SAN FRANCISCO -- It began as expected. The grand jurors got off the elevator around 9 a.m., filing into a room guarded by federal marshals. The people who would decide Barry Bonds' future were all different races and ages. Most were women.
Dozens of reporters stood around on the 17th floor, waiting for someone to announce an indictment. So far, so good.
Only, less than a half-hour into their meeting, the jurors went back to the elevators. Without an indictment. After two grand juries and almost three years, the investigation of Bonds doesn't appear close to conclusion. A new grand jury will be convened and, according to the U.S. Attorney's office here, this will continue indefinitely.
"We have all heard the overworked adage that you can indict a ham sandwich," said a frustrated Michael Rains, Bonds' attorney. "And that's true. It's not hard to get an indictment. So what I say to the public is: If it were that easy, why don't they have an indictment? Why don't we? And the answer is: They don't even have enough to indict a ham sandwich, let alone Barry Bonds."
Everyone was stunned, including the San Francisco Giants slugger himself. When he got the call from Rains a little before 11 a.m., he couldn't believe it.
"You told me I was getting indicted!" Bonds was said to have exclaimed.
Well, most folks had thought so. Of course, that was before the circus came to town. It took a full day of surprise announcements and dueling press conferences and carefully worded statements to get us all right back where we started.
"I don't really think anything has changed," said Giants owner Peter Magowan.
The action started early Thursday. Greg Anderson, Bonds' friend and trainer who was being held in federal prison after refusing to testify, woke up to his last day in jail. His freedom may be short-lived, though. Anderson's attorney, Mark Geragos, said that his client has already been subpoenaed to testify next week before the new grand jury.
Anderson will not cooperate, according to his attorney.
"People can understand now," Geragos said, "when the government wants to get you, they generally don't give up. It's like Sisyphus rolling a rock up a hill."
Rains informed Bonds of the news early Thursday morning, when his own future was still in doubt.
"He says, 'When can I go back to working out with him?'" Rains said. "I said, 'Well, give me a break here. Not today.'"
Thursday morning was busy for the grand jurors, too. They got up in time to make it downtown for the 9:30 a.m. start to their day. For 18 months they've shown up, much of that time filled with talk of Bonds. Most who stepped off the elevator were smiling, happy to have their term over.
"We meet again," one called out.
Security was tight. All the signs showing directions to the grand jury room had been removed. Now and then, reporters would go down a floor to the clerk's office, checking to see if an indictment had been filed.
At 10:37 a.m., in an e-mail from the U.S. Attorney's office, the wait ended. No one called Rains, who learned of his client's reprieve from an ESPN.com reporter.
A legal fight averted, for a little while at least, the camps switched into spin mode.
Rains showed up in front of the courthouse at 1 p.m. to answer questions. His secretary -- the ubiquitous Maggie, who's become the new best friend of the reporters chasing Bonds -- said to meet him "on the sunny side of the courthouse."
"This is not a moment of great joy," Rains said when the cameras turned on. "There is at least temporary relief. This is a moment of humility. This is an issue that has plagued Barry, has followed him around on the ballfield and off the ballfield for three years now. He is hoping that this is the end of it. But he doesn't know that. Nor do I."
When Rains finished, he walked off toward his car. The reporters sprinted across town, where U.S. Attorney Kevin Ryan was giving a press conference announcing a federal case for stock fraud. Bonds might not have been indicted on Thursday, but Gregory Reyes and Stephanie Jensen, of a Bay Area company named Brocade Communications Systems, sure were.
The scene got weirder. As the business reporters asked one question after another, the baseball people waited. Finally, Ryan addressed the Bonds issue. He attempted to explain what exactly had gone wrong.
"We are not seeking an indictment today in connection with the ongoing steroid-related investigation," he said, "and have postponed that decision for another day in light of some recent developments."
And so it continues. Almost three years and counting. Grand juries serve 18-month terms, so there doesn't appear to be an end in sight.
"Now they're gonna try with 23 other people," said Laura Enos, another of Bonds' attorneys. "They don't have shinola."
At AT&T Park, as the word reached there, the Giants tried to make sense of this latest bit of news. Like all baseball fans, they've been riding this roller-coaster as well.
"They may think it's more over than it is," Magowan said.
When Bonds came to his locker, he brushed off all questions, as usual. The drama of the past two days already fading, things got back to normal -- as normal as they can be around Bonds.
"I'm not doing any interviews today," he grumbled.
Bonds turned his back, getting ready for another baseball game. The cloud remained.
Wright Thompson is a senior writer for ESPN.com and can be reached at email@example.com.