Michel Vaillant is a comic book character from the comic books of Jean Graton. Steve Warson, Gabrielle Spangenberg, the whole Vaillant family, personnel and the members of team Leader are all Jean Graton's. There is also a Michel Vaillant movie.

So I own the story-line although, reading the comic books it turned out that Jean Graton had thought of some same events.

Feedback is greatly appreciated

(if only to let me know you read it)

Michel Vaillant – The mystery of the napkin

The challenge on the napkin (the title is a tribute to MV comic title nr. 50: Le défi des ramparts)

Michel Vaillant, holder of five world championship titles in Formula 1, winner of the 24 hours of Le Mans for an equal number of times and victor of numerous rallies, among which a Paris-Dakar, was enjoying a well earned short holiday. It was the end of June and the fortnight between the Grand Prix in Indianapolis, USA and the Grand Prix de France on the circuit of Magny Cours provided this opportunity. For Steve Warson, American racing driver extraordinaire and beloved family-friend since what seemed like forever, it was the last holiday as a bachelor, since he was finally going to marry Gabrielle Spangenberg in November, at the end of the Formula 1 season. To complete our holy trinity, Jean-Pierre, older brother of Michel, who combined his exacting job as director general of the Vaillant Company with the post of technical director of the racing team Vaillant, had taken a break from his busy schedule and joined them.

The Vaillant villa at Roquebrune sur Argens, located in the department of Alps Maritimes in the utmost southeast corner of France was the ultimate fitting place for a 'calm' intermezzo. The magnificent large villa itself offered all modern conveniences: from an half-in-half-outdoor swimming pool to a little private cinema. The surrounding hills and superb park made relaxing outside a pleasure. Only about 70 km to the northeast was Nice, 150 km to the south Marseille, Monaco a swift 100 km to the north and the Mediterranean was only an hour's drive off. There were lots of activities to choose from every day; ranging from snowboarding to sailing. All things considered, the boys tried even more than normal to make the most of each day.

Yesterday, instead of eating at the villa the boys had taken to eat at 'Les douze mois' 'The twelve months'; the local bar annex petit-restaurant in the town square. It was a two-roomed establishment. In one room was the bar and four small tables; the other room was used as 'Salle des fêtes' for marriages, funerals and the monthly meeting of different clubs in Roquebrune, it held the billiards table for the 'Billard Club de Roquebrune' and it was where the monthly meetings for the 'Union pétanque de Roquebrune' were held. On weekdays a simple dish for the day was served for the few tourists that would prefer 'Les douze mois' over the more stylish and modern restaurants in Roquebrune. The locals were more customers of the bar, in the morning to have their café and newspaper; in the evening to enjoy a glass of fine wine with friends. The three men were waited on by a pleasant young woman who had introduced herself as June. She was one of the many season-workers the region would attract during high-season and one of the reasons the boys had returned to the bar this evening. The three had been rock-climbing all day in La Vallon Sourn (The Sourn Valley) and it was around nine o'clock when they sat down at 'their' table.

