O. Henry's story deliberately contradicts the common assumption that all children are little angels and are treasured by their parents. He shows how Sam and Bill overestimate the value of one particular little boy.
Bill and me figured that Ebenezer would melt down for a ransom of two thousand dollars to a cent.
By the time they are ready to send their ransom note to Red Chief's father they have had plenty of exposure to their vicim and are ready to settle for less.
Bill begged me tearfully to make the ransom fifteen hundred dollars instead of two thousand.
When they finally receive an answer from the boy's father, it reads in part:
You bring Johnny home and pay me two hundred and fifty dollars in cash, and I agree to take him off your hands.
So the two kidnappers have drastically overvalued their captive, whom they now must pay to return.
Johnny (aka Red Chief) is only a symbol of children and childhood. One of O. Henry's themes in this story is that not all kids are little angels and that parenthood is not always a joy. Red Chief's father has a realistic view of his son. He knows the boy is a selfish, mean little devil. The great comedian W. C. Fields was noted for saying, "Anyone who hates kids can't be all bad."
Bill and Sam have an unrealistic view of the value of children to their parents because both of these men have never had children and know nothing about parenthood. This story is more about the trials and tribulations of raising kids than it is about the "busted caper" of a couple of stooges.