Adrian Mellon wins an “I Love Derry” paper hat at a Pitch Til U Win stall on the Bassey Park Fairgrounds just six days before he dies. His surviving partner, Don Hagarty, tells Officer Harold Gardener that he was wearing it at the time of his death because he loved Derry, which Hagerty describes as “a shitty little town.” Hagerty tells Gardener and his partner, Jeffrey Reeves, that Steve Dubay, Christopher Unwin, and John “Webby” Garton pushed Mellon off the bridge and into the Canal as the pair were coming out of the Falcon Bar.
Adrian and Don are a gay couple, and Adrian loves Derry for being exemplary of quaint, small-town New England life. Before his death, he either did not recognize or underestimated the extent of the homophobia and narrow-mindedness in the town, epitomized by Dubay, Unwin, and Garton. As a trio of bullies, they resemble Henry Bowers, Victor Criss, and Reginald “Belch” Huggins.
The supposed culprits in Mellon’s death are being questioned. Chief Andrew Rademacher and Assistant District Attorney Tom Boutillier question Christopher Unwin, whom they correctly assess as “the weak link in the chain.” Chris admits that he and his friends threw Mellon into the Canal but insists that they did not intend to kill him. He also mentions a guy under the bridge—a guy in a clown suit with balloons.
Unwin is perceived as “weak” because, unlike Garton, he expresses a conscience and, unlike Dubay, he is smart enough to understand the severity of his actions. His sighting of the clown with the balloons will match Don Hagarty’s similar story.
Adrian Mellon won his hat at the Canal Days Festival, for which Mike Hanlon provided some historical exhibits. The festival runs from July 15th to July 21st and is a celebration of the centenary of the opening of the Canal, which runs through downtown Derry. The canal is what opened Derry to its lucrative lumber trade from 1884 to 1910. The city has cleaned up in preparation for the festival, working particularly to remove the anti-gay graffiti from the benches in Bassey Park and lined the walls of the “covered walkway over the Canal known as the Kissing Bridge.”
Hanlon and his family have served as Derry’s unofficial historians by keeping photos and sharing stories about the city’s dark past. Many citizens of Derry, particularly those in the prim Derry Historical Society, seek to hide unpleasant aspects of Derry’s history and character. They remove the anti-gay graffiti to efface visual reminders of the hatred that freely exists in the city. In what comes to be a pattern of behavior for Derry, the townspeople concern themselves only with how they are perceived on the surface, not the root of their problems.
Paul Hughes and his partner, Officer Conley, question John “Webby” Garton, who is irritable and uncooperative. Garton recalls seeing Adrian Mellon and Don Hagarty at the fair, “mincing along with their arms about each other's waists and giggling like a couple of girls.” Garton pointed them out to his friends in disgust. Steve Dubay says he heard that Hagarty once picked up a kid hitchhiking “and then tried to put a few moves on him.” Mellon and Hagarty walk away from the Pitch Til U Win and toward the carnival’s exit, which is also in the direction of Garton, Dubay, and Unwin.
Adrian and Don’s effeminate mannerisms make Garton ill at ease due to his own fragile sense of manhood. Garton is only a teen but has come to associate masculine strength with violence and opposition to homosexuality, which he thinks turns men into “girls”—not only feminine but also diminutive. The boys only know about gay people through exaggerated rumors and beliefs that connect homosexuality to pedophilia.
John “Webby” Garton explains to Paul Hughes and Officer Conley that his civic pride was “wounded” by the sight of Adrian Mellon in the “I Love Derry” paper hat. When Garton threatens to make Mellon eat the hat, Mellon flirtatiously responds that he can find something “tastier” than his hat for Garton to eat. This remark sends Garton into a fury. He is outraged by the suggestion that he would be interested in any homosexual behavior. Don Hagarty senses trouble and tries to pull Mellon away, but Mellon stands his ground. Suddenly, Officer Frank Machen prompts Garton to leave the couple alone. Chris Unwin tells Garton to “mellow out” and Steve Dubay suggests that they get hot dogs. Garton goes along with his friends and lets the matter rest, for the moment.
Garton distracts himself from the true problem of his insecure masculinity and possible fears of his own latent sexuality by projecting his anger onto Mellon wearing the paper hat. The hat, like the paper boat, is an innocent object that comes to symbolize vulnerability. Mellon wears the hat because he really does love Derry, not realizing the hatred that it inspires in Garton, who sees it as a reminder of Mellon’s unwanted and threatening presence.
Officer Charles Avarino and his partner, Barney Morrison, are questioning Steve Dubay. Avarino does not like the presence of any gay people in Derry and would love to see the Falcon Bar shut down for good. However, he is not keen on anyone being tortured and murdered. Still, he would be delighted to take Dubay home to his stepfather and hold Dubay’s arms while the elder man “[beats] the creep to oatmeal.” He recalls how the police brought Adrian Mellon’s body up from the Canal and saw how his eyes were bulging in terror. It annoys him now to hear Dubay claim no knowledge of what he and the others did.
