The drivers of the animal control truck pulled into the Venice Boulevard parking lot and took the spot behind the beach maintenance shed, which Smelzkoff had marked off. Another truck, this one a smaller backup van, was already in place in the parking lot at the end of Washington. From his command post in the hexagon-shaped lifeguard tower, Smelzkoff alerted the rest of the team by radio that everything was Go. One didn't have to memorize the battle plans of Geronimo or Napoleon or Rommel to know that numbers (and the element of surprise) were essential. So he had read a West Point textbook or two about famous battle strategies. So what. Common sense, a strong sense of purpose, the desire to do what was right would be sufficient for them to prevail—with proper preparation.
Smelzkoff consulted his synchronized military wristwatch. "Minus two minutes and counting," he announced into the walkie-talkie. "Prepare to advance at eighteen hundred hours."
Secrecy too. Secrecy counted. He probably shouldn't have said anything to Bobby. He shouldn't have warned him. In the future he wouldn't be able too.
Cavalrymen on horseback were posted under the fishing pier at Washington, out of sight. He could barely see them even through binoculars, though it was still an hour until the sun set. The force of ten would move north along the water's edge in synch with the ten officers paired in five Sport Utility Vehicles on the beach and the ten cavalry cops on bicycle, who would advance on the boardwalk. The police car units were ready on Speedway Avenue as well. A force of twenty men was stationed on foot at the Venice Boulevard parking lot too.
The strategy, simply, involved sweeping the dogs and owners north to Venice Boulevard into the hands of the waiting foot patrolmen. The routes of escape would be cut off as they tightened the noose.
Two helicopters flew past, one at a slightly higher altitude, rattling the windows of the observation tower. It had rained earlier in the day and the skies hadn't cleared until three. Smelzkoff had worried that there would be a light turnout, but the owners and dogs were out in force, the more arrogant of them allowing their dogs to romp across the sand, and in and out of the surf. He moved the binoculars to the grassy area east of the bike path. A quick estimate told him there were at least forty dogs and owners, and he didn't see a single leash in use. All his efforts had led to this. No one listened. No one cared. They would reap what they had sowed.
Smelzkoff gripped the walkie-talkie. "Attention all units. Attention all units. Minus twenty and counting." He watched as the second hand swept forward. "Minus ten, nine, eight, seven, six," he said. Every hair on his neck, on his arms, on his body for that matter, stood at the ready. His skin prickled with excitement. Finally the moment he had waited for. "Attack," he yelled into the transmitter. And then thinking that attack might be a bit too aggressive, he said, "Proceed. All units proceed north to the target area." He saw the horses first, as they galloped out from under the pier, and then the Sport Utility Vehicles sped onto the sand from the Washington parking lot. He saw the bicycles on the boardwalk last and he radioed the helicopters to confirm that the officers on Speedway Avenue were in motion; after the confirmation came back, he focused on the dogs and their owners. The gangly, freckled woman who owned the freckled pointer named Cinnamon turned and stared in the direction of the advancing troops. Smelzkoff saw her mouth open as she yelled at the others and he watched as she excitedly began waving her arms. The word spread faster than a brush fire in Topanga Canyon, confirming to Smelzkoff the importance of surprise and speed. On signal the helicopters had begun flying in concentric circles over the area. "Do not attempt to leave the area," Smelzkoff said over the public address speaker mounted on the lifeguard tower. "Do not attempt to leave the area."
The force Smelzkoff had assembled moved north with great speed. The horses galloped in the surf, as the swell of the sea broke upon shore, further agitating the water and creating a hurricane of spray. The Sport Utility Vehicles left a storm of swirling sand and dust in their wake; the bicycle cops pumped the pedals of their bikes furiously, and sirens blared from the cruisers advancing on Speedway Avenue. The owners scrambled for their leashes and tried in vain to fasten them on their dogs' collars before the force reached them, but they were no match for the battalion of trained soldiers, which Smelzkoff had assembled. He thought about the homo who had been robbed, and scanned the ground in an effort to spot him. "Dogs are our protection," the man had said. But they can't protect you from yourselves, thought Smelzkoff.
For the next few minutes so much happened so fast that Smelzkoff would have trouble later putting events in proper sequence for his written report. Several offenders jumped walls and took refuge in some of the ocean facing houses and apartments; about a half dozen were fast enough to bolt across Speedway before the units could intercept them and Smelzkoff assumed that they had crossed Pacific Avenue and disappeared among the canals. But all the others, thirty-one dog lovers, to be specific, were captured and taken to the animal control van in the Venice lot for processing. Ten or so stood defiantly and refused to run, refused even to budge and they ultimately had to be handcuffed and led with force to the truck.
Tickets were issued for all sorts of violations. Dogs on sand, dogs on bike path, dogs without city licenses, dogs without proof of vaccination. A couple of owners attempted to supply false information, claiming they were new to the area, but Smelzkoff, who had come down from the tower to supervise the citation process identified each and every one, shuffling through his stack of manila file folders until he located the proper one.
"According to my records Mr. Kaufman, you've lived here for seven years; your dog, Kimba, a Bull Mastiff is five years old and you've already been cited three times in the last year for having your animal on the beach." A pause, three beats to allow the man to reflect on things, and Smelzkoff said, "Any questions? Supplying false information to a police officer is grounds for arrest. You're going to need a lawyer."
"Where did you get my picture?" said the thin man, his jaw set in anger.
People were coming to the parking area in large numbers now to see what the commotion was all about. Seeing the horses and bikes and jeeps and cruisers all gathered together in the parking lot, Smelzkoff had to admit that he had marshaled one impressive armada. All they lacked were tanks. The invasion at Normandy hadn't been any better planned. It wasn't necessary to take most of the owners to the station; they were angry and in shock but too traumatized to protest to any great extent.
Smelzkoff wasn't sure, but he suspected that Gloria Deacon was who had leaked plans of their operation to the media. Almost every station sent a reporter and camera crew.