the floor to the tune "My Way."

"That's Marvin theme song," boasted Frank Harris, the burly political adviser, tapping his foot to the band's beat while never taking his eyes off the man he still calls "the bross." Several times, he repeated that "Marvin does things his way."

Suddenly, it was Mandel's town again in Maryland's riverside capital, Scarcely a day went by when the diminutive politician, his pipe rooted in his mouth and Jeanne at his side, missed a visit to the State House or breakfast in the famed "Governor's Office" booth at Chick and Ruth's Delicatessan.

Mandel had less than three months to savor his comeback, kidding his friends that he might make a run for the U.S. Senate, when the full appeals court in Richmond announced plans to rehear the case.

That announcement had a telling effect on Mandel, say his friends, who noticed that he began showing the first signs of strain and worry after years of stoicism.

He continued the daily calls to political associates, discussing national and state news, made all the obligatory public appearances at funerals and testimonials, and vacationing in Ocean City.

But the old jauntiness was missing, and he exhibited some fears about the legal happenings in Richmond, according to his friends.

When Weiner called his client with the bad news yesterday, he found the former governor in a characteristically calm mood. "It was not an emotional conversation," he said.

But the pain of this last court disappointment for Mandel rang through in the reaction of his longtime friend and fraternity brother, Hosty Alperstein.

"Enough's enough," Alperstein said. "I really can't say much more." CAPTION: Picture 1, 2 and 3, Marvin Mandel; Calender, A Chronology of Key Dates in the Trials of Former Maryland Gov. Marvin Mandel, By Alice Kress - The Washington Post