About the author
Ross L Barber is a well-traveled, semi-retired South Australian high school teacher of foreign languages. He retired from full time teaching duties at the age of 53. After acquiring basic word processing skills, he turned his energies to writing. At first, humorous short stories from his early days in teaching in the 60s and 70s. In 1997, he began his first novel, Chalk that was completed in late 1998. In 2000, Barber began his first work of fiction, The Enclave, and finished it May 2001. In the first week of September that same year, he began his second work of fiction, Internet Stalker, an in-depth look at the Internet chat scene with all its exciting, dangerous and evil aspects, finishing it June, 2002. He penned Jihad, the sequel to Internet Stalker later that year. When he is not working on his current book or penning some humorous anecdote, this former educator can be found down on the local pier fishing. His two children are grown up. He lives with his wife of 37 years in his hometown, Adelaide, in sunny South Australia.
October 12, 2002
Bali, Saturday night
The Kuta district
It was a typical Bali night: hot, humid and still. Joe (Yousef) Malik stood on the balcony of Paddy's Bar, gazing down at the neon strips in the main street below.
Above the music and happy laughter in the nightclub, he could hear the surf pounding onto the black sand at nearby Kuta Beach.
Malik's job with the Australian Federal Police gave him time to combine work with his beloved Rugby League. He'd been coming here for the last ten years on end-of-season football trips. Peaceful, laid-back, friendly Balinese, and cheap accommodation. The warm sea and surf, a tropical paradise, and every night Saturday night. He loved this place and he always enjoyed himself here. Except for that first time in 1993. When the boys said, "Don't drink the bloody water whatever you do, Joe," he thought they were kidding him. Wrong! He got 'Bali belly', and spent 48 hours sitting on the toilet shitting his brains out.
Malik examined his watch. "I could stand here all night just watching the street and listening to the noises of the night. But I'd better get along down to the Sari Club. From here, it sounds like the boys are already well oiled," he said to himself.
A familiar voice yelled, "Hey, Joe, are you coming over to the Sari, mate? I've got these two honeys here to look after. Need a bit of help."
Malik looked down. He saw his team-mate, Bill Swanson, waving frantically up at him. He was strolling along in the street below with a pretty girl on each arm: one blonde, one brunette. Cupping his hands around his mouth he yelled back, "I'll be there in a while, mate. Keep them warm for me, alright?"
He reluctantly drew his eyes away, turned and jogged down the rickety stairs to the bar. Although quite small compared with other clubs, at this time of night, Paddy's was usually packed, and tonight was no exception. There were couples galore crammed into this tiny space; some at tables but the majority stood and jostled for a spot at the bar. He looked at his watch again.
Why not? Don't want her to think I'm too eager so I might just have a
quick one here before rocking on over to the Sari.
The tough little Sydney Sharks hooker stood at the rear of the bar, dragged up a stool and perched himself on it. A 31-year-old Muslim and a Rugby League veteran trying to maintain peak fitness, he didn't normally drink alcohol. But on special occasions such as this he let his hair down and drank a stubby or two. Thinking about the good time he hoped to have later with the pretty brunette in the Sari Club, he ordered a Fosters instead of his usual tonic water and lemon.
The only respite from the heat and humidity came from a gutless air-conditioner and a couple of ceiling fans that creaked and groaned. He sipped his icy cold Fosters and wiped the sweat from his brow. "Geez this tastes good," he muttered.
A gravely voice from the next stool said, "Talking to yourself is the first sign you're losing your marbles, mate. You better go easy on the grog. Where are you from anyway?"
Malik sized the guy up. He was built like a brick shithouse: muscular shoulders, thick neck, broken nose, and thighs like an Olympic gymnast. His head was shaved and he had cauliflower ears. He looked mean as hell, but he had twinkling, blue eyes; friendly eyes and he looked familiar. "Sydney," Malik replied. Then he recognized him. It was that colourful, tough Australian Rules player from the Kangaroos they called Mick.
