MEDELLIN, COLOMBIA -- -- Cinderella she was, a once-upon-a-time servant girl who became the envied lover of Paul Castellano, the "Boss of Bosses" of the Italian Mafia in New York.
Now she lives quietly in the hills of this city with a memento, a porcelain clown. She is Gloria Olarte. The fable shattered in a mob hit: a hail of bullets on a midtown Manhattan street Dec. 16, 1985.
It was 5:20 p.m. and Olarte was ironing her lover's shirts in the family mansion on Staten Island. Suddenly, Castellano's older son and daughter came "storming through the house, looking, examining, opening suitcases and closets. And no one said anything to me."
" 'What horror is this?' I said, and when I asked 'What's happened?' the daughter took me to the table and sat down in the place that was his. 'Gloria, be calm, nothing's happened,' she said. 'They've killed Mr. Paul.' She didn't even say 'my papa.' "
Olarte seldom speaks of the Mafioso chief without a sigh. The gangster others feared was so different, she said, than her lover, the old man who called her "baby" and cried in her lap from loneliness.
Castellano was a 65-year-old patriarch when he entered her life. Olarte was a slender woman of 30 with straight black hair and thick eyelashes, just arrived in New York from Colombia, a little before Holy Week of 1979, Feb. 17 to be exact.
With a tourist visa in her billfold, she worked beside her sister Nelly at a candy company, a job she hated. Her sister heard about a possible job as a housekeeper and suggested Olarte apply. The owner of the factory knew some rich people with a chauffeur. So one day a young man named Gambino picked up Olarte, her sister and a friend in a limousine.
The rich man's wife, Nina Mano Castellano, questioned her briefly through an interpreter, Olarte remembered. A tall, elegant man descended the stairs. She could scarcely look at him for fear of a big, imposing dog. "I don't know, all of the sudden he would look at me, and I was so scared from a big dog that I couldn't look at anyone."
Mrs. Castellano told her not to be afraid of the dog, that it would be her friend. And then Olarte told herself something else: The problem wouldn't just be the dog but the man on the staircase.
Three months later, the phone rang. She had the job. They traveled in a limousine again, but this time to a majestic estate. It was the new residence of the Castellanos, a mansion of 17 rooms and 12 bathrooms, with an Olympic-size pool, waiting rooms and an apartment for the new housekeeper from Medellin.
The first months were very hard, Olarte said. "I cried and said, 'Dear God, why have I gotten into this?' " The main problem was communication. "Miss Nina would talk to me sometimes in Italian and other times in English. Each time I didn't understand, I would get on the phone and say, 'Nelly, she said "spoon," what's that?' "
Then one day, Mr. Paul brought home a minicomputer. It translated seven languages. He left abrupt messages: "Set the table." "Bring me fruits." "Make the coffee." Somewhat later, Olarte began to find other messages: "You have pretty eyes." "I like you."
One day, Castellano entered the kitchen. "He put his hand on my hip, and told me to put my head on his chest. I put it there, and he said, 'You could be my daughter,' and I looked at him, and when I looked at him he kissed me here, on the cheek."
That was the beginning.
Soon Olarte's wardrobe displayed the finest designer dresses. "One day I smiled at him, in front of all the people. And after they left, Mr. Paul told me, 'From now on, you're going to keep smiling for me.' "
Things had long been touchy between Castellano and his wife.
"I would hear them argue," Olarte said, "for a sausage, for a shirt that was not well ironed, because the shoes had not arrived."
Embarrassed, Olarte would lock herself in her room. When Mrs. Castellano testily quit certain household tasks, Olarte took over, making trips to the grocery, scheduling Castellano for the insulin injections he needed.
The egos of the two women exploded in the kitchen as they tried to serve the same man -- thus defying certain mob sacraments. Almost always the wife of the Mafioso prepares sauce for the pasta. Almost never does the mistress live under the same roof as the wife.
In a fit of anger one day, Olarte threw all of her clothes into two plastic bags and left for a hotel in New York. That night, Olarte said, Castellano went to the hotel with five men and begged her to return. She made one demand: Upon her return, she would walk through the big front door, not the back entrance.
His wife understood the message and left the mansion and her husband in 1983.
Unknown to Castellano and his mob, the FBI had planted microphones in the kitchen of the mansion. Agents recorded 600 hours. Eventually, the bugs provided enough material for 100 felony allegations -- and, not so incidentally, words for the recently published book "Boss of Bosses -- The Fall of the Godfather: The FBI and Paul Castellano." by Joseph F. O'Brien and Andris Kurins.
In all probability, the tapes caught hours of salsa and meringue, Olarte listening to Radio WADO, a Spanish-language station, as she ironed white shirts.
Olarte realized Castellano was a man of importance. At restaurants, everyone treated him with great reverence.
"One day, talking with him, about six or eight months after being in the house, he said: 'Do you know who I am?' I said, 'Yes, you are Mr. Paul, a very rich man, well loved.' Then he said, 'Do you know that I belong to the Mafia?' I told him, 'No.' 'And aren't you afraid?' 'No,' I told him."
For Castellano, the last months of his life were terrible. Out of jail on a $2 million bond, he said he would not live long. The Mafia would not permit his carelessness -- microphones under his own nose, involvement with a servant, his wife banished, his commands so antiquated that they prohibited his people from the drug trade. Too many errors.
"Men like me," Castellano told Olarte, "die on the street."
It was on the street, in front of the Spark's Steak House restaurant in New York, where Castellano, 70, died.
Olarte returned to Colombia a few days later. She left New York with $18,000, not much money by mob standards, and a porcelain clown, a gift from Castellano. Now she lives with her mother and is a secretary at a travel agency.