Newport Beach, Calif. — Swordfish for lunch at the Rusty Pelican.
A seat by the window overlooking yachts bobbing in the harbor.
Steve Cabler should have felt at home here.
But his stomach began welling up.
Vertigo made him dizzy.
Memories of a terrorist bomb in Bali rushed back.
Back to the packed Sari Club in Kuta Beach, back to Eminem’s “The Real Slim Shady” on the sound system, back to the Bintang beers that Cabler was sipping beside his buddy, Steve Webster.
He recalled the flash of light, the hurricane of debris, the tree-sized post roaring past his nose and crushing his friend.
The blast shattered Cabler’s eardrums, but it didn’t stop him hearing the screams of two Australian women whose hair was on fire.
He could hear the women now, halfway around the world, back home.
“I feel God saved me for a reason that I haven’t figured out,” he said during his first extensive interview since surviving the Oct. 12 blast that killed at least 191 and wounded nearly 300.
Cabler said he returned a changed man, his future a series of question marks.
How will he make money?
How will he support his 8-year-old son?
Will he ever be able to return to the carefree days, the partying, the girls, the music, the waves?
“I was delusional,” he said of life before Bali.
“For some reason, I’ve been chosen to come back and talk about it, talk about the danger, the evil, the carelessness.”
His answer is to defy terrorism, to somehow maintain the lifestyle that led him to Bali, to somehow keep the party going.
It’s the spirit of the inscription on T-shirts worn by Webster’s friends: “Terrorists don’t surf.”
Cabler once had a classic Southern California life, born in Santa Ana, graduated La Quinta High, never attended college.
He’s 42, with a girlfriend half his age.
He worked as a rock singer, most recently fronting a punk band called El Centro. Now he can barely hear.
He dabbled in the surfwear trade, but now he’s lost his business partner — Webster.
He rented an apartment a block from the beach, an ideal pad to surf every day. Now his balance is so shaky he can’t walk unassisted.
Hoping to collect insurance money or maybe sell his story, Cabler hired a personal injury attorney, Michael Naso.
It’s not just about money.
He wants to sound the alarm.
“One bomb here and everybody would be scared,” Cabler said.
“They’re afraid of a sniper? Wait till a bomb hits. I don’t want to be a doomsday guy, but it’s coming.”
His blue eyes bulged.
He waved his hands, bandaged to cover third-degree burns.
He winced because it hurt the shoulder he dislocated while breaking through a fence around the night club.
Cabler spent $6,000 for two weeks of surfing near Sumatra, followed by a week in Bali, a hedonist Hindu island amid puritan, predominantly Muslim Indonesia.
No one has been charged for the attack that U.S. officials blame on Muslim extremists with ties to Al Queda.
Before the blast, Cabler said, he had several run-ins with what he believed were angry Muslims.
One man accosted him in a Bali bar and said he hated Americans.
The man said he was from Iraq and had family in Afghanistan.
“He said, `Why’d you want to kill my wife and family?’ ” Cabler recalled.
Men in a Honda Civic shouted what sounded like epithets.
“These guys were very frightening,” Cabler said.
“They didn’t fit in.”
He said he would have liked to stay in the hotel on his last Saturday night in Bali, but he agreed to go drinking with Webster, affectionately known as Web, or Webby, who was celebrating his 41st birthday.
Moments after they ordered beers at the Sari Club, the first car bomb went off.
A second explosion seemed less than 50 feet away.
“I saw the first bomb and within seconds we were engulfed in flames,” he said.
“I stood up and the roof came down. Flames were all around. I could feel the oxygen being sucked out of my lungs.”
He said he tried to lift the beam that felled Webster, but quickly gave up.
He could barely save himself.
He scrambled outside after falling several times, stepping on squishy things that he believed were body parts or corpses.
He threw himself at a metal fence that ringed the club, injuring his shoulder as he broke through, only to confront a wall of flames.
He spent much of his last two days in Bali touring morgues, searching for Webster’s remains.
He saw a room of charred corpses cooling on ice.
Another room, he said, was filled with severed heads.
Finally, an Australian volunteer in a morgue used a photo to identify Webster as the corpse in body bag No. 105.
Webster’s widow, Mona, visited Cabler’s home recently.
She was red-eyed and said she was worried about how her two children were taking her husband’s death. Cabler tried to boost her spirits.
He said he hears a voice that sounds like Webster’s.
It’s a little creepy, he said, but it gives him courage.
“I’m not going to mourn his death,” Cabler said.
“I’m going to celebrate his life. We need to come together, to show strength, not weakness. We need to move forward.”
He said he was suffering as much as she was.
“I’m dizzy,” he said.
“But we need to show strength. We’re American. We’re laughing. We still have Web in our hearts.”
(c) 2002, The Orange County Register (Santa Ana, Calif.).
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