While I wait in line to pass through airport security, I check my pockets. Just my wallet, cell phone, and a ticket stub for the parking garage. And the envelope. No car keys. No knife. No gun.
I left my girlfriend, Carly, in Vlad's Lexus with her iPad and orders to put the windows down if she smokes. Vlad is real particular about his car.
A ticket to Philly is in my hand, but I'm not going on any airplane ride. I just have it in case the TSA agent asks. I do this kind of thing all the time, but a trickle of sweat runs down under my shirt collar and I flinch.
They send me through the cattle gate, then wand me, and I grab the plastic tub with my stuff. Except the envelope. That's still in my jacket pocket, damp with sweat. They stop an old lady ahead of me and give her the choice of getting groped or getting radiation sickness. She must be ninety.
It's almost eleven o'clock, and it's tough getting around all the moms with baby strollers and the stressed-out business types. I could use my size to push through, but I look at them and see the exhaustion on their faces and forget using my elbows and just walk.
I find Gate D11 and slow down to look for the men's room. The setup is pretty standard. You pick an airport and name a gate that's inside security, that way both parties have to go unarmed. Meet in the bathroom, make the exchange. Simple.
It's a different Mexican every time, but we've done three trades with them so far and it's gone fine. I see a stubby guy with a shaved head pop up from his seat, but then he goes to the window and gets on his phone. Not my guy.
10:59. I pat the envelope for the tenth time and go to the bathroom door. There's a folding yellow sign in front, with a picture of a guy slipping and falling. I smile and go around it.
The bathroom is big and cold. ...
* * *
I was drawn in by this first page, after stumbling a bit on the title. (The noun version of "to set up" should be "setup" or "set-up".) I like the narrator's straightforward, present-tense voice. Present tense and first-person POV are tricky to handle, but this worked well for me.
I thought the idea of having crooks meet at the TSA-controlled airport was fresh. I did wonder how the narrator had pulled this rendezvous off repeatedly, what with no-fly lists, and the fact that by now he must be on record for buying tickets he didn't use. If nothing else, I'd think he'd be nervous about that aspect of it. He's described as being generally nervous, but the more specific his fear, the better.
Overall, the setup of THE SET UP was handled efficiently and well. I did object to the use of generics ("Vlad" and "Mexican") was too broad-brush for me, leading me to expect that I'm about to get a familiar Russian mafia vs. Mexican drug ring tale. I think it could use some compelling detail here to bring the reader more into the situation.
I got confused by the action flow. On the first read-through, when I read "I see a stubby guy with a shaved head pop up from his seat," I assumed the narrator was already in the bathroom, and the guy was popping out of a stall. Later I wondered why the author described the bathroom as "big and cold" when he'd already been in there for a while. I had to pause and reorient myself. By preceding action with "Meet in the bathroom, make the exchange," you've already put the reader's head in the bathroom. Don't then backtrack to the gate area for the guy popping out of his seat.
I thought the tension fell off a bit in the last paragraph, probably because I was confused during the first read, and thought he was exiting from the bathroom. I had no idea why he would smile, since he hadn't made the exchange.
It should be an easy fix to focus the action so that readers won't get confused by the flow. I admit that I'm relatively easily thrown as a reader. Not everyone would trip over the issues that misled me, but you don't want to lose any reader on the first page.
Was I the only one who got confused? Anyone else have anything to add?