The waiting, D.C. Mayor Marion Barry declared yesterday, is the hardest part. And perhaps it was harder still to be summoned from a dentist's chair, slack-jawed with Novocaine, and whisked to federal court to face a verdict that did not come.
The mayor, who for weeks has tried to put his best face forward, even when confronted by devastating testimony in his drug trial, offered the public a tiny glimpse of the anxiety he is feeling as the jury considers the 14 criminal charges against him.
"There's a great deal of anxiousness on my part," Barry told reporters after the jury reached but did not disclose its verdict on one of the charges. "The waiting period's worse than the trial.
"I went through the trial a lot better than I'm going through the waiting period."
Barry might have been speaking for the District itself. Many city residents, including some of the mayor's staunchest supporters, desire a speedy end to the saga that has so dominated Washington and its public life during an election year.
"Everyone wants some conclusion here," said Lurma Rackley, the mayor's press secretary, who was one of several Barry aides who hurried to the U.S. District Court yesterday when television stations began broadcasting the news that a partial verdict apparently had been reached.
"It's frustrating," Rackley said of yesterday's roller coaster. But, she added, "Maybe on some metaphysical level, this will teach us that we can't make the verdict happen. We have to wait."
When no verdict was announced, observers at the courthouse could only interpret the signs and signals they thought the jury was sending through body language and facial expressions.
Rackley said she and Barry chatted briefly about the meaning of the unknown verdict, but declined to share the mayor's thoughts on the subject.
"People tend to read into it what they hope it means," Rackley said.
For Norm Nixon, a local radio talk-show host and a political protege of Barry's, the look of the jury seemed to suggest divisions that might be deep enough to produce a hung decision.
"I sense a kind of division there," said Nixon, who had gone quickly to the courthouse after seeing the television report. "Normally, jurors are in tune with each other, but they looked frustrated. They didn't look like a group. They looked divided."
Nixon, noting that Barry attorney R. Kenneth Mundy had identified some charges where he believed the defense was vulnerable, said Barry's future as a political force hangs in the same balance with any eventual verdicts.
"How he deals with the verdict, what his message is, will determine whether he stays politically viable," Nixon said. "He's still the preeminent politician in this city. Some of his supporters will come back if it's a mixed verdict; some will come back if he's exonerated."
After being summoned to the courthouse, Barry -- escorted by security officer Joseph Newman -- entered the courtroom, beamed at the audience and struck up conversations with reporters.
When U.S. District Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson gave both the defense and the prosecution the choice of asking for the verdict or waiting until the jury has decided all the charges, the mayor conferred for just over a minute with Mundy.
Mundy stood over his client, bending to whisper in his ear. Barry sat quietly, listening. He moved as if to loosen his tie, then stroked his chin, cupped his cheek, rubbed his eye. Whispering back to Mundy, he broke into a smile and slapped his left hand lightly on the table. They decided to receive the verdict -- a decision made moot when the jury declined to reveal what they'd decided.
In a news conference after the court appearance, Barry, well aware of the political and personal stakes in his case, said he was trying to remain "very humble, very prayerful" while he waits for the jury's decision.
"This is the democratic way it ought to be," Barry said of the process. "I'm waiting on the jury . . . . I can't read them, I can't tell what they're thinking about."
Although Barry said he wants "14 not-guilty counts, if I can get them," he added he is hoping to maintain his poise whatever the outcome.
"I've developed sort of an even keel here," the mayor said. "If I'm found guilty my mood would be about the same as it would be if I'm found not guilty."
Staff writer Barton Gellman contributed to this report.