Or: Two Desperate Men
Story 67 Written by Tom Johnson
Illustrated by David Clyde Walters
Wire dog was excited. His family was going camping. Ellen and Mom & Dad were rushing around, loading the car with food and tents and bedrolls and blankets. Wire was right at their feet trying to help. He remembered the last time they went to the woods and he chased rabbits – not that he ever caught one. They would turn fast, hopping in a new direction while Wire rolled to a stop, only to see the big-eared bunny had already escaped. But he figured he knew all their tricks this time, and it would be a different story.
Ellen suddenly stopped and waved towards the corner of the street, and Wire looked down the sidewalk and was surprised to see Abigail the bookworm running towards them. She had her magic pack on her back and the edge of a book was sticking out. Now Wire knew that Abigail loved reading stories to them, but why was she coming just as they were getting ready to leave? Unless, and Wire started wagging his tail at the thought, Abigail was going camping with them. The idea excited Wire and he rushed to meet the bookworm.
Abigail reached down and picked Wire up, carrying him back to the car where Ellen was waiting. “Didn’t you tell Wire I was going with you?” Abigail asked.
“No,” Ellen laughed. “I wanted to surprise him.”
“Well, I think you succeeded,” Abigail laughed.
Indeed, poor Wire was so excited his whole body was shaking all over. It just couldn’t get any better than this, as far as Wire Dog was concerned. Chasing rabbits and listening to Abigail read stories to them was the best of times.
Just then Dad yelled, “All aboard!” Ellen and Abigail jumped in the back seat, the bookworm still holding Wire tight. “Just a couple hours and we’ll be there girls,” he told them.
Well, that was okay with them, the girls chatted all the way, and Wire was enjoying the ride, thinking about those rabbits he’d chased last time, and wondering what fun stories Abigail would read.
“What did you bring to read to us?” Ellen asked.
“A surprise,” Abigail giggled. “Wire will love it, though, I just know it.”
As soon as they arrived at the campsite, they set up tents while Wire chased a few rabbits into the brush. Unfortunately, the rabbits proved just as quick as they had the previous year, so Wire finally settled down. Dad was anxious to catch some fish from the nearby stream, while Mom unpacked sodas and sandwiches.
It wasn’t long before Dad returned with a string of fish, which he cleaned while Ellen and Abigail built a fire in the clearing. After cooking the fish over the open fire in a skillet, Mom wrapped the fish and put them on ice for the next day.
Wire pretended he was protecting the camp from bears, though in truth there were no bears in these woods. As darkness settled over the camp, Dad threw more branches on the fire and everyone sat around the flames for story time. That’s when Abigail brought forth a book from her magic pack. Mom and Dad grinned while Ellen and Wire became attentive to the bookworm. In fact, Wire was holding his breath, just waiting for the announcement to come.
“This campfire reminds me of a story,” Abigail began. “A story about a kidnapped boy who turned the tables on a couple of crooks. The author of the story was William Sidney Porter, better known as O. Henry, and the story is “The Ransom of Red Chief.”
“Now the story goes that Sam and his partner, Bill Driscoll, were in need of two thousand dollars while in Summit, Alabama, and there was this local rich man named Ebenezer Darset who had a redheaded ten year old son that was ripe for kidnapping. Calling themselves Two Desperate Men, they set up camp in a cave in the woods, rented a buggy, and one evening grabbed little Johnny, but not before the redheaded terror smashed Bill’s eye with a brick.
“Poor Bill became the redheaded terror’s prime target for mischief. On the first night, Johnny stuck two buzzard’s tail feathers in his red hair, and told his kidnappers he was now Red Chief, and he would scalp Bill in the morning, and boil Sam in oil. Sure enough, Sam woke up to screams and found Red Chief trying to scalp his partner. Putting a stop to the scalping, Sam leaned his back against the wall making sure the terror didn’t boil him in oil.
“Now Sam decided to go into a nearby town and see if there was any news on the missing boy. He and Bill worded a ransom note, telling Ebenezer where to leave the money, and while visiting the nearby town posted the letter. Returning to camp, he discovered Bill coming into camp with Red Chief some distance behind him. “I’m sorry,” Bill said. “I let him go. He made me get down on all fours and rode me like a horse for ninety miles. I had enough, so sent him home.”
“How’s your heart?” Sam asked him. Then, “Turn around and see who is behind you.”
“Well, it liked to have broke Bill’s heart that Red Chief was still with them. And things got even worse when Sam staked out the spot where Ebenezer was to leave the ransom. For another note was left for the Two Desperate Men, which said in part: “I will make a counter offer, you pay me two hundred and fifty dollars, and you can return my son.”
Both men had just about had their fill of the redheaded terror, especially Bill, so in defeat, they returned Red Chief to his father, and Bill counted out two hundred and fifty dollars to old Ebenezer. Instead of collecting a ransom, they paid a ransom for the father to take his son back. “How long can you hold him?” Bill asked the boy’s father. “Maybe ten minutes,” was the reply. “Long enough,” Bill admitted. “I can be in Canada by that time!”
“And that’s where Sam caught up with Bill.
Ellen giggled, “Look at Wire.”
“Now where did Wire get those buzzard’s tail feathers?” Abigail laughed.