Just past midnight, the narrator and the General arrive at the General’s house. The General says that, though he appreciates the narrator’s courage in offering to go back to Vietnam, he’ll need him in Los Angeles—that is, unless the narrator can prove that he’s capable of “doing what needs to be done.” If he does, then he can return to Vietnam. The narrator doesn’t know what to do. Meanwhile, he’s received a letter from the Parisian aunt in which Man has written that he is not to return; they need the narrator in America. The narrator burns the letter, like the others, in a wastebasket. In burning it, he feels that he’s sending it to hell or making an offering to a deity who’ll keep him and Bon safe.
The General subtly implies that the narrator can go to Vietnam if he can prove his courage by killing Sonny. For the narrator, this is a moral quandary because he doesn’t want to kill Sonny, who may no longer be his friend due to his relationship with Sofia, but still doesn’t deserve to die for his unfavorable editorials. On the other hand, he cannot allow Bon to go back to Vietnam on his own, knowing that his blood brother will likely be captured and killed by the Communists.
While playing pool at a billiards hall the following night, the narrator tells Bon about the General’s offer. Bon calls him an idiot for wanting to go back. He also speaks of what the General would not and talks to the narrator directly about what it will be like to kill Sonny. He thinks that Sonny’s getting what he deserves for having a big mouth. Bon says, again, that this isn’t murder but “assassination.” For Bon, the task is simply to kill Viet Cong. However, the problem with killing Viet Cong is that there are always more. Moreover, Sonny isn’t Viet Cong.
Bon thinks that the narrator is foolish for wanting to fight in a war in which he isn’t needed. He knows nothing about killing and has to be guided in understanding what it would be like to shoot someone. Bon makes the distinction between murder and assassination because he doesn’t believe that Sonny is innocent. The General’s suspicions, as well as his Communist sympathies, make Sonny suspect.
The narrator goes to Lana for solace. He arrives at her apartment with a bottle of wine. He looks out her window and points to one of the grand homes on a hill, one of which belongs to the Auteur. He confesses to her about having wanted to kill the director. She shrugs and says that everyone fantasizes about killing people. The narrator also says that he’s fantasized about killing his father. He tells Lana that his father was a priest. Her shocked reaction reminds the narrator that she’s innocent. She asks if he’s forgiven his father. The narrator says that sometimes he thinks he has; but, he hasn’t really, especially when he thinks about his mother. When Lana puts her hand on his knee, the narrator announces that he should go.
The narrator’s father and the Auteur are the only two men whom the narrator has expressed any wish to kill, though he’s killed others whom didn’t want to. Aside from being white, both men have in common a tendency to deny the narrator’s legitimacy and have tried to control the narrative around his origins. By killing them both, he could tell his own story. Both men represent different forms of cultural colonization.
The narrator spends an hour driving from Lana’s apartment to Sonny’s. He breathes deeply to control his nervousness. He parks his car around the corner from Sonny’s apartment. He takes off his blue polo shirt and slips on a white T-shirt. He then takes off his brown loafers and khakis and puts on a pair of blue jeans and canvas shoes. Finally, he puts on a reversible windbreaker and a fedora. Leaving the car, he carries with him a free tote bag that he got for subscribing to Time magazine. Inside is a backpack containing the clothes he’s just taken off, along with a baseball cap, a blond wig, a pair of tinted glasses, and a black Walther P22 with a silencer. Bon bought the gun with a packet of cash from the General.
As with the previous “assassination,” clothes play an important role in the narrator’s assumption of the guise of an assassin. The fedora is an odd touch, as though the narrator is mimicking the look of a killer from a 1940s film noir. The things inside of his backpack, particularly the blond wig, seem even more absurd. The costumes indicate his discomfort with committing murder and his need to convince himself that it’s someone else performing these acts.
The narrator checks his watch. It’s a little past 9:00 PM. He rings the intercom. He announces himself and Sonny buzzes him in. He takes the stairs to the second-floor apartment and peeks into the hallway to make sure no one’s around. Sonny opens the door a second after the narrator knocks. The apartment smells like fried fish, steamed white rice, and cigarette smoke. The narrator clutches the tote bag. Sonny thinks the narrator is there because of Sofia. The narrator notices, “on the wall above the table,” the same clock as in the General and Madame’s restaurant, also set to Saigon time.
