Exclusive Cover Reveal: Ice Upon a Pier
Ruta Pawlak is one of the most successful contract killers Pier-Upon-Pier City has ever seen. Convicted of five murders that landed her multiple life sentences, her kill count allegedly sits between fifteen and two hundred people. Some were just for practice, others for revenge, and others she executed for money to keep her potentially world-record setting reading collection going.
For the first time, a biographer sits down with the legendary killer to hear her story in her own words. Get the details on her relationship with her depraved bosses and her eclectic arsenal of murder weapons from ice magic to poison to even the sun itself. From her impoverished upbringing to her introduction to the Syndicates to her bizarre affair with fellow killer Frieda Masters to Ruta’s eventual downfall, this account goes beyond headlines and court proceedings, weaving a story of love, family, survival, and murder.
Cover artist Aleta Perez is a Bolivian-American illustrator and screenprinter in Minneapolis, MN. Their work centers on the natural world, but portrayed a little to the left, with unnatural colors and stained glass shaping that could almost be. Find them on Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, and Ko-fi.
“Being the resident romantic tragedy gremlin in all my friend groups, I of course loved Ice Upon A Pier. I haven't done many city scenes lately in my personal work, so it was really fun to dig into one for this cover. This novella's setting is based on NJ & NYC, and I'm originally from Morris County in NJ, so I had a lot of memories to work with. It's between two genres - noir and fantasy - and it was fun to reflect that in the contrast between the saturated and bright ice both in the sky and leaking out from Ruta - our magical mob assassin - and the duller, dried-blood red tones of the city itself.”
Read an Exclusive Excerpt from
Ice Upon a Pier
Chapter 1: The Beginning
Before Birth - 12 years old
Pier-Upon-Pier City. My story started the year when the latest and certainly not last of several great wars ended. Immigrants from an ice-laden land appropriately named Lodska came on boats by droves with their ice magic because their government got trampled by every neighboring country. My father came on a ship with his family, and wow, do I still wish the bastard drowned then.
It means I wouldn’t be here now, but some sacrifices net positive benefits.
I know nothing of my grandparents, except that they somehow secured a private room in an otherwise over-crowded tenement complex. This was the height of luxury in those days, despite waking up most mornings to fucking rats—both literally and figuratively. Shouts and screams echoed from every other room. My grandparents died before I came into the picture. Their passing made space for the small, blossoming family of that horrible man and that passive woman who consummated something to create me.
My mother cared for me as much as she could. But she couldn’t protect me from my father’s fists or spells. And she couldn’t do anything about the way my skin reacted to everything. See, it wasn’t that I am allergic. The air in Pier-Upon-Pier City was just pure poison like that. Not much has changed, unfortunately, but at least they got rid of the smell.
To get me to stop scratching, my father would use his scant magic to freeze the blood beneath my fingertips and tear the nails off. The screaming enraged him, but I was too young to communicate better. He took his overstimulation out on my mother or out on some poor slob in the street.
With how much it seemed he hated his first child, it mesmerized me that my parents had another one. Piotrek, they named him. And the son born after him.
Now, I wanted to kill my father over the fingernails thing. Because wow, why would you do that to your child? What really sealed the nail in the coffin, so to speak, pun fully intended, is what he did to Piotrek. The first one, obviously.
Piotrek complained—a lot. Not that I could blame him. We were four people living in one room. My father’s temper accounted for all of ours.
As did his rage.
As did his violence.
Too long would go by before I had the abilities and wherewithal to do anything about it.
Summer. The air reeked of dirty bodies and the bags of refuse left on street corners for far longer than humanly acceptable. We were all sweating and Piotrek, in particular, did not like being warm. And our father loved being drunk, which only made him sweatier. Loved isn’t the right word, but it silenced the demons in his head enough that he could make them our problem. It helped nothing. Headaches and hangovers ignited his temper. My mother was lucky to be working—most women did at that time. It was a matter of survival. Someone in our family had to. That shitty dock job which ruined her back and hands spared her from my father’s harm.
In that room, for most days, it was me, Piotrek, and my father—can I call him Simon? Great. Anyway, Simon’s morning bender hadn’t ended. The trigger was unclear, but from what I know of the motherland, there wasn’t a moment in history that didn’t lead to some kind of post-traumatic stress. Especially then, but it wasn’t as bad as it is going to get.
Simon grumbled under his breath, a wet, gargling sound which had no words I could decipher. Maybe it was Lodskish, I wouldn’t know; my parents never taught it to me. But Simon was so loud when I didn’t want to hear him.
Especially when I didn’t want to hear him.
And Piotrek couldn’t stand summer in that apartment either. The heat, the smells, the noise, none of it. Piotrek, however, was stupid in that way all five-year-olds are. He had just learned how to communicate in paragraphs, knew his colors, had the precise words for the things bothering him. Before then, Simon spared him from his own outbursts. I’m sure some of my bad habits are a result of too many knocks to the head. Same goes for my stunted height.
I never saw the worst of it.
It happened while I was at school.
I come home and Piotrek was gone. Not like missing, but dead. I didn’t see the body, but my mother’s choking weeping said more than words could ever convey.
From what Frieda showed me of her well-adjusted family, this wasn’t normal in any way, shape, or form. I still don’t understand why she resented them in the way she did.
But the only story I can share is my own. And there it was.
In my own trauma, I repressed what exactly happened. But I freeze, unable to continue. I stare at the metal table, eyes wide. The only sound I hear is the creaking as the light hangs above us. I am elsewhere. If time stopped, it’s not because I did anything.
“Can I talk about something else?” I ask. My voice is disgustingly soft. Simon is dead. He cannot hurt me anymore. Some scars do not heal.
“Of course,” the biographer says.
So, I turn to a more fun topic, where I had more agency: dealing with hooligans.
To preorder Ice Upon a Pier, here’s a link that will leverage your order for good through the Bad River Website. The book will also be available upon release via Ladz's Ko-Fi.
Ladz was born in Poland, raised in New York City, and currently lives in Texas. When they’re not a marketing manager for a major digital publisher, they’re writing dark fantasy that tends to straddle other genres like true crime and horror. They have been a panelist at the 2020 Nebulas Conference, 2021 Weeknight Writers Exploring Story Structure Event, 2019 & 2021 Sirens Conference, and Discon III in 2021. Their work has been featured as part of Sarah Gailey’s Building Beyond series and in v o i d j u n k issue 2. They can be found online at jowritesfantasy.me or on Twitter @ladzwriting.