Authors: Lynn Emery
Tags: #romance, #womens fiction, #scandal, #wrongful conviction
All names, characters, stories, and incidents
featured in this novel are imaginary. They are not inspired by any
individual person, incidents or events known or unknown to the
author. Any resemblance to actual persons living or dead is
coincidental. SOULFUL STRUT was originally published in 2006. This
is a reprint.
Copyright 2006 Margaret Emery Hubbard
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of this author.
Monette gazed at the scenery as the Lexus
cruised along. Hardly a bump penetrated the luxury ride. What a
contrast between how she’d arrived to start her prison stay almost
fifteen years earlier and how she was leaving. The whisper-quiet
air conditioner pushed the scent of leather mixed with fresh cut
grass from outside. Nothing like the earthy smells of the prison
bus she’d ridden to the Louisiana Correctional Institute for Women.
Not to mention what she’d endured during her stay there. Warden
Yvonda Taylor’s sour expression had made Monette’s day even
brighter. Warden Taylor had never believed her story or supported
her applications for parole.
“See ya later,” Warden Taylor had drawled as
she’d stood watching Monette leave.
“Hold your breath and wait” Monette had
started to give her a final wave good-bye with only one finger
extended, but Lucy had caught her arm.
Though her lawyer had scowled, Monette had
merely shrugged. She’d shown restraint in her view. What she’d
really wanted to say had involved several colorful expletives. They
had managed to elude the three reporters hovering outside the
prison gate. With Jim Rand on her right and his law clerk Lucy Chen
on the left, he’d made sure they’d marched lockstep to the car,
giving Monette no more chances to comment. Now, miles away, he
seemed to relax. At every highway marker Monette glanced back. Each
mile away from LCIW was that much sweeter. Jim drove straight to
the NBC affiliate television station in Baton Rouge to give an
exclusive first interview. Ten minutes later, Monette was on her
way to her new life in the world, the real world. “God bless
America,” she murmured.
“What was that?” Jim asked, turning his head
for a second before looking ahead at traffic again.
“She’s glad to be out,” Lucy commented from
the backseat with a wide smile. The twenty-five-year-old looked
crisp in her white cotton shirt and blood red skirt.
“Amen, sistah. To think last night I was in a
prison cell. This morning I’m smiling into a television camera
talking to Katie Couric on national TV.” Monette laughed and gave
Jim a playful swat on the shoulder. “The warden probably spit out
her coffee when she saw me.”
Jim didn’t join in their laughter. “The
director of New Beginnings probably isn’t amused one darn bit.
We’re over an hour late for your admission.”
“It will be alright,” Monette said.
“Let’s hope so. We need her on our side when
we go before the Pardon Board,” Jim replied. His dark brows pulled
together. He gazed at Monette hard.
“I’m going to be on my best behavior, follow
the rules and be so full of ‘Yes, ma’am,’ ‘No, ma’am’ and ‘How high
you want me to jump, ma’am?’ that y’all won’t recognize me,”
Monette answered with a nod.
“You got that right,” Lucy quipped. She
merely smirked when Monette darted a glare at her over one
“I mean it, Jim. I’m not going to mess up, so
don’t worry. I’m sure Ms. Sherman will understand Just relax.”
Monette gave him a reassuring smile this time. When Jim smiled back
he seemed to loosen up.
Monette did not want to betray his trust in
her. After all, Jim Rand and The Justice Project were the biggest
reason she’d gotten out at all. He’d put in long hours building the
case for her parole, giving media interviews and taking a lot of
heat cm her behalf. Monette only hoped his reputation and career
hadn’t been irreparably harmed because of her.
“Here we are.” Jim shifted into park but
didn’t turn off the engine.
Monette looked at the neighborhood. In the
distance she saw the modest skyline of downtown Baton Rouge. The
houses were old-fashioned wooden structures built back in the
thirties, forties and fifties. Most had wide front porches. This
area had obviously been more prosperous once. Although some were
neatly kept, most of the homes showed their age in a bad way. A few
of the houses were downright shabby, with trash strewn in the
scrubby front yards.
“You would think they could choose a better
part of town for a halfway house,” Lucy said. She glanced around as
though unwilling to leave the car. She put a hand on her small,
“I know that part of L.A. you came from. What
about those Asian girl gangbangers?” Monette said.
“Which is why I don’t live there anymore,
thank you very much.”
“So now you’re all refined. Don’t act like
you so scared. Anybody look at that tiny purse too hard and you’d
put some of that ancient Chinese butt kickin’ on ’em,” Monette
wisecracked. Lucy started to laugh, and then stopped.
“Wouldn’t try it with them.” Lucy nodded as
she looked through the car window.
Monette followed her gaze. She eyed a group
of swaggering teenagers. One of them puckered his lips and made a
kissing sound at Lucy as they walked by. “You’ve got a point. Jim,
maybe this isn’t such a good deal after all.”
“I checked. The crime statistics for this
area show few serious police calls,” Jim replied with a calm
expression. He did not bother to glance at the boys. He turned to
Monette. “New Beginnings is around the corner. I wanted us to have
one last talk.”
