HARTFORD -- On the morning of the inauguration, Jan. 5, Roy Occhiogrosso and his wife are invited to the Official Residence on Prospect Avenue. Gov. M. Jodi Rell and her husband, Lou, have asked Dan and Cathy Malloy and a few close associates in for a formal lunch before Malloy returns to the Armory to be sworn in. The outgoing governor greets him at the door. Her eyes twinkle as she gently tweaks Occhiogrosso, the long-suffering Democratic operative: "I know how long you've been waiting to come here." He has, in fact, never been inside the official residence. Not even in those years working for Kevin Sullivan, the Senate President Pro Tem, when John Rowland would convene budget meetings off-campus, away from the prying eyes of the legislators. Roy always found an excuse. Such was the bitter residue of losing to Rowland in 1994 -- his first big race, like a big love, confounding and thwarting all the heart-rushes to come afterward. But Rowland won, two more times, and it fell to the feds, to the FBI and the U.S. Attorney's office, and the legislative Committee of Inquiry to do what Roy Occhiogrosso and the Democratic Party had not been able to do: pry John Grosvenor Rowland out of the second-floor office at the Capitol. Little satisfaction for Roy, though it eased the ache a bit, that the feds could also do what he couldn't have dreamed of -- send the guy they'd called a crook into an actual prison. That was in 2005. By then, Occhiogrosso had his first meeting with the guy from Stamford. "Hair like this" -- Occhiogrosso gestures with his hands to suggest an even more egregious addiction to gel than persists now -- and without a map when it came to putting their plan together, but God, he looked like a governor. The Fairfield County thing, as if they were born wearing black suits and Windsor knots, talking with the blade edges of their right hands in constant chop. And this guy, Dan Malloy, he had a story, too. "He was all about the story then," Occhiogrosso recalls, the personal plight and the Stamford turnaround, the declining crime stats and the mushrooming job growth. He could be the one. Five and a half years is a long time. By the time they come to the end of their pre-inauguration lunch, Roy Occhiogrosso and Dan Malloy have adapted a careful choreography. So when Roy rises and heads out to the front steps, Malloy follows him. "I think he said something like, `Are you riding over with us?'" Roy says. "And I said, `No, we have our own car, Erin drove.' And I looked at the motorcade and just thought, `That's your life now.' And he looked at me." Roy and his wife, Erin, walk down the sloping U of the driveway to retrieve their car, and behind them comes the fusillade sound of the police motorcycles being kicked to life and revving happily. Hold on, Roy Occhiogrosso tells her, I want to watch this. The motorcycles go by in pairs, white-painted bodies and blue-and-red lights flashing from the lockboxes mounted over the rear wheels. Behind them comes the black Lincoln, easing through the gates, dipping into the bricked ditch of a gutter, the asphalt scuffing the plastic chin of the car's front end. Roy Occhiogrosso looks through the window of the turning Lincoln and sees Dan Malloy's face. He's staring off into space, the familiar, purposeful, thousand-yard stare, but this time, somehow, a little wistful. Occhiogrosso knows that part of this wistfulness arises from all that lives in the boss' memory: "I finally got it. My whole life, harder than everyone's. They all said I couldn't do it. Now I'm here." But there's something else, too. The black car and the troopers and the sirens and what's to come: an oath, a blast of Howitzers, planes flying overhead, the mansion, the power to govern the state of his birth flowing from the blue ballpoint pens just now being printed in the Bic factory, Dannel P. Malloy's name and signature stamped on the cap. Say farewell to a normal life. "I remember him pulling up in front of my office in his Jeep and not being able to find a place to park," Roy says. "Now the guy has a motorcade." Roy's wife will be his ex-wife before the year is out, but she has been with him for this whole ride, from the first campaign to now. She looks at him, at his wonder, and just says: "Wow." THE inner circle Roy Occhiogrosso is a Malloyalist. There's a legion of them and their pre-eminent virtue is loyalty. Almost any political operation would say the same, but it's especially true in this one. The governor himself is fond of reminding people, even allies, of the length of his memory. (Watch the mayor of Hartford blush at the fundraiser as Malloy reminds the crowd that Pedro Segarra was a Ned