Jack and the Box

Arabian Noir Anthology

Length: 5 minute read

This short story was inspired by my late uncle, who once visited Qatar back in the Sixties as a merchant seaman. He always wanted to visit again but unfortunately never got the chance. It was published in a crime anthology entitled Arabian Noir in January 2024 and is available as either a paperback or ebook on Amazon or from Quadrant Books. Here is a short extract.

Jack and the Box


Jack shook his head and refocused on his playing cards. Drunken men crowded the Bedouin tent where the atmosphere was thick with body odour and oud incense. Jack’s crew stood behind him, jeering at the locals and roaring with laughter. Nasir, a middle-aged Qatari, stared at the money in the centre of the table, a cool £900, after Jack had gone all-in. The other three players had already folded.

Jack met Nasir’s eyes and grinned. ‘Your call.’

Nasir pulled a pouch from his thobe and fished out a bundle of local banknotes.

‘Hey!’ Jack said. ‘Sterling only.’

‘No more sterling. Only riyals.’

‘We agreed the rules. If you can’t match the bet, you fold.’

Nasir spoke to his compatriots, who each demurred. The frustration on his face was plain, a feeling Jack knew all too well: the torment of a gambler denied an easy win by a simple lack of funds. Nasir’s eye twitched, and he beckoned over a skinny boy and whispered in his ear. The boy recoiled, shaking his head, but Nasir barked and sent him away.

‘What’s the hold-up?’ Jack said.

Nasir gestured for him to wait.

Jack lit a cigarette. He sucked in the smoke and took another mouthful of grappa.

A hush fell over the tent as the boy reappeared, bearing a pearl-inlaid box. Nasir raised the lid and presented the contents: a gold-clasped pearl necklace, lying on white silk cloth.

Jack’s cabin mate, Bill, gave a long whistle.

Nasir snapped the box shut and slid it into the middle, creating consternation amongst the other Arab men. Jack glanced at the boy, who stared at the box with anguish. Jack nodded, accepting the bet, and again the tent fell silent.

Jack showed his hand...

S.G. Parker

5th January, 2024


Fiction List