It was bitter cold early Thursday, Lyman Hairston recalls, and as he stepped down from the cab of his tractor-trailer, he shuddered and rubbed his hands. One load down at 3 a.m., three more to go. He'd be off soon, ready to go home, catch some sleep and then celebrate his 65th birthday.

"Suddently I heard the patter of feet," Hairston said. "Hands come from all directions, they had me by the neck and the arms. they told me be cool man, be cool and you won't get killed' and they carried me to [a] car."

Hairston, who lives in Southeast Washington, had been delivering groceries to the Cash and Carry market at 1270 Fourth St. NE, as he has for 17 years as an employe of the M. Loeb Corp. in Landover. In 40 years as a truck driver, Hairston said yesterday, he never had any trouble, never was robbed.

"It was just my turn, I guess," Hairston said.

"When they got me to the car, the three men tied my hands and taped my eyes and mouth. One guy held a gun to my neck and told me to keep down or he'd blow a hole through me," Hairston said. "They did take my gag off once, but that was so I could tell them how to release the brake of the truck.

"We drove a long way . . . I heard the radio say that it was 3:23, but then the station that was on started drifting . . . I was thinking about my wife and my birthday," Hairston said.

"We went over a bridge, I think, it was bumpy and sounded hollow, you know, and pulled onto a dirt road . . . I heard a bang and I thought it was a gun at first, but it wasn't. The rear tire had blown out."

Left alone in the car, Hairston worked the ropes on his hands loose and walked away from the car, but he was caught a few moments later.

"They then tied my feet with rope and pulled them back almost to my head, and wrapped my hands with wire behind my back. Then covered me with coats and blankets. I couldn't think 'cause I was hurtin' so. I heard cars go by, and then a farm tractor." He was left alone again.

Meanwhile, according to police, three men unloaded Hairston's cargo into a barn on Floral Park Road in Brandywine. One of the men then drove the truck to a farm in Oxon Hill.

About 10:30 a.m., Hairston's captors pulled up to the car where he was being held and pushed him into a van. They drove for a while, Hairston recalls, on more dirt roads and got stuck in the mud. Finally after putting the man out of the van, they drove away.

"There I was, blindfolded.I screamed for help a few times. I fell down against a bush and figured I was near a forest," Hairston said. Then, using the branches of a nearby tree, he pried the tape off his eyes and started down the road.

A short time later Prince George's County police say they received a call reporting a man, bound and gagged, hopping down Manning Road East in Accokeek.

Before police arrived, a man and a woman in a car freed Hairston and took him to a local store, where Hairston called police.

On Thursday afternoon, Prince George's police arrested Larry Parker, 28, and Jerry Wyatt Robertson 29, both of the District of Columbia, and Carlton Russell Johnson 40, of Brandywine and charged them with being fugitives from the District in the incident.

The three men were released under $5,000 bond each yesterday and are awaiting preliminary hearing in the county.

Police said both the groceries and Hairston's truck were found early Thursday evening, but they declined to give further details of their investigation.

"Yes, I'm glad to be home and over with the whole thing," Hairston said yesterday. "I'm still pretty sore, but sometimes, I guess, you just have to put up with these kinds of things. My wife's takin' care of me, though,"