-- Claude Delorme first put together the binder three baseball seasons ago. Twenty-six pages, countless tasks. The Montreal Expos, the team for which Delorme serves as executive vice president for business affairs, was supposed to evaporate into thin air, back when Major League Baseball planned to buy the team and then eliminate it. Seemed like someone should have a list of things to do if and when that happened, so the binder was born.

Sell furniture. Check.

Meet with concessionaire. Check.

Lay off employees. Check, but not without a knot in your stomach like none you have ever known.

"Before, it was just a working document," Delorme said earlier this month. "Now, it's subject to implementation."

Even as MLB's plan to move the Expos from Montreal to Washington awaits a vote by the D.C. Council on a new stadium financing plan, there is the distinct sense of finality in the team's former home. The remaining staff works in quiet offices at Olympic Stadium just a floor above the locker room and training facilities, where the fitness equipment already bears tape indicating its future destination: "RFK weight room." In Washington, Expos President Tony Tavares is trying to set up team offices and hire personnel with the political upheaval as an ominous backdrop. In Montreal, the backdrop is that of careers ending, of people looking for something else to do. "In our department, nobody would leave the team if it was still here," said Chantal Bunnett, the team's scoreboard operator, a native of Montreal who had been with the Expos for 19 years, since she was 20. "We just loved it. It was probably one of the greatest jobs you could have in your life. It's sad."

Delorme himself has worked for the team for 24 years, more than half his life, ever since a summer internship turned into a full-time job. It is the only full-time workplace he has ever known. And while the political wrangling in the capital city of another nation might cause headaches and angst for residents and officials there, Delorme can only turn to his binder -- which could be titled, "How to Close a Major League Baseball Franchise" -- for the kind of faux solace that comes with total immersion in a task.

"You get very attached to everybody after being here for 24 years," Delorme said. "But things have been so intense, I'm not sure I've had the real opportunity to say to myself, 'Take a step back.' I haven't had the opportunity to say, 'You know what? It's over.' "

With that, Delorme leaned back at his desk, smiled, and laughed.

"One thing you'll notice about Claude," Tavares said, "is that when things are getting to him, he tends to make a joke and laugh about it. That's the way he deals with it. But it's been tough. No question, it's been tough."

Toughest, though, for the rank-and-file employees, some of whom don't know what they'll do next. Because immigration laws don't allow most employees -- those without a specific skill, such as baseball talent evaluation -- to move with the team to the United States, the Expos are trying to help with the transition to other careers in Canada. The team hired an outside consulting firm to come to the offices and work with employees on how to write a resume, how to conduct themselves in an interview, how to go about moving on with their lives.

"They've been detached from the real world," Delorme said. "We're trying to facilitate their transition from leaving the Expos to getting new work, on down the line."

That includes some employees who have been with the club since 1969, its first year. Monique Giroux first came to work for the Expos as an intern when she was still in college at Sir George Williams University, now called Concordia University. She has worked in the media services department ever since, through every ownership group, every general manager, every manager, countless players.

"Now, I really don't know," Giroux said. "I don't know what I'll do next. Wait and see, I guess. Wait and see."

But what's happening inside the walls at Olympic Stadium -- where cardboard boxes are more prevalent all the time, where the staff will be down to about 10 people by Christmas -- is detached from the daily business of the city as winter rolls in. Baseball? Not now. Not ever again, in all likelihood.

"The city's going to be sad for a long time," Bunnett said, "but most of the people won't realize it until next summer, when there's no baseball."

At La Cage Aux Sports, a sports bar in Bell Centre -- home to the Montreal Canadiens -- talk tends to center more on the NHL lockout, or even soccer, according to the wait staff. When the city's former team hired a general manager this month, the development warranted a single paragraph in one newspaper, eight in another. During the baseball playoffs and the World Series, far more Montrealers were caught up in the dramatic exchanges between the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees than on the intricacies of the Expos' departure.

"That's the bitter-sweetness of this," said Mitch Melnick, who hosts an afternoon drive-time call-in show on the city's all-sports radio station. "Montreal's close enough that if you're not an Expos fan, you're a Red Sox fan or a Yankees fan, so there was lots of interest in that. But anybody born and raised in this area who's gone through the whole litany of disastrous moves on and off the field knows this is a baseball town.

"If this had happened anywhere else, there would be much more attention to the unfairness of it all. The national media in the U.S., for the most part, didn't get it till it was too late. They got caught up looking at the box score and seeing, 'Well, there were 4,000 people at the Expos game.' They forgot that this was once a model franchise with a deep tradition."

In some corners of the city, there are not only reminders of the Expos' presence -- pictures of six current players still adorn the walls of the Pie-IX Metro stop below Olympic Stadium -- but flickering signs of optimism, however dim. A group called Encore Baseball Montreal continues to maintain a Web site and monitor the developments on the D.C. Council.

"I've seen this saga go in so many different directions, it's kind of like you think it's over, and it's not over," said Robbie Hart, a filmmaker and member of Encore Baseball Montreal. "As a diehard fan, why would I not hope? It's like if your brother's in a coma. You're going to hope he wakes up. Until I'm told he's clinically dead, then I'll hope."

Delorme can't afford to think that way, as much as he wants to, as much as he calls himself someone who is "always looking at the glass being half full." Instead, he turns each day to the binder, thinking about what must be done to have the team effectively shut down by the Christmas holiday, as is the goal, though the accounting and payroll department will remain here until a new owner can be found.

"I don't want to be closing this down next July," Delorme said.

Tucked underneath the massive slabs of concrete that make up Olympic Stadium, there are still reminders of the franchise that developed Pedro Martinez into a Cy Young Award winner, that brought newly crowned American League MVP Vladimir Guerrero up though its minor league system. A display in the lobby of the team offices, Suite 4549, holds the jerseys of Andre Dawson and Gary Carter, two of the club's signature stars from the 1980s, not to mention a pair of plaques marking attendance of more than 2 million fans in a single season.

On a cold, gray afternoon this month, though, the baseball field was being reconfigured for a Canadian Football League playoff game to be hosted by the Montreal Alouettes. The souvenir shop on the stadium's concourse has thus been outfitted with Alouette T-shirts, pennants and ski caps.

In the locker room, boxes are stacked where the players once dressed, and the suit for Youppi, the team's gigantic orange mascot, is draped, beheaded, over a rail in a locker. A stone on the desk of Manager Frank Robinson -- a desk that will either be sold or shipped to Washington -- reads "Teamwork is the fact that allows people to attain uncommon results."

An uncommon result, at this point, would be for the team to ever return here, despite the difficulties in Washington. Even as he comes to work each day to deal with the next task in the binder, Delorme said he does so with his head high, and he tells his employees to do the same. Marvin Rotrand, a Montreal City Council member for 22 years and a supporter of the Expos, said Delorme and the team employees that remain have nothing of which to be ashamed. Rotrand says he knows he is in the minority -- and that even Delorme is moving on -- but he simply can't let the Expos go quietly. In turn, he warns Washingtonians about the machinations of Major League Baseball.

"There's sadness here, but it's not sudden," Rotrand said. "There's a general feeling among fans here that for years they've been abandoned by baseball. This is just the final step."

A display in the lobby of the Expos' Montreal offices holds the jerseys of Andre Dawson, Gary Carter, two of the club's signature stars from the 1980s.A worker watches while a crew lays down turf at Olympic Stadium, former home of the Expos, for a Canadian Football League game hosted by the Montreal Alouettes.Ultimately, it was empty seats that forced Expos' move. "It's sad," said scoreboard operator Chantal Bunnett.