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Literature / Banco

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Banco is a 1973 novel written by Henri Charriere, and a sequel to Papillon.

After fourteen years in prison, Papillon is a free man in Venezuela. In the middle of nowhere with a crippled friend named Picolino, Papillon needs to find honest work and lodging until they can get their bearings on their new life in their new country. Though committed to getting his friend comfortably squared away, what drives Papillon is his desire to return to France and take his revenge on the corrupt system that sent him to the Penal Colony.

For that he's going to need money, and so Papillon continues his adventures in the South American jungles and underworld in pursuit of banco.

This novel provides examples of the following tropes:

  • Ace Pilot: Carotte, the pilot with a private plane that Papillon partners up with for a few weeks. He served in World War II by transporting spies in and out of German-occupied France, sometimes landing his plane with no other visual aid than torches at night. He's a masterful pilot and completely reckless, not afraid of Buzzing the Deck for his amusement, able to land on sloped beaches with a wing trailing in the water, and finally sets down in the middle of a rough road when they're running low on fuel.
  • Argentina Is Nazi-Land: A variant—Papillon notes during his time in Caracas that Les Collaborateurs from Vichy France were flocking to Venezuela. He doesn't know the exact difference between actual French fascists and opportunistic collaborators and just lumps them all together as "Nazis" and won't associate with them.
  • Ass Shove: It's revealed that Papillon held onto his plan; the metal tube used to hide money and valuables up his ass while he was in prison. Even on the outside it was a good way to protect his cash and he had gotten used to it after fourteen years, another year or two didn't bother him.
  • Banana Republic: Papillon's twenty years of adventures and honest living are set against the backdrop of Venezuela's turbulent political climate. Coup d'etats are a too common fact of life in the country and the government forcefully changes hands multiple times during the book. Papillon is briefly an accessory to a failed coup attempt when his desire to bankroll his revenge reaches a truly desperate level—otherwise he wants nothing to do with revolutionaries, in part because he feels a debt of gratitude to the Betancourt government for setting him free and giving him a second chance. Things become dicey in the later years when he's making an honest living with Rita under the Jiménez regime, who employs Secret Police looking for dissenters and squeeze legitimate business owners until his overthrow in 1958.
  • Bank Robbery: The job Papillon is recruited for in Caracas—to tunnel into a bank while it's closed for the weekend.
  • Barefoot Poverty: Rita was a poor child growing up in Tangiers; youngest of a single mother's six children. She lived on the city streets and didn't "consent" to wear shoes until she was ten.
  • Big Applesauce: Rita's perspective on Americans—they're all from New York City and they're all rich actors.
  • Buzzing the Deck: Carotte's revenge for being tossed out of a brothel; dive bomb the place so that the cheap roofing gets ripped off in his wake. Another time he banks the plane dangerously low just to scare a woman using her garden as a toilet.
  • The Convenient Store Next Door: Or rather, the rental house across the street. The crooks take much care to not be seen by neighbors or passersby and work hard to dig a tunnel under the small side-street to the bank, smuggling the dirt into the backyard planters. Papillon has a surprising amount of say in the operations of digging the tunnel and keeping it hidden. The plan ultimately fails when a detour forces a heavy truck down the street and it falls into the tunnel. The gang was fortunately out celebrating their pending heist and they get away successfully.
  • The Coup: Despite knowing better, Papillon gets involved in a coup attempt to restore Medina Angarita to power. He initially doesn't realize his role in the matter, believing he's doing some underworld machine shop work that turns out to be helping manufacturing bombs for the coup. Eventually his desire to finance his revenge gets him directly involved in a disastrously bad attack on the palace and he's lucky to escape without being arrested. He hides out doing construction work until the heat from his failed plot disappears as the police uncover a new plot to thwart.
  • Fixing the Game: Jojo's scheme involved dice that have been very carefully filed to remove roughly a millimeter from the dice edge, allowing him to fix the game without being noticed.
  • Girl of My Dreams: In the two-year hell of solitary confinement, Papillon dreamed of his life as a free man with a beautiful and kind woman he called his belle princesse. In Maracaibo he enters the Hotel Vera Cruz to get out of the heat and sees her in a rocking chair; with the hazel eyes and beauty mark he always envisioned, and he's shocked that she even speaks French. He rents a room and takes a cold shower, trying not to panic because she's real, and vows to never tell her that he dreamed of her years before. He eventually "marries" Rita and they run the hotel together.
  • Go Through Me: After Jimenez flees the country, a hundred-man rioting mob starts sacking all business favored by members of his government. The mob descends on Papillon and Rita's Caty-Bar since it was a popular night spot and they're going to defend their home and business when four men come between the mob and the bar, arms outstretched. For twenty minutes they argue that Papillon is a friend to the people and not a puppet of the state, until eventually the mob turns away. Their rescuers were common laborers for the water company next door, who were often given small favors by the Caty-Bar's owners and were willing to risk their lives to repay the debt.
  • Great Offscreen War: Both World Wars. World War II is simply an event that Papillon missed during his time in prison, his primary concern is how it's shaped South American politics since. His father serves in World War 1 when Papillon is a child but the war itself has no significant impact on his life, other than him serving as the "man of the house" until his father is discharged from the front.
