The first issue to your problem is there is no HDD in the MacBook to read. You need a storage location with at least 20GB to install the system (This applies for every computer). It sounds like you would like to install the latest version of macOS on the system itself, so I would first put an actual HDD inside.
After doing so, you should be able to hold the "Command" and the "R" key on the MacBook's key board to boot from the cloud recovery utility. From here you will be able to format the new HDD to a GTP partition to install the OS. After this you will have the option to reinstall macOS the MacBook itself had come with.
Once this is complete you should have a working Mac!
If you believe the HDD cable is bad you can replace the cable fairly inexpensively. However internal cable's never become defective unless they are spliced, cut, shorted, and or bent at the plug. So my guess is the internal cable is still ok.
This model MacBook does support USB booting as I have USB booted mid-2008 MacBook's and iMac's before. You just need to know the USB key combination. You'll need to hold the "Option" key to access the boot menu and then select the USB drive's name you are using.
Alongside, what @danj had said, you could also use the Apple Certified DVD Installer to install the OS too. The flashing question mark the MacBook shows means the MacBook cannot read the image you are attempting to boot, or there is no OS to boot from.