He stretched out his hand. The guy grasped it in his huge paw and squeezed; squeezed hard and grinned. Malik had expected a strong grip. Although his hand was small by comparison, he looked the big guy straight in the eye but didn't blink or avert his gaze.
"Your tough-guy image precedes you here," Malik exclaimed. "Even in good old, one-eyed Sydney League country, everyone knows you by reputation. By the way, my name's Joe, Joe Malik. I'm from the Sydney Sharks team. How are you going, mate, alright?"
"Bloody hell, you recognize me, hey? It's about time you blokes up in the Harbour City got your act together about a real man's game, Aussie Rules."
Malik ignored the irony and beamed disarmingly. "I follow the Sydney Swans in the AFL," he breezed. "I've spoken a few times with the Swans boys in the change rooms after the games. Good blokes. By the way, how do you reckon your new coach will go in 2003, mate?"
At the mention of the word 'coach,' his face clouded over. "Talk about bloody coaches," he quipped. "I changed clubs after many years, and so did he. That's bloody life. But I'm really focused and 100% into my new team. We're a cert for the flag next year if we give it our all. Right or wrong, it's up to us, the players, to get us over the line come next September. We'll give the competition a good shake. Dead set."
The mood now broken, they didn't talk for a while. As Malik looked aimlessly around, the clock over the bar caught his eye.
He had to go soon. But first he wanted to buy a round. "My shout," he said. "What are you drinking, big guy?"
His drinking partner called the barman over. "Same again," he said. Then grinning at Malik, he continued, "The next one's mine, okay, little fellah?"
At this point, Malik felt a sudden urge to pee.
"Hey, keep my seat free will you, mate, I've got to take a leak. I'll be back in a jiffy."
His new friend pointed towards the toilet just around the corner.
"The dunny's right behind you, mate. Go for it."
But before he could move, they heard a ruckus at one of the tables near Paddy's entrance. A guy who looked like a local Balinese with a heavy knapsack on his back was arguing with a drunken western woman. Trying to ward her off, he carefully laid the knapsack on a low table.
They looked in that direction.
She tugged on his arm and screeched, "Fuck you creep. First you promise me the world if I sleep with you. Now you've got laid, you want to leave, just like that, you bastard!"
Embarrassed by all the attention this woman's loud voice was attracting, the Balinese tried to placate his irate companion, tried to stop her screeching, but he kept glancing at his watch and his eyes didn't leave the knapsack for a second.
Malik's new drinking partner didn't appreciate this interruption. "If I wanted this kind of shit," he growled, "I would've got married. Nice to meet you, Joe, don't do anything I wouldn't enjoy. Okay?" Then he shook Malik's hand, grinned, slid from his stool and strode out the door. Malik's eyes followed him out into the hot Bali night.
After one last glance at the arguing couple, Malik replied, "Yep, see you, mate. Good luck in the AFL next year." The rugby player pointed at the pair at the table and asked the bartender, "You know him?"
The bartender continued polishing glasses. He eventually said without looking up, "He big trouble. Not from Bali. He foreigner from big city on Java."
"Is that right? Interesting," Malik said. He got off his stool and headed for the toilets around the corner.
Deep in thought, no sooner had he begun to empty his bladder than a loud explosion rocked the bar. The floor shook, glass shattered. The sounds of screams snapped him out of his reverie. A few seconds later as he zipped up his fly, a deafening bomb blast from the Sari Club hammered Paddy's and slammed him against the toilet wall. Then he vaguely heard the dull crump of a third explosion much further away. He slumped to the ground unconscious. Seconds that seemed like hours elapsedů
A thick fog. Head pounding like a sledgehammer. Gradually coming around. Malik shook his head like a wet dog to clear it. He opened his eyes and tried to stand up. Couldn't. He felt a searing pain in his chest; he coughed but could hardly breathe. Smoke everywhere. Flames licked around the edge of the door. One of the water pipes had burst. The blasts had shattered the toilet bowl and ripped it away from its pedestal. The floor was awash with sewage.
