Chapters 17-18 Summary
Sarkin Aung Wan leads the soldiers westward through the tunnels. They wade through sewage, holding their noses against the smell. At last they come to a steel ladder bolted to stone. They exit the tunnels through a manhole cover, into the streets of Mandalay. Although the outer streets are dust and the shanties are mud, they soon reach concrete tenements and the market square, which is deserted. At last they reach the boulevard and see civilization. They take the trolley toward the city center. Paul Berlin is overjoyed to be among people in the bright city. The trolley takes them directly to the Hotel Minneapolis. It is very cheap, and they are immediately given rooms.
Sarkin Aung Wan and Paul Berlin share a room. Sarkin Aung Wan cleans Paul’s toenails, although he struggles against ticklishness. She wants him to take her to Paris and buy her something pretty. She calls him “Spec Four” and asks how long they must stay. He explains they will be here until they catch Cacciato. She asks what they will do to him if they find him. Paul tells her they will take him back to reality. The two caress and almost make love, but they do not.
They spend several days in Mandalay, always looking for Cacciato but also shopping. As the men sit in a café, Eddie asks what the plan is. Oscar suggests they look wherever there is liquor and women. Eddie responds that Cacciato does not drink, nor is he interested in women. The soldiers raise their glasses to toast and give several suggestions. Paul Berlin suggests they drink to Cacciato, and everyone indifferently agrees. Eddie asks what they will to do with Cacciato when they catch him. Corson dismisses the question.
Paul puzzles over where Cacciato is. He remembers Cacciato carrying a photo album containing pictures of all the places they had been in Vietnam, along with a few family pictures. One day, as he sits with Sarkin Aung Wan at an outdoor café, Paul spots Cacciato dressed as a monk. He takes after him, but Sarkin Aung Wan explains that it is the hour of prayer. Paul ignores her and bursts into the group of monks but is immediately overcome. When he comes to, Sarkin Aung Wan is hovering over him, licking his wounds. She tells Paul that Cacciato headed toward the train station, where the train would take him to Paris.