  • Hustling the Mark: Jojo's made a career of hustling the diamond miners in the wilderness with carefully fixed dice, he convinces Papillon to join him for his latest round. Papillon is warned ahead of time that Jojo sets up his partners and they never return—he allows them to win most of the money so that vengeful thieves murder them instead of him. Thus Papillon ends up playing a double-hustle, helping Jojo deceive and cheat their gambling partners while trying not to out-win Jojo and make himself a target.
  • Interrupted Intimacy: Carotte is furious when the owner of a brothel tosses them out for selling clothing to his whores, so he promises to return by air since the pimp can't prevent them from doing so. The next day he and Papillon dive bomb the brothel so low that the cheap metal roofing flies off the building; exposing whores and their clients who scramble around while the plane orbits and Papillon and Carotte laugh their asses off.
  • Jack Bauer Interrogation Technique: Papillon and his friends are beaten to a pulp by the police who are trying to get a confession to the pawnshop theft. The beatings go on for hours without a confession before the police decide to have them Locked in a Freezer.
  • Jumped at the Call: Papillon yearns for adventure, perhaps more than he truly desires his revenge. He'd rather be out doing something exciting and gambling with high stakes than settle down.
  • Just Got Out of Jail: Papillon and Picolino are released from prison in Venezuela at the start of the novel. Picolino's criminal days are over due to his injuries, and Papillon is trying to stay straight while they're together.
  • Locked in a Freezer: Papillon, Big Leon, and Pedro the Chilean are locked in a meat freezer by police in an attempt to get them to confess to the pawnshop theft. Big Leon dies inside and the police claim that the others will be next, but Pedro calls them out on it being an Accidental Murder and that the police can't get away with three separate killings. The police realize they've been caught in their lie and just haul the two crooks off to jail.
  • Noble Savage: While it's patently ridiculous to call Venezuelans "uncivilized", Papillon often attributes them with a kindness and nobility not found in Europeans or Americans—especially those with Indian blood in them. He describes the Venezuelan people as incredibly generous, willing to help a stranger in need, and happy to give a known or suspected ex-criminal a chance despite their past; he believes this is because of intermingling with the native Indians and the "qualities of wisdom and intelligence" in their bloodline.
  • Oops! I Forgot I Was Married: Papillon has no idea what his martial status is after fourteen years of prison in South America. He had a wife in France but can't get in touch with her for fear of the French government demanding his extradition. He and Rita are unofficially husband and wife because he assumes he's still legally married.
  • Protect This House: Anti-Jimenez rioters take to the streets after he flees the country, destroying businesses that his flunkies patronized. They come for the Caty-Bar and Papillon takes to the roof with Rita and a supply of Molotov cocktails; the bar both Papillon's business and his home on the second story.
  • Rage Against the Legal System: What drove Papillon through fourteen years of prison and motivates him after his release. The French justice system set him up for a crime he didn't commit and banished him to a living hell. Despite ample opportunities to stay legit and live in peace, he remains committed to bankrolling his return to France and revenge on the prosecutor, police, and judge who wronged him.
  • Roaring Rampage of Revenge: Papillon's ultimate goal. The problem is that he's on the wrong continent and revenge is expensive; hence his adventures in South America to fund his eventual return and retribution. His hit list is at least a dozen people; the jury who convicted him, the court and lawyers, and perhaps an indiscriminate bombing of the police precinct.
  • Skinny Dipping: Papillon and Carotte spend some time nude on a tiny island beach; laying in the sun, swimming, and admiring the fearless birds. During his childhood Papillon used to skinny dip with friends.
  • Slipping a Mickey: Part of his hypothetical plan to steal the gold from the Mocupia mine—drugging his old friend for a few hours and taking the gold in the mean time.
  • Stealing from the Till: Even when Papillon is doing honest work, running the executive's kitchen for an American oil firm, he can't help but take advantage of the situation; he's given a separate budget for his department and embezzles a bit of the money. The high quality food eventually gets the executives to bring their wives along for meals, which only helps Papillon skim more money with less risk—he's already breaking the rules by feeding extra mouths and nobody is paying attention to the extra expenses.
  • Street Urchin:
    • Rita lived on the streets when she was a child. She came from a poor family with a single mother and was the youngest of six children; going barefoot and roaming the streets of Tangiers taking in the exotic collection of locals, playing hooky on the beach, and running errands for her mother.
    • Papillon befriends a number of street urchins during the later years of his business ventures. The children are resourceful and competitive, looking for ways to make a quick buck running errands and doing favors, supporting their families in the process.
  • Traveling Salesman: Papillon does a short stint as one during his time in Caracas, trying to sell coffee pots door to door.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Before embarking for Spain to reunite with his family, Papillon mentions that he tried to find Picolino—last seen in a Caracas hospital. He sent money and visitors and last heard that Picolino was recovering well, but he disappears from the hospital and Papillon never sees or hears from him ever again; always regretting that he waited too long to invite Picolino to Maracaibo.