Author's Note: Written for the livejournal batfic_contest prompt "Shelf Life" in less than 500 words; first posted there on 4 July 2010.
Low-level thugs were ten a penny in Gotham, and as a rule the goons the Joker hired to lift, carry and break the odd limb on his behalf were recruited for their muscle and dispensability. Joker paid them little attention until he needed to push a new pawn into the path of the crusading Dork Knight. But given time, even little things could start to niggle.
This one was scrawny compared to the usual gorilla-build of his goons, with a nervous tic and little to say for himself. When he first arrived the others called him Titch and placed bets on how long he'd last once the Bat appeared. But he made it back in once piece after his first show, and the second, and by the third the guy holding the money was in traction at Gotham General. The bets were called off and the subject dropped.
On a subconscious level the Joker noticed the twitchy little guy seemed to be sticking around for longer than usual, and for some reason it bothered him.
The shelf life of his hired help was not a long one. Run-ins with the Bat usually led to lay-offs for medical reasons, and the Gotham PD picked up stragglers too slow or incapacitated to make a getaway. Others fell foul of occupational mishaps; mistakenly adding experimental toxin samples to their morning coffee, making inappropriate comments about Harley's wardrobe choices within his earshot, breathing insubordinately.
Something had let this one survive, and Joker started to watch him more closely.
Nothing stood out. He was quiet. He was forgettable. He did what he was told and never caught Joker's eye, although he sensed the increased attention and got twitchier and more nervous by the day. But even his breathing was impossible to object to.
Joker made sure Titch was placed right where the Bat would strike first at the next job. He received nothing more than a slight Batarang concussion and made it back to the truck unaided.
Joker then sent the boys off to gather equipment from a building site across town and phoned an anonymous tip in. Titch managed to lose the cops while the others were rounded up.
Joker even used him as a test subject for a new high-powered joy buzzer, and it only made his tic worse and left him with a slightly singed smell.
Enough was enough, but it was a matter of principle – Joker couldn't just shoot him. He did ponder having Harley drive out of state and leave him by the side of the road, but in the end decided it was best to let nature take its course. Which he did by 'accidentally' smothering the man in barbecue sauce while he slept and encouraging Bud and Lou to help themselves to a tasty midnight snack.
Nature's clean-up crew finally did the trick, and the life cycle of the Joker's goons returned to its satisfactorily short span. But in future he always watched out for the twitchy ones.
Author's Note: Advice to future Joker-goon job applicants: don't make it a long-term career choice, or you might find yourself as hyena chow.