Officer Avarino is also homophobic and violent, given his desire to see Dubay beaten. However, he has no awareness of how his own hatred of homosexuals and his tolerance for violence would contribute to a culture that validates the three teens’ harassment and murder of Mellon. He is less concerned with Dubay’s act of violence than he is with the young man’s unwillingness to admit to his actions, which Avarino perceives as weak.
When Elmer Curtie opens the Falcon, a bar, in 1973, he imagines that most of his customers will be bus passengers from the terminal next door. By 1977, he nearly goes bankrupt. He decides in February of that year to keep the place open until July 4th. If nothing changes, he will simply walk next door and board a bus to Florida. Over the next five months, however, Curtie’s fortunes turn. The Falcon, which is painted black and gold and decorated with stuffed birds given to him by his late brother, a taxidermist, gets a steady clientele of polite young men. Curtie does not realize until 1981 that his clientele is “almost exclusively gay.” There are only four other bars in Derry, but Curtie’s is the only one whose customers don’t regularly wreck the place. Still, stories circulate about the Falcon being a hotbed of sin. The stories are merely a product of Derry’s provincialism.
The Falcon is a symbol of Derry’s fears about homosexuality and its open expression, which signifies a change in social mores that makes the town uncomfortable. The Falcon is also related to King’s motif of using birds as emblems of subconscious fears. Both Mike Hanlon and Stanley Uris see It transform into a giant, menacing bird at various points in the book. The décor in the Falcon is part of its attraction to its gay clientele. Its ornate design and stuffed birds would be perceived as “camp”—that is, a form of style that embraces bad taste.
Don Hagarty is one of Elmer Curtie’s regular customers. He frequents the Falcon for two or three years before meeting Adrian Mellon. Mellon is a freelance writer who has come to write a piece about the Canal for a bi-weekly magazine, but he stays to move in with Hagarty. Their summer together, Hagarty remembers, was the happiest of his life. In retrospect, Hagarty thinks that he should have known that something would go wrong, for “God only puts a rug under guys like him in order to jerk it out from under their feet.” Though Hagarty is planning to leave Derry, worried about the town’s hostility toward gays, Mellon insists on staying, at least until he finishes his novel.
Hagarty senses that the town is dangerous for gay people. He now remembers his idyllic summer with Mellon as a harbinger of the tragedy to come. Hagarty places his misfortune within a cosmic sense of being “cursed” due to being gay. God, he imagines, allows gay men brief comfort and happiness only to show them that they will never have these things permanently. Hagarty has internalized society’s hostility toward gay people as a result of Mellon’s death.
Christopher Unwin continues to tell his version of the events at the fair. The rides are taken down, so the boys occupy themselves with the games, which is when John “Webby” Garton sees Adrian Mellon at the Pitch Til U Win booth. Garton pitches at the booth to try to win the hat that eventually goes to Mellon. Steve Dubay, who is usually the one to tell Garton to “mellow out,” has taken some red pill and is now heckling Garton for his inability to win “that queer’s hat.” Garton decides that he and the boys should “cruise by the Falcon” later and see if Mellon is around. Tom Boutillier and Chief Rademacher listen to Unwin’s story and exchange a knowing glance. Unwin does not yet know it, but he is implicating himself in first-degree murder.
It irritates Garton that Mellon proves to be a better pitcher than he. Gay men, particularly effeminate gay men, are often derided for “throwing like girls,” so when Mellon pitches successfully at the booth and Garton doesn’t, this suggests that Garton is the one who “throws like a girl.” The hat, too, is symbolic of Derry. When Mellon wins it, he validates his place within the town, which also offends Garton, who resents the presence of the gay couple in public spaces.
Adrian Mellon and Don Hagarty are coming out of the Falcon after having had two beers. The guys drive up and cut in front of them. Christopher Unwin denies “active participation” in what happens next. John “Webby” Garton gets out of the car and demands the paper hat. Adrian hands it over, hoping that he and Hagarty will now be left alone. Instead, Garton punches Mellon in the face, driving him against the pedestrian railing. Blood spurts from Mellon’s mouth. A car passes and Hagarty screams at it for it to stop, but the driver never looks around. Steve Dubay then kicks Hagarty “in the side of the face.” Hagarty hears the voice of Unwin warning him to get away before “he [gets] what his friend [is] getting.” What Mellon is getting is shoved around like a rag doll while Garton, Dubay, and Unwin punch him and rip his clothes. The heavy rings that Garton wears tear Mellon’s mouth open.
Unwin narrates a scene that sounds as though it could be from a film. Events occur quickly, and Unwin’s denial of “active participation” comes from his sense that Mellon’s abuse seems almost unreal. This is because of the speed at which everything happens, as well as the image of Mellon as a “rag doll,” which is a reminder of his vulnerability. The driver who never slows down is characteristic of the citizens of Derry, who feign ignorance of bullies like Garton, Unwin, and Dubay, partly because they do not disapprove of the teens’ harassment of Mellon and Hagarty.
