"Mafia men treat their women very well," she maintains stoutly, and this despite the beating she received from one of their number many years ago. He thought - erroneously as it happens - that she'd been ratting to his wife about his extracurricular affairs. For this he was tried and punished by his own kind. They never hired Freddie the Bug again.

"And that's why I always say," she says, and there is an edge of satisfaction to her voice that makes you know she always says it, "Mafia justice is better justice that the court system.

"Most women," she continues, warm to the subject, "as long as the rent is paid and the children are clothed - they're content. And the wives don't get beat up unless they ask for it.

"If the husband says, 'I want the blue suit with the green shirt cleaned, it's taken to the cleaners. Even if she has a broken leg."

And when the wife gets older, the men go out with young ladies, she is reminded.

"Well, most Mafia men, 40 or 50 years old, they have this need to have a young, pretty, attractive thing on their arm." She shrugs tolerantly. This despite the fact that for a while she suspected her husband of stepping out on her - also erroneously as it happened. "With the young women - it's this image (the men) are trying to project. Everyone has an image to project."

She looks up with a gaze that never wavers. "Like I've met disappointed writers who are pretending to be journalist. And that's an image they are trying to project."

The image Barbara Fuca is trying to project these days is that of a calm, pleasant, average Long Island housewife who goes supermarket-hopping with all the neighbors to look for bargains and engages in kaffee klatches and takes the kids swimming at the club. That is why she is now wearing a baby-blue fuffled sundress and pastel pink nail polish.

Naturally, none of this works too well. Barbara Fuca was once married to a man named Patsy Fuca. He was not in the Mafia, she says, but he did get busted for narcotics possession in an episode that was a part of The French Connection.

At 15 she started work as a barmaid, a circumstance that - she claims - brought her into the company of men like Joey Gallo with whom she double-dated only once, she choosing to terminate their outings after Gallo pulled out a gun and threatened to shoot his girlfriend in a fit of jealousy. Subsequently, she dated a fighter named Leo Molino who was gunned down within munutes after he took her home one night.

"Who's Leo Molino?" she replied blandly one month later when questioned. And the man she suspected of killing her date walked away, satisfied. "Omerta" No More

But these days Barbara Fuca, now mother of five and an as-told-to author is making the rounds: The "Today" show, the newspapers, Houston, Hartford, second printing, the works. She talks about it all in a rough, assertive voice, her consonants truncated by a sharp New York accent that contrasts violently with a rather strange naivete. She honestly thought Robin Moore, who put his name on the book, would be making the publicity tour.

"I never knew they'd be interested in me." She shrugs and stubs out a Marlboro in a jerky, nervous gesture. "I would like to get back to normal, everyday life. I don't want to be a superstar."

Oh, but of course it had to come to this. There isn't a soul around now who isn't a potential superstar. Why, even the Mafia - the mafia which has held on tenaciously to the ancient proscription of "omerta," or silence, must now contend with the Confessional '70s. With the awful fact that its wives and mistresses no longer know how to keep their mouths shut.

Judith Campbell Exner who feels compelled to talk about Sam Giancana. And Barbara Fuca who comes out with a book called "Mafia Wife." And then has the gall to claim she is not afraid of offending that potent organization.

"I might be in a little bit of danger if the Mafia bothered to read." She shakes her head, an ironic gesture that fails to disturb the stiff hill of peroxide that frames a face with deep inroads of toughness. "But as I always say, the Mafia doesn't read.Once my ex-husband told my daughter. 'Doesn't your mother know she can get killed from writing this book.' But there haven't been any threats.

"Patsy," she continues matter-of-factly. "Patsy might be in more troubled (from my book). And his Uncle Ange - for hiring Patsy in the first place."

Yes. Patsy might have a few troubles here and there considering that his former wife happened to claim in her book that he was cheating his old Uncle Ange by discreetly cutting heroin with milk sugar and dealing the excess on the side.

Considering that she writes that Uncle Ange happens to be a soldier in the Lucchese family, which isn't as forgiving a family as, say, Ozzie and Harriet. Considering also that she claims that once, arrested, Patsy Fuca told her where 88 pounds of heroin were stashed - and she told the cops. And that all charges against Barbara Fuca were ultimately dropped.

"Why should I care?" she demands. "Let's say that while he was lollygagging in jail, I was feeding and clothing and making little ladies out of our children. Or trying to." And then later, "I guess he's greedy. That's been Patsy's problem all his life." A shrug. "He's taken me to court for visitation rights . . . My daughter lived with him four months. Then she went home to Mama, because she wanted to get married."

She drags thoughtfully on another cigarette. She was on welfare for 12 years following Patsy Fuca's incareeration at that time. "Matter of fact, Uncle Ange gave me a thousand bucks to go to Mexico for a divorce. They were dying to get me out of that family."

She grins victoriously. "I went to Legal Aid for 20 bucks."

Since that marriage, she's had three more children, one of whom - Frankie Boy - accompanies her on this interview.

"We had some rough times. Theynever wanted, though. He wanted a snake for his birthday" - she indicates her 11-year-old son - "I got him a boa. Forty bucks, but I got it. It died, though. Frankly, I think it was a sick snake.

