All That Remains

The Baltimore Post-Examiner is  proud to present an excerpt from All that Remains by former Baltimore City police officer  Robert L. LeBrun.  When Jack Kotter Jr. is forced to step into his dad’s business, he learns a big family secret. He navigates the landmines of the business world while trying to balance friendships, love, and a family secret kept through several generations. By the way, there is also a maniac on the loose, and she has her sights set on Jack. Humor, mystery, adventure, and, of course, sex. Then add in a little need for speed, and you have a great Titanic adventure and bedtime story. The book is available in various formats – Paperback $18.95, Hardback $27.95 and Kindle $3.99. You can purchase the book at Amazon.

Chapter One

On 31 March 1909, in Belfast, Ireland, Harland and Wolff Shipyard began working on the largest and, certainly, the most luxurious passenger liner ever built in its time.

9781592999835 cov.inddRMS Titanic was owned by the White Star Line and was completed 31 March 1912. She was 882 feet and 9 inches long and weighed in at 46,328 tons. The first sea trials took place on 2 April 1912. An Agreement and Account of Voyages and Crew was signed by Mr. Francis Carruthers, who deemed the Titanic to be seaworthy.

Titanic began her maiden voyage across the Atlantic Ocean on 10 April 1912 with Captain Edward J. Smith in command. She left Southampton, England bound for the United States. She never made it.

Everyone would hear the story of a rogue iceberg striking the starboard side and sending Titanic to her grave. But, in fact, there were several iceberg warnings preceding the night of the sinking, and they had caused Captain Smith to alter his original course.

An iceberg may have contributed to the sinking of RMS Titanic, but it was arrogance, ignorance, and incompetence that led up to the disaster.

As Titanic left her berth on 10 April 1912, one family in particular watched her wake as her enormous displacement caused the SS New York, which was docked nearby, to break away from her moorings. Mr. Victor Carnelius Kotter, his wife Elizabeth, and their four-year-old son, Jack, were watching with excitement as crewmen scrambled on deck to try to keep the two massive ships from colliding.

After a four-hour delay, Titanic continued on, making several stops, including Cherbourg, France and Queenstown, Ireland, in order to pick up more passengers.

Victor Kotter happened to be in England on a business trip and had brought along his wife and son with a plan to be part of the maiden voyage on their way back to the United States. Victor had some shares tied into the shipping industry and into imports and exports. He traveled to England in order to strengthen his position with other shareholders, and at the same time, took his family on vacation.

After a week of agonizing over the rising cost of shipping freight, the Kotter family boarded Titanic en route to New York. Although Victor wasn’t considered wealthy, he was a well-to-do businessman, which earned him the privilege of conversing with passengers such as Macy’s co-owner Isidor Straus, industrialist Benjamin Guggenheim, millionaire John Astor, and other wealthy businessmen on board for the maiden voyage. Also on board was Denver millionaire Margaret Brown, who often enjoyed the company of Elizabeth and Jack.

Day hours were considered family time and spent with Elizabeth and Jack, but the evening hours, after dinner, Victor had the honor of lounging with the business class and talking shop. Usual subjects included banking, stocks, and whatever happened to be in the business section of The Wall Street Journal. Elizabeth and Jack would usually wander the ship in amazement at all the new technologies then make their way back to sit with the ladies.

On 14 April 1912, as the Kotter family lay sleeping, RMS Titanic struck an iceberg. As ice fell on the starboard deck, the massive ship shook and rumbled as First Officer Murdoch ordered “hard to starboard” and “full reverse.” The incident awoke the Kotters and many other passengers, so they made their way out of their rooms and up on deck. Many of the businessmen took advantage of the opportunity and went to the lounge area for drinks.

After being awakened by the impact, Captain Smith arrived on the bridge and gave the order “full stop.” As Elizabeth and Jack sat with friends, Victor leaned over and kissed Elizabeth on the cheek. He then gave Jack a smile and quietly slipped away to find out what happened.

As rumors spread throughout the ship, some passengers began to panic. Shortly after midnight, Thomas Andrews, a naval architect who helped design the ship, and ship officers conducted an inspection of the damage. Titanic was designed to stay afloat with up to four watertight compartments flooded, but because water was rushing into at least five compartments and was also rising from the ship’s bottom, which no one could account for, it was soon realized RMS Titanic would eventually sink.

On 15 April 1912, shortly before 1:00 a.m., the first lifeboats were ordered into the water. As passengers began to filter out to the decks and into lifeboats, Elizabeth and Jack sat quietly in the lounge waiting for Victor to return. As time passed, more and more passengers became hysterical and some even violent. Elizabeth knew she couldn’t risk waiting any longer. She picked Jack up and reluctantly made her way to the deck area, bouncing off people as she tried to keep Jack covered.