Don Hagarty screams for help and a small voice, somewhere near his left, mocks his desperate cries and then giggles. Hagarty looks down and sees a clown. He describes the clown as a cross between Ronald McDonald and Bozo. The clown offers Don to help himself to a bunch of floating balloons. He then tells Don that soon Adrian Mellon, too, will float. Jeff Reeves notes that the clown calls Don by his name, which Don agrees sounds very strange.
As when it appears to George Denbrough, the clown shows characteristics that resemble popular characters in children’s entertainment. The result is disorienting, for clowns typically represent fun and innocence, but in this instance, the clown mocks Hagarty’s pain, indicating that it is not a friendly presence.
Meanwhile, Tom Boutillier and Chief Rademacher are trying to get Christopher Unwin to admit that he and his friends threw Adrian Mellon into the Canal. Unwin still insists that he did not. He admits that the situation was “crazy.” He recalls John “Webby” Garton holding Mellon under his arms while Steve Dubay takes him by the seat of the pants. They then throw him over the bridge and into the water amidst Don Hagarty’s pleas to stop. Dubay and Garton retreat to the car, but Unwin looks down. He sees Hagarty scrambling to save Mellon, who is being dragged away by the clown. Chris also thinks that he saw the clown bite into Mellon’s armpit, as though the clown were trying to bite into Mellon’s heart.
Unwin did not play an active role in beating Mellon or tossing him over the bridge, so he believes that he was not directly responsible for his murder. His sense of the incident as “crazy” reiterates his inability to understand the concrete nature of his actions. His sighting of the cannibalistic clown contributes to his sense of having experienced something unreal and even fantastical.
Don Hagarty also recalls seeing the clown but insists that “[t]he clown did not drag [Adrian] up on the far bank.” He sees the clown’s head in Adrian Mellon’s armpit, but the clown is not biting—it is smiling. The clown’s arms tighten around Adrian and Hagarty hears ribs splinter while Adrian shrieks in agony. The clown then invites Don to float with unnamed others. It sweeps one of Its white-gloved hands to gesture at the thousands of green, yellow, red, and blue balloons that float under the bridge. Each balloon has “I ‘Heart’ Derry” printed on the side. Don watches while the clown carries Adrian’s body away. For Don, it is clear who the clown is—the clown is Derry. Don then runs away from the scene.
While Unwin sees a creature that eats people, Hagarty sees that the clown nearly hugs Mellon to death. The clown probably does both of these things in the imagination of each man. Hagarty loves Mellon and is unable to save him, so the clown mocks this by hugging Mellon in a death grip. The clown also mocks Mellon’s love of Derry with the balloons that are printed with the same logo from the paper hat. This causes Don to think that Derry itself has killed Adrian with its homophobia.
Harold Gardener decides to talk to Tom Boutillier about the clown. Boutillier encourages him to drop it so that they do not risk losing the case against John “Webby” Garton, Steve Dubay, and Christopher Unwin. Gardener then asks how they will explain the bites on Adrian Mellon’s body. Boutillier figures that one of the guys, probably Garton, liked to bite. Gardener relents. He wants to see Garton, Unwin, and Dubay put away and knows that the clown story will spoil the chances of a conviction. Furthermore, Boutillier is determined to use the case to foster his ambitions to run for District Attorney in two years.
Gardener believes the story about the clown, since his father, Dave Gardener, was the one who found George Denbrough’s mysteriously dismembered body by the sewer. Gardener knows that an evil force lurks beneath Derry, but Boutillier is uninterested, due to the problem of presenting such a story in court. To win the case and realize his political ambitions, he wants to ground the case firmly in reality and dismisses the image of the evil clown.
John Webber Garton, known as “Webby,” is convicted of first-degree manslaughter and is sent to Thomaston State Prison for ten to twenty years. Steven Bishoff Dubay is also convicted of first-degree manslaughter, but he is sent to Shawshank State Prison for fifteen years. Christopher Philip Unwin is tried separately as a juvenile and is “sentenced to six months at the South Tindham Boys' Training Facility, sentence suspended.” All three of their sentences are under appeal around the time that Mike Hanlon is writing in his diary, in an effort to retain the memory of these events. Don Hagarty and Christopher Unwin eventually leave town. During Garton and Dubay’s trial, no one mentions the clown.
The only record that exists of the clown in this case is in Mike Hanlon’s diary. Unwin and Hagarty’s departures from Derry are attempts to forget the town’s evil. On the other hand, Mike remains in Derry and transcribes its stories, which are also its secrets. The two adult teens’ appeal of their prison sentences likely comes from their insistence that they did not directly cause Mellon’s death, though their only justification for such a case is too implausible to sustain a defense in court.