After a simple, but tasty dinner the conversation came to marriages. Jean-Pierre tried to give Steve some good advice, while Steve was doing his best to get everything out of his slipping bachelorhood by commenting on and flirting with the local beauties. Although he was madly and completely in love with Gabrielle, getting married was a huge decision for someone like Steve. A decision he would wake up from soaking wet in the middle of the night. And now Jean-Pierre wanted him to talk about gift lists, rings and goodbye presents for guests! The very same things he tried to get away from by coming here! "Well, I don't know about you guys but this waitress of ours, June; have you seen her smile and those curls? Mmm... I think that shade is called autumn chestnut. And I'm not even talking about those eyes... sometimes I think I'm looking at chocolate... sweet, brown chocolate..." Steve radically changed the conversation, mostly to annoy Jean-Pierre. It worked. Jean-Pierre, being happily married for years, father of Laura and the little Jean-Michel, always had been quickly annoyed with Steve, and slightly less with Michel, when it came to their Don Juan-attitude. "Oh, you do? Well, let me tell you something mister Don Juan: sometimes I truly don't know why you would marry Gabrielle!" Steve turned pale and without another word left the table, grabbed his coat and left. Jean-Pierre closed his eyes and was already acknowledging his mistake. He commented to his brother: "Je suis le malin, n'est pas? I'm a real smart one, not?" "Well, you know Steve, he has a short fuse." Since there was only the two of them they talked French. "And getting married is a huge decision... I mean you might not remember but..." the younger brother patiently explained. "But I do remember. I'm just trying to save him from all the worries about that decision..." Jean-Pierre cut in. Michel raised one eyebrow: "Well, you know Jean-Pierre, you're doing a marvellous job! Really! Besides, what he said about June..." Jean-Pierre looked annoyed again when Michel continued: "he just said that to annoy you!" However, as always when it comes to girls, Steve is a keen observer, Michel thought. "I'll go see him," Jean-Pierre said, getting up, leaving Michel with his coffee. Thinking about his friend and his brother his mind wandered, from June; where her eyes like chocolate... to the upcoming Grand Prix at Magny Cours. Slowly he began emptying his mind, like he did when concentrating before a race. That ability had proven Michel's way to stay sane and balanced in his hectic and extreme exciting live. June found him doodling on a napkin. She addressed him in French, since they had only spoken English with 'Mister Steve', not with her or some of the locals they seemed to know: "Monsieur?" Looking up he couldn't help himself thinking that the shade of her curls really were like a chestnut in an autumn's sunrise. "Monsieur? Your friends: Mister Steve and Monsieur Jean-Pierre... they're fighting outside..." "What?" he looked in the direction she was pointing and there, through the window pane he could see Steve shaking Jean-Pierre violently while Jean-Pierre's face was in full 'I'm the director general and also really stubborn'-mode. In a moment he was up and outside. "O.K. kids, stop squabbling or it will end in tears!" he said. Both looked up and Michel couldn't help but thinking of little schoolboys on a play ground. "But he..." Steve started. "Me? You mean you..." Jean-Pierre reacted heated while Steve's hands grope Jean-Pierre's arms with renewed firmness. Michel sighed: "O.K., Steve: you love Gabrielle and Jean-Pierre knows it. He just wants you to know that you shouldn't bother about not loving her enough, because you do, we both can see that. As for Jean-Pierre: you really should know better, I always thought that you, being the more mature of us three... You disappoint me." "Oui Maman," Jean-Pierre dully answered what had always been his reaction to the famous 'you're older – act mature'-sermon from their mother. Michel was the first to laugh, soon joined by Steve and finally, only a bit reluctant by Jean-Pierre. "I'll get my coat that is if I can leave you two together alone?" without awaiting an answer he went inside again.

When he returned to their table it was cleared but for 'his' napkin. Underneath his doodling somebody had written: 'Le Mans?'. In surprise Michel was staring down at the napkin. It was indeed the circuit of 'Le Mans', but you had to be a fan to just recognize it from a simple drawing. Tapping on the window pane made him look up: "Michel! Are you coming? JP is paying: his treat!" Steve, who was still outside, called through the window. Mindlessly Michel put the napkin in his pocket, grabbed his coat and joined Steve outside, while Jean-Pierre paid June. "Is everything alright?" she asked. Jean-Pierre shrugged: "Tout est bien, all is well," he answered, "...just cold feet before marrying..." Well, that was predictable, June thought, a handsome guy like that and by what she had seen of him; rather nice too... she couldn't help watching him leave the bar to join his friend outside. Her 'Au revoir' to Jean-Pierre was slightly absent-minded.

Later that evening when Michel emptied his trouser pockets while undressing, he came across the napkin again and studied it. Who would think of a circuit when looking at a scribble like this? Michel wondered. Any normal human being would think of an island or a rather unsuccessful drawing of a tennis shoe. The handwriting was not his brother's or Steve's; beside they had been busy at that time. With his thoughts on 'the mystery of the napkin' Michel tried to sleep. Just before the sandman dropped by he suddenly leaped out of bed, moved towards his desk and wrote underneath: 'Juste; et ceci?' Good, what about this? He rolled his pen between his fingers, thinking for a moment and then wrote in French: 'This track features 15 corners, including five left ones. Lots of slow corners, taken in second or third. Yet, there are at least three curves that can be taken in the fifth at approximately 260 km/h. The circuit also contains eight straights with a width of 16, in some areas rising to 20 meters, providing some great overtaking opportunities. The two longest straights are perfect to reach an ultimate top speed. Mind the hairpin that connects them: slow down to a lousy 90 km/h.; back to second gear. Take that one wide and you're in the pit. Any idea?'

