“I don’t know why any of these people like him. He behaves like an idiot, not a genius.”
“I didn’t even invite you. I don’t know why you’re here.”
“This man is the CEO of his organisation. He sounds like a thirteen-year-old telling his parents not to look under his mattress.”
“You didn’t have to come.”
“Oh, but I did.” He slides his arm through Anatoli’s, and is immediately shaken off. “Because you’re here.”
“What do you want me to do, introd-?”
“Mr Luthor!” He smiles, reeling in an orbiting Lex. “Or is it Dr Luthor? You probably have too many degrees to count….”
“I’m not saying I do,” Lex waves noncommittally, obviously pleased, “but I’m also not saying you get to where I am without having any, or many - too many negatives? Without one, at least - but Lex. Lex is fine, for you… whoever you are, sir.”
There’s a moment of silence.
“He is one of my associates,” Anatoli says, since it seems to be down to him to answer.
“Very well - fabulous. Great,” Luthor holds up his hands. “So I’ll be the ideal employer and I won’t ask any questions, any at all. None! But can I say: I do like how you’ve decided to bring a plus-one. It makes everything so much more… respectable . Amicable.”
Anatoli is giving them a look that puts the ice sculptures in the foyer to shame. Luthor seems oblivious.
“Do you get invited to many of these things? It’s just a part of life for me, in the position I’m in… but the business you do together, whatever it is, I have a feeling - how do I say? That this is something of an oddity for you. And for him.”
“It is,” Milan admits, but he’s smiling. “You seem to be doing great work, Mr Luthor. Sorry - Lex.”
“I only aim to please.” Lex puts a hand on his shoulder; not something that would be attempted with Anatoli (Luthor is smart enough to have learned that much). “That’s what got me where I am today… trying to please. Everyone. Not myself maybe, but still. Trying.” His smile is brittle.
“Your effort has paid off.” Milan clasps his arm warmly. It’s a grip that, knowing his reputation, always feels like an assessment. “I’m impressed.”
Luthor must have some meat in that bony frame after all. He turns on the doe-eyes of approval (seeking it, not giving it), and Anatoli’s patience runs out.
“Excuse me,” he says, and intends to leave them alone together. Maybe Milan will be able to get Luthor down to the kitchen and into an oven before anyone notices.
But he can hear Luthor noisily hailing another guest, and the presence at his shoulder is back as he descends the stairs.
“How much is he paying you?” Milan mutters into his ear.
“Yes, but how much? To put up with this….”
“It’s not your business.”
“Maybe. But it could be, if you….” They pass through a set of glass doors and along the row of servers, and Milan backs into the wall as if he’s expecting it, barely even needing to be pushed.
“It’s not your business,” Anatoli repeats, and lets him go, smoothing out his jacket.
“I could make you a counter-offer.”
“For what? What else could you give me?"
“Well, if you insist.” Anatoli’s hands have lingered on his chest, and he guides them gently to his waist. “I’m sure there are some things he cannot provide….”
“This is why we’re down here. Unless I’ve got this wrong?” They’re tucked into a tiny alcove at the end of the corridor, invisible to the stairwell. “You didn’t come all the way here just to threaten me, did you?”
“Maybe I did.” He crowds closer, and they fit together easily. “Maybe I brought you down here so they don’t have their champagne and philanthropy disturbed by these things.”
“You mean the things you’ll do to me for daring to speak to your patron? Go on. Tell me about those.”
“If you like him so much, you can spend an evening in his company.”
“Is that so bad? This is why you should work for me instead. Name your price. How much would it take? Or,” he inches across to introduce a hand between them, “would you need other compensation?”
“Forget it,” Anatoli says, but he’s warming up and his tone is almost light. “He’s a billionaire. You are not.”
“Then why are you here, instead of up there watching him?”
“Because money doesn’t make you interesting.”
“And I’m interesting enough for you?”
“Maybe.” A tiny smirk appears, just enough to be visible. Perhaps the annoyance of earlier has been forgiven.
Milan is about to say something when hard footsteps sound in the corridor and Anatoli’s hand is over his mouth, silencing him. They hear a voice, muttering. A woman asks Mr Wayne if she can help, and he makes a comment about finding the bathroom. She must have left, pacified, because he lingers for a few seconds more.
“I can’t stay down here, Alfred.”
Once he’s gone, Milan pulls Anatoli in by the back of the neck, and hisses “What’s he doing down here? Who’s Alfred?”
“I don’t know.”
“He lied to her.”
“He knows something.” He’s quiet and serious again.
“You will deal with him?”
“If it comes to that.”
“You will deal with me first?”
“No.” Anatoli backs away, much to Milan’s disappointment. “I have to find out what he’s doing.”
(And this is how Bruce Wayne dies suddenly from an incurable case of bullets halfway through the movie; he cockblocked a Serbian drug lord and his Russian arms dealer boyfriend.)