When Zoe first told him about it, Jack had been very skeptical. "I find it hard to believe that a town like Eureka has a Father-Daughter dance."
He'd been half right. Jack looked up at the sign hanging over the stage in the gym: Welcome to the Annual Tesla High Father-Daughter Career Extravaganza and Gala!
"Zoe, have you been lying to me for my own good again?"
"Of course not," Zoe said, looking deceptively innocent. She smoothed down Jack's lapels in what seemed to be an automatic feminine gesture, then tweaked the sleeve of her dress.
Jack sighed. "So what do we do at this Career Extravaganza and Gala, anyway?"
"Well, you get a nametag--" Zoe pointed over to a table where one of the vice-principals was handing a familiar-looking blue and white sticker to a guy from GD's biochemistry department. "It has your job on it. And then the other girls here can come up and ask you questions about your job. I wouldn't worry about it much."
"Well, I don't--wait. What is that supposed to mean? You don't think anyone will ask me questions?"
"Da-ad." Zoe set off across the room, towing Jack along with her.
"I'll have you know law enforcement is a demanding and rewarding career, and not only that, there's a lot of public interest in it. I mean, Law & Order!"
"Yes, because that attracts the interest of teenage girls everywhere." Zoe waved a hand around, where men in lab coats over suits and ties were waving holograms of DNA strands, chemical compounds, and small explosions. "Face it, Dad, this is more of a CSI crowd. Don't get your hopes up."
Oh, yeah. Tonight was going to be awesome.
And then he spied a group of girls clustered not far away around someone, black suit, no lab coat, and he knew he was going to be having a very stiff drink the second he got home. "Why the hell is Stark here?"
"I'm here to make your evening even more miserable," Stark said.
Well, no he didn't. Something about standing in for an employee who accidentally shrank himself last week in an experiment, blah blah loyalty among scientists whatever whatever. But that's what he meant, Jack was sure of it.
The next hour was a blur of bad punch, worse music, and Jack being completely ignored. He tried to stand casually, not too near the wall, not too near the exit, hands casually on hips, surveying the room. Professional like. Not at all noticing the mob of girls three deep around Nathan Jackass Stark.
The good part was, Zoe had fallen into discussions with a number of the scientists. Jack watched her poke at a hologram showing some kind of miniature rocket, listening intently to the scientist's explanation. And, well, as long as Zoe had a good time (and didn't try to talk to Stark) he was willing to chalk tonight up in the win column.
He was just checking his watch to see how much longer he was stuck here "winning" when there was a bright flash of light just to Zoe's left. Jack was running across the room before he even registered the sound of the explosion.
"Zoe! Zoe!" She was bent down on the floor, and there were flames, and Jack's heart tried to beat its way out of his chest, no, Zoe--
"I'm okay, Dad." Zoe had ripped a banner off the nearest wall--it proclaimed the high school National Chess Champs in 2003--and was using it to beat at the flames covering the rocket scientist's back.
Jack helped her get the lab coat off him, and then took a corner of the banner to smother the last few spots. "You're sure you're okay?" he asked Zoe, trying to get a look at her hands.
"I'm fine. I'm fine."
"Okay, get this guy out, okay? You!" he snapped at the nearest horrified onlooker. "You help." Everyone else was making their way to the door, he noticed, with Stark and a few faculty members riding herd on them.
Next stop, the refreshment table. Given the flames pouring out of the punch bowl, he was willing to bet that it was ground zero for, for whatever. He beat at it with his rolled-up banner, wincing and coughing as it tried to fight back, but finally it was dead and he was singed and tired. He turned around and surveyed the gym. Smoldering remnants of flame, abandoned high heels, and crumpled decorations.
"God help me on prom night," he said, swiping his hand down his face.
The next step in the Sheriff Jack Carter Saving Eureka from Itself plan: find out a) what just happened, b) who did it, and c) why. (If he was lucky, someone with a Ph.D or twelve would fill in the how part.)
"Okay, Jo," he said into his phone, keeping an eye on the road for the ambulance, "we have a double suspect list to put together--anyone who might want to hurt the school or one of the girls, and anyone who has it in for one of the scientists."
Behind him, Stark was ordering Fargo around, something about an investigative team and skin graft research.
"Yes, I know that's a long list. Get me a list of student trouble in the last month--expulsions, suspensions, anyone who might have a--"
"EQUALITY NOW! EQUALITY NOW!"
"--hold that thought." Jack swiveled to see a line of boys chanting and waving (for the love of God) signs in the air. EQUALITY NOW! FAIR TREATMENT FOR ALL GENDERS! They marched their way right into the center of the group, then stuttered to a halt, staring around them at the smoke-stained clothes and people hunched over, coughing. The ambulance chose that moment to wail its way up the road to the school, and the kids' eyes all got really, really big.
"Call you right back, Jo." Jack stashed his phone and stared the line of boys down, one by one. "Gentlemen, is there anything I should know about what just happened in that gym?"
The kid nearest him started to turn, and Jack yanked him back. "I wouldn't," he said, and the kid flinched away from him. "I really, really wouldn't."
The next hour was a blur of confessions, oxygen, and checking on Zoe every three minutes just in case she was lying the last ten times she'd said she was fine. (Also, a pounding, pounding headache, because seriously. Spiking the punch with explosive chemicals? Whatever happened to vodka? This town.) He locked the last kid in the back of Taggart's animal control wagon, sighed with relief, and turned to check on Zoe again.
There were about a dozen girls standing there, smiling at him.
Jack took an involuntary step back.
"So, Sheriff Carter, I didn't get a chance to talk to you earlier," a girl with short black hair and a burn mark on her dress said. Jack recognized her as one of Nathan's hangers-on from earlier in the evening.
"Yeah, me neither," the girl next to her said. "And I totally want to learn about law enforcement."
"Your job is so interesting," a third piped up.
"So interesting!" the second girl said, nudging the other two aside. "It's awesome, sir. Sheriff."
Jack couldn't help it. He looked over to where Stark was standing next to Zoe--both of them staring at him with patent disbelief--and smirked.
"Well, ladies, I'd be glad to talk to you. You know, law enforcement is a demanding and rewarding career..."