"The girls (by Patsy) - they're normal kids. The oldest - she's going to be 17 - she just got married.Yeah, I was very strict with her. I was never flexible with the girls. That was a mistake. But I didn't want them to turn out like me. I think I've done a pretty good job. They've never been to jail." A Miserable Childhood

Barbara Fuca was born illegitimate to a Jewish mother and a gangster father known as Mike Yo-yo.

"I had a miserable childhood," she says. In her book she writes that she was abused sexually. "Because of that I have no normal sex life still," she says, her face impassive. "I'm still not able to relax."

And so, by the time she left home at 15 to barmaid at the Mafia joints, she knew at once too much and too little about life. And elderly gentleman who she calls "Harry Bull" in her book taught her the rest.

"My first lesson from Harry Bull was to know when to powder my nose," she explains gravely."Yes. You go to powder your nose whenever you thing you might find out something you shouldn't know. Like what I didn't know, no one could ever ask me about. Very few Mafia women are found dead, because they always know when to powder their nose."

But during her years as a Mafia groupie. Barbara Fuca learned a whole lot more than the life-saving importance of strategic exits. She learned how to shop-lift in an organized fashion with her girl friends. She discovered she could get her rent paid by occupying an apartment that was a front for a bookie joint. She got all expenses paid to Miami in return for dating Mafioso there on business.

And she met Patsy Fuca with whom she sought the security she had never know before. Their wedding took place at his old nemesis, the court, and was performed by a judge during a recess from a murder case. She was 18, but even then she knew she could not continue succcessfully as a barmaid, a single Mafia appendage.

"Like I say - at 26, you're over the hill," she says philosophically. "A woman with that kind of night life shows a lot of wear and tear on her face. No, I don't think I have wear and tear on my face - even though I always looked three years older than I was.

"But I walked away from all that 14 years ago, and never came back."

She is 35, an age of transition, they say; but there is in her face nothing transitory or mobile. It has all been settled. Years ago. What Taxes?

Marriage to Patsy Fuca was, in fact, the least interesting part of her life. She who used to jet to Miami, who danced with Joe Columbo ("Dancing Joe," she called him) now had . . . in-law trouble.

It happens in the best of families. She just couldn't conform.

"I mean I never attempted to conform, either. Well, for instance, I had a housekeeper who came in and a nurse for the baby. And I ate out more than once a week, I mean I ate out more than I ate at home."

A look of distaste. "Patsy was always very good to his mother. There was nothing he wouldn't give her. And he'd actually crawl out of his bed in the middle of the night to go see his sister or his father."

And then there was Patsy, himself. In her book, Barbara Fuca maintains that she freaked out when she discovered he was in the heroin business, begged him to stop. And yet - it had its compensations. She says their income came to $100,000 a year.

"What was it after taxes?" baits the photographer.

"What taxes?" she asks. "I always say, I went from riches to rags."

By which she means that after her husband's arrest, there was nothing left to support her and her two daughters.

So she helped organize and run a bookie answering service. Which was wiretapped. She got caught. What she did not get, however, was convicted. It was difficult to prove.

"After my fifth arrest," she says simply, "the judge told me that if I was caught spitting on the sidewalk, I'd get 30 days."

So she went straight. And she went on welfare.

"I didn't even apply for welfare for 25 months after Patsy went to prison," she say."But I didn't have any skill other than being a barmaid. I got $225 a month from welfare and I had an apartment that cost $371 a month. Welfare's a game you play."

A game that has now backfired, by the way. When Barbara Fuca earned her first advance of $5,400, welfare wanted her to hand it over to them. She refused (the first book contract was eventually cancelled anyway) but, she says, went off welfare at that time. Now welfare is taking her to court, claiming she owes them $5,400.

"Now I'm being penalized for doing the honest thing. I had to go to the police station, be fingerprinted, even be handcuffed." Simultaneously the eybrows lift and the lids lower. She knows she can win. Same old stuff.

When her husband was arrested, for heroin possession, so was she - only she was thrown, six months pregnant, in with the junkies in the Women's House of Detention.

"I don't regret anything, though I think whatever happened to me when I was a child, when I was 15, when the French Connection came along, helped me to grow up to be a stronger person. I don't have to pay a shrink 25 bucks an hour to help me figure out what to do."

She looks up, not exactly seeking approval. More or less demanding it "I filed taxes this year on a $13,000 advance. I tell you it felt great." Now, the Money

"And now," Barbara Fuca concludes triumphantly, "the rest is just raking in the money." For the first time she laughs outright. "Well at least I'm being honest about it."

Yes, it seems the Mafia missed out on a sure-fire thing when it neglected to organize a speakers and writers bureau for its members and their spouses.

Barbara Fuca, for all that she yearns to return to the supermarkets of Long Island, for all that she insists she doesn't want to be "a media star," is, nonetheless, patently charmed by the loud, insidious delights of media exposure. It can happen to any of us.

"I met Rex Reed the other day, and he's a media star," she says cheerfully, but he told me that's his trademark. And I met Gabe Kaplan. And also I met Joe Garagiola - and they're people, just like everybody else.And Geraldo Rivera and his wife - you know, the new one - well, they're very nice, too . . ."