'He's got to be up there somewhere,' said Pargeter.
'Alive or dead,' said Hake, grimly.
They were standing at 3,000ft on Ben Varlet, one of the bleakest mountains in Scotland. The mist was wreathed around the rocks, like steam rising off Chinese dumplings in those Soho restaurants that Hake had often stared into but never dared enter.
Pargeter raised the megaphone once more. 'We know you're up there, Simpkins. Don't be a fool - give yourself up, or it will be the worse for you.'
Hake took the megaphone from Pargeter. 'Don't forget, Simpkins: it's not too late to hand over the money; pounds 17.60 per child is all we ask, backdated to 1991 . . .'
Pargeter and Hake were two of the toughest agents at the Child Support Agency, and they had never failed to track down an errant father before. They were not going to fail this time. 'I wonder if we'll recognise him,' said Pargeter. 'We've never seen him face to face, only once from behind on Birmingham New Street station, Platform 12.'
'Just after he'd pushed Agent Stanley on the track,' said Hake.
'Right. So we can also have him arrested for attempted murder,' said Pargeter.
'I don't think so,' said Hake. 'After all, there was no train coming and Stanley climbed right back on the platform.'
'Going soft or something?' sneered Pargeter.
'I hardly think so,' said Hake. 'I wouldn't be crouched on this bloody hillside with my trouser turn-ups full of slush if I were going soft.'
They lapsed into silence for a while, listening to the sighing of the wind. It was almost human, thought Hake. Then he listened again. It was human]
'That's not the wind. That's someone groaning,' said Pargeter. They found him. But it was not Simpkins. It was agent Stanley, lying in a gully tied to a fallen tree. 'Stanley]' they said. 'What the hell . . .'
'They rumbled me,' said Stanley. 'I joined a group of fathers on the run, and I pretended to be one of them, escaping from the CSA. They're up there now. Simpkins is their leader. They . . .'
'How did they blow your cover?' asked Hake, cutting his ropes.
'We were having a talk one night about parenting,' said Stanley. 'I had to join in, of course. I was meant to be a father on the run. But I haven't got any children. So I made up two of my own for the conversation.'
'I must have changed the invented names once or twice, and got them wrong. Simpkins noticed. Then he said, 'Hold on, haven't I seen you before on Birmingham New Street station?' '
'How many of them are there?'
'About six or seven.'
'Let's go,' said Pargeter. 'Let's get them.'
'You're outnumbered,' said Stanley. 'And they're armed. You'll never do it.'
'We're armed, too.'
''It's against the rules,' said Stanley. 'Mustn't shoot errant fathers. That's her rule. If you kill an errant father, you kill the hope of weekly support. You also make it look bad on her results sheet. She gets paid by the number of successes, you know. Killings don't count as successes.'
As in many secret organisations, they did not refer to the boss's name directly. Just called her 'she'.
'Too bad,' said Hake, pulling out a sleek pistol. 'When you're up against a man like Simpkins, you don't pussy-foot and you don't listen to head office. You shoot to kill. At least, to maim.'
'That rather depends on whether you get the chance, wouldn't you say, Mr Hake?'
The voice came from behind Hake. He started to whirl round.
'I wouldn't move. Drop the gun.'
Yes, it was Simpkins himself, the most famous missing father in Britain, with four or five other men, all holding guns. Hake and Pargeter slowly raised their hands. 'Well done, Stanley,' said Simpkins.
'Stanley]' said Hake. 'You mean . . .'
'Yes,' said Stanley. 'I'm one of them now. I have two small daughters by a previous marriage. You never checked up on that. I knew you'd find out sooner or later and come after me. So . . .'
'So he joined us,' said Simpkins. 'and did a wonderful job as decoy. Maybe you would care to join us as well, Mr Hake? Or you, Mr Pargeter? Or would you prefer to die of exposure by accident?'
If you want to know what happens at the end of this thrilling yarn, and read many more like it, be sure to buy your copy of Manhunt], the Child Support Agency book of adventure stories.Reuse content