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Nikki Hoskins said her husband was excited about working for Reynolds. As Reynell Industries' first salesman, he soon oversaw the hiring of two more salespeople. Ernest thought it might be the business opportunity he'd been waiting on.
"He felt like this job could take him to where he was trying to be," she said. "He and Chris had discussed a lot of opportunities that were coming up, travel and doing sales with the company. He moved up to a management position in two weeks."
Though Reynolds invited Ernest to bring Nikki to his house for cookouts and get-togethers, Nikki said she was working two jobs at the time and never went. Ernest, on the other hand, seemed to be over there all the time. At least once, she said, Chris, Ernest and another employee went to the firing range to shoot some of the many guns Chris owned. Eventually, Nikki said, Reynolds tried to give Ernest a large caliber handgun — a gun she now believes to be the .44 semi-automatic that later killed him — but she wouldn't allow it in the house because of their adopted daughter and the baby on the way. After Ernest told Reynolds he couldn't take the gun, Nikki said Reynolds gave them a set of swords and several large daggers.
That odd bit of generosity aside, Nikki said she began to question how Ernest was being paid. "He made sales, and he was supposed to be commissioned off of them, but it seemed like every time he was supposed to receive pay from the commission, it was pushed back and he didn't get it."
Ernest's mother, Monica Hoskins, said she also thought something was strange with her son's employment. He was often broke, she said, and drove the car he'd bought the previous July without tags for months because he couldn't afford to pay the taxes, even after he started working for Reynolds. When she finally agreed to help him get the paperwork on his car in order, he came back the same week and asked for a small loan to get him by.
"I didn't feel like he was paying him right," she said. "I asked him, 'Where's all your money going, honey?' "
Monica Hoskins said that though her son started out receiving a paycheck every week, that soon switched to every two weeks. "What job pays you weekly," she said, "and all of a sudden it turns to every two weeks? How is he paying you? But you're steady telling me about all these business deals you're making?"
On the morning of Friday, Nov. 9, 2012, Ernest Hoskins showed up at his mother's house, as he often did, in the Broadmoor neighborhood near the University of Arkansas at Little Rock to eat breakfast. By that time, Monica and Nikki Hoskins had seen the strain that working for Reynell Industries was putting on Ernest, both personally and financially. A week before her husband's death, Nikki said, she found out that he was driving every morning from their home in North Little Rock to Reynolds' home in Ward to work, almost 30 miles one way, a revelation that caused some friction between them because of the amount of gas it took to make the commute. Monica Hoskins said that on Halloween night, she was driving with her son when he received a phone call from Chris Reynolds, who was "furious" because he wanted Ernest to terminate another employee. Her son was calm, professional and apologetic throughout the call, Hoskins said, never raising his voice.
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