With all the mass hysteria, she could still hear the officers yelling “women and children.” Through the pushing and shoving, Elizabeth and Jack were helped into a lifeboat just before it was launched. She asked the officer about the men. The officer, with a distraught look, shook his head no and kept shouting for women and children.

While sinking, a ship that size could very easily suck down anything around it, so as the lifeboats were lowered, oarsmen tried to put as much distance as possible between them and Titanic. But as the stern rose from the water, all the lifeboats stopped and the passengers watched in horror as the massive ship broke apart. Not knowing where Victor was, Elizabeth held Jack close and wouldn’t let him look.

At 2:20 a.m. on 15 April 1912, RMS Titanic sank beneath the water and was gone. Although the oarsmen had brought the lifeboats to a safe distance from the ship, Elizabeth could still hear the screams of passengers in the frigid water. She begged the oarsmen to go back, but their lifeboat was one of the few filled to full capacity. He didn’t want to risk the chance of being overturned by more people attempting to climb in. Through the entire experience, Jack never flinched. He never complained or cried. As the water calmed and the night became quiet, Jack finally pulled away from his mom and asked, “Where’s Daddy?”

At 4:10 a.m. RMS Carpathia arrived on the scene. By 8:30 a.m. Carpathia had picked up the last of the lifeboat survivors. It then continued on to New York. During the trip back, Margaret often sat with Elizabeth and encouraged her to find comfort in the fact that she still had Jack to take care of. Carpathia arrived at New York Harbor on 18 April 1912 and docked at Pier 54 on Little West 12th Street. Elizabeth looked out at the thousands of people waiting for their arrival. Although she wasn’t sure of Victor’s survival, she couldn’t help but feel grief for the families waiting to know if their loved ones were on board Carpathia.

According to newspaper articles, the White Star Line chartered the CS Mackay-Bennet to try to retrieve the deceased. Several other ships, including the Montmagny, the Algerine, and the Minia also joined in the search. Even with the extra help, Elizabeth was still not optimistic Victor’s body would be found, either alive or dead.

In the weeks that followed, many charities were formed to help the survivors, as so many families lost the husbands and fathers who supported them. Elizabeth was offered help on several occasions, but she respectfully declined. She was an educated woman and, through the years, had often paid attention to Victor’s business exploits. She knew how to handle the investments he had, and she also relied on a life insurance policy and several bank accounts Victor had set up.

Elizabeth and Jack eventually moved from their busy New York apartment and bought a small house outside of New York City, in the peaceful suburbs. They lived quietly out of the public eye as Elizabeth devoted most of her time and energy to raising Jack. She did stay in touch with Margaret Brown and would often get together with her to discuss business ventures. Jack also enjoyed those times, because he was able to travel and see places most kids his age could only talk about.

Through the years, Elizabeth impressed upon Jack the importance of education in succeeding in life. Jack missed his dad very much but learned a lot from his mom. Despite all the schooling, Jack chose not to pursue college. In 1927, at the age of 19, he secured a small business loan from the Bank of New York, using his inheritance as collateral, and bought two old stake body trucks. He convinced his best friend, Sergis, to be his partner, and together they came up with the name Up and Down Hauling, in memory of Jack’s dad. The name represented the times when Victor would have a bad week and would tell Jack that life was full of ups and downs. They began contracting themselves out hauling steel to and from the steel mills. They quickly gained capital and reinvested it back into the business.

Some of the qualities Elizabeth instilled in Jack were “never be greedy” and “bigger isn’t necessarily better.” So when Sergis wanted to expand the business, Jack called on his mom for advice. Afterwards, he followed his heart and decided to keep the company small and simple.

This turned out to be a sound decision, because shortly afterwards, in 1929, the stock market crashed, and the United States economy sunk into its darkest financial days. Because Jack decided not to expand, his business was small enough and lucrative enough to not be affected like the bigger corporations.

Stress took its toll on many people, including Elizabeth. Although she was smart enough to have money set aside, she did lose a lot with the various investments she had. Nevertheless, her strong will took over and she still remained diligent in the charities she shared with Margaret. More often than ever, Elizabeth visited Margaret, and both ladies worked on ideas to try to make it through the depression and still be active in what they considered to be important, things such as education and workers’ rights. During the Depression, Margaret became sick, and in 1932, at the age of 65, she died of a brain tumor while lodging at the Barbizon Hotel for Women in New York City.