Time is important in this scene. The narrator wants to be precise about time so that he can come up with a sensible alibi if he’s ever questioned about Sonny’s murder. He clutches his tote bag as though to remind himself of why he’s at the apartment, of the promise he made to the General and, more importantly, his promise to Bon. Sonny’s possession of the same clock as the General is a sign that he never abandoned his concern for Vietnam.
Sonny is sorry that he and the narrator have never had a proper talk about Sofia. The narrator claims fault for never having written to her. When Sonny gets up to get him a drink, the narrator puts his hand on the gun in the tote bag. The narrator feels glued to the seat. Nodding at the stereo, Sonny asks if the narrator has just heard the announcer say that the Vietnamese have invaded Cambodia. The narrator thinks that the border clash with the Khmer Rouge will be a stroke of good luck for the General. Everyone will be too distracted by it to pay attention to the Laotian border, where the refugee army intends to re-enter Vietnam.
The news on the radio about the invasion of Cambodia, which caused the start of the year-long Cambodian-Vietnamese War, places the date of Sonny’s murder on December 25, 1978. This is the second instance in which a political murder has been carried out in the novel on an important American holiday. Once again, the narrator is holding a bag, as though he’s come bearing a gift.
Sonny sips his bourbon and says that he promises not to talk anymore about politics, though he finds it hard to talk about anything else. This is why he loves Sofia; she can tolerate his obsession. He tells the narrator that they never planned anything; they just started talking at the wedding and didn’t stop. The narrator looks down at the nearly empty glass that he cups in his hand and sees his red scar through the bottom. Sonny says that Sofia described to him what it meant for her to be an American. She talked about having to claim the country. If one doesn’t claim America, she said, one ends up in an internment camp or on a reservation or a plantation. The country never gives itself to someone like her, and she has nowhere else to go. If she has children, they’ll be American, too. At the sound of her words, Sonny says, he found himself overwhelmed by desire and wanted to have a child with her.
The narrator lets Sonny talk. This may be so that Sonny can exorcise some of his guilt about Sofia, or the narrator may be letting him talk because these are the last words that Sonny will ever say. In either case, the talk is a kind of confession and Sonny seeks to absolve himself for his perceived betrayal. He confesses that he needs Sofia because she understands the political importance of citizenship. Non-white people are not granted their status as Americans; they must fight for that status. The narrator listens but is focused on his scar, which reminds him of the only thing to which he is truly bound—his oath to Bon.
Sonny says that he knows that he probably won’t have a child with Sofia, but he wants to think of someone other than himself. Before, he only wanted to change the world; now, he wants to change himself, too. When he met Sofia, he became interested in how she saw him. The narrator says that he has something to confess. He insists that he’s not there because of Sofia. He says that he’s a Communist, but Sonny doesn’t believe him. The narrator goes on to say that he’s been an agent for the opposition for years. Sonny says that he thinks the narrator is tricking him, wanting him to expose himself as a Communist, too, so that the narrator can kill him.
Sonny, like the crapulent major, is entering a new phase of his life and is trying to create a fruitful present out of a painful past. The narrator doesn’t merely kill these men, he also kills the hope of their finding moral meaning out of war and displacement. It remains unclear whether or not Sonny really is a Communist. What is clear is that he doesn’t trust the narrator and worries about standing accused in a community that’s hostile to Communism.
The narrator insists that he’s trying to help Sonny, who believes that the General has sent the narrator. Sonny also thinks that the narrator is still jealous over Sofia. Though Sonny is only five feet away, the narrator hits the radio when he pulls out his gun and shoots. The narrator shoots again and this bullet hits Sonny in the hand. Sonny leaps up and runs for the door. The next bullet hits him between the shoulder blade and the spine. The narrator jumps over the coffee table before Sonny can get to the door and shoots him again behind the ear and a final time in the skull. Sonny falls face-first to the floor, breaking his nose. The narrator changes his clothes and wipes his fingerprints off of the bourbon glass. When he bends down to touch Sonny’s eye, as Bon once instructed to ensure that someone is dead, the body shudders. The narrator shoots Sonny again, in the temple.
It’s unclear how the narrator is trying to help Sonny. He has come to kill Sonny so that he can prove himself worthy of fighting in Vietnam alongside Bon. Perhaps if Sonny were to expose himself as a Communist, too, the narrator could have arranged with Man for his protection. When Sonny fails to pick up on the narrator’s cue, it seems that the narrator has no choice but to kill him, due to having already exposed himself as a double-agent and needing to carry out the General’s order. His clumsiness in shooting Sonny is another indication of his ineptitude at performing such violent tasks.