YOU MAY ALREADY know from either reading the newspapers or maybe from a telephone call from a relative in the restaurant supply business, that an old man named Carmine Galente, the reported brains behind a dry cleaning shop in Manhattan, has become the dominant figure in the Mafia. This happened suddenly over the weekend and was announced simultaneously in two New York newspapers and one magazine in the same city. I can tell you how this happened.

I was at the sitdown at which Galente was chosen Mafia chief - "made" is the expression I heard used. It occurred in a dark, little Italian restaurant where I happened to be eating at the time. I watched what happened and took notes when no one was looking. A bunch of people, all journalists who specialize in writing about the Mafia except for one free-lance woman writer, come into the place at the same time. They sat down at a table, talked for a while and then a man named Nick slammed his fist down on the table and said, "We begin."

Nick stood up. The Waiters backed off and one of them ran and pulled the curtains. Nick reached into his pocket and took out a piece of paper. He looked at it, coughed and said, "The annual meeting of the Mafia Writers of America is now in session. The purpose of this meeting is to name a dominant Mafia figure." With that, he sat down.

Then another man who is also called Nick stood. He looked very serious and he turned to the woman who was called Linda and this is what he said: "Linda, you are now here and so I will tell you what our problem is . Vito Genovese is gone." With the mention of the name, everyone nodded their heads, "Carlo Gambino is gone. Joe Bananas?" He drew his finger across his throat. "Costello. Luciano, Anastasia - the greats are gone.

"All these people we built up. All these people we made into folk heroes, into the subject of magazine articles, books, movies. I myself, and I am not one to boast, did 14 magazines articles in one year on Genovese alone. I wrote one movie, consulted on three others and was under contract to 14 corporations, advising them on how to guard against infiltration by the Mafia.Those days, I need not tell you, are gone." He sat down.

Up stepped a man who was called Peter. He was tall, dark-skinned and everyone thinks that he is Italian. He is not. His grandparents were from Galicia, but he legally changed his name so he could pass as Italian. He was the founder of the association and so when he stood, all talking ceased. The waiters named the restaurant in a story as a Mafia hangout, everyone would soon be rich. Peter nodded to everyone at the table.

"This is what I have to say to you. For years, our thing has been good to us. You, Nick, you have a summer house in the country and a condominium in Florida. You, Ronald - you have stocks and mutual funds. You Nick, - no, the other Nick - you have done the best of us all. You have done movies." Peter walked around the table and kissed Nick on both cheeks.

"So we have all become rich," he continued. "He did we become rich? How? I will tell you. We were careful. "All the heads at the table nodded. Peter bellowed."Careful!" He slapped the face next to him which was Ronald's "What were we, Ronald?"

"Careful, Peter, careful."

"We were not hungry," peter continued. "We followed the old ways. When we made a capo ditutti capi, we chose carefully. I myself chose Costello. I chose him because he fit the part. He went to fancy barber shops, lived in luxury apartment houses and carried himself nicely. I did the same with others. I arranged for them to be subpoenaed by Congress. We wrote the stories. We made them what they were. I followed the old ways. The old ways."

Now his voice was soft. He seemed sad and there was what I thought was a tear in his eye. He reached for a glass of wine and instead picked up a kir. He spit it out. "What is this?" he screamed.

"Kir," said Ronald. "It's a very light aperitif . . ." Peter cut him off with a wave of his hand. He made a face and continued:

"But the old ways were not good enough for you. You got hungry and you picked nobodys. You built them up. There was one you wrote about who you said controlled the garment district, owned a piece of a brokerage firm, controlled Jersey City outright and owned all of Arizona except for the Grand Canyon. You said all these things and then he got busted for melting down nickels." Now Peter was yelling and no one could look him in the eye.

"Then a book was written about the son of a capo who gets arrested for using a stolen credit card. One guy you wrote about started hanging out with Broadway actors and writers and started to write a book. Some of the ones you wrote about got arrested for passing bad cheeks, for selling bootlegged cigarettes, for pornography. But the worst was Sam Giancana. You write about him and people think he's worth billions. But when he dies, there is no one with him but an old man, and the house is pictured in Time magazine and it's no mansion like you said - it's a stucco house. Seventy thousand the most - and then only if it's got air conditioning."

By now, everyone at the table was white. Peter wasn't finished yet. He snapped his fingers and a man with a violin case came in from the kitchen. I started to duck under the table, but when the case was opened, Peter reached in an took out a looseleaf book. He said it was public opinion poll taken by pat Caddell. It said that belief in the Mafia was at an all-time low. Peter took out more reports and passed them around the table. The gross of Mafia movies was down 17 per cent; paperback books were off 44 per cent; hardcover 67 per cent; 14 corporations had fired their Mafia advisers.

"The old ways were not good enough for you," Peter said. "This time I will name the new capo. He will be Carmen Galente. All of you, take this down. You will write that he is little known to the public but widely feared and respected by members of the underworld.

"Write that for Sunday."