Peter Sellers and the redoubtable Pink Panther would have been proud.

Three men seeking to make an unauthorized gun-point withdrawal from a Northeast Washington credit union yesterday burrowed through false ceilings from a next-door barbershop, dropped to the floor -- and found the credit union employe gone, the safe closed and the exit doors locked shut.

Mere minutes made the difference between sweet success and bitter failure.

The caper began shortly after 10 a.m. when the three would-be robbers decided to break into the Far East Credit Union, 622 Division Ave. NE, through a next-door barbershop because the credit union's manager was protected by a floor-to-ceiling bullet proof glass cage.

But the manager, Robert Martin, didn't stay put while the robbers carried out their plan.

Martin, at about the same time, decided to close shop temporarily to get extra cash from a nearby bank.

Shortly before Martin left the credit union, the three would be robbers entered Bullock's Barbershop next door, tied up Parker Bullock, 59, and a customer and left them in the back storage room.

While one man stood guard at the barbershop front door, the two other men pulled out several squares of the drop ceiling common to both the barbershop and the credit union. Using a shoeshine chair as a ladder, the men climbed up into the ceiling and crawled over the glass cage of the credit union.

In the meantime, Bullock, a tough no-nonsense man whose barbershop has been a Deanwood community fixture for 2o years, wriggled from his bonds.

"They did a poor job tying me up," said Bullock, who grabbed a shotgun in the storeroom and left his frightened customer behind.

The escape was unnoticed by the man guarding the front door because the robbers had conveniently closed the storeroom door.

"I took out my shotgun and walked through that door," said Bullock, still a little shocked hours later. "I told the guy at the door to put his hands up and walk outside."

Bullock's prisoner bolted out the door. During the commotion, one robber in the credit union panicked and ran through the glass door of the credit union. Police are unsure how the third robber escaped.

Bullock called police. Within minutes, the D.C. police bank robbery squad, 6th Police District detectives, FBI special agents, police helicopter and a canine team responded.

Shortly afterward, Detective Carmen Fontana, a bank robbery squad detective, arrested one suspect, David Coyle, 27, 1213 O St. NW.

Coyle, also wanted in a March 5 post office robbery, was charged with two counts of burglary while armed and two counts of assault with a dangerous weapon.

"This goes to show you how the best-laid plans of some of these holdup men can go awry," mused Police Capt. Robert Crytzer.