Malik patted himself over to see what injuries he'd sustained. He had an unbearable pain in his sternum whenever he coughed or tried to move.
A couple of cracked ribs, I reckon.
Other than that, and reeking of excrement, no serious internal injuries, it seemed. No broken bones. He eased himself gingerly onto his side, used his right arm as leverage to get to his feet. A bolt of pain nearly made him faint. The roar of the fire in the bar became louder as the flames came closer. He had to get out of there before fire engulfed the small room. Summoning all his strength, he gritted his teeth and dragged himself to his feet and leaned against the wall. On the floor lay an effluent-soaked raffia mat. It would at least provide some protection against the heat. Not much but better than nothing. He draped it over his shoulders. Holding one arm against his chest, the other up to his face, he lurched through the corona of flames around the doorway.
What he saw when he groped his way through the smoke into the bar nearly made him puke. The once colourful little tavern no longer existed. The mirrors and all glassware were now shards of glass lying everywhere. Tables and chairs blazed like brushwood. Bodies in flames littered the ground. The place where the guy with the knapsack and his angry companion had argued a mere minute or so earlier was a blackened hole in the floor. No sign of either of them. But the sickening stench of seared flesh assailed his nostrils.
He heard a cry for help.
"You can please help me, sir?"
Through the smoke he saw the bartender, clothes in flames, trying to drag himself over the bar. His hand reached out for him.
Malik staggered in unbearable pain towards the outstretched hand.
Suddenly the roof collapsed. A heavy wooden beam crashed down blocking Malik's path to the bartender.
He saw two scenarios: get out now or perish in the bar. He could hear the barman's pathetic cry, "You no help me, Mister, I die for sure here."
Malik inched forward. A whoosh of scorching air blew him backwards. Between him and the guy he was trying to help stood a wall of fire and suffocating smoke. The choices now limited to saving the bartender or himself from certain death, Malik, brave, but not that brave, reluctantly opted for the latter.
The distraught young Sydneysider turned his head to the side, gulped in a lungful of air, dragged the soiled mat over himself. He held with one hand his aching ribs, put up his other hand, palm facing away as if expecting a slap in the face, and then he made a dash through the opening between the fallen beam and crackling flames. He stumbled through swirling smoke and sparks that shot everywhere. Over broken glass, over burning bodies to the front door. The mat protecting him smouldered. Within seconds, the flimsy raffia was ablaze. He shrugged it off and flung himself the last few feet through the doorway that led to the street. Seconds later, the few other survivors, mostly Balinese, tripped out after him. They stood in a group too distraught to speak. Stared in awe at a bright red ball in the sky with pure-white smoke in mushroom form rising from it. It came from the place where the Sari Club had been until barely a minute before.
Instead of finding safety outside, Malik and the others confronted the searing heat from Paddy's and the Sari club that the second giant explosion had devastated. Along Jalan Legian, flash fires ignited hotels and bars, also exploding into infernos. He realised they had to get away from there or risk being incinerated. He urged the survivors to look. Pointed to the street.
"We must go down Jalan Legian. Safe there." Then he nodded the survivors in that direction.
Once in the protection of Jalan Legian, Malik and the Balinese with him looked at the terrifying sight. The whole street was ablaze. The burning carcasses of cars shattered by the Sari Club blast lay heaped haphazardly on top of each other. A short distance away in a loading zone not far from the Sari Club they could see a metre-deep crater.
Chaos reigned. Crowds fleeing the scene streamed towards them screaming and tipping water all over each other. But when Malik asked them what had happened, no one would answer him. Most of them moved aimlessly in shock.
A couple of western men and women came out of the dark covered in blood. "It is terrorists," somebody shouted. "Nobody's safe here. You better get out of this town."
The electricity was out. Other than the buildings in flames, the only light they had to see with came from the headlights of the dozens of motorcycles racing to get to the scene.
