Miles Kington: There's nothing so intriguing as an unsolved mystery</b>

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The Independent Online

"It's awful about the McCanns, isn't it?" said the lady with the lustrous dark chestnut locks, as she sat at the bar and took a sip from her glass of stout.

(I think I may have told you before that she likes to change her hair colour to match her prevailing tipple. For most of the summer she has had a glorious red hairdo, as she went back and forth between Pimm's and Campari, but now she has gone brown as she has settled for stout for the foreseeable autumn.)

"Being accused of the murder of your own children, I mean," she continued.

The man with the dog took some of his bitter and shook his head, which did not make it any easier to drink.

"The only thing that is really terrible about the McCann story," he said, "is us having to read about it the whole time. Day after day, even quite reputable papers carry lengthy reports from Portugal on this infinitely extendible non-event. Do we get long reports from Portugal on their immigration problems? No. On the success or otherwise of the Portuguese wine harvest? No. Anything about the Portuguese sports scene. I don't think so. But the McCann family and the Portuguese police... you can learn anything you want."

"Except the truth," said the Major. "I tell you what they ought to do. Wait till it's all over. Wait till they have found out what really happened to the little girl. Then announce the outcome. 'The result of the McCann case is as follows... Then blah blah blah. End of case. End of story. All over."

"You're quite wrong," said the resident Welshman. "I mean, you're wrong when you suggest that the British don't like unsolved mysteries. They love them! They dote on them. Why on earth do you think we go on and on about Princess Diana? And Lord Lucan? Because we don't know the whole story yet! Because there is still a whiff of doubt and suspicion. It's like being halfway through an Agatha Christie mystery, and anyone who has ever read an Agatha Christie knows that half way through is the best place to be. Once you get to the end, it's all over and done with, and explained, and wrapped up, and forgotten. But the great thing about this McCann business is that anything is still possible!"

"He's right, you know," said the man with the dog. "And that's why, when they get fed up with today's unsolved killings, they resurrect old unsolved murders from the past. Happy Valley murders from Kenya. That chap who got murdered in the Bahamas...."

"Sir Harry Oakes, wasn't it?" said the Major.

"See what I mean? " said the Welshman. "We're talking about a bloke who was done in in the 1930s, and the Major still remembers his name. And all because the case isn't closed yet..."

"Like Rhys Jones," said the chestnut lady.

"Rhys Jones?" said the Major.

"Young boy who was killed in Liverpool," said the man with the dog. "I see what you mean. Another unsolved mystery. Do you think we will remember his name in a year's time, though?"

"Yes," said the Welshman. "But only if they don't find his killer."

There was a gloomy silence in the pub, as if someone was waiting for a shaft of triviality to pierce it. It duly happened.

"Funny name, McCann," said the Major. "Sounds Scottish. But I have never met the name before. Has anyone?"

"Yes," said the landlord unexpectedly. "There was a funky jazz pianist called Les McCann."

"Scottish?"

"No. Black. American."

"There you are," said the Major.

"McCann is the sort of name which MacDonald's would dream up to sell a new product," said the man with the dog. "Like McNugget. Or Big Mac. If they were flogging a healthy fizzy drink, they'd call it McCan."

"There's no such thing as a healthy fizzy drink," said the Welshman.

"Champagne," said the Major defiantly. "I drink it as a health drink. As often as possible."

"That explain s a lot," said the Welshman.

After which we talked about the Rugby World Cup, but to no very great effect.

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