HIGH FINANCE: The House of Matches

It was March 12, 1932. In Paris, diplomats and common men moved in solemn lines past the bier of a fallen world figure, Aristide Briand. Across the Seine, in a room on the Avenue Victor Emmanuel III, another world, figure wrote three short notes. One of them ended: "Goodbye now and thanks. I.K." The big, round-faced man rose from his desk, smoothed out the unmade bedclothes, lay down, shot himself with a pistol just below the heart.

The headlines, reserved for Briand, instead blazoned the news: Ivar Kreuger, the grammar-school dullard from Kalmar, Sweden, who had grown up into the...

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