Sam, the narrator, and his friend Bill Driscoll need two thousand dollars to pull off a "fraudulent real estate deal." So, they decide to kidnap a child from one of the wealthier men in the town of Summit. Ironically, the child (Johnny Dorset, aka "Red Chief") doesn't plead to go home. He acts like he is camping out with his kidnappers and they soon discover that Johnny is extremely rambunctious and a general pain to be around.
The irony continues when Sam goes to town. He expects to see the town in an uproar about the kidnapping but nothing has changed. They write a ransom letter to Johnny's father, Ebenezer. The response they get from Ebenezer is not what they expect:
You bring Johnny home and pay me two hundred and fifty dollars in cash, and I agree to take him off your hands.
Because Johnny is so impossible to be around, they actually agree to Ebenezer's terms. The irony is that instead of extracting a ransom, they have to pay Ebenezer to take his own son back.