Lamont supporter in the primary. Watch him blush the next week, at the next fundraiser, when Malloy does it again.) The loyalty is not just team-playing. It reflects Malloy's needs. He thinks on his own, in his long musing stares out the window of the rushing car, and in his quiet phone consultations with advisers and confidantes. But Malloy reasons in a group. With his closest associates he makes the decisions that will define what his governorship will be like, how it sounds and feels, how it works or doesn't work. He needs these people, depends on them. Occhiogrosso has the title of senior adviser, but he will tell you he is more. He's been by Malloy's side since the "political near-death" of discredited allegations of corruption in the first campaign. Communications Director Colleen Flanagan came to the group with experience on state and national campaigns and endeared herself immediately to Occhiogrosso and Malloy with her fiery temper and her facility for managing the hectic pace of the modern press. Nancy Wyman, the lieutenant governor whose long and fierce advocacy for the state's public employee unions would be sorely tested in her new job, is newer to the team, but she was critical to Malloy's victory. She's brought along Mark Ojakian, her longtime deputy, who gets the assignment of negotiating a concessions deal with those unions. There is Tim Bannon, the chief of staff, who met Malloy when Bannon was special counsel to Purdue Pharma, the drug manufacturer in Stamford. Bannon quickly saw how the businesslike mayor shared his zeal for government that ran efficiently, cracklingly rational. Things should be done right, he thought, and Malloy looked, to a veteran of the last Democratic administration to guide the state, like a politician who could do things right again. Ben Barnes, too. The boyish budget chief looks younger than 42. He must have looked like an intern when Malloy spotted him working for the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities and brought him on as director of operations in Stamford. Now, he is the obvious choice to police the state's troubled finances. The governor, never much for affection, is delighted by Barnes and his zeal for problem-solving within the budget's minutiae, his quavering outrage at the waste and the stupid inefficiencies built up in government like calcium in a wastewater pipe. THE LONGEST ASSOCIATE Andrew McDonald's association with Malloy is older than even Occhiogrosso's, and deeper. McDonald barely knew Malloy when he approached him, confirming an old pledge of support, asking him to run his campaign for mayor. McDonald said yes, though he had his own campaign to run for the Board of Representatives, and a primary, too. It was the hardest campaign yet, but the sweetest. They won, and soon McDonald, Malloy's corporation counsel in the city of Stamford, was telling the mayor to return the favor. Malloy ran McDonald's campaign for the state Senate, and he won, and somewhere in there, the tall, proud man with the uproarious laugh and zeal for political combat became one of the Malloys' closest friends and now the governor's chief counsel. McDonald is also part of the reason they jokingly refer to themselves as "the gayest administration ever." It is a reflection of Malloy's profound progressiveness on social and gender matters, even for a Democrat, that they so readily joke about it. It is also a reflection of the personal pride the governor takes in the politics of inclusion. It is no mistake that Malloy lobbies hard in the final hours before a vote on new anti-discrimination protections for transgendered people. His friend Rachel, a former colleague in Stamford, has been through transition. Malloy's personal loyalties coincide with the assumption that they all share about the inevitability of equality. They're getting on the right side of history. That's one thing Malloy's friends love about him. After the bill passes, McDonald tells the governor, brightly: "All the trannies love you!" He smiles and laughs. Their instinct is to protect him, to hit hardest on Dan Malloy's behalf when they believe someone has attacked him unfairly, invoked his family in an argument or put the governor's brand at political risk. Occhiogrosso envisions the political operators and those who want a piece of his boss as creepers, people clambering over the castle walls. It his job (and Bannon's and McDonald's) to sling them back. They pride themselves on their forethought, not just about policy -- it is unquestioned that whatever path they choose to follow will be christened "good public policy" -- but about the way policy will be received in the Capitol and out