“No more lectures. For the tenth time—I will
blend in and not get involved in any controversy. Now let’s go,”
Monette said firmly, struggling to be patient with her jumpy
“I just wanted to suggest that we make this
entrance as low-key as possible,” Jim replied just as firmly.
“Then we’d better go. Like you said, I’m
already over an hour past the time I was supposed to report,”
Monette shot back.
“Right.” Jim frowned as he faced forward
again and shifted into drive. They turned onto Louisiana Avenue.
Three blocks down they stopped in front of a large, two- story
house with a wide stone porch.
“Oh-oh,” Lucy pointed to a van and two cars
with television station logos on their sides. Reporters were
already on the sidewalk in front of New Beginnings, along with
“The welcome committee, huh? Bring it on.”
Monette flipped down the visor and checked her look in the lighted
“Damn,” Jim muttered as he hit the button to
release his seat belt. He got out of the car and approached the
“Maybe you should just smile and keep quiet,”
Lucy advised. She lifted one perfectly arched black eyebrow. She
let out a hiss when Monette fluffed her hair.
“Why should I duck and hide? I was wrongly
convicted by a system that persecuted me for being black and
“I know, I know. Just thought it was worth a
try.” Lucy unbuckled her seat belt.
“Hey, I signed a parole agreement to seek
employment. I’m a writer and I’ve got books to sell.” Monette got
out of the car and walked over to stand beside Jim with her head
“The Parole Board and the governor recognized
that an injustice had been done. Ms. Victor deserves to be
pardoned. However, that application is still pending,” Jim said
with a grave expression.
“Is it likely that the FBI will investigate
Winn Barton as a result of this case?” a blonde female reporter
“Ms. Victor’s civil rights were violated. She
was deprived of her freedom because of illegal actions. Anyone who
examines the evidence will conclude that she was framed. Mr. Barron
misused his position as district attorney of Pointe Coupee Parish
to falsify evidence and pressure her co-defendants into committing
“Ms. Victor, how does it feel to be free
after almost fifteen years?” a pretty African-American reporter
said with a broad smile. A second woman with her carried a compact
digital video camera.
“Wonderful. I’m eager to build my life.
Notice I didn’t say I’d rebuild my life. I’ve got to start from
scratch. And I should, because my life before this injustice wasn’t
great. I made a lot of bad choices. Now I’m moving forward with my
book and more.” Monette wore a sober yet hopeful expression, her
head tilted to one side.
“Is it true you may be offered your own radio
talk show?” a newspaper reporter asked, holding up a tiny
“Anything is possible. That’s the fabulous
thing about freedom.” Monette was prepared to say more, but Jim put
a hand on her arm.
“Thank you. Now please excuse us,” he
The two television reporters went in opposite
directions to record their individual wrap-up comments. Monette
lingered so she could pick up tips as Jim gave more comments to a
newspaper reporter. Her agent and publicist had done a great job.
She did indeed have tentative offers to host her own talk show from
one radio network and a local access channel. Nothing big, but it
was a good start
“You may recall that Winn Barron was forced
to resign as attorney general of this state under a cloud. Before
he was elected to that office he was the district attorney of
Pointe Coupee Parish. Barron personally prosecuted Monette Victor.
Ten years later his then chief investigator came forward to support
her allegations against Barron. Ms. Victor had for years claimed
that Barron framed her for shunning his advances.” The reporter
went on to succinctly describe the scandal that had led to
“We really better go inside,” Lucy said to
Monette. She gave a slight nod toward the halfway house. ‘Trudy
Sherman is staring at us, and she doesn’t look happy.”
“I’m sure she’ll understand that this is my
first day of work. Well, sort of,” Monette added when Lucy gave her
an incredulous look.
Jim joined them, and all three walked up the
stone steps. Before he could knock a second time, the door opened
quickly. A woman wearing a curious expression looked at them
briefly and then at the reporters.
‘Trudy is expectin’ y’all. Come on in. Her
office is the third door down that hall,” she said, pointing deeper
into the house.
“Thanks,” Monette said with a smile.
“You’re welcome, Ms. Victor. I saw you on
television. I think it’s great how you kicked the system in the
‘Thank you, Tyeisha.” A stern-looking white
woman emerged from the third door. She wore her dark hair cut very
short. “I’m Trudy Sherman, the director of New Beginnings. You’re
“Guilty. Well, not as it turned out Right?”
Monette laughed as she extended her hand.
Trudy Sherman did not return the smile. She
gave Monette a brief handshake. She turned to Jim and Lucy. Her
expression demanded an explanation. “Good morning.” “Jim Rand, Ms.
Victor’s attorney. This is Lucy Chen.” Jim and Lucy took their turn
shaking hands with Trudy Sherman.
“Come into my office. We generally don’t need
an attorney to help new residents check in.” Trudy Sherman did a
neat pivot and led the way. Once they were all in, she shut the
“We provided Ms. Victor with a ride here
since her family couldn’t make it.”
“I see.” Trudy didn’t appear to be really
Monette felt a small pain in her chest at
Jim’s charitable explanation of why he and Lucy had picked her up
at the prison. Her mother was probably too drunk to drive, and
Monette’s two sisters kept busy with their own troubled families.
Monette’s children didn’t owe her anything either. She shoved that
mental door shut to block out more pain, and then shifted her focus
back to Trudy Sherman.