The Push by Dale T. Phillips

For twelve years Richard Burbage had ridden this particular subway without incident. Every weekday morning for fifty weeks a year, for twelve years, and back again each night. Close to 1,200 times then, minus a few days for holidays and sickness. All of this without extraordinary happenstance. The news occasionally reported horrible occurrences to passengers, but Richard thought perhaps it is certain kinds of people to whom things of this nature always happen.

Perhaps nothing happened to Richard because he tried to do nothing to attract attention and shied away from potential trouble. He was a basic suit-and-tie man with a briefcase and newspaper, riding the commuter train like hundreds of others, indistinguishable from the herd.

One does not normally pick out an individual in this typical crowd and attribute a life to them. Richard Burbage had a rather average mid-level job, a modest house in admitted suburbia, a wife, and three children. It was a quiet life for Richard, but a contented one.

That special morning, though, a bit of Richard's past came back to haunt him. It came in the form of Jack Westbrook, who had gone to the same high school as Richard. Jack had played on all the sports teams that could leverage his size and strength. He was the type of person who thinks that the world and all the people in it have been put here specifically for their amusement. He was large, loud, and obnoxious.

The platform was very crowded that morning, as the earlier scheduled train had been late. Richard saw the visage of Jack Westbrook in the crowd and recognized him instantly, unpleasant memories flooding back. The size and bovine-like face were unmistakable.

Westbrook was with an attractive blonde woman. She was crying, and his expression showed him to be in a dark mood, perhaps irritated at something she had done. At one point, he roughly seized her arm and shook her violently. She shook her head in a negative gesture, and Richard saw her grimace in obvious pain from her arm. Eyes shut, she nodded an affirmative, and Westbrook released her. She rubbed her arm where he had gripped her and wiped some tears away.

No one else did anything. All acted as if they were invisible, and the drama unfolding was not really happening right next to them. Richard stared, unbelieving.

Back in high school, Westbrook had been a senior while Richard had entered as a freshman. Richard was unable to make himself unobtrusive enough, and Westbrook singled him out for torment. Westbrook seemed to live to hurt people and was inordinately fond of what is called the practical joke, which is just a polite way of saying blatant cruelty.

Westbrook's mild version of abuse was to slap the books out of schoolmate's hands, pull their shirttails out, and slam their lockers shut on them (often hurting fingers in the process). If he really took a dislike to someone, he would go farther. Richard never forgot the day he went to get the mail at home and found the remains of a dead cat in the mailbox. There was no question of who had left it there, as a trademark calling card. For the rest of the year, Richard dreaded going to check the mail.

Bikes and cars were also the target of Westbrook's activities. Tires would be found slashed, bikes twisted and wrecked. Garbage was dumped on lawns, and rocks went through many a window. Westbrook’s father was influential, however, and nothing was done about the beatings of other youths or the delinquent activities.

All of this went through Richard's mind as he watched. The injustices of the past welled up within him, bringing cold fury. Westbrook still walked the earth, bringing misery and pain wherever he went. Richard thought about all the times he had wished Westbrook dead, and all the ways to make it occur.

The sound of the oncoming train echoed across the platform. Westbrook began to push his way through the crowd toward the edge of the platform. He thrust people aside as if he were still carrying the football and racing for the goal line. The woman followed as best she could, but not pushing as Westbrook did. He stopped to snarl at someone who protested his actions. He reached the edge with the air of a man who thinks he is important and has to be somewhere. He didn't even look back to see if the woman was following him. She had been caught behind the crowd and became lost to view.

Richard had surged forward with everyone else and found himself squeezing politely through the people. People packed in even tighter as the train came near. By careful maneuvering Richard found himself behind Westbrook, who hadn't turned around. The thought of countless cruel pranks came back, and Richard found himself giving a discreet push to the back in front of him. Westbrook lost his balance and fell out over the track as the train struck him full force. People screamed and cried, and several were sick at the sight.

Richard was amazed when no one pointed the finger of suspicion at him. Everyone seemed to believe the unfortunate man had stumbled. The blonde woman was taken away in hysterics. Richard felt she would recover quickly.


Richard's life changed. He took more risks, sometimes to the point of foolhardiness. He became more visible, more forceful. He thought a lot about what he wanted and set about making it happen. He had no patience with timid people. After all, he thought, if one is bold enough, one can get away with murder.


Copyright Dale T. Phillips 2019

Dale has published six novels, over seventy short stories, ten books of story collections, poetry, and non-fiction. He took writing seminars from Stephen King in college, has appeared on stage, television, and in an independent feature film, and competed on Jeopardy!. Dale also co-wrote and acted in a short political satire film. He's a member of the Mystery Writers of America and Sisters in Crime.

Dale is a repeat author with Tell-Tale Press. His work is also available in the Mystery and Crime Library.