Jonathan Grave’s Guide to Survival

by John Gilstrap

The editors of Between the Chapters invited bestselling thriller author John Gilstrap to write in the voice of his fictional hero, Jonathan Grave, providing  safety tips to our readers. Grave, a specialist in unsanctioned hostage rescue operations, is always direct, savvy, and no-nonsense, as you’ll see when you read his advice here:

Since you’re reading this, I presume that you know who I am and what I do. It’s likely no secret to you that violence is increasing in America and that crime rates are skyrocketing. It doesn’t matter to me why it’s happening, because there’s not a thing in the world I can do about it. I can, however, narrow the chances of me becoming a victim. I can help you do that, too.

A Plan is the Antidote to Panic

In my mind, being prepared means having a plan. At home, you’ve got smoke detectors and fire extinguishers that you probably don’t know how to use, but they will give you something to do while you wait for the firetrucks to arrive. You’ve got locks on your doors and food in the freezer. Being prepared at home is easy. It just requires a little forethought and some inexpensive purchases.

Remember that duct tape and plastic wrap you bought a few years ago? Go make a terrarium out of it so it wasn’t a complete waste of money. Now go buy stuff that makes sense. If you live in a city, you’re one terrorist attack away from not being able to drink water from the pipes. Get yourself a couple of 5-gallon jugs and stick them in a closet.

Stock your freezer with real food. That box in your fridge isn’t just for convenient veggie steamer bags and Lean Cuisines. I’ve got a couple of chest freezers stuffed with enough Bossy and Bambi to stay fed for a long time. But you know what? Electric power is fragile, too.

That’s where canned goods come in. (And buy a manual can opener to open them. Remember, the reason you’re planning to eat out of a can is because you’re expecting not to have electricity.)

I can’t tell you how to secure your family in your house because I’ve never seen your house. Sit down with your family and do a little planning. Forget about the outrageous doomsday fantasies of gas attacks and such. (Spoiler: you’ll probably die in that attack.) Instead focus on the common stuff that endangers people every day. What will you do when the smoke detector goes off at zero dark early? How do you plan to handle an intruder? If you have to evacuate your house, how will you find each other outside?

Think it through. Have a plan. Wouldn’t hurt to practice it from time to time.

Enough about risks in the home. The real exposures we face every day lurk outside of the home. As crime soars and police departments contract, it doesn’t take a lot of imagination to see the potential for bad things happening to us good people.

When violence comes, it moves fast, and the bad guy always has the advantage because he’s the only one with a plan. He intends to hurt you. Maybe he wants to steal your stuff or maybe he wants to shove you into a car and treat you to a series of really, really bad days. Everything about his plan hinges on you being clueless, unaware and unprepared.

So let’s make him work harder than he wants to. Better still, let’s make him think that we’re not his best choice for a victim.

Trust Your Instincts

It’s unsettling how many victims of crime testify after the fact that they knew something was going to happen before it did, but for any number of reasons didn’t act on their instincts. That group on the corner that makes you nervous? Avoid them. If your decision hurts their feelings, that’s their problem, not yours. Eye contact is a delicate balance, but I think it’s important to let potential bad guys know that you see them. Don’t give them the kind of stink eye that Boxers would give them because you might amp the situation up. I’d go for a hi-how-are-you nod.

When you walk into a café or a theater or any other place that feels like a firetrap it most likely feels that way because it is, indeed, a firetrap. Turn around and go somewhere else. When a crowd feels wrong–people are yelling at each other, or people start pushing each other–leave. Don’t check it out, don’t play peacemaker. It ain’t your problem (yet) and you don’t want that to change. Every fight you walk away from before it starts is a victory.

Know Where Two Exits Are

I wish this was taught in schools. I always know the way out of a place before I settle into it. When I stay at a hotel, not only do I know where the exits are, but I know how many doorways there are between my room and it, because zero visibility is a given in a structure fire.

In a restaurant or other public spaces, not only do I know where the exits are, but I also have a plan for which one to use. As a rule, the main entrance is a mistake. If a fire breaks out, or some asshat opens up with a firearm, that’s where everyone else is going to go. People get crushed in the panic, and the logjam at the door presents a bad guy with the mother of all target opportunities.

Back doors can be problematic, too, because of the ridiculous security locks that don’t open right away. While I understand the desire to not have customers sneak away without paying, I’m shocked that such locks are legal. Even fifteen seconds is an eternity when bullets are punching holes in the walls around you.

Remember: In a pinch, glass breaks and drywall is frangible. “Exit” doesn’t necessarily equate to “door.”

Take the Buds Out Of Your Ears And Keep Your Head Up

Whether it’s a lion in the Serengeti or a mugger in a mall parking lot, predators like easy prey. Security experts all agree that one of the best ways to keep the focus off of you is to remain fully in the moment and aware of your surroundings. Instead of reading texts while you walk, or instead of listening to a podcast, walk with your head up and notice things. That simple action alone may be enough to make a potential attacker turn his attention to a different victim–probably one who’s reading texts while listening to a podcast.

If you’re walking alone—particularly at night—and someone is getting too close, make noise. Turn on him and yell something like, “Please keep your distance! You’re making me uncomfortable!” If nothing else, you get your discomfort on the record. Everyone will think you’re crazy but being embarrassed is better than getting dead.

Better to Die on the Street Than Get Shoved Into the Car

That dismal bit of advice is exactly what I taught Venice’s son, Roman, when he was little, during the stranger-danger years. Kick, scream, bite, throw elbows and tear out eyes when someone grabs you. Once someone places hands on you, they have declared their intent to commit a capital crime against you. Make them pay. The worst they can do is kill you, and that’s likely what they’re intending to do anyway.

Your single goal in any violent encounter is to end the fight. (And yes, my friend Boxers would disagree with me. His goals involve making sure the perpetrator could never walk again, but I fear that attitude will get him in trouble one day.) If you can break off the fight by running away, that’s a win. You just have put enough distance between you and the other guy to either get to safety or to make him change his mind.

Just be prepared. As General James “Mad Dog” Mattis famously told his Marines on the subject of keeping safe in dangerous territory, “Be polite, be professional, but have a plan to kill everybody you meet.” It works for me. And it works a little too well for Big Guy.

An electrifying new novel from the bestselling author of Crimson Phoenix, perfect for fans of Vince Flynn and Brad ThorBlack Ops veteran Jonathan Grave is back and pursuing two missing American teens kidnapped and hidden in Mexico’s dark underworld…where he finds himself caught in the center of a vendetta he never expected.
A BookBub Top Thriller of Summer

El Paso, Texas, is a battleground. It’s an open market for Mexican drug cartels to sell their wares. It’s also a destination for teens looking for fun. Venice Alexander’s fourteen-year-old son Roman was there on a school trip. Now, he and a fellow student have vanished without a trace.
Assuming the kidnapping is retaliation for his past incursions against Mexico’s crime syndicates, Jonathan Grave leads his covert operatives to rescue their teammate’s son. But the trail Jonathan follows leads him down unexpected paths where he ends up in the crossfire of a deadly vendetta…