Chapters 37-38 Summary
Paul Berlin is well acquainted with the land in the same way a hunter studies his terrain. He knows the safe places and the dangerous spots. Quang Ngai is farm country, and the villages and paddies are part of the land. He finds nothing loathsome in the smell of the paddies, even though he is warned they are sources of disease. After the paddies, Paul thinks of the hedgerows, thick, unclipped, and tangled. They serve as a kind of clothing for the villages. The earth itself is red, likely because of high iron content, Doc Peret explains. Since the war is fought with feet and legs, Paul knows the trails well. They are obvious spots of ambush, with mines scattered along the sides. Paul wonders where the birds have gone, but Eddie asks him, “What birds?”
Paul was prepared for the poverty from the pictures on television. He is not horrified by it, but he does feel some guilt. That passes quickly. Quang Ngai starts at the sea, which is where Paul likes it best. Going beyond the paddies, inland, toward the mountains, lies Paris. He does not think beyond Paris.
When the men arrive at Ismir, Turkey, they book passage on a boat bound for Athens. Oscar Johnson made the arrangements with a shady deal in a tavern. Their passage is on an old freighter, accommodating up to thirty passengers. Rust is everywhere, but Oscar and Eddie organize a shuffleboard tournament. Doc spends his time reading, and Paul sits on a recliner, watching Mediterranean islands slip by.
The lieutenant’s health is improving thanks to the sun and Sarkin Aung Wan’s ministrations. She reminds him of his responsibilities as leader. She talks of Paris, but she keeps her own motives secret. As they approach Athens, Paul thinks of Cacciato’s claim that, if he could make it to Athens, the way to Paris would be easy. They reach Greece near midnight. They see a dozen policemen on the wharf, each holding a cardboard poster. They seem to be trying to match faces with pictures on the posters. Stink and Eddie realize these are Wanted posters, intended for them. The men lament that they are so close to their goal. Stink suggests they swim for shore. The others argue with the futility of this, but Stink strips down to his underwear, dives into the water, and takes off swimming.