Sam and Bill are two outlaws, who come up with a scheme to kidnap a wealthy man's son, in hopes of earning two thousand dollars for his ransom. Unfortunately, their plan backfires when they kidnap a violent, uncontrollable boy named Johnny. Throughout the story, Bill is continually tortured by Johnny and begs Sam to return the boy. Bill cannot stand being around Johnny and even fears the boy. In contrast, Sam seems to understand the child's energetic, erratic nature and has more self-control than Bill. Sam is also portrayed as a more active, daring individual than Bill. Sam is a leader and makes the important decisions in the group. He also travels into town to drop off the ransom note and retrieves it after waiting in a tree for several hours. Bill is depicted as the more sensitive person and almost loses his mind dealing with the Red Chief. The two characters are alike in that they both take a risk to earn money illegally and are considered outlaws.
Sam, the narrator of the story, seems to be the brains of the pair. He's the one who arranges to be the person who goes into town to determine the reaction to the kidnapping of the boy and who develops the plan for collecting the ransom. Bill suffers the larger amount of abuse from Johnny as he is hit by a thrown brick, nearly scalped, struck by a rock propelled by Johnny's slingshot, and ridden like a horse.
The partners are habitual criminals in need of funds in order to pull off their next major project.
Bill and me had a joint capital of about six hundred dollars, and we needed just two thousand dollars more to pull off a fraudulent town-lot scheme in Western Illinois with.
Their inspiration was to raise that additional money by kidnapping and collecting ransom money for "the only child of a prominent citizen named Ebenezer Dorset." After the scheme went completely awry and the pair had paid Ebenezer to take back Johnny, Bill proved to be the faster runner.
as dark as it was, and as fat as Bill was, and as good a runner as I am, he was a good mile and a half out of Summit before I could catch up with him.