The next day the boys went snowboarding. After an eventful day of flips, jumps and tricks, in which Jean-Pierre had outdone both Michel and Steve, they entered 'Les douze mois' arguing. "But listen Jean-Pierre, you can't just claim you're the best snowboarder of us three, I mean, Michel and I, we have to be extra careful, we have to race in one of your pity cars again in five days, you know!" Steve exclaimed as they approached their table. "Uh-uh," Jean-Pierre shook his head and sat down before counting on his fingers. "Two things: first: what are you calling pity cars, huh? Second: you never had the sense of being careful before; no, you two just have to admit it: I beat you at snowboarding!" Steve also sat himself down while laughing scornfully: "If you think you're up to it, mister 'director general slash technical director', we'll challenge you to a snowboard competition tomorrow, and we won't be careful this time, right Michel?" he looked determined at Jean-Pierre, expecting his friend to back him up but there was no answer. "Michel?" He looked at his friend and found him still standing, staring down at a napkin that was left on the table by another customer. "Michel??? It's a napkin. At least it looks like one; you use it to wipe your mouth with. You probably recognize it because you've seen THOUSANDS and THOUSANDS of them before. And you're staring at it because...?" Steve bent his head to take a better look at the napkin before he continued: "...Because somebody has been doodling on it?" Michel slowly sat down. "It's a circuit" he said in a low voice. And in reaction to the amazed faces of Steve and Jean-Pierre he drew his own napkin from his pocket: "Yesterday when you two were arguing outside I just mindlessly drew this..." he showed his outline of Le Mans. "And when I got back here to get my things, somebody had written 'Le Mans' underneath it. And now I find this napkin. It's a circuit and somebody is in for an interesting game. You see, I already thought up a new puzzle." He read the description of the track he wrote down last night, translating it to English for Steve's sake, adding: "Well? Do you have any ideas?" When Steve and Jean-Pierre did not answer right away he thoughtful continued: "I wonder who our adversary is." They were interrupted by a soft cough; it was June ready to take their orders.

During the meal Steve and Jean-Pierre asked for clues. Whispering Michel finally told them they had attended a race there this year. And then Steve had no problem solving the riddle: "It is Sepang, in Malaysia, isn't it?" he whispered. And when Michel nodded: "Well, in my opinion, you can take those 5th gear curves of you easily in 6th." This of course started another whispered argument, whispered to avoid any eavesdropping. It proved rather more difficult to solve the given puzzle. It was not a Formula 1 circuit. They were almost certain of that. "Maybe it was a former Formula 1 circuit?" Steve suggested over dessert (which only Steve ordered, Michel and Jean-Pierre just had coffee). "What if it's not a Formula 1 circuit? You didn't set any rules did you?" Michel shook his head at his older brother. "OH NO!" Steve exclaimed. "It could be any circuit. It could be a stage for the World Rally Championship or any obscure circuit down in... Africa or... or..." he sighed.

When June came to clear the table they still had not solved the puzzle. Michel put both napkins in his pocket and offered to pay this time. "You just want to have a go at our beautiful waitress; I recognize your 'sweep them off their feet' smile from miles off – I'm the inventor!" Steve teased. "What happened to: Oh Gabrielle, I only have eyes for you?" Michel countered. Before they could begin another argument, Jean-Pierre dragged Steve outside. Michel, a lopsided grin on his face, went to the bar. June was making small talk with a regular customer, but she was aware of everything going on in the bar. "I got stuck with the bill this time," she smiled and her brown eyes even seemed to lit up at his lame joke. He noticed they really looked like chocolate, melting hot chocolate to be more accurate, not the sweet kind, but the darker and richer kind with more than 80 chocolate solids. The 'chocolat noir'-kind that Michel had a weak spot for. She swiftly added up the bill. When she returned his change he said: "Mademoiselle June, did you see somebody near our table when we were outside the other night?" For a moment she looked uncomfortable but she did recover rather quickly: "Non monsieur, do you miss something?" Ah, that would explain the uneasiness: she was afraid that something improper had happened. He quickly reassured her: "Non, non, it's just..." Suddenly he felt like an idiot, talking about little drawings and games with her. "...it's nothing actually." He abruptly turned around with a short "À demain" (See you tomorrow). But before he went out he returned to their table, thought for a moment and then left 'his' napkin on the stained wooden surface.

It was about two o'clock in the morning when Michel finally with a brusque move closed his laptop. He had been searching the internet to name the track on the napkin, but it only got him more frustrated. There were thousands of circuits around the world. He looked around and saw the napkin lying on the floor; it must have fallen of his desk from the breath of air caused by the closing of the laptop. It had fallen slightly open and now revealed something written inside. Cautiously Michel picked it up and spread it out. The writing was in English:

'If you need them, here are two clues: 'hurry up' and '1999'.

He stared down at it for a moment and then he reopened his laptop and started a search using the keywords 'circuit' 'hurry up' and '1999'. In 0.19 seconds Google found about 8,900 hits. However, as luck would have it, the first one was the homepage of 'The Phakisa Freeway Circuit' in South Africa.