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Though Snow had never been near it before, the team talked about the Cloaca often enough back at the base. Of all the foul places to dive in New York City, the Cloaca was the worst: worse than the Arthur Kill, Hell Gate, even the Gowanus Canal. Once, he’d heard, it had been a sizeable tributary of the Hudson, cutting through Manhattan just south of Harlem’s Sugar Hill. But centuries of sewage, commercial construction, and neglect had turned it into a stagnant, unmoving ribbon of filth: a liquid trash can for everything imaginable.

Snow waited his turn to retrieve his oxygen tanks from the stainless-steel rack, then stepped toward the stern, shrugging them over his shoulders. He still was not used to the heavy, constricting feel of the dry suit. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see the Sergeant approaching.

“All set?” came the quiet baritone.

“I think so, sir,” Snow said. “What about the headlamps?”

The Sergeant stared at him blankly.

“These buildings cut out all the sunlight. We’ll need lamps if we’re going to see anything, right?”

The Sergeant grinned. “It wouldn’t make any difference. The Cloaca’s about twenty feet deep. Below that, there’s ten, maybe fifteen feet of suspended silt. As soon as your flippers touch that silt, it balloons out like a dustbomb. You won’t be able to see beyond your visor. Below the silt is thirty feet of mud. The brick’ll be buried somewhere in that mud. Down there, you see with your hands.”

He looked at Snow appraisingly, hesitating a moment. “Listen,” he said in a low voice. “This won’t be like those practice dives in the Hudson. I only brought you along because Cooney and Schultz are still in the hospital.”

Snow nodded. The two divers each had gotten a case of the “blastos”—blastomycosis, a fungal infection that attacked the solid organs—while searching for a bullet-ridden body in a limo at the bottom of the North River the week before. Even with mandatory weekly blood work to screen for parasites, bizarre diseases ruined the health of divers every year.

“If you’d rather sit this one out, it’s okay,” the Sergeant continued. “You can stay here on deck, help with the guide ropes.”

Snow looked over at the other divers as they strapped on their weight belts, snugged the zippers of their dry suits tight, let the lines over the sides. He remembered the first rule of the Scuba team: Every man dives. Fernandez, making a line fast to a cleat, looked back toward them and smirked knowingly.

“I’m diving, sir,” Snow said.

The Sergeant stared at him for another long moment. “Remember basic training. Pace yourself. First time down in that muck, divers have a tendency to hold their breath. Don’t do it; that’s the fastest way to an embolism. Don’t overinflate your suit. And, for Christ’s sake, don’t let go of the rope. In the mud, you forget which way is up. Lose the rope, and the next body we come looking for will be yours.”

He pointed to the sternmost guide rope. “That’ll be you.”

Snow waited, slowing his breathing, while the mask was slipped over his head and the lines attached. Then, after a final check, he went over the side.

Even through the stifling, constrictive dry suit, the water felt strange. Viscous and syrupy, it didn’t rush past his ears or eddy between his fingers. Pushing against it was an effort, like swimming in crankcase oil.

Tightening his grip on the guide rope, he allowed himself to sink a few feet below the surface. Already the keel of the launch was invisible overhead, swallowed by a miasma of tiny particles that filled the fluid around him. He looked around through the feeble, greenish light. Immediately in front of his face, he could see his gloved hand gripping the rope. At a greater distance, he could make out his other hand, outstretched, probing the water. An infinity of motes hung in the space between. He could not see below his feet: there was only blackness. Twenty feet down into that blackness, he knew, lay the ceiling of a different world: a world of thick, encasing mud.

For the first time in his life, Snow realized just how much he had depended on sunlight and clean water for his sense of security. Even at fifty meters down, the waters in the Sea of Cortez had been clear; light from his torch had given a sense of openness and space. He let himself drop another several feet, eyes straining into the blackness below.

Suddenly, at the outermost reaches of his vision, he saw or thought he saw through the dim currents a solid haze beneath him, an undulating, veined surface. It was the layer of silt. He sank toward it slowly, feeling a knot of apprehension grow in his stomach. The Sergeant had said that divers often imagined they saw odd things in the thick waters. It was sometimes hard to tell what was real and what was not.

His foot touched the strange floating surface—passed through it—and instantaneously a cloud roiled out, folding around him, shutting out all sight. Snow panicked for an instant, scrabbling at the guide rope. Steadying himself with the thought of sniggering Fernandez, he descended. Each movement sent a new storm of black liquid eddying against his visor. He found himself instinctively holding his breath against it, and he forced himself to breathe long, regular breaths. This is bullshit, he thought. My first real dive on the force, and I’m practically a basket case. He stopped for a moment, controlling his breathing, forcing it back into a steady rhythm.

He let himself down the rope a few feet at a time, moving sparingly, trying to relax. With some surprise, he realized that it no longer mattered whether his eyes were open or shut. His mind kept returning to the thick mantle of mud that waited beneath him. Things were in that mud, encased, like insects in amber…

Suddenly, his boots seemed to touch bottom. But it was unlike any seabed Snow had felt before. This bottom seemed to be decomposing; it yielded beneath his weight with a disgusting kind of rubbery resistance, sneaking up his ankles, then his knees, then his chest, like sinking into clammy quicksand. In a moment it was over his head, and he was beneath it and still descending, slower now, encased wholly in an ooze that could not be seen but only felt, pushing close against the neoprene of his dry suit. He could hear the bubbles of his own exhalations working their way upwards around him; not with the quick abandon he was used to, but instead with a slow flatulent rolling. The mud seemed to offer more resistance as he descended. How far down was he supposed to go in this shit?

He swung his free hand about as he had been taught, sweeping it through the muck. It bumped into things. In the blackness with his thick gloves it was hard to tell what they were: limbs of trees, crankshafts, nasty snarls of wire, the collected waste of centuries trapped in this graveyard of mud.

Another ten feet, and he’d go back up. Even that bastard Fernandez couldn’t snigger after this.

Abruptly, his swinging arm bumped against something. When Snow pulled at it, the thing drifted toward him with the kind of slow resistance that implied weight. Snow tucked the guide rope around the crook of his right arm and felt the thing. Whatever it was, it was not a brick of heroin. He let it go, pushing himself away.

The thing swung around in the treacly eddy of his flippers and bumped up against him in the blackness, knocking his visor back and momentarily loosening his regulator. Regaining his balance, Snow began moving his hand over the object, looking for a hold with which to push it away.

It was like reaching into a tangle of something. A large tree branch, maybe. But it was inexplicably soft in places. He felt along it, feeling the smooth surfaces, the rounded knobs, the pliable lumps. Then, in a flash of understanding, Snow realized he was feeling along a bone. Not just one bone, but several, connected by leathery strips of sinew. It was the half-skeletonized remains of something, a horse maybe; but as he felt farther along its length he realized that it could only be human.