It is evening in Mandalay, shortly after the events of the previous chapter, and the troops have gathered together to eat dinner. Eddie raises an important question: what are the soldiers supposed to be searching for? Oscar Johnson replies that the soldiers will have to think like Cacciato, so they’ll have to search the brothels and bars. Eddie protest that these places “don’t sound like Cacciato,” but Johnson insists that they must all look there. Everyone drinks a toast to Harold Murphy, and to their memories together. Doc then proposes a toast to Lieutenant Corson—a man with, Doc claims, 25 years of combat service. He even proposes a toast for Cacciato. Afterwards, Eddie asks one more question—what do the soldiers do if they do find Cacciato? In answer, Corson makes a “vague, dismissive gesture with his hand.”
The scope of this novel is so broad that it’s sometimes easy to forget who is and isn’t a part of the squad at any given time. Here, O’Brien presents us with a big, boisterous scene in which the soldiers, including Corson (who hasn’t appeared in a while), bond with one another over alcohol. Eddie asks an obvious question, and the fact that Corson refuses to answer suggests that 1) Corson is slowly losing his mind; 2) the soldiers are more interested in leaving Vietnam than capturing Cacciato; and 3) Cacciato will probably have to die in the end—a fact that the soldiers don’t want to think about.
The soldiers establish their new routine: they wake up early in the Minneapolis Hotel, begin searching the city, then return to sleep. Paul Berlin is particularly confused by the new routine, and he can’t imagine where Cacciato could be. He walks with Sarkin through restaurants and teashops, never seeing a sign of Cacciato. Berlin tries to remember details of Cacciato’s personality that could help him find the man. Cacciato loves to fish, he remembers.
O’Brien endows Cacciato with a mystical, almost religious presence, and his love for fishing (which connects him to Saint Peter) is no coincidence. Berlin’s relationship with Cacciato isn’t entirely clear, but they seem to have been friends at one point: Berlin knows things about Cacciato that the others haven’t bothered to learn.
One day, Berlin and Sarkin are walking through Mandalay when Berlin—much to his amazement—sees Cacciato walking less than six feet in front of him. Cacciato is dressed as a monk, and his hands are folded. Around him there stand four other monks, all wearing identical robes. Berlin and Sarkin struggle to keep up with Cacciato in the crowded streets. They follow Cacciato and his fellow “monks” to a large altar, around which there’s a crowd. Berlin whispers that he’s “going after” Cacciato, and runs toward him.
In yet another coincidence, Berlin runs into Cacciato in a crowded city. Once again, we see Cacciato as a religious figure, and here the symbolism is made explicit. It’s never explained how Cacciato became a monk—it’s as if he can assume whatever shape is useful to him at a given time, or as if his physical appearance reflects Berlin’s idea of his character.
Berlin approaches Cacciato, now standing at the center of the crowd. The air smells of incense, and everyone is chanting together. As Berlin gets closer, he catches a glimpse of Cacciato’s face—or at least “what might have been Cacciato,” staring directly at him. Suddenly, two men seize Berlin by the arms and pull him back. Berlin tries to break free, but finds that the men are smothering him. Berlin sees Cacciato’s face only inches away from his own, and then Berlin loses consciousness.
None of the events in this section are explained later: we don’t know why Cacciato has henchmen, why Cacciato has become a monk, etc. This adds to the mood of surrealism in the story, as Berlin doesn’t even understand who he’s trying to chase down. Cacciato again seems almost superhuman, and impossible to capture.
When Berlin wakes up, he’s lying alone in a park, with Sarkin standing over him. Sarkin explains that he’s been passed out for hours. Berlin asks which way Cacciato went, and Sarkin, smiling slightly, points toward the railroad station—“The way to Paris.”
Here Sarkin seems to flaunt the fact that she and the soldiers are going to Paris, regardless of Cacciato’s presence there. The soldiers continue to keep up the pretense of a “mission,” but Sarkin smirks at this lie.