"Got to get back to my hotel ASAP. See how many of our boys got out or didn't," he blabbered to the goggle-eyed Balinese.
He felt a firm grip on his shoulder. It squeezed. He spun around. Uneven white teeth gleamed out of a blackened and sweaty face. A familiar gravely voice asked, "Are you okay, lad?" Then it quipped, "Bloody hell, what a pong." It continued, "You stink like you've been rolling in dogshit or something, Joe. Where the hell have you been?"
Despite Malik's aches and distress he couldn't repress a grin.
"More like Bali shit mate. I got caught in the dunny taking a piss when the bomb blew Paddy's Bar to smithereens. Actually, I used a raffia mat soaked in effluent from the dunny floor to cover my head when I escaped. Maybe it stinks like shit, but it saved me from third degree burns."
He laughed out loud at that. "We better have a medic check you out. You look totally fucked mate. Where are you staying?" he asked.
"About 600 metres down the road at the Buna Beach Hotel; and the Kangaroos?"
"We're there too."
"How come you missed out on all the fun, man? Didn't you go to the Sari Club to join your mates when you left Paddy's?" Malik said.
He looked perplexed.
"Was going to but thought I'd jog down to Kuta Beach for a quick dip to cool off and sweat out some of the booze first. Was about a K away when I heard the first explosion. Was already on my way back when the Sari went kaboom!"
Standing in the street, they heard cop cars and the wail of ambulance sirens. "We better get you back to your hotel for a check up," the big man said. "Do you reckon you can make it on foot, Joe? Judging by the lack of colour in your face, mate, chances are you'd pass out before we got more than 50 metres."
At that point, a couple of young local Balinese boys on motorcycles pulled up alongside them. They smiled shyly and motioned the two Australians to get on behind them.
"Which hotel you are staying at sirs? You not get taxi at this time. We take you there. Okay?"
"How much, boys?" he asked taking a wad of Australian dollars from his wallet and fanning them before the young motorcyclists' eyes.
Adrenalin pumped through the boys' veins and their eyes gleamed with anger at the catastrophe that had befallen their beloved Bali.
"No, no, sirs," they cried pushing the money away, "we take you now. It cost you nothing. Okay?"
He grinned at them, helped Malik onto one of the bikes then got on the other one. "You better hang on tight, mate," the Kangaroo player laughed, "when it comes to getting somewhere real quick, these kids don't fuck around."
Although groggy and wracked with pain, Malik leaned forward and clasped the kid tightly around his waist. Then the kid gunned his motorcycle into a wheel stand and burned rubber down Legian to the Buna Beach Hotel. The other rider did the same. Within seconds, they arrived shaken but safe in front of their hotel.
The young Balinese helped Malik to the hotel entrance, then without waiting for thanks, were gone: back to the chaos of the bombsites to help out some more.
Inside the hotel, the sight that met their eyes was surreal. The foyer was filled with tourists, in the main Rugby League and AFL players. They stood around hugging each other with relief or looked inquiringly at their coaches for an explanation for these bizarre events. Others too weak or injured lay on the floor and silently awaited medical attention. Emergency power had been restored. An Australian doctor with his wife, a qualified ER nurse, on a short stopover from a medical conference in Japan, dispensed whatever help he could. A handful of Balinese staff was overwrought and apologised pathetically for a catastrophe that wasn't their fault. In tears, they assisted the doctor and his spouse as best they could.
Malik's new AFL friend alerted the doctor to his plight then joined his Kangaroo mates.
"Hey, where have you been, mate?" the Kangaroo boys asked as one. "Paul's gone missing but everyone else has been accounted for."
Paul was his best friend on and off the field. The big tough man's former good humour vanished, he looked pale and his voice trembled, as he asked, "No sign of him anywhere? Have you checked out Sanglah Hospital? Maybe he's there?"
From Malik's team, five were missing. Three, including his pal, Bill McCarthy, were already declared dead in the Sari Club explosion. Suddenly, Malik slumped unconscious to the ground.
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