The Mafia is one of the world's most exclusive men's clubs, and its members know the value of silence. So do their women—the wives and lovers who share their lives and often their secrets and who raise families on the edge of the underworld. One of these women was Barbara Fuca, the out-of-wedlock daughter of a small-time New York hoodlum, who for nine years was the wife of Mafia drug dealer Pasquale (Patsy) Fuca. She broke silence in 1962 after her arrest for conspiracy in connection with the notorious French Connection drug case. Tipping off detectives to the location of some $20 million in heroin, she was released from Manhattan's House of Detention, and charges against her were eventually dropped.

Now 35, she was divorced from Fuca in 1969, and lives on Long Island with a New York City corrections officer who is the father of her three sons, twins Michael and Joey, 8, and Frank, 11. She has two daughters by her marriage to Fuca: Karen, 15, who lives with her, and Rosemary, 16, who is married. Author of the recently published Mafia Wife, written in collaboration with Robin (The French Connection,)Moore, Barbara Fuca spoke with Patricia Burstein of PEOPLE about her life in a world few may leave.

Why do women marry Mafia men?

They fall in love with them. They don't know about them in the beginning. That comes later. When the woman realizes her husband is not a dockworker or truck driver—that his work may not be legal—she blots it out as long as she has a home and food on the table.

As a Mafia girlfriend you knew about Patsy's activities. Why did you marry him?

I was fascinated with him because he had such a bad reputation with other women—and at that point he was very good to me. I was impressed with his glamor and the respect he got at fancy restaurants and clubs. People would get off bar stools for him. I had a terrible childhood with three stepfathers and a mother who didn't care about me. The Mafia was there to pick me off the ground.

What is demanded of a Mafia wife?

Keep your mouth shut. Take care of your children. Give them a Catholic education. Cook and clean for the family.

Is there a typical Mafia wife?

There are three groups. The class "C" wife goes no further than pots and pans and dirty diapers. She wouldn't like to leave Little Italy. A "B" wife comes up with her husband. When he trades in his suit and two pairs of pants for a $300 mohair suit, she gets better accommodations, like a house on Long Island. She also joins the local PTA, plays bingo and becomes a scouting den mother.

What about the "A" wife?

I was one. An "A" wife is a former girlfriend who is always on the arm of her man. To hell with the pots and pans. Some of these women are second wives. In some cases they live in homes that cost six figures, though most Mafia families prefer to blend into the suburban community in a low-key way.

Is there a high incidence of divorce among Mafia families?

No. Why buy the cow when you can get the milk for nothing? A Mafia man can go out and get involved with another woman, but he doesn't usually leave his wife and children because he has seen his own mother raise 10 or 15 kids. He loves his mother, and he sees his wife in the same way.

Do Mafia wives have many children?

Though most of them come from very large families, they try to limit their own. The reason is that they never know when their husbands will go to jail.

What is the toughest part of being a Mafia mother?

Telling your children when their father goes to jail. On my older daughter's third birthday we had a party in our apartment and a neighbor below us kept yelling, "Your father is a dope peddler." When she was 4 we went to visit Patsy, and I told her he was in the hospital. "Mommy," she said, "this isn't a hospital. There are no doctors here. This is a jail." Children of Mafia men go through a lot of anguish.

Why didn't you divorce him when he went to jail?

A Mafia wife can hate her husband, but something she never does is divorce him while he is in jail.

What did you do when you found out about his heroin activities?

I was furious and told him to get that junk out of the house. He had it in the baby's room. I was pregnant with a second child at the time and he promised that he would never expose us again. Often, though, Mafia men will marry just to have a place to stash illegal goods.

Have you ever taken hard drugs?

Never! Under Mafia law there are three things not to be. One is a junkie. Ironically, they don't care if you sell, but don't ever use it. The other bad things are being a stool pigeon or a pimp.

Are there any other rules regarding women?

Never loan shylock money to a woman because you can't beat her up to collect.

Has women's liberation changed the Mafia?

It hasn't affected anything. The Italian upbringing is simple—the wife remains housebound. There was one woman, though, who collected shylock money by hitting people over the head with a pocketbook. She was the wife of the former head of the Bonanno family. She was killed.

Do you think Mafia men work hard?

If you think dressing up in $300 suits and sitting around a cafe and talking is hard work.

What did you think of The Godfather?

As far as the organization and the killing it was correct. But Marlon Brando sounded like he had throat cancer. Carolo Gambino [the Mafia capo believed to be the model for The Godfather] was a simple, grandfatherly type who spoke broken English. He was not like Brando.

What were some of the other Mafia big shots like?

Joey Gallo was not like the others. He was loud. He reminded me of something out of a comic book. Joe Colombo was a simple man who was never fresh. He didn't belong in the position of head of a family. He only got there after warning Gambino there would be an attempt on his life.

Are you afraid of Mafia threats because of your book?

No, because I didn't incriminate anyone. Sometimes I get paranoid. But Patsy is being taken care of by his family and is too busy with his own jobs.

Do many Mafia wives end up on welfare?

Usually the family will continue to provide for a wife while her husband is in jail. But when he gets bumped off, the women often end up on the welfare rolls, unless their husbands are high up in the organization. In my case Patsy's family never helped me. They turned their backs on me from the moment we were both picked up.

Do you miss the excitement of living with the Mafia?

No. But I don't regret my life. I've enjoyed it to the fullest. Now that I've gone out and lived, I can sit home and watch TV or gossip with neighbors. I can be with my children every night and cook them big Sunday meals.