1. Calcutta, 1945
The man they called the Seagull was lost in a thunderous solo, his vast handsskipping across the piano keys as his rhythm section strained to keep pace. Sweat pooled around the collar of his white sharkskin suit, but Asia’s greatest jazz star was too juiced on highballs to mind the monsoon broil. He just rocked back and forth on his three-legged stool, attacking the tune.Beneath the unadorned stage at the Winter Garden, an open-air nightclubat Calcutta’s Grand Hotel, hundreds of young bodies moved to the music. There were American GIs in crisp tan uniforms, British Tommies blotto on gin, and Anglo-Indian girls looking for love, all illuminated by lanterns strung from the columns and arches that ringed the dance floor. Waiters in starched red jacketsdarted between the whirling patrons, carting off the remnants of chicken dinnersand baked Alaskas.But one American soldier wasn’t joining in the mirth. He stood motionless at the foot of the stage, snarling. By his side was his unusual pet, recently liberated fromthe forests of Assam, more than 500 miles to the northeast: a young sloth bear the size of a Siberian husky, with a heavy chain draped around its neck.The soldier had a problem with the color of the pianist’s skin. And he decided tomake his opinion known by turning his pet into a missile.“Here, Teddy!” he shouted as he chucked the bear toward the stage.“Here’s your brother!” The bear slammed into Teddy “Seagull” Weatherford and, startled by its suddenflight, sank its claws into the pianist’s coat. Scraps of fabric flew about the stage like confetti as the dancers froze and gawked.The bear continued tearing its way through Weatherford’s clothes until the thickset pianist finally cast off his ursine assailant. Weatherford was tempted to leap intothe crowd and pummel the jerk who’d tossed the poor beast, but he kept his cool.Such loutish behavior would be unbecoming for a man of his status.