in the world. (That confidence is viewed as unbridled arrogance by those who disagree with their political views.) They share the burden of the loyal everywhere. They worry on his behalf. They groan at the thought of him having to bear a scandal, or even just a batch of bad press. When Malloy catches them worrying, even if he's worried himself, he grins. He teases them about their thin skins. This loyal family of his. the loyalist in chief "They've got the Malloyalty," Arielle Reich says. Arielle Reich coined the term: Malloyalists. Of course she did. In the team of devotees she might be the closest to Dan Malloy. It was inevitable. The sardonic, quick-witted young woman who joined the primary campaign in 2006 bonded first with Cathy Malloy; it was her job to drive the candidate's wife around. They still can't tell their stories about that campaign without lapsing into breathless laughter, like sisters recounting a prank. The time they liberated the picture of Miss Deaf Connecticut from an office. Or the absurdist tour of the nursing home, Cathy Malloy trying to campaign on behalf of her husband as an old man croaked at them the only name he cared about in 2006: "Leeeeee-buh-men!" On the road with the governor now, and in the office, her formal title is director of intergovernmental affairs, but in reality her chief role is loyalist in chief. Not because she and Dan Malloy always get along. "You are the meanest person in the world, you know that," she calls out to him from her desk. Malloy sits in his adjacent office, giggling, delighted that his latest tweak has found its mark -- a quip about her foray into veganism, or her succession of subpar Hartford apartments, each better fodder for a gubernatorial tease than the last. And she gets him back in turn. This is how Malloyalists express themselves. Arielle, like Cathy Malloy, counts the governor's "quite franklys " and "extraordinarys," depending on which is the phrase he can't quit repeating. She zeroes in on the Bronxy flatness that creeps into his pronunciation (the airport in northern Queens: "La Gwaddiah"; where do 5-year-olds go: "kindygarten"). Behind the kidding is real work. He always wants to move, he can't stand to sit still. Someone has to read his moods, to hand him his briefing papers, to manage the torrent of phone calls and calendar updates as the Lincoln bombs down route 2 or 8. Where is he supposed to be going? Arielle will know. Someone has to run interference with the family members who want just a minute of his time on the days when he's already 20 minutes behind. This means she's always working, almost always, when he works. They growl at each other -- they're sick of it, they don't want to deal with this parade or that night event -- but even when she has the opportunity to kick some of these trips over to one of the other staffers, more often than not, she gets into the car. A COMMON BOND Why do Dan Malloy and Arielle Reich get along so well? He floats his own explanation one night in the fall. It bowls her over ("Governor just blew my mind," she writes in a text message to a friend) because it's something she has thought for so long but never said to him. There is just something about almost dying young -- like he did, deathly ill with pancreatitis in high school, and like she did, the cancer diagnosis just after they lost the primary in 2006. You don't want to waste any more time. You lose your sympathy for the people who don't seem like they are working as hard as their bodies will let them. Maybe that's why. That and it's just so fun, to have made it, to have won, that even the exhaustion and frustration and the long hours are washed away by a little gallows humor at the end of the long day. "Aaargh," she says, slamming a phone down at her desk. Zack Hyde, the scheduler, looks over warily then grins. Reich is enveloped in work, needs a new apartment, can't find a free moment to so much as unpack. Her desk is piled high with memos, invitations to receptions and ribbon-cuttings, a Sarah Palin noisemaker ("In what respect, Charlie?"), a disused Geiger counter, a photo of Dan and Cathy Malloy at the Democratic National Convention, a picture of Roy Occhiogrosso's kids. "I don't even have enough time to own the cat that will eat my face when I die alone!" Zack and Arielle collapse in laughter. The governor of Connecticut comes bursting from his office, at a trot. "I missed it! I missed it!" Dan Malloy says. "What'd she say?!" Tomorrow: The Malloy administration thinks it has a budget deal. But suddenly House Speaker Chris Donovan wants to tweak the agreement. Once again, the governor and members of his own party are at sharp odds.