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Bennett watched Matthew Gibob take his last breath and die.
King had known him for years, and as she horsed around with him and other porters under the tarps, she stood where he was trying to set up his bed. It was often rainy up here in the high hills, and nobody minded—that was part of the adventure. A few of the boys, as the porters called themselves, were collecting firewood in the forest. And then the men with machetes burst out from the trees. The more thorough stories included a line or two quoting locals who said a dispute between tribes may have played a part—a theory that Mark Hitchcock, one of the owners of PNG Trekking, the company that sponsored the trip, disputed.
"'Look, I'm just a musician; I don't know anything about politics.'" Eventually, Jarvis convinced them that he wasn't a spy.
"I knew the OPM has a history of kidnapping and in some cases killing foreigners.
The clients ranged in age from their early forties to 67, but King was surprised by their high level of fitness. In a cold drizzle, the porters went to work, setting up an orange tent for each trekker. King’s tent was at the end of the row and she got up, pointed to it, said the money’s in there—she was carrying half the porters’ wages and all the money they’d need for paying villagers along the route, about ,000. They slashed and cut and cut and slashed—the legs of almost every porter, slicing their calves and Achilles tendons, chopping so fiercely that bones shattered. All the others were cut in the legs, unable to stand—except for two: a nine-year-old son of a porter, and a porter who held the boy when the attack was under way. She found a PNG phone, called a friend who worked for Morobe Joint Mining Ventures, the operator of a giant gold mine near the start of the trek, called everyone who could help, said to send villagers up the trail. Thought about her responsibility to the clients, who were bleeding, traumatized.
For themselves they strung a silver-colored tarp from the trees. The attackers separated her from the others, made her get the money out of her tent. But as the man with the .303 stood watching while she gathered it, the other two ran back and forth in a frenzied state, rifling through the tents, slashing any porter who moved. The trekkers were lying down, listening to the thumps, the screams, but King was seeing much of it, thinking, planning. Dark was coming, and in the highlands that meant a long, cold night. They’d bandage everyone up as best as they could, make the porters as comfortable as possible, and walk out the way they’d come, a roughly six-hour trip.