After what had seemed like a lifelong friendship, Elizabeth was devastated. Both she and Jack mourned Margaret’s death. Elizabeth lost a close friend with whom she’d shared a horrific experience. Because Margaret had personal differences with both of her children, she grew close to Jack and often told Elizabeth he was like a son. Margaret was buried at the Cemetery of the Holy Rood in Westbury, New York. Elizabeth often visited her grave to lay down flowers and to reminisce about times past. Because friends of Margaret would sometimes refer to her by the nickname Molly, after her death, she was dubbed “The Unsinkable Molly Brown” because of her experience on Titanic.

Elizabeth was never the same after Margaret died. Her health began to decline and the energy she once had was gone. At the age of 68, she was still active with various charities, but sold most of her stocks and investments. She wanted to make sure Jack was well taken care of. In 1935, at the age of 69, she passed away peacefully in her sleep. Because he’d lost his dad at a young age, Jack had to be strong and make it through losing the mom who’d saved his life and guided him to adulthood. She was laid to rest at the Cemetery of the Holy Rood so she could visit Margaret Brown whenever she wanted.

In 1941 the United States was swept into World War II, and the Great Depression came to an end. Many government contracts depended on the steel industry to supply their manufacturing needs, such as weapons, planes, and military vehicles. Jack and Sergis decided it would be the right time to finally expand. They purchased an abandoned steel mill that had gone out of business during the Depression and had no shortage of willing laborers. Sergis quickly went to work securing contracts from the Maritime Commission, which was building small cargo ships to haul troops. They also bought a fleet of trucks to expand the hauling side of their business. Sergis decided to hire his much younger brother Benjamin, who had dropped out of high school. Ben was a street-smart kid who was in and out of trouble. Sergis knew he would be a risk, but just when the court system had had enough of seeing the name Benjamin Marcus, Sergis made a deal with the judge. It helped that Sergis was well-connected at the time.

Ben started off learning how to work the machinery then gradually worked his way up to being a truck driver. By the end of the war, Up and Down Hauling had expanded coast-to-coast, and the small steel mill expanded into Kotter Industries, which consisted of Up and Down Hauling, four steel mills, and six other small parts factories that supplied replacement parts for vehicles. Ben was a hard worker and a quick study. He eventually moved up to management and was making decisions along with Jack and Sergis.

In 1950, at the start of the Korean War, Kotter Industries once again expanded. This time, overseas. Benefiting from post-war protection from the United States, Japan’s economy experienced an economic boom. Sergis often traveled to Japan in order to manage the company’s contract negotiations. By 1954 Kotter Industries was well on its way to international success. That same year, while flying back from Japan, the flight Sergis was on crashed at Idlewild Airport, killing 26 out of 32 passengers. At the age of 45, Sergis was dead. For the first time in his life, Jack was alone. With his dad and mom gone and the passing of his best friend and business partner, he had to make the painful decision of giving up private ownership of the company.

Combining his street toughness with the business sense that Sergis had taught him, Ben flourished into an intelligent and resourceful businessman. At the age of 24, he inherited the 49 percent of Kotter Industries Sergis controlled, which made him Jack’s new business partner. Both men agreed the company would benefit more if a board of directors was established. By 1955, after selling off a limited amount of the company stock, an executive board was voted in and, once again, Kotter Industries was moving forward.

It took a few years for Ben to finally feel comfortable stepping into his brother’s shoes, but by 1957 he was on top of his game and going head-to-head with the best. Whether it was hostile takeovers or handling million-dollar contracts, Ben was a tyrant among the best.

With the executive board in place and Ben running most of the day-to-day operations, the time came for Jack to finally slow down and concentrate on some of the more personal projects he frequently entertained. Along with his strong business sense, Jack also inherited his dad’s strong family values. He never forgot the smile his dad gave him 45 years earlier during the tragic night he stood up and walked away. Every now and then, as a pet project, Jack would invest time in reading legal documents from the three inquiries into the sinking of Titanic. He would often obsess over the fact that the radio operators, Jack Phillips and Harold Bride, ignored the warnings from other ships in reference to large icebergs in the path of Titanic. He was also distraught that a ship close enough to be seen off the port side of Titanic ignored the CQD, which was the international distress signal sent out. The ship’s officers also attempted to contact the mysterious ship using a Morse lamp and flares, but were ignored. A lot of controversy existed in Jack’s heart. A lot of unanswered questions. Why didn’t his dad return after the lifeboats were ordered into the water, and where did he go? During the May 2 and July 3 inquiries from England, it was thought that the SS California was the mysterious ship off Titanic’s port side. It was also charged that Captain Stanley Lord failed to give proper assistance to Titanic.

Jack knew some of the bodies that were recovered couldn’t be identified and most were buried at sea, but they were the bodies of second and third class passengers. As far as Jack was concerned, his dad was still on Titanic.

After the sinking, there was widespread of misinformation concerning where Titanic went down. With that in mind, Jack often thought how great it would be if someone could locate her and bring his dad home.