Rambert has had just about enough of this mess. If he can’t leave Oran legally, he’ll make plans to escape illegally.
He has trouble making headway in this endeavor until Cottard overhears him discussing his plight with Rieux.
Several days after this accidental eavesdropping, Cottard stops Rambert on the street. He (Cottard) has heard of an organization handles just this sort of business – the illegal escaping business, that is.
Cottard himself has built up a "small fortune" by smuggling in goods like alcohol and cigarettes.
Cottard introduces Rambert to a man named Garcia (who’s a big deal in the smuggling business) and the three men go for a stroll.
Garcia decides he’s not the man for this job; Raoul is. They should meet him (Raoul that is) two days later, at eleven.
After the covert meeting, Rambert thanks Cottard, and it becomes apparent that this is just another of Cottard’s "I’m going to get everyone to like/owe me" endeavors.
Fast forward to two days later at eleven. Cottard and Rambert are going to meet Raoul. Just then, Tarrou drives up in Rieux’s car, with Rieux beside him riding shotgun.
There’s one of those great moments where every person tries to figure out just how much information every other person knows (as regards the impending illegalities, that is).
Adding to the dramatic tension, M. Othon, the magistrate, comes strolling down the street.
All five men engage in mild chit-chat, such as "Hey, what’s up with you?" and "Oh, nothing, and especially not illegalities. How about that weather?"
When the magistrate leaves, Tarrou declares him Enemy Number One.
Cottard and Rambert continue on to meet with Garcia and eventually Raoul. Rambert agrees to pay ten thousand for his escape. They make plans to meet the next day.
Fast forward again to the next day. Rambert meets Raoul for lunch and is introduced to a new and, expectedly, sketchy man called "our friend." Raoul makes a point to not use the guy’s real name.
"Our friend" is going to put Rambert in touch with someone else, who in all likelihood will put him in touch with someone else, and what we’re thinking is that maybe six years and three plagues and fifty "friends" later Rambert might potentially make it to the front gates.
Finally, as the meeting is drawing to a close, the "friend" (who also has a face like a horse) reveals that his name is Gonzales.
Later, Rambert converses with Rieux and tries to justify the fact that he’s sneaking out of town like a coward. He says he can’t bear to be away from his "wife" in Paris any longer, since as you get older you have to "squeeze all [you] can out of life."
On the big day, Rambert gets to the Cathedral for his appointment. When Gonzales finally shows up, he says to meet him again the next day.
They try again the next day. This time, Gonzales introduces Rambert to two very young men, Marcel and Louis, who look like brothers. They set up yet another meeting.
That night, Rieux and Tarrou show up to meet Rambert for a drink at the hotel.
Rambert says he hopes to get out within the week, but Rieux and Tarrou argue that, if he stayed, he could be a great help to them in fighting the plague. Rambert doesn’t exactly love the idea of sticking around and exposing himself to disease on a daily basis.
The next day, Rambert is stood-up by his would-be smugglers. Dejectedly leaving the café meeting place, he realizes that he was so focused on the idea of escape that he hasn’t really been thinking about the reason for it: the woman he loves.
The next day, Cottard meets with Tarrou and Rieux to discuss a patient that miraculously recovered. Cottard insists that the man must have had something other than the plague, since once you have the plague, your number is up.
Rieux counters that if you refuse to be beaten, there’s always the chance of exception (hmm!).
Tarrou tries to get Cottard to join the sanitary squad, but he replies that it’s "not [his] job." Besides, he’s making a fine living out of the plague – why should he want to stop something so profitable?
Tarrou mentions that Cottard could be arrested, and the man responds by flippingout entirely, screaming and so forth and making a general public scene.
Rieux is all "Sensitive much?" and Cottard reveals that he did something, years ago, that could get him into big trouble. It wasn’t murder though, he hurries to assure them.
Turns out, this is why he tried to hang himself.
Rambert enters to find Cottard still shouting about how he isn’t a bad guy just because he’s profiting from the plague.
Of course, Rambert is only there to see if Cottard can set him up for a second try with Gonzales. Turns out, not only is Cottard insensitive and self-serving, but he’s also useless: he doesn’t know where Gonzales lives.
Rambert is none too pleased, but the next morning he and Cottard go to find Garcia There are several appointments set up and failures to follow through.
By now, we’re hoping there’s some thematic point to all this repetition.
Rambert then reveals (to Rieux and Tarrou) the thematic point to all this repetition: while he keeps experiencing glimmers of hope, he always gets his dreams dashed. It’s just the same thing all over again – much like the plague.
While the two men listen to "St. James Infirmary Blues" play on the phonograph (again, the same song over and over), they hear two shots in the distance.
They assume it was some stray dog getting shot and disregard the ambulance they hear.
Rambert comments on his not joining the volunteer sanitary teams (of which there are now five). Man, he says, is capable of many things, but not of suffering for a long time – or of being happy for a long time.
Rambert continues that he doesn’t believe in heroism, in dying for an idea. He only believes in living and dying "for what one loves." (This is important, by the way, and probably related to the previous conversations about abstraction.)
Rieux claims that "man isn’t an idea," and Rambert counters that, in fact, man is an idea, and a small, insignificant one at that, if he chooses to turn his back on love. That’s the point, he says: mankind has lost the capacity for love.
Rieux doesn’t disagree about the importance of love, but he does correct Rambert by saying what they’re all doing (with the sanitary teams and so forth) isn’t heroism – it’s "common decency." It’s his job.
Tarrou and Rieux head for the door, and Tarrou, who has been silent thus far in the argument, turns to Rambert. He informs him that Rieux, too, is separated from his wife. The two men leave before Rambert can respond.
The next day, Rambert shows up at Rieux’s place, ready to join the sanitary teams. Well, at least until he manages to get out of this place.