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"This won't be boring, you'll see," said Karrar in the uncanny way he had of reading Piero's thoughts.
Piero smiled. He liked the way Karrar knew what he was thinking even before he said it out loud. Saved words that way! Just then two big black birds landed in the corn patch and the boys forgot the Grandfather while they hurled stones. Although they missed the ravens, the bouncing rocks sent them flying up into the Nabab tree, squawking their indignation to the whole village.
When the birds finally flew off looking for easier pickings, Karrar reached into his pocket for the knucklebones he had collected from the scraps fed to the dogs. The five lumpy bones fitted neatly into his hand, making a satisfying clunking sound as he tossed them up and down. He motioned with his head for Piero to follow, and, leaving the corn to its Fate, headed for the Nabab tree. Kneeling on the ground, as close as he dared to where the Grandfather lay sleeping, Karrar handed the knucklebones to Piero to begin the game.
Piero held the bones in his right hand, jiggling them up and down while Karrar kept one eye on his friend and one eye on the Grandfather. Piero always took a long time before he threw the bones. Suddenly his hand moved, tossing the bones into the air. Quick as a flash, he turned his hand over to catch the bones on the back as they fell. He managed to catch three, the other two falling onto the ground. With a grin, he tossed the three up again and caught them in the palm of his hand. He put two of these aside, and tossed the third one in the air again, scooping up one of the others so quickly he had time to catch the bone he had tossed before it hit the ground. He repeated the performance with the fifth bone, and then started all over again for the next round. This time he picked up two at a time, scooping the bones together on the ground. Karrar knew that Piero would go through to the harder rounds before he dropped any of the bones, so he concentrated his attention on the Grandfather. A breath in, a breath out, a breath in, a breath out.
Piero tossed the bones again, catching all five on the back of this hand. He threw them up and turned his hand to catch them in his palm. Just at that moment, Karrar nudged him, pointing at the Grandfather. Who lay perfectly still. The boys held their breath as they stared at the old man's chest. Nothing moved. The knucklebones all fell to the ground. Even the birds stopped singing in the Nabab tree.
With a rasping snore, the Grandfather breathed in. Karrar and Piero breathed out, and the birds started to sing. Piero gestured for Karrar to take the bones while he kept watch. Karrar tossed the bones with his left hand, steadily making his way up to Piero's score. The Grandfather was still breathing twelve rounds later, and Piero was winning, so Karrar came up with another plan.
"Let's climb the tree and watch him from up there," he whispered. Piero nodded, happy to follow Karrar, even if he had been winning for once.
With the bones back in his pocket, Karrar knelt by the base of the tree for Piero to climb on his shoulders so he could reach the first branch.