Suddenly he put out a hand and switched off the light, a gesture quite involuntary, simple reaction to the muffled thump of a chair overturned on the floor above.
Sounds of scuffling followed, as if Liane were dancing to no music with a heavy-footed partner. Then a groan....
His hands moved so rapidly and deftly that, although he seemed to rise without a second’s delay, the safe was closed and the combination locked when he did so, the buffet door was shut and its key in his pocket.
This time Lanyard ascended the stairs without heeding what noise he made. Nevertheless his actions were never awkward or ill-timed; his approach was not heard, his arrival on the upper landing was unnoticed.
In an instantaneous pause he looked into the rose-pink room and saw Liane Delorme, in a negligee like a cobweb over a nightdress even more sheer, kneeling and clawing at her throat, round which a heavy silk handkerchief was slowly tightening; her face already purple with strangulation, her eyes bulging from their sockets, her tongue protruding between swollen lips.
A thick knee was planted between her shoulder-blades. The ends of the handkerchief were in the sinewy hands of Albert Dupont.
Conceivably even a journeyman strangler may know the thrill of professional pride in a good job well done: Dupont was grinning at his work, and so intent upon it that his first intimation of any interference came when Lanyard took him from behind, broke his hold upon the woman (and lamentably failed to break his back at the same time) whirled him round with a jerk that all but unsocketed an arm and, before the thug could regain his balance, placed surely on the heel of his jaw, just below the ear, a blow that, coming straight from the shoulder and carrying all Lanyard had of weight and force and will to punish, in spite of Dupont’s heaviness fairly lifted him from his feet and dropped him backwards across a chaise-longue, from which he slipped senseless to the floor.
It was just like that, a crowded, breathless business....
With bruised and aching knuckles to prove that the blow had been one to stun an ox, Lanyard believed it safe to count Dupont hors de combat, for a time at least. In any event, the risk had to be chanced: Liane Delorme was in a plight demanding immediate relief.
In all likelihood she had lost consciousness some moments before Lanyard’s intervention. Released, she had fallen positively inert, and lay semi-prostrate on a shoulder, with limbs grotesquely slack and awry, as if in unpleasant mimicry of a broken doll. Only the whites of bloodshot eyes showed in her livid and distorted countenance. Arms and legs twitched spasmodically, the ample torso was violently shaken by labouring lungs.
The twisted handkerchief round her throat had loosened, but not enough to give relief. Lanyard removed it, turned her over so that she lay supine, wedged silken pillows from the chaise-longue beneath her head and shoulders, then reached across her body, took from her dressing table a toilet-water flask of lovely Italian glass, and drenched her face and bosom with its pungent contents.