The narrator reports that the soldiers are arrested for a second time in Tehran, early on the morning of February 10th. Paul Berlin spends the next eight days alone in a prison cell, wondering what is happening to his friends. After this time, Berlin is handcuffed and brought into a large room, along with Stink, Eddie, Doc, Oscar, and Corson. Sarkin is thrown into this room as well. She kisses Berlin’s throat. Berlin sees that there are guards preventing him from escaping.
Sarkin’s kiss (on Berlin’s throat) is a little ominous, since Berlin knows that criminals can be beheaded for their crimes in Tehran. Sarkin provides Berlin with support and (presumably) sexual pleasure, but she’s still a strangely menacing character, with her own interests in mind and no real love for Berlin.
Inside his new prison room, Berlin asks Oscar why they were arrested. Before Oscar can answer, Captain Rhallon walks through the door. He apologizes profusely for the soldiers’ arrest, but admits that he doesn’t know what he can do to help them. Their situation, he claims, is “grave”—grave, he clarifies, as in “shaved head” grave. Thallon tells his “friends” that they’ve been arrested for desertion. He produces a dossier, which says that Doc and his fellow soldiers do not have the legal right to travel through Tehran, as Doc had claimed. In the meantime, the soldiers also face charges for carrying dangerous weapons—automatic firearms, grenades, knives, bayonets, etc.
Rhallon had seemed like a sinister character in the earlier chapters, despite his politeness, and our impression of him is confirmed here. Rhallon continues to be polite, but his politeness amounts to nothing—he’s perfectly willing to have the soldiers beheaded. Once again, it seems that the soldiers can’t run from the reality of their actions any longer—or, to put it another way, Berlin can’t imagine his way out of this situation without dipping into the fantastical.
Doc tries to explain his soldiers’ situation to Captain Rhallon: they are American infantry, assigned to capture a runaway soldier named Cacciato. Rhallon asks for Cacciato’s first name, but—as the narrator has already established—nobody knows it. Rhallon says that Doc and the soldiers seem to be the runaways—not the mysterious Cacciato. Rhallon points out the soldiers’ situation: they have no legal entitlement to be in Tehran, they have no evidence verifying their story, they have almost no information about the man they’re supposed to be chasing, and they have no license for their weapons. Rhallon promises to argue on the soldiers’ behalf, but also urges them to pray in the meantime.
Rhallon makes explicit what the soldiers have been thinking for some time now: they have no business chasing after Cacciato, since they’re essentially deserters themselves. It’s unusual that Lieutenant Corson doesn’t speak up in this scene—as a commander of other soldiers, and one who has contact with higher ranking commanders, he could seemingly provide Rhallon with a far more convincing story than the one Doc invents. But Corson is silent—as he usually is.
As Berlin waits for Rhallon’s help, he thinks back on his past. He played baseball games as a boy, and did fairly well in school. At times, he thought of studying at the University of Iowa. During his two years in junior college at Centerville, Berlin was unsatisfied, and told his counselor that he was going to drop out—a choice, the counselor reminded him, that would almost guarantee him a spot in the military.
We see that Berlin’s decision to join the army and fight in Vietnam really was a choice. This may seem obvious, but in fact the majority of people who fought in Vietnam had no desire to do so. The government reinstated the draft, forcing all young men to register for military service.
Shortly after the soldiers’ discussion with Captain Rhallon, they’re taken to a larger, more comfortable cell, which has sofas and rugs. They spend a great deal of time in this place—it could be hours or days. After an undetermined time, guards enter the room and explain that they’re going to shave the soldiers. As the guards proceed to shave everyone, Rhallon enters the room. He simply says, “I’m sorry. I did try.” He tells the soldiers that their government either isn’t aware of their presence in Tehran, or doesn’t want to acknowledge them. The “outcome” will take place tomorrow, but in the intervening time, a pardon might still be possible. With these words, Rhallon leaves the room.
Rhallon continues to promise the soldiers that there’s a slim chance of their being acquitted of the charges of desertion, but we sense that he’s merely being polite—he’s just trying to make the soldiers’ last hours on the earth a little more optimistic. Once again time seems like a fluid thing, and the whole situation feels dreamlike.
Shortly after Rhallon’s departure, another officer enters the soldiers’ cell. He points at Oscar Johnson and orders him to remove his sunglasses and step on them. Oscar refuses, and the officer responds by hitting Oscar on the nose, very hard. Oscar falls to the floor. Paul Berlin can’t stop smiling and giggling—something which annoys the officer considerably. Stink mutters that the officer is a Nazi. The officer hits Stink and tells the soldiers that they will confess to deserting. The narrator simplifies what happens next: the soldiers admit deserting and say, “We ran.” The officer also orders them to admit that their “mission” to recover Cacciato was a lie. The soldiers “confess” this as well. Finally, the officer tells the soldiers to admit that it is impossible to walk all the way to Paris. The soldiers do so.
As usual, Berlin responds to a traumatic situation by laughing uncontrollably—he seems to have taken Doc’s advice to heart. It’s interesting that the torture and confession scene is framed as a conflict between truth and fiction: the torturer wants the soldiers to admit that their story is just a fiction. This is almost automatically an antagonistic point of view in a novel about how fiction can change and improve reality. The most painful “confession” seems to be saying that it’s impossible to walk to Paris—a possibility that Berlin and the other soldiers have been restating throughout the book.